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What Is Metabolism?

If Metabolism Confuses You, You're Not Alone — Here Are the 4 Most Important Things to Know

Chances are you've heard the word metabolism come up in conversations around health and fitness; heck, you've probably even used it yourself. But what does it really mean? We're not trying to get all deep on you, but when it comes to your health, understanding how your body works is important. In order to provide you with an accurate definition of what metabolism is, how it works, and if you can actually boost it or not, POPSUGAR spoke with Avigdor Arad, PhD, RDN, CDE, director of the Mount Sinai Physiolab.

What Is Metabolism?

Metabolism has been getting a lot of buzz lately, but it's important to actually understand what it is. In short: "Metabolism relates to the ability to produce energy from fat, from sugar, from protein, and also to store energy," Dr. Arad told POPSUGAR. And when you hear people talking about their metabolic rate, they're talking about the number of calories they burn in a unit of time he said.

How Your Metabolism Works

Now that we've cleared up what your metabolism is, it's important to know how it works. In it's most simplistic form, metabolism is the process of your body "taking stored energy that is in food and liquid and transforming it to usable energy or stored energy in the body," Dr. Arad said. This means that every time you eat something — a slice of pizza, a smoothie, your favourite snack – your body turns that food and liquid into energy, and then that energy will either be used right away or stored.

If your body uses the energy in the short-term, it's turned into sugar and phosphocreatine — the energy that allows ATP (the immediate source of energy for exercise) to resynthesize — and is used as an immediate source of energy. If it isn't used immediately, it becomes stored for the long-term in the form of fat, Dr. Arad explained.

What It Actually Means to Have a Fast or Slow Metabolism

Another important thing you should know about metabolism is the rate at which the body produces energy from fat, sugar, and protein will vary from person to person. "Usually, when people are talking about metabolism, they're talking about how well they produce energy. The more energy you produce, the higher (or faster) your metabolism, and the less energy you produce, the slower your metabolism is," he said.

To determine whether you have a fast or slow metabolism, you should consider getting a resting metabolic test (typically $250, but rates will vary) via specialised clinics such as Fitnescity.

How to Boost Your Metabolism

We've got the basics of metabolism covered, and now it's time to answer the million-dollar question: can you boost your metabolism? Yes, it's actually possible to boost your metabolism, but adding hot sauce to everything won't work. According to Dr. Arad, you can boost your metabolism by eating more healthy fats, protein, less sugar, and incorporating more strength training into your workout routine (here's a 4-week beginner's plan).

Image Source: Getty / Peter Griffith
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