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What You Need To Know About Metabolism

Last week David Quick of the Post & Courier wrote an excellent article regarding the impact of exercise on metabolism. Kudos to David for doing a fine job researching and writing an informative article.

I wanted to expand on some of the points in his article as this is a very important subject in relation to fat loss. Specifically, there’s a common misconception that doing more exercise is better when it comes to fat loss, since you’ll burn more calories.

Truth be told, it would be extremely difficult for most individuals to log enough hours of cardio during the week alone to make up enough of a caloric deficit to swing big doors with fat loss. Sure all exercise burns some calories, but that’s really not the main benefit or primary reason it’s recommended in a fat loss program.

Understanding Resting Metabolic Rate

A good place to start this discussion is with a quick review of something called your resting metabolic rate. Your unique rate of metabolism is determined by a host of factors like genetics, lean muscle, body mass, hormonal balances and others.

While you can certainly impact your rate of metabolism through changes in your diet and exercise, the majority of calories burned daily are a result of organ and tissue energy demands. In other words, you burn more calories just maintaining body functions at rest than you could ever begin to touch with exercise.

A lot of people I consult with during a Charleston resting metabolic rate test are surprised to learn how many calories they burn in a resting state, and how little they burn with actual exercise. I guess this has something to do with how we’re led to believe that exercise is the key to calorie burning and fat loss. Don’t get me wrong, exercise plays a part, but it’s the manipulation of calories in your diet that really shifts the energy balances.

The Thermic Effects Of Food On Your Metabolism

While it’s true that some foods have a higher “thermogenic effect,” meaning they burn more energy during assimilation and digestion (thus raising your metabolism) the impacts are minimal from a big picture standpoint.

Protein gets a lot of hype here since it’s the most thermic of all the nutrients. Without getting into too much detail, eating more protein has significant positive impacts on fat loss, but it’s really not because it raises your metabolism that much. The role of protein has more to do with the preservation of lean muscle tissue during dieting than significantly raising your metabolism.

Just know that everything from eating hot peppers to downing some energy drink that claims to help you “burn more calories” is mostly hype. There are no arrays of special foods or drinks that can significantly impact your metabolism.

Hormonal Balances And Their Impact On Metabolism

Taking genetics out of the equation for a minute, let’s discuss the role of hormonal balances on your metabolism. Make no mistake about it…your metabolism is ultimately controlled by a series of interconnecting hormonal balances in your body.

While the thyroid gland sets your “thermostat” per say, it does so under the command of hormonal signals. Many people make the faulty assumption that thyroid hormone levels are the sole regulator of your metabolism. This is entirely false.

The best way to explain it is your body has numerous hormonal systems that work in conjunction with one another. If there’s an imbalance, or breakdown in one system, all other systems are affected.

So while you may have a thyroid hormone imbalance, the root cause of the problem may well be connected to some other hormonal system. A common example would be how an adrenal hormonal imbalance (adrenal fatigue) would result in decreased thyroid hormone production and thus a lowered metabolism.

My point of all this is…you must look at the entire endocrine system as a whole and not just assume you have a low metabolism solely due to a thyroid imbalance or other issue.

If you feel you may have a thyroid hormone imbalance, I would suggest seeking the counsel of specialist who will take the time to look at the big picture.

Contrary to what many physicians would have you believe, “less than optimal” thyroid hormone levels are NOT that uncommon. This is especially true for post-menopausal women.

A lot of doctors are very hesitant to treat patients unless there’s a clear cut case of hypothyroidism and that’s unfortunate. I could go into all the reasons “why” but that would be an entire article in itself. We’ll leave that for another day.

I guess what I’m trying to say is you get tested by your general physician and he/she tells you that you’re fine since you’re in the “normal” range, don’t be surprised.

If you show several symptoms of having a possible thyroid hormone imbalance and just don’t feel convinced by your doctor’s report, get a second opinion. Look, I’m not bashing all doctors here. I’ve just found that general practice physicians will often be hesitant in this area, just been my experience.

If you have reason to believe you may have “less than optimal” thyroid hormone levels simply search out physicians who specialize in hormonal issues. If you live in Charleston and need a recommendation leave me a comment or send me an email and I’ll be happy to make some suggestions.

Impact Of Exercise On Metabolism

I completely agree with the references made in the Post & Courier article to exercise and metabolism. It’s true that exercise can impact metabolism but not all exercise is created equal in this respect.

Like I mentioned earlier, many people make the mistake of thinking “aerobic” exercise or long-slow-distance cardio is the most effective type of exercise for fat loss. Once again it goes back to the assumption that you’ll burn more calories the longer you go.

From a fat loss standpoint, this strategy can actually wind up being counter-productive. Doing extended bouts of cardio while in a calorie deprivation state (on a diet) can speed up muscle loss and reduce your metabolic rate. You want to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking “more is better.”

Instead recent research clearly shows that fat loss is not just a matter of calorie burning but rather a more complex system of hormonal balances and energy levels. There are certain powerful fat burning hormones like growth hormone and adrenaline for example that only get released with short burst of high intensity exercise.

This is why things like “burst training” and “interval training” are becoming increasingly popular due to their effectiveness as fat loss workouts. We incorporate both types of training with our personal training programs at Shaping Concepts. The research is there and real world experience with clients has proven to us it just simply works.

Here are some examples research cited in the article:

Interval Training

“Among the studies was one done in 1997 at the University of South Australia. Researchers investigated the effects of a continuous run of 30 minutes at 70% VO2 max versus an interval run that included 20 bouts of one-minute duration at 105% of VO2 max, or “supramaximal exercise.” The authors reported a significantly greater EPOC (post exercise oxygen consumption – thus calorie burning) following the intermittent bouts of supramaximal exercise.”

Burst Training

“In a 2001 study at Ohio University, researchers showed a circuit resistance training program using heavy weights, short rest periods, and lasting on 31 minutes was able to generate an EPOC that persisted for 48 hours. Results showed that metabolism was increased 21 percent in the first 24 hours after a session, and even 19 percent in 48 hours after.”

There is much more depth that we can get into on this subject, and I’m sure we will in the future. I just wanted to make reference to the article and share some additional insight.

The whole subject of metabolism and it’s relation to fat loss is often misunderstood. Bottom line is don’t think having a “slower” metabolism will keep you from being able to lose fat. You may not lose weight as fast or as easy as some individuals, but with the right strategy anyone can lose body fat.

At Shaping Concepts we offer a FREE fat loss consultation for individuals who would like to learn more about a personalized program. To learn more you can check out the success stories page to see how my programs have already worked for hundreds of Charleston area residents.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial to his Charleston personal traning programs and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself.

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Category: Fat Loss.