By Sam Barr, ACSM
Have you ever wondered how some people can eat anything they want without the risk of gaining weight, while others carefully monitor their food intake and still struggle to stay fit? This is based on a bodily process called metabolic rate. Simply put, metabolism is the process of breaking down food into nutrients the body absorbs and uses for energy.
The speed at which the breaking down occurs, the metabolic rate, depends on several related factors: the number of calories you consume, the number of calories your body burns to stay alive, calories burned during and after exercise, and the calories you burn based on your individual genetic makeup. Any calories that are consumed and not burned will be stored as fat, which will sit as an energy reserves until it is needed. This is where you come in.
How can you increase your metabolism? Well, there’s not much you can do about your genes (they only account for a measly 5% of total daily calorie consumption anyway), which means the best way to rev up your metabolism is to increase your body’s need for energy.
Just like a fire will burn more wood the hotter it gets, your body will burn more fat the more energy you expend. Let’s examine some ways you can rev up your metabolism to shed unwanted weight by inducing greater fat burning and less fat storing.
An obvious way to speed up your bodies energy use is to increase the demand for energy. Your body burns a certain number of calories just to stay alive (called your BMR- Basal Metabolic Rate) based on factors like height, weight, and age.
Increasing amounts of aerobic and resistance based exercise have been proven to accelerate fat burning and increase your BMR, so you burn more calories even while you sleep! Cardiovascular exercise for sustained periods at low intensity, or brief bouts at high intensity, has been shown not only to burn calories, but target fat cells for energy. Supplementing strength training can add muscle tissue, which burns calories 3 times faster than fat tissue. Finding a gym or another place to be active is a great start.
Beginning modestly with walking or light cardio several hours a week and progressing will help insure consistency and prevent injuries. Make it fun by exercising with a friend, playing a sport or game you enjoy, or by keeping logs to mark your progress. You don’t have to commit to spending hours in a gym each day; any additional movements throughout your day, including using the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away in the parking lot, and doing some much needed yard work around the house can burn more calories than you might think. As long as you’re moving, your burning, and your metabolism and waist band will show it!
Each time you eat, you communicate to your body its state of being. When the body doesn’t get enough food, it assumes a state of starvation, and begins to store fat as a survival mechanism. Alternately, when the body receives adequate nutrition, it infers a state of well-being and uses energy liberally. Therefore, by eating frequently, you reassure your body that you aren’t going to starve and that it should store as little fat as necessary.
So while many people think skipping meals will help with weight control, they’re actually slowing their metabolism, thus burning less calories and storing more fat. Eating quality foods in modest amounts every 2-3 hours throughout the day keeps your metabolism constantly active and deters binge eating.
By planning ahead and having snacks and meals made out the night before, you can have healthy food on hand when your stomach starts to grumble. This will keep your metabolism active and you focused on the task at hand, not when the next meal is.
“Clean your plate. There are starving children around the world.” While this sad mantra may be true, the idea that eating everything in front of you will somehow alleviate the global hunger crisis is a bit far-fetched. De-programming ourselves to not feel inclined to eat everything just because it’s there is a great step in controlling meal portion sizes.
As it takes your stomach 15-20 minutes to relay the message of satiety (fullness) to your brain, eating slower may cause you to eat less, store less, and burn more. Assess your fullness levels throughout the meal and make a decision whether to continue eating or save the rest for later. Eating smaller meals lowers calorie and fat intakes and conditions your body to ingest only what it needs.
Quality over Quantity
Although much of the information regarding weight management focuses on the quantity of calories, the real culprit is the quality of those calories. For example: say your allotted calorie amount for lunch was roughly 520 calories.
You have a choice to visit McDonalds and get a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, OR, eat a meal from home consisting of Chicken, Wild Rice, Green Beans, Grapes, and Milk- all for LESS calories than the burger. Which is better? By picking the second choice, you were able to eat an entire meal full of quality protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals that your body will use to refuel and energize. The burger offers more calories with minimal nutritional value, and will probably leave you hungry.
By choosing quality over quantity, you can actually eat more food and keep your calories down. Make choices like whole grains, baked over fried, vegetables and fruits, low fat, and unprocessed foods to improve your diets quality.
Exercising more frequently, eating smaller meals, eating more often , and eating quality foods are all great ways to boost your bodies use of calories and help you burn more and store less. Implementing some of these strategies may help you shed some unwanted weight, gain energy, confidence and stamina.
Sam Barr is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer (American College of Sports Medicine) who graduated from Auburn University with a BS in Nutrition and Dietetics and is pursuing a Masters Degree in Nutrition. He now works as a group and personal trainer with D1 Sports in Huntsville. For personal and/or group training, contact Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org