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No such thing as a slow metabolism

Published June 26. 2010 09:00AM

I'd like to think that each week this column is chocked full of good advice and an equal measure of something else.


And because of this, I hope that you come to see your health-and-fitness failings as I see mine: as patterns or habits that can almost always be altered by a combination of information, common sense, and resourcefulness.

For instance, I've heard the slow-metabolism lament the claim that your body just naturally burns calories at a slower-than-normal rate from more than one individual recently. But the use of "just naturally" makes the claim a falsehood.

In all but a few rare medical cases, the problem is not inborn but born from a bad pattern.

Recent columns on nutrient partitioning, for instance, have informed you that fat and simple carbohydrates get transformed into energy and then body fat rather easily, but to transform protein and complex carbohydrates creates waste heat expended and calories that can't be processed. As a result, you can actually create 500-calorie meals with a combination of information, common sense, and resourcefulness that are primarily comprised of protein and complex carbs where it's possible that only 425 of those calories actually get digested.

Contrarily, a 500-calorie meal that's mostly fat and simple carbohydrates gets digested so efficiently that all but 12 or 15 of those calories become energy or fat. But that doesn't mean your metabolism has suddenly slowed.

It just means you made a poor food choice.

The outcome of all this is the point to this column. In just about every instance where you are unhappy with an element of your health and fitness particularly with eating habits there's a solution or a partial solution that doesn't require medical intervention or extreme sacrifice.

Just a simple change of habit or pattern.

Quite often, in fact, there's even more than one possible solution. A metabolism perceived as being slow is a prime example of that, for there are others way to increase basal metabolic rate.

One of them is to change your body composition.

It's a simple fact: body fat is nothing more than stored energy. It is inert.

Muscle is not. For it to function, it requires fuel.

That's why one 180-pound adult male may require 1000 fewer calories a day than another of the same weight to maintain that weight. Yet it's not because one has a slow metabolism and the other doesn't.

It's merely a matter of muscle or body fat.

The guy who requires more calories has a ton of it and less than 10 percent body fat. The other guy's body the one who needs far fewer calories fat is 35 percent fat.

But increasing the rate at which you burn calories doesn't have to take the year or so that it would take to safely create a 25-percent reduction in body fat. Many are immediate.

Research done in 2008 at the University of Utah, for example, found that when you're dehydrated, you burn calories at a slower rate; therefore, those who want to burn the maximum number of calories should make proper hydration a priority.

To know whether you're drinking enough, check the color of your urine.

Though prescription drugs and certain foods sometimes affect the color, generally the urine of a well-hydrated individual is a pale yellow. A darker color means that you're a bit dehydrated.

Only in the case of an endurance athlete striving for hyperhydration just before competition should urine be close to colorless.

Yet the ways to increase your basal metabolic rate don't end with partitioning nutrients, building muscle, and staying hydrated. There are a number of other strategies to burn more calories.

One of the best being splitting your workouts.

Exercise, obviously, increases your basal metabolic rate, but upon completion your metabolism doesn't immediately slow to its typical sedentary rate. There's a period, often an hour or more, where calories are still burned at an increased rate.

To take maximum advantage of this, you can work out in both the morning and the early evening. If the morning workout is performed before breakfast, an additional benefit is gained: since glycogen stores are low from an eight- or 10-hour fast, stored fat is burned to fuel the effort.

And don't forget supplements to your diet can increase basal metabolic rate. No, I don't mean the latest fat-burning pill hawked on late-night infomercials.

I mean, first and foremost, green tea.

In one study, for instance, the elements in green tea (other than caffeine) were found to have enough of a thermogenic effect that calorie expenditure was increased by four percent.

Certain spices added to meals do this to some degree as well.

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