What is Metabolism?
Some people think metabolism is a kind of organ, or a body part, that influences digestion.
Actually, the metabolism isn’t a body part.
Metabolism, is the process of transforming food (e.g. nutrients) into fuel (e.g. energy). The body uses this energy to conduct a vast array of essential functions.
In fact, your ability to read this page is driven by your metabolism.
If you had no metabolism you wouldn’t be able to move.
In fact, long before you realized that you couldn’t move a finger or lift your foot, your internal processes would have stopped, because the basic building blocks of life – circulating blood, transforming oxygen into carbon dioxide, expelling potentially lethal wastes through the kidneys and so on – all of these depend on metabolism.
Although we think of our metabolism as a single function, it’s really a catch-all term for countless functions that are taking place inside the body. Every second of every minute of every day of your life numerous chemical conversions are taking place through metabolism, or metabolic functioning.
In a certain light, the metabolism has been referred to as a harmonizing process that manages to achieve two critical bodily functions that seem to be at odds with each other.
Anabolism and Catabolism
Our bodies are continually creating more cells to replace dead or disfunctional cells. For example, if you cut your finger, your body starts the process of creating skin cells to clot the blood and start the healing process instantly. This creation process is a metabolic response, and is called anabolism.
On the other hand, there is the exact opposite activity taking place in other parts of the body. Instead of building cells and tissue the body is breaking down energy so the body can function.
For example, as you exercise, your body temperature rises and your heart beat increases. As this happens, your body requires more oxygen, so your breathing increases. If your body couldn’t adjust to this enhanced requirement for oxygen, you would collapse. And all of this requires additional energy.
Presuming that you aren’t overdoing it, your body will begin converting food into energy in a metabolic process called catabolism.
Your metabolism is a constant process that works in two seemingly opposite ways: anabolism uses energy to create cells, and catabolism breaks down cells to create energy.
The metabolism is a harmonizer. It brings together two seemingly opposite functions, and does so in an optimal way that enables the body to create cells as needed, and break them down, again as needed.
Metabolism and Weight Loss
Calories are simply units of measure, not actual things. They are labels like an inch which really isn’t anything, but it measures the distance between two points.
So what do calories measure?
Your body creates energy from the food you eat, whether it’s healthy food or not. It creates energy from fruits and vegetables using the same process that it uses to create energy from chocolate bars and candy.
While you know it’s better for your body to get energy from fruit and vegetables, your body doesn’t evaluate the food. It creates energy from whatever you feed it.
It sounds strange, but the body really doesn’t care. To the body, energy is energy. It takes whatever it gets, and doesn’t really know that some foods are healthier than others. It’s kind of like a garbage disposal: it takes what you put down it, whether it should go down or not.
So let’s apply this to the body, and to weight gain. When the body receives a calorie it must do something with that energy. If a carrot delivers 100 calories to the body, it has to accept those 100 calories. The same goes for 200 calories from chocolate bars and candy.
The body does one of two things to the energy, it either metabolizes it via anabolism, or it metabolizes it via catabolism. That is, it will either convert the energy (calories) into cells/tissue, or it will use that energy (calories) to break down cells.
When there is an excess of energy, and the body can’t use this energy to deal with any needs at the time, it will be forced to create cells with that extra energy. It has to.
It doesn’t necessarily want to, but after figuring out that the energy can’t be used to do anything (such as help you exercise or digest some food), it has to turn it into cells through anabolism.
And those extra cells? Yup, you guessed it: added weight.
In a nutshell, the whole calorie/metabolism/weight gain thing is really just about excess energy. When there are too many calories in the body, they are transformed into fat.
Sometimes those extra calories are transformed into muscle. In fact, muscles require calories to maintain their mass, so people with strong muscle tone burn calories without actually doing anything; their metabolism burns it for them.
This is the primary reason why exercising and building lean muscle is part of an overall program to boost your metabolism. The more lean muscle you have, the more places excess calories can go before they’re turned into fat.
A Final Word About Fat
There’s a nasty rumor floating around that fat cells are permanent. Unfortunately, the rumor is true. Most experts agree that once fat cells have been created, they’re permanent. But this doesn’t spell doom and gloom for those of us who could stand to drop a few pounds. Even though experts believe that fat cells are permanent, they also agree that fat cells can be shrunk. So even if the number of fat cells in your body remains the same, their size, appearance and percentage of your overall weight, can be reduced.
Tips, Techniques, and Strategies for Boosting Your Metabolism
Chances are, you’ve tried to boost your metabolism at least once in your life. Perhaps you weren’t quite certain what a metabolism was, or didn’t know how to accomplish your goals.
Maybe you started a rigorous exercise program of jogging and muscle toning. Or you started eating several small portions a day, rather than three large traditional meal-sized portions. Maybe you started taking all kinds of supplements that promised to boost your metabolism.
The thing is, all of these methods can work.
h6 style=”text-align: center;”>Exercise, eating strategically, and ensuring that your body has catabolism-friendly supplements are three of many generally good weight loss ideas.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is, many of us have no real scientific understanding of what, how, or why these methods boost metabolism.
