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Everyone and their uncle knows that to lose unwanted fat deposits one must burn significantly more calories than they take in. Even if you lower your caloric intake, it will do you little good, if you don’t keep your metabolism relatively high*. To ensure the body continues burning excess body fat, even as you lower caloric intake, you must do five things:
- drink more water
- get more sleep
- move around more
- build and maintain muscle
- eat more often
I’ll explain how each of these five tips can help you burn more calories and lose more weight, as briefly as possible.
Dehydration slows metabolism
Dehydration negatively affects the entire body. More than 60% of the human body is composed of water, so it should come as no surprise that being dehydrated would inhibit many bodily functions if only to prevent further water loss. As it regards metabolism, dehydration slows cellular functions.
According to the article ‘Does Dehydration Slow Metabolism?’,
“Drinking enough water keeps your metabolism high and may even increase it. […] Staying hydrated can help with weight loss by increasing your daily caloric deficit. When you eat fewer calories than your body burns, you lose weight. Since water increases your metabolism, being dehydrated can affect the amount of weight you lose.”1
Sleep loss slows metabolism
Sleep is imperative to most aspects of human health. Our bodies simply can’t function normally without a proper amount of rest. Over the years, a staggering amount of research has confirmed that sleep is fundamental to a healthy metabolism. A good night’s sleep even makes it easier to stick to a diet plan.
The role of sleep on metabolic and endocrine function was first reported more than forty years ago and, since then, incidents of obesity and diabetes have increased exponentially in industrialized countries, where productivity tends to take precedence over sufficient rest. In addition, obesity can disturb one’s sleep by inducing
“obstructive sleep apnea, a chronic condition characterized by recurrent upper airway obstruction leading to intermittent hypoxemia and sleep fragmentation… [This] consequence of the epidemic of obesity… [has] been shown to contribute, in a vicious circle, to the metabolic disturbances observed in obese patients.”2
Moving boosts metabolism
The more we move the more calories we burn, and it keeps our metabolism working efficiently. When I say “movement” I don’t mean specific exercises – though that helps too, I mean simply moving around more. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Standing up and walking around periodically, instead of just sitting for extended periods of time. Walking those few blocks to the neighborhood market, instead of wasting gasoline and a chance to be active by driving there. Even fidgeting and toe-tapping can help.
Research has shown that non-exercise activity thermogenesis (aka NEAT), as termed by the experts, can help you burn an additional 350 calories per day. To quote Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym: Personal Trainer Secrets, “It adds up quickly, so take advantage of any chance to move more throughout your day.”
A 2004 study published in the Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism verifies these claims. An excerpt from the study:
“The factors that impact a human’s NEAT are readily divisible into environmental factors, such as occupation or dwelling within a ‘concrete jungle,’ and biological factors such as weight, gender, and body composition. The combined impact of these factors explains the substantial variance in human NEAT. The variability in NEAT might be viewed as random, but human and animal data contradict this.”4
So, while age, gender, and other factors do control how many calories you burn in comparison to another individual, you can still burn more calories than you otherwise would have by moving more, even without participating in a structured exercise program.
Muscle burns more calories
Everyone knows by now that the more muscle mass one has the more calories they can burn while doing absolutely nothing. It’s the reason why, all else being equal, a man (naturally possessing more muscle mass) will lose fat faster than a woman of the same height and weight, eating the same number of calories. That reason is ATP synthesis.
It’s important to understand that, while our energy source is ultimately food, our muscles (and other tissues) cannot directly use carbohydrates, fat or protein to function. Our bodies must convert those nutrients into the energy stored in ATP (adenosine triphosphate). All living cells need and use ATP, that’s why ATP is called “the molecular unit of currency” for intracellular energy transfer. In the muscles, ATP provides the energy needed for muscular contraction.
“ATP directly powers myosin, the protein immediately responsible for converting chemical energy into movement.”5
When we exercise, our muscles devour billions of ATP molecules every second, but they also use ATP when at rest. In addition, our muscle cells create ATP. Our skeletal muscles, in particular, create more ATP than needed when at rest. But that’s okay because excess ATP doesn’t turn into body fat, it turns into creatine phosphate.
FYI, creatine phosphate is a more stable energy store for muscles, and can be quickly transformed into ADP and then re-synthesized into ATP. On the other hand, excess amounts of carbohydrates, fat, and protein ALL turn into body fat. So, the more muscle you have the less excess body fat you can accumulate on a reasonable diet.
Eating more often keeps metabolism high
The act of eating raises your metabolism. When you’re trying to lose excess fat, you can take advantage of this metabolic quirk by taking your planned caloric intake and spreading it among smaller meals. This will be easier if you choose healthier, low-calorie foods like fruits and vegetables. It’s possible to become full-on 300-500 calories of whole foods, provided none are nuts or seeds, which are more calorie-dense.
What metabolism is
What many people fail to understand is that metabolism encompasses all of the chemical reactions involved in “maintaining the living state of the cells and the organism.”6 Metabolism is divided into two categories:
- Anabolism, which is the synthesis of all compounds needed by the cell. (The creation of ATP, for example)
- Catabolism, which is the breakdown of molecules to obtain energy. (The use of ATP to fuel cell activity)
From the moment we swallow that first bite of food in the morning, our bodies begin putting what we eat to use. If we eat healthy, nutrient-rich foods, our metabolism will have more to work with. According to Dr. Ananya Mandal,
“Nutrition is the key to metabolism. … Nutrients in relation to metabolism encompass bodily requirement for various substances, individual functions in body, amount needed, level below which poor health results etc.”6
So, the healthier you eat the more efficient your metabolism will be.
All of these tips are worthy of attention, but maintaining hydration and sleeping 7+ hours every night is most effective for keeping metabolism in check. Our bodies cannot function properly without water and sufficient rest, so, if nothing else, you must do these two, in order to lose excess pounds.
If you have any tips for naturally burning more calories*, don’t hesitate to share your own experience in the comments below.
1 Niedziocha, Laura. “Does Dehydration Slow Metabolism?” Livestrong, August 20, 2015. Web. September 4, 2015
2 Morselli LL, Guyon A, Spiegel K. “Sleep and metabolic function”. European Journal of Physiology, January 2012. Web. September 4, 2015
3 Holland, Tom. Beat the Gym: Personal trainer Secrets, 2011. Print. September 2, 2015
4 Levine, JA. “Nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): environment and biology”. Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism, May 2004. Web. September 4, 2015
5 Berg JM, et al. “Fuel Choice During Exercise Is Determined by Intensity and Duration of Activity” (section 30.4). Biochemistry (5th edition). Web. September 4, 2015
6 Mandal, Ananya, MD. “What is Metabolism?” News Medical, November 2, 2013. Web. September 4, 2015
Simmons, John. “Muscle Metabolism: Synthesis of ATP”. Study.com