Metabolism is a word that gets mentioned a lot when we talk about athletic performance and weight loss. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we all fully understand it though.
So what is it then? Well if you go and try to find a dictionary definition you’ll probably read something to do with the ‘chemical process’ that occurs in our bodies. That doesn’t really mean a great deal to us though.
Essentially, our metabolism is the balance of the chemical reactions in our body that break things down, and the reactions that builds things up. For example, carbs are broken down by our body to form ATP, the body’s main energy source. On the other hand, our bodies also store and repair, in the way it builds muscle for instance.
Whether you’re training for a marathon, or having a lazy day in bed, these chemical reactions are occurring. If you use a basal metabolic rate calculator, you can easily work out how many calories you naturally burn a day. And no matter what your level of exercise, your body will burn calories throughout the day.
The chemical reactions that break down macronutrients, also known as catabolic reactions, help to provide the body with energy. The fuel for these reactions is food. Your body breaks down carbs, fats and proteins to provide itself with energy. Anabolic reactions do the opposite, they use energy in order to repair or build up tissue.
Our metabolism greatly affects our athletic performance. Ultimately, people try to speed up their metabolism in order to perform at a greater level. Just in case you were wondering, no, this isn’t just wishful thinking. What we do know is that your metabolism is determined by a number of things, including:
- Muscle mass
As you can probably guess, there isn’t much we can do to determine our height, our gender, or our age. These things are predetermined, and all affect our metabolism. For example, people in their late 30s or older will notice a natural slowing down in their metabolism, and this can’t be changed. The same thing can be said of gender. Men generally need to consume more calories in a day than women, and we can’t change that.
Some things can be changed consciously though. Let’s go back to the ATP mentioned earlier. Think of this as the body’s petrol for the metabolic engine. Many parts of our body require this energy. The liver requires a lot of energy, as does our brain. Whilst our muscles do require energy, in comparison to the energy required by our brain, it’s a relatively small amount. Over time however, if you consistently increase your muscle mass, the energy required to support those muscles will increase, speeding up your metabolism.
A number of things can be done to boost our metabolism. This is essential if you’re looking to lose weight or maximise your own athletic performance. Now obviously there are hundreds of weird and wonderful ways to speed up your metabolism out there, so I’ll just consider a few that are known to work.
- Not cutting calories
When people look to lose weight, they obviously think that cutting calories will help. The problem with this is that your body can go into ‘starvation mode’, and will fight to conserve energy, and won’t be ‘wasting’ the energy it does have on burning fat.
- Eat when you wake up
This is great for people who are just starting a new form of exercise, or those who have noticed a plateau in their existing plan. If you’re one of those people who skips breakfast, then this may be one change to your lifestyle you wish you made years earlier. Ideally you want to try and eat within half an hour of waking up, that way your body has more fat to burn when you go to exercise later.
- Organic food
If you really feel like you aren’t noticing benefits from the work you do, then this switch may be ideal. Inorganic food contains pesticides which have been shown to ‘attack’ your thyroid, which is believed to slow down metabolism.
A great deal of your metabolic make-up is naturally predetermined, but there are things that can be done. As I mentioned before, if you’re just starting a new training method, or you find you’ve plateaued on your current method, these subtle changes may be just the thing you need to help maximise your results.