Can you ‘hack’ your metabolism?
written by Philip Stefanov | OCTOBER 18, 2022
You’ve probably seen numerous articles, videos, and books selling the idea of hacking your metabolism.
The weight loss industry is notorious largely thanks to the countless ‘gurus’ and ‘experts’ who convince people that getting fit is only a matter of manipulating their metabolism. Of course, these tactics often include purchasing various herbs, fat-burning supplements, and exercise plans. How convenient.
A Quick Look At Your Metabolism
Your metabolism refers to all the processes your body carries out daily to convert energy, maintain its functions, and keep you alive.
There are four primary ways your body burns calories:
- Basal metabolic rate (BMR) - the calories your body burns daily to carry out its processes and keep you alive (breathing, heartbeat, brain function, etc.)
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) - the energy you burn each day to carry out all physical tasks, from brushing your teeth to carrying groceries
- Exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT) - the calories you burn during dedicated exercise time, be it playing a sport, lifting weights, jogging in the park, or something else
- Thermic effect of food (TEF) - the energy your body expends to digest the food you eat and extract the energy (calories)
Together, these four pillars of your metabolism make up your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
Can You ‘Hack’ Your Metabolism For Superior Fat Loss?
Well, not really. Your metabolism is highly adaptive and capable of increasing but hacking it to burn twice as many calories isn’t realistic. Let’s take a look at the individual components again:
- BMR - the value is mostly set in stone and largely depends on factors like your age, sex, and height.
- NEAT - you can boost it, but that would mean becoming much more active, which isn’t always sustainable, especially for people working long hours, raising children, and dealing with other obligations.
- EAT - you can boost that one, too. Unfortunately, doing so requires increasing your workout intensity, duration, or both.
- TEF - you can’t really boost it. Eating more protein can help you expend slightly more calories, but that isn’t enough.
Any increase is typically tiny and requires a long-term commitment. For example, you might be able to boost your TEF and ‘hack’ your metabolism, but that requires eating a lot of protein every day. You could maintain such a diet for a while, but eating tons of meat, fish, cottage cheese, and other high-protein foods gets old.
Similarly, you can bump your EAT to some degree, but that requires spending extra time and energy. Not everyone has the free time to burn hundreds or thousands of additional calories daily.
But Are There Ways to Upregulate Your Metabolism In Any Way?
There are two ways to increase your TDEE to a meaningful degree. One is a short-term approach, and the other takes time to kick in.
The first way to boost your metabolism is to increase your NEAT by adding small bits of physical activity to your day:
- Park your car farther
- Ditch the car and bike instead
- Use the stairs instead of the elevator
- Play games with your kids instead of watching TV
- Go hiking over the weekend
- Go for a walk during your lunch break
Small bits of activity might not seem all that important, but they add up. The only trouble is that it can be challenging to track your NEAT, and you can’t be sure how many calories you burn.
One way to track some aspects of NEAT is to use a step tracker and aim for a specific number each day. You can start with 3,000 steps and gradually work up to 5,000, or even 7,000+.
The second way to boost your metabolism is to weight train and build muscle. Doing so would raise your basal metabolic rate because muscle is metabolically costly tissue. Your body expends roughly 13 calories to support every kilogram of skeletal muscle you build (1).
The caloric expenditure might not seem too high, but adding 10 kilograms of muscle to your frame would bump your metabolic rate by 130 calories.
Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,
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