Sports Nutrition How Athletes Can Fix Metabolic Damage By Darla Leal Darla Leal Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a "fit-over-55" lifestyle. Learn about our editorial process Updated on September 29, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Fit articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and nutrition and exercise healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Anisha Shah, MD Medically reviewed by Anisha Shah, MD LinkedIn Anisha Shah, MD, is a board-certified internist, interventional cardiologist, and fellow of the American College of Cardiology. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Metabolic damage, starvation mode, and weight loss resistance are interchangeable terms used to describe a slowed metabolism. Some active adults and athletes struggle with losing weight and changing their body composition (such as adding muscle and losing fat). Regardless of how much they exercise or how they change their diet, for some, reducing body fat seems impossible. To fix a slowed metabolism or overcome a weight-loss plateau, you likely need to cut back on exercise and eat more instead of less. This approach may seem counter-intuitive, but slow and steady wins the race when it comes to working with your metabolism instead of against it. Understanding Metabolism Cavan Images / Getty Images The first step to working with your metabolism is to understand how metabolism works, including the definition of some basic terms. Resting metabolic rate (RMR) or basal metabolic rate (BMR): The rate at which the body burns energy (calories) at rest, or in a non-exercise state; these two terms are often used interchangeably. These basic metabolic processes (like breathing!) use between 50% and 70% of the calories we consume. Activity energy expenditure (AEE): The rate of calories or energy the body uses during physical activity such as purposeful exercise. Typically, this figure represents approximately 20% of a day's calories—again depending on activity level. An athlete may expend as much as 50% of their daily calories during exercise. Thermic effect of food (TEF): The rate of calories or energy required to digest, absorb, and distribute nutrients. This accounts for approximately 10% to 20% of daily total energy expenditure and varies per macronutrient. Protein requires higher TEF than carbohydrates or fat. What Is Metabolism? Factors That Affect Metabolism Many factors can alter metabolism, including food intake and increased exercise. For example, restrictive diets can slow metabolism. Your body wants to make sure it has enough energy to run efficiently, which is reflected in how it responds to changes in calorie consumption, exercise, weight loss, and stress. Diet Eating causes a lowered energy output because the digestive process burns calories. Consuming insufficient calories, coupled with the thermic effect of food, can leave the body in starvation mode. Exercise Increased exercise can also alter metabolism. If you provide only enough calories to support your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and nothing for activity, it will be difficult for your body to function. You can't sustain a workout without adequate fuel because your body needs calories to shuttle sufficient energy to working muscles. Weight Loss When we lose fat, especially through rapid weight loss, the body responds by trying to come back into balance (homeostasis). It does this by trying to prevent future weight loss. Reducing body fat gradually, on the other hand, allows time for the body to adjust to the reduction of energy or fat stores. Stress The body releases the stress hormone cortisol and reduces testosterone when it faces chronic caloric restriction and additional exercise. These hormonal changes slow metabolism and impair the ability to lose weight. How Metabolic Damage Happens When trying to reduce body fat, you may combine several weight loss methods: reducing calories, or otherwise changing your eating patterns, and ramping up exercise. At first, this dual approach may result in weight loss. But if you make extreme changes in either area (reducing calorie intake or increasing exercise), your body may respond by using muscle for energy and holding onto fat stores to survive. In a weight-loss plateau, you're stalled. The methods you've been using have stopped working. For many people, the instinct is to try even harder: They may decide to cut more calories or eliminate a whole food group, like carbohydrates. They may add more workout time to their schedule or increase the intensity of their exercise routine. But the metabolism's response is the same: The body hangs onto fat stores in an effort to prevent starvation. How to Fix Metabolic Damage It's possible to move your body out of starvation mode once it's there. It requires a "less is more" approach, and you'll need to rethink your approach to exercise and eating. Exercise Instead of intense cardio and heavy weight-lifting, scale back your exercise routine for a while. Rest is important for metabolic recovery. Try walking and light weight training so you're still moving your body (this will help you fight stress, too). Give your body a chance to adjust to reduced calories without the added toll of increased physical exercise. Sometimes, varying the type of exercise can also help with this plateau effect (in addition to scaling back your activity). Diet Think about fat loss as a process and become patient with your progress. Aim to lose approximately 1 to 2 pounds per week. Gradual weight loss reduces the risk of muscle atrophy and allows your body time to adapt. Make minor changes to your caloric intake. Keep carbohydrates in your diet. They provide fuel for your body and also activate the hormone leptin. Increased leptin levels improve energy output (aka calorie burn). Reducing and eliminating carbs, on the other hand, lowers leptin levels and decreases its function. Don't skip healthy dietary fats, either. Adequate fat intake is important for hormone function, especially testosterone. Testosterone helps increase the metabolism and the body's ability to burn fat. Eliminating fat from your diet can actually increase body fat stores. Consider keeping a food diary or journal to help keep track of your current eating patterns and any changes you make. Once you've taken some time to rest and reset, you will start feeling better. You will have more energy and an improved mental game. Then you can slowly return to appropriate weight-loss methods. A Word From Verywell If you're looking to lose weight, be patient. Go gradually. Apply one change at a time and allow your body to adapt. Remember that your body needs all the macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—to function at its best. Maintaining a healthy weight helps keep your metabolism running smoothly and efficiently. How to Rev Up Your Metabolism 9 Sources Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. TeensHealth (Nemours). Metabolism. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (8th edition). Redman LM, Smith SR, Burton JH, Martin CK, Il'yasova D, Ravussin E. Metabolic slowing and reduced oxidative damage with sustained caloric restriction support the rate of living and oxidative damage theories of aging. Cell Metab. 2018;27(4):805-815.e4. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2018.02.019 Trexler ET, Smith-Ryan AE, Norton LE. Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: Implications for the athlete. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014;11(1):7. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-7 American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 4 Metabolism myths and facts. Rabasa C, Dickson SL. Impact of stress on metabolism and energy balance. Curr Opin Behav Sci. 2016;9:71-77. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2016.01.011 American Council on Exercise. The science of post-exercise recovery: Research from the ACE Scientific Advisory Panel. Pandit R, Beerens S, Adan RAH. Role of leptin in energy expenditure: The hypothalamic perspective. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2017;312(6):R938-R947. doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00045.2016 Mumford SL, Chavarro JE, Zhang C, et al. Dietary fat intake and reproductive hormone concentrations and ovulation in regularly menstruating women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;103(3):868–877. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.119321 By Darla Leal Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a "fit-over-55" lifestyle. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from companies that partner with and compensate Verywell Fit for displaying their offer. 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