This episode is about the speed of your metabolism. Many people have reached out to me over the years who were struggling to lose weight and who thought this was due to a “slow” metabolism.
Often the solutions offered involve taking special pills, following very restrictive diets, and pushing through punishing workouts. And when those strategies don’t work, these same people start believing it’s impossible to lose weight or keep it off.
Others have complained to me that their metabolisms are so “fast” that they can’t gain weight effectively—the so-called hard-gainer.
In this podcast, we’re going to talk about both of those scenarios. The good news is while some people do tend to burn more calories than others, no one’s metabolism is so “slow” or “fast” that they can’t improve their body composition or maintain the body they really want.
So, listen to this episode to learn why!
0:00 – Try Phoenix risk-free today! Go to buylegion.com/phoenix and use coupon code MUSCLE to save 20% or get double reward points!
4:56 – What is your metabolism?
7:27 – How do I measure my metabolism?
10:47 – Why is my metabolism slow?
19:20 – Do I have a fast metabolism?
25:50 – Can I increase my metabolic rate?
26:35 – How can I increase my metabolic rate right away?
Mentioned on the Show:
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What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello and welcome. Welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today. And before we get into it, please do subscribe to the show in whatever app you are listening to me in, if you have not already, because then you won’t miss any new episodes. And it helps me because it boosts the.
Ranking of the show in the various charts. So this episode is going to be about your metabolism, and particularly the speed of your metabolism, because many people have reached out to me over the years who were struggling to lose weight and who thought that it was because of a slow metabolism. Either they had concluded that somehow or someone had told them that some expert or guru had convinced them that they have a slow metabolism.
And often the solutions offered required taking exotic pills, powders, and potions, and following offbeat restrictive diets and pushing themselves through punishing workout routines. And as you can imagine, those solutions did not work. And so many of the people who have reached out to me have been very discouraged because they think that there is not much they can do about it.
That now it is much harder to lose fat, much harder to keep it off, maybe even. Impossible. Now, on the other side of that coin are people, mostly young men who have complained to me that their metabolism is so fast that they can’t gain weight effectively. They can’t gain muscle effectively, that they are hard gainers.
And a lot of these people, they think that most or all of the calories they eat are just quickly incinerated in the roaring furnace of their metabolism, and nothing is left for their muscles. And so in this podcast, we are going to talk about both of those use cases. We are gonna talk about both of those scenarios, talk to both of those people, I guess you could say.
And the good news is that some people do tend to burn more calories than others. Some people do tend to have, quote unquote, faster metabolisms. Than others, and I’ll explain in this podcast why I put that faster in scare quotes, because I’m not using that term in the way that most people use it, or at least in the way that most people understand it.
But yes, some people do tend to burn more calories than others, and that does, of course, make it easier to lose fat and to stay lean. But nobody’s metabolism is so slow or damaged that they can’t improve their body composition without suffering, and that they can’t maintain their ideal body composition, that they can’t get the body that they really want.
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Okay, so let’s start at the top with a definition of a term. So, what is your metabolism? Well, technically your metabolism is the collection of physical and chemical processes that your body uses to produce, maintain, and destroy material substances, and to make energy. Available. It is the collection of processes that keep us alive.
But when most people say metabolism, they’re referring to their resting metabolic rate, R M R or their basil metabolic B M R. Now, resting metabolic rate is the number of calories your body burns at rest over a 24 hour period, so no vigorous physical activity, whereas basal metabolic rate, that is an estimate of the number of calories your body requires to simply stay.
So as you can see, those terms are not exactly interchangeable. There is a difference between them, but when you run the numbers, they come out to more or less the same thing. So you can really think of them as synonymous. For our purposes, for the purposes of this discussion, and just to keep it simple, I’m gonna use the term bas.
Metabolic greater. I’m just gonna say BMR, because that is the more common term, at least in the discussions that I’ve had with many people. So when somebody says their metabolism is slow, what they usually mean is their BMR is lower than normal or it’s lower than it was in the past. And if they say it’s fast, if they say in metabolisms fast, they mean that their BMR is higher than normal.
