If you’ve ever thought about losing weight, you’ve probably come across the word ‘metabolism’. We worry about how fast our metabolism is because we know that this is what helps us burn fat and keep off the extra weight. But, really, what is your metabolism?
Well, your metabolism covers all biochemical reactions in your body – the organ’s use of nutrients from food, the cells’ use of oxygen from the air we breathe, and everything else that makes us living, breathing, mobile human beings.
All of these reactions make you who you are – your body is able to grow, heal and stay alive all because of your metabolism! Well, there are a few other things in play too but metabolism is important!!
Metabolism plays a role in a few difference processes:
- Physical activities and other conscious movements
- Uncontrollable body activities such as heart beat, breathing, and digestion
- Storage of fuel (fat) for later when sources are low
So when you put all of these processes together into your metabolism you can imagine that these processes can work too quickly, too slowly, or just right. Everybody is different so we know that the combined effects of metabolism can range from a metabolism that’s too fast, too slow or just right. But how do we know how efficient our metabolism is?
This is where the “metabolic rate” comes in.
This is how fast your metabolism works and is measured in calories (yup, those calories!).
The calories you eat can go to one of three places:
- Work (i.e. exercise and other activity).
- Heat (i.e. from all those biochemical reactions).
- Storage (i.e. extra leftover “unburned” calories stored as fat).
So, if your body is able to burn more calories through ‘work’ or ‘heat’, you will be able to lose weight and keep it off much easier because fewer calories will go into ‘storage’.
You can measure your own metabolic rate in a few ways, and there are some calculators out there online if you’re interested. One way is the ‘resting metabolic rate’ (RMR) (also known as ‘basal metabolic rate’, or BMR), which is how much energy is used just to keep you alive when you’re in a state of rest. Another way is the ‘total daily energy expenditure’ (TDEE), which measures how much energy you’re using to stay alive and from all the activities you do.
Measure your BMR here.
Measure your TDEE here.
What affects your metabolic rate?
A lot of things!
Most people first think of their thyroid when asked what affects their metabolism and they’re right, partially! This gland at the front of your throat releases hormones that tell your body to speed up or slow down metabolism; unfortunately, this gland is easily affected by hormonal imbalances in the body from other issues (i.e. stress, adrenal fatigue, excess estrogen) so it’s often not working optimally, especially in women as they approach menopause.
But that’s not the only thing that affects your metabolic rate.
The size of your body influences metabolic rate too! Larger people do have higher metabolic rates but the composition of your body is very important. Lean muscle mass burns more calories and increases metabolic rate way more than excess fat. And, this lean muscle mass will continue to burn calories even when you’re not working out! How cool is that?
So, if you want to lose weight faster, add some strength training and body weight exercises into your weekly routine to help build more muscle (don’t worry – it’s quite hard for women to ‘bulk up’ naturally so you’ll still look feminine and beautiful). Aerobic exercise is great for burning calories too but as you lose weight, your metabolism will slow – that’s why you notice the plateau effect in many weight loss exercise programs.
What you eat also affects your metabolism and the different types of foods affect it differently. Digestion itself burns calories, which is called the ‘thermic effect of food’. Eating fats increases your TEF by 0-3%; carbohydrates increases it by 5-10%; and protein increases it by 15-30%. Guess which of these macronutrients is important if you want to lose weight? Yup, you guessed it – protein! By swapping some of your fats and carbs for lean protein, you’ll actually help to slightly increase your metabolism!
Your muscles also need protein to rebuild after a good workout, so by feeding them and keeping them healthy, you will help burn more calories and keep your weight where you want it.
Sleep and stress levels can also affect the metabolic rate – having healthy sleeping patterns and practicing stress management techniques will also help keep your metabolism working at its best.
So, if you’re looking to lose weight, start by increasing your lean protein intake, adding some body weight exercises to your workout and doing something each day to destress your mind.
And, to get you started, here’s a great recipe that’s high in lean protein!
Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken Breasts
2 lemons, sliced, divided
1 tablespoon rosemary, divided
1 tablespoon thyme, divided
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced, divided
4 chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
dash salt & pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive old
Preheat oven to 425F. Layer ½ of the lemon slices on the bottom of a baking dish. Sprinkle with ½ of the herbs and ½ of the sliced garlic.
Place the chicken breasts on top and sprinkle salt & pepper. Place remaining lemon, herbs and garlic on top of the chicken. Drizzle with olive oil. Cover with a lid or foil.
Bake for 45 minutes until chicken is cooked through. If you want the chicken to be a bit more crispy, remove the lid/foil and broil for another few minutes (watching carefully not to burn it).
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can add a leftover sliced chicken breast to your salad for lunch the next day!