The word “metabolism” is thrown around a lot these days. How many times have I looked at someone skinnier than I am and think – “Man, I wish I had her metabolism.”?
Actually, I usually think, “Man, I wish I had her arms/legs/flat belly/really expensive workout pants.”
But I know that a speedier metabolism would at least help me get closer to that Skinny Woman.
So, what do you know about metabolism? You know that if yours is too slow you might gain weight. But what exactly does that 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 to fuel everything you do.
Your body has an incredible ability to grow, heal, and generally stay alive and without this amazing biochemistry, you and whatever body you have 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. heartbeat, healing wounds, processing of nutrients & toxins, etc.).
- Allow storage of excess energy for later.
So when you put all of these processes together, it’s easy to imagine that they’re all going to work a little differently for all of us.
For some, it works too fast. For some, too slow. And for some? Just right.
That’s what we call your “metabolic rate.”
Don’t worry – There will not be a pop quiz after this.
What is Your Metabolic Rate and How Can You Make it Go Faster?
Your metabolic rate is how fast your metabolism works and is measured in calories (yup, those calories!).
The calories you eat can go to one of three places:
- Work (i.e. exercise and other activity).
- Heat (i.e. from all those biochemical reactions).
- Storage (i.e. extra leftover “unburned” calories stored as fat).
I kind of feel like all of mine go to storage, don’t you?
As you can imagine the more calories you burn while working, moving and creating heat, the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off because there will be fewer “leftover” calories to store for later.
So, how do you measure your metabolic rate?
There are a couple of different ways
- One is the “resting metabolic rate” (RMR or BMR) which is how much energy your body uses when you’re not being physically active. Calculate your BMR.
- The other is the “total daily energy expenditure” (TDEE) which measures both the resting metabolic rate as well as the energy used for “work” (e.g. exercise) throughout a 24-hour period. Calculate your TDEE.
So, What Makes My Metabolic Rate Slow or Fast?
Short answer: A lot of Things.
You know about your thyroid, right? It’s a little gland at the front of your throat that releases hormones to tell your body to “speed up” your metabolism. Of course, the more thyroid hormone there is the faster things will work and the more calories you’ll burn.
On the other hand, if your body doesn’t release enough thyroid hormone, then you know what happens. Yep…you burn fewer calories.
Your Weight and Size
Another thing that affects your metabolism is how big you are. Larger people have higher metabolic rates, but that isn’t the end of the world because one thing you can do about it: Increase lean muscle tissue.
In other words, lifting weights.
Muscles are more metabolically active than fat so the more you have, the higher your metabolism will be. Your body burns more energy even when you’re not working out. It’s like free weight loss!
Well, not really but sort of.
There’s another reason you want to lift weights, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. A funny thing happens when you go on a diet or start losing weight: Your metabolism actually slows down because your body is trained to hold onto body fat. I mean, what if you’re not eating because all the food is gone??
You know it isn’t, but your body doesn’t.
Lifting weights can offset this little problem, helping you hold onto muscle that would otherwise be lost through the weight loss process.
Here’s a great workout to get your started: Total Body Dumbbell Workout.
When you do cardio, your metabolic rate goes up because your muscles are burning fuel. This is temporary, unfortunately, but it definitely affects your metabolism in the long run, especially if you’re losing weight.
Don’t forget you have to lift weights, too.
Here’s an easy Low Impact Cardio Workout you can try to get your metabolism moving.
The Food You Eat
We often don’t think that eating can actually help us burn calories, but it’s all part of your overall metabolism.
Your body actually burns calories to absorb, digest, and metabolize your food. This is called the “thermic effect of food” (TEF).
You can actually use this 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. By working them out and feeding them what they need they will help you to lose weight and keep it off.
Stress and Sleep
There is plenty of research showing that your metabolic rate is affected by things like sleep and stress.
In one study published in Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, researchers found that stress increases the hormone, cortisol, which can increase the development of belly fat.
Lack of sleep can have the same effect and, of course, make you even more stressed out.
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.
So, you know that you can increase your metabolism by:
- Doing cardio
- Lifting weights
- Getting enough sleep
- Dealing with stress
- Focusing on getting more protein
If you want the full workout experience without having to think anything about it, I’ve got some options for you:
7-Day Kickstart Exercise Program – This free program takes you through 7 days of simple challenges that help get you going in the right direction.
8-Week Weight Loss Program for Women Over 40 – This is the whole shebang – 8 weeks of cardio and strength workouts in video/pdf form, all planned out for you.
Below, is a great recipe for upping your protein. Eat up and enjoy!
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!
References and Sources:
Seematter G, Binnert C, Tappy L. Stress and Metabolism. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders. 2005;3(1):8-13. doi:10.1089/met.2005.3.8