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Understanding Metabolism: How It Influences Weight Control

Fitday Editor
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It may be tempting to blame your failed weight loss attempts or weight gain on a slow metabolism. However, it is rare that excessive weight gain from a medical problem slows metabolism, as in cases of Cushing's syndrome or an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).

Exercise to Boost Metabolism

Though some of the factors that affect your metabolic rate can't be changed, there are ways to maximize your metabolism. Among the best ways is exercise. This includes aerobic workouts, to burn more calories in the short term, and weight training to build the muscles that will boost your metabolism in the long run. Since muscle burns more calories than fat -- even while at rest -- the more muscles you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate. Thus means your body will be burning more calories just to sustain you.

For more information:
Understanding Metabolism: How to Boost Yours with Exercise
Understanding Metabolism: What Determines Your BMR?

How Nutrition Affects Metabolism

Along with exercise, you can follow some dietary guidelines to increase your metabolic rate. For instance, small, frequent, meals help keep your metabolism in high gear, and that means you'll burn more calories overall. When you wait too long between meals, your metabolic rate slows down to compensate. The best advice is to eat 3 regular meals and a couple small snacks each day. Eating frequently also helps you eat less at regular meals.

Eat to Maximize Your Metabolism

Always eat breakfast. A healthy breakfast starts your metabolic furnace. Studies have found that people who eat a healthful, balanced breakfast every day have significantly lower body fat.

Stay adequately hydrated. Dehydration can contribute to an ineffective metabolism. Your body temperature drops slightly if you are dehydrated causing your body to store fat as a way to maintain the temperature. Water helps mobilize fat stores, while dehydration stimulates fat to stay.

Foods that Can Help Increase Metabolism

What about claims that certain foods increase metabolism? Protein requires more energy to digest than carbohydrates. So, theoretically, a high-protein meal may accelerate metabolism a little more than a carb-laden meal with the same number of calories. Protein also makes you feel more satisfied after a meal, so this could keep you from overeating. But keep in mind that the majority of weight loss is explained by a deficit of calories and an increase in exercise, not because of changes in the percentages of protein or carbs in a diet.

Omega-3 fats can boost metabolism, while saturated fat consumption slows metabolism. Unprocessed foods such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains take longer to digest because the body has to work harder to digest the fiber. Compared to refined and processed foods, simply digesting whole foods burns more calories.

Spicy foods such as red pepper may increase metabolism for about 30 minutes after eaten, but studies haven't shown that the effect lasts longer. Also, the most effects were when the spicy foods were eaten with high fats foods, which are best avoided. Green tea or EGCG and caffeine also can enhance calorie-burning, but it's not clear if this is enough to boost weight loss. The increase is still insignificant compared to what you need in order to lose weight.

Can Supplements or Pills Help Reduce Metabolism?

Some marketers of weight loss supplements lead you to believe that their product will help boost metabolism and melt away fat. Don't be duped: there is no magical pill. As a rule, ingredients only boost metabolism slightly and carry risks. Some pills have dangerous side effects, and "metabolism boosting" ingredients such as white willow, caffeine and ma huang overstress the thyroid. Stimulants like guarana, yerba mate, caffeine, and bitter orange increase heart rate and can cause elevated blood pressure. Dietary supplement manufacturers aren't required by the Food and Drug Administration to substantiate that their products as safe or effective, so it is wise to be skeptical about these products.

Taking a vitamin and mineral supplement makes sense, though. An efficient metabolism also requires the smooth running of many complex body processes that rely on sufficient. Inadequate amounts of B6, B12, folate, thiamin, and niacin can slow the body's metabolism. Magnesium also plays a role in metabolism because it is used in more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body.

Calories and Metabolism

Although your metabolism influences your body's basic energy needs, weight gain is most commonly the result of eating more calories than you burn. To lose weight, then, you need to create an energy deficit by eating fewer calories, increasing the number of calories you burn through physical activity, or both. The winning formula to maintain your weight is that what you take in should equal the calories you expend. So focus on the factors you have control over: your diet and lifestyle habits. These can help you manage your weight and possibly improve your metabolism.

If you're concerned about your weight or you think your metabolism is too slow, talk with your doctor. Your doctor can check for medical causes and help you adopt healthy lifestyle changes to help your weight loss.

Maria Faires, RD is a Registered Dietitian, Personal Trainer, Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist and freelance writer based out of Sammamish, WA. Maria is considered to be one of Western Washington's premier fitness and nutrition experts. As the owner of Active Nutrition Fitness & Consulting, Maria provides highly personalized nutrition services, personal training and preventative and post-rehabilitative fitness programming in her private training studio. She also provides Skype, phone and online nutrition counseling and training for remote clients. Maria leads the industry in the development of cutting edge fitness and nutrition techniques as well as innovative and unique fitness programming. Maria expertly designs every workout, nutrition plan and provides the personal attention, extra motivation, support and accountability that helps her clients achieve optimal performance and health. Contact or read more about Maria at

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