Mistake 1: Missing the Whole Picture – Metabolism 101
Everyone has talked about or heard someone talk about metabolism at some point. Whether it’s in reference to being naturally lean, trying to lose weight, or trying to add muscle mass we all know that our metabolism is responsible to some degree. People may complain that theirs is either too slow or too fast. But what exactly is metabolism? And what can we do to change it? Are we doomed by genetics? Let’s dive in to the answers to these questions.
Metabolism is the total amount of energy required to build up and break down our body. This encompasses all of our body’s chemical reactions.
There are 4 key components that make up our metabolism.
1. Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)
Waking up and proceeding to lay in bed all day and binge on your favorite Netflix show requires a certain amount of energy. This is the total amount of energy your body requires to simply keep you alive at rest. This is what is referred to as your RMR or resting metabolic rate. Age and genetics play a large role in determining your RMR. However, weight and body composition also play a role. So your current and past history of diet and exercise will have an effect on your resting metabolic rate. Depending on the person your RMR averages about 60-70% of the energy required by your body per day! That’s quite a bit of energy involving non-movement related activity.
2. Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF)
If you’ve ever felt warm or even started to perspire during a large meal this is due to the thermic effect of feeding. The process of digesting and absorbing food requires energy and increases our core body temperature. Now to what degree this increases our metabolism depends on the food we eat. Proteins require the most energy to be broken down followed by carbohydrates and fats. In fact 20-30% of the calories from the protein consumed will be used up in the digestion and absorption process. This is in contrast to 5-6% for carbohydrates and 3% for fats. In addition, unprocessed foods are going to have added benefit compared to processed foods. It is going to take more work for your body to digest a potato than it does a candy bar. All in all, the TEF accounts for about 10% of your expended energy per day.
Physical Activity is further broken down into two categories: exercise and non-exercise physical activity thermogenesis.
Exercise Activity includes all purposeful exercise activity whether that is going to the gym, going for a run or hike, swimming, taking a bike ride, etc. The amount of energy expended depends on the activity, intensity, and duration of the workout.
4. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT, refers to all physical activity that is not purposeful exercise. This includes walking around the house, cooking, running errands, playing with your kids, fidgeting, etc.
Altogether physical activity accounts for around 15-30% of your total energy expended per day depending on your activity level.
As you can see metabolism isn’t just about winning the genetic lottery. While it does play a role it doesn’t determine your fate. There are a number of things you can do to improve all 4 components.
You can increase your RMR by resistance training and improving your body composition.
You can increase your thermic effect of feeding by consuming whole foods over processed foods, and consuming a portion of protein with each meal (download my 4 habits of a great nutrition plan for free for guidance).
You can increase your exercise activity by not only including metabolic enhancing workouts in the gym but also by increasing your NEAT. For example if you work in an office make it a point to get up and walk around every 30-60 minutes. Or park your car further away from the office, grocery store, or any other place you drive to.
There are multiple ways to increase your metabolism. You are not doomed by your genetics. You may have to work a little harder and a little smarter than that person who is naturally lean but that’s okay. We’ve all been dealt a hand and we’ve got to learn how to play with it.