Week 1: Down 3 pounds. Hell yea, this is it!
Week 2: Down 1 pound. Ok, a loss is a loss.
Week 3: Nada. Hmmm.
Week 4: Nada again. Fuck it my metabolism is broken.
How can you go from a fat burning machine in Week 1 only to get crapola results in Week 4?
That’s when the questions and doubt roll in.
What am I doing wrong? I bet it’s carbs, I’m eating too many carbs.
Or is it the diet I’m on? I knew I should have tried Keto. My brother’s wife’s nephew’s third cousin removed on his dad’s side got sick results on it.
Did I just damage my metabolism? Will I never lose weight again? I must have done something wrong. Oh wait, I bet it’s my genes.
Weight loss plateaus like this can really mess with your mind.
Despite your dieting history, I’m going to show you how you didn’t screw up your metabolism, and more importantly, how to boost your metabolism to become a fat burning machine.
DECODING YOUR METABOLISM
The word metabolism gets thrown around like one’s at a strip club. But what the hell is it exactly?
Basically it’s the chemical processes in the body that keep you alive. For our purpose, we are talking about the calories you take being broken down into energy or extra fat.
To really make headway to boosting your metabolism, you need to breakdown what goes into it.
So away we go…
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – this is all the calories your body needs to keep your heart beating and your brain functioning. This is basically the minimum amount of calories you need to keep the lights on. This makes up about 70% of your daily calories.
In other words, if you were a vegetable hooked up to life support, this is the amount you’d need to maintain your weight.
Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) – This is BMR plus environmental factors added in. Things like outside temperature, digestion and small movements all require calories and add to your daily requirements.
If you were to sit on the couch and binge watch Netflix all day, this is how many calories you’d need.
Despite making up roughly 60% of your metabolism, you have little to no control over BMR and RMR which sucks. But now, we get into things you can alter slightly. So here’s the good stuff…
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) – When you eat something, calories are needed to digest and then absorb what is useful to the body. Protein requires the most energy to digest. Fat requires the least.
- Carbohydrates – 5 to 15% of the calories are burned during digestion.
- Fats – A high end 5 to 15% of the calories are burned during digestion.
- Protein – 20 to 35% of the calories are burned during digestion.
This is why people, like myself, suggest eating a higher protein diet. This is also why you might hear in the media that foods like celery are negative calories foods. It takes more calories to digest and absorb the fiber in celery than the celery actually has.
OK, I lied. THIS is the good stuff. This is the stuff you really have control over.
Exercise Activity (EA) – This is the energy required when you hit the gym or go for a run. If you are doing something more than basic movements, it’ll fall into this category.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – And this is all the rest. All daily movement that isn’t exercise. From fidgeting to taking a walk fall into this category.
All of these together factor into your Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE and give you a baseline for metabolism.
So if you’re searching the interwebz for how many calories you need per day, your BMR is the minimum you need to keep the lights on. RMR is the minimum you’d need if you watched Netflix all day. TDEE is how much you need to maintain your weight.
Go ahead, play around with some calculators. I know you want to. I’ll wait.
YOUR SNOWFLAKE METABOLISM
Wouldn’t it be easy if the playing field was level and everyone had the same metabolism?
Unfortunately, we don’t. There’s a whole host of outside factors affect your metabolic rate, including:
- Body size: The bigger you are, the more calories you burn.
- Environmental temperature: When your body is exposed to cold, it needs to burn more calories to prevent your body temperature from falling.
- Hormone disorders: Cushing’s syndrome and hypothyroidism slow down metabolic rate and increase weight gain .
There are also quite a few myths out there that people take as gospel. Let’s tackle these one-by-one.
Your Metabolism Slows as You Age – This one kinda makes sense, but not as much as you’d hope. As we age, we lose muscle mass and our hormones change. Yes this will change your metabolism.
When you’re a kid you’re growing, you require calories. When you’re a teenager and into your twenties you’re all testicals and testosterone. This requires calories.
