I had a slow metabolism once... Just kidding. I still have a slow metabolism but way better than it used to be. What the heck does that mean, anyway?
I think it would be best if we described what metabolism is, just so that we are on the same page.
So Websters Dictionary describes metabolism as this: The chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life.
Could they be any more vague than that?
Metabolism is basically a bunch of stuff going on at once to keep everything you have working good. It isn’t just one thing. Unfortunately, we tend to kind of put metabolism in this neat little box and say, “Oh, my metabolism is slow.”
How do you know when it's slow? How do you know when its fast? How do you know if it's a disease process versus a metabolic process going on?
These are burning questions I wanted to know as I was writing this article. Although I am a nurse, metabolism is a very nebulous thing, even in the medical community.
You have certain foods that can supposedly be a metabolic booster, you have certain medications that can help aid in metabolism. We talk about metabolism and exercise ad- nauseum.
So what is it?
There is actually a Journal of Metabolism that is a research periodical. If we are talking metabolism, then we kinda have to break it down into carbohydrate metabolism, lipid metabolism, bone metabolism, protein metabolism, etc.
Yeah. A lot more to it than you thought, huh?
Oh, let's not forget the things that impact metabolism such as exercise, nutrition, and endocrinology - and by that, I really mean like that whole insulin and sugar stuff going on when we talk about diabetes.
Protein metabolism: Those of us that are all about making muscle talk about just “protein metabolism” like that is the only thing that makes up metabolism. That is only just one component, however.
Basically proteins are broken down into amino acids and transported into the cells through this plasma membrane thingy, then rearranged and made into new things. Left over amino acids (the breakdown of proteins) are converted into other usable molecules in the liver.
There are really cool names to these processes that are going on in the body - catabolism - which is the breakdown of proteins into is amino acid parts and anabolism: the reforming of amino acids along with simple sugars (monosaccharides) and it assembles these things into complex stuff like proteins and nucleic acids and polysaccharides.
Catabolism and anabolism are also happening with carbohydrates and lipids so its kind of lame that we only use these types of names when we are talking about protein only.
Carbohydrate metabolism: It’s a lot of oxidation and reduction reactions that gets energy from the carbohydrate. Remember chemistry? Well, neither do I, so here goes.
The energy is stored in ATP and when you break that ATP phosphorus bond, then it can be used for cellular processes. Remember that little thing called the Krebs cycle? Me neither.
Just know that it's basically all about catabolism. Gluconeogenesis is pretty in depth but basically, a new glucose molecule is made from some amino acids, pyruvate, and lactate.
It takes place in the liver. When you are so hungry you’re going to eat your arm off, the liver makes it so your glucose concentration will raise.
Lipid metabolism: Fats are either absorbed from food or can be made by the liver. This is the making or breaking down of lipids in cells, which are used for breakdown or storage of fats for energy.
A huge part of our energy comes from fatty acid oxidation and “is the major source of energy from ATP synthesis.” This is where you have ketone bodies generated and serving as an energy source.
Yes, this stuff is complicated.
Bone metabolism: Bone is a mineral reservoir. Bone remodeling is happening all the time and is a dynamic process. Any disruptions can cause osteomalacia with the main cause being the reduced availability of vitamin D.
Don't even get me started on steroid metabolism and acetogenesis. Yes, this stuff is very complicated, and I am but a lowly nurse and trainer. This stuff boggled my mind in biochemistry and physiology... And that was a long time ago.
So back to the question, now that we know what metabolism looks like, how do you know if you have a crappy one or not?
4 Ways to Tell if You Have a Crappy Metabolism
1. Bad Diabetes?
If you have out of control diabetes, your metabolism is suffering.
This is a fact; however, to mitigate issues, you can keep your blood sugar even and level. That will enhance your carbohydrate metabolism from a crappy one to a decent one and beyond.
Remember, metabolism is not just one thing. It is working in concert to have all body systems work... Just reiterating.
2. Not Much Muscle?
Do you have more muscle? If you do, you burn more calories. This can increase your resting metabolic rate, which means all processes of the protein metabolism is working in tip-top shape and even more streamlined.
This, however, does not guarantee that you have the best metabolism in the world. If you have morbid obesity then you may have lots of muscle, but now your fat metabolism is all jacked up. See what I mean by complicated?
3. Low Resting Metabolic Rate?
You have had your resting metabolic rate tested. This is a good indicator as to how your body uses calories and if your metabolism is sluggish, the calories that you burn at rest will be low.
If high you will be utilizing more at rest and those processes are streamlined.
