All About Your Metabolism and How To Increase It
How many click-bait articles or pop-up advertisements have you seen with a theme such as “12 Super Foods that Increase Your Metabolic Rate into Overdrive” or “How to Increase Metabolism with this One Weird Trick” or “Do this Exercise for 5 minutes and What Happens to Speed-Up Metabolism will BLOW. YOUR. MIND.”
“A bad day for your ego is a great day for your soul.”
—Jillian Michaels, Fitness Expert
Guess what, it’s not real – at least most of it isn’t. The science behind your metabolism is interesting, but there really is only one way to speed up your metabolism (not double it, but slightly increase it) and that is to decrease your body’s fat and increase your body’s lean muscle mass.
What is Metabolism?
“I’m constantly feeding my metabolism. But at the same time, if I want to go one night and have a nice dinner then I won’t sweat it the next day.”
—Cara Castronuova, Boxer
Prior to delving into the science behind any one metabolism booster, let’s answer a very important question that some of the aforementioned articles do a poor job of conveying: what exactly is metabolism? Knowing what you wish to accomplish is the first step in reaching your impossible goals.
Your metabolism, or metabolic rate to be precise, is the speed at which your body expends energy. To explain this, I’m going to use the analogy of a car, so bear with me a moment and think of your body as a car. Gasoline is the fuel for a car, just like food is the fuel for your body. In order for the engine to run, your car needs gas, and in order for your body to work, it needs food.
Now, as most people know, when you push the accelerator to the floor in your car and wind the engine up to top, you are burning a lot more gas than when your car is just sitting idle, and your body is eerily similar. When you are working out, say running at a dead sprint or doing jumping jacks as fast as you can, you are burning more calories than when you are laying on the couch, binging Netflix.
However, there are ways to boost your metabolism and doing so can mean increased fat loss throughout the day, even during long spurts on the couch. With that in mind, it generally comes back to proper nutrition and exercise.
What Factors Make Up Metabolic Rate?
“What you want is to rev up your metabolism so that you are burning fat and calories, not preserving fat and calories.”
—Kathy Freston, Author
Your metabolic rate is concerned with a lot of different factors, such as your height, weight, age, organ function, health history, and oxygen capacity to name a few. All of these matter when it comes to how your body burns calories throughout the day, either while working out in the gym, being somewhat active like walking the dog, or while remaining sedentary.
One’s resting metabolism is made up almost entirely of the random involuntary things the human body does in order to survive. These items include brain function, heart beating, liver filtering, lungs respiring, and so on. However, the one somewhat controllable factor affecting metabolism is your ratio of lean muscle mass to body fat.
Harold Gibbons, the New York State Director from the National Strength and Conditioning Association says, “The more fat you have, the slower your metabolism will be.” He further states, “Muscle burns more calories than fat tissue, because muscle requires more energy to maintain.”
In order to affect your ratio of fat loss to lean muscle, you must do more than simply lose weight. After all, cutting weight through nutrition will aide in losing fat, but it will likely cut your muscle mass as well, which will keep the same ratio you’ve been dealing with, and not boost your metabolism in any significant manner.
One must increase their muscle mass while either maintaining or decreasing their overall body weight, thus shifting their body composition to be more lean than fat. This is the only way to increase one’s resting metabolic rate.
Where Do I Start?
“I know I need to exercise. For some people, exercise is like breathing; for others, like me, it takes effort. Exercising is what I need for my metabolism and for a better sense of well-being.”
—Al Roker, TV Personality
First, increase lean muscle mass in order to boost metabolic rate. It is that simple. The truth was right there the whole time! Right? Well, maybe…
The easiest was to increase lean muscle is to tone the big muscles in your body. Your glutes and thighs are a great place to start on your lower body, since they are the largest muscles your body has to offer.
Now, you may feel like you are being sent on a fool’s errand – you want to increase your metabolic rate so that you can lose weight easily, but if you exercise, then you’re going to be burning calories and losing weight anyway, so what’s the trick?
From a bird’s eye view of the situation, it may seem this way, but it is simpler than one might think. In order to increase your metabolic rate, you need to work your big muscles. This doesn’t require hours at the gym everyday.
Instead, doing a few sets of squats and lunges a few times per week, for 30 minutes per session can increase the amount of energy that is being burned from exercising. It is not as easy as taking a magic pill, but it actually works.
Another benefit of doing strength training is that anaerobic exercises, such as weighted squats and lunges, breaks down and then rebuilds muscle tissue which causes an increase in calorie burn in the 24 to 48 hours after each work out.
This is informally known as “afterburn” and scientifically known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC. The intensity of afterburn calorie loss is currently being debated by in scientific circles.
How Does this Affect the Respiratory System?
“Laughing is also good for your respiratory system.”
—Allen Klein, Businessmen
Obviously, respiratory function is an important part of metabolism, which means regularly engaging in cardio to increase your heart rate. Whether this includes walking, jogging, swimming, hiking, cycling, or simply spring-cleaning, just about any form of moderate to intense aerobic activity will aid in boosting ones metabolism.
If you want to boost your metabolism, following the standard healthful advice of being active for an hour a day as well as doing more intense anaerobic training a few times a week will help.
Despite all of the “information” out there on the Internet regarding supplements or foods that will help increase one’s metabolic rate, many of these backdoor funnels are false. There is no scientific evidence to prove that any metabolic nutrition with metabolism boosting power exists.
Stimulants, such as caffeine, found in green tea or coffee, is typically touted as a metabolism booster, but the effect is so miniscule it is hardly worth noting. For example, we all know that there is protein in certain types of breads, but that doesn’t mean you can skip the chicken and get your nutrients from pizza.
