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What We Can and Can't Do About Metabolism

For those interested in weight loss (or even weight gain), the term “metabolism” seems to be thrown around quite a bit. “I can’t lose weight, I have a slow metabolism” or “I can’t gain weight, I have a fast metabolism.” Although there is an undeniable genetic component to it, there are several others controllable and uncontrollable factors that can influence your metabolic speed.

Metabolism, in its simplest of terms, is defined as “the processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life.” Essentially, it is the sum of all the activity that goes on inside your body to keep you functioning, including maintaining a heartbeat, breathing, processing food, small and large movement, etc. This, of course, requires energy or “calories” to do. From here, two more terms are born. Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the minimal rate of energy expended in order to keep you alive. Further, your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is the amount of energy expended at rest (takes into account eating, small activity, etc.). 

So, how does all of this effect you? We hear a lot about increasing cardiovascular exercise to increase daily energy expenditure (which is extremely effective in terms of burning calories and leading to several other health benefits); however, when it boils down to it, extra energy expenditure only accounts for about 30% of our daily energy loss. The other 70% is from our RMR.

Since a majority of our expenditure is from our body’s natural functions, it would make sense to do what we can to positively influence our RMR and induce more calorie loss. Although there are some factors that are uncontrollable (age, gender, genetics), below are a few controllable ways to boost your metabolism naturally:

1.) Resistance (strength) training: a large part of our Resting Metabolic Rate comes from overall muscle maintenance. Therefore, the more lean muscle we have, the more energy is burned to maintain this said muscle mass. 

2.) Sleep: it has been found that 8 hours of sleep/ night provides the most efficient metabolic rate. When we are deprived of sleep (which many of us are), it can negatively effect our hunger, satiety, and hormone production. Also, we are likely to be less active the day(s) following. 

3.) Hydration: since most of our metabolic processes rely on water, dehydration can force these processes out of optimal function. This can lead to a reduction in fat metabolism.

4.) Consistent eating: just like with our sleep, our body works like a clock. Therefore, when we skip meals or eat inconsistently, this clock can be thrown out of rhythm. If we skip a meal, our body is forced into “starvation mode.” Here, the body holds onto and conserves its food, decreasing its ability to burn calories. Additionally, skipping meals can lead to excess hunger and eventual binge eating. That is why is is important to stay on top of your hunger and fill your body with healthy, fiber-filled snacks/meals throughout the day!

Moral of the story: strength train, sleep well, drink plenty of water, and stay on top of your hunger!

Stephanie Spoto, CSCS

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