Metabolism: What Is It and How Do You Boost It?

Is a slow metabolism to blame for your weight gain? It’s possible, but unlikely unless you have a medical condition such as hypothyroidism.

Metabolism is the process of converting the food we eat into the energy (calories) we burn. If you have ever taken biochemistry you know that metabolism is actually a very complicated process, but I won’t bore you with the hellish details of ATP formation. For the details, take a look at the diagram below.

Even while sleeping our bodies are burning calories to carry out processes such as respiration, blood circulation, and cellular repair. The minimum amount of calories our bodies need to function at rest is known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR). On average, the BMR accounts for approximately 70% of our daily calorie needs. The other 30% comes from our daily activities and exercise.To estimate your BMR multiply your body weight in pounds by 10 for women and 11 for men. For example, a woman who weighs 150 pounds would burn 1500 calories per day if she were to lay on the couch all day, a man would burn 1650 doing the same thing.

There are several factors which affect the basal metabolic rate, most of which we cannot control. Some of these factors are our sex (men have higher BMR’s than women, lame), our genetics, and our age (BMR decreases with age). Factors which we can control include our body composition (the leaner you are the higher your BMR) and our body weight (a heavier person will have a higher BMR than a lighter person). This is in contrast to what is commonly believed that overweight people have a “slow” metabolism. If you weigh 300 pounds your metabolism is faster than someone who weighs 100 pounds. As you lose weight your metabolic rate decreases, which is partly why many people hit a plateau when they are dieting. Initially you may be able to lose weight on an 1800 calorie diet, but as the weight comes off your metabolic rate decreases and you have to further decrease your calorie intake or increase your calorie expenditure.

So what can we do to increase our metabolic rate?

Build Muscle. The single best advice is to increase your lean body mass through strength training. One pound of muscle at rest will burn 6 calories per day, just to maintain itself. While one pound of body fat will burn only 2 calories per day. Aim to strength train at least twice per week. If you’re goal is to build mass the heavier the better. Throw those 3 pound weights aside ladies! You are stronger than that!

Eat Spicy Foods. There is a little something called the thermic effect of food, which is the increase in metabolic rate after the ingestion of a meal. When you eat your body has to do some extra work to digest, absorb, and store the nutrients. In studies, spicy foods, like hot chili peppers which contain capsaicin increase the metabolic rate by about 8%. This could translate into an extra 90 calorie burn. While this is a small increase, it is significant and there is no harm in throwing a little extra red pepper on your food.

Sip Green Tea. Green tea is a rich source of antioxidants called catechins. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, drinking green tea combined with three hours of moderate exercise a week reduced abdominal fat in subjects over a three month period. It’s best to drink home brewed green tea, as opposed to store bought bottled tea which tends to be lower in antioxidants and high in sugar. Five cups or more of green tea per day is recommended to see an increase in metabolic rate.

High Intensity Exercise. Everyone knows you burn calories by exercising. But, when we exercise at a high intensity we not only burn calories during the exercise, but we continue to burn more calories after the exercise. Something called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) allows us to have a higher metabolic rate following exercise. A sizable metabolic increase only occurs with intense exercise. That is why it may be better to try a 20 min jog with sprint intervals, than a 40 minute walk.

While at the gym last week, the chalkboard read “10 Foods to Accelerate Your Metabolism.”  These foods included spinach, grapefruit, dark chocolate, bananas, etc. While these foods are healthy, there is no evidence that they have any affect on your metabolism. Whoever wrote that list better hope they don’t run into me because I will call them out on their bullshit. The above tips are proven scientific ways to increase your metabolism, and although the effect is small, it may give you that extra edge you are looking for.

3 thoughts on “Metabolism: What Is It and How Do You Boost It?

  1. Take away: Bringing my water bottle full of green tea and red chilli peppers to the gym while I run sprints and weight lift! 🙂

    J/K, good information that I am going to incorporate into my resolutions this year!

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