For example, a person may start a vigorous exercise program that includes significant aerobic cardiovascular movement, such as jogging or cycling. After a week, that person may notice a drop in weight.
But is this due to a boosted metabolism? Maybe – maybe not. Could it be due to water loss through perspiration that hasn’t been adequately replenished? Maybe – maybe not.
Many people risk their health, because they don’t quite understand the tips, strategies, and techniques of boosting their metabolism. The popular and widely respected Internet publication i-Village, highlights 11 key ways to speed up metabolism. To most easily introduce and discuss them here, we’ve taken these 11 key ideas and broken them down into 3 broad categories:
As you go through each of the 11 key points, you’ll certainly note that there is some overlap between them. For example, it’s hard to imagine that introducing exercise into your life isn’t, a lifestyle choice.
Don’t get bogged down in the categories; they are merely provided to help organize these points, and to help you easily refer to them in the future. The important thing is to understand each of the 14 points, and evaluate how you can responsibly integrate them into your life.
Exercise is a big part of boosting your metabolism and burning calories.
Unless you’re born with one of those unusually active metabolisms, which allows you to eat thousands of calories a day without gaining weight, you’re like the vast majority of us who need to give our metabolisms a bit of a kick.
Cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise is an important part of boosting your metabolism. Increasing your heart rate, blood circulation, body temperature, and oxygen intake/carbon dioxide exchange, all send messages to your metabolic system to initiate catabolism (breaking down cells and using them for energy).
Many people, especially women, are very leery about an exercise regimen that can lead to muscle building. There is a perception that muscle building leads to muscle bulking, and before long, they’ll look like a body builder.
Provided that women aren’t supplementing their workouts with specific muscle-building supplements, there is no need to be concerned, because building lean muscle won’t make them bulk up.
But why worry about building muscle in the first place?
Because a pound of muscle burns more calories than a pound of fat. So the more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn. You don’t even have to do anything. You’ll simply burn more calories, because muscle requires more of an energy investment.
But if you build muscle and then leave it without exercise, over time, the muscle fibers weaken and you’ll lose that wonderful calorie-burning factory.
The basic weight loss principle behind exercise is catabolism.
Essentially, if you can engineer your body to require more energy, your body will comply by breaking cells down to deliver it. And the process of metabolism burns calories.
So based on that logic, interval training fits in with the overall plan. Interval training is simply adding a high-energy burning component to your exercise plan on an infrequent, or interval, basis.
For example, if you can jog for 20 minutes every other day, you’re boosting your metabolism and burning calories/energy. But you can actually burn disproportionately more calories if, during that 20 minute jog, you add a 30 second or 1 minute sprint.
Why? Because during this 30 seconds or 1 minute, you give your body a bit of a jolt.
Not an unhealthy jolt, but enough that your body has to turn things up a notch. And to compensate for your extra energy requirements, the body will burn more calories.
Interval training only works when it’s at intervals. The metabolism-boosting benefits you enjoy as a result of interval training are primarily due to the fact that your body suddenly, needs to find more energy.
While it was chugging along and supplying your energy needs during your cardiovascular exercise, it all of a sudden needs to grab some more for 30 seconds or a minute; and in that period, it will boost your metabolism even further.
If you decided to extend your 30 second or 1 minute sprint into a 20 minute sprint, you simply wouldn’t experience all of the benefits.
Yes, your body would use more energy if you extend yourself to the higher range of your aerobic training zone. But your body won’t necessarily get that jolt that only comes from interval training.
So remember: your goal with interval training is to give your body a healthy jolt where it suddenly says to itself:
“Whoa! We need more energy here fast, this person has increased their heart rate from 180 beats per minute to 190 beats per minute. Let’s go to any available cell, like those fat cells down at the waist, and break them down via catabolism so this person can get the energy that they need.”
Interval training can last longer than 30 seconds or a minute. Some experts suggest that you can use interval training for 30-40 minutes, depending on your state of health and what your overall exercise regimen looks like.
The reason we’re focusing on 30 seconds to 1 minute is simply to give you a clear understanding that interval training is a kind of mini training within a training program.
And, as always, don’t overdo it with your interval training. Your goal here is to become healthier and stronger, and lose weight in that process.
You gain nothing if you run so fast or bike so hard during interval training that you hurt yourself. You will actually undermine your own health, and possibly have to stop exercising while torn muscles or other ailments heal.
There are a few easy ways to add variety to your exercise program. In addition to interval training, you can break up a longer routine into sma
For example, instead of committing to 1×1 hour workout a day, it can be split into 2×30 minute workouts; or even, 3×20 minute workouts.
You can also work in additional exercise into your daily routine by doing things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Or starting your day with a brisk walk instead of a coffee and the newspaper. Instead of parking close to the entrance of a building, park as far away as possible and walk.
All of these tips provide two metabolism-boosting benefits.
