Adjusting Diets - Individual Metabolism Differences
by Dr. Mike Israetel, Co-founder and Chief Sport Scientist |
Feb 07, 2018
Individual metabolisms vary in 2 main ways, with a 3rd "modifier" variable that is independent of the two. This has some interesting implications for dieting, especially in the realm of adjusting expectations.
Main Variants of Metabolism:
1.) Some people have metabolisms that are faster than average. This has several implications:
- Dieting to lose fat can be quite easy. Achieving a lean look can be relatively effortless by simply lowering calories to normal levels.
- Dieting to gain weight can be exceedingly difficult. The amount of food needed to gain weight for those with very fast metabolisms can be downright "unlikely" to be consumed. Extreme versions of this metabolic trend will make the individual happy to gain just a couple pounds per 3 month period.
Chad Johnson, an NFL receiver was notorious for being incredibly lean despite having quite poor dietary habits (he would routinely eat McDonald's). He is a prime example of somebody with a metabolism faster than average.
- Dieting to maintain weight can be a constant chore, with a small let-up in forced eating resulting in unwanted weightloss. On the plus side, smaller individuals with fast metabolisms can maintain a small and lean physique while eating almost anything they please.
2.) Some people have metabolisms that are slower than average. This also has several implications:- Dieting to lose fat can be exceedingly difficult. It can demand an almost unsustainable or even impossible level of dietary restriction and high volume exercise.
- Dieting to maintain weight on the high end can be quite easy, with a minimal intake being enough to keep weight on.- Dieting to gain weight can be as easy as breathing. Some of the biggest and most muscular people have the slowest metabolisms for their size... they can gain weight easily and consistently.
Metabolic "Modifier" Variable:3.) How much your metabolism changes as you gain or lose weight. Some people have very stable metabolisms... as they lose weight their metabolisms don't slow, and as they gain weight their metabolisms don't speed up. Some people have highly variable metabolisms which result in a lot of slowing when losing weight and a lot of speeding up when gaining weight. Some implications for the different sub-types of metabolism that emerge when you combine this modifier variable with the above-mentioned fast and slow metabolism trends:
People with slow but variable metabolisms are going to have the most trouble with losing weight, as their metabolisms will slow to a very low level when they lose weight. They'll have an easy time holding their weight, however, since their metabolism will speed up a lot if they start to gain weight. They will have an OK time gaining weight, since their metabolism WILL speed up as they gain, but it being so slow to start out with, eating to make up for this will not be a huge problem.
These people are going to have a tough time with losing weight, but not as tough as the slow-variable group, since their metabolisms don't slow as much with weight loss. They will have a tough time with holding their weight, and especially with holding it down, because they can eat just a bit more food over a long time and creep up in weight since their slow metabolisms are not quick to adjust upwards. They will have the easiest time with gaining weight, since all they have to do is eat a moderate surpluses and boom, weight keeps piling on effortlessly for a long time with minor adjustments!
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This group will have a pretty easy time losing weight. Their metabolisms do shift down, but because they start so high, they have no serious problems with lowering their intake enough to compensate. Their ability to maintain their weight is OK as long as they can get the food in. They will have THE toughest time gaining weight, as their already-fast metabolisms ramp up even more in the face of increased weight!d.) Fast-Stable
These guys and gals will have the easiest time losing weight by far. Their fast metabolisms don't adjust downwards as much with lowered weights, so they can lose for long periods with only minor adjustments. On the other hand, their ability to hold a high body weight steadily will be the toughest of all groups. If they mess up on eating just a couple of days in a row, this can mean pounds of tissue gone, to be replaced only by intentional gaining via overeating. They won't have the toughest time with gaining weight, but they will have it tough. Eating that much food is usually realistic, but will require intense consistency.e.) Average-Variable
These people have a pretty tough time gaining AND losing weight, since their metabolisms favor neither and adjust quickly to any attempt to change weight. However, they will have the easiest time maintaining their weight and eating a normal diet.f.) Average-Stable
These people don't have the greatest ability for changes, but they can add meaningful size AND lose meaningful weight without the most possible effort. Slow and steady is the name of the game for this group, but a special amount of attention has to be paid to maintaining new gains or losses. Because of their stable metabolisms, not eating enough after a mass phase or too much after a cut can quickly erase some progress if the diet isn't watched carefully.No one fits EXACTLY into any of these categories, but it helps to figure out approximately where you fit in. This won't impact dieting strategies much (after all, you have to eat more to gain and eat less to lose no matter what), but it WILL allow you clear perspective on what to expect.
If you have a fast-variable metabolism and are frustrated that you have trouble gaining weight, DON'T BE! It's totally expected! It doesn't mean you have to abandon a diet that's working slowly in hopes of a fix-all plan that will PILE ON THE GAINS FAST. With your body, NOTHING is going to be a quick fix for gains. Knowing this can save you lots of frustration and diet-switching.
In much the same way, knowing that you're more in the slow-stable group can prevent you from needlessly searching a way to eat ALL THE DELICIOUS FOODS YOU LOVE and still stay small and lean. You're gonna have to watch your diet a bit more closely than others if you want to keep your smaller size, and that's ok... it's the having illusions that's not.