We exercise with the intention of being the healthiest versions of ourselves, but very often we unknowingly cause harm to our metabolic health by committing blunders when it comes to our training and nutrition.
Let’s understand the basics of metabolic health, some of the fitness blunders degrading our metabolic health, and what we can do to optimise it.
- Macronutrients consist of three categories – Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates,
- Micronutrients are found within the macronutrients. Closely monitor calories. Consuming enough food to uphold maintenance levels is most often recommended to lose excess body fat,
- There are 13 essential vitamins. They are vital for your body to work optimally, and without them, you may experience unfavourable side effects.
What is Metabolic Health?
Metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. Metabolic health is described as having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without using medications.
Fitness Mistakes Crash your Metabolic Health
Let’s break down the various nutrition and exercise blunders that are actually slowing us down.
1. Skipping Weight Training
One of the most common mistakes people make when exercising is skipping weight training because they don’t want to get bulky. Instead, they focus on more cardio, because cardio burns more calories.
On average, lifting weights burns about 2-3 calories per minute, and cardio burns around 4-5 calories per minute. However, a 2012 study showed that participants who followed a combination of weight training, diet, and cardio showed the most amount of fat loss.
This was against the participants who followed a plan of only cardio and dieting, or only weight training and dieting.
That being said, the most crucial element of exercise is not to simply lose fat but to build and maintain muscle mass to prevent sarcopenia, the loss of skeletal muscle mass that generally begins at age 30 and above.
A study showed that sarcopenia is also associated with acute and chronic disease states, increased insulin resistance, fatigue, falls in elderly individuals, and mortality. Beyond the obvious appearance-based benefits of weight training, it plays a major role in slowing down sarcopenia.
A study showed that ten weeks of resistance training may increase lean weight by 1.4 kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8 kg for inactive adults.
The study also highlighted that strength training may enhance cardiovascular health by reducing resting blood pressure, decreasing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides, and increasing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
2. Insufficient Protein
Following a strict workout plan without incorporating an adequate amount of protein can prove detrimental to our efforts because exercising breaks down our muscle fibres and protein helps in the building and repair of muscle mass.
Studies indicate that eating protein temporarily increases metabolism by about 20–30%, compared to 5–10% for carbs and 3% or less for fat.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of weight for relatively active adults.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on training.
There have been studies showing that people needed to eat at least 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight (1.2 grams per kg) to prevent their metabolism from slowing during and after weight loss.
One should aim to get at least 10% of their daily caloric intake from protein. Studies show that inadequate protein intake causes a host of adverse changes in the morphology and function of skeletal muscle.
That being said, there is also evidence to prove that too much protein can also be harmful to our bodies. Extra protein is not used efficiently by the body and may impose a metabolic burden on the bones, kidneys, and liver.
Moreover, high-protein/high-meat diets may also be associated with an increased risk for coronary heart disease or even cancer.
3. Lack of Sleep
In addition to an excellent diet and nutrition plan and the right combination of exercises, another pillar of health that we need to take seriously is getting adequate sleep.
From the available data, it is easy to infer how lack of sleep can be damaging to our fitness. A study showed that sleep deprivation in humans results in an increase in insulin resistance and a decrease in glucose tolerance. This explains how individuals get exhausted faster after being deprived of sleep.
Sleep is catabolic in nature, and sleep loss is a potent catabolic stressor, increasing the risk of metabolic dysfunction and loss of muscle mass and function.
Skeletal muscle is a primary regulator of human metabolism. A study done on rats explained how sleep deprivation leads to muscle atrophy. Skeletal muscle is made up of 80% protein, and maintaining optimal muscle protein metabolism is equally critical for muscle health.
In situations where skeletal muscle protein synthesis chronically lags protein degradation, a loss of muscle mass is inevitable. Low muscle mass is a hallmark of, and precursor to, a range of chronic health conditions, including neuromuscular diseases, sarcopenia and frailty, obesity, and type II diabetes.
