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How to improve metabolic flexibility

Lots of tips here on metabolic flexibility and how to improve it. 

Hi hi! How’s your day going? I hope you’re having a wonderful day so far. I have quite a few things on my to-do list for the day — all good things, of course!

For today’s post, I wanted to talk a bit about something I started paying more attention to over the past couple of years: metabolic flexibility. As I learn more biohacking tips and strategies to improve my health, I’m excited to share more of this info here. This post was written in collaboration with Mia, our Fitnessista RD. If you have any questions for her or topics you’d like us to cover, please let me know!

Now, let’s get into it!

How Do You Know If You Are Metabolically Flexible

What is metabolic flexibility?

Metabolic flexibility is the body’s ability to switch between fuel sources, whether it is energy received from fat or energy from carbohydrate consumption. Do you notice that you feel better when you eat a steak vs a pizza?

Why Is Metabolic Flexibility Important

Being metabolically flexible allows the body to easily switch between glucose and fatty acid catabolism. Catabolism is essentially the process of breaking down the food you just ate and using it for fuel, or if it’s been hours or even a day since your last meal, it lets your body dip into fat stores for fuel.  A flexible metabolism allows this to happen with ease while feeling great and is an indicator of mitochondrial function.

How do you know if you have a flexible metabolism?

Here are some indicators that your metabolism is functioning at an optimal level:

– You can go hours without eating and without becoming “hangry.”

– Your meal frequency doesn’t dictate your mood.

– Your energy levels are great when eating a diet rich in protein and healthy fats.

– You feel great when eating a diet rich in protein and carbohydrates.

– There’s no need for you to eat every 2-3 hours to prevent fatigue, headaches, or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels).

– You haven’t coined yourself as someone who follows a specific “diet”.

How I measure my own metabolic flexibility:

I use two things to see how my metabolism is functioning and how my body responds to different foods and eating patterns. The first one is the Lumen, which will actually tell you whether you’re predominantly burning carbs or fat, based on your RER (respiratory exchange ratio). I use Lumen a few times throughout the day, and tweak my nutrition based off its suggestions. (If you decide to try it use FITNESSISTA for an extra $35 off!)

It’s also been insightful to see how certain workouts and foods (especially late-night meals) affect my metabolic function.

You can check out my full post about Lumen here.

I’ll also occasionally use Nutrisense, which is an app that’s paired with a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) and the support of a Registered Dietitian. It gives insight to your blood glucose following meals and throughout the day. Numerous health concerns can lead to insulin resistance, so it’s a great tool to help you make decisions to improve your insulin sensitivity.

It has been incredible to see my body’s response in real time. Nutrisense has also helped me to make very simple tweaks to my diet and eating patterns. I credit it for giving me the motivation to have my last meal earlier in the day, skip the late-night alcohol, take a walk before or after a carb-heavy meal, and also eat my protein first.

My full post about Nutrisense is here.

How To Achieve Metabolic Flexibility

One of the easiest things you can do to improve metabolic health and achieve a flexible metabolism is to balance your blood sugar and be strategic about your choices of fuel. The goal is to have moderate rises in our blood sugar levels throughout the day, while minimizing the high spikes and crashes.

How to do this:

– Eat your protein before carbohydrates at a meal. This might look like eating your eggs and bacon before diving into the side of fruit; eating half of your steak before taking a bite of broccoli or baked potato.

– Balancing your meals with the proper ratios of protein, carbohydrates and fats depending on your goals.  Make half of your plate non-starchy, green vegetables, then add 6 oz of cooked protein. Fill in the rest with carbohydrates or fat as you prefer, remembering to eat the protein first.

– Schedule your carbohydrates.  Front loading your carbohydrates earlier in the day (breakfast/lunch) is important for increasing metabolic flexibility. It’s also better for overall metabolic health and preventing insulin resistance.

What does this look like?

You can eat grilled chicken thighs with veggies at lunch time, finish with a “treat” that you typically save for the end of the day, and then go for a walk. Or you could follow your lunchtime lifting session with shrimp stir fry with rice. Eating the protein and fiber first will blunt the blood sugar spike from the simple carbohydrates in the treat and the rice.

Plus, eating carbohydrates after lifting allows your muscles to use those carbohydrates for repair and growth. Going on a walk after meals is beneficial because exercise promotes fat burning and helps to move glucose through the bloodstream. The idea is to put the energy you just consumed to work, instead of sitting and allowing it to be stored in the body, potentially leading to weight gain.

– Finally, make sure that you’re finishing your last meal at least 2-3 hours before you hit the hay! Not only will you get better sleep, but your body will be able to get to work scrubbing your brain and regenerating new cells instead of focusing on digestion. I know, it’s hard not to eat late, especially when your schedule is full with activities with kids or a late work meeting. There’s nothing wrong with starting slow! Begin by focusing on front loading your total food intake for the day, so that in the event you do eat late, it’s a smaller meal of protein and veggies. This is a lot easier when your body received the majority of its nutrition earlier in the day.

Although it’s not for everyone, intermittent fasting can also increase metabolic flexibility. Intermittent fasting encourages your body to burn fat for fuel. A smaller eating window suppresses insulin and, over time, improves your body’s insulin sensitivity. The less insulin you have, the more fat you burn.

Many metabolically inflexible people will find that intermittent fasting is the key to improved metabolic health, but I encourage you to talk to your health care provider beforehand to make sure it’s right for you.

Sleep is also important because it ensures the body is primed to take advantage of, and utilize, human growth hormone (HGH). Human growth hormone is necessary for your body to heal, repair, and build itself. HGH is primarily released during deep sleep, so you can think of the “sweet spot” as being between 10pm-2am. To make sure you hit that sweet spot and soak up the free benefits, start your bedtime early.

Let me know if this post was helpful for ya! Please let me know if there are any future topics you’d like to see like this. 🙂



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