In layman’s terms, metabolism is that thing we often blame for the extra weight we carry around. In more precise terms, metabolism has to do with the way our bodies convert everything we eat into fuel so we can move, as well as how we burn it. According to WebMD, metabolism is affected by gender, proportion of lean body mass, your age — it naturally slows about 5% per decade after age 40 — and sometimes heredity.
If you have a pretty sedentary life and don’t have the healthiest of diets, you’ll want to start paying attention to muscle mass — even if you’re nowhere near 40 yet. The connection between metabolism and muscle mass is really important. Muscle mass keeps your metabolism running at its most efficient. So part of the reason that your metabolism gets sluggish as you get older is because if you aren’t exercising and eating right, you are also losing muscle mass, which results in a weaker you that will be less likely to stay active. And then what you have is a vicious circle spinning around you on the couch while you channel surf and balance that box of doughnuts on your pooch.
You’ve heard it before. You know it already. And the answer is cardio at least three times per week, strength training at least twice a week and a diet of foods that help you fight muscle loss. Don’t make that face — the list is pretty inclusive for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.
Fruits and vegetables that are especially helpful in your fight against losing muscle include avocado, spinach, asparagus, kale and edamame. They are sources of protein that will keep things interesting for your insides.
Quinoa, buckwheat and hemp seeds. Seeds?! Yes, hemp seeds. Sprinkle them on a spinach salad. Welcome to Healthy Town.
Cottage cheese, any cheese (but keep it low-fat), eggs or egg whites, Greek style yogurt.
Tuna, salmon, pork, chicken and beef. Go on, say you knew it and you told the vegetarians so, but let us remind you that the chicken should be skinless and the pork and beef should be lean. Trim that fat off, or you will be clogging your arteries.
Don’t worry, vegetarian and vegan friends. We’ve got your back. Black beans, chickpeas, lentils and tofu (it’s made from soybeans) are protein-rich foods that can help you keep your muscle without sacrificing your ethical beliefs.
Green tea is supposed to be really good for keeping that metabolism going. For those who have tried everything to make it palatable and simply can’t, have ice-cold water. The colder the water, the harder your body has to work to heat it up.
The idea here is to mix and match. So if you just yelled, “Score!” because red meat is protein and you need that to fight muscle loss and you start eating red meat every single day, I have some bad news for you. According to Prevention magazine, which cited a 2012 review by the International Osteoporosis Foundation Nutrition Working Group, “getting your protein only from animal sources could actually speed muscle loss.” Have that beef, if you like it, but have some chicken, yogurt, black beans, quinoa, grains and greens, too.
Think of it this way: When you do the same exercise, your body gets used to it after a while so it stops working. That’s why it’s recommended that you change up your workouts so you can get the results you expect to see. Same with food. Chomping on spinach every day is not going to be enough. Vegetarians, especially, who won’t look to meat to keep their protein levels high will need to juggle beans, grains, tofu and kale and other greens to keep the body guessing and efficiently fueled.
You’ll thank yourself when you hit 40 and don’t find yourself sprawled on your couch wanting to ride your bike but too exhausted by the mere thought of it.