Make the most of your metabolism!

“Boost your metabolism simply by swallowing this pill!”, advertisers claim. That sounds great, doesn’t it? If you are one of the millions of people who will go on a diet this year, you might be tempted by advertisements for products promising quick and easy ways to lose weight. But you need to know that when it comes to losing weight, gimmicks don’t usually deliver on their promises. But it’s still very easy to be swayed by pseudo-scientific claims and sales pitches.

So what is your metabolism and can some foods magically increase it? If not, what can?

In simple terms, your metabolism is the rate at which your body engine operates as it performs all its bodily functions. These functions are both anabolic (‘creating’ processes that build up body tissues and the generation of heat, for example) and catabolic, processes that breakdown food, body fat, waste products etc. The fuel for all the chemical reactions which make up the metabolic process is food.

Your metabolism has four components:

Basal metabolism. This is the minimum number of calories the resting body needs to stay alive and function and accounts for 65-70% of your total metabolic expenditure.

Thermic effect of food. This is the increase in metabolism that occurs during digestion, absorption and metabolism of food. This accounts for 5 -10% of your total metabolism.

Adaptive Thermogenesis. Calories that are used to produce body heat and regulate your temperature. This accounts for around 7% of your total metabolism.

Exercise and other activity. Calories that are burned during daily activity and during exercise. This accounts for 15-25% of your total metabolic expenditure.

To find your basal metabolic rate, multiply your weight in pounds (14 pounds to a stone) by 9.817 if you are female or by 10.908 if you are male. For example, a 130lb woman will burn approximately 1,276 calories every 24 hours to keep the body alive and functioning properly (130 x 9.817 = 1,276), while a 180lb man burns approximately 1,963 calories during resting metabolism every 24 hours (180 x 10.908).

Both men and women should avoid reducing their caloric intake below these minimum levels. This represents a safe level of caloric intake to provide enough energy for moderate exercise, adequate nutrition and also prevent a slowing in metabolic rate.

Basal metabolism accounts for the majority of calories you burn daily and several factors effect it. Age, height, genetics, body composition (lean people have a higher BMR), stress and diet (fasting or starvation lowers BMR) are some of those things. To date, there is no solid research that any specific food can boost your metabolism significantly.

Some foods such as flax seeds, grapefruit, cinnamon and cayenne pepper might increase it slightly, but not enough to have an impact. A good rule to follow with weight loss is that if it seems too easy, then it probably is not legitimate.

So, what can you do to safely increase your metabolic rate?

1. Exercise and increase muscle mass. Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue. As people age, the amount of fat increases and muscle mass decreases. This can lead to weight gain even if your diet remains unchanged. The most effective way to boost your metabolism is through exercise. When you work out, you build muscle, which takes more calories to maintain than fat and boosts your BMR. The kind of fibres that make up lean muscle mass require more energy to function.

2. Make sure you eat enough! A common mistake among dieters is taking in too few calories. This adversely affects the metabolism. In essence, by following an overly restrictive diet, you lower your body’s ability to burn even the reduced amount of calories you are taking in. When you deprive yourself of calories, your body thinks it's in starvation mode and your metabolism will slow to conserve the calories you do have.

3. Eat smaller meals more frequently. You raise your metabolic rate every time you eat, so eating more frequently gives you a metabolic boost more often. Sometimes it's not what you eat but how you eat it that affects your weight. In the case of metabolism management, it's wise to have more tiny meals scattered throughout the day, since eating one huge meal will slow your system.

4. Thyroid. Although the thyroid sometimes takes undeserved blame for obesity, if it isn't doing its job, it can drag your metabolism down. The thyroid gland controls the use of energy in your cells, and an improperly functioning thyroid gland makes you feel sluggish and carry more weight.

5. Get Enough Protein. Eating plenty of protein is also good for building that metabolism-boosting muscle mass. How much you exercise determines how much protein you should eat. If you're sedentary, you need to take in 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. However, if you do aerobics three to five times a week, you need 0.5 grams for every pound.

6. Fill up with Fibre. Fibre does more than regulate your bowels - it regulates your metabolism, too. Fibre is digested more slowly than other nutrients and this slow process can compensate for poor food choices, like excess sugar, which is metabolised quickly and causes insulin spikes in the bloodstream. Eating more fibre will keep you from riding high and then crashing from your body's response to that addictive glucose.

So next time you see an advertisement for a miracle metabolism-booster, do yourself a favour – put your efforts into healthy weight loss and muscle-building exercise to see the results you want!

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