Metabolic Damage

Fact, fiction, and five ways to fix the problem.
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There has been a ton of misinformation and exaggeration about metabolic damage on the Internet these days, articles and advice from trainers and nutritionists who simply do not understand what they’re talking about. I want to shed some light on what is true, what is not, and, just as importantly, how to fix the damage if you’ve gotten to that point.

First, I’m known for keeping things very, very simple. This is not only so that people actually understand what I’m talking about, but also so that when things do or do not work, you know why they work or do not work. If you’re looking for an article with long words and scientifc references, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

THE FACTS

Metabolic damage is a fancy term for overdieting and/or overworking your body. You’ll hear it explained at length by others and in other articles but, again, to keep it simple, metabolic damage is due to restricting calories too much for too long, usually coupled with doing too much work, and this can also be exacerbated by overusing fat burners. Almost every single situation that I’ve run into involving metabolic damage resulted from someone trying to cut body fat for too long or too aggressively—or both at the same time.

When you restrict calories too much for too long, you’ll eventually slow the metabolism to the point that results will either slow or completely stop. This is analogous to trying to keep a fire burning as hot as possible for weeks on end, and instead of continuing to stoke the fire with wood or coal on a daily basis or even several times a day, the fire is left to burn with almost no fuel and the results are either a fire that burns weakly or burns out completely.

Too much caloric expenditure, as in the case of ridiculously high levels of cardio, is another way to damage the metabolism. Cardio should be used as a tool to help the fire burn hotter by being used in moderation, not relied on at high levels to continue stripping body fat for long periods of time.

Stimulants/fat-burners can be effective for short periods of time and in low or moderate doses. Again, moderation is the  key. Excessive use of stimulants can stress the adrenal glands so much that fat burners become not only ineffective but can actually work against your goals of losing body fat. After restricting calories for too long and doing too much work, the impact or damage actually negatively impacts hormone levels, as well.

FICTION

A lot of trainers and nutritionists in the industry like to overemphasize and exaggerate the metabolic damage that’s occurring and use it to their advantage for marketing and PR purposes. Yes, metabolic damage happens and it isn’t uncommon, but it’s not as rampant as a lot of people make it out to be, either. 

When you diet for long periods of time and do ridiculously high levels of cardio, you’ll run the risk of causing metabolic damage to your body. Please understand that simply working your ass off and dieting hard is not metabolic damage. The people who are in jeopardy are the ones who diet year-round and seem to think that if they aren’t ripped to shreds 50 weeks out of the year, they are “fat.”

If a trainer tells you that he can get you ripped on 3,000 calories a day, he’s lying to you. There are exceptions, because there are people with metabolisms that are fast enough to get away with that, but they’re in the very large minority. It is not uncommon to hear this from a trainer/nutritionist. Then in the following six months I’ll start working with two of his past clients who are quick to tell me that they were nowhere near that amount of calories and were constantly starving. It makes you wonder if the loudest of these types of trainers are actually the ones that do this the most.

FIXING THE PROBLEM

If you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of suffering from metabolic damage, here are five things you can do to get yourself back on track.

1. EAT

Take in more calories by incrementally stepping up calories every week or two while monitoring body-fat levels. Scale weight will go up—that is a given. Body fat should increase very slowly or you’re introducing too many calories at once and you’ll need to back off slightly.

2. CUT THE CARDIO

I’m not talking about cutting it to zero, but cut it by roughly 50% to start. In another four weeks cut it another 50%, and this level of cardio should allow you to not overtax your body while still giving you the positive benefits from the cardio.

3. QUIT TAKING ANY FATBURNERS

Fat burners are abused by a lot of people and should never be used to maintain body-fat levels. They should only be used to get through sticking points or when you need a push to get to a certain body-fat level or condition. They’re meant to be used as a tool, not for the body to rely on to be lean or stay lean.

4. MANAGE YOUR STRESS BETTER

It might not seem directly related, but stress can kill progress and burn you out both physically and psychologically. Everyone deals with stress, but it is how you deal with it that’ll decide the impact that stress has on your body.

5. SLEEP

You can run at 100% all day, every day, if you get enough time for your body to recover—which means sleep time is critical. Not only do you need enough sleep, but you need quality sleep. It should be dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature for you to get your best sleep. For the people who tend to overwork themselves and struggle to be in perfect shape all of the time, the above is going to be very difficult. However, if you’re able to back of and fix the damage you’ve done to yourself, your body will respond that much better when you go back to dieting again—and you’ll almost certainly end up in better condition and better shape than you were previously. - FLEX

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