Given the popularity of astrology and personality-type quizzes, it's no surprise that the idea of metabolism types is alluring. And, similar to how Geminis differ from Leos and ENTJs and ISFJs have different approaches to many things in life, there is such a thing as different types of metabolisms. The tricky thing is defining them, and determining which eating habits — if any — are best for each type.
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There's much more to learn on this topic, but below, experts shed light on metabolism and the best ways to support your internal engine.
What Is Metabolism?
Metabolism is the process where you body takes what you eat and drink and turns it into energy, according to the Mayo Clinic. This process happens in every cell and system in the body. Metabolism includes basal metabolic rate (the calories you burn from simply existing), physical activity and breaking down and using food for energy.
How fast or slow your metabolism is depends on a number of factors, per Harvard Health Publishing, including your genes as well as your age, biological sex and amount of muscle. And there are some factors we are still discovering, says Emily Johnston, PhD, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator.
Are There Different Types of Metabolisms?
It's true that different people can have faster, slower or "in-between" metabolisms. "There is significant evidence of this in studies on lifestyle interventions where some individuals see great results while others see no results or even sometimes see their health decline during an intervention study," Johnston says.
However, scientists do not agree on exact categories for metabolism types. In recent years, some researchers proposed the idea of metabotypes that share certain metabolic responses to foods and dietary changes, Johnston says. Using diet, gut microbiota, body measurements and other data, scientists may be able to determine not only a person's metabotype but also their optimal diet, according to a May 2020 study in Advances in Nutrition.
The problem, as noted in a June 2017 review in the British Journal of Nutrition, is that definitions of metabotypes differ quite a bit.
"It's hard to come up with a formula, because both genetics and habits such as physical activity play in," says Rebecca Denison, RD, LD, CDE, doctor of integrative medicine and dietitian/diabetes educator with GBMC's Geckle Diabetes and Nutrition Center. "That's what makes this so complicated."
And while a Google search can bring up various supposed metabolism types, these are not supported by research.
What Is Dual-Efficient Metabolism?
Along with metabolism types, some people float the idea of "dual-efficient metabolism." This is the "theory that certain people can equally utilize fats, protein and carbohydrates and therefore have no trouble with maintaining a healthy weight," explains Heidi Guzman, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at Columbia University Medical Center.
This idea of dual-efficient metabolism may have come from the fact that everyone knows at least one person who seems to be able to eat anything and stay slim. But there is no scientific evidence to support this concept.
But research does show that different diets work best for different people.
"Regardless of the macronutrient content that a particular diet focuses on — such as a low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet — each can produce similar amounts of long-term weight loss," Guzman says. "The most important factor in determining weight-loss success is adherence to a nutritional plan, rather than the particular macronutrient your diet may focus on."
In other words, the most effective weight-loss diet for you is the one you can stick with in the long run.
So successfully managing weight, diabetes, cholesterol or any other health goal with diet may be due to metabotypes — or it may be due to other factors, Johnston says.
How to Support a Healthy Metabolism
While you cannot yet determine your metabolism type and it's best to avoid any so-called "dual-efficient metabolism diet plan," you can take steps to support a healthy metabolism. Follow these expert tips.
1.Determine What Works for You
Three meals a day or six meals a day can both support a healthy metabolism, Denison says. The choice should be based on what leaves you feeling energized and helps you follow a healthy diet, she adds.
2. Drink Up
Water helps your whole body function at its best, and that includes your metabolism.
"Water helps transport nutrients to cells and helps the cells secrete what they don't need to get the trash out," Denison says. This way, they can function more efficiently.
A good general guideline is to aim to drink about half your body weight in ounces each day, according to the University of Missouri System.
3. Eat Enough
"Some level of calorie deficit is necessary for weight loss, but eating too few calories can lead to a slower metabolic rate," Johnston explains.
In general, people assigned female at birth shouldn't dip below 1,200 calories per day, and those assigned male at birth shouldn't get fewer than 1,500 calories a day, per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
4. Do Resistance Training
"It takes about twice as many calories to maintain muscle as it does to maintain fat," Denison says. So adding some muscle to your figure can help your metabolism thrive.
Try strength training with free weights, machines, resistance bands or your body weight at least twice a week, resting at least one day between strength workouts.
5. Don't Neglect Protein
The other key to muscle building is protein. Eating enough of this macronutrient, especially as you get older, will help improve your muscle health, according to a February 2017 study in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The recommended daily amount of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. A kilogram is about 2.2 pounds, so if you weigh 180 pounds, for example, you should aim to get about 65 grams of protein a day.
If you're restricting calories to lose weight and/or strength training to build muscle, you should aim for a bit more — about 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, according to a December 2019 review and meta-analysis in Advances in Nutrition.
Foods high in protein include:
- Meats, including chicken, turkey, pork and beef
- Fish and seafood
- Cottage cheese
6. Prioritize Sleep
Studies suggest that sleep deprivation may be bad for the metabolism. In a small study published November 2019 in the Journal of Lipid Research, 15 healthy men slept for no more than five hours for four consecutive nights. That lack of sleep changed how their bodies metabolized fat — notably, they stored more fat.
In the long run, lack of sleep and the extra fat storage that comes with it may increase the risk of various diseases. Aim for at least seven hours per night. (Want to get better shut-eye? Follow this 7-night plan from sleep experts.)
7. Get Support
"There is some evidence that individuals are more likely to follow a diet and lifestyle plan when it is personalized, as opposed to following the same advice that is given to everyone else," Johnston says.
If you want that kind of help and support, consider working with a registered dietitian nutritionist, she adds.
- Mayo Clinic: "Metabolism and weight loss: How you burn calories"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The truth about metabolism"
- Nutrition Research Reviews: "Metabotyping and its role in nutrition research"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Perspective: Metabotyping—A Potential Personalized Nutrition Strategy for Precision Prevention of Cardiometabolic Disease"
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Metabotyping and its application in targeted nutrition: an overview"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Dietary protein is associated with musculoskeletal health independently of dietary pattern: the Framingham Third Generation Study"
- Journal of Lipid Research: "Four nights of sleep restriction suppress the postprandial lipemic response and decrease satiety"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- Advances in Nutrition: "https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/11/3/548/5636798?login=true"
- University of Missouri System: "How to calculate how much water you should drink"