The word “metabolism” is thrown around a lot these days.
You’ve probably figured out that if yours is too slow you might gain weight. But what exactly does all this mean?
Well technically “metabolism” is the word to describe all of the biochemical reactions in your body. It’s how you take in nutrients and oxygen and use them as fuel.
Your body has an incredible ability to grow, heal, and basically stay alive.
Without this amazing biochemistry—you would not be possible.
Metabolism includes how the cells in your body:
- Allow activities you can control (e.g. physical activity etc.).
- Allow activities you can’t control (e.g. heart beat, wound healing, processing of nutrients & toxins, etc.).
- Allow storage of excess energy for later.
So when all of these processes are put together into your metabolism, they can work too quickly, too slowly, or just right.
Which brings us to the “metabolic rate.”
This is how fast your metabolism works and is measured in calories (yup, those pesky calories!).
The calories you eat can go to one of three places:
- Work (i.e. exercise and other activity/movement).
- Heat (i.e. from all those biochemical reactions).
- Storage (i.e. extra leftover “unburned” calories are stored as fat).
The more calories you burn by exercising/movement or by creating heat, the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off because there will be fewer “leftover” calories to store for later.
There are two ways to measure metabolic rate. One is the “Resting Metabolic Rate” (RMR) which measures how much energy your body uses when you’re not being physically active.
The other is the “Total Daily Energy Expenditure” (TDEE) which measures both the resting metabolic rate (RMR) and the energy used for “work” (e.g. exercise) during a 24-hour period.
What affects your metabolic rate?
Just about everything!
People often think of the thyroid when it comes to metabolism. Its job it to store and produce hormones that affect the function of virtually every organ in your body. It tells your body to “speed up” your metabolism. The more thyroid hormone there is the faster things will work and the more calories you’ll burn.
That’s not the only thing that affects your metabolic rate. The size of your physique counts too. Larger people have higher metabolic rates, but your body composition is crucial. Muscles that actively move and do work need more energy than fat does. So the more lean muscle mass you have the more energy your body will burn and the higher your metabolic rate will be. Even when you’re not working out.
This is exactly why weight training is often recommended as a part of a weight loss program. Because you want muscles to be burning those calories for you—even when you’re not working out (I know I already said this, but I think it bears repeating).
The thing is, when people lose weight their metabolic rate often slows down. Which, of course, you don’t want to happen. So you’ll want to offset that by creating more muscle mass.
As for aerobic exercise, it temporarily increases your metabolic rate. Your muscles are burning fuel to move so they’re doing “work.” But once you stop moving, the metabolic rate naturally decreases.
The type of food you eat also affects your metabolic rate.
Your body actually burns calories to absorb, digest, and metabolize your food. This is called the “Thermic Effect of Food” (TEF).
You can use it to your advantage when you understand how your body metabolizes foods differently.
Fats, for example increase your TEF by 0-3%; carbs increase it by 5-10%, and protein increases it by 15-30%. By trading some of your fat or carbs for lean protein you can slightly increase your metabolic rate.
Another bonus of protein is that your muscles need it to grow. The more you work out and eat foods that feed your muscles, the more likely it is you’ll not only lose weight, you’ll keep it off.
And don’t forget the mind-body connection. There is plenty of research that shows how influential stress and sleep have on your metabolic rate.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to metabolism and how so many different things can work to increase or decrease your metabolic rate.
To keep the scale tipped in your favor, keep moving, eat protein at every meal, get plenty of rest and be mindful of your response to stress.
And that’s how you can make the most of your metabolism!
Recipe (Lean Protein): Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken Breasts
2 lemons, sliced
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon thyme
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
dash salt & pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive old
Preheat oven to 425F. Layer ½ of the lemon slices on the bottom of a baking dish. Sprinkle with ½ of the herbs and ½ of the sliced garlic.
Place the chicken breasts on top and sprinkle salt & pepper. Place remaining lemon, herbs and garlic on top of the chicken. Drizzle with olive oil. Cover with a lid or foil.
Bake for 45 minutes until chicken is cooked through. If you want the chicken to be a bit more “roasty” then remove the lid/foil and broil for another few minutes (watching carefully not to burn it).
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can add a leftover sliced chicken breast to your salad for lunch the next day!
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