Metabolism Myths

Few topics in health are more misunderstood than the concept of metabolism. Metabolism is incredibly complex, but it can most easily be defined as the amount of energy a given organism needs to sustain life. Outside of what we eat, genetics (body size) and activity level play a major role.

Myth #1 – Eating breakfast increases metabolism.

For decades, we’ve been beaten with the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the deal. Research has shown that if equal amounts of food are consumed during the day, metabolism doesn’t change. The distribution of that food should be left up to personal preference. If you feel cognitively declined skipping breakfast, then eat breakfast. If you’re hungry in the morning, then eat breakfast. Just don’t do so thinking it will magically jumpstart your metabolism.

Myth #2 – Eating more frequently increases metabolism.

This myth began with the misunderstanding of the thermic effect of food (TEF). Each time you eat, there is a certain amount of energy required to break down that food. In theory, this makes sense. Eating more frequently leads to expending more energy, but just like breakfast, if the same amount of food is eaten over the course of the day the TEF will be equal. If you choose to eat the same food totaling 2,000 calories, dispersing it throughout three meals or six meals won’t change the TEF.

Myth #3 – Eating at night stores fat.

Whether it’s 10, 7 or 5 p.m., it seems many believe there is a biological clock when our bodies like to store fat. We think of our bodies running on a 24-hour clock because our schedules work out that way, but our metabolism doesn’t take a break at night. An excess of calories lead to fat stores, whether that happens in the morning, afternoon or night is irrelevant.

So, what actually increases metabolism?

Eat more protein.

Protein is the most thermogenic macronutrient, which means it requires the greatest amount of energy to be broken down. Roughly 20-35 percent of protein calories are expended during breakdown, compared to 5-15 percent of carbohydrate and fats. This doesn’t mean you can eat endless amounts of protein without consequences. A better strategy is to eat the same number of calories, but replace fat and carb calories with protein.

Go lift.

First, high intensity exercise increases excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which means you continue to expend energy after the workout, not just during. Also, lifting can result in muscle gain. Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue, which means it expends more calories at rest.

Although protein and lifting can increase metabolism, understand it will be a few hundred calories at best. Unfortunately, it’s not magic. For the most part, large manipulations in metabolism are a pipe dream.