by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
- What is metabolism?
- How to increase your metabolic rate
While waiting in line at the grocery store, I often thumb through magazines that tell me I can boost my metabolism and lose 15 pounds in five days. I can’t help it. Even with years of medical and nutritional training and clinical practice under my belt, I guess I’m still wondering if there is some magic metabolic secret I have yet to learn! But the answer is no — there’s simply no healthy way to drop 15 pounds in five days.
But can we change our metabolism for the better? Absolutely. Understanding more about what determines the rate of your metabolism and some natural ways to support it will make a big difference to your waistline and overall health.
One thing I like to remind my patients is that when we try to lose weight, we’re working against over 600 million years of evolution predisposing many of us to protect ourselves from famine with extra padding. But understanding your metabolism can help you fine-tune your metabolic rate to better support your healthy weight. Let’s take a closer look.
What is metabolism?
Many of us think of metabolism strictly within the confines of how efficiently we burn calories. This is certainly a key feature, but metabolism involves all the processes by which your body breaks down and uses food, water, and air to run itself and maintain life.
An efficient metabolism requires a diverse array of nutrients — the big stuff, like proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats, as well as cofactors and micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.
Your body takes these raw materials and breaks them down (catabolism) into their subcomponents, releasing energy, which is used to make new molecules (anabolism). Heat and metabolic waste also get generated in the process, and the materials and toxins your body can’t use are excreted, while extra sugar and fat are stored for later use.
The big 3: Macronutrients for healthy metabolism
- Proteins (amino acids). Nuts, soy, legumes, eggs, and fish are great protein choices (for those who tolerate them). For satisfying smoothies, include whey protein, pea protein, or brown rice protein powder, or look for protein powders that contain the amino acids arginine, aspartic acid, creatine, and N-acetylcysteine.
- Complex carbohydrates. Choose natural, unrefined carbs. If insulin resistance is contributing to your weight gain picture, you may need to limit your carb intake. Beans, brown rice, and quinoa are doubly rich in complex carbs plus healthy plant protein.
- Healthy fats. Remember to include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like seafood, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), another fatty acid found in organic dairy foods, eggs, and grass-fed beef. If you don’t regularly eat these foods, take an omega-3 supplement.
What determines the rate of your metabolism?
We don’t understand exactly why some of us have a faster metabolism than others, but we do know that how efficient your metabolism is depends largely on the tiny powerhouses present in each of your cells called mitochondria. Metabolic rate, as defined by Dr. Mark Hyman in his book Ultrametabolism, is the “rate at which mitochondria transform food and oxygen into energy.” And that rate is influenced by the following:
Genetics. Your genetic heritage influences the size, number, and efficiency of your mitochondria, the number of fat storage cells you make, and your set point. New research is showing that genetics plays a much larger role in metabolism, weight loss, and weight loss maintenance than we previously thought.
Hormones. For more information on how hormones influence your weight and metabolism, see our article on hormonal imbalance and weight loss resistance.
Age. As we grow older, the rate at which we expend energy declines. The hormone known as growth hormone contributes to our faster metabolism when we’re young and growing, but it decreases as we age. Certain foods, such as pea protein, egg whites, and soy, contain amino acids that can stimulate growth hormone.
Body composition. The shape of your body also influences your health and metabolism. Those with an “apple-shape” are more prone to gain weight in the central body. This central fat is more metabolically active than fat distributed in the thighs and hips (“pear-shape”), and can lead to more health issues.
Optimize your metabolic rate
The good news is that you can learn to work with all of these factors (and more) because they are under the continual influence of what you eat and how you live. So you have an opportunity each and every day to make a genuine difference in your metabolism. Here’s how:
Exercise regularly. Building muscle means increased and more efficient mitochondria — the workhorses of your metabolism. Exercise your body at least four to five times per week, and if time is an issue, work on interval training or “bursting” and strength-training to increase muscle. There’s also a form of exercise known as “slow burn” that I’ve found quite successful.
Balance your hormones. Explore targeted phytotherapy to help you correct stress and sex hormone imbalances. Using phytotherapeutic herbal combinations like those we offer in our True Health Program can rebalance your body and lighten the load on your metabolism.
Nourish yourself. Metabolic processes are fueled by a wide variety of nutrients. See the boxes above for specifics, but for a simple approach we’ve found whey protein shakes and nutrients like chromium, L- carnitine L-tartrate, and alpha lipoic acid can help give you a boost. You might also consider drinking green tea throughout the day or simply finding a high-quality multivitamin like the one we offer in our True Health Program. Make whatever you eat count most for your metabolism by following a plant-based, nutrient-dense, low-glycemic-load diet.
Timing your meals. One of the best things you can do to jump-start your metabolism is to eat breakfast each morning, to bring your blood sugar back to normal and help it stay steady through day. You might also consider the option of eating smaller meals more often rather than three big meals a day, including some protein with each meal and snack. Keep the metabolic fires burning by eating something every two to three hours, but dial back your intake at night.
Get good sleep. Too many of us underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. Sleep is crucial to keeping metabolic pathways running smoothly. Not enough sleep has been linked to increased output of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, weight gain, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
Optimize your metabolism with micronutrients and phytonutrients
Specific enzymes, minerals, and vitamins help support healthy metabolic function:
Capsicum (cayenne pepper, chili pepper, paprika)
We’ve made it easy to support a healthy metabolism with our WheySational snack shake and M-Boost metabolic support that includes chromium, green tea leaf extract, L-carnitine L-tartrate and a fat-burning herbal blend.
A realistic approach to healthy metabolism
Above all else, I urge you to do what feels natural for your body. Our metabolism, energy levels, and appetites are cyclical and unique to each of us. These cycles flow naturally through the days, months, seasons, and years as well as with our own emotional state. There isn’t one magic bullet for supporting a healthy metabolism, but you do have many opportunities each day to make good choices. The steps I’ve outlined in this article will get you off to a great start.