An Abridged Guide to Understanding Your Metabolism

If you’ve ever read fitness articles, talked to a trainer or medical professional about healthy body composition, or wondered how your body processes the food you consume, you’re likely at least somewhat familiar with the concept of metabolism. In the most basic sense, metabolism is the way our bodies convert food into energy. Some of that energy gets used right away, while some of it is stored as fat. Even while you’re sleeping, your body still requires energy to keep your heart, lungs, brain, and other organs and systems functioning.

The rate at which your body converts consumed calories into energy is called your metabolic rate. Generally speaking, more active people have higher metabolic rates, meaning they burn through more calories each day and need to consume more high-quality nutrients to sustain themselves. Your metabolism plays a role in how easily and how quickly you are able to lose, gain, or maintain body weight.

What determines your metabolism?

Many factors impact your metabolic rate, including age (as we celebrate more birthdays, our metabolic rates start to slow), stress levels, sleep patterns, past and current eating habits (extreme dieting or fasting, especially taking in fewer than 1,200 calories a day, can cause metabolism to take a hit), and muscle mass (the more muscle you have, the more calories you tend to burn, even while at rest).

Can you control your metabolism?

Many people assume that their metabolism is set in stone. While factors such as previous health issues and genetics play a significant role in determining your metabolism, there are always ways to actively improve yours. Effective workout regimens, such as boot camps and high-intensity interval training, are one of the best ways to help boost your metabolism. Regular exercise elevates your metabolic rate even after you finish your workout, kicking into higher gear for hours or days.

Does dieting improve your metabolism?

Building lean muscle helps your body burn more calories, including those that are stored as fat. Dieting, on the other hand, can trick your body into believing it is going to starve. This forces it to use less caloric energy for essential internal functions, which can have negative long-term effects on your metabolism. While healthy eating is a critical part of a healthy life, simply restricting calories will not help you burn more fat.

Exercise, specifically strength training exercises, is the most effective means of increasing your metabolic rate. So long as your calorie intake is sufficient (at least 1,200 per day), exercising can create a caloric deficit, where you burn more calories than you consume in a day. This means healthy eating combined with regular workouts is the ideal way to boost your metabolism and maintain a balanced weight.