The dream of many people seeking to lose weight is to improve their basal metabolic rate, enabling them to increase their energy consumption without any particular effort. The question is: is it really possible to change our metabolism at will? Let's shed some light on this complex subject.
Understanding the role of our metabolism
Metabolism refers to the set of chemical reactions that take place in our cells, ensuring the maintenance of our vital functions. As Emily Willingham explains in Scientific American, metabolism is the “basic hum of life”. Whether we're active or at rest, our cells are constantly consuming energy to circulate blood, operate the heart and lungs, and transform food and nutrients into energy.
It's a process that works 24/7, even when we're at rest or asleep, converting the food and nutrients we consume into the energy we need to survive.
The complexity of metabolism
It's worth noting that there's a common perception that a higher or faster metabolism means you can eat more and exercise less, because your weight will remain stable regardless of your activity. However, this subject is much more complex than it seems. As Samuel Urlacher, anthropologist and human evolutionary biologist at Baylor University in Texas, explains, our energy consumption depends on our age and the number of our active cells.
Thus, the energy used by each of these cells depends on the function it performs in our body. For example, the cells that form muscles, nerves or liver tissue use more energy than those that form fat.
The role of muscles in metabolism
If you're looking to increase your metabolism, you need to focus on your muscles. Indeed, the more muscles we have, the more energy-consuming muscle cells we have, which can increase our resting metabolism. However, as Herman Pontzer, evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University, reminds us, there are always individual differences in this muscle mass, as no two metabolisms are identical.
Two people of the same weight, but with different proportions of fat, can consume the same amount of calories and have different weight gain results.
Ultimately, optimizing metabolism isn't just a matter of finding a magic pill or miracle diet. It's a complex process that depends on many factors, including age, the number of active cells, cell type and our body composition. So, before looking to “boost” your metabolism, it can be helpful to understand how it actually works.