If you have a very easy time gaining fat, there is a good chance it is because your genetic and biochemical makeup causes this. Some people are naturally better, or at least more inclined, to hang onto fat than others.
A lot of people use phrases like “fast metabolism”, but what does that mean? And what does that have to do with why America is fatter today than it ever has been?
Metabolism refers to the trillions of cells, and the chemical reactions that occur to convert the food you eat into energy. This energy is technically called ATP, or adenosine triphosphate.
There are a few fundamental premises to consider, when discussing metabolism:
1. Your body gets its energy from macronutrients, such as fat, protein, and carbohydrates
2. Your body stores fat, and will even convert non-fat sources, such as carbohydrates, into fat
3. The purpose of fat is to have several weeks of energy available, just in case you run out of food
4. Your body has a second energy storage cache, called glycogen. Glycogen is starchy, and can quickly be converted to energy
5. When you eat something with sugar, that sugar will get used by your muscles if they need it; if not, it gets converted to glycogen
6. All of the “decisions” your body makes, in terms of whether it will use fat, carbohydrates, or protein for energy use, is dictated by a series of hormonal, enzymatic, and biochemical interplay.
Your body reacts differently, depending on what the composition of the macronutrients you eat.
For instance, if you eat something with a lot of sugar, you’ll have a series of hormonal and enzymatic responses that tell muscles body to stop using fat for energy creation. They also tell your fat cells that if they can fit any more fat, then they should.
On the other hand, if you eat a lot of fat, and very little sugar, your body won’t be able to easily create glycogen, which it prefers to use for quick energy. In the absence of easy-to-use glucose for glycogen creation, your body turns fat and protein into glucose, and then into glycogen. This process, although less efficient, ensures that you can have energy when you need it.
If you are the sort of person who easily puts on fat, there are several things you can do to burn more fat
1. Limit carbohydrates, especially sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and anything made with flour
Consider limiting carbohydrates to 60g to 150g per day, with a particular emphasis on limiting sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and anything made with flour. Simple carbohydrates and flour-based food, such as bread, tells your pancreas to secrete high amounts of insulin. When insulin level is high, your body stops using fat for energy, and prioritizes sugar. Technically, the main enzymes responsible for these mechanisms are Hormone Sensitive Lipase (HSL) and Lipoprotein Lipase (LPL). LPL, in the presence of insulin, causes fat cells to pull in fat. HSL, in the presence of insulin, causes fat cells to stop releasing fat.
2. Eat more fat and protein
Though it seems counter intuitive, high fat, low-carbohydrate foods cause very small insulin spikes, which prevent your body from going into fat accumulation mode.
Protein causes a larger insulin response than fat, but smaller than simple carbohydrates. The insulin response caused by protein lasts significantly longer than sugar; however, there is an accompaniment of another hormone, called growth hormone, which is why protein does not have the same effect on fat accumulation as simple carbohydrates do.
3. Don’t Eat Within 2 hours before bedtime
There is interplay between insulin and growth hormone. Where insulin inhibits fat loss, growth hormone encourages it. When insulin levels are low, growth hormone is high; the opposite is also true. When you eat close to bedtime (within 2 hours), your insulin is going to be elevated, regardless of what kind of food you eat. The reason why eating close to bedtime might hurt your chances for fat loss is because your body has a spike in growth hormone a few minutes after falling asleep. If your insulin level is elevated when this spike occurs, it limits growth hormone’s effectiveness on fat loss. To maximize the growth hormone effect, you should try to avoid eating 3 or more hours before bed.
The other hormone that plays a role in this symphony is glucagon. Glucagon, like insulin, is produced by the pancreas, and helps to maintain blood sugar levels when dietary carbohydrate intake is low. It does this by helping muscles break down glycogen back into sugar. This process also aids in putting the body into fat-burning mode.
4. Wait to eat breakfast
Diet gurus often implore people to eat breakfast, because there is some correlation between breakfast eating and diet success; however, I believe this phenomenon is psychological, not physiological. If you have enough control over your psychology that you can be very hungry in the morning, yet manage not to binge eat, then extending your morning fast can offer fat loss benefits.
When you wake up after sleep, your glycogen levels are lower than normal. This is the optimal state for fat burning, particularly if you do light exercise in this state. Remember though that trying to do high intensity exercise while fasted will probably result in decreased strength and speed output.
5. Commit to occasional fasts
Fasting for 12-36 hours is a great way to get your body to reset, because it stimulates NRF2 pathways, which are genes that cause the body to destress and detoxify, thereby increasing its efficiency to lose excess body fat.
6. Don’t graze all day
Grazing on food all day causes chronically elevated insulin levels. If you’re already predisposed to getting fat, the reason might be because your cells have gotten resistant to insulin. Grazing all day, regardless of macronutrient composition, certainly will not help with this.
7. When you fall off the wagon, get back on
Nobody is perfect, and everyone will fall off the wagon. Luckily, you can eat high amounts of sugar and still manage to return to a fat burning mode. After eating sugar, it takes 2 to 3 hours for insulin levels to get back to normal. To switch back to fat metabolism mode after a sugar bing, wait at least 3 hours before eating anything, and then when you do, get back on the wagon.
8. Pay attention to results
Everyone is different, and genetics plays a huge role in how quickly a person can reduce body fat. If something is not working, or you have plateaued, change what you’re doing. The key might be exercise, fasting, change in macronutrient composition, sleep, stress management, or some combination of all these things.
9. Exercise, especially in short, intense bursts
A good way to trigger your body to burn fat is to deplete its source of glycogen. In response, your body will make more glycogen, and it will use fat (and some protein) to do so. It will also stimulate your body to use its fat reserves to generate the energy for your muscles. It does not take long to deplete glycogen. A minute, a couple times per day, can be effective to deplete glycogen levels. Short, intense exercise also has beneficial effects on insulin and growth hormone levels.
10. Eat after lifting weights
Building muscle is a great way to increase metabolic rate, because it’s shown to increase the number of factories your muscles have to burn energy (these factories are referred to as mitochondria). More mitochondria=more energy burned.
The thought process for eating after lifting weights is that, when you eat protein and carbohydrates after working out, you maximize an effect known as the “anabolic window”, which is the time when your muscles grow. When muscles have quick energy and excess protein available after a workout, this theoretically maximizes muscle growth. There is, however, some disagreement as to how effective eating after weight lifting is.
11. Pay attention to calories
I almost hesitate to mention calories, because I think that there is an overemphasis on calorie intake, and not nearly enough emphasis on macronutrient composition. Metabolism is much too complicated to be reduced down to some simple, linear, calories-in-calories-out model. That being said, it is possible to optimize your body’s fat-burning capacity and still gain fat. If you’ve tweaked your macronutrient composition but still fail to lose fat, consider cutting overall calories.