Muscle metabolism: organising your warehouse

Dr Ben Kelly explains why the real key to burning fat lies in understanding how your muscles work.

Every day our muscles carry out a lot of important tasks beyond walking and looking good in the mirror. Skeletal muscle, for instance, doesn’t just help us move and maintain posture, it is also the primary site for the breakdown of carbohydrate (sugars) and fat for energy production.

When your muscles are neglected, their ability to break down sugars and fats decreases.

Think of your muscle as a busy warehouse. Products continually arrive at the warehouse, (in our case fat and glucose from food) which then have to be repackaged and redistributed to a new location so that they can be used in a new way.

Our musculature does this on our behalf 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to keep us alive. The ebb and flow of this receipt, repurposing and redistribution is just like Metabolism. Metabolism is happening in every part of the body 24/7, including in the brain and heart.

At busy periods the factory has to up its work rate to meet demand, and the same supply and demand dynamic can apply to our skeletal muscle. If we need more energy (exercising, being active) our muscular warehouse has to up production so that we can meet external demand.

The better the condition of our muscles, the better they deal with increased demand. It’s the difference between a warehouse with disorganised shelves and no systems to place to track goods, and a state-of-the-art Amazon-style warehouse with scanners and computerised systems in place to keep good order – when the orders come flying in, which do you think will cope best?

The general rule of thumb for goals such as fat loss is that long-term increases in metabolism are best achieved through resistance training (e.g. lifting weights). Broadly this is because resistance training stimulates muscle growth and the greater the muscle mass, the higher the rate of metabolism required to keep that muscle operational. That is not to say that aerobic training is not effective in augmenting metabolism, best results tend to occur when both exercise types are used.

That’s why we see all over the media ‘new best diet to boost metabolism’ or ‘new exercise regime to boost metabolism’ - underneath all of that hysteria lies the real truth: if you understand how muscle works, you understand how to support your metabolism.

Last updated Friday 25 November 2016

First published on Friday 25 November 2016