Now, to better understand how this component of metabolism works, this basal metabolic. There are a few moving parts here. There is the number of calories you burn, digesting and processing food, so that’s known as the thermic effect of food, often referred to as t e F, and then you have the calories you burn during formal exercise sessions.
So this is when you are. Training when you are working out, when you are exercising, so that is exercise activity, thermogenesis, eat ye, and then you have the calories you burn from any activity that isn’t formal exercise and that’s known as non-exercise activity, thermogenesis or neat. And. Those three factors are important to understand because while many people speak of their metabolism, like it is some mysterious black box that is completely outside of their control, you can positively influence each of those three components and especially your activity levels.
So now let’s get into this idea that somebody can have a slow metabolism. And to understand that what that might look like. We first have to talk about what a normal metabolism would look like, and the most accurate way to measure someone’s metabolism is to have them breathe into a machine. Known as a metabolic cart, and that analyzes the gases in their breath to then estimate how many calories they’re burning.
And scientists have been conducting studies with these metabolic carts for decades now, and what they’ve found is that most people with average levels of muscle mass have a B M R of around 4.7 kilojoules of energy per minute, which translates to about 1600 calories per. Now as BMR scales with body size, because of course it takes more energy, it takes more calories to maintain and move a larger body.
People who are smaller than average will burn less than 1600 calories than that average number. And people who are larger than average will burn more, but their BMRs will be in the ballpark of about 1300 to 1800 calories per. Now, what about outliers though? How much can people’s BMRs vary from the data that I just shared with you?
For instance, is it possible for a 200 pound dude with a slow metabolism to have the same BMR as say a 100 pound woman or vice versa? Well, while some people do have faster BMRs than others, the differences are too small to matter when it comes to weight loss. For example, a review study conducted by scientists at the University of Vermont found that about 68% of people’s metabolisms, they’re.
Basil metabolic grates are within five to 8% of the population average, and 96% are within 10 to 16% of the population average. So we have a nice bell curve here, right where the majority of the people fall into the middle of the curve, 1300 to 1800 calories per day, and then you have the tails on the left and right hand sides.
So you have the people who have slower than average metabolisms or faster than average metabolisms. But again, even the slower than average or faster than average, people are not that much slower or faster than average. And to illustrate that more concretely, if we assume that 1600 calories is an average b m.
Then 68% of people would fall in the BMR range of about 1500 to 1700 calories per day, and then 96% in the range of about 1400 to 1800 calories per day. And then if you compare the people with the fastest and the slowest BMRs observed in these studies, the absolute difference would only be about 400 calories per day.
So that’s again, comparing the fastest with the slowest. So while 400 calories per day is a big number, that is a significant number. It does mean something. But remember, we are looking at the extreme outliers on both ends of the spectrum, and it’s only a 400 calorie difference. Most people do not vary much from the average.
Most people have BMRs more or less in line with what you’d expect based on their body weight. So what explains the outliers? Why do some people have slower or faster metabolisms? Are the modest differences due to genetics, hormones, some other factor? Well, in reality, research shows that the differences can almost be entirely explained by different levels of muscle mass, because people with more muscle have higher BM RS because muscle is metabolically active and people with less muscle, they have lower BMRs.
And the review study that I mentioned a moment ago, it didn’t look into body composition. Other research has shown that the amount of muscle that you have, your level of muscularity is one of the prime determinants of whether your B M R is above or below average. And that of course also helps explain why some people have significantly lower basal metabolic rates as others, even though they weigh the same, because of course body composition looks at what that body weight is rise of.
So you could take a hundred pound. Well add some weight. You could take 120 or 130 pound woman who has very little muscle and a fair amount of body fat. Look at her B M R and then compare her to 120 or 30 pound woman who has quite a bit of muscle. She doesn’t have to be a bodybuilder. Maybe she has 10, 15, 20 pounds more than the average woman.
