Is Metabolic Testing Helpful for Weight Loss?

Evaluate the Pros and Cons of Metabolic Tests

Sports scientist at computer and runner with mask on treadmill in laboratory
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Have you considered investing in a metabolic assessment at your local gym or fitness center?  If you’re trying to lose weight, personalized scientific testing might seem like a great idea. According to many advertisements, the tests provide data that could be essential for dieters. But do the results really matter? And is metabolic testing really helpful for weight loss?

What is Metabolic Testing?

Metabolic tests measure the rate at which your body burns calories during different activities. During a typical assessment at your health club, a qualified trainer will measure your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and your metabolic rate during various intensities of exercise. In most cases, the numbers are then assembled into a personalized exercise program tailored to improve your specific metabolic profile and help you to lose weight.

Metabolic testing used to be available only in expensive laboratory or hospital settings. Several years ago, health clubs and gyms started offering metabolic assessments using more cost-efficient equipment made by different brands that also train gym staff to operate the machines. The test procedures that are used in a gym setting are often similar to but aren’t necessarily identical to the laboratory setting protocols. 

What Will I Learn From Metabolic Testing?

Metabolic testing can provide essential data for people who want to lose weight. Based on your resting metabolic rate and your estimated daily activity, your trainer will estimate the total number of calories you burn every day without exercise. You’ll also learn how your body burns fuel during exercise. These numbers can help you to manage your food intake during the day. 

For example, if you learn that it takes you three hours of sedentary activity to burn off the calories in your favorite treat, you might think twice about eating that treat. And if you learn that it takes an hour on the treadmill to burn off your favorite sweetened beverage, you might become inspired to drink water instead. 

You will also learn the heart rate range that is most effective for your body to burn fat. And you may discover the heart rate limit when your body stops burning fat as fuel.  Lastly, you’ll learn how to train to improve your body’s ability to burn fat more effectively.

Pros and Cons of Metabolic Tests for Weight Loss

Your metabolic numbers are only helpful if they are presented in the context of a comprehensive program. For many people, this is the real value of metabolic testing. The personalized exercise program that you get after metabolic testing can help you create real change in your body if you stick to it.

But that’s where the cons begin. If you weren’t a regular exerciser before having this test, then you probably won’t be after you have it done. In that case, the test results don’t really matter.  This is a good test for people who exercise on a regular basis.  But for people who don’t, it might not be the best initial investment.   

In addition, some critics feel that metabolic testing in health club settings is not accurate enough to be effective. The type of equipment used, the experience of the tester and your own ability to follow testing protocols will all impact the accuracy of the results that you get.  

Should I Invest in Metabolic Testing?

If you’re a regular exerciser and your workouts don’t seem to give you the results that you need, then metabolic testing might be right for you. The personalized test results and workout program could provide you with the adjustments you need to change your body composition and lose weight.

But before you invest hundreds of dollars on the procedure, get detailed information about the facility and the tester. Ask questions about the test taker's experience and credentials. You may also want to know how often the testing equipment is calibrated and if the facility updates equipment on a regular basis. It may be worth your money to go to a laboratory setting and work with an exercise physiologist rather than risk your money at a gym.

Lastly, do your best to follow proper instructions before the test. You may need to rest and refrain from eating for several hours before you undergo the procedure. One hundred dollars (or more) is too much money to spend for a walk on the treadmill, so follow orders and prepare for your test. Then use the results and your trainer’s advice to stick to the plan so your workouts are more effective for weight loss.