Some people are blessed with the ability to inhale a pack of donuts and a bucket sized tub of Ben & Jerry’s each week. At D’Marge we have a name for those people: lucky buggers. For the rest of us; keeping our waistlines in check is not so simple.
Even if you are one of the lucky few, as the years go on, we all hit a point where our metabolism slows. And whether it’s summer cocktails or winter “comfort food,” the end result is the same: kilos creeping in. So what’s a guy to do? Read up on how to dress a dad bod? Or fight the ageing cycle with all his might?
Although there’s no shame in the former, we’d definitely recommend the latter. With that in mind, we hit up an accredited dietician and sports nutritionist, Robbie Clark, to see if there’s a way to speed up your metabolism that doesn’t involve coffee or cigarettes.
But first; if one is to optimise their metabolism, it’s important they understand what it is. Essentially, your metabolism is the rate at which calories are used up in order to sustain your bodily functions. If you have a fast metabolism you digest food (and burn calories) quickly, if you have a slow metabolism the opposite is true.
“Your metabolism accounts for 50-70 percent of the energy used each day.”
“Your metabolism refers to the chemical and physical processes that occur continuously inside the body, which keeps us functioning normally in order to stay alive,” Robbie told us. “These processes include breathing, nerve function and blood circulation as well as the breakdown of nutrients from food and drink that is then converted to energy.”
“Other influences include the level of physical activity and the thermic effect of the food you consume (energy that is used to digest and absorb your food),” he added.
This means, despite your metabolism being to some extent genetic, by making a few lifestyle changes you can speed it up. And although hitting the gym can help, Robbie urged us first to look at diet: “Specifically, from a diet point of view, higher levels of fat storage can impact negatively on our metabolism. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight is optimum for a healthy metabolism.”
If you think you have a slow metabolism (or your metabolism has recently slowed), there are certain vitamin deficiencies to watch out for, which might be causing it. These are:
- Vitamin D – Low levels of vitamin D result in your body producing certain hormones that are responsible for fat cells to hoard and store fat rather than burn it.
- Chromium – This mineral is responsible for the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates (particularly glucose), and insulin. People with a chromium deficiency are at risk of impaired glucose intolerance and therefore, type 2 diabetes.
- Magnesium – Magnesium is a co-factor of many enzymes involved in glucose metabolism. It has an important role in the action of insulin, and insulin stimulates magnesium uptake in insulin-sensitive tissues. Therefore, people with lower levels of magnesium may be at higher risk of insulin resistance, which causes fat to accumulate around the abdomen.
Robbie also warned that if you follow a strict diet with the premise of a low-calorie intake, this may lead to nutrient deficiencies due to the risk of limited variety in food choices: “Put simply, your body goes into ‘starvation mode’ when you eat less than you need for basic bodily function.” This then slows down your metabolism, creating the opposite effect to what you intended.
Further rules to live by, to give your metabolism a boost, include:
- Avoid fad diets – these usually are very low or too low in total calories and eliminate certain food groups, which may place you at risk of nutrient deficiencies.
- Reduce alcohol consumption – a high alcohol consumption contributes to fat storage and hormone imbalance.
- Pump up the protein – your body digests protein more slowly than fat or carbohydrates, which makes you feel fuller for longer. Appropriate protein intake for your age, gender, mass and activity level will also assist in building and preserving lean muscle mass.
- Add spice to your food e.g. chilli, cayenne pepper.
- Avoid trans-fats – these fats bind to fat and liver cells, which may slow metabolism and increase inflammation in the body.
- Consume green tea – the active ingredient, catechin found in green tea may boost your metabolism.
In light of this, we asked Robbie if speeding up your metabolism is a worthwhile goal to focus on, or whether it should be considered a by-product of a healthy diet.
“Unfortunately,” he replied, “As you get older, your metabolic rate generally slows because the ageing process results in a decrease in your muscle mass and an increase in the amount of fat stored.”
“In addition, there are a number of hormonal and neurological changes that take place, which will also have an effect on levels of stored fat. As we cannot defy the process of ageing, a reduction in metabolism is naturally unavoidable.”
However; as seen in the dietary advice above, we can slow the process. And although your food intake is crucial to look at: there are a number of extra steps Robbie says you can take:
To increase your metabolism through physical activity, any form of cardiovascular exercise is good. However, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be particularly effective, due to the concept of “after-burn” – that is, an increase in resting metabolic rate that occurs for up to 24-hours post-exercise. Weight/resistance training to build lean muscle mass is also vital for optimal metabolism as muscle is more metabolically active than fat mass. Additionally, this type of training helps maintain or even boost levels of testosterone. Therefore, engage in consistent strength/resistance training.
If you get too little sleep, your metabolism slows down to conserve energy, which then triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Having consistent high levels of cortisol increases fat cell growth and storage because visceral fat tissue contains a high number of cortisol receptors which responds to the circulating cortisol in the blood. As a result, this can negatively affect our metabolism.
Metabolism is controlled by the thyroid gland in the neck, which in turn is governed by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The speed of your metabolism depends on complex chemical messages, which are sent to your brain by your body, telling it how much it needs to function optimally. If there is an imbalance with your thyroid hormones, this may slow your metabolism down. Therefore, it may be beneficial to get your (thyroid) hormones tested to make sure they are within optimal ranges.
Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and while it is needed to maintain normal physiological processes during times of stress, prolonged elevated cortisol levels can lead to hypertension, glucose intolerance, diabetes, fatigue, muscle loss and increased infections – all things that will influence your metabolism. Therefore, managing stress is a major contributor to optimising your metabolism.