Understanding Metabolism

What is Metabolism?

Metabolism is the term given to all biochemical reactions involved in maintaining the living state of your cells and body. It is the process of converting the fuel in our food into the energy we need to power our daily activity.

The process of metabolism is actually a complex balancing act between two types of activity which occur at the same time – these being the building up of body tissue and energy stores and, the breaking down of body tissue and energy stores to generate more fuel for your body to function:

  • Anabolism (constructive metabolism) – this is the process by which the body utilises the energy released by catabolism to synthesize complex molecules. These complex molecules are then used to form cellular structures; small and simple precursors acting as the building blocks for the more complex molecules of carbohydrates, protein and, fatty acids. Anabolism is all about building and storing, it supports the growth of new cells, maintenance of body tissue and the storage of energy for future use.

  • Catabolism (destructive metabolism) – this is a series of chemical reactions that break down complex molecules such as carbohydrates and fats into smaller units, releasing the energy needed for the body function. As these units are broken down further, the waste is removed from the body through the skin, kidneys, lungs and intestines.

In simple terms, a persons body weight is the result of catabolism minus anabolism, or the amount of energy released into the body minus the amount of energy used up.


Metabolism and calories

Most people think of metabolism in it’s most simple sense, i.e. something that controls how easily our body either gains, or loses weight. This is where calories come in. A calorie is a unit which measures the energy value of a particular food to the body. For example, your favourite sugary snack will contain more calories than a healthy stick of celery, meaning your snack will provide your body with more energy. However, if your body does not “burn off” this energy, it will be stored – primarily as fat, not to mention that your snack is more than likely deficient in the essential vitamins and minerals that are vital in order to keep your body healthy.

The amount of calories burned each day varies and is affected by a variety of things, such as:

  • Level of exercise

  • Levels of fat and muscle in the body

  • An individuals base metabolic rate (BMR)

Your BMR is the rate at which your body burns calories when you are in a rested state, i.e. not doing anything. BMR usually decreases with age, and with a decrease in lean body mass. Generally speaking, an increase in lean muscle mass will lead to an increase in BMR rate.


Calorie restriction

Regulating your daily calorie consumption is an important factor in weight control, especially if the goal is to lose weight. To do this it is important to understand your daily calorie requirements. Severe calorie restriction however, can actually make it more difficult to achieve weight loss as a sudden drop in calories may trigger your body to respond by altering metabolism so that less energy is burned and more energy is stored.


Foods that speed up metabolism

Despite all the hype and flashy marketing of diet products and services you’ve no doubt seen, the idea of metabolism-boosting foods is quite misleading. Whilst there are a few foods that increase the rate of calorie burning such as hot peppers, green tea and, cold water, the effects are small and won’t contribute much to weight loss unless they play a secondary role to regular exercise and diet control.

The better approach is to have a diet filled with low-glycemic carbohydrates such as green vegetables, beans, fruits and, whole grains, as this will allow you to keep your metabolism at a high level. This is due to low-glycemic foods, or foods which release energy slowly, increasing the body’s ability to sustain physical activity for longer as the energy is released in a more sustained fashion.

*The views and/or opinions expressed in the blogs are not necessarily those of Training Nation, but of the author

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