This is what we all want, right? Let’s be honest, the idea of receiving maximum benefits for minimum efforts sounds pretty sweet. Almost too sweet. Well, it is possible – but (ah yes, there’s always a ‘but’!), we need to kick-start the whole process first.
Our metabolism is like an engine that runs all day long, it never really stops, it constantly burns energy (calories). When we are active, our body is expending more energy, thereby burning more calories than when we are inactive. However, even when we’re sitting around on the couch, we’re burning calories. This is called our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), the energy we burn at rest. Therefore, whether we lose weight or gain weight depends greatly on how efficiently our metabolism is functioning. A slow running metabolism is inefficient at burning calories and can lead to weight gain, whereas, a fast running metabolism efficiently burns calories at a higher rate throughout the day, even when you are doing nothing! The key is not only to burn enough calories during activity, but to keep the metabolism revved up during rest, that is, to increase our BMR. This is what leads to successful long-term weight loss.
BMR is based on a number of factors like our gender, age, weight, height, the amount of fat or muscle we carry around, plus a host of other genetic factors that vary from person to person. BMR calculators can provide a general idea of your BMR. Here are some key numbers to keep in mind:
- Number of calories burned at rest = 12 cal per lb per day
- Number of calories burned by muscle = 30 – 50 cal per lb per day
- Number of calories burned by fat = 3 cal per lb per day
The numbers obviously speak for themselves. Muscle tissue is metabolically active and burns 10-15 times more calories than fat. This is an important fact to keep in mind when considering how to go about revving our metabolism.
Our lifestyle, our habits, our nutritional choices directly affect our metabolic rate. There are a number of things we can do to ensure that our metabolism is functioning optimally all day long.
#1 Muscle is Metabolism
We already know that regular exercise is important for weight loss. However, all exercises are not created equal and will not deliver the same results. Remember, muscle burns way more calories than fat, therefore, the focus of exercise should be to build more muscle. A regular strength and resistance training program will not only help build lean muscle but will burn more calories. Muscle increases your BMR which means the calorie burn from weight training continues long after your workout is done.
#2 Muscle is Made in the Kitchen
What we eat, when we eat, how often we eat have a great effect on our metabolism. In order to support the hard work we put in at the gym, we need to feed our body clean, natural foods. Nutrition accounts for approximately 80% (if not more) of the fat loss battle. We should try to eliminate as many refined and processed foods as we can from our regular diet. This type of change does not have to take place overnight. In fact, I don’t recommend that anyone make drastic changes as it would be an unrealistic approach. Small, incremental changes made regularly are more likely to stick and become habits rather than drastic changes. The focus of a healthy diet should be on nutrient-dense foods rather than calorie-dense foods.
How much and how often we eat is very important in keeping the metabolism stoked. Eating less is a common misconception regarding weight loss, in fact, to lose weight we need to eat more often. On average, we should try to eat 6 small meals throughout the day to keep our blood sugar levels stable and our metabolism humming.
#3 Chill Out
Stress plays havoc on our metabolism and our health in general. The mind-body connection has been given much attention as of late. For our optimal well-being it is essential for us to practice stress management on a regular basis. Stress throws our body out of balance and in order to restore homeostasis our body responds by releasing stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine (aka adrenaline). Both cortisol and adrenaline are released by the adrenal glands at the same time, but we feel the effects of this a few hours later.
Cortisol is a powerful appetite stimulant which researchers suggests may interfere with our brain’s normal hunger signals. Cortisol causes us to crave foods that our body can quickly convert to energy to deal with the threatening situation – stress. We, therefore, end up craving simple sugars and carbs in the form of refined foods and sweets. Cortisol not only promotes weight gain, but it affects where you put on the extra pounds. Elevated cortisol levels generally cause weight gain in the abdominal area. Increased abdominal fat is dangerous as it increases our risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Managing stress is crucial to our well-being especially in our fast-paced lifestyles. Combating the effects of cortisol is simple, and it doesn’t necessarily involve yoga or tai chi, just 30 minutes of moderate level physical activity of any kind daily can significantly reduce stress.