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What Does "Metabolism" Actually Mean?

By Catherine Roy, September 20, 2021

What does metabolism mean?

The word metabolism is thrown around quite a bit. But if we asked you to explain what it is and how it relates to your overall health, could you?

If not, don’t worry; you're not alone. That's why we're sharing the details you need to know about all things metabolism. And with some of our newest recommendations, InsideTracker can help you understand what the word really means, how it ties into your overall wellbeing, and how to optimize it.

Biohack Your HealthWhat is metabolism?

In the simplest terms, metabolism is the way the body utilizes calories from food to produce the energy it takes to keep all necessary bodily functions (breathing, digestion, etc) running seamlessly. Your metabolism regulates how many calories you need per day to accomplish these (and other) processes.

How efficiently your metabolism functionsAKA your daily calorie burnis determined by three factors: basal metabolic rate (BMR), thermic effect of food (TEF), and energy expenditure due to physical activity (EEPA). These three pieces affect how calories are used in the body. Together, they are known as your total energy expenditure.

Basal metabolic rate (BMR)

Consider this the number of calories your body needs to restand only rest. This means no sitting up, no talking, no use of any muscles. BMR accounts for anywhere between 60-70% of daily calorie intake, making it the largest contributor to overall metabolism. We all have different BMRs because it’s determined by a number of factors including age, gender, muscle mass, hormones, stress, physical fitness level, and nutritional state. Having a fast metabolism is usually associated with a high BMR.

Thermic effect of food (TEF)

The digestion of food involves a lot of different processes. And although you don’t have to actively work to digest a meal, your body still uses up energy doing so. The cumulative amount of calories it takes for the body to digest food makes up the TEF. On average, this accounts for approximately 10% of daily energy expenditure. Protein has the greatest effect, followed by carbohydrates, then fat.

Energy expenditure from physical activity (EEPA)

EEPA accounts for the calories your body uses during movement. This accounts for roughly 20% of your daily calorie burn, but can vary depending on daily activities. It doesn’t just include the calories burned while working out, but also those burned while doing any physical movement, including the simplest movements like typing or folding laundry.  

So, having a fast metabolism is usually associated with a high BMR, but how about those of us with “slow” metabolisms? Is it possible to increase the calories our bodies need? Is it possible to boost metabolism? According to science, yes! Here's how. 

 

4 biomarkers related to metabolism

There are several biomarkers found in blood that related to metabolism. While, they aren't directly found as individual components of your total energy expenditure, they can still influence it.

  1. Glucose: The body's primary source of energy. The body must regulate glucose levels in the blood to maintain good health.
  2. Cholesterol: A waxy, fat-like substance that is made in the body by the liver and serves many vital functions. Normal cholesterol levels (HDL and LDL included) are important for maintaining energy, an active metabolism, and a healthy heart and circulatory system.
  3. Triglycerides: A type of lipid found in your blood. When you eat, your body converts the calories it doesn’t immediately need into triglycerides. Then, between meals, hormones release triglycerides from storage to use for energy. Adequate levels of triglycerides are important for maintaining energy, improving metabolism, and promoting heart health.
  4. Vitamin D: An important nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium, which helps to maintain bone strength and regulate the development and maintenance of the nervous system and skeletal muscle.

 

How to maintain a healthy metabolism

Prioritize your ZZZ’s

It seems like a good night’s sleep is the solution for everything, and a healthy metabolism is no exception. Lack of sleep disrupts appetite hormones, increases caloric intake, and negatively alters glucose metabolism.5,6,7 Chronic, or even partial sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.8

Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Developing a nighttime routine - such as powering devices down an hour before bed and reading with a cup of tea can help you get those extra hours in.

Ways To Improve Sleep small-2-min

Meet your daily protein goal

Compared to carbohydrates and fat, protein has the highest thermic effect, meaning the body utilizes the highest amount of calories to digest and absorb it.9   

Aim to include a complete protein source at every meal. For meat eaters, that can easily be done with eggs, chicken, fish, or lean beef. For plant-based eaters: tofu, tempeh, quinoa, and buckwheat are great options.

Drink green tea

Green tea contains a specific compound that has been associated with an increase in energy expenditure and fat burn.4,5 Although the effect is relatively small (and drinking green tea probably won’t solve all your metabolism woes), it will aid in supporting a healthy metabolism (bonus: it will also help you stay hydrated). Additionally, green tea is high in flavonols, which exert a strong antioxidant effect in the body.

Try swapping out one of your daily cups of coffee for green tea. Or, if you’re looking for that afternoon pick me up, grab an iced green tea and throw in some lemon for a flavor twist.

Green Tea Studies-min

Add in high intensity interval training workouts

HIIT workouts increase post-exercise oxygen consumption, fat oxidation, and metabolic rate.10,11 Essentially, they keep the body burning fuel long after your workout is over (often known as the “after-burn” phenomenon).

High-intensity interval training includes 30-60 seconds of high intensity aerobic work followed by 1-4 minutes of rest or recovery, repeated for 4-10 rounds. Try to incorporate HIIT workouts three times per week on on nonconsecutive days. If you’re new to HIIT, check out the group fitness classes at your local gym; many of them are HIIT type workouts.

Use a standing desk

Ever tried a standing desk? In multiple studies, those who used a standing desk for even just part of the work or school day had an increased energy expenditure compared to those who remained seated all day.1,2,3

Most standing desks are adjustable, meaning they can be used standing or sitting. So, if being on your feet all day seems a bit intimidating, start by alternating between sitting and standing and work your way up, literally!

 

Summary

  • Metabolism describes the bodily processes needed to turn food into energy the body needs to keep it alive.
  • How many calories you need a day depends on your total energy expenditure, which is the sum of BMR, TEF, and EEPA.
  • Certain markers found in the blood can influence your total energy expenditure: glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, and vitamin D.
  • It is possible to boost metabolism through lifestyle factors such as quality sleep, aerobic exercise, and meeting your protein needs.

 

 

 

 

   

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References:

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