4 Things Responsible for a Slow Metabolism
Way back in the day, people had real world problems. You read about them in history books: chicken pox, rickets, the black plague….being chased by a bear on a hunting trip. Nowadays these issues have almost vanished as modern medicine and nutritional practices stepped their game up improved our quality of life.
In today’s era we don’t have to worry about a food shortage, but we have other things to keep us up at night. These complications are referred to as first world problems. One of our major concerns is what we call sluggish energy syndrome, i.e. a slow metabolism.
Having a slow metabolism has been mainstream business for the last twenty years or so. Back in the 90’s there was a whole slew of pills being marketed that promised to suppress appetite and boost metabolism. I see commercials all the time for various workouts (without any scientific validation whatsoever) that claim to set your metabolic rate on fire. You can also see infomercials with oiled up fitness models claiming to cause a “meta burn” to your insides. These models are all smiles during the workout and look like they’re barely out of breath. If doing weird jumping jacks in your living room was all you needed to boost your metabolism, then why are we in the middle a modern era health crisis?
Fear not: if you want to speed up your metabolism, read on for some basic things that we’re either not doing enough of – or doing too much of – that may be putting our metabolisms on cruise control. Fix all these things and you’ll be amazed at how your metabolism functions.
Not Enough Weight Training
Here’s the thing: resistance training is one of the best things you can do for your metabolism. It often gets associated with an athlete or someone trying to “get big.” But here at UEFP, weight training is the primary method that helps clients drop bodyfat. The confusion lies in the fact that you need to know how to program exercise for weight loss. Going into the gym and doing heavy bench presses will get you stronger, but it won’t help you drop any pounds.
The way to keep your metabolism high is all about building a bit of muscle over time…and you don’t need to turn into a bodybuilder either. Something as simple as increasing the pace of your workouts can help your metabolism. When researchers used extremely short rest periods with subjects who strength trained, they found that those who had the least rest had the highest increase to their metabolism (1). Combining resistance training with supplements like creatine can cause a huge jump in metabolism; bodybuilders who weight trained five days a week along with taking creatine lost 1.2% bodyfat in just 4 weeks (2).
Make this work for you by simply pairing a lower body exercise with an upper body one and then rest a bit. Something like this:
A1. Back Squat – 4 x 10-12, 4-0-2-1, rest 45 seconds
A2. Seated Cable Row – 4 x 10-12, 3-0-2-2, rest 45 seconds
A Lack of Sleep
You would think that something that involves parking your keister for eight hours would be counter-productive to jacking up your metabolism, but think again. Sleep is the repair process. It’s kind of the yang and exercise is the yin. Yes, training is a good thing, but without rest and recovery you can actually train yourself out of shape.
When you fall into a deep sleep your body gets a chance to release a bunch of hormones. These hormones finally get a chance to help restore balance to your body’s internal environment. Now, there isn’t a study that shows “X” hours of sleep results in “Y” increase to your metabolism. But think of a lack of sleep as a snowball effect that can eventually affect your overall metabolic rate. In fact, a meta-analysis of a bunch of research studies came to the conclusion that getting less than 6 hours of sleep for several years can lead to obesity (3). Suffering from sleep deprivation can also lead to poor dietary choices: you’re more likely to snack and consume sugar/energy drinks – all things that throw your metabolism through a loop.
Too Much Running
Slow distance jogging is the de facto choice for nearly everyone who wants to get in shape. We all know the drill: buy running shoes, pick out really cool and bright t-shirts, slap on heart rate monitor, and hit the pavement. Running is great – if you want to be a runner. If you have no desire to be a competitive distance runner, then there are far superior choices for your exercise selection.
Endurance exercise – like running, cycling, swimming, etc- may let you chop up a lot of calories during the exercise bout, but it does very little for your metabolism. After your run is over, your metabolism pretty much returns right back to where it was before the run. Sport scientists call this EPOC – or excess post oxygen consumption. We want EPOC to be as high as we can get it after a workout, and running just doesn’t cut it.
Your best bet for weight loss is to do interval or strongman training. Think short term sprints or pushing sleds and flipping tires. When you compare the two modalities, interval training appears to be superior to long distance running for weight loss. Case in point: comparing 40 minute (slow and steady) workouts to 20 minute (interval training) ones showed that interval training is the way to go. Even though they only worked out for 20 minutes, the interval group had a significant lost in abdominal fat, while the distance group had no change whatsoever (4). Besides losing weight, interval workouts are great for improving your overall conditioning. When subjects performed 90 seconds of all-out cycling, they increased their VO2 Max by 13% (VO2 Max is a marker of aerobic fitness) (5).
Too Many Bad Carbs
Some people think carbs are the bad guy. They can be, if your carb sources are pastas, cheap breads, cookies, and chips. It’s not that carbs are evil, is that most people make poor choices with what they put in their body. Look over the two scenarios and think about which one is better:
- Skipping your workout and enjoying “endless break stick day” at your favorite bistro
- Doing 35 minutes of circuit training and eating different rices and potatoes
If you chose option B, you picked right. Bad carbs are destructive to pretty much all systems in your body, and when that happens, it becomes difficult for your metabolism to focus on weight loss. When scientists had subjects consume high amounts of fructose (the sugar found in fruit – and also used to sweeten processed foods), subjects had a 32% increase in triglycerides (6)! Researchers concluded that a long term intake of fructose could lead to gout and kidney stones.
Here’s a real interesting study: scientists had subjects consume what could be considered cheap carbs (think boxed cereal) or good carbs (think veggies) and studied brain activity after eating the food. What they found was pretty startling: those who ate the cheap food had high activities in the brain associated with cravings and rewards (7). So it’s possible to eat some bad food and then reward yourself with some really bad food.
As we said in the beginning, having a slow metabolism is the result of doing too much of some things and not enough of other things. Let’s recap what we’ve learned:
What we’re doing too much of
Running (try backing off and doing 1-2 days of interval training)
Eating bad carbs (swap out those low calorie snack packs for veggies and berries)
What we’re not doing enough of
Circuit training (strive for 2-3 days a week)
Sleep (get in bed by 10 pm!)
It’s not as difficult as you think – and it’s certainly not as hard as dealing with the black plague.
1. Rahman, R., Qaderi, M., Faraji, H., Boroujedi, S. “Effects of Very Short Rest Periods on Hormonal Response to Resistance Exercise in Men.”(2010) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 7:1851-1859
2. Antonio, Jose. Ciccone, Victora. “The Effects of Pre Versus Post Workout Supplementation of Creatine Monohydrate on Body Composition and Strength.”(2013) Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition. 10:1: 36
3. Mozaffarian, D. Hao, T., et al. “Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long Term Weight Gain in Women and Men.” (2011) New England Journal of Medicine 364.25, 2392-2404
4. Irvin, BA., Davis, CK., et al. “Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition.”(2008) Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 40(11):1863-1872.
5. Ziemann, E., Grzywacz, T., Luszczyk, M., et al. “Aerobic and Anaerobic Changes With High Intensity Training in Active College Aged Men.”(2004) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25.4: 1104-112
6. Bantle, John P. “Dietary Fructose and Metabolic Syndrome and Diabets 1-3.” (2009) The Journal of Nutrition. 139.6: 1263S-1268S
7. Lennerz, B.S., Alsop, D.C., Holsen, L.M., Stern, E., Rojas, R., Ebbeling, C.B., Goldstein, J.M., Ludwig, D.S. “Effects of Dietary Glycemic Index on Brain Regions to Reward Craving in Men.”(2013) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.