If you’ve ever struggled with weight loss, then you’ve probably thought about your metabolism. It basically works like this: the higher it is, the more calories you tend to burn at rest, whereas a lower metabolic rate might lead to weight gain, despite consistent workouts and healthy eating. But the male metabolism works differently than the female metabolism.
Men tend to have a higher metabolism than women, but genes, body size, and age all play a role in how the body gains fat and loses muscle. Our experts answer common questions regarding why metabolism differs for men, how it can change over the years, and what types of foods or workouts either slow or boost metabolism as a whole.
How is metabolism for men different than for women?
“Men’s metabolism is designed for size, strength, and speed,” explains Dr. Christopher Hollingsworth of NYC Surgical Associates. “Men generally have more lean muscle mass, and men’s bodies burn through visceral fat reserves more quickly, using more of that energy for activity and saving less for periods of fasting.”
Kate Scarlata, a Boston-based registered dietitian, says it’s also due to testosterone, a key hormone that impacts muscle bulk and body fat levels. Men naturally have greater amounts of testosterone in their bodies, so that fact combined with less body fat and more muscle, in general, leads to a better metabolism—at least one that burns more calories.
In contrast, female bodies are genetically predisposed to store energy for certain activities, such as pregnancy and breastfeeding, says Hollingsworth. That basically means women “convert less of their dietary intake into muscle and bone, and burn less fat at baseline,” he notes.
As men age, does metabolism change?
According to Scarlata, testosterone levels decrease with age. This makes men less metabolically active and leads to reduced muscle mass and a slower rate of burning calories. Naturally, that shift directly impacts weight loss—and that’s why it may seem harder to lose weight as you age.
“Our metabolism is a major factor in weight loss,” says Dr. Hollingsworth. “Our basal metabolic rate decreases with age and because of it, we tend to gain weight if we continue eating the same amount as we get older. Unfortunately, our metabolism drops a few times as we age, and we commonly see the first major drop in our mid-thirties. As a result, our energy levels drop, too. We tend to utilize less of our caloric intake as energy and store more of it as fat. Our lean muscle mass decreases, as does our strength and speed.”
What are ways that men can help speed up their metabolism?
The bad news: Dietary and lifestyle choices, such as eating too many calories and being inactive, also contribute to a slowdown in metabolism and a potential increase in weight gain. The good news? Staying fit and knowing what you should eat for health are within the realm of your control. You can boost your metabolism using certain strategies.
“The best tip to speed up your metabolism is to increase your activity,” says Dr. Hollingsworth. “Exercise, especially high-intensity, seems to have a lot of beneficial effects on your metabolism and will speed it up. Definitely, incorporate resistance training. It will help build lean muscle mass, which in turn will help your body burn more fat at rest. Eating multiple small meals throughout the day also tends to boost your metabolism.”
He also says you can experiment with adding particular foods to your diets, like caffeine and red chilis, or items rich in branched chain amino acids. The first two have a minor effect on the body, but briefly speed up your metabolism. Eating things like egg whites and lean meats can help optimize your metabolism, as well. Finally, he calls the concept of intermittent fasting—an approach where you eat a very low amount of calories for a few days a week or go 12-18 hours a day without food—a useful way for some men to burn extra fat.
And, don’t forget about strength training. “The key to a fast metabolism is a leaner, more muscular body,” adds Scarlata. “Lift weights to help regain lost muscle that occurs with declining testosterone levels to keep metabolism humming.”