What Is Metabolism?
Metabolism refers to all the chemical processes in your body. The faster your metabolism, the more calories your body requires.
The speed of your metabolism is commonly known as metabolic rate. It’s the number of calories you burn in a given amount of time, also known as calorie expenditure.
Metabolic rate can be divided into several categories:
Basal metabolic rate (BMR): Your metabolic rate during sleep or deep rest. It is the minimum metabolic rate needed to keep your lungs breathing, heart pumping, brain ticking, and body warm.
Resting metabolic rate (RMR): The minimum metabolic rate required to keep you alive and functioning while at rest. On average, it accounts for up to 50–75% of total calorie expenditure.
Thermic effect of food (TEF): The number of calories burned while your body is digesting and processing food. TEF usually represents about 10% of your total energy expenditure.
Thermic effect of exercise (TEE): The increase in calories burned during exercise.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): The number of calories required for activities other than exercise. This includes fidgeting, changing posture, standing, and walking around.
Numerous factors affect your metabolic rate, including:
Age: The older you get, the slower your metabolic rate. This is one of the reasons that people tend to gain weight as the age.
Muscle mass: The greater your muscle mass the more calories you burn even when resting.
Body size: The bigger you are, the more calories you burn.
Environmental temperature: When your body is exposed to cold, it needs to burn more calories to prevent your body temperature from falling.
Physical activity: All body movements require calories. The more active you are, the more calories you’ll burn. Your metabolism will speed up accordingly.
What About Genetics?
Metabolic rates can vary between people from birth. Although genetics may contribute to these differences, scientists don’t agree on the extent to which they affect metabolic rate, weight gain and obesity.
Interestingly, most studies show that obese people have a higher total and resting metabolic rate, compared to normal-weight individuals.
This partly because obese people have greater amounts of muscle to help support their extra weight. Yet, studies indicate that obese people have higher metabolic rates irrespective of their muscle mass.
In contrast, other studies show that formerly obese people have a 3–8% lower metabolic rate, on average, than those who have never been obese.
Mostly variations between individuals are due to people’s age, as well as their environment and behavior.
Can You Speed up Your Metabolism to Lose Weight?
Weight loss isn’t only about eating fewer calories. Effective weight loss programs also include strategies to increase metabolism or more simply, increase the amount of calories you burn.
Here are six simple methods.
1. Move Your Body
All body movement requires calories. The more active you are, the higher your metabolic rate.
Even very basic activity, such as standing up regularly, walking around, or doing household tasks, makes a major difference in the long run. This boost in metabolic rate is technically known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).
In severely obese individuals, NEAT may account for a significant portion of daily calorie expenditure due to the extra weight they have to carry around.
There are several ways in which you can boost NEAT. If you spend a lot of time sitting, here are a few strategies:
Stand up regularly and walk around
Take the stairs whenever possible
Do household tasks
Fidget by bouncing your legs or tapping your fingers
Use a standing desk
If you have a desk job, using a standing desk may increase the number of calories you burn by 16%. Another 10-person study showed that spending one afternoon standing burned an extra 174 calories compared to sitting.
Even seemingly insignificant activities like typing may increase your metabolic rate by 8% compared to doing nothing. In the same way, fidgeting can make a significant difference. One study found that people who sat motionless for 20 minutes temporarily increased their calorie expenditure by 4%, compared to when they lay motionless.
In contrast, fidgeting while seated increased calorie expenditure by a whopping 54%.
2. Regular Exercise
Regular exercise is highly recommended for anyone who wants to lose weight or improve their health. It significantly speeds up your metabolism, even after the workout has finished — an effect dubbed “the afterburn.”
Another excellent way to speed up your metabolic rate is to increase your muscle mass.
In addition to the direct effect of the exercise itself, exercise promote the growth of muscle mass.
The amount of muscle you have is directly associated with your metabolic rate. Unlike fat mass, muscle mass significantly increases the number of calories you burn at rest, even when you are sleeping.
Old age is generally associated with muscle loss and drops in metabolic rate, but regular exercise can partially counteract this adverse effect.
Similarly, a calorie-reduced weight loss diet often results in the loss of muscle mass and metabolic rate. Again, training may help prevent this decline.
3. Eat Protein
Eating adequate amounts of protein is essential if you want to build or maintain your muscle mass. Consuming enough protein can help counteract the loss of muscle mass and metabolic rate associated with weight loss.
But dietary protein also has other important qualities:
All food leads to a temporary increase in metabolic rate, known as the thermic effect of food (TEF). However, this effect is much stronger after eating protein compared to carbohydrates or fat. In fact, protein may increase metabolic rate by 20–30%, whereas carbs and fat cause a 3–10% increase or less.
TEF is highest in the morning or during the first few hours after you wake up. For this reason, eating a large proportion of your daily calories early in the day can help.
4. Don’t Starve Yourself
While eating less is a key weight loss method, eating too little is usually counterproductive in the long term. That’s because calorie restriction causes a decrease in metabolic rate.
This effect is known as starvation mode or metabolic adaptation. It is your body’s way of warding off potential starvation and death.
It is suggested that starvation mode is your body’s response to a calorie deficit. When your body doesn’t get enough food, it tries to compensate by reducing its metabolic rate and the number of calories it burns.
There are arguments as to whether this effect, which suggests a drop in basal metabolic rate, actually exists. More likely this is caused by a drop in NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis).
Studies show that when in a high calorie deficit, although consciously unaware of it, you more around less. You feel less energetic, fidget less, stand up less, all contributing to a drop in NEAT.
A study found fidgeting while seated increased calorie expenditure by a whopping 54%
Research shows that consistently eating fewer than 1,000 calories daily leads to a significant drop in metabolic rate. Studies in obese people suggest that the starvation response may significantly reduce the number of calories burned. One study indicates that this slowdown in metabolic rate spares up to 504 calories per day.
5. Drink Water
Temporarily boosting your metabolic rate doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s as simple as going for a walk or drinking a glass of cold water.
Many studies show that drinking water leads to an increase in the number of calories burned, an effect known as water-induced thermogenesis.
Drinking cold water has an even greater effect than warm water, as this requires your body to warm it up to body temperature.
Studies on this phenomenon provide varying results. About 500 ml of cold water may cause a 5–30% increase in the number of calories burned for 60–90 minutes.
It seems that increasing your water consumption is also beneficial for your waistline. Several studies show that drinking 1.5 litres of water daily may lead to significant weight loss over time.
You can maximise these benefits by drinking water before meals, as it also fills you up and reduces calorie intake.
6. Get Good Quality Sleep
Getting inadequate sleep is not only bad for your general health, but it may also slow down your metabolic rate and increase your risk of weight gain.
One study showed that metabolic rate decreased by 2.6% when healthy adults slept for only four hours per night for five days in a row. Another five-week study determined that sustained sleep disruption, along with irregular sleeping times, reduced resting metabolic rate by 8%, on average.
Lack of sleep also decreases the likelihood of making decisions that are conducive to weight loss efforts. Cravings for sugary and high-calorie foods increase in a bid to increase feelings of energy.
We are also less inclined to move. NEAT (non-exercise activity therogenesis) decrease drastically when feeling lethargic, as does the motivation to exercise.
Accordingly, lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of weight gain and obesity.
Although your basal metabolic rate is largely beyond your control, there are various ways to increase the number of calories you burn.
Regular movement, exercise, a nutritious diet, drinking water and sleep can all greatly contribute to your metabolism as well as improve your general health and well-being.