Are you a creature of habit, clinging tightly to your daily routines, or do you embrace change and adapt easily to new circumstances? Now, apply that same question to your body's metabolic system. If your metabolism could answer, what do you think it would say?
Being metabolically flexible is like being adaptable to life's unexpected turns. It's about having a boosted metabolism that can efficiently switch between different types of fuel based on what's available.
The payoff? A wealth of health benefits.
The beauty of metabolic flexibility is that it's not a fixed trait; you can improve it through lifestyle modifications like a personalized diet, regular exercise, and quality sleep. To get real-time insights into how your lifestyle impacts on what your body is burning, start by taking this quiz.
By being metabolically flexible, you can work towards a healthier and more vibrant life. Read on to find out:
In the realm of physiology, metabolic flexibility refers to the body's ability to adapt its fuel utilization to the available macronutrients—primarily carbohydrates and fats—in response to fasting or feeding, rest or activity. It's like a well-oiled machine capable of adjusting its gears in response to the availability of different types of fuel. It's a fascinating showcase of the body's adaptability and perfectly illustrates the saying, "variety is the spice of life."
So why does this matter?
Well, a metabolically flexible body is like a hybrid car that can smoothly switch between fuel sources for optimal performance and efficiency. It's a desirable trait because it allows you to maintain energy balance, optimize body composition, and protect against metabolic diseases (1).
A metabolically inflexible body, on the other hand, struggles to switch between fuels and has a hard time adapting to dietary changes, making it more susceptible to weight gain and other health issues.
Let’s start at the beginning. Metabolism is the process by which your body converts food sources into energy that is needed to fuel your daily activities. Our metabolism is constantly working to maintain a balance between the energy we take in and the energy we use.
Understanding the importance of your metabolism is crucial because it plays a vital role in a range of bodily functions, including digestion.
Your metabolism is an enabler when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight and plays a role in helping you maintain good health. Since your metabolism is responsible for how quickly and efficiently your body burns calories, it is vital you take proper care of it and feed it with nutrition that is personalized for your physiology.
Metabolic health refers to the overall state of an individual's metabolism, which encompasses a range of physiological processes related to how the body converts food into energy, synthesizes and breaks down nutrients, and regulates blood sugar, lipid levels, and other metabolic markers.
A person with a healthy metabolism efficiently converts food into energy and uses this energy to support basic physiological processes. Metabolic health typically translates to stable levels of glucose, insulin, lipids in the blood, a healthy body weight, and low levels of inflammation, oxidative stress, and other metabolic disturbances.
Maintaining metabolic health is important for preventing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.
Remember that everyone's metabolism is different, and yours may be able to burn fat faster. Understanding your metabolism also means learning to integrate healthy habits that enhance your metabolic health.
On the other hand, poor metabolic health is a cluster of metabolic problems that can lead to conditions and effects that increase the risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and other health conditions.
Individuals who have poor metabolic health have difficulty switching between fuel sources for energy, which may lead to obesity, and inflammation, and have a hard time losing weight. The thing is, once you begin to develop chronic conditions, other issues begin to emerge, and you can become easily ill and find it challenging to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Individuals with poor metabolic health suffer the consequences of metabolic inflexibility. This occurs when the body cannot efficiently switch between different energy sources, such as glucose and fat, and instead relies heavily on carbs (1).
When the body relies heavily on carbs for fuel, it uses less fat for fuel, reducing fat burning and increasing fat storage. Consequently, this creates a cycle where the body constantly requires carbs to maintain its energy for fuel. As a result, the body cannot efficiently burn fat and continues on a vicious cycle.
While carbs are essential nutrients the body requires, it’s important to consume more complex carbs as opposed to simple carbs. With metabolic inflexibility, the body craves simple carbs, leading to unhealthy blood sugar spikes and drops drastically. Over time, this can reduce insulin sensitivity and increase insulin resistance.
We have looked at the problem with poor metabolic health and the consequences of metabolic inflexibility, but what happens to our body and what does the outcome look like?
When the body does not receive the essential nutrients and care, it does not know how to efficiently process carbs and fats for energy. There are many physiological changes that can negatively affect your overall health.
The potential effects of metabolic inflexibility can lead to chronic and life-threatening diseases if you do not take care of your health.
