Whatever you’re doing right now—scrolling through Instagram, brushing your teeth, plowing through your inbox, or playing with your kids—your body is expending energy. But where does this energy come from, and how is it created? It comes from the food we eat and our metabolism is what creates it. Our magical metabolism turns calories into energy. It’s a reflection of how quickly (or slowly) we’re able to convert food into energy. People often refer to their metabolism as low, high, slow, or fast—without knowing exactly what this means. In today’s article, we’re diving into all-things metabolism. We uncover what causes a sluggish metabolism and the best metabolism-boosting powders. Luckily, slow metabolism isn’t permanent. With the right tweaks, you can improve your metabolism. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t require hours at the gym.
Feature image by Teal Thompsen.
What Is Metabolism?
On a very high level, metabolism is a series of chemical reactions. These reactions are happening inside your body, around the clock. They keep you alive but more specifically, metabolism is food being converted into energy. That energy is used to grow your hair, pump bile out of your liver, and give you the strength to walk around the block. Due to our metabolism, there’s a never-ending calorie burn. And while most assume a majority of calories are burned at the gym, that’s actually not the case. You’re burning most of your calories by simply being alive.
The beauty of investing time and effort into your metabolism is that it pays dividends. Nurturing your metabolism equates to a happy and healthy life.
How Is Metabolism Measured?
Metabolism is measured by determining how much oxygen your body consumes over a specific amount of time. You might be wondering if you’re a “fast burner” or a “slow burner.” This is your metabolic rate.
Fast Burner vs. Slow Burner
Although these are generalizations, they can give you a clue into the type of burner you are. A fast burner typically feels hyper, anxious, and irritable without sufficient fat and protein. A fast burner’s appetite is generally strong and consistent, with a preference for animal protein. A slow burner, on the other hand, doesn’t process food as quickly (this can be due to an under-active thyroid). The slow burner gravitates toward simple carbohydrates, sugar foods, etc. Generally, their appetite is less voracious. And while the slow burner tends toward poor circulation and dry skin, the fast burner is usually warm and perspires easily. Slow burners particularly benefit from the best metabolism-boosting powders!
What Factors Influence Our Metabolism?
Many factors influence whether someone has a high or low resting metabolic rate (more on that, below). Some of us burn more or less calories during the day, without even trying. Here are the reasons why:
Genetics: Some people may be genetically predisposed to faster or slower metabolism.
Lean Body Mass Percentage: Muscle requires more oxygen than fat tissue does. But what does that mean? In essence, your body has to spend more energy to maintain muscle. That’s why the more lean muscle (and thus, less body fat) you have, the higher your metabolism will be.
Restricting Calories: If you eat significantly fewer calories than your body needs, it can send your body into survival mode. When this happens, calories are conserved rather than burned. In turn, this lowers your metabolism.
Meal Frequency: The calories you consume are used to fuel the digestion process. So, the more often you eat, the more calories you’ll burn digesting. This is less about eating constantly and more about eating consistently. Aim to eat every 3-4 hours to keep your metabolism humming along. Supplementing with one of the best metabolism-boosting powders helps, too.
External Factors: Lifestyle and environmental factors can easily affect metabolism. A few of these include extreme hot or cold temperatures, smoking, stress, and sleep.
3 Ways We Burn Calories
Did you know that your body burns calories in ways other than just physical activity? Yes, taking a walk or shoveling snow makes a difference but we burn calories burning the most basic physiological functions. Breathing, maintaining stable body temperature, and pumping blood around the body count. Below are three ways we burn calories.
Basal (Resting) Metabolism
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) accounts for over half of your overall metabolism, and surprisingly, it’s the number of calories you burn doing nothing at all. Think: Lying on the couch watching Netflix or sitting in bed, reading. This part of your metabolism is fueled by your body’s inner workings—your beating heart, cells dividing, etc. It’s the number of calories required to keep your body functioning at rest. Curious to know what your BMR is? To get your BMR, simply input your height, gender, age, and weight here. Keep in mind that this formula doesn’t tell the whole story—a variety of other factors, particularly genetics, can alter your metabolism.
Our digestive metabolism, or thermic effect of food (TEF), burns calories. Simply digesting food—turning carbs into sugar and turning protein into amino acids—typically burns 10-15% of your daily calories. And get this: Digesting protein burns more calories than digesting carbohydrates or fat—about 25 calories for every 100 consumed.
Last but not least, exercise and movement. This part of your metabolism includes both workouts at the gym and other more enjoyable physical activities. Some are called exercise-activity thermogenesis, or EAT, and others are considered non-exercise-activity thermogenesis, or NEAT. Exercise only targets 15-30% of your fat burn.
What Causes a Slow Metabolism?
In terms of what causes a slow metabolism, this depends on the person. Generally speaking, genetics, hormones, and lifestyle play a part. For example, if you have too much cortisol—known as the “stress hormone”—you may experience a slow metabolism. Normal amounts of cortisol can help you burn fat, but if you have too much cortisol, your body may think you’re under duress and thus conserves energy.