Her basal metabolic rate might be 10% higher just from that. And let’s also remember that while the absolute amount of muscle that we can gain and the speed at which we can gain it are influenced heavily by our genetics, there is a genetic limit to the amount of muscle that we can gain. And some people are just going to gain muscle faster than we are, even though we.
Maybe are even more conscientious about our eating and our training and our recovery. We can all gain a lot of muscle. We can all gain a lot of strength. We can’t all gain enough to become professional bodybuilders, but we can all gain enough. To be very fit and to dramatically improve our bmr. So in that way, our BMR is partly in our control.
Now what about the people though who claim to be eating very few calories but are not losing weight? For example, I’ve heard from many people over the years who say they are eating 1200 calories, a thousand calories, 800 calories per day, not losing weight. Is that possibly caused by a severely dysfunctional metabolism?
Fortunately, no. A study conducted by scientists at Columbia University looked at this specific question, and they measured the metabolic rates of 10 obese men and women who claimed to have been eating less than 1200 calories per day for six months. Without losing any weight. And the researchers measured these people’s BMRs using a metabolic cart.
And then they did the same thing with another group of obese people who had been able to lose weight in the past. And what the researchers found is that the people who claimed that they were eating less than 1200 calories per day and not losing weight, they found that these people had perfectly healthy.
Metabolisms that their BMRs were within 5% of what you’d expect based on their weight and their body composition, and that these numbers and these BMRs were no different from the other group of people who had successfully lost weight. The real reason these people were unable to lose weight was. They were underestimating how much they were eating by 47% on average, and they overestimated their levels of physical activity by 51% on average.
And so as you can imagine, those two mistakes are enough to completely wipe out a calorie deficit. So they think or report at least that they’re eating 1200 calories per day when it’s actually on average 1700, 1800. Some people were a lot more than that, some people were a bit less, and then they think or report, say four hours of exercise per week when it’s actually like half that.
Another interesting point of note from this study is that many of these people, they generally perceived a genetic cause for their obesity. They generally used thyroid medication at a high frequency and described their eating behavior as relatively normal. So in other words, you had people who ate more and exercised less than they thought, or at least said they did and they felt fairly.
That their failure to lose weight was because of genetics or a, a bad thyroid, a slow metabolism, or some other factor, and they didn’t want to accept that their own habits might be the real culprit, and that’s why they refused. To change their behavior after six months of banging their heads against the wall.
And ironically, other research shows that people who are most likely to blame lack of weight loss on a slow metabolism actually have a higher B M R than their leaner. Counterparts. For instance, a study published in the journal, obesity found that contestants on the show the biggest loser who weighed 330 pounds and were 50% body fat.
On average, they had an average resting metabolic rate of 2,600 calories per day, which is about 50% higher than that of a normal. Person and after losing 130 pounds on average, their rmrs dropped to a more normal range. Of course, dropped to about 1900 calories per day, which is expected because body weight is going down and a lighter body costs less energy to maintain and to move.
But in a counterintuitive way, overweight people actually have a metabolic advantage when it comes to weight loss than normal weight people. If we just take their eating habits and other issues out of consideration and just look at their metabolism, many overweight people are burning quite a few more calories per day, uh, without exercising even.
This is before we add an exercise than leaner people who want to get even lean. So if you are overweight and starting out on your weight loss journey, or if you have already begun, but you have a fair amount of weight to lose, that reframe might be encouraging to you that you have a bit of a metabolic advantage.
You have metabolic tailwinds, so to speak. Oh, and one other comment on this Biggest Loser study. Many media outlets claimed that the drop in rmrs that was seen in people who lost weight was evidence of metabolic damage that people had slowed their metabolisms down, and that that was a bad thing. But the truth is those rmrs were simply coming down to a normal healthy range relative to their.
Healthy body weights. There was no metabolic damage. There were no rmrs that were now a lot lower than they should be, or a lot lower than would be predicted given their body weights or their body composition. So the key takeaway here is you almost certainly have a perfectly healthy metabolism that is burning more than enough calories to support your weight loss efforts.