Then you hit your 30’s things start to slow down. Hormone levels change and muscle mass decreases a little each year.
To blame a slight drop in testosterone and muscle mass on the 30 extra pounds around someone’s waist would be like saying I saved a penny a day and now I’m a millionaire.
The real reason you’re gaining weight as you age is you just aren’t active enough. Think about it for a sec, as a kid, I’m sure you were running around, riding your bike and getting in trouble. From middle School to college you were probably playing sports, workin’ out multiple times a week and having a lot more sex.
Once you hit the real world, that comes to a grinding hault. You sit in your car for 30-60 minutes, sit at your desk for 8 hours, get back in your car for 30-60 minutes and binge watch Netflix because you’re exhausted. Sure you might hit the gym every once in a while when you have a minute, but that’s not going to make up for the other time you aren’t moving.
We gain weight as we age because we don’t move. Your NEAT and EA are essentially zero.
Smaller Meals Increase Metabolism – Seems logical right?
I mean according to old school gym guys you need small meals every 2–3 hours to keep your metabolism high. Hell I lugged around a suitcase of tupperware for years because of this.
Turns out, meal frequency makes no difference on your metabolism. It comes down to total calories.
Eating 6-8 small meals a day or 2-3 big meals, with calories equated, makes no difference.
Kinda makes you feel like you wasted a bunch of time, doesn’t it? Yea me too.
HOW TO TWEAK WHAT COUNTS
There’s only a few factors you can actually do anything with in a short amount of time. Sure if you could magically get bigger, you’d burn more calories. You could also go streaking in the snow, but that doesn’t seem like a good idea.
The biggest lever you have to become to boost your metabolism are increasing NEAT, EA, and TEF.
To increase NEAT, just move more. You don’t have to break a sweat, just make things a little bit harder than convenience. Take the stairs, fidget, poop in the bathroom farthest away from your desk.
To increase EA, shorten rest periods. Your workouts don’t need to be full-on cardio sessions, just shorten rest periods up a little. You don’t need to add fancy supersets, density training or complexes. Start off with just timing your rest periods. Then next week shorten it by 15 seconds. After a few weeks, shorten it again. Rest periods for strength training (<6 reps) should be in the 2-4 minute range, hypertrophy (6-12 reps) in the 45-60 second range and endurance (12+ reps) in the 15-30 second range.
The icing on the fat burning cake would be to eat moar protein. Aim for 0.8-1.1 g per pound of bodyweight. If you’re obese, use lean body mass instead of total bodyweight.
Combining these three while keeping your calories the same, will help to boost your metabolism.
METABOLIC ADAPTATION IS A BITCH
Everything about us as humans is built for survival. The object of your body is to not die. This is a pretty sweet, and aggravating as hell, feature.
Hypothetical situation here, let’s say you tried your hand at dieting for a long period of time because you were told to “trust the process”. After a few months, the results stopped, you quit and blew all your hard earned results. You figured you fudged up your metabolism and all hope is lost. Might as well eat like shit, right?
But can you really damage your metabolism?
So let’s look at what happened from the info you just learnt so far.
When you diet you reduce calories which reduces the TEF.
You lost weight, which lowers your BMR. Remember bigger bodies burn more calories?
NEAT drops because you’re tired from a lack of calories.
So you lost weight, got smaller, and you move less so your metabolism adjusted to the new smaller you. Like the over zealous bus boy that took your plate too soon, your metabolism was just doing it’s job.
Your metabolism wants the calories in to calories out equation to equal zero. Since the calories in dropped, the calories out dropped too.
Calories in=Calories out=Maintain Weight
But you want Calories in<Calories out= weight loss
So you have a few options at this point. Drop calories lower or move more. Both are good options but like any multiple choice test, the answer is always C.
Enter The MATADOR Study.
