Have you hit a plateau in your fitness journey? Do you feel like you can’t lose any more weight, no matter what you do? If so, don’t despair—you are not alone. Many people struggle to meet their fitness and weight-management goals.
In many cases, the root of the problem lies in not knowing enough about how the body works. It can be easy to focus only on external results rather than pay attention to the internal functioning of our own bodies. The human body is a fascinating creation and, if we understand our own physiology just a bit better, we have a better chance of being able to conquer these frustrating plateaus.
Having a good understanding of one’s own metabolism is a great place to start. The term metabolism simply refers to the chemical processes that occur within the body to maintain life. There are two categories: catabolism, which refers to the breaking down of organic matter to obtain energy; and anabolism, which refers to the building up of components of cells. These processes require energy, burn energy and produce energy, which significantly impacts each person’s fitness and weight-management outcomes.
Interestingly, each person’s metabolism is different in terms of speed and effectiveness. Your age, sex and genes can contribute to your metabolism, but lifestyle choices related to eating, physical activity and sleep also play significant roles. While you can’t change some of these factors, you can make better lifestyle choices, which will help increase the effectiveness of your metabolism, which will, in turn, help you achieve your health and fitness goals.
Here are some basic things to consider when preparing to make fitness and body weight changes:
1. Know your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the amount of energy your body needs to keep functioning while at rest throughout the day. You can find a basic calculator here to get a general idea of your BMR, but note that this is only an estimate based on factors like age and weight.
2. Know your body composition. It is possible to weigh a “normal” weight and yet still have an unhealthy body-fat percentage. A body composition assessment can give you a better idea of your body-fat percentage and total muscle mass, and even a breakdown of visceral fat percentage. Some fitness facilities and medical offices offer this type of service. Devices are also available for home use, but tend to be somewhat less accurate.
3. Know your daily total caloric intake, including the specific breakdown of major nutrients, such as fat, carbohydrates and protein.
4. Keep a two-week journal of your actual exercise, eating, drinking and sleeping habits. This process can help identify the areas where you’re doing well and those that may present potential problems.
To use the metabolism factor to your advantage to reach your fitness goals, here are some basic tips to consider implementing:
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration may slow down your metabolism.
- Eat regular meals. Having smaller meals or healthy snacks every three to four hours helps keep your metabolism burning calories throughout the day. Studies show that people who eat smaller meals regularly are less likely to overeat.
- Build muscle. Even while at rest, your body burns calories. Every pound of muscle uses about six calories a day just to exist, whereas each pound of fat requires only two calories a day.
- Be physically active. The more active you are throughout the day, the more energy your body burns.
- Add some aerobic workouts with a higher intensity. This provides a steady and more long-lasting rise in resting metabolic rate.
- Eat balanced meals. It is essential for overall health and better fitness to balance your meals and eat good, organic and nutritious food. In particular, include healthy proteins, such as tofu, nuts and beans, as your body burns more calories digesting protein than it does while digesting carbohydrates or fat.
- Do NOT skip meals or lower your caloric intake to below 1,200 calories for women or 1,800 calories for men (these numbers are basic guidelines and may vary for each person). Skipping meals and fasting for long periods of times slows down your metabolism.
- Eat a healthy breakfast.
- Sleep seven to eight hours per night.
Turning these tips into daily habits is a great way to give your metabolism a boost and enhance your ability to meet your health and fitness goals. You may also benefit from working with a personal trainer, who can design a specific exercise regimen that your body responds to positively. Regardless of where you are in your health and fitness journey, don’t despair—get up, get moving and give your metabolism the boost you need to start seeing results.