Every living organism is kept alive through a chemical process called metabolism.
Your metabolism is responsible for breaking down the calories you consume and turning them into the energy your body needs to function.
The higher your metabolism is, the easier it is for you to lose weight and maintain that level of weight loss. One way to determine the speed of your body’s metabolism is by testing your metabolism.
In this article, we’ll explain what metabolic testing involves, and how you can use your results to improve weight loss and increase physical fitness.
Metabolic testing involves a number of different tests. Each test provides information about a key element of your metabolism. These elements include:
- Resting metabolic rate (RMR). Testing this aspect of your metabolism provides information about the estimated number of calories you burn when your body is at rest — you’re not exercising or moving.
- Maximum volume of oxygen (V02 Max). This test element (also called aerobic capacity) provides information about your body’s ability to use oxygen effectively during exercise.
- Lactate threshold test. Your lactate threshold is the point at which lactic acid builds up in the blood more quickly than it can be removed during exercise, causing muscle fatigue. If you’re an athlete who’s interested in improving performance, you may find this metabolic test element beneficial.
In a medical facility or fitness center
Traditionally, metabolic testing was done in medical settings. Recently, this type of test has become available at many gyms and health clubs.
Since certification is not required to read the results of metabolic tests, some users feel that testing done at fitness centers is less accurate than those a medical professional performs. If you’re interested in having your metabolism tested, talk to a doctor about finding a reliable testing facility in your area.
The cost may vary as well. Metabolic testing is usually expensive. It’s up to you to decide where you should get a metabolic test done. Finding out whether your insurance covers it may help you to decide.
At-home testing is also available. Most at-home metabolism tests look at hormone levels that can affect metabolism, such as:
- thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3)
This can be beneficial, but differs from metabolic rate.
Resting metabolic rate (RMR)
Metabolic testing is typically done in several parts and almost always includes a calorimetry test. This test takes 15 to 30 minutes and is done while you’re reclining.
The equipment used may vary. Some calorimetry tests use a mouthpiece you breathe into. Others require you to recline under a plastic hood that’s attached to a monitor by a tube. This test measures your RMR.
Maximum volume of oxygen (V02 max)
V02 max is determined while you perform an aerobic activity, such as walking or running on a treadmill. You’ll breathe into a mask during this test.
As the test progresses, the speed and incline of the treadmill will continue to increase. The length of time it takes to do this test is determined by your fitness level and ability to continue as the test becomes more challenging.
The results of each test are analyzed using specific formulas that contrast oxygen inhalation and carbon dioxide exhalation.
This allows your healthcare provider or trainer to estimate the number of calories you burn while at rest and during exercise.
If you have lactate threshold testing done, your blood will be drawn at varying intervals during ever-increasing levels of aerobic activity, either on a treadmill or a bike.
This test should only be done in a medical setting.
Metabolic testing gives you information about approximately how many calories you burn each day.
Based on this information, you may decide to alter your physical activity or eating habits, so that you burn more (or less) calories daily.
Metabolic testing can be valuable, but the results should only be looked at as part of an overall fitness or wellness program.
Optimum RMR and V02 MAX numbers vary from person to person. They’re based on many factors including:
- activity level
- weight history
- current weight
Keep in mind that your test results provide a snapshot of your metabolism and fitness level on the day you were tested.
If your activity level changes, or your physical fitness improves or declines, your metabolic rate, and numbers, will change.
Remember, the changes you experience will occur over time. You will likely not see any dramatic changes day to day.
If you blame slow metabolism for hard-to-control weight gain, you’re probably right. Luckily, metabolic rate can be sped up or slowed down safely by altering your lifestyle habits.
Things to try that can boost metabolism include:
- Exercise. Your metabolic rate changes during the course of an average day. You already know you burn more calories when you’re active than while you’re resting. The more vigorous the activity, the higher your metabolic rate and caloric burn will be. In addition, exercising gives your metabolism a boost for several hours after you stop. The type of exercise you do may also have an effect. Both anaerobic and aerobic exercise can positively affect metabolic rate. If you’re very sedentary (somewhat physically inactive), have a BMI>30, or are elderly, talk to your doctor about an exercise program that’ll be a safe fit for you.
- Activity. You don’t have to hit the gym daily to boost your metabolism. Small spurts of activity, such as brisk walks can help, and so can standing instead of sitting.
- Eating a well-balanced diet. Eating a balanced diet, which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is essential to your overall health. For example, eating protein at each meal can boost your metabolic rate. The act of eating requires calories for chewing and digestion. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF). Protein consumption, including vegetarian forms of protein, cause the highest levels of TEF to occur. You won’t burn as many calories eating a meal as you will while you’re running a marathon, but it will help give your metabolism a nudge in the right direction. Keep in mind that it’s important to practice portion management at each meal to complement eating a balanced diet.
- Eating enough. Eating more calories than you burn off will typically result in weight gain. However, eating too few calories can have a negative effect that causes your metabolism to slow down. That’s one of the reasons why crash diets don’t work.
- Drinking water. Drinking water, especially cold water, has also
been shownto increase metabolic rate.
There are several metabolic body types that are inherited. Your metabolic type may affect, to some degree, how easy it is for you to lose or gain weight.
Metabolic type is not, however, the only factor that determines physical appearance or weight. In fact, many people are a combination of several metabolic body types. In general, the three types are:
- Endomorphs. Endomorphs have a medium-to-large bone structure, less muscle mass and more body fat, giving them a rounder appearance. They are thought to have a slow metabolism and may struggle with weight gain.
- Ectomorphs. Ectomorphs are narrower in size and have smaller joints. They are thought to have the highest metabolic rate of all the metabolic types.
- Mesomorphs. Mesomorphs have larger skeletons than ectomorphs, and less body fat than endomorphs. They lose weight and gain muscle mass easily.
Scientific evidence about the best diets for metabolic body types is lacking, and not definitive.
Anecdotally, it seems that endomorphs may experience insulin sensitivity more than the other groups. Eating a diet low in carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates, may help. You can learn more about the endomorph diet here.
Mesomorphs may require more calories to support a larger frame and more muscle. You can learn more about the mesomorph diet here.
Ectomorphs may have trouble keeping weight on and may struggle to build lean muscle mass. Eating nutrient-dense food every few hours may help. You can learn more about the ectomorph diet here.
A metabolic test can provide you with information about how effectively your body burns calories and uses oxygen during workouts.
It’s a valuable tool that can help you make decisions about lifestyle habits that affect weight gain or weight loss.
Be sure to use a credible testing facility that can provide you with reliable results. Ask your primary healthcare provider for recommendations.