In July, we looked at why your metabolism may be low and the problems that could come from this. This month we’ll finally get to look at what you may be able to do about it.
This is going to be a severe departure from the Paleo diet advice you’ve heard before. I will explore my thoughts after 10 years of Paleo eating, cooking, and coaching in another future article detailing it’s pros and cons.
In the July article, I presented a list of reasons for a low metabolism. Not surprisingly, avoiding those things is a great place to start!
Two of the most crippling reasons are:
• Not eating enough
• Excessive exercise
If you are doing any of these things, it’d be a good idea to stop if you want a healthy metabolism long-term!
Since chronic under eating is likely one of the main reasons for your low metabolic rate, you’ll need to reverse it by overeating.
Metabolism and weight gain or loss are moving targets. As an example, let’s say you eat an average of 2500 calories per day and are weight stable (neither gaining or losing). If you reduce your daily intake to 2000 cals, you’ll begin to loose weight for a while.
However, you won’t keep losing weight until you eventually whither away and die – within a few weeks, your body will reduce your metabolism so that you become weight stable at a new lower set point of 2000 cals/day.
This is the dreaded diet plateau – you must then drop calories even further to keep losing. Many of you are likely stuck somewhere in this chronically reduced calorie senario.
It works the same way in the opposite direction.
Using the same example, if you increase your daily cals to 3000, you’ll begin to gain weight. But just like above, your body will increase it’s metabolic rate and become weight stable at this new, higher level in fairly short order.
If you’ve ever tried to bulk up, then you’ve likely experienced this. You have to keep increasing calories to continue to gain weight and muscle. If you reach a point where 3500 cals/day is your maintenance intake, then you’ll actually loose weight for a while if you drop back to 3000 cals/day!
Here are some key ideas for restoring your metabolic rate.
Err on the side of too much rather than not enough (total calories/carbs). I’ve written before about formulas to determine about how much you should be eating daily.
How much food is enough? Metabolism blogger/author Matt Stone suggests multiplying your ideal body weight by 20 if you are a woman and 23 if you are a man. This is your minimum calorie intake per day.
For me, 173 x 23 = 3979 cals. Of that, 50-60% should be from carbs while you restore your metabolism. You can ramp this down some once you have restored a stable body temp.
The liver converts the hormone T4 to the active T3 that supports your metabolic rate. If liver glycogen is low, less of that conversion will happen.
In a viscous circle, those with low metabolisms will have a hard time storing liver glycogen. Fruit sugars will refill liver glycogen much more effectively.
Unsaturated fats inhibit metabolism at every level. Nearly all types of nuts, vegetable oils of nearly every type, conventionally raised meats, and chicken and pork fat will be high in omega 6 fats. Additionally, large intakes of fatty meat mean you’l be taking in plenty of the very pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid. (a type of omega-6 fat)
Protein helps the liver clear estrogen and supports the thyroid and metabolic rate. However, too much can inhibit the thyroid.
One gram per pound of lean bodyweight is likely enough for good health. Hard training athletes may need one gram per pound of actual bodyweight.
Calcium supports metabolism, reduces inflammation, decreases stress hormones. A paleo diet is usually pretty imbalanced towards the phosphate side, both because of the quantity of high phosphate meats and a lack of calcium.
Moving some of your protein intake to quality dairy or supplementing with eggshell calcium if you don’t tolerate dairy will help.
Those with low metabolisms do not digest or absorb more “Paleo” foods as well.
Lots of fatty meat and fibrous veggies require the most digestive horsepower of any foods. Unfortunately, many cannot digest these foods well because of weakened digestive systems.
Restore the metabolism with easier to digest foods first, then you can consider moving into a more ancestral diet.
