When anyone has a goal of fat loss, their mind almost naturally shifts to, “How many calories am I burning, how do I burn more calories, how many calories are in this _______ I’m about to eat”. Everything revolves around calories. There are certainly external factors that determine how many calories you take in and how many calories you actively burn. Obviously, the food you eat will determine how many calories you consume. When you workout, you are actively determining how many calories you burn. You’ve all probably seen those charts that show 1 hour of (blank) activity is equal to (blank) number of calories burned. This is all a fair measurement, but as you probably know, there is a little something called metabolism that plays the single biggest part in your calorie burning potential.
Despite all the time you put in at the gym, your metabolism is still responsible for burning two times as many calories than your workout did. Metabolism contributes about 65% of your total daily caloric burn. For a quick physiology lesson, metabolism is essentially the process of breaking down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats to create energy for your body. This energy fuels everything for muscle contractions during a bench press to maintaining your vital organ functions. Think about that number for a second….your metabolism is responsible for roughly 65% of all calories burned each day. We stress and put so much effort into limiting calories in the food we eat, and opting for the most high-calorie burn workouts, but how often do we pay attention to our metabolism? We may be aware of it, but we don’t fully understand it. Well, if you’re sick of busting your butt and not making the progress you know you deserve, it’s time to figure out how to impact that third piece of the puzzle, i.e. metabolism, and send it into overdrive like never before.
A Slow Metabolism…Fat Loss Stops
It should be obvious that a slow metabolism is something we want to avoid. When we aren’t burning calories as efficiently as possible, fat begins to form, and becomes harder to eliminate over time. As we age, metabolism begins to slow; this is inevitable. It’s estimated our metabolism slows between 4-8% each decade of our lives. This is one way our metabolism is negatively impacted. This is of course not the only way to develop a sluggish metabolism. Living a sedentary lifestyle, making poor dietary choices, and developing an irregular sleep pattern can all contribute to a slowed metabolism. You know those mornings when you went out a little too hard the night before, spent the entire day on the couch just lounging around, and grazing on junk food and whatever was available? C’mon, we’ve all been there, you can be honest… Well, think about how you looked and felt in the day or two after that. Odds are you felt, slow, sluggish, bloated, and perhaps a little more portly than usual. This is because that type of lying will stop a metabolism dead in its tracks. When you take those sedentary qualities and make them more of an everyday (or most day) thing, it’s inevitable that your metabolism is going to take a hit, and your waistline is going to balloon as a result.
If you feel like you’ve got a slowed metabolism and are just itching to give it a shot in the arm, you’re in luck. There are sure-fire ways to send your metabolism into overdrive and get you back into the calorie burning machine you were made to be.
Seven Ways to Send Your Metabolism Into Overdrive
First off, your metabolism is highly connected to your thyroid gland. A healthy thyroid usually means a healthy (and active) metabolism. You need to maintain your thryoid health by making sensible food choices. Opting for beans, root vegetables, and if you can handle them, whole grains. These foods have been shown to positively impact the thyroid and keep your metabolism running in tip-top shape.
Second, I know a lot of you guys are using low-cal diets in an attempt to lose weight. Some of you are even dipping below 900 calories a day. I get your logic, and I get what you’re trying to do…..I really do. But hear me out on this one; low calorie diets have been shown in study after study to slow your metabolism. The reason this happens is because your body starts sliding into starvation mode and does whatever it can to retain energy, i.e. not burn calories. When it does burn energy, it goes right for your lean muscle mass. This is why many women on low calorie diets lose a ton of strength and definition, but still have pockets of fat in their “problem areas”. If weight loss is your goal, a diet of 1,200-1,500 calories is recommend, but certainly be sure to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to determine what’s right for you and your body type.
Muscle is a selfish thing. It requires sooo much more energy than other areas of your body to get by. It just gobbles up calories to keep itself sustained. This gimme-gimme-gimme demands of muscle mass is a good thing. Studies are mixed, but signal each pound of muscle requires between 14-50 calories per day to sustain itself. Bottom line, adding muscle to your body is going to spike your metabolism like nothing else. Build lean muscle mass by including new exercises into your routine, opt for complex exercises that hit multiple body parts, and for God’s sake, don’t be afraid to go heavy on the weights and fully tax your muscles. Believe me, they can handle it…and no…..you aren’t going to get big and bulky. Need a little extra help? Check out this killer muscle building workout that will help pack on lean muscle mass in no time.
Want to know something awesome? Cheat meals can actually HELP you with fat loss. That’s right, the occasional, well-timed cheat meal can totally throw your metabolism out of whack and force it to go into overdrive when it faces a sudden surplus of calories. To make the most of your cheat meal, gobble it down either before or after your workout. By choosing a meal high in simple carbs, like sugar (gasp!), you will help restore muscle glycogen (the energy required to help you lift weights). By timing it wisely, i.e. not before bed, you’ll burn off the excess calories and not have to worry about them finding a home on your inner thighs. Don’t go overboard with the cheat meals, but if you’re eating clean and healthy, a cheat meal every once in a while can work wonders for your metabolism.
I’ve talked about this a lot on the blog, but it certainly bears mentioning again. EPOC, or the energy required to return your body to it’s pre-workout state helps stoke the metabolic fire and requires a whole boat load of calories. When you finish a particularly greuling workout, your body doesn’t just instantly go back to it’s original state. It’s going to take some time to bring your heart rate, body temperature, respiratory rate, etc. down to normal. Bringing these vital bodily functions back to normal is no easy task. When your body is working hard, it’s burning calories. Learning to really tap into EPOC will help with you fat loss goals faster than almost anything else.
Go for high-intensity interval training and/or complex workouts to really spike your EPOC and have your metabolism running off the charts.
The foods you eat also play a vital role in affecting your metabolism. Some foods break down quickly, while others take more time and energy to be broken down. You want to opt for more foods in the latter group. Whole grains, high protein sources, and foods loaded with fiber all require extra work for your body to process. Refined grains, simple carbs, and the like are all easily processed and often are stored as fat if you’re body is already meeting its energy requirements.
Something I discovered while researching this topic, and makes sense in theory, is the effects our external environment has on our internal metabolic process. David Allison, PhD from the University of Alabama Clinical Nutrition Center has suggested using too much heat on cold days, or A/C on warm days can slow a metabolism. You see, when your body is forced to regulate itself, i.e. warm itself up or cool itself down, it requires energy. When a heater or A/C unit is doing the work, the body has to do less to maintain that baseline temperature. Exact numbers weren’t given, but if you’re desperate to boost that metabolism, maybe consider easing up on the heat this winter. Your belly and wallet may just thank you in the process!
- Your metabolism is more responsible for the calories burned than the actual physical workouts you perform.
- Metabolism slows with age, but maintaining a healthy and active life can seriously offset this inevitable slow down.
- A healthy thyroid = a healthy metabolism. Eat the right foods to keep your thyroid healthy and active.
- Low-calorie diets are often counterproductive and can potentially rob you of hard earn muscle gains.
- Adding muscle to your body is the single best thing you can do to spike a metabolism and improve your fat loss potential. If you’re having a hard time adding muscle it’s time to mix up your workouts, weights, or exercises.
- Well-timed and occasional cheat meals can completely confuse your body and force your metabolism to work harder to process them.
- External factors affect your metabolism; do your best to make your body work on its own to regulate temperature and other vital functions.