Metabolism is central to all life. It’s responsible for many different processes in every cell in our bodies, and yet when it comes to actually understanding WHY and HOW a lot of us are misled or misinformed. So, what exactly is metabolism? Why would we need to boost our metabolism? And what are the biggest myths surrounding metabolism?
First, let’s start with what metabolism is not.
Your metabolism is not a furnace. It is not a log burner situated somewhere in your stomach, or a car engine that needs revving up.
Metabolism is the sum total of all the bio-chemical reactions that are going on in your body on any given day. Your metabolism is constantly active. All those chemical reactions that allow us to function are dependant on energy exchange, on the processes that produce and use energy, and synthesise cellular components.
Metabolism then, is the sum total of all these reactions, as our body strives for homeostasis, as it strives to maintain its natural balance, and continue to function.
Metabolism doesn’t exist in one place; it is your entire body.
What are some common myths about metabolism?
MYTH: EATING BREAKFAST “JUMPSTARTS” YOUR METABOLISM.
There are always countless opinions about the importance of breakfast. But will eating as soon as you wake up jumpstart your metabolism? In short, no. There is nothing special about breakfast. There is nothing magical about those morning hours.
Some studies have shown that those that eat breakfast tend to weigh less. But when we look at why that might be, it isn’t because they have boosted or woken up their metabolism. Let’s not confuse correlation with causality. It’s not a magical breakfast that revs up metabolism and causes weight loss – those two things are correlated, but the one does not necessarily cause the other. It’s to do with habit. Those that wake up earlier and eat earlier, also tend to be more active throughout the day. On average they might even eat more.
Whereas often those that skip breakfast, tend to be less active, or perhaps they eat more at lunch. Overall, there are always several different causes, and everything comes down to personal preference. While eating breakfast might not help your body burn more calories instantly, it could provide you with more energy to workout.
This leads onto our next myth about meal frequency.
MYTH: EATING SMALL MEALS THROUGHOUT THE DAY BOOSTS YOUR METABOLISM
Whenever we eat, our bodies have to burn calories to break down the food and absorb the nutrients. So, if we are constantly eating, our bodies are constantly using up calories to digest the food.
However, this thermic effect of food (TEF) is directly proportional to how much and what type of food we eat. Six small meals might slightly increase your metabolism six times over the course of a day, but three larger meals will provide three proportionally larger boosts. By the end of the day, the same amount of calories have been burned.
TEF – the thermic effect of food, only equates for about ten percent of total calories burned in a day. That’s a tiny amount. Overall, meal frequency won’t help boost your metabolism, perhaps eating small meals helps you avoid overeating, but equally – it might make you overeat.
We were never meant to be grazers. It is societal norms that tell us to eat throughout the day. Food advertisements and convenience foods are everywhere. We’re told to eat sugary cereals at breakfast, meal deals at lunch, and deluxe popcorn and nachos packages when we go to see a film. Marketing is there to sell you products; they have nothing to do with speeding up your metabolism.
And yet there are lots of products specifically marketed that way; lemon juice, green teas, and those magic weight loss pills. But do they actually work?
MYTH: METABOLISM BOOSTING FOODS
Researchers have found that 500mg of green tea extract increased participant metabolisms by about 2% for four hours after ingestion. If you were eating 2000 calories a day, that’s the equivalent of 7 extra calories burned!
The same goes for hot spices like capsaicin, and detox ingredients like lemon juice – their effects are limited. They might “work” but there benefits are so small you are better off focusing on your diet choices.
MYTH: YOU SHOULDN’T EAT LATE AT NIGHT
Our last metabolism myth is about eating past a certain time. The thinking goes that when we eat late at night, our bodies have less time to process and burn the food before we go to bed. But our metabolisms are constantly active, they don’t slow down just because we are sat watching television or sleeping. The foods we eat aren’t instantly used for energy or stored, they are processed.
Metabolism is not a furnace but a network, with all those different chemical reactions constantly going on, the body is both anabolic (building up) and catabolic (breaking down). It doesn’t matter what time of day you eat, it just comes down to how much you eat overall.
What are the take-homes from all of this?
- Your metabolism is not a furnace. It’s a network.
- Eating breakfast doesn’t jumpstart your metabolism. Skipping breakfast doesn’t damage your metabolism.
- Meal frequency doesn’t matter.
- Specific “metabolic-boosting” foods have a limited effect.
- Eating before you go to bed doesn’t slow down your metabolism.
Remember, metabolism IS NOT STATIC.
Your metabolism is adaptive and reactive. You are a survival machine. And your body is an adaptive system.
What matters is not what time of day you eat, or how much lemon juice and green tea you consume, what matters is overall energy balance.
Often the biggest mistake we make is thinking we need to adopt one way of eating or training and dedicate ourselves to it, expecting linear and predictable results. But weight loss isn’t linear, neither is progress. Just like our bodies and metabolism adapt, so should our training and diet.
For more advice on training, nutrition, and metabolism, send us a message.
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