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How to Make Your Metabolism Work For You, Not Against You

Avatar Nutrition Staff

October 5, 2017


A slow metabolism is the universal scapegoat for why unwanted pounds are so easy to accumulate—but is it fair to put this much blame on metabolism?

While there’s no question that one’s metabolism is important when it comes to achieving physique goals, there’s a lot of confusion around the concept and the factors that impact it.

To know how to get the most out of your metabolism, you need to understand exactly what it is and how it can be manipulated. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do each and every day to help your metabolism work for you and not against you!


Defining Metabolism

Metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. If you eat or drink too much, this extra energy is stored as fat. If you don’t eat enough, you’ll expend more energy than you consume and will end up burning fat.

So where does metabolism fit into this?

Metabolism provides a quantitative value of how many calories you’ll burn each day. It’s basically a number that tells you whether you’ll burn a lot of calories in a day or a little!

For example, if your total daily metabolic rate (also known as total daily energy expenditure) is 2,300 calories, this means that over the course of a day, your body will burn 2,300 calories. If you eat less than 2,300 calories per day you’ll lose weight, and if you eat more than 2,300 calories per day you’ll gain weight.


The Major Components of Metabolism

Now that you know what TOTAL daily metabolic rate is (the total calories burned in a day), let’s talk about what contributes to this. There are three main variables that work together to determine how many calories you burn, and understanding each is important if you want to tweak them to your metabolic advantage!

The three variables include:

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate (accounts for 60-75% of Total Daily Metabolic Rate)
  2. Physical Activity/Exercise (accounts for 15-30% of Total Daily Metabolic Rate)
  3. Thermic Effect of Food (accounts for approximately 10% of Total Daily Metabolic Rate)

Resting Metabolic Rate

Resting metabolic rate or RMR (sometimes referred to as basal metabolic rate or BMR) is the number of calories that your body needs in its rested state, just to stay alive. For example, this is the amount of calories you’ll burn if you remain in bed all day and don’t eat any food.

While resting metabolic rate is fairly stable (meaning there isn’t a lot you can do to increase it), we do know that people who exercise have resting metabolic rates that are about 7-10% higher than people who don’t [1]. Also, people with more muscle tend to have higher resting metabolic rates [2].

So if you want to maximize your metabolism, make sure to exercise and lift weights. Muscle burns a lot of calories both at rest and when you’re moving around, so the more of it you have, the more calories you’ll burn!

woman lifting weights


Physical Activity/Exercise

Let’s talk about the second variable — exercise.

This aspect of total daily metabolic rate is highly variable based on your physical activity level. Of the three variables that influence total daily metabolic rate, the amount of exercise you do each day has the greatest influence. So, the more you move, the more calories you’ll burn.

Also, high-intensity exercise (think sprints) will elevate your metabolism much more than low-intensity exercise (think walking). With high-intensity exercise, there’s an ‘after burn effect’ where the body continues to burn through calories at a higher rate for many hours after the exercise is completed!

So to get the most out of your metabolism, you’ll want to make sure you engage in high-intensity exercise.

“With high-intensity exercise, there’s an ‘after burn effect”


Thermic Effect of Food

The number of calories burned during the process of eating is called the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).  Factored into this calculation is:

  • Chewing the food
  • Digesting the food
  • Absorbing the food
  • Transporting the digested food to the various parts of the body
  • Storing the digested food in various parts of the body (hopefully in muscle!)

There is a considerable amount of calorie-burning work that your body must perform to digest and process each meal you eat. When considering the thermic effect of food and its impact on total daily metabolic rate, not all foods are created equal!

Protein increases metabolism to a greater degree than the other macronutrients (carbs and fat) [3]. In fact, it’s not even a close race.

You burn a whopping 20-30% of the calories you get from protein in simply processing it, as compared to just 7% for carbs and 2% for fat [4]!  What this means is that if you ingest 100 calories of protein, up to 30 calories are expended to digest and absorb the protein. These are extra calories being burned up that might otherwise get stored as fat!

So the more protein you eat (in comparison to carbs and fat) the faster your metabolism will be. Protein is thermogenic!

An additional benefit of protein ingestion is that it increases the feeling of fullness (both during and after a meal) when compared to the other macronutrients [3].


Fixing a Broken Metabolism with Reverse Dieting

If you have a history of crash dieting or severe calorie restriction, you may have conditioned your metabolism to slow down. This reduces the number of calories you burn throughout the day and primes your body for rapid fat gain.

This scientific phenomenon, known as “metabolic adaptation,” can really throw a wrench in your fat-loss goals [5]. Fortunately, for anyone battling a slow metabolism, there may be a solution. It’s possible to repair your slow metabolism through a process known as “reverse dieting.”

Reverse dieting is exactly what it sounds like: a diet turned upside-down.

Instead of reducing calories and spending more time doing cardio, you increase metabolism by gradually adding calories back into your diet while reducing time spent on the treadmill.

Warning! Reverse dieting only works by being patient and careful in your approach. This means giving your metabolism time to adjust by making small, gradual changes, rather than hitting the buffet every day and cutting out cardio all at once.


Reverse Dieting with Avatar Nutrition

If you think you have a slow metabolism due to your past unhealthy dieting practices, Avatar Nutrition has a ‘Reverse Dieting’ fitness goal option for you to consider. This option follows the reverse dieting principle of adding calories back into your diet in a reasonable manner so that your metabolism increases over time with little to no gain in body fat!


Putting It All Together

Now that you understand metabolism and what influences it, you can use the following strategies optimize it:

  1. Resistance train to increase metabolically active muscle
  2. Engage in high-intensity cardiovascular exercise to burn through calories
  3. Eat a high protein diet to expend more calories in digesting food
  4. Employ reverse dieting to counteract a slow metabolism



[1] Poehlman ET.  Resting energy metabolism and cardiovascular disease risk in resistance- trained and aerobically trained males.  Metabolism. 1992 Dec;41(12):1351-60.
[2] Dériaz O, Lean-body-mass composition and resting energy expenditure before and after long-term overfeeding. Am J Clin Nutr. 1992 Nov;56(5):840-7.
[3] Paddon-Jones D, et al. Protein, weight management, and satiety.  Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1558S-1561S.
[4] Jéquier E. Pathways to obesity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2002 Sep;26 Suppl 2:S12-7.
[5] Rosenbaum M and Leibel RL. Adaptive thermogenesis in humans. Int J Obes. 2010 Oct; 34, S47-S55.