Ask Carla: What is metabolism?

Carla Oates
Carla Oates The Beauty Chef Founder & CEO

If you’ve ever felt rundown, sluggish, or been concerned about maintaining a healthy weight—it’s likely that you’ve considered the state of your metabolism. That’s because, how our metabolism feels and functions can provide a good insight into our overall health and wellbeing.

But what exactly is metabolism? And what can we do to support a healthy metabolism? Given that each of us also have vastly different metabolisms—and there are a myriad of factors that can influence its behaviour—gaining a better understanding of this complex system can be the first step in taking control of our health.

Here’s everything you need to know…

First Up, What Exactly Is Metabolism?

Put simply, our metabolism is the system through which our body converts food into energy. But on a more complex level, it refers to many chemical reactions, chemical processes and body functions required to maintain homeostasis (or balance). Each of us has an innately different ‘metabolic rate’ (influencing whether we have a fast metabolism or slow metabolism), however there are a number of factors that can also contribute and influence our metabolic rate.

On a broader scale, however, our metabolism can be defined by two distinct parts: catabolism and anabolism

Catabolism: this can be thought of as our ‘destructive’ metabolism where the complex molecules that make up the food we consume (including carbohydrates, proteins and lipids) are broken down into small molecules in order to be used for energy. This provides our body with the essential nutrients and fuel it needs to function properly and release energy, and also provides the building blocks for anabolism.

Anabolism: using the fuel and energy that is generated through catabolism, anabolism is the metabolic pathway that helps our body to heal, grow and repair. However, if we consume more fuel than we need to perform the daily functions of anabolism, any excess is typically stored in our body—usually as fat.

What Influences Our Metabolism?

Given its complexity, it’s no surprise that our metabolism and our individual metabolic rate (measured by the amount of kilojoules your body burns at any given time) can therefore be influenced by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors—including our genetics, age, body composition, gender, level of physical activity, diet, endocrine system and hormone levels as well as muscle mass

However, it’s not just when we’re being physically active that our metabolism is hard at work. Every tiny action and reaction that goes on inside our body requires a certain amount of energy, even when we’re at ‘rest’, so simply maintaining our bodily systems including cardiac function, nerve function and brain function uses up a heap of energy. In fact, this is known as our basal metabolic rate (BMR) and  accounts for around 60 percent of our daily energy expenditure. Our environment can also impact how our metabolism functions and our BMR; with exposure to extreme temperatures (both hot and cold) affecting how hard our our body has to work simply to maintain a normal body temperature; the number of calories we consume; as well as if we are fighting an infection or illness—as our body has to work even harder to build and repair tissue and fortify our immune response.

How Can We Maintain A Healthy Metabolism?

As you can see, there are a myriad of factors that impact our metabolic rate and while some of these—such as our genetics or gender—are unable to be changed, there are still a number of ways we can nurture our body’s to encourage a more balanced and healthy metabolism overall.

Eat a diverse and balanced diet
While often it’s thought that those with a ‘fast’ metabolism tend to be slimmer, the way we think about our metabolism and its effect on weight needs to be reframed. Your body needs calories and nutrients to simply maintain bodily functions and a level of homeostasis, so while you may think that skipping meals, restricting your food intake or consistently consuming fewer calories is beneficial for your metabolism, unfortunately once your body has burned its fat stores, it begins to breakdown muscle to use for energy—and losing muscle actually slows down the metabolism as our body automatically tries to conserve or store energy. Interestingly, however, a more structured approach to calorie restriction in the form of intermittent fasting, has been shown to have metabolic benefits such as reducing insulin resistance and improving longevity. But as always, it’s essential to speak with your healthcare practitioner before making any dietary or lifestyle changes as while there are undoubtedly benefits to intermittent fasting, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach and there are other factors such as hormone levels or your individual metabolic rate that should be considered. 

A better approach is to focus on a nutrient-dense, wholefoods-based diet that includes a diversity  of gut-friendly fibre, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and carbohydrates so that your body (and your metabolism) has the fuel it needs to function optimally. As one of the main roles of the metabolism is to break down nutrients to provide our body with the building blocks it needs to grow and repair itself, nourishing our body with wholefoods is therefore going to be far more beneficial than a diet full of refined sugars, trans fats and processed foods which don’t provide the nutrient value or necessary fuel for our metabolism to operate properly. In fact, studies have shown that diets high in sugar actually exacerbates the risk of many metabolic disorders such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Interestingly, too, the type of macronutrients we consume also influences our BMR—which naturally rises in the hours after we eat as our body has to break down and begin the process of digestion. While fats can raise our BMR by up to 5 percent, protein has the ability to increase our BMR by as much as 30 percent due to the thermogenesis required to break it down! 

Train smarter, not harder
While it’s true that physical activity can help to boost our metabolic rate—it’s important to be smart about how we train rather than slogging it out day after day doing high intensity workouts. This is because it’s key to build muscle mass in order to maintain a healthy metabolism as the more lean muscle tissue we have, the more effectively (and rapidly) we burn kilojoules. On the flipside, the more body fat we carry, the more slow and sluggish our cells may be and therefore we burn fewer kilojoules at a slower rate.

Support healthy hormones
Put simply, our hormones help to regulate our metabolism so therefore it’s important to listen to our bodies and if something feels a little amiss, investigate further. Hormone and thyroid disorders such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism can both impact our metabolism and subsequently lead to a number of uncomfortable symptoms—including weight gain or weight loss, sluggishness, constipation and/or diarrhoea as well as changes in appetite.

Maintain good gut health
As we know, maintaining a healthy gut is the key to overall beauty, health and wellbeing—and the same goes for supporting a healhty metabolism! If our gut is functioning optimally, we can therefore support our metabolism in one of its main roles to break down and digest our food so incorporating gut-friendly foods and supplements that promote optimal digestive function is key. 

Consider individual micronutrient support
While maintaining a balanced diet will provide your body with the foundations it needs to support a healthy metabolism—including inner beauty supplements that contain specific micronutrients that nurture your metabolism and help to maintain healthy blood sugar levels can also be of great benefit. The key is to look for nutrients like chromium, for example, which is an essential micronutrient that assists the body in the breakdown of dietary fat—as well as supporting sugar balance in the body.

Support a healthy metabolism with The Beauty Chef’s SUPERGENES™ Metabolism & Sugar Balance.

SUPERGENES™ METABOLISM & SUGAR BALANCE Intensive Herbal Probiotic

$39.00

A capsule to support metabolic rate & healthy blood sugar levels.

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