It’s the middle of the year and you’ve stuck to your New Year’s resolution of improving your health and fitness. You’re watching your calorie intake; your trainer changed up your routine, and you’ve invested in a wearable. At first, you saw some promising results, but now, you’ve hit a plateau and not seeing the progress – or weight loss – one would expect after months of dedication and diligence.
Maybe it’s your metabolism.
What is Metabolism?
Quite simply, metabolism includes all of the chemical reactions needed to maintain a living organism – or in this case, the human body. As you might have guessed, nutrition and exercise play a big role in your metabolism – it’s the key to transforming what you eat and drink into energy.
But, there are other factors that affect your metabolism, like body composition, hormones, genetics, your sex, age and lifestyle. Your body has to burn a minimum amount of calories to maintain its Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) for healthy body functions – like digestion, breathing and keeping your heart beating. If you don’t know what your BMR is, calculate it here.
People with muscular bodies have a higher metabolism, and in turn burn more calories – even at rest, and men usually have more muscle mass than women of the same and weight. As you age, muscle mass tends to decrease, slowing the amount of calories burned – just another reason to build lean muscle.
Keep in mind, muscle weighs more, but takes up less space than fat. So if the scales aren’t tipping in the right direction, don’t despair you might be gaining solid muscle while losing fat. Try on that pair of pants that didn’t fit at the beginning of the year for a pleasant surprise!
Genes and Metabolism
Perhaps you’re one of lucky ones gifted with the metabolism of a finely tuned Ferrari – while others are seemingly cursed with that of a sloth. If you belong to the latter group, don’t just chuck it all in and head back to the couch – there are ways to “re-key” the engine and rev up your metabolism. Here’s a few:
1. Eat Breakfast
That old saying about breakfast being the most important meal of the day is true. Eating breakfast jump starts your metabolism – and keeps your energy levels high all day. Of course what you eat for breakfast matters too. If you’re starting your day with bacon, eggs, fried potatoes with biscuits and gravy, you might be doing more harm than good.
Instead, try to look for menu items that are high in protein, fiber and whole grains. A green smoothie, steel cut oatmeal, sugar-free Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, or easy to make hard-boiled eggs with whole grain toast are great options. A list of delicious healthy alternatives to the standard American fare can be found here.
2. Eat Enough
It might seem counterintuitive, but if you think severely limiting calories will help you lose weight, think again. Eating too few calories is never a good idea. Remember your BMR? Eating less than your body requires to maintain healthy function can backfire. You’ll soon begin to lose hard won muscle – which burns more calories than fat. Not only will your metabolism decrease, but your overall health will suffer as well, including a loss of bone density and increase in risk of disease. Graze on healthy foods, or eat small meal throughout the day to keep your body satisfied with high octane fuels.
3. Make Some Muscle
Muscle is metabolically active tissue – that is, it takes energy (calories) to maintain. If you’ve been solely focused on your cardio fitness, it’s time to throw in some strength training. Building lean muscle mass can increase your metabolic rate, and in turn, burn more calories, faster.
The average woman in her 30s who strength-trains 30 to 40 minutes twice a week for four months can increase her resting metabolism by 100 calories a day.
4. HIIT It
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), from sprints on the treadmill, to hitting the heavy bag, adding 30 minutes of HIIT cardio workouts to your routine will really kick your metabolism into high gear.
5. Power Up With Protein
Protein is an essential macronutrient for building muscle. Additionally, it takes more energy (think BMR) to break down than carbohydrates or fat. To build and maintain lean muscle mass, be sure to consume one gram of lean protein per pound of Lean Body Mass (LBM). Don’t know your LBM? Calculate it here.
6. Curb the Carbs
Steer clear of processed and sugary foods. When you do eat carbohydrates, choose whole grain, minimally processed varieties like steel cut oats and fruits. The fiber in these foods takes energy to digest, so you’ll actually be burning calories when you eat them!
Hydration is critical to body function. Even slight amounts of dehydration can have a negative impact on your metabolism. Be sure to drink enough water – not sodas, juices, or even coffee – these are not a replacement for H20. Find out how much water is optimal for your body here.
8. Stress Less
The fight-or-flight reflex that our ancestors developed still lives on in us today. Few of us are chased by lions in this day and age, or face other physical threats on a daily basis, but our bodies still react to stress in much the same way. This hard-wired response causes our adrenal glands to release hormones like cortisol. Cortisol triggers the body to release sugar into the bloodstream in the form of glucose – the primary source of energy for your muscles – and your brain. But, it also suppresses your immune system and digestion, inhibiting your body’s ability to absorb nutrients properly.
Exercise is a great way to de-stress – with the added bonus of building muscle and improving overall fitness.