Your metabolism may seem like a mysterious bodily process that proceeds without any direct input from you, all the while determining your weight, energy levels, and overall health. And it’s true, metabolic function is fairly complicated, but the good news is that you don’t have to remain on the sidelines. There’s actually quite a bit you can do to influence and even optimize your body’s ability to create energy and burn fat.
So, what exactly is metabolism? Simply put, our metabolism is the chemical reaction in the body’s cells that convert the food we eat into energy. Here’s how it works: when you eat, enzymes begin to break down foods into sugars, amino acids, fatty acids, and carbohydrates for absorption into the bloodstream. The blood transports these compounds to the cells where other enzymes continue to metabolize them for energy. This generated energy is either used immediately or stored in muscles, body fat, or the liver.
Anyone who has dieted is likely familiar with one of metabolism’s key principles: calories. A calorie is a measure of how much energy a food provides, and your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the rate at which your body burns calories while at rest. Although your BMR is partly genetic, you can influence your metabolism by making some healthy lifestyle changes, beginning with enhancing your gut health.
Metabolic Role of the Microbiome
Your gut microbiome is the collection of all the bacteria in your digestive tract, and the good guys that reside there work very hard with your own body’s cells to keep you healthy. In addition to balancing your immune system, regulating your emotions, and even helping you sleep, the friendly microbes (aka probiotics) in your gut play a starring role in your metabolism by:
• Supporting healthy blood sugar levels. Research shows that the beneficial bacteria in your gut can help balance glucose levels and increase insulin secretion1. This is important because insulin helps to unlock your cells so glucose can enter and be used for energy.
• Optimizing digestion. By producing enzymes that help to digest the foods you eat, probiotics help your body break down foods into smaller molecules that can then be metabolized for energy. Although several of your organs make enzymes (liver, pancreas, stomach, small intestine, and salivary glands), production tends to decline as you age, so your probiotics’ enzymes are crucial.
• Helping you absorb nutrients. No matter how well you eat, if you can’t absorb the nutrients from your diet, your health—and your metabolism—will suffer. You see, if you aren’t able to assimilate all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from your food, you’ll constantly feel hungry and unsatisfied, craving more calories than you really need. Studies even show that out-of-balance microbiomes can lead to malnutrition, despite adequate caloric intake2.
Indeed, research demonstrates that our gut microbes determine just how much we can extract from our diet, both energetically and nutritionally:
- Overweight individuals tend to have higher levels of certain types of bacteria that produce a large amount of fatty acids (and therefore calories), contributing to increased weight gain3.
- A lack of bacterial diversity in the gut can also lead to weight gain and other metabolic issues. In one study, individuals with lower bacterial diversity were overweight and experienced more insulin resistance (where the body doesn’t respond to insulin) than those with more rich, diverse microbiomes4.
- In a mouse trial, researchers discovered that an unbalanced microbiome can affect the resting metabolic rate (BMR), reducing the number of calories burned during resting and sleeping and leading to excess weight gain5.
Probiotics clearly play a starring role in our metabolism, so how do we make sure we are giving our gut what it needs to support this vital process?
Support Your Metabolism With Probiotics
Since the foundation of your metabolism is in your gut with your resident friendly microbes, the path to kicking your system into high gear should start with supporting your gut health from the inside out.
1. First, take a high-quality, daily probiotic formula like Hyperbiotics Better Body to seed your gut with billions of beneficial bacteria that can work to optimize your metabolism at its very core. With Orafti 95 prebiotics to feed your friendly flora and White Kidney Bean Extract to reduce carbohydrate absorption, Better Body is designed to give your metabolism the boost it needs.
2. Next, provide your microbial friends with plenty of prebiotics to give them the fuel they need to thrive. Prebiotics are indigestible fibers found in whole and plant-based foods that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut—much like fertilizer feeding a garden. Good prebiotic sources include dandelion greens, garlic, apples, jicama, Jerusalem artichoke, and oats, or you can include a daily prebiotic powder blend in your diet for maximum impact.
3. Once you’ve established a healthy population of probiotics, keep it happy by staying active, relaxing more, and spending time outdoors. Stay away from things that deplete beneficial bacteria, like antibacterial cleaners, antibiotics (both in your food and as medicine), overzealous hygiene habits, and sugary, processed foods.
Now that you’ve set your microbiome up for metabolic success, it’s time to focus on other areas of your health that can impact your metabolism.
