Getting Lean by Revving Up Your Metabolism

by Dr John M Berardi, CSCS

I remember the day I got the bad news. I was 20 years old and I was in the middle of a nearly impossible squat session. Between sets, while trying to catch my breath, an “older” personal trainer (he was probably in his thirties) came over and offered some “advice”—unsolicited, of course.

“Ya know,” he said, “I used to look like you. But just you wait. After 25, the metabolism slows down, and it’s all downhill from there, buddy. You’d better enjoy it while it lasts.”

Then he turned and walked away.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this guy. After all, he didn’t look that great. Sure, he was a trainer and he did look better than most folks his age; but just barely. And he had a lot less muscle and a lot more fat than I did.

But the critical question was this – was he right? Did the metabolism come to a grinding halt after age 25? Was I doomed to lose my prized physique? Worse yet, was I destined to look like him? I had to find out. After all, if middle age spread was an inevitable consequence of aging, why bother?

So I asked around. I spoke with personal trainers, gym owners, and nutritionists, who all confirmed what I had heard. I spoke with some instructors at my local community college. They said the same, although with less certainty since at that time not much research had been done about the matter.

I looked around, studying the physiques of people I ran into at the gym, grocery store, mall, and elsewhere. The evidence was all around me. Younger people were leaner and seemingly in possession of faster metabolic rates than older individuals.

So, in my 20-year-old mind, the message seemed clear: I’d better make the most of my youthful body and metabolism because I was destined to lose it.

Fortunately, I was dead wrong!

Deceiving Father Time

Since that day, I’ve accomplished quite a bit in the exercise, nutrition, and fitness realm. In the late 90’s I won the NABBA Jr USA Bodybuilding Championships. I’ve also spent 10 years studying at University – eventually earning a PhD in Kinesiology with a specialization in the area of exercise and nutritional biochemistry. Finally, I’ve developed an exercise and nutrition consulting company called Science Link, with the mission of taking advanced exercise and nutrition research and translating it into meaningful, usable information for people who are not quite as sciency as I am.

Yet throughout, I’ve always come back to that question – is it inevitable – must we lost large amounts of muscle and gain large amounts of fats once we hit our late 20s? Well, I, for one haven’t suffered this fate. Firmly entrenched in my 30s, I’m just as active as ever and, interestingly, just as strong and just as lean as I was during my twenties. But my story aside, I’m also happy to report that the metabolism does not have to slow down with age – for any of us (assuming we’re healthy).

Yes, it’s true that when you’re young, your body finds a way to balance energy expenditure and energy intake. It’s true that, as you age, you’ll have a much more difficult time maintaining what you’ve got. It’s true that studies have shown that 1/3 of all North American adults are at least 20 percent over their “ideal weights.”

These truths, however, don’t seal your fate. Just because some folks spend their lives engaged in a frustrating battle of eating less only to gain more, that doesn’t mean you have to. I’ve skirted around those so-called truths. I eat just as much food—if not more—than I did in my twenties, yet I have no more body fat to show for it.

I’m no anomaly. Over the years, I’ve trained countless clients, ranging in age from 25 to 65. It didn’t matter how high their body fat percentages, how slow their metabolisms, or how scrawny their muscle mass when they met me—they were all able to turn things around – without drugs. Consider the following impressive stats:

• Robert, age 41: Lost 18 pounds of fat and gained 8 pounds of lean mass (lean mass is made up of muscle, bone, and other non-fat tissue) over 3 months

• Kenneth, age 31: Lost 27 pounds of fat and gained 2 pounds of lean mass over 6 months

• Lynn, age 57: Lost 24 pounds of fat and gained 8 pounds of lean mass over 7 months

• Danielle, age 32: Lost 14 pounds of fat and gained 17 pounds of lean mass over 5 months

• Ben, age 21: Lost 14 pounds of fat and gained 29 pounds of lean mass over 10 months

• Gail, age 26: Lost 9 pounds of fat and gained 6 pounds of lean mass over 2 months

• Jason, age 45: Lost 11 pounds of fat and gained 3 pounds of lean mass over 3 months

• Kelly, age 38: Lost 22 pounds of fat and gained 15 pounds of lean mass over 6 months

• Mike, age 26: Lost 12 pounds of fat and gained 11 pounds of lean mass over 2 months

• Rachel, age 24: Lost 23 pounds of fat and gained 3 pounds of lean mass over 7 months

• Vivian, age 38: Lost 15 pounds of fat and gained 8 pounds of lean mass over 5 months

• Amy, age 38: Lost 29 pounds of fat and gained 10 pounds of lean mass over 9 months

• Joseph, age 42: Lost 4 pounds of fat and gained 38 pounds of lean mass over 13 months

As you can see, it doesn’t matter how old people were when they decided to get serious and turn things around. Whether they were 25 or 45, their results were the same: They changed their body composition, replacing their flab with lean, metabolism boosting muscle. You’re never too old to boost your metabolism.

If that’s not enough to convince you that you have what it takes to rev up your metabolism, shed fat, and build muscle, then consider the research. When I was in my twenties, few scientists had tried to answer the questions that were nagging me. At that time, no one really knew for sure whether metabolism slowed down with age and, if it did, whether anything could be done about it. Now a group of applied scientists have looked at those questions and uncovered some surprising facts.

These scientists had noticed that the metabolism does seem to slow with age, but they refused to believe that there was nothing anyone could do about it. Today, as a result of their efforts, we’ve got plenty of evidence demonstrating that your metabolism slows with age only if you do nothing about it. If you eat properly, exercise, and take the right supplements, you can maintain your metabolic rate over your life span! Even if you’re 40 or older and things have already slowed down, you can reverse the trend and regain the metabolism of your youth. In fact, you can create a metabolism that’s even faster than the one of your twenties!

Is it easy? No. Does it take hard work and dedication? Yes. But it can be done. I’m living proof. So are my clients, and so are the thousands of people who have participated in hundreds of studies conducted in the United States and around the world.

Of Age and Metabolism

So why does maintaining a healthy weight get tougher as we age? Well, although most people eat less as they age—to compensate for moving less at their desk jobs—their activity levels generally decrease even more than their energy intakes, resulting in fat gain.

These decreasing activity levels result in yet another problem: muscle loss. Researchers have determined that, starting between the ages of 25 and 30, most people lose roughly 5 to 10 pounds of lean body mass during each decade of life. As muscle is a metabolically active tissue. That means that in addition to burning calories to move your skeleton through space, it also burns calories to maintain itself. So age-related muscle loss can cripple your metabolism. The average person who becomes less active and, consequently, loses muscle experiences a 20 to 25 percent reduction in 24-hour metabolism (measured as the amount of energy your body burns in 24 hours) by age 65. This adds up to a daily metabolic drop of more than 500 calories.

It’s tough to cut 500 calories off your daily menu to compensate for that metabolic drop, so most people end up packing on the fat.

Of course, this scenario holds true only if you do nothing to prevent it. Why do most people lose muscle as they age? Because they don’t use it. When it comes to the human body, what you don’t use, you lose, and muscle is no exception.

Studies of people older than age 60 show that you can—at any age—reverse muscle loss and regain the metabolism of your youth. In fact, according to research, individuals who—through exercise and smart eating—maintain their lean mass (muscle, bone, and other non-fat tissue) as they age experience only a 0.36 percent drop in metabolism per decade compared to the 5 to 7 percent per decade drop that most adults experience. Add a few key supplements to the mix and you can even prevent that 0.36 percent drop, and possibly even rev your metabolism higher than it was during your youth!

So metabolic slowdown is not inevitable. You can prevent it. And you can reverse it using a three-pronged approach including eating, exercising, and supplementing the right way to get a series of all-natural “metabolic advantages.”

With these metabolic advantages, you can expect to:

A gain of 5 to 10 pounds of lean mass muscle will rev up your resting metabolism—the number of calories your body burns to maintain life—by roughly 100 calories – each and every day.

Through targeted strength training and energy system training, you can increase the number of calories you burn during your workouts (about 300 to 600 calories per day depending on your body size and workout duration). However, assuming you integrate high intensity efforts, you can also blow through another 100 to 200 calories per day – a post-exercise energy burst that eats up calories even when you’re sitting on your butt.

Prioritizing metabolically costly proteins, metabolism-boosting fats, antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies, and the right carbs at the right times (nutrient timing), can boost your metabolic rate by another 100 to 200 calories per day.

The right combination of food choices and supplements can turn you in to a much less efficient calorie burner. Much like a car in need of a tune up, your body will consume more fuel than it needs to operate, wasting away the excess as heat. Unlike with your car, however, when it comes to your metabolism, inefficiency is a good thing. It will coax your body into burning more calories – and more fat – for fuel.

Thanks to that desk job, family commitments, and great lineup of must-see TV, most of us move less at ages 30, 40, and beyond than we did during our teens and twenties. By training at least 5 hours each week, you can increase your calorie burning by about 300 to 600 calories per day.

All told, with the right combination of training, nutrition, and supplementation, you can expect to increase your daily calorie burn by between 40 and 60 percent within just 8 weeks. In other words, a guy who currently burns 2,500 calories a day would rev up his metabolism to a 3,400 to 4,000 daily calorie burn! That’s enough of a boost for you to see a 10-to-15-pound drop in body fat during those 8 weeks above. And for those at a beginner/intermediate level of training, you can expect muscle gain too.

Muscle gain and fat loss simultaneously? Yep, it happens all the time. Time to revisit my examples above.

Even more important, when you get these things right, you will simultaneously improve your health. In addition to speeding your metabolism, building muscle, and shedding fat, you can also expect to lower your blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. So not only can you live look better, you can live longer. So, in the end, I’m here to tell you that a large-scale metabolic decline isn’t inevitable as we age.

If you’re young and haven’t seen the affects of father time, that’s excellent. But that doesn’t mean you wont! Make sure that you use a combination of smart eating, training and supplementation to keep that metabolism reving for life.

And if you’re older and your current lifestyle has negatively impacted your body, know that it’s not too late. Turn things around now and you can reverse the damage that’s been done. I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

For more great training and nutrition wisdom, check out Dr Berardi’s complete system, Precision Nutrition. Containing 5 nutrition guides, two audio CDs, two DVDs, and our Gourmet Nutrition cookbook, Precision Nutrition will teach you everything you need to know to get the body you want — guaranteed.

And what’s more, you get a free lifetime membership to his private, members-only website, where you can talk exercise and nutrition 24/7 with thousands of fellow members and the Precision Nutrition coaches. Find out more about Precision Nutrition.



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