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How to Master Your Metabolism

Metabolism tends to be a buzzword in the health and fitness communities. It's often thrown around with complaints of not being able to eat a single calorie without gaining weight. Or gripes of a friend with a faster metabolism. But do you actually know what the metabolism is? Or how to optimize it?

In this blog, we'll break down everything you need to know about your metabolism and why it works the way it does. Plus, we'll give you some tips so you can fully become a master of your metabolism.

Metabolism 101:

Your metabolism is a complex biochemical process that occurs within the cells of living organisms that is vital to life. These processes involve the breakdown of nutrients to release energy, which is used to carry out various bodily functions. Metabolism also involves the synthesis of new molecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids, which are needed for growth and repair.

When we consume food, our body breaks it down into its component parts like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and turns them into energy that we can use to power our daily activities. But not all of us are created equal when it comes to metabolism. Each person’s metabolic rate will uniquely impact how quickly they burn calories and how efficiently their body uses nutrients. This, in turn, can impact their weight and body composition. A slower metabolism means that the body burns calories at a slower rate, making it more difficult to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. On the other hand, a faster metabolism can make it easier to lose weight, as the body burns calories more quickly.

And this can have a big impact on our weight. For example, if you have a faster metabolism, you might be able to eat more without gaining weight, since your body is burning off those calories more quickly. But if you have a slower metabolism, you might find that even small indulgences can lead to weight gain since your body is holding onto those calories for longer. Therefore, understanding how metabolism works and how it affects diet and weight is crucial for achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

When it comes to your metabolism, considering calories in vs. calories burned through exercise isn’t the whole picture. One vital, and often forgotten, component of the metabolism is a person’s Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

So, what is the TDEE?

Your TDEE is the total amount of energy you burn throughout the day, including both physical activity and the energy needed for basic bodily functions. TDEE plays a crucial role in how metabolism operates because it sets the baseline for the amount of energy that the body requires to function. If a person consumes more calories than their TDEE, their body stores the excess as fat, leading to weight gain. On the other hand, if a person consumes fewer calories than their TDEE, their body is forced to use stored fat for energy, leading to weight loss.

Your TDEE is made up of four components.

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): This is the amount of energy the body uses at rest to maintain basic bodily functions like breathing, circulation, and digestion. RMR accounts for the largest proportion of TDEE, typically around 60-70%. RMR is affected by factors such as age, sex, body composition, and genetics. Generally, individuals with more muscle mass have a higher RMR, since muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue.

  2. Physical Activity: This includes all the energy expended during structured exercise, like running or weightlifting. Physical activity can account for 20-30% of TDEE, depending on the individual's level of activity. The amount of energy expended during physical activity depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise. High-intensity exercise burns more calories per minute than low-intensity exercise, but the duration of the exercise also plays a role.

  3. Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): This is the energy expended during daily activities like walking to work or doing household chores. NEAT can vary greatly among individuals and can account for up to 15% of TDEE. NEAT is influenced by factors such as occupation, lifestyle, and personal habits. Individuals with sedentary jobs or lifestyles tend to have lower NEAT than those with active jobs or lifestyles.

  4. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): This is the energy needed to digest, absorb, and metabolize the food we eat. TEF can vary depending on the macronutrient composition of the diet, but it generally accounts for around 10% of TDEE. Protein has the highest TEF, followed by carbohydrates and fats. This means that consuming a high-protein diet can increase TEF and boost overall energy expenditure.

When you factor in TDEE and its four components, approaching weight loss becomes a much more challenging feat. If you suddenly begin to restrict calories, the body starts to conserve energy to ensure that the most vital functions are supported by prioritizing Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) over other energy-consuming activities. The body will reduce energy expenditure in other areas, such as Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) and Physical Activity, in order to preserve RMR. NEAT is particularly susceptible to decrease when energy intake is low because it is not vital for survival, and the body will prioritize conserving energy for the most important bodily functions. This decrease in energy expenditure can lead to weight loss plateaus or even weight gain, as the body adapts to a lower calorie intake by becoming more efficient.

