We all have a friend who seems to eat whatever they want, and never seems to gain any weight.
They are usually labelled as ‘lucky’ as they were born with a genetic gift.
This is something completely misunderstood.
We are in control of a substantial amount of our metabolism, and this myth can be overcome.
Let's get in to it...
Firstly, you may be thinking,
"What on earth is a metabolism and why is it important?"
Your metabolism is basically the total energy your body burns per day to keep you moving, keep your heart beating and to keep your vital functions happening.
In order for fat loss to occur the amount of food you eat must be less than your 'metabolic rate' - so eating less than your body is burning to keep your body working.
Your body will then find the extra energy it needs from your fat stores and this is when 'fat loss' will occur.
Usually 500 kcal is a healthy recommendation for this deficit.
For your weight to be consistent, your food intake must equate to your metabolism.
This means the higher your metabolism, the more food you can have and still lose fat.
This is why for some people fat-loss can be a much more difficult process if they have a slower metabolism, as their food intake must be much lower to create that deficit.
For example take two people of the exact same weight; Jim and Bob.
Jim has a metabolism of 2000kcal, whereas Bob has a metabolism of 1500kcal.
If Jim and Bob both eat 2000kcal per day, it would result in Bob gaining weight where Jim’s weight would not change.
This is why boosting your metabolism is so highly marketed in the fitness industry, however, it is usually branded wrong.
You'll be sold the 'quick fix' and not the actual solution.
So, let's speak about what can't boost your metabolism?
Skinny tea? Detox shakes? Apple cider vinegar? Lemons? Pill's?
Do they work?
Anything you put into your body to speed up metabolism will have an insignificant impact on your fat loss results.
So, I’m going to let you in on what will.
In order to understand how to increase your metabolism, we must understand where your metabolism comes from.
What makes this energy we output every day?
Our metabolism is split into three main components: our basal metabolic rate (BMR), thermic effect of food, and physical activity.
The question is which one of these is the main driver of increasing our metabolism?
BMR is the number of calories your body uses just to survive.
For example, if you were to lay in bed all day and do nothing, it's how much energy your body would use.
What a life this would be… We cannot change or increase our BMR daily.
So, let’s cross that off the list.
The thermic effect of food is the energy we use to digest food.
This only equates to 8% of our total energy expenditure but requires us putting energy in first so mathmatically the thermic effect of food wouldn't be a driver of fat loss in a metabolic sense as it adds to our energy intake when taking the net of the sum in to account.
The thermic effect of protein is slightly higher than other macronutrients however it isn’t significant enough to make a difference.
Even so, protein is highly satiating, meaning it will keep us fuller for longer reducing snacking, not to mention the benefits of muscle repair and growth.
Increasing your protein intake has lots of pro’s yet it will not massively increase our metabolism.
Again, let's cross the thermic effect off our list for boosting metabolism.
Now, that brings us to our final piece of the cake, physical activity.
This is something we can change.
In a sedentary person, physical activity would range from 0% (bed rest) to 17% (up to 7500 steps per day) of your metabolism, compared to someone physically active which is 32%.
That is almost double.
Physical activity is broken down into two elements: exercise and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).
Although exercise is an element towards energy output, NEAT is going to be your main driver for expending energy.
NEAT is any non-exercise activity that requires energy.
For example, standing, walking, even fidgeting.
Think of the person you know that has an incredibly 'fast metabolism'.
What sort of job do they do?
Do they commute to work, or drive?
Are they an energetic person, always moving?
Anyone with a 'fast metabolism' generally has a much higher NEAT, compared to anyone sedentary.
For example, 10,000 steps per day can burn roughly 500kcal.
Every day of the week would equate to 3500kcal burned or around a 1lb of body fat.
Your NEAT can be the main difference between maintaining or losing weight.
When in a calorie deficit, your body will try its best to preserve energy.
Or simply put - when in a calorie deficit your body will do it's best to stop you losing fat.
It does this by making you feel more tired and slowing down tasks such as fidgeting, scratching, and any subconscious movement and makes you sleep longer.
This is why it's worth making a mindful effort to track and increase your NEAT.
So, should you be increasing your NEAT or exercising?
Ideally both for different reasons.
To expend the same amount of energy per day through training alone as we would through increasing NEAT would be a huge challenge, it would mean extra hours of exercise EVERY DAY.
This is why NEAT's such a game-changer to fat-loss.
It can increase your energy expenditure without even having to go to a gym.
However as we said, we want to do both for different reasons.
NEAT can help us lose body fat without going to a gym but it can cause muscle loss as well which is very bad for our metabolic health - which is why we would want to do both.
Furthermore, muscle uses 3x as much energy as fat tissue per pound.
Especially if you are brand new to lifting, adding some muscle is a great way to increase your metabolism, by actually increasing your BMR overtime meaning you can eat more food to sit still all day and not gain weight.
Generally speaking, the heavier you are the more energy you will expend, so gaining or at least maintaining your muscle whilst losing fat sounds like a good idea.
This will ensure our metabolism doesn’t decrease when we lose fat.
I have worked with clients previously whose weight hasn’t changed, although they have built muscle and lost fat overtime.
This would suggest a slight increase in their metabolism, despite fat-loss.
There is no magical pill or food when it comes to boosting your metabolism.
As physical activity is the only changeable element, increasing your NEAT and muscle mass are the most effective tools.
Start by increasing your daily activity gradually (by increasing your daily step count) and implementing weightlifting 2-4x per week.
Considering these recommendations this does not mean you will be able to eat as you please and still make progress.
Whether your goal is to lose fat or maintain weight, a negative or equal energy balance is still required.
Experiment with your nutrition and activity, then find the plan that works best for you.