4. Metabolic Syndrome?
Have you ever heard of metabolic syndrome? Well, this is a glob of symptoms that indicate if you have insulin resistance and other disease processes that leave your metabolism damaged and you at risk for diabetes, stroke and heart attacks.
One of the big indicators of metabolic syndrome is high waist circumference (measure waist then divide waist measurement by hip measurement), obesity, and high cholesterol as well as an increased blood sugar and high blood pressure.
Honestly, the best indicator overall to check out your metabolism from a fitness perspective is resting metabolic rate testing. That's a test that takes like 20 minutes to do. You either wear a mask or have a mouthpiece that is attached to a tube and your nose is plugged.
This measures the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide that is being expelled. This correlates with calories, and if that calorie number is a high amount then you utilize calories in an efficient way. If it's low then not so much.
In my case, I have improved my overall metabolism because my RMR is between 1382 and 1520. I am 5’8 and 143 pounds.
I used to run 40-45 miles a week and could only eat about 1300 calories a day before I would gain weight. Little wonder that most people gain back their weight when this happens because I was freaking hungry all the time.
However, I am an overall healthy individual, so that helped immensely. I knew that if I made more muscle, it is more “metabolically” active and that I would be able to eat more. This gave me hope that I wouldn’t have to run my face off forever in order to be able to eat cake... Occasionally.
How to Improve Your Crappy Metabolism
How can you increase your crappy metabolism?
This is something you don’t really think about in regard to metabolism. Sleep is a huge component of increasing or decreasing your metabolism. So, simple version-lack of sleep causes cortisol and growth hormone to be released.
Cortisol increases glucose, insulin becomes less sensitive to the increase in glucose over time, which then makes your blood sugars out of whack. Remember the metabolism of carbs? Yeah, that goes all wonky. Of course, I am simplifying the crap out of it, but that's the gist of it.
2. Eating more protein
Now, I love me some cake, but that doesn’t make you full. So, when you're in a fat loss phase, your metabolism (fat metabolism, that is) can slow.
Metabolism is a whole bunch of things going on at once, so one part of it can slow, and you want to try and keep the other parts humming along. If you are trying to lose weight because you have a spare tire around the middle and are at risk for metabolic syndrome, eating more protein makes you fuller.
So usually (I say usually because I can always power through and eat more) it makes you fuller and you eat about 300-400 fewer calories. This helps you hold on to muscle while hopefully losing fat.
Ok, to a lesser degree and if you want to get real picky, cold water is supposed to increase your metabolism for a tiny window after drinking it. However, I am pretty sure that water helps to keep you full.
You eat less. You are hydrated.
For those 1-2 hours after you drink “cold water” and your metabolism is increased, but this is more for hydration of organs and increasing the rate of expelling cellular trash out of the body.
So get this - Muscle is NOT the end all be all when it comes to metabolism.
Sure, it is “metabolically” more active than fat metabolism. Why? Here-this comes from the horses mouth... ” Muscle tissue contributes approximately 20% to TDEE versus 5% for fat tissue (for individuals with about 20% body fat). It is fascinating to note that the combined energy expenditure of the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain and liver represent approximately 80% of the TDEE (Elia 1992).”
The TDEE is the amount of calories you burn in a day doing your own unique activities. TDEE is actually the product of four different components-resting metabolic rate, the thermal effect of physical activity, the thermal affect of food and NEAT which is non-exercise activity thermogenesis - like shivering or fidgeting.
You know what is the most metabolically active? Your organs like the heart and the lungs, etc. Yup.
However, skeletal muscle is second, then fat is third in the metabolic scheme of things. You really can’t do much about your organs... Well, you can drink water to get all the debris from cellular byproducts flushed out of your system.
Duh. This one is a no-brainer.
If you eat below your resting metabolic rate, then your body is going to slow the metabolism. It does this to protect you, so that you can live longer. It has no idea your on diet.
Most women do this and make their metabolism sluggish. Then, you get to whine about how your metabolism is in the crapper.
However, most are also unwilling to get it tested and to God forbid eat more. Yes, I am talking to my gender. I also believed this, because we are handed a load of b.s. and told that we have to eat like a starving freak in order to be attractive.
There are, I am sure, different foods that are more metabolically active, but for this article I wont be talking about eating blueberries versus chocolate. It's all about the calories in and out.
Metabolism is a hard subject to grasp as it has multiple moving parts to it and we are all individuals with specific and unique issues regarding metabolism. There are things that can make your metabolism better, and enhance your unique genetics, and things that can make it worse.
Getting your resting metabolic rate tested may be of great benefit to you so you know what to take in calorie-wise. Being as informed as possible is key to increasing your metabolism and pushing through social mores that are the antithesis of what you have to do in order to do that.