The word metabolism is thrown around all the time;“I have a slow metabolism, it makes it so hard to lose weight”,
“You are so skinny you must have a fast metabolism,”
“Eating every three hours helps speed up metabolism.”
However, most people don’t know what it actually means.
Metabolism: the energy required to maintain normal and life sustaining body functions (breathing, heart rate, body temperature, tissue growth -muscle, etc.) while at rest.
In other words, your metabolism is the amount of calories your body needs in a day to survive and continue to function properly, it is related to the rate at which your body burns calories and how efficiently it uses the calories you feed it.
Resting metabolic rate (RMR) doesn’t vary a whole lot in healthy people, with the exception of those who have an underachieve thyroid, however you can increase the energy needed to sustain your functions and how your body uses the calories you consume by increasing your lean body mass.
Exercise actually changes how your body uses the calories you eat.
Muscle is more “expensive” calorie wise to sustain than fat, 1 pound of muscle burns 50 more calories at rest than 1 pound of fat. Therefore, if you gain 10 pounds of muscle your RMR increases by an extra 500 calories a day!
That means by strength training and gaining muscle, you can technically “speed up your metabolism” because your body will need more energy (food) to sustain it’s functions, especially tissue repair and growth. Furthermore, when you strength train regularly your body will learn to store the food you eat (mostly carbs and protein) differently; what you eat will go to your muscles first because it knows that you will need them either for energy in those muscles in the near future, or to repair those muscles from a workout. However, don’t let that make you think you can eat whatever you want all the time, because there is a limit to how much glycogen (stored form of carbs) your muscles can hold, and after that amount your body will start to store it as fat. The good news is, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will be able to handle to either maintain your weight, or even lose weight!
On the other hand, certain habits and behaviours can technically, “slow your metabolism.”
One of the hardest things on your metabolism is hardcore dieting, for a prolonged period of time. The reason behind this is that our bodies are very smart; when you are in a calorie deficit for too long your body believes that you are not going to be able to find food again for a while, so in order to survive it starts to “slow down your metabolism.” This means that your hormones will make you store more of the food you eat as fat for energy and will also decrease your activity so you burn fewer calories and don’t “waste for energy”. Have you ever noticed that when you are dieting for a long period of time your weight loss starts to plateau? Or that you feel very sluggish….therefore move less?
This is why “diet breaks” and/ or a cheat meal are great, not only for your mental sanity while trying to lose weight, but also for your hormones. Cheat meals (not whole cheat days/ weeks) trick your body into seeing that you are not starving it and allows it to start burning more calories again.
In conclusion, the best way to help with a “slow metabolism” is to add strength training to your routine and make sure you are not dieting too hard, too long!