Moreover, when someone is actively trying to lose weight and reduce calories, their body will break down muscle for fuel first. This is because muscle is very metabolically active and requires more energy to maintain than fat. So, if the body is trying to conserve energy, it will break down the muscle but preserve the fat stores. This can lead to a reduction in lean body mass, which can lower Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) and make weight loss more difficult in the long run. To prevent this from happening, it's important to maintain muscle mass through resistance training while dieting to ensure that the body is burning fat for fuel rather than breaking down muscle tissue. Additionally, consuming enough protein can help to maintain muscle mass and support weight loss.

How does age impact metabolism and TDEE?

As we age, our metabolism naturally slows down. Metabolic slowing is due to a number of factors, including a decline in muscle mass and activity levels. Muscle mass plays an important role in metabolism, as it is more metabolically active than fat tissue. And, as we age, we tend to lose muscle mass and gain fat, which can lower resting metabolic rate (RMR) and reduce overall energy expenditure. The good news is that these factors are within our control!

Much of what we contribute to age is actually due to previous dieting and lifestyle factors that will eventually add up. Years of too little sleep and too many sweets will negatively impact how you age more than the biological decline. In fact, the decline in metabolic rate after age 60 is actually very small.

Several factors will have the greatest impact on a slowing metabolic rate when at an older age, these include:

  • Living an inactive, sedentary life.

  • Yo-yo dieting and dieting with a calorie deficit by not eating enough protein. This will cause muscle loss and the body becomes efficient at using fewer calories.

  • Not enough muscle mass.

  • Too much stress or improper stress management. Chronic stress can lead to high cortisol, which will eventually slow your metabolic rate.

  • Smoking. Smoking has been linked to a decrease in overall metabolic rate.

The good news is that there are ways to reverse a slowing metabolic rate!

How to keep your metabolism healthy:

Here are Dr. Johnson’s tips for keeping your metabolism functioning optimally:

  • Stop extreme dieting practices → Drastically cutting back on calories when you’re trying to lose weight can actually lead to your metabolism slowing.

  • Focus on macros and protein → Protein is the only macro that will allow you to gain muscle and decrease fat. You should be eating some protein with every meal.

  • Stay active, don’t just work out more → One great way to increase your TDEE is by staying active throughout the day, this includes going for walks or doing mobility work.

  • Focus on recovery → You know when your body needs to recover, so stop ignoring the signs. This is especially important when it comes to getting enough sleep.

  • Work on stress reduction → Lowering cortisol levels is one great way to increase your metabolic rate. Try taking up yoga or meditation.

  • Focus on building muscle → Building muscle should be a priority throughout your life, whether you’re 18 or 85. Retaining muscle mass throughout life will greatly benefit your metabolic rate.

One great way to keep your metabolism functioning optimally is to know what your metabolic rate actually is. And, one way to do so is through PNOE breath analysis. This new service offered by the Johnson Center will analyze the gases you inhale and exhale. Specifically, the breath analysis is measuring oxygen concentration (O2), carbon dioxide concentration (CO2), and free-flow oxygen. Combining these measurements, a breath analysis can give you information on 23 cardio-metabolic biomarkers that evaluate one’s health and performance.

The PNOE breath analysis can give you a detailed insight into your current metabolic rate. This metric is formulated by assessing the rate at which you burn calories at rest and the rate you burn calories during low exercise intensities. Once you learn your true metabolic rate, we will work with you to create a nutrition plan that is uniquely tailored to you and your health goals.

When it comes to mastering your metabolism and losing weight, instead of concentrating on how you can do more exercise or eat less food, concentrate on how you can improve stress, how you can do more for recovery, improve sleep, etc. Be okay with consuming more calories or cutting cardio when your body says so.

To learn more about your metabolism or the PNOE breath analysis or to make an appointment, click here to contact us! If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at or call 276-235-3205.

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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