Let’s Talk About Metabolism

If you’ve ever sat in my office, you probably know that I harp on strength training… a lot. Sometimes I might sound like a broken record. I think I bring it up at almost every session. Why is this? The links of strength training to metabolism are strong, and it’s one of the only ways we know how to increase our metabolism.

Ugh, metabolism. It’s a tricky beast. It thwarts the best efforts of many who seek to better their health by diet change and exercise. So many get super serious about diet improvements only to have very little movement on the scale. It’s frustrating for you…. and for me. I want my recommendations to work, but sometimes “metabolism,” gets in the way.

What is metabolism actually? It’s a vast array of complex chemical processes that allow our body to make and use energy. Obviously our metabolism goes up when we exercise or move more frequently, and it goes down at rest and during sleep. The key is to figure out how to get our metabolism revved higher even when at rest, and that is the tricky part.

I’ve mentioned this before in previous blog posts, but when we diet, do cardio exercise and lose weight, often our metabolism decreases slightly along with it. If our body mass decreases, our calorie needs naturally decrease. This does not seem surprising or necessarily bad. BUT, for some, the metabolism takes a larger jump downward. And if we just keep decreasing calories, we keep chasing our metabolism down which is a vicious cycle that does not promote good health.

Part of this reason is that as we lose weight, we always lose some muscle along with fat. It’s just inevitable. This is especially the case when we lose weight rapidly without incorporating any type of strength-based exercises. I love to tell my clients, cardio is great, and I love it myself as an avid runner, but simply cardio alone will actually promote muscle loss in other parts of the body where the muscles are not being challenged. This muscle loss then correlates with a reduced metabolism. We just don’t need as many calories at rest to maintain the current level of muscle we have. Yo-yo dieting is even worse because with each cycle we lose muscle, regain the weight as fat, and then do the same process again. This is likely why metabolism is so greatly affected by repeated dieting.

BUT, when we add strength training to the mix, we help retain muscle mass while losing fat. That is the key.

What types of exercises are best? Honestly, it’s the exercise that you can do. Can you hit the gym and lift some heavy things? You should do that. Do you prefer to exercise at home, possibly with online instruction, using light weights, exercise bands, or other household objects? Get at it. The key is incorporate exercises that challenge our muscles at least 2-3x per week.

If injuries prevent many common strength-based activities, which is common for many, then choose muscle groups that you can target. Instead of weights consider body weight exercises which can even include yoga and pilates. As long as you are challenging as many muscle groups as you can to stimulate growth, you are hitting the mark.

Cardio is great, but strength training makes all the difference.

Can Food Boost Metabolism? 
What we eat can potentially play an important role with our metabolism. Healthy eating in general fuels our cells appropriately and allows our body to make heat and energy from what we eat. If these processes can’t run because we are short on nutrients, our metabolism cannot function as effectively.

There are no “superfoods” so to speak, when it comes to metabolism, despite what the internet might tell you. Everyone wants that secret food or pill that is going to “fix” their metabolism and increase calorie burn. While we don’t have any magic bullets so far, we do have evidence from research of a few diet additions that might encourage our metabolisms to function at a higher rate.

Some of these include green tea, coffee, spicy foods, and protein. Again, these are no instant fix ideas, but just considerations to add to an overall healthy diet. Make sure there is adequate protein to allow muscle growth, not loss. Green tea provides powerful antioxidants and may help increase fat burning. Coffee appears to act in the same manner. Spicy foods might provide temporary increases in your metabolic rate.

One last addition….SLEEP. I know, not a dietary issue per say, but critical for a healthy, functioning metabolism. Sleep is where we repair, process and rest. Importantly, it regulates our hormones for appropriate hunger and fullness cues and helps us balance energy throughout the day. Typically the less sleep we have, the less energy and more feelings of hunger we experience.

Here are a few recipes this month that are sure to get your metabolism revved up for the summer months! Combine this with healthy sleep patterns and exercise, and you are now on your way to more energy and better health.

May Metabolism Recipes

Metabolism Smoothie (add protein powder to help this smoothie last you for hours)

Honey Glazed Salmon with Asparagus

Whole Grain Pancakes

Vegan Golden Milk Chia Seed Pudding

Oat Protein Muffins

Hearty Turkey Chili