While this section would be cooler if it involved bull fighting, but I’m sorry to say all it has to do with fat loss. Bummer, right?
This type of dieting most of us are familiar with is called linear dieting. You pick one calorie amount and hit it for weeks or months.
So some creative scientist asked what would happen if calories were cycled. Meaning 2 weeks of low calorie dieting followed by 2 weeks of maintenance calorie eating. They made two groups; one linear dieting and the other cycling calories and had them diet for 16 weeks.
Both groups were put in a very aggressive calorie deficit of 33%. They measured body fat, fat free mass (your lean body mass) and Resting Energy Expenditure (aka RMR).
Turns out, these diet “rest periods” work pretty damn well. The cyclic group lost lost 4kg (~9lbs) more fat and the change in their resting energy expenditure was smaller than the linear group.
So like your body needs rest periods during workouts to recoup for the next set, your metabolism needs rest periods between dieting sets.
HOW TO BOOST YOUR METABOLISM
Cyclic dieting as you just saw are pretty freakin’ sweet. Here’s how you can add this to your diet repertoire.
- Set maintenance calories. For my online clients I’ll use the Katch McArdle equation.
Example: A 5’8” (173cm) man named Todd who weighs 160 pounds (72.6kg) at 20% body fat wants to lose fat.
BMR = 370 + (21.6 * Lean Body Mass (kg))
Lean Body Mass (LBM) = bodyweight – total body fat
Todd’s LBM = 160 – (160 *.20) Todd’s LBM = 128 lbs
Then convert lbs to kg = 128 / 2.2 = 58 kg
BMR = 370 + (21.6 * Lean Body Mass (kg)) BMR = 370 + (21.6 * 58 (kg))
BMR = 1623
The ever important multiplier:
Maintenance Calories = BMR * Multiplier
1.1 = Very Inactive
1.2 = Mostly Sedentary
1.3 = Active
1.4 = Intense Training
1.5 = Extremely Active / Athlete
Todd works a full time job; however, he goes on a 30 minute walk at lunch every day and he lifts weights four times per week. Todd is “active.”
Maintenance Calories = BMR * Multiplier Maintenance Calories = 1623 * 1.3
Maintenance Calories = 2110
2) So now that we have maintenance, we need our dieting calories (-30%).
2110 * .7 = 1477 calories
3) Figure out macros.
For macros I prefer a few guidelines.
0.8-1.1g per pound of bodyweight for protein
(0.8-1.1 g per pound of lbm if you are obese)
25% of total calories from fat
The rest are carbs.
Bringing Todd back, here’s what that would look like
128 (LBM) * 0.8 = 102g
128 (LBM) * 1.1 = 141g
2110 * .25 = 527 calories of fat
527 / 9 (calories / g) = 59g
527 calories from fat + 492 calories from protein ( using 123g) = 1019 calories
2110 – 1019 = 1091 / 4 = 273g of carbs
For the diet phase, do the same calculation using the lower (1477 calories) amount.
From there, alternate between the diet and maintenance phase every two every 2 weeks.
An alternate and equally effective approach would be carb cycling. This is my personal fav.
Going two weeks with an aggressive calorie deficit is well…aggressive and mentally draining. Sure it’s only two weeks but those are going to be a rough two weeks. This is why I love carb cycling.
With carb cycling, it alternates high and low calorie days within a week. So it’s only a matter of days or even a single day that you’ll be really hungry before you get a glorious higher carb (and calorie) day.
WRAP IT UP B
You can rest easy that you didn’t break your metabolism, it just adjusted.
Losing weight comes down to calories in vs calories out. If you aren’t losing weight, start calorie counting. Over the course of the week you are probably eating more than you need. My guess is the weekends. Once you have calories in check, aim to move more throughout your day and start timing your rest periods. If you’re feeling frisky, make sure you’re hitting your 0.8-1.1g of protein per pound of bodyweight too.
This is how you boost your metabolism. Supplements aren’t going to do it.