Dealing with a slow metabolism
June 28, 2007 5:09 AM   Subscribe

Slow metabolism and exercise. How do you combine the two?

I've got a slow metabolism. It means I can't exercise unless I don't eat for around half a day beforehand. Otherwise I feel bloated and uncomfortable. It's like my digestive system saps my energy. Sometimes after eating I can almost fall asleep. I'm thinking of switching to the six-small-meals-a-day plan, but how do you cope with a slow metabolism?
posted by humblepigeon to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What you're eating will make a huge difference: if you're eating lots of refined carbs, it's time to cut those down and substitute lean proteins and veggies.

Also, weight training builds muscle, which increases your basal metabolism. I'd start with that and work your way up to cardio.
posted by AV at 5:13 AM on June 28, 2007

Walking should help. It's good because you can adjust your speed to suit how you feel. I also find walking to aid in digestion.
posted by tomble at 5:35 AM on June 28, 2007

perhaps you're eating too much at once? it's odd that you feel that uncomfortably full after any meal (except maybe thanksgiving).

i would suggest visiting a doctor to make sure your feelings of fullness aren't due to a health problem. see if he or she can refer you to a nutritionist and/or a trainer.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:36 AM on June 28, 2007

I've always been able to ride my bike soon after a meal - when I was a kid, it was immediate, and into adulthood, I only had to give my gut an hours' notice. However, one of the main reasons I never got into running was that I'd have to fast at least four hours beforehand. Nevertheless, since running burns quite a bit more than riding, I went ahead and altered my schedule so i could run.

In the past week, my schedule has been messed up, so that the only time I've had to run was two hours after a meal. Now that I've spent a couple weeks getting used to running, this has not been the tribulation I thought it would be.

Your problem isn't necessarily a slow *metabolism*, which is the rate at which you burn the energy already in your system; rather, you have slow *digestion*. Smaller meals, in general, are a good starting point. Starting your day off with some fiber - oatmeal, Cheerios, whatever - will help you, um, move more quickly.

Another thing to do force smaller meals be not feel starved is to start any meal off with something very filling. An apple usually works for me.

Third, drink a *lot* more water. Your stomach really can't do much with water; it's absobed lower in the system. Much of the food in your stomach can be carried along with the water. The water, too, helps everything move more, and your body expends energy just getting the water from sippin' temperature to body temp.
posted by notsnot at 5:54 AM on June 28, 2007

Exercise will speed up the metabolism a bit, so there is a chicken and egg thing going on here. Until this happens, though...

I eat around 1 and am fine for the gym/yoga at 6pm, but when I did lots of fun-runs I had to snack it on a small piece of wholemeal toast and then bananas on the go, rather than eat breakfast. Have you tried something like that - a tiny meal then a banana in the gym?
posted by handee at 5:57 AM on June 28, 2007

Yeah, no meal should knock you out for - what, 8 hours? 12? You should probably eat smaller portions or different types of foods (basically what AV said: less sugar and "white" carbohydrates - rice, bread, potatoes - and more protein, unsaturated fat, and fiber).

I think it'd be worth taking a look at the South Beach Diet. Not because I think you're overweight (how would I know?!), but because it has a really detailed yet simple and straightforward explanation of how the food you eat affects your blood chemistry, which is basically what we're talking about when we talk about metabolism.
posted by rkent at 5:59 AM on June 28, 2007

Some clarification from the OP:

I'm vegetarian (borderline vegan), but do try and get protein -- tofu, lentils, and beans, in particular. Standard meal is rice + one of these in some form.

What I describe has been a problem for pretty much all my adult life. It's not suddenly come from nowhere, so I'm confident it's not an illness. Just the way I was built.
posted by humblepigeon at 6:10 AM on June 28, 2007

Clean eating from the Men's Health Forums.
posted by mendel at 6:12 AM on June 28, 2007

Seconding the recommendation to see a nutritionist. Your carb and protein balance could be out of whack.

You say this has only been a problem for your adult life. Was there a drastic change in diet compared to when you were younger? Other than when and how much you eat, have you noticed if certain foods make you feel more sluggish?
posted by needled at 6:33 AM on June 28, 2007

I can't exercise after eating because of blood-flow issues -- if my gut is trying to digest, I don't have enough to keep me going for a workout -- so I've learned to schedule my workout for early in the morning, before I eat. I'll have a glass of juice to have a bit of energy, but nothing else.
posted by katemonster at 6:35 AM on June 28, 2007

Can you exercise first thing in the morning before eating?
posted by Melsky at 6:57 AM on June 28, 2007

Not to be a pain, but the idea of a slow metabolism is a misnomer / mistaken term.

What you actually have is a FAST metabolism. A skinny person who can eat anything they want has (as odd as it may sound) a SLOW metabolism.

