Slow vs Fast metabolism – Does it really matter?

Written by Tihomir Stefanov, M.S.(C), PT

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Slow vs Fast metabolism… is that really a thing?

We all have that one skinny friend who eats whatever he wants, whenever he wants and however much he wants and still, doesn’t get fat.

Sooner or later, we start showing subtle jealousy of our friend’s supposedly “fast” metabolism.

But is metabolism the number 1 factor for being in shape, or is it just something that is yet again, just a myth in the fitness masses, which people pay too much attention to?

To answer that, we need to analyze the topic and establish some common terminology.

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What is metabolism

what makes up metabolism

To understand the difference between slow vs fast metabolism, first, you need to understand metabolism in itself.

Without making it complicated for you, we will give a simple definition to the word “Metabolism”.

The metabolism is simply the exchange of chemicals in our bodies.

Logically, the metabolising processes imply a constant transformation of energy from one form into another.

And that of course, includes both fat loss and muscle gaining for example.

The metabolism is a generic term that includes hundreds and thousands of other chemical reactions that are linked via certain pathways in the organism.

To simplify everything, we will mention that there are two main processes we need to look at.

1. Anabolism

Anabolism is simply the process of digestion and absorption of the macronutrients we get from food, then using them for growth & repair of tissues.

In other words, an anabolic reaction is one, during which the body synthesizes tissues.

The so-called anabolic processes are the fundament of any type of physical progress, be it muscle gain or strength gain.

By default, these are powerful processes that use up a substantial amount of energy.

2. Catabolism

On the flipside of anabolic reactions, we have catabolic reactions.

This is literally the opposite – Catabolism is the breakdown of chemicals and tissues.

Essentially, these are energy releasing processes, which can either use the food we’ve eaten recently, or the energy storages of the organism.

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Those storages are namely the muscle and liver glycogen, which we haven’t used up, or the fat tissue.

Always in catabolism = Fat loss

What we just learned might logically lead us to the conclusion that we need to constantly be in catabolism if we want to lose weight.

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And the same goes vice versa – Some people think we always need to be in anabolism for optimal gains.

While that would theoretically make sense, fact of the matter is that these processes happen simultaneously, as the body ALWAYS synthesizes and uses up chemicals, in order to maintain proper homeostasis.

Metabolism, energy balance & fat loss

what is metabolism

Even though many people blame slow metabolism for their weight gain, the truth lies beneath those accusations.

People that believe this common misconception just don’t know that the body simply requires a certain amount of energy to maintain its weight.

That’s why, the secret of weight management hides in the energy balance.

For humans, energy is derived from food and is measured in calories.

And so, if we consistently consume more than our bodies need to maintain weight, we will store that excess of energy in the form of body fat.

If however, we hit just the right amount of daily energy intake, no significant change in weight will be noticed, as the anabolic and catabolic processes will be in the right balance to maintain weight.

Logically, if we consistently consume lesser energy than our bodies need to maintain weight, the body will start using up (burning) that fat, as the balance will be in favor of the catabolic processes.

Note that anabolic processes are also responsible for fat gain, not just muscle gain.

If we consume more calories than we need, in moderation, but we also train correctly, we will gain more muscle mass than fat.

And so, if we all need a certain amount of energy to MAINTAIN, what does that number depend on?

Well, first off, that number is often referred to as “Total daily energy expenditure (TDEE)” and it represents the total amount of energy we burn each day, to maintain our weight.

The TDEE depends on a couple of things:

  • Basal metabolic rate (BMR)

This is the number of calories your body requires to maintain its weight and physiological processes AT REST.

  • Non-exercise activity

These are any physical activities outside of the training room – School, work, etc.

  • Exercise activity (EA)

Needless to say, EA represents your exercising habits and activities.

  • Thermic effect of food (TEF)

The food we eat requires certain amounts of energy to be metabolized, meaning that it accounts to your TDEE.

Note – More than 50% of our TDEE is just the BMR!

The basal metabolic rate represents a big part of our daily needs, which is probably why people have been led to believe that their inability to get in shape is due to their metabolism.

Slow vs Fast metabolism

slow vs fast metabolism

There are just too many factors when it comes to the speed of chemical exchange in our bodies.

Just to name a few – Gender, age, weight, ratio of fat to muscle tissue, amounts of stress, etcetera.

We need to acknowledge that the metabolism of the body is not a constant, as it is always changing and there really is no standard for metabolism to which we can compare ours.

That is exactly why the speed of your metabolism should be the least of your worries.

But it is still good to make sure the exchange of chemicals in your organism is sharp!

What does metabolism depend on?

As we mentioned, your metabolism is not a constant and it is always changing, as it depends on a number of factors.

  • Exercise activity

You’ve probably seen fitness infographics that tell you stuff like “Exercising this much a day will increase your metabolism by this many percent.”

While science has a hard time giving concrete, solid evidence for this, fact of the matter is that exercising will certainly have a benefit for your fitness goals.

Probably the ONLY logical reason for exercising to boost metabolism is the increase in active tissue (gaining muscle).

As we’ve talked in previous articles, the more lean body mass you have (everything except fat), the more energy your body requires to maintain its weight.

In other words, that means that if you have more muscle, you will be able to eat more and maintain your weight.

While exercising is one of your best tools for getting in shape, there is something more important we need to factor in

  • Nutrition

A lot of people follow the BS trend of eating more frequently to boost metabolism.

That is supposedly because metabolism is quicker after a meal.

If we follow common sense, we can conclude that is completely normal.

This is simply due to the fact the body needs to activate all the enzymes and glands, in order to start processing the food and turn it into energy.

But does that mean our TDEE will change if we eat more frequently?

Absolutely not.

Now, even though we’ve mentioned that the body’s mechanisms against excessive weight gain are weak, they do exist.

If we consistently overeat, the body will increase the metabolism and the energy output, in order to keep the weight gain balanced and maintain homeostasis.

The increase of the energy output might be expressed in many ways, such as a hyperactivity and desire for physical activities.

However, if we are consistently in a deficit, the energy output and the metabolism go down – We start feeling less energetic, even borderline lethargic.

Again, that is an adaptive response of the body, a survival instinct for that matter.

The thing is, we need to properly communicate with our organism, which just doesn’t understand that the controlled starvation (diet) has a purpose of making us healthier and better looking.

Instead, the body recognizes the diet as an outer irritant, to which it needs to adapt and survive through.

Now of course, if we’re doing something like this, we need to make sure it is healthy and sustainable.

Whether we have a fast or a slow metabolism, granting enough energy for all mental and physical activities, while on a deficit for weight loss, is of prime importance.

Bottom line

Slow vs fast metabolism… does it really matter?

Having too fast or too slow of a metabolism to either gain or lose weight must not be your excuse.

The core of those issues are mainly the lack of balance in their Energy input & output.

In most cases, people who have excess fat are just too sedentary and eat too much!

If you are on the flipside and are someone who cannot gain weight, odds are, you are just not eating enough.

To successfully boost your metabolism and improve the overall functioning of your body, you need to take care of the 4 modulators:

  1. Exercise
  2. Nutrition
  3. Stress management
  4. Sleep

Stay healthy. Slow vs fast metabolism doesn’t matter THAT much, it’s all about your overall effort.

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