This is something I hear frequently. Okay so there might be rare occasions when some people may have complicating factors that make fat loss harder but, I have to be honest, the vast majority of people who complain about a slow metabolism don’t have a metabolism problem at all. They have a movement problem. A lack of it. Take an Athlete member at GYM G5 for example. Lets say you train 3-5 times a week. In your head you think you're super active! Your friends and work colleagues might consider you to be mega fit, and in comparison to the mass population you are. But, when it comes to fat loss, if you're still not losing the excess weight and blaming it on your metabolism (and assuming that there are no complicating factors with bloods or hormones), then we have to start thinking about where the problem could lie....
The first question we need to ask is "How 'active' really are you?"
Lets say that you burn around 261 calories in a 20 minute Crossfit benchmark WOD (this is an average and not 100% accurate, as everyone will differ based on our individual factors such as height, age, weight,lean body mass, BMR, etc.) then consider that the majority of us probably train around 3-5 times a week, that means you are burning between 900-1500 calories in the gym each week. If the remainder of your working day/week involves driving to/from work, or taking the train/bus, followed by sitting at a desk, or driving or any other non-active job, followed by getting home eating dinner and chilling on the couch in the evening, then the reality is you're actually pretty sedentary. To make matters worse, studies have also shown that people who follow a regular weekly routine of intentional exercise(i.e. gym go-ers), they may unconsciously eat more calories pre/post training to compensate for the training effort or over compensate for the calories burned whilst training by moving LESS after training and therefore negating their efforts to a degree. The long and short of it is, even if you go the gym and train hard 3-5 times a week for anywhere between 20-45 minutes each time, if you sit on your ass all day most days, then going to the gym and 'intentionally exercising' for 20-45 minutes 3-5 times a week, (plus eating more because you train and rewarding yourself with an evening on the sofa because you've been to the gym) - is not going to give you the fat loss results you want.
what is NEAT and how can it help me lose body fat?
NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) and when added to our basal metabolic rate (BMR), plus the thermic effect of the foods you eat, this makes up your daily calorie (energy) requirements.
BMR + thermic effect of food + NEAT = daily calories (energy) requirement
Your BMR, or Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), is the energy requirement of your body either without any activity or while lying motionless i.e. whilst sleeping. Your BMR/RMR accounts for about 60% of your total daily calorie (energy) requirements. The thermic effect of food (i.e. the amount of calories needed to digest food) accounts for about 10-15% of your daily calorie (energy) requirements, which means the rest of your daily calorie (energy) requirements are wholly dependent on how ACTIVE you are in both intentional exercise (i.e. going to the gym/training) and your daily NEAT i.e. the normal life activities like walking, cleaning, shopping etc. And heres the shocking facts! Your daily NEAT activity can vary from as little as 15% of energy expenditure (calories burned) in the very sedentary (desk job, car owner) to up to 50% in very active individuals (active job, walks everywhere).
So, take Jean* who's a lawyer, has a BMR of around 1,000 calories (we’ll use that nice even number for simplicity’s sake), that means Jean* will burn about 150 calories digesting the food she eats each day.
She may also burn anywhere from 150 to 500 calories more per day, depending on whether she spends the day sitting on her ass at her desk or in Court vs a day being very active full of walking, shopping, house work etc. If we also assume that Jean* didn’t engage in any intentional exercise on a normal working week day the worst case scenario is that she is going to burn 1,300 calories. If Jean's* NEAT activities are at the higher end, she’s going to burn 1,650. That’s a 350-calorie daily difference of calories burned between the different NEAT activity levels. Oh and by the way, I don’t know many people who eat only 1,300 calories per day, but I do know plenty of people who have desk jobs and also don’t train every day.
The hard truth is, the combination of a sedentary lifestyle with a daily surplus of calories beyond your basic energy requirements and over time you have weight gain.
It’s easy to forget or ignore all this, especially when we compare ourselves to friends or work colleagues who seem to effortlessly lose weight or stay lean. Its easy to compare how much we train and how much we are eating, and blame our genetics for giving us a tortoise-like ability to lose fat. But, the truth is we don’t see what these “naturally skinny” people are doing on a daily basis. My guess would be that your 'naturally-thin' friend quite possibly has a very active job, as opposed to sitting at a computer or in meetings or answering the phone all day. Its likely that they also walk more in their day to day life and may also train on top of their active jobs, adding to their daily calorie burn. Their metabolisms aren’t necessarily any better, they just move more. This daily surplus of movement is more expended calories which adds up over time, just as not moving and over eating calories can! Its exactly this subtle but consistent differences in activity and lifestyle that makes it appear that we have two camps: people who stay thin effortlessly and those who do not. But really when you ask yourself the question 'how active really are you' it’s a case of those who are more active in an effortless or routine way and those who are not. Don't under estimate the additional effect that NEAT can have on helping you achieve your fat loss goals, even if you are a regular gym goer. In my experience, its the clients with a lot of weight to shift, and who make EXTRA lifestyle changes to become more active outside of their gym sessions, i.e. walking for 30 mins before work, or cycling to/from work every day instead of taking the car, that lose the weight quicker and maintain it in the longer term. So, maybe you don’t have a slow metabolism at all. Maybe you just need to get off your ass more and get out and move?