By Judy Torel
What is worse than trying to diet and exercise to lose weight? Being on a diet and regularly exercising and not seeing results! When this happens, most people attribute the lack of success to a slow metabolism. Most of the time this is not the case, but there are ways to increase your metabolic rate so that you can facilitate weight loss. Here are my top five ways to fire-up your metabolism, listed in order of effectiveness.
#1: Do aerobic exercise
It is common knowledge that when you rhythmically move the large muscles of your body for an extended period of time, it is called aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise helps facilitate weight loss because you burn more calories per minute then you do during normal activity. A 140-pound woman burns about 1 calorie per minute sitting at her work desk, but can burn upwards of 20 calories per minute on an elliptical machine!
In order for the aerobic exercise to have the most positive effect on metabolism, it needs to be done at a minimum of 70% of your maximum capacity. The more intense you can run, bike, elliptisize, swim, etc., the more you are sparking your metabolism. You don’t want to hit this level for a few minutes, however. The longer you go, the more you are stoking those metabolic fires. You should try to sustain 70+ percent of your maximum for a minimum of 30 minutes to get the best results on your metabolic rate.
Here is more really good news! The harder and the longer you do your aerobic workout, the longer you continue to burn more calories even after the workout is over. One research review found that exercising at 50% of your maximum resulted in a post exercise extra calorie burn of 5-10 calories. In contrast, a strenuous workout was shown to increase post-exercise calorie burn by a whopping 180 calories! So get out of the fat burning zone and pump up the intensity to rev up your metabolism both during and after your aerobic workout!
#2: Do strength training
Strength training involves working with free-weights or machines in order to increase the demand on your muscles as you contract them. Although there is less research on resistance exercise then there is on aerobic exercise, we are learning that doing a workout of resistance exercise does have a positive effect on resting metabolic rate (independent of any increase in muscle mass) especially on individuals over 50 years old. This is good news since once we hit age 50+ we begin to really see a decrease in lean muscle if we are not doing anything to counter balance the loss.
The high intensity of strength training creates a higher utilization of carbohydrate during the workout. During the post exercise recovery period, energy expenditure can be elevated for a period of 2 to 15 hours, or more! The more carbohydrate used during a workout, the more fat burned after the exercise! This appears to be true for both aerobic workouts and anaerobic, or strength workouts.
#3: Add muscle to your body
We know that when properly done, strength training will result in the development of muscle mass on a body. Basically, this entails using resistance forces that are more than what you use in everyday life. The more demand on the muscle, the more development that will occur. You can gain muscle mass using resistance forces of at least 50% of your maximum 1 repetition capacity, but better results occur at 70% or higher.
Adding muscle to your body will increase your metabolism in two ways. First, the more muscle on a body the higher the resting metabolic rate. Why? Because 1 pound of muscle needs 35 calories a day to stay alive and function, while 1 pound of fat needs a mere 2 calories to stay functioning. If you add 5 pounds of muscle to your body you will have increased your resting metabolic rate by 175 calories every 24 hours!
Secondly, more muscle results in a higher post exercise calorie burn! So more muscle means a higher resting metabolism AND a higher calorie burn during and after your workouts!
#4: Do not under eat!
While we were evolving as a species and had to survive during extended periods of famine, our ancestor’s bodies became very efficient when food was in limited supply. When little food was available, their metabolisms slowed down and became super efficient at getting the energy necessary for life with less food. While that led to survival in the past, in modern times “crash diets” of as little as 20% below your daily energy usage will result in a temporarily slower metabolism. This means that when you sharply reduce your caloric intake or go long times between meals, you are actually teaching your metabolism to become more efficient and you will need less calories to maintain your weight, let alone to lose!
In order to avoid this slowing of metabolism, the best strategy is to target a maximum of a 500-1,000 calorie deficit per day and to never go below 1,200 calories per day. For example, if you burn 2,000 calories per day through the combination of your resting metabolism, daily activity and exercise then you should aim for 1,500 intake calories. This will result in weight loss without creating a situation where your metabolism slows down due to too little intake.
Also, it has been demonstrated that the actual act of eating and digesting food expends calories. Have you noticed that when you eat you get warmer? This is called the thermic effect of food and is due to the work involved in digesting, absorbing and assimilating food. You can take advantage of this effect by eating several meals a day because each time you eat you are revving up your metabolism due to the digestion process. This is one of the reasons it is better to eat several small meals through the day verses one big one. You can eat 2,000 calories in one meal and have an energy cost of digestion of 200 calories or you can eat 2,000 calories in five meals and result in an energy cost of digestion of 350 calories. The more times you eat the higher your metabolic rate. That is, as long as you are not over eating and staying with a 500-1,000 calorie deficit each day.
#5: Eat protein
Many people who are trying to lose weight tend to minimize eating protein because they believe protein has too many calories. Research is showing that the digestion of protein can result in a 25% thermogenetic effect as compared to a 10% for carbohydrate and fat. What this means is that it costs your body more to digest protein then it does to digest carbs and fat. Therefore by making sure you include low fat protein in all your meals, you will be boosting your metabolism!
Or course it is important to make sure that you are consuming low fat protein options. Some examples include white fishes, egg whites, non-fat cottage cheese, ham, turkey (without skin), 93% or higher lean beef and chicken products, and the various vegetable protein products available in grocery stores.
You are now armed with information on how to put your metabolism into turbo drive!
Judy Torel is a therapist/personal trainer with a Master’s degree in psychology. She is certified through the American College of Sports Medicine as a fitness trainer and works out of Planet Fitness and Deb's Sweat Shop Extension. She can be reached at JTOREL2263@yahoo.com