Truthfully, it’s a ripple effect where the body’s health begins to compromise and ultimately damages your overall health. This is why you need to be eating the right foods and taking care of your metabolism. To achieve metabolic flexibility and good health, you need to adopt healthier habits. Now that you understand its importance, let’s talk about embracing metabolic flexibility.
We have discussed the importance of metabolism and the consequences of poor metabolic health. Now, let's take a closer look at the benefits of embracing metabolic flexibility our Lumen metabolic coaches compiled for you.
For example, exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleep habits are key factors in improving metabolic flexibility.
Good metabolic flexibility allows your body to efficiently switch between different fuel sources for energy, including stored fat. As a result, this can make it easier to lose weight and achieve optimal body composition.
Good metabolic flexibility can help you to maintain energy levels and performance during physical activity, which can help improve your overall fitness and athletic performance. For athletes or those who enjoy high-intensity workouts, metabolic flexibility provides an edge. It allows your body to utilize different energy sources efficiently, improving endurance, strength, and overall performance.
With good metabolic flexibility, you may experience more stable and greater energy levels throughout the day and have an easier time maintaining your energy levels during prolonged exercise and physical activity (2).
Good metabolic flexibility is associated with a lower risk of insulin resistance, metabolic disorders, and chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The more that you properly care and embrace your metabolism, the better you can protect your body against these health issues, as well as help treat or manage them.
Developing good metabolic flexibility may improve cognitive function and mental performance, helping you to stay focused and alert throughout the day.
Metabolic flexibility means your body can seamlessly transition between using carbohydrates and fats for fuel. This ensures a steady supply of energy, helping you avoid those dreaded mid-afternoon slumps and maintain consistent energy levels throughout the day.
Chronic inflammation is often linked to metabolic inflexibility. By improving your metabolic flexibility, your body can more efficiently regulate its energy usage, potentially leading to decreased levels of systemic inflammation. This could have far-reaching benefits, as chronic inflammation is associated with many health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
Metabolic flexibility improves your body's ability to regulate blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of insulin resistance and supporting overall metabolic health - including better HbA1c levels and healthier blood pressure.
Metabolic flexibility can also lead to better sleep. By effectively managing your energy utilization throughout the day, and timing your meals correctly, your body is better equipped to wind down and transition into restful sleep. Additionally, stable blood sugar levels, often a product of metabolic flexibility, can prevent overnight blood sugar crashes that can wake you up, ensuring a more peaceful night's sleep.
Developing good metabolic flexibility may help to prevent chronic diseases and support long-term health and well-being, allowing you to enjoy a healthier, happier life. While more research is needed, some studies suggest a potential link between metabolic flexibility and lifespan. By promoting overall metabolic health, flexibility could play a role in promoting longevity.
Understanding your metabolism is crucial in order to achieve metabolic flexibility, and having the ability to measure your metabolism in real-time provides valuable insights for improving your eating habits, or reaching your health goals, whether it be weight loss, improved health, or enhanced athletic performance. Unfortunately, poor metabolic health can put a halt to that and lead to various chronic health conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cognitive dysfunction, if left untreated.
Becoming metabolically flexible isn't an overnight process. It's a long-term lifestyle shift that involves balanced nutrition, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and stress management. But as you can see, the benefits are worth it. By nurturing metabolic flexibility, you'll be equipping your body with the ability to adapt to whatever comes its way, fueling a healthier, more vibrant life.
Keep track of your goals to help you stay consistent and motivated. By changing your lifestyle habits and embracing metabolic flexibility, you can begin to live a better, healthier life. Be patient, have grace on yourself, and learn that these things take time.
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Smith RL, Soeters MR, Wüst RCI, Houtkooper RH. Metabolic Flexibility as an Adaptation to Energy Resources and Requirements in Health and Disease. Endocr Rev. 2018 Aug 1;39(4):489-517. doi: 10.1210/er.2017-00211. PMID: 29697773; PMCID: PMC6093334.
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Marine is a registered dietitian with a passion for well-being, health and metabolism. She started her career as a clinical dietitian, opened her private practice to accompany patients from various backgrounds in their health journey, and is now providing nutrition support for Lumen’s customers.