Sleep also plays a vital role in regulating two crucial hormones in our body—leptin, which regulates our appetite and tells our body when it is full after a meal; and ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”, which also regulates appetite by informing us when it is hungry.
A lack of sleep, therefore, disrupts the pattern of regulation of these hormones and may often result in the need to binge on food on sleepless nights due to decreased leptin and increased ghrelin levels.
4. Eating Low calories
To maintain our weight, we need to be eating our calories at the maintenance level, the precise number of calories your body needs to support energy expenditure and maintain your current weight.
The recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000 calories a day for women and 2,500 for men. However, this can vary based on a number of factors such as age, metabolism, and levels of physical activity.
We often believe that exercising and following a healthy routine is enough to achieve our fitness goals. In the process we end up ignoring our basal metabolic rate- it is the number of calories that the body burns at rest.
The process of weight loss requires us to be in a calorie deficit, which involves eating fewer calories than what is required to maintain weight in order to lose weight.
Drastic reduction in calories can have a negative impact on our BMR, as per a controlled study on just 4 days of short-term energy restriction (ER). Thirty-two subjects were divided randomly into a slight ER group and a moderate ER group.
The energy intake per day was 1462 kcal vs 1114 kcal for the groups respectively. After the 4-day ER, significant decreases in body weight and basal metabolic rate (BMR) were observed in both groups.
The study showed that the resting metabolic rate of those who ate 1,114 calories per day slowed more than twice as much as that of those who consumed 1,462 calories. However, weight loss was similar in both groups.
In another study, when obese women ate 420 calories per day for 4–6 months, their resting metabolic rates slowed down significantly. Even after they increased their calorie intake over the following five weeks, their resting metabolic rates remained much lower than before the diet.
5. Leading a Sedentary Life
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the name for the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise, like walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks, and even fidgeting.
A study has found that NEAT can burn up to 2,000 calories a day in some people. Another study showed that when subjects were fed the same diet and locked in a small respiratory chamber for 24 hours, there was still a difference in additional calories burned through NEAT that day, ranging from 100 to up to 800 calories between subjects.
Consistently working out can have a major impact on the number of calories that we burn, but that does not give us the luxury to be inactive for the rest of the day if we’re serious about our fitness.
Just as eating in excess is dangerous, so is sitting for long hours, which is
an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. It is important to be cognizant of the ill effects of sitting given that WFH has reduced the amount of time most people spend travelling from one place to another and a lot of the work involves sitting at our desks all day at home.
6. Improper Breathing
Most people are unaware of their breathing techniques and take the act for granted. It is estimated that around 30-50% of adults breathe through their mouths.
Human beings are naturally designed to breathe from their nose from birth, which is more beneficial than mouth breathing, because it filters out dust and allergens, boosts your oxygen uptake, and humidifies the air you breathe in.
Mouth breathing, on the other hand, can dry out your mouth. In a 2017 study, ten runners ran on a treadmill twice: once with nose breathing and once with mouth breathing.
During each session, researchers measured respiratory markers like oxygen consumption, respiratory rate, and carbon dioxide production. They found that while the runners consumed the same amount of oxygen while nose breathing and mouth breathing, their respiratory rate, or the number of breaths per minute, was lower during nose breathing.
This means it took less work to consume the same amount of oxygen with nose breathing, which could potentially improve athletic performance and endurance.
Most people believe that fat is lost purely through sweat. However, sweating itself doesn’t burn a measurable amount of calories, but sweating out enough liquid will cause you to lose water weight. It’s, however, only a temporary loss.
Once you rehydrate by drinking water or eating, you’ll immediately regain any lost weight.
Fat is stored as energy and fuel for the body. Molecules of fat consist of oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. The oxygen you breathe reaches your fat molecules and eventually breaks them down into water and carbon dioxide.
Your blood then takes the carbon dioxide down to your lungs, where it is removed as waste. We exhale our fat! The more oxygen that your body is using, the more fat you will burn.
So how can we train our bodies to use more oxygen? As it turns out, nasal breathing is more effective at getting oxygen into the body than mouth breathing.
