Do you feel like losing weight isn’t as easy as it used to be? Do those years of eating pizza and drinking beer while still fitting into your skinny jeans seem like distant memories? You may have heard that metabolism slows down with age, but is it really true?
Let’s take a moment to dig into this metabolic midlife crisis. We’ll separate fact from fiction and offer some pointers to help you get it moving in the right direction.
4 Reasons Your Metabolism Slows Down as You Age
We know aging plays a big role in metabolism. Formulas that predict your daily calorie goal usually take age into account and as you age, these formulas spit out a smaller calorie budget. But, why?
1. Your lifestyle is more sedentary (and stressful!)
The reality is our home, schools, workplace, cities, and culture isn’t built to make healthy choices easy choices. Working a desk job with looming deadlines, long hours, and a hectic commute is a formula for being sedentary and feeling stressed out! During particularly stressful times, you may feel unable or unmotivated to work out even though it’s been shown that exercise lowers stress. Since both low activity and chronic stress are linked to obesity, it’s easy to see why decades of this lifestyle can take its toll on your waistline. It’s not your fault the environment dealt you these cards, but it is up to you to fight back!
2. Your thyroid ain’t what it used to be.
As your body ages, so do all your organs, including your thyroid gland. Its job is to make thyroid hormone. This regulates metabolism, which affects your weight. Too much of it and you can suffer from irritability, nervousness, sleep disturbances, and weight loss — classic symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Too little, and you can suffer from fatigue, depression, and weight gain. While the American Thyroid Association estimates that only 12 percent of the U.S. population has a thyroid condition, talk to your doctor if you’re consistently experiencing these symptoms since research has found that the prevalence of thyroid disorders increases with age.
3. Your sex hormones decline.
Aging can be associated with a decline in estrogen and testosterone in women and men respectively. Research shows that a man’s testosterone level steadily declines starting at 30 to 40 years of age and onward, and this can make it harder to retain lean muscle mass. In women, the post-menopause estrogen dip can lead to hot flashes, loss of bone density, sleep disturbances, and an accumulation of belly fat (a.k.a. visceral fat).
4. As you age, your body composition changes.
Most people tend to lose lean muscle mass as they age if they don’t actively work to maintain it. And, as you get older, it’s easier to gain fat mass. The result is a body composition that’s different than the one you had when you were younger. According to an article published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, around half of a young adult’s total body weight is lean muscle mass, but as this figure shows, lean mass dwindles to around a quarter of body weight when a person reaches 75 to 80 years old. While the “muscle-burns-more-calories-than-fat” theory has come under fire, it’s agreed that there’s at least some truth to it — even if the number of daily calories burned is small.
5 Nutrition Tweaks to Fight Back Against an Aging Metabolism
If the middle age spread is causing you despair, take a deep breath! Here are a few nutrition tweaks that can help you cope:
1. Cut back on added sugars.
A sugary diet can throw your blood sugar off kilter, and is associated with higher body weight. If your goal is to lose weight, cut back on the number of processed, refined carbohydrate snacks and drinks (think: cookies, cakes, candies, sodas). Sweets are fine to enjoy, but consider them treats. For special occasions, give yourself a small portion and slowly enjoy every bite or sip, which can help you feel more satisfied with less.
2. Eat enough protein.
Proteins are comprised of building blocks called amino acids, which are crucial for building and retaining lean muscle mass. To help improve your metabolism, add strength training to your routine and support it by eating protein from plant and/or animal sources at each meal. If you want the nitty-gritty details of exactly how much protein you need, 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight is the minimum amount of protein you should be eating, but if you’re working out, that number goes up to 1.3 g/kg. Bonus: You get a small metabolic boost from protein, as you burn more energy digesting it than carbs or fat.
3. Stay well-hydrated with water.
Guzzle up that H2O! After all, the human body is 75 percent water, and all those calorie-busting chemical reactions in your body require water. Beachbody recommends using body weight as a general guide to get you started. Drink your body weight, divided by two, in ounces. So if you weigh 150 pounds — that would be 150 divided by 2, or 75 ounces of water. Enjoy it plain or jazz it up with fresh berries, mint leaves, cucumbers, or lemons, or add fizz.
4. Eat small, frequent meals.
5. Choose a well-balanced, varied diet.
Eat a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and dairy so you can obtain all the nutrients you need. A deficiency in one or more nutrients could impair metabolism, so why take the chance? Research shows that obese individuals have high rates of many micronutrient deficiencies, though the scientific justification is still murky.
Not sure what to eat to help keep your weight in check? Here’s some inspiration.
22 Balanced, Lower-Sugar, Protein-Rich Recipes
- Slow Cooker Chicken and Quinoa with Veggies
- Chicken and Black Bean Burrito Bowl
- Pesto Zucchini Noodles with Chicken
- Mexican Tofu Breakfast Scramble
- Slow Cooker Beef Chili
- 12 Ways to Make Egg Muffins in 5 Ingredients or Less
- Breakfast Quesadillas
- Pork and Sweet Potato Kabobs
- Gingerbread Protein Pancakes
- Chile Mocha Shakeology
- Lettuce-Wrapped Bahn Mi Turkey Burgers