We hear a lot about metabolism–and often blame our “slow metabolism” for our inability to keep our weight under control. But what is metabolism, exactly? And is there anything we can do to change our metabolic rate?
Definition of Metabolism
Metabolism basically refers to all the chemical processes that take place in the body in order to sustain life–allowing you to breathe, pump blood, keep your brain functioning and extract energy from your food. When you hear the term metabolic rate—more accurately called basal (or resting) metabolic rate—that refers to the number of calories your body at rest uses each day, just to keep all your vital organs functioning.
You burn additional calories through your daily activities and formal exercise, but by far, the majority of the calories that you burn each day are your basal calories. The number of calories that you burn every day is directly related to your body composition. Your lean body mass—everything in your body that isn’t fat (e.g., bone, fluid, tissue, muscle)—determines your metabolic rate, with every pound of fat-free mass burning about 14 calories per day.
If you weigh 150 pounds and 50 pounds is fat and 100 pounds is lean body mass, then you would burn about 1,400 calories per day at rest. If you don’t get much activity, you won’t burn much more than this throughout the day. But if you weigh 150 pounds and 25 pounds is fat, and 125 pounds of you is fat-free, then you burn 1,750 calories per day at rest. And if you get some regular exercise and burn a few hundred calories more per day, your total calorie burn for the day might be 2,000 calories!
How to Increase Metabolism
You are not stuck! You can change your metabolism. Because your lean body mass contains muscle tissue, one of the best things you can do to boost your metabolic rate is to strength-train to increase your muscle mass. Your muscle mass works like a furnace, burning calories and stored fat for energy. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism, and the faster you burn calories. If you build up 10 pounds of lean body mass, that’s an additional 140 extra calories that you burn per day. Be intentional about maintaining or building muscle to keep up your metabolic rate, especially as you age. Cardiovascular exercise will burn calories and resistance training will preserve or build up muscle to defend against muscle loss which leads to a slower metabolism.
If you cut calories, it is true that your metabolic rate will slow a bit as your body conserves for survival. But these are small decreases and becoming more active will help preserve the rate at which your body burns calories.
Unfortunately, metabolism boosting foods are a myth. Eating a grapefruit won’t necessarily speed up your metabolism. However, replacing high-calorie foods with low-calorie food will help weight loss, and eating plenty of protein daily is essential to maintaining your muscle mass for good health, energy and effective weight management.
Want to know how many calories you burn each day? Visit New U in Lake in the Hills for a free assessment. We’ll measure your lean body mass and come up with a plan that will help you target the right calories per day for weight loss and an exercise plan that will boost your metabolism.