When we think about metabolism we often think about it tied to body weight. The thought being that those with fast metabolisms are leaner, those with slow metabolisms are overweight. You might be surprised to learn that the size or composition of an individual, isn't necessarily tied into whether their metabolism is fast or slow, but how efficient it is.
In this Q&A, Dr. Sears talks about metabolism, how it plays a role in things outside of body weight, and why the focus should change from increasing your metabolism to making it more efficient.
Q. What is Metabolism?
A. Metabolism can be defined as the ability of the body to convert the food you eat into energy. When you consume excess calories your metabolism becomes less efficient and more of these incoming calories become stored as excess body fat instead of being used to make the energy needed to maintain optimal performance. Your metabolism is what controls your immune system and orchestrates your ability to repair damage in each of your 37 trillion cells. It’s a highly dynamic system that keeps you alive. It can be controlled (and optimized) by your diet.
Q. What dietary factors are most important to have a healthy metabolism?
A. An efficient metabolism requires a combination of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) as well as fermentable fiber and polyphenols. Maintaining those nutrients within appropriate ranges is the key to improved metabolic performance. For a more efficient metabolism, you need approximately 30 grams of protein (but not more) at each meal to increase the release of hormones from your gut that go directly to the brain to tell you to stop eating. You also need adequate fermentable fiber, whose metabolism in the gut will further enhance the release of those satiety hormones from the gut. You can get more omega-3 fatty acids by eating more fatty fish or taking fish oil supplements. All three work together to improve metabolic efficacy. This is what I call Metabolic Engineering.
Q. What do you recommend as a starting point for someone who wants to start implementing these changes to their diet?
A. Your goal with metabolism is to focus on increasing its efficiency. The starting point is consuming the least number of calories you need at each meal to generate the complex hormonal cascade that stops hunger. Excess glucose and fat inhibit the master regulator of metabolism (AMPK) in every cell in your body. To begin, start a meal with protein to curb calorie intake and hunger. Regardless of your weight, sex, or age, you need to consume about 30 grams of protein to set in motion the complex metabolic cycle that stops hunger for the next five hours. You will then need to balance that protein with moderate levels of low-glycemic load carbohydrates (i.e. non-starchy vegetables, small amounts of fruit) and low levels of fat to generate the optimal hormonal responses that eliminate hunger. That is the basis of the Zone diet.
Q. In the past you recommended the Zone Body Fat Calculator as way to determine your protein needs, have these protein requirements changed?
A. The Zone Body Fat Calculator determines the minimum daily protein levels needed to maintain your current muscle mass, not necessarily enough to suppress hunger for the next five hours. To get this hunger suppression is why I recommend 30 grams of protein at a meal. If you are hungry, you are likely to consume excess calories throughout the day, decreasing overall metabolic efficiency.
Q. What benefits will you see in someone who has optimized their metabolism?
A. The benefits of an efficient metabolism look like the following:
- Burns fat faster: Yes, you know about this benefit. But did you know that when your metabolism is optimally efficient, excess body fat comes off and stabilizes without sacrifice, starvation, or grueling workouts? It’s true.
- Maintains physical energy and mental focus: Your metabolism’s job is to turn food into energy. Do you get tired shortly after meals or in the afternoon? Do you have brain fog or trouble concentrating? That means your metabolism is not doing its job maintaining energy production.
- Slows the aging process to maintain wellness: Humans are designed to remain lean, strong, and vital for far longer than you might think. Again, when an inefficient functioning metabolism doesn’t provide enough energy to your cells, aging speeds up, and wellness decreases.
Have more questions for Dr. Sears? Drop them in the comments below!