Health / Expert Advice

5 Myths and Facts About Metabolism That You Need to Know

Can spicy food really help speed up your metabolism? Are you stuck at your weight because of a slow metabolism? Experts break it down.

When it comes to weight, it seems like much of the blame always lands on metabolism. But, for most of us, metabolism remains a mystery. When we think of metabolism, we picture that one friend who can eat whatever they want without gaining a pound. For those of us who do have to watch what we eat, we are always searching for ways to speed up our metabolism. And, if you’ve ever read a magazine article, you’ve likely tried upping your intake of green tea, loading up on hot sauce, or hitting the gym extra hard to give your metabolism a boost.

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Although the word “metabolism” is commonly used to describe the number of calories your body burns resting, digesting, and moving, it’s actually a combination of biochemical processes that convert the food you eat into energy. Your body always needs this energy to function for fueling actions such as breathing or circulating blood, and the calories used by your body for these functions is known as your basal metabolic rate, or what you may know as your metabolism. Several factors affect your metabolism, including your body size and composition, sex, and age.

But is everything we believe about metabolism actually true? It turns out there are plenty of misconceptions about metabolism floating around, especially since people tend to oversimplify a complex process. Although it is possible to affect our metabolism with our lifestyle choices, a fat-burning tea probably isn’t going to be the solution that you’re hoping for.

If you’re confused about what to believe when it comes to metabolism, we’re here to help. Here are some basic myths and facts about metabolism, according to the experts.

Myth: It’s better to eat multiple smaller meals than a few larger meals.

You’ve likely heard the myth that eating smaller, more frequent meals can help boost your metabolism, but, this is not true. Research has found that meal frequency has no effect on metabolic rate, and eating more frequent meals does not lead to weight loss any more than fewer, larger meals with the same total number of calories. “New research is showing that intermittent fasting can actually have a bigger impact on your metabolism than constantly eating throughout the day,” says Functional Medicine practitioner Dr. Will Cole.

Fact: Women have a slower metabolism than men.

Women tend to complain that men can shed pounds more easily than they can, and there is some truth in saying that men typically have a faster metabolism than women. “[This is] because they [women] tend to have proportionately less muscle,” says Dr. Robert Huizenga, author of Where Did All The Fat Go. “Women athletes have similar metabolisms to men’s,” he adds. Because men have more testosterone, their bodies are composed of less fat and more muscle, which leads them to burn more calories.

Myth: Your metabolism dictates how easy it is to lose weight.

Your metabolism is one component of your weight, but it is not the only factor. “Genetics, eating disorders, depression, sleep deficiency, environmental factors (screen time, healthful food availability), persistent appetite, hormone changes, and metabolic adaptation are the villains ‘fighting’ our ability to keep the weight off,” says Dr. Huizenga. In fact, low metabolism is rarely the case for weight gain, and there is no relation between initial metabolic rate and successful weight loss, according to Dr. Huizenga.

Fact: Your metabolism slows as you age.

It’s true that metabolism typically goes down as you get older. However, that does not mean that you’re doomed to a slow metabolism just because you’ve got some years behind you. “As most of us age, we lose muscle mass, and our metabolic rate decreases,” says Dr. Huizenga. “However, with even a moderate amount of exercise, muscle mass can be conserved (although it’s a little bit less fuel efficient compared with ‘young’ muscle).” When muscle is conserved, your resting metabolism decreases less with age. 

Myth: Eating spicy foods and drinking green tea will speed up your metabolism.

There’s a mini-truth to this statement: Research has shown that hot sauce and green tea have a modest effect on your metabolism, but the impact is so insignificant, you’d have to eat large amounts of these foods to even notice a difference. Taking green tea supplements may help to amplify this effect, but the impact is still minimal, and research is inconclusive. Rather than looking for a quick-fix in food, incorporate both aerobic and muscle building resistance training to boost your metabolism.

Despite what you may have heard, your metabolism doesn’t doom you to a certain weight—but it’s also not something that you can manage with just a quick fix. Taking care of your body by eating well and exercising can help you improve your metabolism and maintain a healthy weight—and you’ve always got the Aaptiv app to help you.

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