Almost everyone has heard that our metabolism does… something. If you have a high metabolism, you can eat a lot and stay lean. Or maybe, you put on weight just looking at a piece of cake because you have a slow metabolism. But what the heck is the metabolism anyways?!?!?! Well that’s what I’ll be answering today, and I will go over some common misconceptions that I hear all too frequently.
Calories enter your body one way (om nom nom!), but there’s many ways for them to leave it. Basal metabolic rate (BMR) accounts for 60–70% of daily calories burned and included doing things like breathing, thinking, filtering waste. You know… bodily functions required for living. However, your BMR can be subject to many things including your size, composition (body fat%), age, genetics, hormones, and health status. This means even the most accurate way of calculating your metabolic rate (Mifflin-St Jeor equation), can still be about 10% off! Other ways we burn calories include food thermogenesis (digestion) which accounts for 10% of daily calories burned, and physical activity which accounts for 20% of daily calories burned.
For health “Guru’s” each area of metabolism is a way to sell a particular magic bullet for fitness or weight loss. But magic bullets don’t exist, so here are a few common myths that have cropped up over the years.
More Meals = More Metabolic Burn – The thought behind this is that if we burn calories by eating, then eating more frequently will burn more calories. While this, in part, is true, it is also very far off point. This is because to help with digestion we use a maximum of 43% of energy from the foods we eat (0–3% from fat, 5–10% from carbs, and 20–30% from protein). In short, eating more frequently means we are doing nothing more that increasing the total amount of calories we eat throughout the day. So if your goal is weight loss, this myth is busted.
I Moved More = I Eat More – This may be the worst myth because it creates a bad habit! While movement is about 20% of our metabolic demand, only a small portion of that (7-9% daily) comes from the gym! This means if you reward yourself for going to the gym you are doing nothing more than consuming more calories than burned. Most of the calories burned from moving are from doing NEAT things like walking, doing chores, and even fidgeting.
More Muscles = More Food – Another common myth is that as you grow more muscles you burn significantly more calories. Again, a partial truth that has been blown out of proportion by the likes of Dr. Oz, fitness magazines, and other nonsense peddlers. They have claimed that 1 pound of muscle burns an extra 50 calories a day. In reality, a pound of muscle burns 6 calories a day at rest and a pound of fat burns about 2 calories a day. So getting shredded doesn’t mean you have the luxury of eating everything in sight!
Fat Burning Exercise = Weight Loss – As we exercise our body metabolizes fuels like carbohydrates and fats. Someone had the great idea to start burning fat instead of carbs to lose weight! But that’s not how it works. Our fuel source for exercise doesn’t matter at all if you are eating more calories than you are using on a daily basis. So don’t pay any attention to the “fat burn” settings on the cardio machines or fat burning supplements. Just make sure you are working hard to burn as many calories as you can while exercising!
Taking Metabolic Actions
Before you get too down on yourself and think there is nothing that you can do to help stay metabolically fired up, there are a few simple ways to “boost” metabolism. The first thing you can do is simply move more. Take the stairs, park far away, exercise regularly, even standing more will boost your metabolism throughout the day. My second tip is to eat more protein. This simple action will increase thermogenesis as well as muscle mass which are two small things that when put together will have enhanced results. But more importantly, increasing total amounts of protein will make you feel fuller more quickly/longer which will decrease your total caloric intake! Finally, having the perspective of “you lose weight in the kitchen, you gain health in the gym” will help you avoid scams and place focus on the things that are most important.