I’ve been a trainer for over five years. During this time, I’ve learned more than I’m able to digest (no pun intended). I believe the more you learn, the more you realize what you really don’t know. Those who think they have it all figured out—well, guess what? They don’t. The fitness world changes its beliefs every day, coming up with new, quick fixes daily. In the end, one quick fix is used to fix another, and we get pushed back further from where we started.
The purpose of this article is to give you a basic understanding of your body’s metabolism or metabolic rate, teach you how to increase your metabolism without cardio, and show you what it really takes to lose weight. (Metabolic rate is the rate at which your body burns off calories.)

Your metabolism is very similar to the fitness world—you either love it or hate it. Over time, it constantly changes. To understand the metabolism, think of your body like a furnace. Your metabolism controls the temperature in your body as well as your metabolic rate. I’m sure you’re now wondering how you get your metabolism to work. Well, it’s much like how you would get a furnace to work—add some fuel. Food is the fuel for the body. Your metabolism starts when food enters the mouth. In order for the body to go to work and breakdown food, it takes energy. This is how your body burns off calories at rest. Pretty sweet, right? How can we burn more calories without running around? Well, one way doesn’t require any extra work and the other way requires some gym time.

To increase the amount of calories burned at rest, simply keep the digestive system working. If you can remember back to your grammar school years, we learned how long it takes for food to travel through the digestive system. Like most of us, you probably didn’t pay attention, so let me shed some light on why it’s important to understand the amount of time it takes.

First, digestion starts the instant that food enters the mouth by the enzymes in saliva and the chewing process breaking down the food. This breakdown process, along with digestive juices, allows for an easy flow through the esophagus into the stomach and eventually into the small intestine. This is where the body must work and use its stored calories to separate the good from the bad. The good is taken and distributed throughout the body where it should be used, and the bad continues on through the digestive system until it’s excreted from the body. It takes up to 24 hours for food to travel through the body. This means your body is constantly using calories to digest food. Food will be in the stomach for about 1–3 hours, depending on the contents. For example, carbohydrates spend the least amount of time in the stomach while protein stays in the stomach longer and fats the longest.

In order for your body to keep working hard, it’s important to get meals in every 2–4 hours. The longer you wait in between meals, the slower your metabolism will become. Those who eat one time a day and expect to lose weight are in for a surprise. After 12 hours without taking in any food, your whole body shuts down, meaning it isn’t burning any calories. At first, you might lose some weight, but it won’t be a loss of fat but muscle. Muscle has many more nutrients than fat. If you had a choice of eating a nice fresh cut of meat or a tub of lard, which would you choose? I would go for the meat and so would your body. Your body must get the nutrients it needs from somewhere. If you aren’t eating, it will go to its stored nutrients, which is your muscle. Most people say, so what? I can afford to lose a few pounds of muscle. But can you?

Muscle isn’t just used to lift weights. It’s what controls the amount of calories we burn at rest. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. One pound of muscle can burn anywhere from 12–50 calories a day. Not eating isn’t just bad for your health. It’s also bad for your appearance. The more muscle you lose, the more your fat will be noticeable. This means your stomach will look flabby and the under part of your arms will appear to jiggle more. This is where the body fat percentage comes into play (how much of your total body weight is fat.).

The second way to increase your metabolism without having to go running or perform some type of cardiovascular work is to build up more muscle. Again, the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn. For someone who isn’t working out currently, 2–3 times a week working out with weights is fine to start building up some muscle. The average person can only gain 1–2 pounds of muscle a year. At that rate, you really can’t afford to lose your muscle or miss your weight sessions. I’m sure you’re asking the age old question, “Why do men lose weight faster than women?” Naturally, most men have more muscle than women, which allows them to burn off more calories with less activity and consume more calories without gaining weight. This brings me to my next topic—caloric intake.

I’m constantly being questioned on a daily basis—“How many calories should I be eating?” “Should I eat carbs?” “Carbs are bad, right?” “I heard protein makes you lean.” “My friend told me I can eat peanut butter all day because it has good fat in it.” These are all good questions, but not all questions have good answers. I never mind answering these questions though because if I don’t, some less than average gym rat will and then there’s trouble.

