“I have a slow metabolism” That’s the excuse we tend to use to explain the extra weight we carry in the belly or around the hips. We’ve never tested how fast our metabolism is but we suspect that it’s the main issue. What exactly is the metabolism and what affects it? And if it’s true that we do have a slow one, how can we increase it?
What is a metabolism?
The metabolism is the amount of calories or energy the body spends in order to maintain its vital functions. Think of it as a car that needs fuel. The only difference is, your body needs energy even if it’s resting. Any basic act such as respiration requires burning calories.
What affects the metabolism?
The rate at which each of us burns calories is different. That’s why we talk about a slow or a fast metabolism. It is affected by:
Heredity: your metabolic rate is partially determined by your genes.
Body composition: The fat-free mass (any part of your body except fat) is a predictor of your energy expenditure. To make it simpler: your muscles require a higher maintenance than your body fat. And that’s why, if you have more muscles, then you definitely burn more calories during the day. For example, if we have two people with the same weight and height but each with a different body composition; the one that has more muscles will have a faster metabolism.
Age: As you grow older, you start losing muscle mass and gaining fat. So your metabolic rate decreases at a rate of 5% per decade after 40.
Sex: Sex differences in metabolic rate are primarily due to differences in body composition. Women usually have a higher percentage of fat in their bodies. And that’s why their metabolism is 5 to 10% lower than men.
Hormonal Status: It can affect the metabolic rate in many cases.
Those who have a disorder such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism (hyper or hypoactivity of the thyroid gland) will have, respectively, a higher or lower metabolism.
Periods of emotional excitement or stress can cause the release of adrenaline, a hormone that increases energy expenditure.
And finally, the metabolic rate varies during the different phases of the menstrual cycle. Studies show that it increases during the time period between ovulation and the onset of menstruation.
Body weight: Your metabolism increases proportionally to your weight. In reality, your body spends more energy in order to carry any extra weight. This explains the fact that when a person is on diet, they lose weight very quickly at first. Then, when their metabolism decreases, the weight loss pace becomes slower.
Other factors: Extreme temperatures affect the metabolic rate. People living in tropical climates usually burn 5 to 20% more calories than those living in temperate areas. Also, exercising in high temperatures can also increase the metabolic load of about 5% from increased sweat gland activity. However, we definitely do not recommend self suffocation!
Extreme cold environments affect the metabolism depending on protective clothing and the insulation available from body fat.
Foods and behaviors that can boost your metabolism
It is true that there are unchangeable determinants of the metabolic rate such as age, gender and genes. But, luckily, there are others you can work on in order to increase your daily calorie expenditure. There are some foods and behaviors that seem to help you do that:
Physical activity: The best way to boost your metabolism is to exercise on a regular basis. Go for muscle building activities: the more muscles, the more calories spent! And girls, don’t worry! We don’t have the hormones necessary to develop those huge muscles we fear. So, head towards the gym and start lifting some weights.
Eat more frequently: Eating 5-6 small meals seems more helpful than eating 3 large ones. The key is not to starve your body because when you do, it will decrease the metabolism in order to compensate.
DO NOT skip breakfast: It is the only way to let your body know that you woke up. Start feeding it so that it starts functioning. If you’re not used to having breakfast, we have the right tips for you.
Water: drinking water seems to increase the metabolism. In fact, burning calories requires proper hydration. Thus, people who drink more than 8 glasses of water a day have a higher metabolism than those who drink four.
Coffee and Green tea: They seem to increase significantly the energy expenditure. It is probably due to their content in caffeine and catechins.
Protein and carbohydrates: Their digestion by the body seems to require 25% compared to fat. That’s why you should always go for a low fat meal in order to maximize your energy expenditure.
Spices and hot peppers: they contain compounds that can elevate energy expenditure. Even though the effect is temporary, it wouldn’t hurt to add a tablespoon of spices or peppers to your dishes.
Avoid crash diets: when we say crash diets, we mean ones that involve eating less than 1000 calories per day. Not only do they put your body on starvation mode, but they also cause a weight loss through loss of muscle! Both consequences will lead to a decrease in metabolism!
As you’ve read, many foods and behaviors can rev up your metabolism. However, the most certain way would be to exercise regularly. But before you start panicking, why don’t you visit your dietitian and test your body composition. You might be surprised by the resuts!