Let’s start at the beginning. Your metabolism is a collection of chemical reactions that take place inside the body and convert the fuel from the food you eat into the energy you need to function. This goes for everything from breathing to sleeping to thinking.
“Every time you swallow something, your body works hard to process the nutrients you have just consumed,” explains Julian Gaine, Mealkitt’s nutritional advisor. “A healthy metabolism has the ability to turn those nutrients into hormones, neurotransmitters, bone, skin, nails, flesh and healthy organs.” Which would explain why having a fully functioning metabolism is so important.
IS METABOLISM GENETIC?
According to nutritionist Cassandra Barns, there is a genetic component to metabolism as certain genes can affect the rate at which your body coverts sugars and fat into energy, but there are other factors to consider. “Hormones produced by the thyroid gland have a direct influence on the body, from digesting food to how fast your heart beats and the rate your cells use energy. If your thyroid is underactive, it can slow your metabolism.”
Ageing, stress and sleep also have an impact on whether your metabolism gets a gold star. A rough night’s sleep is all it takes to stop the body’s ability to break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and send your metabolism into disarray.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY METABOLISM IS WORKING PROPERLY?
Like anything, if your body isn’t functioning at its optimum you’ll suffer the consequences and the most telltale sign of a sluggish metabolism is weight gain. Although according to Gaine, it’s not your weight that dictates your metabolism; it’s your metabolism that impacts your weight. Which would explain those anomalies you see wandering around shovelling pizza, crisps and chocolate into their face, quipping about never going to the gym but also never putting on a pound.
Instead their superpowers will be down to their basal metabolic rate. This is the number of calories the body burns when it’s resting. “Even when you are resting, organs are working, cells are growing and dying, digestion is taking place and energy is being used up in order for these processes to work. Someone with a low BMR will burn fewer calories whilst at rest, whilst someone with a high BMR will burn more,” he says.
SHOULD I JUST GIVE UP NOW?
Absolutely not. Lifestyle has a big impact on your metabolism too, and what you eat and how much you exercise can influence what’s going on inside. “One of the greatest influences on metabolism is how much muscle tissue you have,” continues Barnes. “Muscle burns a lot more calories than fat—around three times as much weight for weight. So if you have more lean muscle and a lower body fat percentage, you’ll tend to have a faster metabolism than someone with more body fat and little lean muscle—even if the two people weigh the same.”
In addition, resistance training boosts that all-important BMR, so when you do put the weights down, your metabolism will stay ticking over at top speed, helping to wipe out the calories. Better pass us the dumbells then.
WILL WHAT’S ON MY PLATE AFFECT MY METABOLISM?
Of course but let’s not focus on what to take out, it’s more about adding metabolism-friendly foods in. And most importantly, eating enough food. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Dieting doesn’t help. “The body recognises when you are starving yourself, so it slows down your metabolism in order to preserve energy,” says Gaine, meaning you’re basically just going to plateau, and nothing inside or outside will change.
Instead, pile your plate high with almonds, beans, berries, celery, chia seeds, dark chocolate, apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, coconut oil, coffee, curry, fish, green tea, grapefruit, lean meats, spinach and watermelon. Scan the list again and you’ll see chocolate, coffee and curry are allowed, so it’s hardly a sacrifice. Protein is important too. If you’re throwing yourself into exercise, your body may start to break down muscle tissue for energy, so eating more protein is a way to safeguard against this.
DO I NEED TO TAKE SUPPLEMENTS?
Totally up to you. B vitamins can help metabolise food, and if you’re a messy sleeper, magnesium encourages your body into a sense of relaxation so your metabolic rate can remain on an even keel. Protein powders are another good option if you are upping your resistance training, and CoQ10 can help with the overall functioning of your muscles.
Next up: a more in-depth look at metabolic multivitamins.