January 22, 2023

Words matter: metabolism

The English language is versatile. One word can come to mean many things. Ducks can go quack quack or you can duck your spouse’s jab. Rockets can take us to the moon or the price of cheese can skyrocket. Metabolism is another word that has come to mean very many things. 

Metabolism, by the book, is the complex chemical processes the body uses for normal functioning and sustaining life, including breaking down food and drink to energy and building or repairing the body.

Metabolism is a succinct word to capture the millions of interactions and processes that occur to keep us alive. The most accurate way to capture metabolism is the amount of energy needed for your body to get through a day of all the chemical and physical processes to keep you alive and kicking.

The body uses a basic xxx-xxxx number of calories to keep one alive. This is basal metabolic rate( BMR). It is the calories you need to provide your body to stay alive and not do much else.

Your BMR is a function of your genetics, the amount of muscle you carry, your height, your weight, your body fat levels and age. Bigger, taller people with more muscle and bone require more calories. At the same weight, most men require more calories than women. There are exceptions. But broadly this rings true. 

NEAT is an acronym for all the calories burnt during the game of life. Pacing at work, walking to a shop, walking your dog, chasing a bus, walking around a mall all contribute to NEAT. Step counters and smart watches aim to bump this number up by nudging you to keep moving without taxing your mind about how you are moving.

EAT is the term used for calories spent on training and exercise. You consciously set aside time, energy and attention to undertake this activity. The most useful way to visualise EAT is similar to investing your money. When you spend time on an activity, there is always a payoff. The payoff is in the form of adaptations. Every activity has a distinct payoff in the form of stronger muscles, denser bones, more robust connective tissue or a more efficient heart and lungs that can get more oxygen to very corner of your body with every breath or beat of your heart. 

Your body weight and body composition will reflect how your calorie intake (the calories from all that you eat) matches against your total calorie expenditure (BMR+NEAT+EAT). Any intervention be it medication, exercise, smart watches, sensors disguised as jewellery need to help you manipulate or increase one of those three numbers. NEAT is the easiest to bump up. Every step you take adds to it. 

EAT, in my opinion, should be strategically spent becoming stronger and making your heart more efficient. BMR is the hardest to manipulate. If it isn’t obvious by this point, the simplest thing you control is your energy intake. The more measured you are with your intake, you give less room to con artists and companies who claim to help you hack, frack or jack up your metabolism.

About Adarsh

- I run a strength and conditioning facility in Chennai, India
- I work with my clients to make training and eating for better body composition a part of everyday life
- I coach online and in-person
- I design and manufacture strength training equipment for use in our strength training facility