I want to explain the caloric deficit. If you take in fewer calories than needed, you create what is called a caloric deficit. A deficit of 3500 calories is required to burn off one pound of fat. To better understand how the body works, let’s think of calories as roll over minutes. Calories will always carry over day to day. Everyone has a recommend daily caloric intake (DCI), which is the amount of calories you should take in for the day. Everyone’s intake is different depending on body weight, energy output (exercise), metabolism, and other factors.

Let’s say you need 2000 calories in order to maintain your weight (DCI). In order for you to lose weight, your calorie consumption (food intake) at the end of the day minus your caloric output (exercise/metabolism) must equal less than 2000 calories (DCI). If you did great the whole week and every day stayed 300 calories under your (DCI), you burned 300 calories a day for seven days totaling 2100 calories. Believe it or not, that’s still not enough for the one pound weight loss. However, if you continue along and do the same thing for the next seven days, which is the end of week two, you’ll be at a caloric deficit of 4200 with a one-pound weight loss. Now, if you skip one day at the gym, it will cost you 300 calories. If you had three bad meals that week, it will cost you 1200 calories. Your deficit will be at 3000 calories.

So you step on the scale. You haven’t lost or gained, so you think to yourself, “Okay, no problem. I was good. I kept a log of what I ate, and I stuck with my routine at the gym.” You go back to what you were doing when you started—the same amount of days at the gym, the same food, the same routine, and the same calories burned. Well, you may think that you burned the same amount of calories, but your body has already adapted to the easy routine. Instead of 300 calories burned each day, you’ve only burned 200 calories a day. At the end of week four, instead of 2100 calories, you’ve only burned 1400.

So you step on the scale and again—you haven’t lost weight and you haven’t gained weight. You can’t figure out what happened. Your deficit is sitting at 4400 calories. You’re 2600 calories away from dropping another pound. Now, instead of changing what you were doing, you skip the gym a few more times, eat a few more meals, and by week five, you haven’t gained or lost again. You start to think that what you’re doing is hopeless, and by week six, you’ve managed to eat yourself 4000 calories over your caloric deficit. You’ve now put a pound on and are heavier than when you started. Basically, what I’m saying is calories are like roll over minutes. They will carry over day to day, week to week, month to month, and they won’t ever go away unless you use them.

The law of thermodynamics states, “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change forms.” (Food into calories, calories into energy, and so on.) It’s the caloric deficit that will determine whether or not you lose weight, not the macronutrient, protein, fat, or carb. A protein and a carb are each four calories per gram and a fat is nine calories per gram. In the end, each one has its own place in the body, and we need all of them. It doesn’t matter how good a fat or a carb is when it comes to your caloric deficit. If your body doesn’t need it and it doesn’t get used, it will be stored as fat.

But you’re saying “It’s good fat. Polyunsaturated!” It doesn’t matter. In the end, a fat is a fat. It is still nine calories per gram—14 grams in a serving of peanut butter—and chances are you use more than a serving when eating peanut butter. Get a scale and weigh it out to a serving and you’ll be surprised at the outcome. When I use peanut butter, instead of measuring with a tablespoon, I use a teaspoon. It will give you more of an accurate serving.

My all-time favorite is when I go out drinking. What is the best thing to have? Water! Alcohol has no purpose in the body and carries seven calories per gram. That’s almost as many calories as fat has per gram. With no use in the body, alcohol will be stored as fat in no time. One ounce of alcohol contains an average of 80 calories. A few drinks can set you back further than the munchies you will eat at 3:00 a.m. What happened to not eating certain foods after 6:00 p.m.? That’s another myth. Eat when you’re hungry. If you’re hungry, that’s your body’s way of telling you it needs food. If your body needs food, eat. That means your metabolism is slowing down. If calories turned into pumpkins at midnight and disappeared, not eating after 6:00 p.m. would be a good way to lose weight. Because they don’t, your body will have a chance to burn it off when you sleep. As long as you were good all day with exercise and nutrition, your metabolism will be in high gear. Your body burns off 100 percent fat calories when completely at rest (sleeping). This means calories that are burned at rest will come from grams of fat consumed throughout the day.

If you’re just starting out, trying to eat healthy and lose weight the right way, follow the tips I just went over and be cautious of portion size and total caloric intake. Try to eat from all the food groups. Don’t diet. Make it your lifestyle.

Elite Fitness Systems strives to be a recognized leader in the strength training industry by providing the highest quality strength training products and services while providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. For the best training equipment, information, and accessories, visit us at www.EliteFTS.com.