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By Brandi Givens, RD

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Drive Up Your Metabolism in and out of the Kitchen

Oh, metabolism. We dink that term around almost as much as Anna Leigh Waters wins, but what is metabolism, really? Can we blame “slow” metabolism on weight gain? If so, how can we drive it up to burn more calories?

The truth is scientists still have a lot to learn about metabolism. It seems to be as unique to individuals as their pickleball serve. Here’s some general information about what we do know, and a few tips that may keep yours at its best.

What is Metabolism? Simply put, metabolism is the process of converting the food we eat into energy. Through a series of complex chemical reactions, humans can metabolize energy from carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol. If we take in too many calories, our bodies store them as fat. If we don’t get enough calories, we break down our own stored fat or muscle tissue to meet energy needs.

Our bodies burn energy, even while we’re resting; 24 hours a day, our hearts pump, our lungs breathe, and our cells repair themselves. The energy we use during these basic survival functions is called resting energy expenditure (REE) or basal metabolic rate (BMR). Beyond BMR, the energy we use is more individualized depending on the physical activities we choose. For example, an hour of tournament singles will expend more energy than an hour of dinking drills.

What is “Slow” or “Fast” Metabolism? Some people burn more calories during rest than others, which is sometimes called “fast” or “high” metabolism. Some factors that might cause someone’s metabolism to be higher include: • Genetics – Certain genetics predispose people to burn more or fewer calories. • Size – Larger people have higher energy needs. • Muscle mass and body composition – Muscle cells require more energy than fat cells. • Gender – Men tend to have a higher muscle mass and lower body fat than women, causing them to burn more calories at rest.

We used to think our metabolic rate slowly declined as we got older. A large study in 2021 revealed that metabolic rates remain steady from about age 20 through age 60, and then begin to slow. What, then, might be causing unwanted weight gain as we get older, and how can we boost our metabolism?

Boosting BMR out of the Kitchen While genetics do play a role in metabolic rates and body type, the ball is in your court when it comes to lifestyle choices. With the exercise we get playing pickleball, we’re all on the right track. But there may be even more you can do to boost your metabolism and your game.

• Weightlifting or Resistance Training: Muscle tissue cells require a lot of energy to function and stay healthy, even during rest. Consider adding resistance exercises to your workouts that build large muscle groups. For example, squats build your quadriceps, glutes, and calf muscles, all of which will help you get low at the net.

• High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): HIIT workouts involve short bursts of intense exercise followed by low-intensity exercise, repeating this pattern several times. Several studies have linked HIIT with burning energy long after the workout is complete.

• Manage Stress: Too much of the stress hormone, cortisol, may influence weight gain and cause disruptions in metabolism. You can help manage stress with simple things like deep breathing, and with enjoyable activities like pickleball.

• Rest Well: Having poor sleep habits has been linked to negative effects on metabolism. Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep every night.

Boosting BMR in the Kitchen Some foods and eating habits have been linked to faster BMR. While they may only make small differences in calorie burning, over time these differences can add up to pounds. • Drink coffee: Scientists have noticed links between coffee drinkers and slightly lower obesity rates. They suspect it may be related to caffeine’s metabolism-boosting effects.

• Add ice to your water bottle: On its own, drinking plain water can increase your metabolic rate, but adding ice to your water may raise it even more.

• Turn up the heat: Some studies show that eating capsaicin, the component in chili peppers that makes them spicy-hot, may help boost metabolism. Most studies involved capsaicin supplements, not the peppers themselves.

• Eat during the day: Some research shows that our metabolic health is at its best when we follow a normal circadian rhythm, eating during the daylight hours and avoiding late-night calories.

While we can’t fight genetics or time, we can control some things when it comes to our metabolic rate. By following these metabolism-boosting tips, you can help keep yourself lean and court-ready for years to come!