I know, I know: it sounds crazy.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:58 AM on June 28, 2007

Ditto the morning workouts. If your last meal was at 7pm, and you exercise when you first get up, that's more than enough time (and extra bonus: more energy for the entire day!).
posted by twiki at 6:58 AM on June 28, 2007

Oops, I misread your question. Never mind.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:59 AM on June 28, 2007

I know the feeling you're describing and, at least for me, it's my body telling me that it has insufficient water to both digest and do something else. I make sure I'm fully hyrdated both after eating and before/during exercise. For me, being big, this takes way, WAY more than the oft-suggested "eight glasses of water" per day -- more like 3-4 gallons on hot days.

There's also something to be said for more fiber. While I don't particularly care for the taste, All-Bran for breakfast every morning has done wonders for my previously messed-up gut and keeps it from being an excuse not to exercise. The fact that I'll cramp up if I don't drink a half-gallon of water with it just helps reinforced the drink-more-water part.
posted by backupjesus at 7:05 AM on June 28, 2007

eat more fiber, drink a lot more water - it'll help clear up your "feeling bloated" issue.
posted by Stynxno at 7:16 AM on June 28, 2007

Exercise in the morning before the main portion of your breakfast would be good if it's possible with your schedule.

I'm wondering if you mean you have a slow digestive system; that is, it takes hours for you to not feel full? As opposed to the idea of slow metabolism, meaning that you don't burn as many calories as you might expect to.

I'd second the idea of eating more protein in the diet, and perhaps less rice. Smaller portions, eaten more often might help.
posted by DarkForest at 7:16 AM on June 28, 2007

Oh, and the sleepiness after eating: that's the rice/carbs. A thing to try for this is, as others are saying: more protein, fewer carbs or more complex carbs (not rice), and smaller meals.
posted by DarkForest at 7:22 AM on June 28, 2007

I dealt with those exact same symptoms for years, despite having a very healthy diet. I seriously felt drugged after most of my meals.

After years of trying different things that didn't help, it turns out I'm gluten intolerant. I cut wheat & other gluten containing ingredients out of my diet and the food fatigue disappeared in a few days. After going gluten-free I actually feel MORE energetic after I eat.
posted by yorick at 7:40 AM on June 28, 2007

Yorick, I was going to write the exact same thing. Me too. The feeling of finally figuring out that there was something wrong, that is was so simple to fix, that it made me feel so much better, I can't even describe it. If not gluten, this could be another food intolerance especially if you have felt this way for a long time.

It is extremely difficult to be tested for gluten intolerance, there are blood tests, but they aren't conclusive. I have gotten zero (make that less than zero) help from doctors. The best thing you can do is an elimination diet. If this makes you feel better, then you know. Gluten is in all sorts of things (soy sauce, tempeh, salad dressing, beer) so you need to be careful. Some googling will get you started.

There are also books on how to do elimination diets, to test for a number of intolerances, but I didn't need one of these so I can't recommend anything.
posted by Eringatang at 8:04 AM on June 28, 2007

I have a slow metabolism as well. I went to Canyon Ranch last year, a super-high end spa, and got a lot of good advice.

1. Eat more frequently. Part of my problem was that I consumed the bulk of calories in one or two big shots at the middle or end of the day. My metabolism was slow because my body was literally starved most of the day. It had to reduce the calories it burned because it was in starvation mode.

By spreading my intake out over the entire day, my body adjusted. My metabolism is climbing, slowly, and as a result I feel hungry when it's time to eat. I've trained it to expect food at regular intervals.

2. Interval training. Because my metabolism was low, my body burned calories very inefficiently during exercise. I had tests done that compared caloric burn at different heart rates, and was given a specific workout regimen to follow, but it was essentially interval cardio training, which would probably help anyone in my situation.

(It was essentially: 5 minutes warm up, 6 minutes moderate heart rate, 4 minutes high, 6 minutes moderate, 4 minutes high, 6 minutes moderate, 4 minutes high, 10 minutes cool down. I did it on an elliptical with a heart rate monitor.)
posted by crickets at 9:53 AM on June 28, 2007

Never heard of the six-meals-a-day-plan, but I have heard that men should eat something every 3 hours, women every 4. That "something" should be small-ish and healthy, like a banana/fruit or yogurt. Protein makes you feel full, so try to eat more of that (and first), and stay away from refined carbs.

Drink more water (2ltrs a day) and stay away from high-sugar drinks, too.

I'll second interval training, and it's really easy to do. Some exercises include:

Cycling: 10 mins; first 6 warm up, stay at around 80rpm. Each of the last 4, do 20 seconds at 110+ rpm then back to 80 to rest for the next 10 seconds.

Rowing: 10 mins; first 15 seconds of each minute go at full-pace, then a resting pace for the next 45, then repeat.

Cross-trainer: same as rowing.

Best thing about using the machines is that you can increase the "level" over time. Start on 4, and work your way up.
posted by refactored at 4:39 AM on June 29, 2007

« Older Why, body, why?   |   AskMe do answer me! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.