All About Metabolism Part 1: Five Things You Must Know

I once read that there are more Google searches for the term “metabolism” (75 million) than “obesity” (10 million) and even more astounding, “weight loss” (34 million). This is shocking since, on any average day, 50% of Americans want to lose weight.

Have you always thought that our metabolism slows down as we age? Did you know that is about as accurate as the oceanfront property Bill and I own in Arizona?

Small chalkboard with 'boost your metabolism' on it next to an apple and a handweight

While there are equally as many myths in the fitness and diet industries as there are truths in the marketplace, this one may top my “guffaw” criteria. As we age, we slow down, not our metabolism. We sit or drive more. We still eat the way we did when we were 30, etc. This is at least true until 60 years old. Yet even after 60, our metabolism still only slows down by .68% per year. This is the equivalent of just over a cup of milk.

Do you ever hear people say you can “burn fat while you sleep?” I know it sounds crazy, but it is true, thanks to our metabolism and its ability to stay elevated for hours after a strength workout. Even without the strength workout, you are burning calories while you sleep. Dr. Michael Breus estimates that a 150-pound individual burns over 440 calories during a seven-hour night of sleep.

Metabolism is a word commonly thrown around in our society, yet also so misunderstood. I often hear people say things like, “they were born with a fast metabolism” or “my slow metabolism is the reason I can’t lose weight.” Many people assume their slower metabolism can’t be “fixed” or improved, leaving them unmotivated and frustrated.

Metabolism is the total amount of energy required for what we ask from our bodies every day. Activities like waking up, walking, talking, driving, thinking, listening – all of these activities require energy our bodies must create.

Woman faces the camera while preparing to lift a kettlebell off of the floor.

There are five components of metabolism. While you may occasionally hear about the basal metabolic rate (BMR), being schooled on all five may behoove you as someone seeking the ultimate in wellness.

1. Basal metabolic rate: The minimum amount of energy required to maintain the body’s vital functions such as digesting food, keeping your heart beating, and breathing. Without the proper fuel, your body cannot perform these basic and essential functions.

2. Resting metabolic rate: The amount of energy burned when your body is at rest. Our bodies are always working, even at rest, 24/7, 365 days per year (yet another reason to love your body.) Your metabolic rate also has a significant influence on how you feel, how many calories you burn, how many calories you can eat without gaining weight, your libido, your fertility, your cold tolerance, how much subjective energy you have, how you recover from injuries and stress, how specific foods affect you, and how you perform in the gym. In short, it’s usually a good thing to have a higher metabolic rate.

3. Thermic effect of feeding: This is the rate at which your body burns calories after the ingestion of food. When you eat food, your body needs to expend energy (aka, “calories”) to digest, absorb, and keep the nutrients in the food you’ve eaten. Who knew that merely by consuming calories, you increase the rate at which your body burns calories?!

4. Exercise activity: The amount of energy burned during your workout. We all know daily exercise is important for improving not only our physical health but also our mental health and overall longevity. However, so many tend to focus on high-intensity, sweaty, calorie-burning cardio. While cardiovascular health is essential, we must also prioritize strength training. While you may not be as “out of breath” or “sweaty” (you haven’t met me yet!), strength training will help your body burn fat and speed up your metabolism even hours after the workout is complete. Yes, this quite literally means you will burn fat while you sleep.

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5. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): The amount of energy burned doing everyday activities, such as grocery shopping, walking to get the mail, or cleaning the house.

As much as you want to believe that your weight reflects how many calories you take in and how many you burn through exercise, this isn’t exact when it comes to maintaining body weight. We know energy-in (calories) and energy-out (exercise and daily activities) are the way to lose weight. Yet this is far from the total story.

Energy balance is a multi-dimensional regulation process in our bodies. It is much more than food versus exercise. Factors including yet not exclusive of this are 1) environmental factors, 2) genetics, 2) hormonal responses, 4) digestive health, 5) stress, 6) sleep, 7) sun exposure, (yep), and 8) belonging to a community, and much more. These beautiful organisms we call our bodies are complicated. So don’t fall prey to imagining a hard workout will “burn off” the cheesecake from last night’s book club. It doesn’t work that way.

All of these factors above and more influence how much we want to eat, how much we move, and most importantly, how many calories our body requires doing all that we ask from it.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will discuss metabolic flexibility and how alcohol effects our metabolism. If you are interested in any of our newest programs, like a concierge small group program, email us at or subscribe to our newsletter below to get monthly tips about how you can reach the optimal in wellness.

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