A study revealed that 22 pounds (10 kg) of fat turned into 18.5 pounds (8.4 kg) of carbon dioxide—which is exhaled when we breathe—and 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg) of water—which we then excrete through our urine, tears, sweat and other bodily fluids.
More exercise does not necessarily provide better results. The body requires adequate rest from exercise in order to build and repair the micro-tears that have occurred in the muscles post-exercise.
Overtraining syndrome (OTS) is characterized by a prolonged and unexplained decrease in sports performance usually associated with severe psychological manifestations.
A study highlighted that overtraining has certain symptoms such as fatigue, depression, insomnia, irritability, agitation, restlessness, and many more symptoms through aerobic as well as anaerobic sports.
8. Warm-ups and Cooldowns
A common mistake that people make while working out is not sufficiently warming up before exercise. Starting a workout with “cold” muscles can lead to injury.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is muscle pain that begins after you’ve exercised, normally starting a day or two after a workout, but not during.
Pain felt during or immediately after a workout is different, called acute muscle soreness. It’s that burning sensation you feel in a muscle during a workout due to a quick buildup of lactic acid.
Warming-up has been shown to decrease DOMS with no loss of muscle function. Dynamic stretching has been shown to positively influence power, speed, agility, endurance, flexibility, and strength performance when used as a warm-up.
Cooldown brings fresh blood into certain areas to help with lactic acid removal while bringing your heart rate down to resting rate safely.
Warming up gradually increases your heart rate and breathing to a level that will be able to meet the demands of your workout.
If you start exercising at a strenuous level without warming up first, you will place unnecessary stress on your heart and lungs. A study was performed on 44 men to examine the effects of high-intensity exercise on the heart.
The subjects performed 10 to 15 seconds of intense exercise on a treadmill, without a warm-up. The results showed that 70% of subjects had abnormal ECG readings because of the inadequate oxygen supply to the heart.
After your workout, it is important to spend time cooling down, which can be done through static stretching, dynamic stretching, or a mix of both. This helps prevent muscle cramps and dizziness while gradually slowing your breathing and heart rate.
Failing to cool down after the end of an exercise routine or bringing an abrupt halt to your exercise is not advisable. It may cause your muscles to unexpectedly stop contracting.
This can lead to the blood accumulating in the lower extremities of your body, without the pressure required for it to be pumped back to the heart and brain.
Self-myofascial release, most commonly done in the form of foam rolling, has become increasingly popular in recent years. Aside from its positive effect on improving mobility, it seems to also be an effective way of reducing muscle soreness.
Of the four available studies that have directly analyzed the effect of foam rolling on muscle soreness, three of them showed a positive effect on reducing muscle soreness and enhancing muscle recovery.
However, studies have also shown that active cooldowns accelerate recovery of lactate in blood, but not necessarily in muscle tissue.
Steps to Prevent the Slowdown of Metabolic Health
Stress has been associated with various metabolic processes, in specific the hormone called cortisol. According to a paper, the stress response helps in dispatching energy stores to respond to a threatening stimulus.
An observation of the response has shown the diversity of metabolic changes that can occur as a result of stress. On one hand, acute intense stress is associated with suppression of feeding and reduction of weight gain.
On the other hand, chronic stress can lead to overeating, increases in visceral adiposity, and weight gain.
While stress is a part of our lives, it is important to recognize and understand the various ways in which we can manage it.
Getting the right balance of various forms of exercise is important. Research has shown that it’s important to get all four types of exercise: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility, and take a holistic view.
Low-intensity physical activity may help in improving overall health. According to research that took 36,000 individuals’ movements and measured their intensity of physical activity, all physical activity counts. Low-intensity exercises such as brisk walking may have beneficial effects.
Research in mice and humans has suggested that intense exercise boosts communication between skeletal muscles and fat tissue. This helps in fine-tuning metabolism and improving performance.
