Your metabolism describes all of the chemical reactions that go on in your body to support and sustain your life – everything. These processes need energy (kilojoules) and your metabolism determines just how much you need every day. These chemical processes vary slightly in everyone depending on your gender, genetics and lifestyle. Our bodies love homeostasis, to keep things balanced and the same.
If your energy intake drops, your body works hard to drop your energy output too Long periods of time on restrictive diets or recent significant weight loss will reduce the energy your body needs to complete these processes. You haven’t damaged or destroyed your metabolism – it’s working exactly how it’s supposed to. It has responded to your situation. As you lose weight, your energy needs decrease. A person who has lost weight will always have a lower kilojoule needs than someone who has always been lean.
Most supplements, tonics and tablets that claim to increase your metabolism won’t make a difference. They’re either completely bogus or don’t contain enough of the active ingredient to have an effect. They can even be dangerous. Don’t worry, there is plenty you can do to boost your metabolism and protect it as you get older.
What causes a slower metabolism?
Besides individual variation, losing a significant amount of weight or yo-yo dieting over long periods of time can cause your metabolism to need less fuel to operate. Unfortunately, ageing and gender are two factors that have an effect on metabolism regardless of how healthy your lifestyle is. As you get older you lose muscle mass. On average, it’s 5 kg of muscle a decade! Women also have a slower metabolism than men. We simply can’t eat the the same amount as a male and not expect to put on weight.
What can you do to boost your metabolism?
If years of yo-yo dieting, dramatic weight loss or an inactive lifestyle have left you feeling unable to shift the latest few kg or if you feel like eating one meal out makes you go up a dress size, there are some things you can do improve how well your body uses energy. By changing the way you eat by eating more wholefoods, regularly and moving more we can help your body adapt to a better metabolism. All of these strategies help to build and maintain your muscle mass. Out of all the cells in our bodies, the cells in our muscles use the most energy. So by simply having more muscle cells you will use more energy (particularly during and after exercise).
1. Eat Regularly
Start the day with breakfast, to break the fast from dinner. There is no evidence to say that eating 5 small meals a day will make a significant difference to your metabolism or weight loss. However, eating at least 3 balanced meals every day will help. Eating too little or too infrequently can slow down how your body uses the energy and result in cravings and over eating later. Restricting your intake below your minimum energy requirements can force your body to conserve energy, a coping process from times when food was less abundant.
2. Eat lean protein
There is a lot of conflicting advice about the best times to eat protein, but the only conclusive advice is to eat your protein sources evenly throughout the day, including some within an hour or two of exercise. The amino acids from protein are essential for repairing and building stronger muscles and other organs.
Protein also helps with satiety. This means including some with every meal (not just at dinner) will help you feel full, for longer. Including a protein source with lunch or as an afternoon snack can fight those mid afternoon sugar cravings.
Lean Protein Sources:
- Lean red meat (no more than 3 times a week)
- Dairy (milk, yoghurt and cheese)
3. Eat whole foods, and cut out processed foods.
Eating a healthy diet with lots of wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and protein foods is not only beneficial for your health but for your metabolism too. You’ll digest lest kilojoules than the total amount in the food. The high fibre content and long time it takes to digest protein means that your body works harder for a longer period of time to digest your meal. The energy in processed foods and sugary drinks is much more readily absorbed and they’re less filling and make you more likely to over eat.
4. Weight training
Muscles are the most metabolically active cells, this means they use the most energy, especially during and after exercise. The more muscle cells you have, the more energy you’ll use.
If you don’t use your muscles your body will start breaking them down
Weight training is also the most effective way of improving or maintaining your muscle mass as you age. It’s also great for bone strength and reducing your risk of osteoporosis.
5. Get your heart rate up
It doesn’t have to be an aerobic gym session, a brisk walk, frisbee with the dog or running around after toddlers is enough. Just do some cardio every day. This can be whatever you need to do to get your heart rate up for 20-30 minutes of huffing and puffing activity. There is a lot of advice around about the best time of day to exercise – in reality it is whenever you are more likely to do it.
6. Move More
This is in addition to tips for 4 and 5. Increasing your incidental exercise by simply moving more can work wonders by helping you use more energy and getting your major muscle groups working when you may otherwise be a lot more sedentary.
- Sit less. Set a timer for every hour when you are at your desk or on the sofa. Do 10 star jumps and 10 squats or a brisk walk up the office stairs instead of a visit to the tea room.
- Take the stairs not the lift
- Park in the farthest parking spot
- Get or make a standing workstation
- Play with the kids at the park or pool instead of sitting and watching TV
Adopting these 6 strategies will help to boost your metabolism, and help you to lose weight, improve your energy levels and even live longer! If you’re struggling with your metabolism or weight loss, get in touch with a nutritionist like me. They won’t (shouldn’t) put you on a diet, they’ll help you to choose foods and meals that are right for your health that match your lifestyle and your goals.