by Maria Stevens, April 2019
METABOLISM – (simple definition) the rate at which your body burns/utilizes energy.
About 70% of a human’s total energy expenditure is due to the basal life processes within the organs of the body. About 20% of one’s energy expenditure comes from day-to-day physical activity and another 10% (rough estimate based on average thermic effect) from digestion of food.
Tips on how to boost it:
- Exercise – OBVIOUSLY. But more importantly, building MUSCLE. Muscle burns three times the energy as fat to maintain itself. Muscle gets hungry. As you build more muscle, you will be allowed to eat more.
- Frequency of eating – Digestion demands a significant amount of energy. This is why you often feel tired after eating—especially after eating a lot. Each time you put food into your stomach, your body has to shift direction, send blood to the stomach, and process food. The more often you eat, (in theory) the more energy gets burned.
- Type of food you are eating – Not all calories are created equal. Each food has a thermic effect. On average, 10% of the calories you eat go to fueling digestive processes, but this is a very rough estimate. Protein takes up to 30% to digest. Fat, as little as 2-3% (and let’s not forget that a gram of fat has twice the amount of calories)! This is why we are told to avoid calories from fat. Fat is the easiest thing for the body to break down (this is why the low heart rate “fat burning” training sessions can be sustained for hours and hours). Simple carbohydrates are quick to digest; complex carbs are not—they require a multi-step digestive endeavor for the body. So, make sure to eat plenty of complex carbs not JUST because they sustain levels of energy, but also because they BURN more energy to digest. Obviously, protein is the most ideal for this thermic effect (yes, the Atkins diet gets results fat), but too much protein, especially from animal sources, is not worth the associated impacts on your health (the Atkins diet is bad bad for your health).
- Have a stable blood sugar level – We know that the pancreas creates insulin, which is a hormone whose job it is to push sugar from the blood and into the cells (where it is used for energy). Refined grains and simple sugars, because of the speed at which they are digested, jack up the blood sugar so fast that the pancreas gets shocked into working overtime—in order to produce enough insulin to handle that sugar load. Also, that surge of insulin tells your body that there is (obviously) plenty (surplus) of energy present in the body, and so the body should stop burning fat and start storing it. However, the even greater concern is that the insulin surge causes too much blood sugar to be transported out of your blood (because the pancreas freaked out about the excessive sugar load, and responded with excessive insulin), and this results in your blood sugar dropping below normal AGAIN! That leaves you feeling tired and hungry, wanting to eat again to restore to dipped blood sugar level. When blood sugar is low, the body sends a message to eat. The more stable the blood sugar, the less pre-occupied you will be with food.
- Do not skip meals or calorie-restrict – This might start sounding redundant, as these issues all tie into each other, but it is another possible pit-fall. When you skip a meal, your metabolism slows down to conserve energy; when you lose weight too quickly for a few days, your body thinks it is threatened with starvation and goes into survival mode. It fights to conserve your fat stores, and any weight loss comes mostly from water and muscle. If your body loses weight in muscle (the most metabolic tissue that enables you to eat more and boosts your metabolism), then it FURTHER slows the metabolism! So, Eating frequently prevents hunger pangs and the binges that follow, provides consistent energy, and may be the single most effective way to maintain metabolism efficiency.
- Exercise in the morning – metabolism will run at a higher rate after a workout. You have more waking hours after your training session in the morning (say 12?) to enjoy this higher rate, vs. the waking hours you have in an evening session (say 6?). You simply get a greater return.
- Water, water, water!! – Water helps the body metabolize fat. Water makes up 70 to 80% of your blood and brain, so it’s essential to good health. And drink cold water. First, cold water is more quickly absorbed to assist your body. But second, and more importantly, your body is 98.6 degrees, and cold water is definitely not. In order to maintain your regular, optimal functioning temperature, your body will burn energy to heat that water up. Also, thirst is often mistaken for hunger.
- Be cold – Shivering burns a lot of energy. All your muscles are contracting simultaneously! The body has to build a fire (burn calories–”firewood”) to keep you warm.
- Spicy food – Spices like chili are thought to raise metabolism by up to 50 percent for up to three hours after eating. Even if it isn’t that much, spicy food will slow down consumption of that meal, better enabling your body to receive the signal that it is full before you go for another helping.
- Green tea – boosts the metabolism, if only marginally. Everybody says so.
- Move more – tiny changes in behavior add up to big shifts. Park at the far end of the parking lot and walk to the store. Never ever use an escalator again, but take the adjacent stairs. Allow yourself to take more trips in and out of rooms if you are clearing, let’s say, the dinner table.
Taken singly, you might not notice an effect. As you work to make each of these strategies long-term habits, you’ll see a major impact in how your body burns and stores its energy.