Maximizing Fitness

Achieving optimal levels of fitness and health requires not only a good workout regime, but also a solid focus on nutrition and the things that affect your metabolism. By Gavin Watterson

As we have mentioned frequently in this DA MAN Fitness column over the past months, your metabolism refers to the millions of chemical reactions happening continuously inside our bodies that allow for normal bodily functions. All these processes require energy derived from macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) along with water, vitamins, enzymes and other elements to perform these functions. The amount of calories your body burns at any given time is regulated by your metabolism. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimum amount of calories required daily to maintain your body functions at rest (breathing, heartbeat, body temperature and other basic functions).

Photo by SSCusp Kent via Flickr


You cannot control you metabolism like an air-conditioner remote control switch. You can, however, make it work for you by exercising or by subjecting the body to certain conditions, foods and other things. Typically, the more muscle mass you have, the greater, or higher, your daily metabolic rate (or metabolism) will be. A kilogram of muscle burns approximately 77 calories of energy per day! The more muscle you have, the higher the demand for energy (calories). Muscle is a lot heavier than fat, so if you do gain muscle and lose fat you may feel looser in your clothes, but your bathroom scale may say the same thing or even more. What is important is you look and feel better, so do not live and die by the number on your bathroom scale. There are other ways, like body-fat caliper testing, to find out how lean you are, so you will know you’re heading in the right direction during a good fitness program.

Hormones and your metabolism

Hormones, also known as your body’s “chemical messengers,” are generated by your endocrine system (the glands) and nervous system (nerves) to control your body’s metabolism. Metabolism itself depends on whether the body is in a building mode or breaking-down mode (also known as anabolic or catabolic, respectively). The two sides of this metabolic “coin” may be controlled either by high-calorie consumption, or calorie-deprivation diets. Many other factors may have an influence, such as if you have a certain disease, overproduction (or under-production) of hormones, and whether you take synthetic hormones or other drugs. The strength of your immune system, plus a huge variety of other factors can affect whether you are in either a state of anabolism or catabolism. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) has two parts: The “Sympathetic” branch (Catabolic) and the “Parasympathetic” branch (Anabolic).

Controlling your metabolism

Certain organs, systems and factors favor, or have their strengths, depending on which side of your nervous system you are operating in at any given time. We swing like a pendulum from one side to the other, depending on demand or activity, basically whatever we are doing or thinking at any given time. An example: If someone pointed a loaded gun at you and tried to rob you, you would definitely swing to your sympathetic side of your nervous system very quickly! When you are in a deep state of relaxation, you would be operating in the parasympathetic side.

Varying degrees of operation on either side of the nervous system (ANS) are happening at all times during the day. If you want to absorb and assimilate as much food as possible when you eat, you must eat in a relaxed mood or environment. That it is far more conducive to switching your parasympathetic side on.

If you eat when you are stressing out, you cannot get the most from what you eat, because the nutrients can’t make the switch from the sympathetic to parasympathetic. This means you will not absorb as many nutrients from meals. This is why stressed-out people tend to be overly thin and unhealthy looking (their bodies are not getting enough nutrients). They will also have more “cortisol” a hormone being produced and hanging around their system—and that means double jeopardy!

Learn to relax when you eat to get the most nutrients from your meals and switch into the parasympathetic side where your digestive system works better! You need balance between the two sides. If your body tends to work more in one side than the other, you are “autonomically unbalanced.” By assessing your nutritional intake, lifestyle and activity levels, you can achieve better balance, and become more efficient in all manner of things—mentally, spiritually and physically. The chart shows the different strengths both sides of your nervous system have and the bodily systems they influence.

Due to heredity, people may naturally lean toward a particular side of the ANS. But, having a strength or efficiency in the organs or systems from a particular branch can also be a double-edged sword. This is why certain things will work for one person and not another.

The ideal thing for your personal fitness is to speak with your fitness instructor and ascertain in which side of the ANS you are most dominant. Then, you can make use of that information by using it to your advantage when it comes to choosing what exercises and foods suit you best—the types of things to do to control your metabolism. There are a couple ways of doing this, you can browse the Metabolic Typing Web site at healthexcel.com to find out more or visit ultimatefitness.com.sg for an online assessment along with weekly e-mail support from a metabolic typing adviser.

Learning to manipulate the nutritional and lifestyle factors, as well as the physical and bodily aspects, magnify and increase the complementary effects, which help to ensure fitness-regime success. Knowing you body gives you the greatest chance of getting the most out of any program.

From DA MAN August/September 2010 issue. To buy our back issue, click here.

Gavin Watterson is a “Lifestyle Consultant,” a new breed of advanced personal trainer. Look for his highly anticipated new book entitled Reboot Your Bod, which will be available on his website at Ultimate Fitness Singapore.