If you're like most people, you likely think of the word metabolism as being slow or fast. Many are naturally afraid their metabolism is slowing down and as a result find it harder to lose weight. One common misconception is the speed of the process is the key in weight loss or gain. Here's the definition of metabolism from the Mayo Clinic:
The process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. During this complex biochemical process, calories in food and beverages are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function. Notice that it doesn't mention anything about the speed you process your food. There is this notion out there that skinny people process their food very fast and can eat whatever they want and not gain weight, while others process their food very slow and gain weight just by looking at it. This is not true and the reason for the difference between the person who can eat anything and not gain vs the one who gains easily is that metabolism can vary in size.
Body Composition and Metabolism
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the minimum number of calories your body needs to perform basic bodily functions such as breathing. If one person has a BMR of 1300 and the other person a BMR of 1600, the one with the higher number is considered to have a bigger BMR, and their metabolism is bigger, meaning they need more calories to sustain themselves at rest. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states, the more Lean Body Mass you have, the greater your Basal Metabolic Rate will be. This is why strength training for muscle gain, which will increase your lean body mass, is recommended as a way to increase your metabolism. The main take-away is the person you'd describe as lean, has more lean body mass on their frame and therefore will have a higher BMR which means they can afford more calories during the day and won't gain weight as easily as the person with a low BMR.
Action Steps to Employ
- Avoid a decrease in your metabolism by maintaining the lean body mass you already have. The most important contributor to your lean body mass is your skeletal muscle mass. Skeletal muscle mass is the muscle that you can actually grow and develop through exercise and increases or decreases in skeletal muscle mass have a strong influence on increases/decreases in lean body mass. Skeletal muscle mass is best developed through weight training along with proper diet. This is especially important as you age because we all lose muscle as we get older.
- Enhance your diet to support your goals. Knowing how to balance your intake of protein, carbohydrate and fat is important for nutrient balance as well as knowing if you're adhering to the right amount of calories for your BMR. Many people unknowingly consume too many calories for their individual needs and then blame it on a slow metabolism.
- Don't overlook other factors that impact body composition such as poor sleep, high stress levels, blood chemistry imbalances and digestive concerns. These make a big difference when it comes stepping on the scale and monitoring your progress.