7 Sure-Fire Ways to Balance Your Metabolism
Supporting your gut health should be your number one priority when working on your metabolism, but you can take several other steps to rev up your fat-burning potential.
1. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
Plant-based foods high in antioxidants and nutrients are essential for a healthy, efficient metabolism. Look for colorful fruits and vegetables free from pesticides and other toxins that can disturb your microbial balance.
2. Prioritize movement
Most any exercise will benefit your waistline, but research shows that the best metabolism-boosting movement is high-intensity interval training (HIIT)—short, intense exercise bursts followed by quick recovery periods. Just two weeks of HIIT has been shown to increase mitochondrial function; mitochondria are the parts of cells responsible for breaking down fatty acids and carbohydrates for energy6.
3. Avoid sugar and refined grains
High-sugar foods and refined grains create a yo-yo effect on your blood sugar levels, leading to a stressed metabolic system and unhealthy cravings that can slow your metabolism and make you pack on pounds. Keep in mind that scrutinizing ingredient lists is imperative when you are trying to avoid added sugar in processed, packaged foods—you’ll find this sweetener in nearly everything, from almond milk to granola, sauces, and beyond.
4. Include protein and healthy fats
Protein helps you build lean muscle (which boosts metabolism) and keeps you feeling full, so you don’t fill up on refined carbohydrates. And, healthy, unsaturated fats like coconut oil and avocados provide twice as much energy as carbohydrates and protein and help to speed up your metabolism.
5. Relax your body and mind
Everything in our body, from digestion to our brain function, works better when we are able to relax and keep stress to a minimum. Plus, stress depletes the good bacteria in our gut, impacting our metabolism even further. For improved metabolism, incorporate meditation or another stress-relieving practice into your everyday routine.
6. Stay hydrated
Dehydration causes your body’s cells to shrink, making your metabolism less efficient. Staying hydrated (eight 8-ounces glasses of water or half your weight in ounces per day) can keep your metabolism going strong all day long.
7. Practice conscious eating
Make a commitment to nurture yourself with food, eat slowly, and listen to your body along the way. When you are in tune with your nutritional needs, it will be easier to sense when you’re craving something specific or when you’re satiated so that you won’t eat too much or too little—both can impede metabolic processes. Overeating adds too many calories that can overwhelm your body’s digestive processes and undereating sends your body into starvation mode, signaling it to hold on to fat to preserve resources.
You’ve probably noticed that our suggestions for nurturing the friendly flora in your gut and supporting your metabolism share many similarities—like eating natural nutrient-dense whole foods, being active, avoiding toxins and pesticides, and taking time to unwind. The “how to” is actually very simple and even quite logical. The challenge (as you’ve likely experienced) is in putting this knowledge into practice, day in and day out, while living in a society that is making other choices. The good news? Once you are steadfast on your path and experience feeling and looking your best, you will likely never look back.
1. Moroti, C., Magri, L. S., Costa, M. D., Cavallini, D. C., & Sivieri, K. (2012). Effect of the consumption of a new symbiotic shake on glycemia and cholesterol levels in elderly people with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Lipids in Health and Disease, 11(1), 29.
2. Blanton, L. V., Charbonneau, M. R., Salih, T., Barratt, M. J., Venkatesh, S., Ilkaveya, O., . . . Gordon, J. I. (2016). Gut bacteria that prevent growth impairments transmitted by microbiota from malnourished children. Science, 351(6275). doi:10.1126/science.aad3311
3. Ley, R. E., Turnbaugh, P. J., Klein, S., & Gordon, J. I. (2006). Microbial ecology: Human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature, 444(7122), 1022-1023.
4. Chatelier, E. L., Nielsen, T., Qin, J., Prifti, E., Hildebrand, F., Falony, G., . . . Yamada, T. (2013). Richness of human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers. Nature, 500(7464), 541-546.
5. Bahr, S. M., Weidemann, B. J., Castro, A. N., Walsh, J. W., Deleon, O., Burnett, C. M., . . . Kirby, J. R. (2015). Risperidone-induced weight gain is mediated through shifts in the gut microbiome and suppression of energy expenditure. EBioMedicine, 2(11), 1725-1734.
6. Vincent, G., Lamon, S., Gant, N., Vincent, P. J., Macdonald, J. R., Markworth, J. F., . . . Hickey, A. J. (2015). Changes in mitochondrial function and mitochondria associated protein expression in response to 2-weeks of high intensity interval training. Frontiers in Physiology, 6. doi:10.3389/fphys.2015.00051
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.