You’ve probably heard the term metabolism used in a number of ways. You hear that it slows down when you sleep and as you age, that women have a lower metabolism than men, and that it speeds up when you do cardio exercise. You may have heard that some health conditions like hyperthyroidism speed up your metabolism, while hypothyroidism slows it down.
But just what does the term metabolism mean, and how does it relate to your basal metabolic rate? To lose weight, many people try to increase their metabolism, so is there anything you can do to speed it up? This post explores those questions.
What exactly is your metabolism?
Mayo Clinic defines your metabolism as the biochemical process by which your body breaks down and converts the food and drink you consume into energy that your body can use. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR), sometimes called your resting metabolic rate (RMR), is the number of calories your body needs to fuel its basic functions. Mayo Clinic lists these core functions as “breathing, circulating blood, adjusting hormone levels, and growing and repairing cells.” That’s about 70 percent of the calories your body uses each day. Your age, gender, body size, and body composition determine your BMR.
An article from the University of New Mexico breaks down your daily metabolic needs in this according to your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Your TDEE is made up of your basal metabolic rate (BMR) plus the thermic effect of feeding (TEF) plus the thermic effect of physical activity (TEPA). TEF is the calories burned to digest, absorb, and transport food, while TEPA is simply any physical activity that you do above and beyond what’s accounted for by your BMR.
Can you change your basal metabolic rate?
If you are trying to lose weight, obviously your metabolic rate plays a big role in this effort. It seems like the best way to lose weight is to speed up your BMR, right? That’s not so easily done.
Runners World states that the only way to notably increase your basal metabolic rate is to actually gain weight. Obviously that’s a non-starter if you’re trying to lose weight. However, there is some evidence that the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate—but only barely higher. The University of New Mexico article explains that an increase in muscle of 4.5 pounds only increases your daily caloric needs by 50 calories.
While you can’t speed up your basal metabolic rate, you can increase your metabolic needs through the thermic effect of physical activity (TEPA). The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) notes that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in particular can crank up this contributor to your metabolism and keep it burning calories at a higher rate from 1.5 to up to 24 hours after you exercise. HIIT is training or exercise in which you work out for a certain amount of time at two different and alternating speeds—rest and intense. A HIIT workout might include, for example, sprinting for 60 seconds and then walking for 60 seconds for a total of 25 minutes.
And indeed, food can impact your metabolic needs. Remember that part of the calories that you expend include those used to digest food—the thermic effect of feeding (TEF)? The Australian Healthy Food Guide states that TEF can account for between 5 and 10 percent of the calories your body uses each day. Some foods and drinks, including oolong tea, green tea, caffeinated drinks, and chili peppers require more energy to digest. Unfortunately, you’d have to ingest a fair amount of each of these items to really make a difference.
The old-fashioned way of increasing your metabolism is best
At the end of the day, it seems that trying to boost your metabolism is best done by exercising more. Perhaps look into an interval training program. If you can get those metabolism boosting benefits from a 25 minute daily workout, that seems like time well spent. While you probably won’t lose weight from eating a bowl of my Quick One Pot Chili Recipe, it sure will taste good and be good for you.