And that’s true even if you’ve done some wacky things in the past. Even if you have yo-yo dieted, for example, you have not damaged your metabolism. Maybe you damaged your body composition, maybe you lost some muscle and that brought your B M R down. But of course, then you can just gain that muscle back and bring it right back.
Now every rule has exceptions. Of course. Research shows, for example, that a severe zinc deficiency can reduce your metabolic rate by several hundred calories per day, as can some thyroid diseases. But of course those are very rare. Those are fringe cases. Most people are not affected by those things, and most people simply do not have a slow metabolism.
If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my sports nutrition company Legion, which thanks to the support of many people like you, is the leading brand of all natural sports supplements in the world. Okay. Now let’s shift gears and talk more about the fast metabolism, the hard gainers.
The mostly young guys who are convinced that their metabolisms are simply too furious to allow them to gain weight. And many of these people, at least many of the ones I’ve heard of, they’ll say that they are devouring 4,000, 5,000 plus calories per day, no cardio, just lifting weights. And they’ve been doing that for months and nothing is changing on the scale or in the mirror.
and you can find some wild claims on the internet. I mean, I’ve seen people say that they are eating 12,000 calories per day and losing weight. . This idea that some people have very fast metabolisms is also believed by many people who don’t see it in themselves. They see it in others. They know someone skinny, or someone who’s at least at a normal body weight to regularly.
Pizza, ice cream and fast food, and they just never seem to gain a pound. Well, just as with people who think that their DNA is the blame for their slow metabolism, DNA does not produce preternaturally fast metabolisms either. As you already learned, most people have BMRs about what you’d expect based on their body weight and their body composition, and even the biggest differences seen in studies.
In the range of a couple hundred calories per day. What is often the case with heart gainers is they simply overestimate how much food they’re eating. Every single one I’ve personally encountered who claims to be eating so much food, they were not. Tracking their food intake or logging their food, and they were overestimating portions and not trying to lie to me.
They just were remembering wrong and they were forgetting that sometimes they skipped meals and they just were not eating nearly as many calories as they thought they were. I’ve heard from many guys who told me 4,000 calories per day, 5,000 calories per day. And then I would ask them to keep a food log and it’s more like 2000 calories per day, 2,500 calories per day.
And then when they tried to get up to 4,000 calories per day, sometimes they couldn’t even do it because many of these guys didn’t have much of an. And so when they ate, according to their appetite, it was just maintenance calories, which is good. That’s fine, 2000, 2,500 whatever calories per day. But for them to maintain that calorie surplus that’s required to maximize muscle and strength gain, that was very hard for them.
It did not happen without them forcing themselves to do it. . And then there’s another factor that comes into play here, which is just physical activity levels. Because many people who think they have very fast metabolisms actually just move a lot. They earn those calories, and that doesn’t even mean that they are burning all of those calories through formal exercise.
Maybe they don’t train more than a few hours per week, but what is. Often the case is they burn a lot of calories through random movement throughout the day. The non-exercise activity thermogenesis component, the neat component that I mentioned earlier, and that includes all the calories you burn as you stand and fidget and walk from place to place and take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk the short distance instead of using the car.
And as the saying goes, many a miel makes a muckle. It all adds up. For example, a study conducted by scientists at the Mayo Clinic found that when people overate by about 1000 calories per day for eight weeks, they subconsciously increased their levels of meat by about 531 calories per day. So they were burning off about half of the excess calories they consumed without even trying again.
It happened. Them consciously trying to do it. Now, not everyone in that study benefited from knee equally. Some people’s neat levels dropped by about a hundred calories per day and others increased by almost 700 calories per day. And of course, the former, the people who moved around even less who, who burned even fewer calories through.
They gained a lot more body fat than the people who now were burning an additional 700 calories per day outside of exercising without consciously trying to do it. And so I suppose you could say that people who do experience that nice jump in neat when they overeat. You could say they have a fast metabolism, but that’s not really an accurate description of what’s going on because although NEAT is.
