Have you ever been dieting and everything was going great at first? And then all of a sudden it slows or even stops completely.
I have talked about metabolic adaptation before, in this blog and in this podcast episode.
The good news is there are two things that people aren’t aware of or just neglect during their fat loss phase that could really speed your progress back up.
In this blog I am going to go over what those are and how you can fix them so you can get back to losing fat.
What is metabolism?
Many people have this idea of what metabolism is, but I don’t think they really know.
For some, metabolism is something that is either fast or slow and is the reason they gain or lose weight.
When you’re younger, people say its fast. Or if someone is lean people say they have a “fast metabolism.”
When youre older people say its slow. Or if someone is overweight people say they have a “slow metabolism.”
I personally think this is just an excuse so people can justify their poor habits. While studies have shown that your metabolism does slow as you age, it doesn’t really slow as much as you think.
So what exactly is it?
Your metabolism is the chemical reactions that change food into energy. Our bodies need this energy to do everything from moving to thinking to growing.
“The process by which the body alters how efficient it is at turning the food you eat into energy.”
There are four things that make this up:
- Resting metabolic rate (RMR): is the energy burned for basic bodily functions. One way to think of it is the amount of energy used when you are at rest. This makes up a large portion of your metabolism, about 60-75% (going to vary from person to person).This is what people think of when they hear metabolism.
- Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): is the amount of energy burned via absorption and digestion. Yes, the calories you consume require calories to digest and absorb. This makes up about 8-10% of the energy expenditure side. Protein uses the most energy (out of the three macronutrients) to absorb and digest. When you lose weight, this goes down slightly because you are eating less. When you eat more this goes up slightly because you are simply eating and digesting more food.
- Exercise Activity (EA): this is the activity that is deliberate exercise: running, weight lifting, sports, etc. This factor can have a high variability from one person to the next. For example, a sedentary person could burn 100 calories per day, whereas an athlete could burn 3,000 calories per day from activity.
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): this is all of your movements that are not deliberate. Talking, blinking, fidgeting, walking to do everyday chores like going to the bathroom, cleaning etc. In a previous article, I went over how NEAT goes down as you lose weight and how to increase NEAT levels. This seems to be very adaptive to how much you are eating. When you use less your NEAT goes down, when you eat more your NEAT goes up.
These four factors make up your metabolism and this determines how many calories you use throughout the day.
There can be a huge variability between two people (which is why there is no magic calorie amount to lose or gain weight).
- If you want to lose weight we need energy out to be greater than energy in (how many calories you eat.).
- If you want to gain weight we need energy out to be less than energy in.
- If you want to maintain weight then you need energy out to match energy in.
How many calories someone burns varies from person to person.
Things that affect how many calories you burn throughout the day:
- Body size- those who are bigger, tend to burn more calories. On the other hand, smaller people burn fewer calories
- Age- The older you get the fewer calories you burn. Compared to younger people, who burn more calories.
- Genetics- Some people just burn more calories than others because of their genetics.
- Gender- Men tend to burn more calories than women. Most likely due to men being bigger on average.
- More lean mass- Those who have more lean mass (think muscle), will burn more calories than someone who has less lean mass.
For example, an active tall male that has a good amount of muscle and genetically has an active metabolism uses much more energy throughout the day than a sedentary female, who is short, does not have much muscle, and genetically has a metabolism that is much more efficient with its energy. This is why some people can eat 3000 calories per day and still lose weight, while someone could be struggling to lose weight on 1,200 calories.
How you can speed up your metabolism.
Based on this we can come up with two easy ways to speed up your metabolism.
✅Increase your physical activity through steps.
We know that NEAT is highly variable and is also very adaptive to how much food you are consuming. If you can keep your step counts high, you can ensure that your body won’t adapt to this.
What happens when someone loses weight is they end up subconsciously moving less. Not only that, but your body becomes more efficient with the energy you give it (which isn’t great for fat loss).
Not to mention, moving more throughout the day can help you manage hunger better as well.
With online clients, we aim for 6k plus steps per day when in a fat loss phase. This is very different from person to person and can vary greatly.
The best rule of thumb is to see what your daily steps have been over the past few weeks and then add 1-2k on top of that.
✅Increase your protein intake.
Since the food we eat requires energy to absorb and digest, and protein uses the most energy, then we can say that by increasing your protein intake you can increase your metabolism.
When you diet for fat loss you are eating less so you end up using less energy to absorb and digest food compared to when you are eating at maintenance or in a surplus.
Now this isn’t a huge difference, but when you are stuck every little bit counts.
Not to mention protein does a great job at building/maintaining muscle, which more lean mass is never a bad thing for your metabolism. I have no science to back this up but more muscle usually means your body utilizes the food you give it much better as well.
Oh, and protein is GREAT at keeping you feeling full so you are less likely to overeat calories.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for around .8 to 1g per pound of bodyweight. However, if your weight loss is plateaued and you are already doing this amount, it may be a good idea to increase it slightly more.
One thing to look out for though is when you add protein it can be tempting to just add protein and keep carbohydrates and fats the same, but this will add how many calories you are eating, which may negate any fat loss benefits (because it will take you out of a calorie deficit), so the trick here is to replace carbohydrates and/or fats with protein so you do not add any extra calories.
If your fat loss has plateaued, give these a shot before you decide to decrease your calories anymore or ramp up how much running you are doing.
If you need more guidance or structure then fill out the coaching application here and lets get to work.