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Maximizing Your Metabolism

By: Lori Gigantelli, RD, LMNT

Metabolism is the body’s process of making usable energy from the food we consume An individual’s Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of energy needed for the body to perform basic functions at rest. Even when resting the body performs important work such as sustaining a heartbeat, breathing, and performing brain functions. Beyond basal metabolic rate, exercise and lifestyle are important factors that determine an individual’s energy need.

Maintaining weight occurs when calories from food consumed equals energy burned (Calories In = Calories Out). To create weight loss, one must generate a deficit in their caloric equation by decreasing calories consumed or burning more calories. To generate a one pound per week weight loss, there must be a daily deficit of 500 calories. This deficit, sustained over a week, will yield 1 pound of body weight loss.

Fuel, measured in calories, circulates in the bloodstream in the form of glucose. Glucose is the fuel needed for bodily functions. When food is digested and absorbed, the body releases insulin to transport glucose into our cells for energy. Any excess glucose is temporarily stored as glycogen. Glycogen stores can quickly be converted to glucose when blood sugar levels start to fall.

In trying to achieve rapid weight loss, some individuals opt for very low calorie diets, far below the recommended 500 calorie per day deficit. Very low caloric intake can facilitate weight loss, however not necessarily in the best way. Fuel is required to keep vital organs alive and functioning. When on an extremely low calorie diet, the body will turn to various sources to create fuel. The first place the body seeks fuel is from glycogen stores. Once the glycogen becomes depleted, the body must find other sources of energy. The body can use fat, but it can also break down muscle as well. In ideal weight loss, the body would metabolize fat while preserving lean body mass.

Despite their negative image, fat cells have an important role regulating energy needs of the body. The primary purpose of fat cells are to store and release energy. Fat cells are capable of changing in size to accommodate the stored energy, enlarging in size to accommodate energy storage and decreasing in size as fatty acids are released and metabolized.

Other approaches to achieve fat metabolism includes exercising for a prolonged period of time and restricting carbohydrates. During exercise glycogen stores get depleted. These stores normally get replenished through dietary intake of carbohydrates. If carbohydrate intake is restricted for a prolonged period of time and glycogen stores become depleted, the liver will begin metabolizing fat to produce an alternate fuel source known as ketones.  Working out in a fasted state has been shown to increase ketones, indicating the body is metabolizing fat.

Restricting the dietary intake of carbohydrates can also generate fat metabolism, however, what constitutes a balanced low carbohydrate diet is still controversial. The three calorie delivering macro-nutrients that provide the body with energy are carbohydrates, protein and fat. When carbohydrate intake is reduced to low levels the majority of caloric intake must come from protein and fat. Eating a high protein diet often brings an increase in dietary fat consumption. Additionally, there can be a deficit of the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals derived from plant based foods that are often restricted on a low carbohydrate diet.

You make choices everyday that may maximize your metabolism towards achieving a healthy body weight.  If your goal is to lose a few pounds, look for the opportunity to incorporate a few of the tips, listed at right, into your lifestyle.  If you would like personal assistance in achieving weight loss you may sign up at the front desk for nutrition consultations sessions and/or sessions with a personal trainer.  We, at the JCC, want to help you feel your best through achieving balanced nutrition and healthy physical activity.

Tips to Rev Up Your Metabolic Rate
When striving for weight loss, taking steps to maximize your metabolic rate can help. Try these simple steps to boost your metabolism and burn more calories.

•  Stay hydrated with plenty of water. Water is needed to process calories. Dehydration can make you tired and slow you down. Strive to drink at least 8 cups of water per day.

•  Distribute your intake throughout the day. Three meals plus small snacks will keep your caloric intake steady throughout the day. Going long periods without eating, as well as eating large meals when activity levels are low, may slow your metabolism.  

• Eat complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates. Foods packed with sugar require little digestive effort and are rapidly absorbed by the body. When sugar absorption is rapid and excessive, the body works to maintain normal blood sugar levels by releasing more insulin. Insulin will deliver glucose to tissue in need of energy, while putting excess glucose into fat storage for future use. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates take more effort for the body to break down, yielding in a more steady release of energy into the body.

• Add some green tea into your day. Moderate amounts of caffeine may provide a short term metabolic boost. Caffeine has been studied for its potential role in fat metabolism, although its exact effect on fat metabolism remains unclear. For most healthy adults, the FDA recommends limiting caffeine to 400 milligrams (mg) a day, roughly the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee. Green tea is an excellent option that offers extra health benefits along with caffeine.

• Avoid restrictive and very low calorie diet. When calories and important nutrients become too restricted, the body will burn lean muscle in addition to fat. Depleted muscle tissue is rebuilt through exercise and adequate protein intake, making it much harder to regain than fat.

• Move more throughout the day. Adjust daily activities by parking further away, taking the stairs when available, and completing home chores that require extra steps to accomplish. Move your body and travel by foot as often as possible throughout the day.

• Check your dietary protein intake. A good daily protein intake for healthy adults should be between 0.8 - 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Older adults are often at greater risk of losing muscle mass and should strive for a higher protein intake of 1.2  -1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

• Add 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise. Make it a goal to move for 30 minutes each day. More activity may be needed if you are trying to lose weight. Adding strength training to your weekly workouts can aid in building muscle tissue, which can also increase your metabolic rate.  Consider working with a trainer to build an exercise plan that works for you.

• Get adequate sleep. Aim to get 8 hours of shut eye a night. Feeling tired due to lack of sleep can undermine proper nutritional planning, exercise, and the best intentions.