We’ve all said it, heard personal trainers, dieticians and even media personalities like Dr. Oz and The Doctors say it: to lose weight and remain healthy, you need to boost your metabolism!!
As we know from years of being bombarded by “advice”, your metabolism can be boosted by a combination of nutritional and training protocols, which range from drinking a glass of water with cayenne pepper (bleh!) to doing high intensity interval training.
Now don’t get me wrong, most of these nutritional and training tips are quite beneficial and I would certainly endorse many of them, but do we really want to “boost our metabolism”?
Let’s explore for a second what “metabolism” is:
To begin with: when we talk about “metabolism” what we’re actually referring to is “cellular metabolism”, which is the mechanism through which a cell in your body “metabolizes” nutrients and (often) oxygen to produce energy.
Now within each cell, you have energy-producing units called “mitochondria”, which are essentially the power plants in each cell. Your “metabolism” is basically driven by (i) how many mitochondria you have and (ii) how “powerful” each mitochondria is…
Still with me?
Ok, so let’s look at “increasing the number of mitochondria you have”:
You can increase your total number of mitochondria by:
- increasing the number of cells you have: the more cells, the more mitochondria right? That’s why “muscle building” helps in weight loss: more muscle = more muscle fibers = more cells and therefore = more mitochondria…
- increasing the number of mitochondria “within each cell”: this is called “mitochondrial density”. There are many ways of achieving this, including such protocols as strength training, high intensity interval training, plyometrics, certain types of endurance training, etc.
BUT THERE IS A CATCH!
When a power plant produces electricity, it also produces by-products: most power-plants in the world are coal or gas/petroleum-powered, which means they produce CO2 and other pollutants…
Your own power plants (the mitochondria) operate the same way: they produce by-products called “free radicals”, which roam around your body causing damage wherever they go (they are the main cause of aging & death, cancer, heart disease, auto-immune diseases, etc).
Basically, the amount of free radicals in your body directly determines your life-span: how quickly you age!!
Your body obviously has an army to pick up those free radicals and dispose of them: antioxidants.
So as you “boost your metabolism”, you produce more and more free-radicals (since you have more mitochondria), and unless you’re heavily supplementing with external antioxidants (which has its own downside), you’re actually accelerating your aging!
So someone who says I want to increase my metabolism from 2,000Kcal to 2,500Kcal (50%) is dramatically accelerating their aging in the process…
Another way of looking at it is: having a higher metabolism is akin to always revving the engine of your car: yes it burns more fuel, but it also “erodes” the engine a LOT faster and shortens its lifespan!
BUT, as you know, other types of power plants produce “clean energy” where no pollution is encountered: hydro-powered plants, solar, wind, etc.
Essentially, the “fuel” you use to power your power plants / mitochondria matters, a LOT.
Remember: your goal is to burn fat right? But is there a way to achieve that without accelerating the aging process?
Absolutely! Instead of trying to “increase your total mitochondria”, how about making the ones you have “a lot more efficient at burning fat”?
You see the process of converting glucose (from carbohydrates) into energy in the cell is one of the fastest ways to produce “free radicals”. By comparison, the process of converting fatty acids (through beta-oxidation) is a “cleaner” way to generate energy, producing less free radicals and really focusing those mitochondria on burning your existing fat sources…
So forget about “boosting” your metabolism and focus on having a more “efficient” metabolism, which prioritizes fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates.
Some tips on achieving that “fat adaptation”:
- It takes 4-6 weeks to make the transition from “carb burner” to “fat burner”
- During that period, avoid all insulin-spiking carbs, including sugars, fruits, alcohol
- Limit total carb intake to 80-100g / day, and focus on getting your energy from fats
- Prioritize carb ingestion around your workouts (before or preferably after)
- Ensure adequate protein intake but no more than 25% of total daily calories
- Introduce a “carb refeed” day every 7-10 days (200-300g of carbs)
- Exercise regularly
- Fast for 18hrs once a week
What should you expect:
- First week: feeling sluggish and tired as your body “makes the switch”
- Second week: energy starts to come back, high mental clarity, no more afternoon “crashes”
- Third week onwards: you start to feel efficient in workouts, body composition starts to change, your mind is alert and sharp throughout the day, your hormones rebalance
Give it a try and let know how it goes!
Any questions, feel free to reach out.