On the same note, some will brand protein or even fat as a way to super-charge one’s metabolism as your body uses more energy to digest it than other foods like carbs, however this effect is cursory at best.
The Science of Metabolic Nutrition
“The food you can eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”
—Ann Wigmore, Nutritionist
Let us take a deeper look at the science of metabolic nutrition. There is a sliding scale in the body where you are either building fat or burning it. This scale is based on the levels of glucose in your blood stream, which is largely affected by the highlighted factors above.
Carbohydrates, aside from indigestible carbohydrates like fiber, become glucose in your blood. Within those carbohydrates, there are good carbs and bad carbs, which can often be simplified as processed foods versus non-processed. Rice is good. Pre-packaged sweets are not so good.
To restate a point made earlier, assuming you have a normal metabolism, and you are eating normally, if you are ingesting more calories than your body is burning, you will build fat despite other factors.
If, on the other hand, you are burning more calories than you are consuming, you will burn fat. Based upon this principle, “diets” are ways to hack your nutritional intake and your body into having a low-caloric and low-glycemic state, which causes a release of hormones that result in a fat getting pulled out of long-term storage and getting kicked to the curb.
When a Diet Fails You
“If you keep on eating unhealthy food than no matter how many weight loss tips you follow, you are likely to retain weight and become obese. If only you start eating healthy food, you will be pleasantly surprises how easy it is to lose weight.”
—Subodh Gupta, 7 Habits of Skinny Women
If you do not eat enough, or not frequently enough, your body may go into starvation mode, which is a very scary term by itself. What the human body does, if it is not getting enough calories, is that it will start being more selective with energy usage and literally slowing your metabolism. This means eating too little makes it harder to lose weight.
That would be why you sometimes see a person that argues they barely eat anything (though they live a very sedentary life) and can’t seem to lose weight. It is because their body is afraid they aren’t going to get another meal and is preparing to run on low power mode until more food comes its way. Unfortunately, we haven’t evolved from our hunter and gatherer ancestors to understand the ease of food’s accessibility in the modern world.
Something that many other people do not consider is that the human body burns calories while it is sleeping. To return to the car metaphor as mentioned at the beginning of this article, like an automobile idling.
This metabolic burn comes from all of the involuntary functions that happen while you’re asleep, but also dehydration from respiration, perspiration, and (typically prior to hopping on the scale in the morning) urination.
The human body loses water weight in all of the aforementioned ways while we sleep, which is what causes us to weigh less right after waking up, typically. Not getting enough sleep can also cause a drop in one’s metabolism rate.
The only way to boost metabolism is to change your body composition to have less fat and more lean muscle mass, get plenty of sleep, eat enough calories, and don’t skip meals; meanwhile, pills, creams, super foods, supplements, and any other “magic” in the world aren’t going to boost your metabolism.
6 Foods that Boost Metabolism
“While weight loss is important, what’s more important is the quality of food you put in your body — food is important that quickly changes your metabolism and genes.”
—Mark Hyman, M.D.
There are certain foods in your grocery store that do actually boost your metabolism. Essentially, they assist in burning fat and can do so despite a person’s genetic, pre-disposition. The following list, when used in the right proportions, can help an individual lose weight, gain muscle, and speed up metabolism.
Blueberries, for example, is a food with antioxidants. What that means is that oxidation occurs within the body. Oxidation is a chemical process where electrons leave in a chemical reaction called free radical. The antioxidants found in blueberries keep this oxidation from occurring, which stops the build-up of free radicals.
Almonds, the next natural food to boost metabolism, has been labeled a miracle food. A natural dense food, almonds work well in small dosages and this allows for excess nutrition from a small amount of calories. In addition, almonds have been known to lower LDL cholesterol levels while providing protein, saturated fats, and even fiber.
Whey protein, perhaps the easiest way to bulk up protein on-the-go, helps the body add building blocks to produce amino acids for increased muscle tissue. For those who lift weights to build muscle, protein is key. Whey protein, specifically, contains the perfection combination of amino acids to work within the body.
Salmon, despite having a high number of calories, is low in saturated fat and high in protein, among other nutrients. Along with essentially fatty acids, salmon is an excellent source of omega-3s, selenium, phosphorous, niacin, protein, B12, B6, and magnesium. Salmon is also a natural cardiovascular activist.
Spinach, the most popular leafy green vegetable is known for its delicate consistency, leafy green vegetable, and jade color, in addition to being Popeye’s favorite. Eating this vegetable protects individuals from osteoporosis, heart disease, arthritis, and colon cancer. In addition to these physical expansions, there are also mental improvements.
Finally, we must not forget about water. Approximately two thirds of the human body is made up of water and another 83 percent of blood is made from water as well. Muscles are 74 percent water, bones 22 percent, and the brain another 74 percent. Drinking the correct amount of water will improve energy, while increasing mental and physical performance.
Notes for an Improved Metabolism
Overall, despite what the gurus and fitness sites tell you, there are only a few ways to boost your metabolism and they all involve proper diet and exercise. The problem with clichés is that people stop believing them. On the contrary, good ol’ fashioned advice on losing weight and keeping it off relies on principles, not cheap tricks.
Your metabolic rate depends on various different factors, such as height, weight, age, organ function, health history, and oxygen capacity. Together, these various items burn calories throughout the day, inside and outside of the gym, even while sedentary. Whatever you decide, stick to your plan, follow it daily, and don’t be too hard on yourself.