Aerobic exercise doesn’t just benefit your heart, but also your mind. Working out helps reduce cortisol and adrenaline while stimulating the production of endorphins. Known as the body’s ‘natural painkillers’, these chemicals in our brains induce feelings of relaxation and optimism.
Deep abdominal breathing helps complete a full cycle of oxygen exchange. It can slow down the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.
In addition to getting 7-8 hours of sleep regularly, the quality of sleep is essential. A study of adult men monitored for 8 years showed that those who reported interrupted sleep and difficulty maintaining sleep manifested 2-3 times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Have an early dinner: A late-night meal stimulates your system instead of calming it down. Your metabolism is also much slower towards the end of the day and would lead to improper digestion.
- Cut away from gadgets and take a warm bath: Relax yourself, and prepare for bedtime. An hour before bedtime, cut away from your infinite social scrolls and emails. Draw a bath or stand under a warm shower. Warm baths are recommended as a way to improve sleep.
- Lay down in bed and practice sleep meditation and relaxation techniques: Spend 10 minutes at bedtime following guided meditations that will help eliminate body aches and racing anxious thoughts to help you fall asleep naturally.
- Transport yourself into a dream world with bedtime stories: If you want to distract yourself from those swirling thoughts about the day gone by and the day to come, one of the best ways to cut off is by listening to a nice
- We all loved storytime as a kid. Why stop now. Pick your favourite theme and listen to a relaxing story—it acts as an excellent bridge between reality and the dreamworld.
- Sleep Music: If you have trouble staying asleep, try listening to sleep music. Create the ambiance of a place you already love—or find a new one—with the help of soundscapes from every part of the world.
How to sleep better:
Or pick a playlist especially designed to induce sleep using neural phase-locking that puts you into a deep sleep.
Ensure you’re consuming a nutrient-dense diet consisting of high-quality foods including organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meat and wild-caught seafood.
While organic foods are not always available or affordable, they offer a number of health benefits, including the elimination of pesticides or antibiotics.
We need to ensure that our meal timings are consistent. Studies have concluded that eating at night has a direct correlation with negative effects on the quality of sleep in healthy people.
Food consumed closer to the sleeping period, such as dinner and a late-night snack, have been known to negatively impact sleep quality. Many nutritionists and studies recommend that it is better to wait three hours between the last meal of your day and your bedtime to ensure the best quality of sleep.
The gap allows the food in your stomach to move into your small intestine.
Foods that could help improve your metabolic health include:
- Fibre-rich foods such as certain fresh fruits like apples, berries; vegetables, oats, barley etc.
- Foods that help in balancing blood pressure such as bananas, lentils, black beans etc.
- Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids such as flax seeds, almonds, tuna etc.
It is also important to avoid high levels of sugary foods, trans fats, and sodium. Ensuring that you are consuming adequate amounts of water each day is also important. Most people drink sufficient amounts of water during exercise but forget about it after their exercise.
Exercise will result in loss of fluid, and these fluids need to be replenished. Water is involved in many of our bodily processes and is essential to maintain blood volume, regulate body temperature, and allow muscle contractions to take place. Stay hydrated!
There are common mistakes an individual makes that can affect metabolic health. Ensuring you get correct amounts of exercise with strength training paired with cardio can help your metabolism stay at an optimal level with stable muscle mass and also keep your heart healthy.
Lack of proper recovery and training excessively can do more harm than good, specifically disrupting your athletic performance. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) can burn up to 2,000 calories a day in some people, this can be a good way to keep yourself active.
An adequate protein of 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of weight for relatively active adults and 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes can help maintain muscle mass.
Getting enough fibre, healthy fats such as Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet, good quality of sleep, and managing stress efficiently may help keep your metabolic health parameters such as glucose metabolism at stable levels. Regularly checking your biomarkers would be an efficient way of ensuring you stay on track.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new health care regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine
- Body temperature norms: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia
- Basal body temperature as a biomarker of healthy aging – PMC
- Vital Signs (Body Temperature, Pulse Rate, Respiration Rate, Blood Pressure) | Johns Hopkins Medicine
- Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults