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The Science Of Metabolism & Physical Fitness

Why is it that some people find it easy to lose weight and others don’t? Several factors influence how our body processes fats, carbohydrates and other nutrients, but one of the most important systems at play is our metabolism. Metabolism is what we call a series of biochemical reactions within our bodies, that regulate energy production, utilisation and storage. Our metabolic rate has a deep and complex link to our ability to exercise and remain physically fit and it’s important to understand how one affects the other. In this week’s blog, I’d like to discuss what determines our metabolic rate, and how a healthy metabolism can be key to getting active, losing weight and staying healthy. 

Understanding metabolism

Simply put, metabolism is the transformation of nutrients into energy. A healthy metabolism is a careful balancing act of different biochemical reactions that help grow, maintain and the cells that make up our body. The two most important stages of this metabolic process are called anabolism and catabolism. Anabolism is like the building phase of metabolism. This refers to when your body uses energy to build molecules it needs, such as proteins and fats, from smaller building blocks. Our bodies then store these special molecules for later use in repairing cells. Anabolism is crucial for the growth, repair, and maintenance of our bodies. It allows us to build new muscle tissue after exercise, repair damaged cells, produce hormones and enzymes for various bodily functions, and store excess energy for times when we need it, like during periods of fasting or intense physical activity.

Catabolism is the process by which larger molecules are broken down into smaller ones, releasing energy. This energy is then utilised by the body for various physiological processes, such as movement, maintaining body temperature, and cellular functions. Catabolism is essential for providing the body with energy during periods of fasting, exercise, or other forms of increased energy demand. It also plays a vital role in regulating the levels of glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids in the bloodstream. 

What is a healthy metabolism? 

A healthy metabolism requires the perfect balance between anabolism and catabolism. Our bodies require a minimum number of calories to function whilst we rest which we call our basal metabolic rate (BMR). Everyone has a different BMR, as it is influenced by factors such as gender, race, muscle mass and age. Understanding your BMR is essential for maintaining fitness and managing weight because it accounts for the majority of your daily energy expenditure. In fact, it typically makes up about 60-75% of your total energy expenditure, with physical activity and digestion accounting for the rest. Knowing your BMR can help you account for how many calories you should be consuming per day to allow your body to function well. BMR calculators help us to know what our BMR is by accounting for our age, gender, height, weight and level of physical activity. There are many online BMR calculators such as this one, that can help you find out your own BMR. 

How does metabolism affect us physically?

When our metabolic systems are working healthily and harmoniously we should be able to process food without fluctuations in our blood sugar level. When you eat, your digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which enters your bloodstream. Your body releases insulin, a hormone, to help transport glucose from your bloodstream into your cells to be used for energy. Once inside the cells, glucose is either used immediately for energy or stored for later use. Metabolism helps convert glucose into ATP, which is the energy currency of cells. If there’s excess glucose in the bloodstream after eating, metabolism helps store it in the liver and muscles as glycogen for later use. Conversely, if blood sugar levels drop, metabolism helps release stored glucose to maintain stable blood sugar levels.

Blood sugar and weight gain

Our blood sugar level is essential in maintaining a healthy weight and when our blood sugar level fluctuates due to a low or high metabolism it can affect our weight. When blood sugar levels drop, it can trigger feelings of hunger and cravings for sugary or high-calorie foods. This can lead to overeating and consuming more calories than your body needs, potentially contributing to weight gain over time. Rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels can result in energy swings, with periods of high energy followed by crashes. When blood sugar levels are consistently elevated, excess glucose can be converted into fat for storage, especially in adipose tissue (body fat). Over time, this can lead to an increase in body fat percentage and contribute to weight gain.

Maintaining a healthy metabolism

We have more control over metabolism than you might think! Incorporating healthy lifestyle choices can go a long way in supporting a robust metabolism and overall well-being. Here are some essential lifestyle changes and tips you can follow to help boost your metabolism and stay healthy. 

  1. Eat a Balanced Diet: Consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Avoid excessive consumption of processed foods, sugary snacks, and refined carbohydrates, which can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels and negatively impact metabolism.
  2. Regular Exercise: Incorporate both aerobic exercise (such as walking, jogging, cycling) and strength training (such as weightlifting, and resistance exercises) into your fitness routine. Regular physical activity helps boost metabolism and improve insulin sensitivity.
  3. Get Sufficient Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep per night to support metabolic health and hormone regulation. Poor sleep quality or inadequate sleep duration can disrupt metabolism, increase appetite, and negatively impact weight management.
  4. Manage Stress: Practice stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and regular relaxation to lower stress levels and promote metabolic balance. Chronic stress can disrupt hormone levels and metabolic processes, so managing stress is essential for overall health.
  5. Stay Active Throughout the Day: Incorporate movement into your daily routine by taking breaks to stretch, walk, or move around regularly. Avoid prolonged periods of sitting or inactivity, as this can negatively impact metabolism and overall health.

Conclusion

Metabolism plays a pivotal role in our physical fitness and overall health. Understanding the intricate balance between anabolism and catabolism, and how they influence processes like blood sugar regulation and weight management, is crucial for maintaining a healthy metabolism. By making mindful lifestyle choices such as eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular exercise, a good night’s sleep and stress management, and staying active throughout the day, we can support our metabolism and optimise our well-being. Small changes can have a big impact on metabolic health, so take on health habits that nourish and support your body’s natural metabolic processes.

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