Metabolism…The Body’s Manufacturing System

aerobics class in a gym

You often hear people blaming their slow metabolism for their weight problems. The opposite is also true: naturally skinny people praise their wonderful metabolism for allowing them to eat like a horse and never gain weight. And there is some truth to those statements, but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed if you have a slower metabolism. It just means you’ll have to take some additional dietary and exercise steps to help increase your metabolic rate. But before we get to that step, you need to know how your metabolism works.

Calories and Metabolic Rate

Your metabolism is the means through which your body converts food energy into body energy. Your metabolism involves two activities. First, it is the process in which your body breaks down food energy into smaller compounds. This happens when your food is digested. Second, it involves using the nutrients from your food to create compounds that your body needs such as proteins.1

Take eating a piece of bread for example. When you eat bread, your digestive system breaks down the starch which makes up the bread into glucose compounds. Your cells then take these glucose compounds and use them for energy to do bodily functions, like walking. Your body can also take the glucose and store it as glycogen for future use.2

So what does all this have to do with weight loss? The speed at which your metabolism works to break down food energy and create useable nutrients determines how much energy you need to consume through food. The efficiency of your metabolism influences the rate at which you burn calories. The more calories your metabolism uses for energy, the less it will use as storage, which inevitably involves fat buildup. However, the opposite is also true: the slower your metabolism burns calories, the more calories it will convert into fat. In other words, your metabolism impacts how easily you gain and lose weight.

Factors Influencing Your Metabolism

Not all metabolisms are created equal. Each person’s metabolism burns calories at a different rate. For instance, your metabolism becomes less efficient as you age. Once you hit 40 your metabolism slows by 5 percent every ten years. Also, men tend to have a higher metabolic rate than women, so they burn calories faster. Another influencing factor is muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have the easier it will be to burn calories, because your metabolism will work faster.

Not only does muscle mass increase your metabolism, fat mass does as well. The more fatty tissue you have the harder your body has to work to create energy. Hence, your metabolism has to work harder because your body requires more energy to function. So if you struggle with your weight, be encouraged. Your metabolism is going to help you lose weight more quickly.

As a result, when overweight individuals start a diet and exercise program, they will likely see quick results. However, once you eliminate your extra weight, your metabolic rate will slow down, making it harder (though not impossible) to lose weight. So once you reach a healthy weight it will be easier to regain your weight because the body needs less energy to function, and so most of the extra calories will be converted into fat. That’s why, in order to prevent regaining weight, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle even when you do reach your weight goal.

And yes, genetics does play a role in your metabolic rate. Some people are just blessed with a high metabolism, while other people have to work a little bit harder to lose weight. The good news is there are steps you can take to improve the metabolism you were born with. A regular exercise routine is a great way to improve your metabolism.

Ways to Improve Your Metabolism

To maximize the efficiency of your metabolism your exercise program should include a combination of cardio and strength training exercises. Running, walking, and other cardio exercises will help you expend calories that your body has stored as fat. Weight training will increase your metabolic rate, because muscles require more energy to function, which is a good thing because it means fewer calories are being converted into fat.3 A pound of fat burns just 2 calories a day, whereas the same amount of muscle burns 35 calories a day.

As for your diet, there are several studies that suggest that certain foods and beverages can improve your metabolism, like red peppers, caffeinated drinks, and green tea. However, the scientific evidence is inconclusive, and at any rate, these foods would not increase your metabolism enough to help you lose weight.

The best method for improving your metabolism is to eat several smaller meals throughout the day. Eating a few larger meals throughout the day will cause your metabolism to slow down in order to conserve energy.4 So not only does what you eat matter but also the amount of time in between your meals. The best option is to eat your regular three meals a day but have smaller portions, then have two or three snack times throughout the day. Just make sure you choose healthy snacks like fruit, veggies, and other low fat nutritious options.

The biggest take away from all this should be that no one is a slave to his or her metabolism, even if your metabolic rate is slower than others. All you all have to do is adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and several snacks throughout the day.


1 Bender, D. (2002). Introduction to nutrition and metabolism. New York: Taylor & Francis.

2 Insel, P., Ross, D., McMahon, K., & Bernstein, M. (2010). Nutrition. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

3 Brown, L. (2007). Strength training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

4 Lakatos, L. & Lakatos, T. (2004). Fire up your metabolism: 9 proven principles for burning fat and losing weight forever. New York: Simon and Schuster.


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