The Process of Metabolism

General Health Nutrition

There’s always a lot of talk about metabolism in the health world. It often takes the credit or blame for a person’s weight — statements like “She can eat whatever she wants. I want a metabolism like hers.” Or, “all celebrities look like superheroes because they have lightning-fast metabolisms.” Or, “in the last few years my metabolism has slowed, which is why I’ve put on some pounds.”

Is there any truth to sayings like these? Does metabolism really have any major effect on weight? Or are people just looking to find reasons why they can’t lose weight? And if there is a benefit to a fast metabolism, is there any way to speed it up?

In this article, we’ll uncover all this and more.

Let’s get started!

What is Metabolism?

Metabolism is a whole series of complicated cellular activities that happens each time our bodies burn energy or calories.

This process is crucial in maintaining and supporting our daily activities. In short, metabolism is the amount of energy produced when food is burned.

The Role of Metabolism

It turns out that the people who give metabolism so much credit may be on to something — your metabolism plays a pretty big role in your body’s functioning. It’s responsible for tons of important stuff, primarily through the conversion of food into energy.

an ATP molecule

The good news (especially for people who are trying to lose weight) is that we are constantly burning calories through the metabolic process. Whether we are dancing, sitting, eating, or even sleeping, our bodies burn calories.

Even our simplest activities for survival — such as breathing — require the metabolic process. All of these automatic activities are supported by what’s called basal metabolism.

When our daily energy requirement is met, any unused or surplus calories will be stored away, mostly as fat. This is why, when we consume more calories than needed, we gain weight.

So, when a person’s metabolism is “low”, she will have a reduced ability to burn the calories that she consumes. And then, naturally:

Same calories consumed + Less calories burned = More calories need to be stored (mostly as fat)

This makes sense, and gives some credibility to people who blame weight issues on their metabolism.

Thankfully there are some ways to boost metabolism, which we’ll discuss later on.

Metabolizing Metabolism

Let’s break up this idea of metabolism even further. Because really, when people say “metabolism” they’re referring to the process as a whole, but there are inner workings that come together to form the entire metabolic process — i.e. how many calories your body expends per day.

There are three primary elements that make up your metabolism:

1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Most of the calories your body burns are used in support of the body’s automatic activities, which include heart beat, breathing, coughing and even maintaining our body’s temperature. About 60 to 70 percent of our energy is used in these activities.

Many factors influence your BMR, such as body size, age, and whether you’re male or female.

One way to measure your BMR is to use the Harris-Benedict Equation. The original formulas are as follows:

For men: 66 + ( 6.2 × weight in lbs ) + ( 12.7 × height in inches ) – ( 6.76 × age in years )
For women: 655 + (9.6 x W) + (1.7 x H) – (4.7 x A)

These formulas have since been revised — by Roza and Shizgal in 1984, and Mifflin and St Jeor in 1990 — but you get the idea.

2. Physical Activity Energy Expenditure (PAEE)

Our level of physical activity also determines our rate of metabolism. Physical activity has a significant effect on energy expenditure and it can contribute around 20 to 30 percent of daily energy use.

3. Thermogenesis or Thermic Effect of Food

This is the final and often overlooked component of metabolism. It refers to the energy we use to eat, digest, and metabolize food. It contributes about 10 percent of energy used.

For example, when you eat 2000 calories a day you should burn around 200 calories a day simply by eating and digesting your food. Cool, right?

By adding these three components together, we can calculate a person’s total daily energy expenditure, which is a calculation of how many calories our bodies need every day.

Increasing Your Metabolic Rate

So now that we know what it is and the factors that contribute to it, are there any ways to increase metabolism?

The answer is yes — increasing metabolism is possible. There are tricks you can implement to rev your metabolism.

Essentially, to increase your metabolic rate you need to create a higher demand for calories to be burned.

How can we do this?

The best way to do this is through physical activities. This physical activity will create a higher demand for energy. The increased metabolism rate will need more fuel to burn. If no additional fuel is available, naturally your body will burn body fat for energy (and probably some muscle, too).

Ways to Increase Your Metabolism

Here are some easy tips on how to increase metabolism.

1. Drink More Water

Water is delicious and healthy for you

Water truly is the foundation of life. Getting an adequate amount is necessary for proper body functions. There’s also been research that’s shown water consumption to increase metabolic rate.

One particular study found that drinking 500ml of water “increased metabolic rate by 30%” within 10 minutes, with a “maximum [increase] after 30-40 minutes.”

The current recommendation is to drink at least eight glasses of water daily.

2. Have a Good Breakfast

Breakfast is the necessary starting fuel for your body. It is very important not to skip breakfast. There’s a reason the word “breakfast” was derived from the phrase “break the fast” — it’s the first meal upon waking after “fasting” all night while asleep.

If you skip breakfast, your metabolism rate will drop even further. The timing of your meals does matter. I’m going to write a full article about meal timing soon.

3. Eat Smaller Portions

Reducing your food portions is one of the most important steps to eating healthy. There is a reason very healthy and athletic people eat smaller but more meals throughout the day (often around 6 small “meals”). I usually eat 5-6 smaller meals every day, with about 3 hours in between.

4. Consume Whole, Unprocessed Foods

Whenever possible, choose whole and unprocessed foods like whole-grain breads, brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole wheat noodles, vegetable, etc. These foods are great fuel for energy (complex carbohydrates) and they help keep us fuller for a longer.

5. Maintain a Healthy and Balance Diet

Keep your food choices healthy and balanced. Try to avoid junk foods like chips, fatty or sugary snacks, and sodas. Shoot for lean proteins, healthy fats (like nuts), and tons of fresh vegetables and fruits.

6. Get Moving

One of the most effective ways to boost your metabolism is to exercise. Do something. Get outside and get moving. Leave your excuses at the door. If you can’t devote an hour, then start with ten minutes. Go for a brisk walk. Anything to get your heart rate up.

I know somebody who started to take thirty-minute walks every morning with his significant other, and he lost 40 pounds in a few months — and that’s the only lifestyle change he made.

Exercise is powerful. Make a point to get moving, and your metabolism will get moving in step.