First, they can make exercising more fun. While it’s important to have an exercise routine, you don’t want to have a boring exercise routine, because then your chances of stopping are that much greater.
So adding these new elements to your overall exercise commitment simply helps encourage you to stick with the program. And since exercising is a core part of boosting your metabolism, any technique or tip that helps you continue exercising over the long term is a wise piece of advice.
The second important benefit of variety in your exercise program leads us back to the interval training concept, discussed above.
When you add variety to your workout, your body cannot get into a groove. Remember, the body is a remarkable piece of work, and will always strive to do things efficiently.
Naturally, the overall state of your health, which can be influenced by genetics and other factors outside of your control, will play a role in how efficiently your body runs.
But regardless of how your body is put together, it wants to do things as efficiently as it possibly can. So when you start exercising, your body develops an expectation of energy output. It’s not doing this to be lazy, it’s doing this because it’s efficient. If your body starts to predict that you need a certain amount of energy to complete a 20 minute jog, but then you jog for 2 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of walking, 2 minutes of jogging and 1 minute of sprinting, your body may require a great deal more energy to help you achieve this.
As a result, you may find yourself very out of breath or tired as your body strives to meet this increased demand. Naturally, catabolism will be involved and your body metabolism will increase.
But over time, maybe a month or so, your body will simply become more efficient. It will become stronger, and will be able to supply your energy needs much more efficiently. Your health has improved and your body has to work less to provide you with your energy needs.
Ironically, this can actually obscure your metabolism-boosting efforts, because you want your body to start the catabolism process, but if your body is efficiently working, it won’t dig into its reserves (e.g. fat cells) in order to provide you with the energy you need.
So the trick is to keep variety in your workouts. Many people choose to cross-train. It targets different muscle groups, but it keeps your body from finding a groove whereby it tried to help you by slowing down your metabolism.
Remember, your body doesn’t read books like this. It doesn’t need to, and it doesn’t care. It has no clue that a speedier metabolism is “good” or “bad”.
Balancing work, family, hobbies, and other commitments often means that our lifestyle isn’t so much a choice, as it is a necessity, but we can do little things that help speed up our metabolism.
Get on the Wagon
Do you know people who carefully choose low-fat, low-calorie meal choices, are very disciplined when it comes to resisting the Chef’s Special pecan pie for desert, yet order a glass or two of wine with their meal?
These people are undermining their efforts to boost their metabolism.
Studies show that drinking alcohol with meals actually encourages over eating, which means more calories that need to be burned away or transformed into fat.
Many people are simply unaware that many alcoholic drinks are laden with calories, almost as much as sugary soft drinks.
A bottle of beer or a cocktail is a few hundred calories. Wine is less, but still adds your calorie count. The tip here isn’t to stop drinking alcohol altogether, but to be aware that it’s adding to your calorie intake.
Most of us don’t have as much control over the amount that we sleep as we should. Work, family, education, housekeeping, and so many other tasks can literally prevent us from getting the amount of sleep that we need.
Experts tell us, getting enough sleep actually improves metabolism. People who are constantly sleep deprived, typically find that they have less energy to do regular, daily activities.
As a result, sleep-deprived people often lower their own metabolism. They simply don’t have the strength to break down food efficiently, particularly carbohydrates. This is a very difficult issue, because many people can only find time to exercise by borrowing from their rest time.
For example, after a long day of work and dealing with family and home commitments, a person may find the only time they have to exercise is late at night. So what should you do?
Ultimately, it’s a question of balance. Naturally, if you’re willing to exercise, and your doctor agrees that it’s healthy for you, then you’re not going to get fit by sleeping instead of exercising.
Yet, if you steal time away from your sleep in order to exercise, you can actually do more harm than good, because the following day, you won’t have enough energy to digest what you eat. The answer to this catch-22 lies in balance.
You don’t have to work out every night. Or perhaps you can integrate a workout into your life during the day, maybe at lunchtime or right after work.
Most fitness clubs are open very early, some are even open 24 hours. You can also get some fitness equipment for your home and workout there.
If you find you have trouble sleeping, this can also negatively affect the speed of your metabolism, because you won’t have enough energy the following day. Insomnia and other sleep disorders are very common problems.
Some non-medical tips to help you fall asleep include:
Don’t eat late at night
Try drinking warm milk before bedtime
Don’t turn on the TV at night
Try yoga or other stress-relieving practices
Try having a warm bath before bedtime
Don’t exercise close to
bedtime, your body can become so energized that it doesn’t want to sleep.
We briefly noted yoga in the list of Things to Do above, and that brings us to another key influence of your metabolism, stress.
Experts believe stress can send unwanted signals to our body, signals that lead to slower metabolism. Essentially, when the body is under constant stress, it releases stress hormones that flood the system. These stress hormones actually tell the body to create larger fat cells in the abdomen. The result can be both increased weight and a slower metabolism.
Some easy stress relievers are:
Listening to relaxing music
Eat non-stimulating foods (e.g. no caffeine, no sugar, and so on)
Re-center yourself and de-stress