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Slow Metabolism? Here’s How to Get it Firing

I can't lose weight anymore - my metabolism has slowed right down

It's natural to put on weight once you hit 40 because you don't have any metabolism

The more I exercise and the less I eat, the heavier I get - my metabolism is broken

Wow! That all sounds pretty depressing, right?

You hit 40, your metabolism grinds to a halt and the pounds start piling on.

But hold on because there is hope!

First off, there's something about metabolism/metabolic rate that you really need to know.

Unlike eye color or shoe size, metabolic rate is NOT genetically predetermined or outside our control.

In fact, there are a ton of things we can do to speed it up anytime we want to, regardless of age!

Which is just awesome news for us slightly older dudes.

Now, ask most folks what "metabolism" is, and you'll get a whole bunch of different answers.

• It's how fast you burn fat

• It's how easily you put on weight

• It's the thing that slows down as you get older(!)

But in reality, this is all it is:

Metabolism/metabolic rate is just a fancy way of saying your body's fuel consumption

And, just like your car's fuel consumption, your metabolism depends on a few different things - all of which we can play around with to one degree or another.

So, if you think you've got a slow metabolism, here's how to get it cranking.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

OK, "Total Daily Energy Expenditure" may sound really dull but it's just how science-y people refer to your overall metabolic rate.

(Remember, "metabolic rate" is basically a way of saying your body's fuel consumption).

And there are four things that ultimately determine whether you're more Prius than Humvee.

1. Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)

Now, even if the wheels aren't actually moving, a car's engine needs fuel just to keep it idling.

After all, the battery needs to be charged, the water pump needs to be turned, the A/C or heater needs to be powered, and all that requires fuel.

Well, our bodies work the same way.

Resting Metabolic Rate is your body's fuel consumption when you're "idling" - think chilling out on a sun lounger, listening to some relaxing music on your iPod.

Even then, there are still a ton of bodily processes going on that are essential for life, and all those processes require energy.

That energy being your Resting Metabolic Rate.

How Can We Increase RMR?

Now, a large chunk of our Resting Metabolic Rate comes from powering the heart, lungs, brain and kidneys, so there's not much we can do on that score.

What we can do is increase muscle mass since each pound of muscle mass gained will boost RMR by around 6 Calories per day.

OK, that doesn't sound like much but it's still worth having, especially when you think of all the tag-along benefits that come with increased strength.

Think improved balance, posture, function, general health and well-being.

Bottom line? Getting started with a decent strength-training program and increasing your muscle mass will help give your Resting Metabolic Rate a nice little kick and make life just plain easier and a whole lot more fun.

How cool is that?

2. Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF)

Unsurprisingly, digesting and absorbing the things we consume also requires energy.

In fact, it's useful to think of the Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF) as being like a credit card processing fee.

That's where you buy a $100 doohickey, and something like $97 ends up going to the retailer, while the credit card company pockets $3 or whatever.

Well, as a general rule it "costs" the body around 10% of the Calories you consume.

So, consume 3,000 Calories and the body will "see" only around 2,700 of them since 10% (3,000 x 0.1 = 300) will be lost as the processing "fee".

But here's where we can start stacking the deck in our favor.

Why? Because fats, carbohydrate and protein all have different "processing fees".

Fats = ~3%

Carbohydrate = ~8%

Protein = ~20% or more

Which, as you'll see, is just awesome news for us!

How Can We Increase TEF?

If you increase the proportion of protein in your diet even while keeping overall calories the same, you'll give the Thermic Effect of Feeding a nice little boost.

Trading 800 Calories-worth of fats for 800 Calories-worth of protein will increase your metabolic rate to the tune of 140 Calories or more.

That's equivalent to a 185-lb person walking 1½ miles!

Even better, that increased protein intake will also help maintain muscle mass (important for keeping your Resting Metabolic Rate high) while curbing your appetite.

Bottom line? Reducing your intake of fats and carbs while increasing protein consumption is a surefire way to get your metabolism going.

3. Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA)

Alright, back to the car analogy.

Obviously, how hard you drive has the greatest effect on your fuel consumption.

A few years back, Top Gear drove a Toyota Prius flat out around a track while being followed easily by a BMW M3.

End result? The Toyota actually got the worse fuel consumption of the two!

Basically, the Thermic Effect of Activity covers all the planned, conscious activity you do each day: walking the dog, hitting the gym, going for a run and things like that.

And the longer and more vigorous the activity, the more fuel you burn and the higher your metabolic rate.

How Can We Increase TEA?

OK, this one's pretty much a no-brainer, right?

You can increase the Thermic Effect of Activity with any formal exercise: weight training, yoga, martial arts, swimming, hiking - whatever.

And the longer and harder you go, the greater the resulting increase in your metabolic rate.

So, a hard 15-minute run might boost your TEA just as much as a one-hour stroll.

Which means if time is a factor, it's a good idea to focus on more intense activities.

4. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

Now, Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (OK, let's just call it NEAT) covers unplanned, spontaneous movement like fidgeting, maintaining posture and moving around.

All of which sounds so lame that we might as well forget about it, right?

But hold on!

Why? Because NEAT unlocks the door to not only losing fat but keeping it off, too.

The thing is, we all tend to get hung up on intensity (you know, those "killer 10-minute workouts to blast off stubborn belly fat").

But, where NEAT is concerned, duration is key.

After all, fidgeting hands and feet, maintaining posture and moving around can be done pretty much constantly anytime, anywhere and all that accumulated activity soon adds up.

End result? Your metabolism skyrockets for almost zero perceived effort!

All thanks to NEAT.

How Can We Increase NEAT?

Ramping up NEAT ultimately comes down to establishing a few simple habits such as:

  1. Sitting more upright
  2. Taking a 1-2 minute walk every hour or so during the day (set a timer)
  3. Parking at the far end of the lot
  4. Taking the stairs not the elevator
  5. Looking for any opportunity to add movement to whatever you're doing

When it comes to bumping up NEAT, this should be your mantra.

Never lie down when you can sit,

never sit when you can stand,

never stand when you can walk,

never walk when you can run

Once again, I know this sounds a bit weak but I can vouch for its effectiveness.

When I lost 61 lbs in 27 weeks, doing these exact things was a significant factor in my success.

Of course, it was just once piece of the puzzle but I can tell you, hand on heart, that keeping NEAT high really works.

Slow Metabolism? Not So Fast!

So, there they are, the four parts that make up our metabolism/metabolic rate.


(Metabolic rate = "idling" + food processing "cost" + planned activity + spontaneous movement)

And we've seen that we have some control over every single one of these.

We can:

1. Increase muscle mass with a decent training program 

2. Consume a greater proportion of our food from protein and less from fats and carbs

3. Get in more formal exercise

4. Add movement to all everyday situations

The bottom line is the only reason we might have a slow metabolism is because we haven't done what's necessary to get it firing on all cylinders.

Like we say in How To Get Lean, Strong & Bulletproof:

We can turn our metabolic rate up a notch or two by something as simple as tapping our feet or taking out the trash

So let's forget the idea that we're saddled with a "slow metabolism", a "broken metabolism" or "no metabolism".

Ultimately, our metabolic rate is all in our hands (and feet).

- Tim

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Flickr: ATOMIC Hot Links - 50th NHRA World Finals


Reference: Harvard Medical School

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