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Let's Talk About Metabolism...

Metabolism refers to the necessary processes taking place inside our bodies that help to sustain life. The processes can be broken down into two categories: those yielding energy via the breakdown of substances (catabolic) and those synthesizing, or creating, substances (anabolism).

Our metabolism is dependent on several factors, all of which we have some sort of control over. The four factors that make up our metabolism are:

* Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)
* Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
* Exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT)
* Thermic effect of food (TEF)

Lets further look at what these terms mean, and how we can potentially take control of them to help our bodies burn more fat and maintain (or build depending on your goals) some muscle (which will help to increase our metabolism overall).

Resting metabolic rate is the amount of calories we expend at rest. Basically, if you were to lie in bed all day and watch television, this would be the number of calories that you would need in order to lie there and keep your organs and tissues in normal working order. Since this part of our metabolism is not dependant on us getting up and moving around, you may be asking yourself how we have control over it. Well, even though our metabolic rate is controlled by a few factors that are out of our control (genetics and age being the two big ones), we can always work to improve metabolic rate through a few other factors.

Whenever we exercise, we help to increase our RMR as our body will become more efficient at burning fuel at rest, in order to keep up with the rise in metabolism due to our increased activity levels. This is especially true when we perform exercises at a high intensity (resistance training or sprinting), as our metabolism may be elevated for some time period after the exercise itself has stopped. This is termed excess-post exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC for short. Although research is still undecided about how long this elevation in metabolism occurs for after exercise, we do know that more intense exercise seems to stimulate metabolism to a greater degree than the traditional long and slow stuff (although this does have its place in your training program as well).

Another way to help to increase our RMR is to increase our muscle mass. Our muscle-to- fat ratio is going to help determine how many calories at rest we burn. If we have a poor muscle-to-fat ratio, then our metabolic rate will not be as high. If we have a good muscle-to-fat ratio our metabolic rate will be higher because muscle is a metabolic pig. Muscle has the potential to burn an extra 5 calories per pound per day! So, if you have 150lbs of lean tissue you can potentially burn an extra 750 calories per day (150 x 5 = 750)!

Non-exercise Activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
is a measure of how many calories we burn doing daily tasks (which are not specifically exercise). This can be things like doing the dishes, taking the garbage out, or walking the dog. While most people these days lead a very sedentary life (we drive to work and then we get out of our cars and then sit at a desk all day) this one can be a very huge deal! Any way that you can increase your NEAT will be very beneficial to you. For example, try parking furthest away from the office door so that you have to walk a greater distance to get into the office. If you typically take the elevator up to your office, try to take the stairs. Go for a walk when you get home from work at night instead of just walking in and sitting down in front of the television. Stand up and stretch out every 15-20min at work and then take a walk around the office for a minute. Be creative, just figure out some way to increase you energy expenditure through out the day. I went to a large commercial gym to work out last week and one thing that I noticed was that they had a valet service at the front door of the gym. That is pretty funny. We wonder why we have an obesity epidemic in this country. People can't even walk from their cars to the gym!!

Exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT)
is the amount of energy we expend during our workout. If you aren't working out consistently right now, you should be! Make time to do some sort of structured exercise a couple days a week. This will make the greatest impact on your overall metabolism. As stated before, the more intensely we work out the greater potential we have to burn more calories during exercise and possibly once exercise has stopped for the day. Also, resistance training will help to positively shift our muscle to fat ratio and enhance metabolic activity.

Finally, thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy we expend to actually digest the food that we eat. The best example of this is when people refer to celery as a zero-calorie or non-calorie food. They say this because it takes more calories to digest the celery than the celery has itself. Making sure to eat greens (fiber) can help to increase our TEF because it slows down the digestion of the meal and makes the body work harder to breakdown the food. Also, because protein has nitrogen, this nitrogen needs to be stripped away and then excreted (via urea). The process of stripping away the nitrogen raises the proteins TEF over the other two macronutrients (carbohydrates and fats).

With summer inching closer, we usually take time to relax, vacation and lounge around. I hope you can take some of this information and use it to increase your metabolism and get the results you've always wanted. Remember, if we do everything right, as we are relaxing by the pool this summer, our RMR should be higher!


Hi Patrick,

Just wanted to clarify something here. You wrote:

"Whenever we exercise, we help to increase our RMR as our body will become more efficient at burning fuel at rest, in order to keep up with the rise in metabolism due to our increased activity levels."

Don't you mean to say that when we exercise we increase our RMR because of faster turnover of substances at the cellular level? If you say that we're more effecient, that would mean we burn less fuel and need less energy for the same energy output. In this case, unlike our cars, efficiency is not want we want. So really, our bodies become more EFFECTIVE, not effecient at burning fuel at rest, which in turn, increases your RMR.

Not trying to be a hag, but just wanted to chime in. Great blog!

Cassandra Forsythe, MS

right, exactly what you said. I think you knew what I meant....it was a poor choice of wording. thanks.


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