The basics of metabolism

Though some of the factors that affect your metabolic rate can’t be changed, there are ways to maximize your metabolism. Among the best ways is exercise. This includes aerobic workouts, to burn more calories in the short term, and weight training to build the muscles that will boost your metabolism in the long run. Since muscle burns more calories than fat even while at rest, the more muscles you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate. This means your body will be burning more calories just to sustain you.

Metabolism refers to your body’s ability to convert (or metabolize) food into energy, store it, and burn off the stored energy. When you exercise, blood sugar (glucose) is burned for energy, reducing the amount of glucose immediately available in the blood. To restore energy levels, your body metabolizes stored fat (glycogen) into glucose and puts it into the blood stream.

The more you move, the more energy your body requires. This increases your metabolic rate, or how efficiently your body converts energy for use. When you cease moving, your metabolic rate returns to normal. People with higher levels of activity throughout the day have higher normal metabolic rates than those with less activity.

The health of your metabolic system determines the efficiency of nutrient absorption, and the conversion and usage of energy. Exercise requires your body to burn energy, thereby activating your metabolic system to help restore and maintain balances between muscle and fat, sugar and insulin, and water and salt. Excess fat compromises the body’s ability to perform metabolic functions, such as balancing blood sugar levels.

Metabolic Benefits of Exercise
1. Exercise stimulates the absorption and flow of nutrients (e.g. vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins) throughout the body by opening receptors and burning off the excess.
2. Energy use during exercise controls fat and sugar levels, helping to naturally balance energy levels.
3. Moderate levels of exercise can serve to suppress the appetite (vigorous exercise will make you hungry).
4. Movement stimulates that rate at which the body metabolizes food into energy. Using more energy in a shorter period of time means the body will expend a greater number of cumulative calories at the end of the day.
5. Exercise increases body temperature, causing the body to sweat in order to cool down. This prevents water retention, which can make you look fat.
6. Exercise increases blood flow throughout the body. This allows nutrient imbalances to be replenished and for waste to be removed; it’s the ultimate detox.

In addition to exercise, metabolism can be controlled through diet. The most common way to boost your metabolic rate is to eat multiple small meals throughout the day rather than three square meals. When you wait long periods between meals, your metabolic rate slows to compensate. Eating frequent small meals with snacks in between gives your metabolism a reason to stay active.

However, everyone’s metabolism is unique. While there are general principles that may be followed, you must experiment with your diet and exercise plan in order to learn how it effects your metabolism. If you are strictly seeking to lose weight, what you need to do may be completely different from what your neighbor needs to do to achieve the same result.

Your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR, is how many calories you would burn throughout the day if you were to remain sedentary. It can be estimated based on your age, height, weight, and gender. Using your BMR as a guide, you can calculate the calorie deficit required to lose weight.

Metabolic Energy Systems

The body has three metabolic energy pathways: the phosphagen system, glycolysis and the aerobic system. When glucose is broken-down through chemical reactions for use by the body, energy and heat are produced. The three energy pathways are each capable of producing the chemical reactions needed for energy, but they each do it in different ways, and all of them work together to achieve total energy production.

The Phosphagen System is good at producing large amounts of energy for a short period of time. Doing a deadlift, for example, requires a lot of power, but only for a few seconds at a time. The phosphagen system uses purely creatine phosphate to produce energy and does not burn any fat or carbohydrate. While incredibly fast at producing energy, the system is quickly exhausted and fatigued, requiring a period of rest to replenish.

Glycolysis, or the anaerobic system, is the second fastest energy system in the body. It is capable of producing energy for periods of a few short minutes at a time before being exhausted. For example, field sprints (as fast as you possibly can) use glycolysis produced energy. During glycolysis, blood sugar is broken down into a usable form, which produces heat and energy, and fat is broken down into glucose to restore blood sugar. But, since glycolysis is not a very efficient system, waste product in the form of lactate is also produced. Lactate builds up in the muscle and causes the soreness felt after a workout.

Finally, the aerobic system produces sustained energy over long periods. The aerobic system is very efficient but slow to start. For example, runners often describe getting a “second wind” a few miles into their run. This is the aerobic system kicking into high gear. It uses blood sugar and fat as fuel broken down by glycolysis, but utilizes oxygen for the chemical reaction. Since oxygen is available in great quantities, the aerobic system is 18 times more efficient and anaerobic glycolysis.

Understanding your metabolism is important for determining how you will achieve your goals. Exercises can be programmed at the proper tempo, intensity, and volume for your requirements. Both your diet and exercise routine can be tuned to your needs and how your body works, but this will take time and experimentation to figure out. Start with general guidelines, record your biofeedback, and tune-in from there.

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