Busting metabolism myths

We talked to metabolism experts to address several misunderstandings people have about metabolism and metabolic rate.

What’s your metabolism?

It’s the sum total of all your cells converting fuel into energy so you can exist and move. Cells create energy by using oxygen to “burn” or release energy from the molecules of the foods we eat, such as sugars and fats.

What’s the metabolic rate?

It’s the speed of your metabolism, or the rate at which your body creates energy. If you compared the human body to a car engine, your basal metabolic rate is how much fuel the engine burns at idle. If you hit the accelerator — as in, if you move — your metabolic rate will go up temporarily and you’ll burn more energy, but once you stop moving you’ll get back to idle, or to your basal metabolic rate.

Do some people have a faster resting metabolic rate?

Yes, the basal metabolic rate varies in people through a combination of genetics, weight and muscle. Some people will burn more energy than others when sitting still. This is where one of the big fitness myths comes from: that by raising your metabolic rate, you power on to bigger weight loss. It’s a myth.

Can you speed up your metabolic rate?

Yes, you can speed up your basal or resting metabolic rate, but it’s a myth that a faster metabolism means you’ll rip through the kilojoules you eat every day and burn more fat. Raising your metabolic rate is good for you, but not the key to weight loss.

The best way to boost your basal metabolic rate is by growing more muscle, which increases your body’s energy needs. But the resulting increase is much less than people think. You’re talking about an increase of a few percent in your metabolic rate at best, which will not make a significant difference to your energy and fat burn. And we’re not even talking about the nonsense tips you find online, such as eating more omega 3 fats and drinking green tea.

What’s the most effective way to raise your metabolism?

By far the most effective way to boost your metabolism is with the temporary but huge acceleration provided by exercise. Instead of trying to “boost” your basal metabolic rate, just exercise regularly. This increased calorie burn will be much more effective for weight loss than trying to raise your resting metabolic rate. There’s also an “after burn” effect that has your body burning up to 15% more calories shortly after exercise.

Why is exercise necessary for weight loss?

When you lose weight, your metabolism slows down. That’s because your body has less weight to cart around and your organs don’t have to work as hard. When you try and lose weight only through dieting, you reach a point where your metabolism drops to match your reduced calories, and you can’t lose weight anymore. This is where exercise is going to help you drop even further.