If there were one general theme that we tend to focus on as we get older, when it comes to our health, it would be “my metabolism”. As a trainer, it’s normal to hear things like “I’m old so my metabolism is slower” or “how do I speed my metabolism up” or “my metabolism is making me gain weight” or “my metabolism ate my homework”…fine, I made that last one up. It’s important to understand what exactly your “metabolism” is, how it works and what you can do to make it quite being lazy! This article is going to answer those questions, as well as a few more, so that you can be successful in your health and fitness goals.
As we talk about it, it would seem that our metabolism is a mythical, mysterious creature. It is elusive, evasive, stubborn and many other adjectives that we can’t describe. Or so we think. When we talk about our “metabolism” what we are effectively referring to is our Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR from here on). Your RMR is the amount of energy (calories) your body burns at rest. For instance, the average person will burn about 1,500 calories if they did nothing all day. So, if you sat from sun up to sun down, you would burn about 1,500 calories. This is because your body still uses energy (calories) to maintain homeostasis (body temperature, pH balance, blood flow, etc.).
Sadly, there are certain things that we can’t change that put a damper on our metabolisms. Women, for instance, NATURALLY have slower metabolisms than men (sorry ladies!). Women typically have less lean body mass, which is the main reason. This is why wives get mad at their husbands when the men lose more weight. You can also thank (or throw things at) your parents. Our genes play a huge role in our metabolism. Some people are naturally more sensitive to certain macronutrients and therefore have to pay closer attention. Others, like my wife, can eat a carton of ice cream and lose 2lbs. Our intuition would tell us that age plays a part as well. But there is more to that story than meets the eye.
As we age, we get frail, eat less, lose muscle and have trouble going #2…because we STOP MOVING! When we get to retirement age, we think it’s time to shut it down. No more work, no more movement, no more life. Think of your grandparents (at least the average). They sit at home, watch The Price is Right and call every once and a while to tell you that the dog next door pooped in their yard again. If this is all we did at the age of 30, we would become frail and brittle by 40.
With all of these fun facts above, there has to be a way to fight the fight. There are a bunch, but let’s outline the important and most effective ones:
1. Resistance Training
We understand that our RMR is the calories we burn at rest. Considering that the vast majority are at rest most of the day (not literally sleeping, just not actively moving), this is where we can have the greatest impact. The ONLY way to do that over the long haul is by adding muscle. The ONLY way to add muscle is to do resistance training. You’ve heard the saying “muscle burns more than fat”. Well, considering fat burns nothing and muscle burns something…well, you get the point. Not only will resistance training help increase lean mass, it will also keep you from becoming frail and brittle as you age. Double Bonus!
2. Eat More Protein
There is a reason you go on a high protein diet to lose fat and not a high carb diet. Because of its structure, protein requires more energy to metabolize than carbs or fats. Therefore, eating more protein will increase your metabolism (at least for the short term).
Sleep has this amazing way helping us lose unwanted body fat…if we do it correctly. In short, when you sleep, your body replenishes it hormones. When you don’t sleep, it doesn’t replenish them completely and increases cortisol. This double whammy kicks your metabolism down and puts your body into fat storage mode. Sleep more (and better), lose weight. Pretty easy!
These are great first steps to getting your metabolism back on track and revving that it did in high school. Don’t be fooled by the propaganda. You can get your metabolism going again. Start moving, eat the right stuff, lift heavy weights and sleep!