Have you ever been told that to lose weight you need to move more and eat less? This is known as the energy-balance equation. And, regardless of your success (or lack thereof) with intense workout routines and a low-calorie diet, science backs up this theory. The basic law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Therefore, if excess energy is consumed, these changes will be stored in body tissue. With a deficit, the body will pull energy from muscle or fat tissue.
It isn’t always practical, however, to log countless hours at the gym while running on very low fuel. Nor is it recommended. There are five components that impact our metabolism and the body’s ability to burn fat. Our goal is to optimize each component, increasing overall energy expenditure and fat burning. Let’s look at each one to learn how we can improve metabolic efficiency.
1. The Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) represents the energy needed to maintain basic human function. This number is affected by your age, gender, height and weight. It’s not advised to eat fewer than 1,000 calories per day because this is generally the least amount of energy required to sustain these basic functions. Can you increase your BMR? Sure thing. How? Train with weights. By building metabolically active muscle, your resting metabolic rate will increase. Those muscles are hungry for energy!
2. While the Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is very similar to your BMR, it is about 10% higher since measuring BMR would require fasting and strict bed rest for long periods of time. This number represents the amount of calories your body would require if you sat at home all day, doing nothing.
3. The Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) refers to the impact of digestion on our metabolism. Our bodies require energy to digest the foods we eat. The macronutrients we consume will determine the energy effect on our bodies. Can you increase your TEF? Yes! Protein tends to require the most energy to digest, thereby making the biggest impact on your metabolism. It’s time to stock up on chicken, Greek yogurt, beans and protein!
4. Exercise Activity (EA) is the energy used for a typical workout. It varies based on how active you are. For example, for someone who spends most of their time sitting and is relatively inactive, EA will make up about 10–15% of their daily energy expenditure. The good news? The more active you are, the higher the energy expenditure. For most people who workout routinely, their EA can be at 30% or greater. A combination of high and low intensity levels is recommended.
5. Before we jump into our final component, envision this scenario. Let’s say you arrive to work at 9 a.m. You’re at your desk until noon when you head to the cafeteria to eat (and sit) for 30 minutes. Then you return to your desk for another 4½ hours before you head to the gym for an hour long workout. Sound familiar? Despite the exercise you do at the gym, your metabolic rate is also affected by Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). Examples of NEAT include taking the stairs, moving around the office and even fidgeting. While this component of metabolism is generally the smallest contribution to daily energy expenditure, it’s an important indicator of fat loss or fat gain. Visit a co-worker instead of sending an email. Park your car further to get in more steps.
To hit the point home, your body will become more metabolically active, burning more fat, when you do the following.
- Train with weights.
- Increase the amount of protein you eat.
- Increase the amount of physical activity you perform.
- Move more!