BY KATHERINE CHRISTIE
It’s an accepted belief that as long as people eat less calories than they actually burn, the pounds will melt off. This is why so many diets promote eating anything as long as it is an acceptable calorie range to create enough of a deficit to lose weight. While at its very basic level, calorie intake is important for weight loss; however there is much more to it. The calories we eat need to be processed in the body through the metabolism. It is the metabolism that is responsible for ensuring that all of the nutrients taken in are used by the cells of the body efficiently and effectively. Metabolism is so important that once it is not working properly, weight gain, imbalanced hormones and disease can ensue. As a result any health and weight loss program should include a phase specifically dedicated to increase metabolic function in order to improve overall health and wellness.
What is metabolism? There is a misconception about what metabolism is. When people think of metabolism, they think of the body’s ability to burn calories or fat, and compare it to a furnace. Unfortunately, this definition is limited as burning calories is one of the things metabolism does, not what it is. Metabolism is defined as the chemical processes that occur inside of cells that are necessary for the maintenance of life. Metabolism is present throughout your body in every cell. All metabolic activities can go in one of two directions: the destruction of large molecules to release the energy that causes the body to function (catabolism), or the synthesis of body tissues like muscles, fat and bone from smaller molecules (anabolism). Many hormones that impact weight are placed into one of these two categories.
The main metabolic mechanisms of the cell are small structures called mitochondria. These structures are often termed the ‘powerhouses’ of the cell since they turn the calories you eat into energy. However, mitochondria do much more than simply burn calories. They help regulate calcium, synthesize amino acids which are the building blocks of protein, burn fatty acids and control the process of cell death. All of these functions are done at a cost. These processes produce a lot of free radicals which have the potential to damage components of the cell, such as cell membranes, DNA, enzymes and the mitochondria themselves. With proper nutrition both micro and macronutrient balanced foods you can help preserve the mitochondria, decreasing damage from free radicals and improving their function.
It’s accepted that metabolism slows down with age. This is due to the fact that people eat less frequently as they age or choose prepackaged processed foods filled with nitrates and preservatives. However their activity levels also decrease, which results in the gaining of body fat.
Resting metabolic rate (RMR): This is the amount of calories needed to run all functions inside the body. RMR is the largest part of total metabolism and accounts for the majority of calories burned in a day. There are many factors that influence the resting metabolic rate, such as body size, body composition, age, gender, genetics and diet. Due to its ability to be influenced, it can be lowered or increased by lifestyle and diet.
How to get your body to burn fat: While the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ of burning body fat may seem like a mystery, the truth is that the body burns fat as fuel when it is required for energy. The bonds in carbohydrates and fats contain stored energy that is waiting to be used, but your body will only break those bonds when it’s necessary. Therefore it would make sense that in order to lose weight and body fat, you need to create a need for energy in the body. Let’s examine those times when the body’s need for energy – and your metabolism – are high.
During Exercise. Depending on the type of exercise, your body’s need for energy can increase up to 20 times. That translates into a lot of calories being burned.
After exercise. During the first two hours after intense exercise, the body’s need for energy is high. This is because the cells in the muscles are hungry for glycogen to replenish what was lost during exercise. In addition, it costs the body energy to be restored back to its resting state after exercise. This increased calorie burning effect is called the after burn and it can persist for up to 24 hours after exercise.
Repair of the body. When the body is damaged, whether through surgery or an injury or its energy needs increase dramatically. Weightlifting has the same metabolic effect. When your muscles are challenged to lift heavier and heavier weights, the body undergoes muscle damage. This damage needs to be repaired, and in doing so, not only does the metabolism increase, but there is an increase in protein synthesis resulting in muscle growth and strength gains.
Eating foods with a high thermic effect. Recall that every time you eat your body expends calories to process and digest the food. There are certain foods that cost the body more energy to process than others. Your body burns twice as many calories to digest high protein foods than it does high carbohydrate or high fat foods.
More muscle mass. Your resting metabolic rate is highly dependent on muscle mass, with 75-80% of this value being determined by muscle. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism. Muscle is metabolically active tissue that requires a constant input of energy for its maintenance. It’s reported that one pound of muscle can burn up to 50 extra calories per day.
Stimulating your metabolism. Proper nutrition is extremely important for health and it’s no different for weight loss. While calories are important, studies have shown that the composition of those calories is even more important. What you eat and when you eat are key factors to increasing your metabolism. Our body needs to be nourished every three to four hours. Every time you eat you stimulate your metabolism for a short period of time through the thermic effect of food. So the more frequently you eat (nutrient rich foods), the more of a boost in metabolism will occur. To compare, if you only eat three meals a day, you boost your metabolism three times. But if you eat five or six times a day, you increase your metabolism the equivalent amount. In addition, eating every three hours feeds muscle tissue by sending the right signals that food is always going to be available. Research has shown that people who eat every two to three hours have better blood sugar control, fewer stress hormones (including those that break down muscle tissue), less blood cholesterol, more muscle-building hormones and higher metabolic rates.
Increasing the protein content of meal plans also helps with increasing metabolism. Every meal and every snack requires a perfect balance of protein, carbohydrate and healthy fat ratios. Recall that the thermic effect of protein is about double that of carbohydrates and fat. Eating protein also leads to the release of the hormone glucagon. Glucagon acts opposite to that of insulin. It is responsible for preventing blood sugar levels from dropping too low which can happen when you skip meals, over-exercise or restrict calories too much. Glucagon stimulates the action of a key enzyme important in the fat-burning process. This enzyme causes the release of fat from fat cells. Once the fat is released it can be shuttled to other cells and burned as fuel. Lastly, research shows that slightly higher protein intake increase the amount of body fat you lose, spares muscle mass, decreases feelings of hunger and improves blood sugar levels.
Katherine Christie is the owner of the U Weight Loss Clinic in Red Deer. For more information call 403-340-0612 or visit www.uweightloss.com.