Your Metabolism Doesn’t Matter

Have you ever heard a conversation regarding weight loss go something like this ‘I have a slow metabolism so it’s harder for me to lose weight’? Or conversely ‘I can’t gain weight because I have a fast metabolism’. 

If you’ve made efforts to lose weight yourself, or work in the health & fitness industry, no doubt you’ve heard such a conversation.

And it makes sense. If our metabolism is the sum-total of all the reactions occurring in the body i.e. anabolism + catabolism, than a faster metabolism should burn calories and a slower one less.

Well James Krieger, one of the presenters at our Okanagan Strength & Conditioning Conference, gave a great presentation on the fact that metabolism is not as important in determining who is lean and who is obese or overweight.

Krieger was able to present evidence that our metabolism is not the gatekeeper with respect to our level of leanness.

Where your body expends calories.

Where your body expends calories.

In the pie chart above we see that over the course of a day we spend energy in three different ways including our metabolism (60-75%), the food we eat (10%) and through our physical activity (15-30%).

We already mentioned that our metabolism, or RMR in the pie chart, doesn’t account for how lean we are.

When he looked at feeding, also known as the thermic effect of feeding, Krieger presented that while there is a difference in the amount of energy we expend to eat protein compared to carbs and fats this wasn’t enough of a value to account for the difference in leanness.

So this left physical activity as the only possible contributor to how lean someone is or isn’t.

Physical activity can be broken down into to exercise and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.

Physical activity can be broken down into exercise and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).

And there were a few things that Krieger presented that I found interesting.

The first was that crushing yourself in the gym may not be the best idea. If you use the average of a 8/16 hour day with 8 representing the hours sleeping and 16 the hours awake than the following will make more sense.

Through marketing and bro-science we’ve been told that what you did in the gym is all the matters. You need to #crushit and #gobeastmode. Fitness businesses pop up encouraging us to go #allout. Crossfit has a mascot Pukey the clown to entrench this mentality and philosophy amongst its sheep.

But maybe all-out isn’t the best way?

Maybe we should stimulate, but not annihilate, the system.

What ends up happening when people crush themselves in their workouts is that slow down through the rest of the day so much that there total calories expended over 16 hours is less. The one hour workout burned that was all out burned a few extra calories but less was done during the other 15 hours.

And this brings up the topic of NEAT or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. In other words think of all the things we do during the day that burn calories but aren’t exercise.

It appears as though lean people have a larger contribution from NEAT towards their daily caloric expenditure than those who aren’t as lean.

Various NEAT activities comparing sitting, standing and walking.

Various NEAT activities comparing sitting, standing and walking.

And while it’s great to push yourself in your training you don’t need to go all out, all the time. Another reason to hold up a bit, besides for the additional NEAT you’ll burn, has to do with your nutrition.

Many people train in a defensive manner. Their workouts are geared towards allowing them to eat certain foods. A tough, intense workout can serve as justification for a treat or reward. Have you ever felt this way? I know I have.

So not only do you tend to become more of a coach potato after a workout when you go all out you may also feel more entitled to a treat.

The take home message is to recognize that it’s not your metabolism holding you back from being as lean as you’d like. Make consistent efforts with regards to your training. Once in a while test what you can do and go a little harder. And enjoy a treat every now and again. Preferably ice cream.




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