Your Metabolism

What is metabolism?

Metabolism is a term used to describe how the body converts food into energy, and then gets rid of waste products. It is a physical and chemical process that takes place among ions, atoms and molecules in the body. This process is divided into two types: Catabolism and anabolism. Catabolism is the breaking down of complex substances into simpler ones, with the release of energy, while anabolism is the building up of complex substances from simpler ones, with the absorption or storage of energy.

Why is it important to be aware of metabolism?

Everyone's metabolism functions at a different level. It is important to be aware of how your metabolism functions when you are planning your diet and workouts to reach a specific goal, whether it is losing fat, gaining muscle, or simply maintaining your weight. It is also important to monitor your metabolism for change. A change in the function of your metabolism could indicate that you are developing a health problem, or not eating a proper diet.

What health problems can affect metabolism?

While there are many health problems that can affect metabolism, I would like to cover three fairly common ones: diabetes, thyroid disease, and eating disorders.

Both Type 1 and type 2 diabetes affect metabolism. However, Type 2 has a stronger effect. High insulin levels promote fat storage and inhibit fat metabolism. Type 2 diabetics are often overweight because of insulin resistance. Type 1 diabetics may be underweight until insulin injections are given, because they produce little or no insulin.

There are two conditions of the thyroid that can affect metabolism: hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland is located in the lower front of the neck and it produces hormones that are critical for metabolic function. If the body is unable to produce these hormones sufficiently, the body's metabolism will decrease and weight gain is likely. This is known as hypothyroidism. On the other hand, if the thyroid over produces these hormones the gland will become enlarged and hyperthyroidism will occur. In this case the metabolism will increase, leading to possible weight loss.

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia also alter metabolism. A caloric intake that is significantly lowered for an extended period of time leads to lowered metabolism. This low caloric intake makes the body think it is starving, and therefore hold on to it's fat stores. Fortunately this can be reversed. With a healthy diet and exercise program metabolism can very often be improved for someone recovering from an eating disorder.

Diet, exercise and your metabolism

So many of us strive to lose weight and body fat through dietary changes. Typically lowering our caloric intake is the first step we take. However, low calorie diets can slow the metabolism, making it progressively difficult to lose fat and maintain a lowered body weight. If the body does not receive adequate calories it will react by conserving fat. If the low calorie diet continues the body will begin to break down the muscle tissue for fuel. This can be very damaging for the metabolism and counterproductive for fitness goals. Since muscle is a metabolically active tissue it requires a significant amount of calories to maintain itself. Having a greater muscle mass requires a diet with a greater amount of calories. Losing muscle mass means the body will have a lower caloric requirement.

When a long term low calorie diet is ended and a normal diet is resumed, if a great amount of muscle mass has been lost fat will return at a rapid rate, since the metabolism has been slowed down. To avoid this frustrating situation, a diet aimed at fat loss should include enough calories so muscle is not broken down and used, but low enough in calories so fat can slowly be lost.

The type of diet a person eats also affects the metabolism. In order for the thyroid to produce optimal levels of those important hormones that are necessary for metabolic function, the body must be fed the right foods frequently. Meals with a balance of protein, whole carbohydrates and good fats are best.

In addition to the immediate calorie expenditure, exercise increases resting calorie expenditure. This can happen in part because of an increase in muscle mass from exercise. Resting calorie expenditure levels do not return right away when exercise is ended. The amount of calories that are continued to burn after exercise can depend on how strenuous the exercise session is. More strenuous exercise leads to a greater calorie burn post exercise. Intense weight training has an especially high impact on post exercise calorie burn, causing the resting calorie expenditure to increase noticeably for several hours after a workout.

In order to successfully lose that fat, build that muscle, or maintain that healthy body weight there are numerous aspects of metabolism that must be looked at. It is important to be aware of what we eat, what type of exercise we do, and any potential health problems we may have. Knowing your body and it's needs is a critical step in reaching any fitness goals.died

author: Sarah Brown

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