Largely subconscious. You can boost your levels of need if you adopt the right behaviors. So even if you are not genetically predisposed to lots of non-exercise activity, you can of course modify your lifestyle to include more movement throughout the day. For example, the target, uh, or the goal of 10,000 steps per day is a good place to start there, and you also have to overeat a lot.
To spark that big uptick in meat and that still doesn’t completely wipe out the extra calories, of course. So even the most genetically gifted needers, they still gain body fat if they overeat. They just tend to gain less than people who have more average responses to calorie surpluses. And one other point mentioning here is you can increase your metabolism.
You can increase your metabolic rate by making better food choices because high protein foods require more calories to digest and to process than high carb or particularly high fat foods. And that’s one of the reasons why research shows that eating a high protein diet. Is an effective way to boost your metabolism by up to a few hundred calories per day.
Pretty significant whole foods are also good for this. Foods that have undergone minimal mechanical processing, like chicken, potatoes, broccoli, and so forth, because those foods, they require more calories to digest than more highly processed foods that are easier for our bodies to process, like protein powder or breakfast cereal or juice.
So in the final analysis, it’s true that some people do burn more calories than others, and they can eat more without gaining weight, but it’s mostly due to factors that are under our control. You can build muscle that increases your baso metabolic rate. You can exercise more, you can sneak more meat into your daily routine.
You can eat more protein, you can eat more whole foods. And when you combine all of those factors, You can. Give yourself a fast metabolism, a metabolism that is objectively fast enough again, to support all of your fitness goals, to allow you to reach your ideal body composition and maintain it indefinitely.
And to that end, I’ll leave you with a, a few prescriptive tips that you can implement right away. So the first one is, if you are not currently in the habit of regular exercise, let’s get that going. And while cardio does burn the most calories per unit of time, especially if it is moderately intense or even more intense than that strength training does.
More calories than many people realize or give it credit for. And of course it has the big, big added benefit of increasing your B M R because it allows you to add muscle. And cardio does not do that, at least not to a significant extent. So ideally, from the perspective of supporting your metabolism, you would do plenty of strength training and a bit of cardio that’s also best for health.
But if you only have time for one right now, let’s do the strength training. That brings me to my second tip, which is to make sure you are gaining muscle, because one of the best ways to increase your basal metabolic rate is to gain muscle, and that requires that you follow a well-designed strength training program.
Of course, you also need to support that with proper nutrition. And if you want some help there, check out one of my books. So if you are 40 plus and brand new to strength training, or if you have a lot of weight to lose, let’s say 25% or more of your body weight, or if you are intimidated or just not ready to get into some heavy barbell and dumbbell weightlifting, check out my book Muscle for Life.
That’s gonna be the book and the programs for. If you are a guy who has yet to gain your first, let’s say, 20 to 25 pounds of muscle and you are ready to get in the gym and squat and deadlift and bench press, bigger, lean or stronger is going to be for you. And if you are a woman who is ready to get in the gym and squat and deadlift and bench press and.
Train like the boys, which will not make you bulky, by the way. I talk about that in detail. In thinner, leaner, stronger. That will be the book and the program for you. Okay. My next tip is to eat a high protein plant centric whole foods diet, because that is going to significantly increase the number of calories that you burn, just digesting your food.
It’s also gonna make sure that you don’t develop any nutritional deficiencies or even insufficiencies that can meddle with your metabol. and it’s going to generally keep you a lot fuller than a lower protein plant avoidance, highly processed foods diet. And my last tip is to increase your levels of meat by sitting less and moving more.
It really is that simple. So take phone calls while you pace around your home, or maybe go outside for a walk when you’re on the phone. Get up during commercial breaks when you. Watching TV to maybe do some chores or tidy up or even do some pushups if you want. Uh, take up maybe some more physically active hobbies, gardening or woodworking or some sort of sport, maybe outdoor sport like tennis or even golf.
Check the calories burned for the driving range. For example, whacking balls. I’ve learned burns a fair amount of calorie. Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you. Uh, ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com and let me know what I could do better or just, uh, what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.
I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you.