High insulin levels can do the same thing. Elevated insulin and blood sugar levels can contribute to weight gain and thus, a slower metabolism. Same with low estrogen and testosterone. Lack of estrogen (in women) and testosterone (in men) typically increase fat mass and decrease lean mass. It may be worth getting your thyroid checked, too. After all, your thyroid gland helps regulate thyroid hormones, which greatly affect your body’s metabolism. Last but not least, lack of exercise causes a slow metabolism. You need lean muscle mass in order to keep your metabolism humming along.
Does a Sluggish Metabolism Cause Unwanted Weight Gain?
This is a bit of the chicken-and-egg complex. Weight gain can lead to a slower metabolism, but a slow metabolism can also lead to unwanted weight gain. People who have a slower metabolism tend to conserve more energy, thus storing fuel (food) as fat.
Can You Change Your Metabolism?
The good news is you can make changes to boost your metabolism. Through various diet and lifestyle changes, you can manipulate your metabolism (to a degree). Adopting a healthier diet, incorporating a metabolism-boosting powder, moving your body, and getting restful sleep can make a difference. The most important facet of changing your metabolism is to be consistent with your new habits.
7 Ways to Boost Your Metabolism
Our bodies are primed to be fat-burning machines, so let’s get them revving at maximum efficiency. Combining the latest findings in exercise and nutrition with practical how-to advice, below are seven ways to help transform your body into a fat-burning machine. These are science-backed ways to boost your metabolism.
- Don’t diet. Restricting food will alter your metabolism. Rather than restrict, use the concept of “crowding out” unhealthy foods. When you cut calories, it makes your body think, I’m starving! In turn, it slows your metabolism to conserve existing energy. Over time, restricting can cause your body to burn muscle tissue. This decreases strength while giving visceral fat a greater advantage.
- Prioritize protein. Speaking of dieting, consuming enough protein is key. Your body needs adequate protein in order to build lean muscle mass. And muscle mass is necessary for fat-burning.
- Keep blood sugar balanced. Maintaining steady blood glucose is important for many reasons, including metabolic health.
- When possible, go organic. Research shows that added pollutants are stored in fat cells and can possibly interfere with the energy-burning process. Plus, there are many other benefits to choosing organic (and doing it on a budget!).
- Drink green tea. Studies show that green tea contains a compound that may increase your calorie and fat burn. Coffee has similar effects, too! A 2011 meta-analysis published in Obesity Reviews found that consuming about three cups of green tea helped boost metabolism (enough to burn an average of 100 extra calories a day!).
- Clock your zZz’s. We may sound like a broken record, but sleep hygiene is so important. Particularly when it comes to keeping your metabolism humming along. Sleep deprivation is shown to cause profound metabolic and cardiovascular implications.
- Move your body. This is comes as no surprise. Luckily, this doesn’t mean you need to start a vigorous exercise routine. In fact, just as little as 20 minutes of brisk walking, every day, can make a difference. Resistance training is gold, though. Research shows it’s extremely effective in terms of building muscle and burning fat.
The 5 Best Metabolism-Boosting Powders
When it comes to the best metabolism-boosting powders, look no further. The best metabolism-boosting powders are easy to incorporate, filled with quality ingredients, and help boost energy.
For good reason, this is one of Sakara’s best sellers. This powder (which tastes like dark chocolate!) supports lipid metabolism, helps curb sugar cravings, supports gut health, and more. Made with plant-based ingredients, it’s super versatile. Blend one serving into your favorite smoothie, coffee, or other hot beverage. You can easily use it as a substitute for cacao in recipes.
Vegan, keto, gluten-free, and more, Goop’s metabolism powder helps take your metabolism to the next level. Their powder was formulated with a clinically-studied dose of 7-Keto® DHEA, an ingredient that has been shown to boost metabolism and support healthy body weight (when combined with a balanced diet and exercise). This powder includes a concentrated extract of cinnamon, which helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels, as well as holy basil, an herb that’s traditionally used in Ayurveda for its balancing effects.
Designed specifically for those interested in weight management, MediBolic increases the feeling of fullness and enhances fat burning. This comprehensive supplement contains rice and pea protein with added soluble fiber, a complete multi-vitamin/mineral complex, and additional nutrients for weight management and metabolic support.
This superfood protein powder is packed with ingredients to keep your metabolism humming along. Each serving contains 22 grams of protein and has two servings of organic greens, adding crucial macro and micronutrients for proper cognitive and muscle function. It also delivers a complete amino acid profile with no filler ingredients, artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, or preservatives. Last but not least, this plant-based protein powder also supports digestion and the bioavailability of nutrients for absorption.
With only a handful of powerful ingredients, this all-natural pre-workout booster can help increase your energy levels. In turn, nurturing your metabolism. As a smoothie mix, it’s the perfect replacement for caffeine energy drinks and a fantastic pre-workout booster.