Trace minerals are important – egg yolks, oysters, liver, and shrimp are good sources. Eat organ meats in particular. (I’ve written about this in the past, but if you don’t consume organ meats regularly, thinking you are eating “Paleo” is just wishful thinking)
Salt, similar to saturated fat and cholesterol, has been demonized for decades. Contrary to popular belief, there has never been a consensus about the dangers of salt. Like saturated fat and cholesterol, it was originally implicated in some questionable studies that still are quoted today. Many newer studies show greater rates of many diseases on restricted salt diets – including heart attacks and strokes.
Those with low metabolisms will tend to waste sodium. Increase salt intake to raise metabolic rate and to reduce adrenaline. If you crave salty things, there’s a very good chance you are low in salt.
Avoid foods with chemicals and fillers – a short ingredient list is still best.
Exercise, particularly endurance training, can suppress the metabolic rate.
Yes, I know that you’ve heard exercise increases your metabolism. When you first start exercising, it does.
However, after a short while your body becomes more efficient and tries to conserve energy for future bouts of training. It does this by reducing the basal metabolic rate (the metabolic rate at rest. This reduction is even stronger if you restrict calories at the same time).
This is one of the reasons your fitness improves – the body expends less energy on basic functions so it has more to give when you train or compete. It’s partly responsible for the reduction in your resting heart rate as you become fitter.
So, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword for athletes. Eating enough, especially carbohydrates, will help prevent some of this metabolic decline. Athletes really need to make sure that they are doing nothing else to impair their metabolism. It also shows why a low carb diet is counterproductive for athletes or anyone training like one.
You ideally want to see it at or above 98.0 degrees all of the time. It will tend to be (and should be) higher in the afternoon. You should have warm hands and feet, a strong sex drive, and great sleep.
You didn’t reduce your metabolic rate overnight – it happened over a long period of time. It will also likely take a while to restore it. And, yes, you may need to gain a bit of fat while this process happens.
It will pay off in long term health, well-being, and ultimately how lean you’ll be down the road. With your metabolism restored, losing body fat or gaining muscle will be an easier process.
As my friend Dr Garrett Smith likes to say – just eat carbs, protein, and salt at every meal. Eat enough and don’t miss meals. Sleep plenty and get outside. Don’t overtrain.
• Favor calorie dense foods.
• Dairy: milk, cheese, and other dairy. Organic & grass-fed is best if you can get it.
• Fruit, even real fruit juice. (juice can be very helpful to restore metabolism initially)
• Liver (beef or lamb, not pork). (desiccated liver tablets can also work)
• Gelatin. (gelatin powder, or oxtail/tendon/bone broth soups)
• Oysters, shrimp, shellfish, white fish (various).
• Coconut oil
• Sugar. It’s helpful during the phase where you initially restore your metabolism.
• Potatoes, yams, yucca, and other dense starchy tubers. Beets, squash, etc are ok, but contain too few carbs and calories to be very useful.
• Rice. Soaked/rinsed is best, avoid whole grain varieties. Rice is non-allergenic to most.
• Butter. (grass-fed preferably)
• Breakfast. Eating significant calories and carbs in the morning is essential!
• Sleep 8 hours or more per night. Hours slept before midnight are more restorative than those after.
• Exposure to the sun and daylight. Get outside in all seasons – 30 minutes minimum each day.
• All unsaturated fats!: nuts, all oils (except coconut oil), avocado, fish oil, pork, chicken, and conventionally raised meat fat.
• Vegetables. Yes, I’m suggesting ditching veggies for a while! (you won’t go nutrient deficient if you switch it up for fruit while you restore your metabolic rate)
• Muscle meats in large quantities.
• Under eating total calories or carbohydrate.
• Fasting, in any form.
• Eating lightly in the morning and/or lunchtime.
• Lack of light exposure (staying indoors all the time).
Scott Hagnas is a strength and conditioning coach and founder/co-owner of Crossfit Portland. Scott has a profound passion for fitness, strength, flexibility, mobility, and nutrition, so when he’s not training or coaching he’s reading, writing or consulting on those subjects. If you’d like to schedule a private consultation with Scott, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for rates and availability!