You sit down in the employee cafeteria and you see her again -- that co-worker with the body you'd give anything to look like. She seems to eat anything she wants and doesn't seem to gain any weight.
Meanwhile, you gnaw on your daily lunch of carrot and celery sticks and wonder why you're gaining. What does she know that you don't? Is it all genetics and you are just one of the unlucky doomed to live in a body you are powerless to change?
Actually, the answer may be something that you do have control over: your metabolism.
Metabolism is simply the rate at which the body processes energy, or burns calories. Think of metabolism as the setting on the body's "furnace". The higher the metabolism, the more calories your body burns, even at rest.
Factors which influence metabolism include genetics, age, sex, activity level, food intake, and body composition. Go ahead and blame your parents for genetics and those factors which you can do nothing about, but you do have control over your activity level, food intake, and body composition. These elements play a crucial role in your body’s metabolic rate.
An important factor to understand regarding metabolism is that the body's primary fuel source during lower energy output activities (sleep, sitting at your desk, watching TV, riding the bus, etc.) is fat. These activities occupy most of your time. When you increase your metabolic rate, you begin to burn more calories in response to all the activities. And the more likely that your body will be using stored fat as an energy source.
The main focus of any worthwhile fitness plan should be to increase metabolism so the body's furnace is set at a higher level.
Some ways to increase metabolism include:
1. Build more muscle.
More of the body's energy is required to maintain muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body will burn. In fact, about 50 calories are consumed for every one pound of muscle mass per day. Therefore, the more muscle you carry, the more calories your body burns -- even at rest.
2. Moderate aerobic exercise.
You don't need to spend hours each day on the treadmill, bike or running path. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends as little as 20 minutes of aerobic activity 3 to 5 days per week to achieve fitness, health, and weight management goals.
In fact, excessive aerobic exercise may result in the actual loss of lean body mass if caloric requirements are not met, which in turn lowers the metabolism.
3. Increase activity throughout the day.
Instead of using the elevator to get to your fourth floor office, use the stairwell. Park further away from the supermarket door instead of trying the find the closest parking spot. Spend one of your work breaks during the day walking the office halls. Lose the remote control.
The point is to get up and MOVE, especially if your job requires you to sit during long periods of time. It also gets you in the habit of increasing your activity level on a regular basis.
4. Eat like a horse, not a bear.
Sound crazy? Think about it. Horses graze on small amounts of food throughout the course of a day. Subsequently, they have very lean, muscular frames. Bears, on the other hand, eat large amounts of food spaced further apart. They carry far more body fat on their frames.
Humans are no different. Research supports that the production of thyroid hormones can be negatively affected by repeated bouts of dieting and calorie restriction. Five or six meals spaced evenly from 2.5 to 3 hours make it easier for the body to digest throughout the day, this increases metabolism over the long term.
5. Avoid fad diets.
Fad diets are usually those popularized in the media. They usually call for severely reducing or even eliminating nutrients. "Eat no carbs." "Eliminate all fat." "Eat only protein." Or focus only on one kind of food like The Grapefruit Diet, The Cabbage Soup Diet, or "Eat nothing but salad."
Current research by the USDA on unbalanced meal plans tells us that too much or too little of any nutrient is likely to result in problems with long-term weight management.
6. Skip the fast food.
Fast food is typically loaded with fat. Fat is relatively easy for the body to absorb and does not require the energy expenditure that protein and carbohydrates do in digestion and assimilation. A gram of fat yields nearly twice the calories as a gram of protein or carbohydrates. Replacing caloric consumption from high amounts of fat to equal portions of protein and carbohydrates stimulates greater caloric usage.
However, be sure to not completely eliminate dietary fat. Instead:
7. Eat balanced meals.
Meals should contain adequate and balanced amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. In order to support lean body mass, fuel workouts, and encourage fat loss, many nutritional experts suggest a 40-20-40 breakdown of these nutrients for each meal. That is, 40 percent of calories from protein, 20 percent from fat, and 40 percent from carbohydrates. An example of a "balanced meal" would be a chicken breast, baked potato, and broccoli. And remember what Mom always said: "Eat your veggies."
8. Drink more water.
Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Chronic dehydration can also result in mental and physical sluggishness. Be sure to consume at least 64 oz. (8 cups) daily and more when you are exercising.
9. Deal with stress.
Stress increases hormones, such as cortisol, which encourage your body to store fat instead of burning it. Try yoga, meditation, listening to calming music. Exercise, by the way, is a great stress reliever AND it will help to promote lean body mass.
10. Get enough sleep.
Studies have shown that people who don't get enough sleep have slower metabolisms. Get enough sleep so that you can awake in the morning relatively easily and are not tired throughout the day. Naps during the day can help, too.
While the time it takes for metabolism to increase varies per individual, you can expect to see changes in the body in as little as three to four weeks. The great thing about increasing metabolism is that it makes it easier to keep the extra pounds off over a longer period of time…your body is literally turned into a fat-burning machine.
Increasing your metabolic rate should be the primary goal of any fitness-related/weight loss program. It helps you to become one of those people who can seem to eat anything you want. Before you know it, you'll have one of those bodies that everyone is dying to have.
Jon Gestl, CSCS is personal fitness trainer and instructor in Chicago specializing in on-site personal fitness coaching. He is a former U.S. National Aerobic Champion Silver and Bronze medalist. He can be contacted through his Web site at www.jongestl.com.© 2006 Jon Gestl
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