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Five common myths about metabolism—and some truths you need to know

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It’s a common belief that a speedy metabolism helps you burn more calories. If you can fire it up, you’ll lose more weight and be better able to keep it off. Just ask Google.

But the fact is that your metabolism isn’t a muscle you can train. Instead, it’s a fairly fixed and complex process of biochemical reactions that makes energy from what you eat and drink. Your metabolism does everything from helping you breathe and digest food to circulating blood, thinking, and regulating your body temperature. 

We’re here to cut through the myths—and offer some truths that could help keep your metabolism humming.

Myth #1 Excess pounds are due to a sluggish metabolism

Experts say your weight most likely does not have to do with a slow metabolism. In fact, people with overweight and obesity often have a higher metabolism than those who are at a normal weight because their bodies require more energy just to function—even at rest. Plus, metabolism is primarily genetic, which is largely out of your control.

Myth #2 Metabolism slows down with age and menopause

OK, it does slow down with age, but probably not as soon as you think. In men and women, research has shown that metabolism doesn’t begin to drop until your 60s. This isn’t to say that losing weight during mid-age and menopause isn’t tricky, but the science says it’s not because of metabolism.

Myth #3 Having several small meals throughout the day boosts your metabolism

Eating can indeed give your metabolism a bump. It’s called the thermic effect of food (TEF) and it depends on how much energy or calories your body requires to break down that yogurt or fish taco. But there’s no proof that eating several smaller meals throughout the day boosts metabolism. In fact, eating single, large meals revs TEF more than many mini ones. (Think your OG breakfast, lunch, and dinner.) 

Myth #4 Eating more protein speeds metabolism

The science is conflicting, so we’re filing this under *maybe*. While it’s true that TEF metabolism is increased for a short amount of time after having a high-protein meal, this type of diet doesn’t crank up TEF in the long term. Meaning: You’re not going to get any meaningful, lasting metabolic boost.

Myth #5 HIIT is the best movement for metabolism

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) produces less metabolic burn than you think. After most types of physical activity, your metabolic rate slightly increases for about one to two hours. This is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or what’s commonly known as the “afterburn effect.” With prolonged, high-intensity exercise between 60 and 80 minutes—say a tough Spin class or CrossFit session—a 24-hour afterburn is possible. But HIIT consists of quick 10-15- minute bursts of exercise. And research shows that fat loss is similar whether you do continuous moderate-intensity movement or HIIT. The energy burned during movement matters most versus any potential, and comparatively minimal, afterburn.

How to support your metabolism

Instead of focusing on the rate at which you burn energy, set your sights on supporting a healthy metabolism. Here’s how:

  • Get the recommended amount of movement
    According to thePhysical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and at least two days of strength training each  week. When it comes to how many calories you burn in a day, you have control of your activity levels.

  • Build some muscle
    We’ve underscored the importance of strength training because the higher the amount of lean muscle mass you have compared to fat, the higher your resting metabolic rate (RMR) could be. (Muscle burns more calories even at rest than fat does.) 

  • Support your microbiome
    Did you know your gut bacteria plays a role in metabolism? Yup. Your gut microbiome helps regulate calorie burn by releasing hormones that control digestion, insulin secretion, and appetite. One of the best ways to support gut health is to eat a high-fiber diet rich in a rainbow of different colored fruits and veg.  

  • Get good quality zzzs
    While there’s no evidence that sleep can boost your metabolism, there is research that suggests that missing out may lead to a temporary decrease in your RMR. The upshot: When you rest and make up for lost sleep, your metabolism returns to normal.  

  • Avoid extreme calorie restriction
    Studies show that deprivation diets can cause metabolism to tank—so don’t restrict calories too much. Check out more here.

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