Dieters often say that a slow metabolism keeps them from losing weight. Marketers of weight-loss products capitalize on this belief by offering ways to boost your metabolism and “melt away” unwanted pounds. Is a faster metabolism really the key to weight loss? And is it really possible to speed up your metabolism?
Metabolism Made Easy
Metabolism refers to the way the body uses energy (measured in calories). The body uses calories in three ways:
• To sustain vital body functions like breathing, heart rate, waste removal, cell growth and cell repair (even when at rest, all this accounts for up to 75% of the calories you burn daily)
• For physical activity
• For digestion and absorption of food, which uses about 10% of a day’s calories
The speed at which the body burns calories when at rest is called your resting metabolic rate (RMR). Everyone’s RMR differs and may, in part, be genetically pre-determined. Some lucky people really do have a higher metabolic rate than others and therefore burn more calories even when doing nothing.
The only way to know your RMR is to have a health and fitness professional measure it, such as with a hand-held device called BodyGem, for example. It measures oxygen consumption, which reflects the rate at which your body burns calories. Cutting calories below your RMR is not smart, because your body then shifts into starvation mode, lowering your metabolic rate even more. So even if you are eating less, it can actually be harder to lose weight, because your body is fighting to conserve the energy it has stored in body fat. Here’s what you need to know about metabolism and its effect on weight loss:
People who exercise regularly burn more calories and have more muscle mass than those who are less active. Aerobic exercise, like brisk walking and swimming, burns calories, while strength training slows the inevitable muscle loss associated with aging, which helps boost metabolism. It’s often reported that aerobic and resistance exercise increase metabolism not only while you’re exercising, but for several hours after as well. This increase in metabolism is not sustained long-term, however. High-intensity training may have the greatest effect on metabolic rate post-exercise, but there are no studies linking the aftereffects of activity with significant weight loss.
Get your Zzzzs
How long you sleep may affect hormones that regulate appetite and body weight. The large, ongoing Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study found that people who sleep less, weigh more. Sleeping only four to five hours a night, instead of the recommended seven to eight, alters levels of the appetite-regulating hormones Leptin and Ghrelin, leading to increased appetite. These hormonal changes combined with having more time awake, meaning more time to eat, and feeling too tired to exercise all contribute to weight gain.
Carbs vs. Protein
The Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet and others like them maintain that low-carbohydrate diets offer a metabolic advantage over low-fat diets by burning more calories for energy. The weight loss seen with these diets is more of a result of high protein than low-carb, according to Dale Schoeller, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In fact, studies that he authored found some evidence of a very slight metabolic advantage for high-protein diets. And protein may slightly blunt the fall in resting metabolism that occurs with weight loss. Still, what matters most are calories.
Safe Ways to Raise your Metabolism:
1. Do 30 minutes or more of aerobic activity at least four-to-five times a week.
2. Strength-train three times a week to increase your lean muscle and the rate at which your body burns calories.
3. Don’t wait more than five hours between meals (except at night). Skipping meals can slow your metabolism and deprive you of necessary energy.
4. Eat breakfast to jump start your metabolism after a night’s sleep. Having breakfast provides you with energy and helps prevent overeating at your next meal.