What is metabolism?

“Calorie burn” is a phrase that often gets overused. What is metabolism anyway? Metabolism is the total of all necessary processes to keep humans alive. It includes two processes: anabolism and catabolism. Without taking you entirely back to science class, let’s unpack what these terms mean. 


This is the building part of the metabolic process. When we eat food, our body uses the nutrients for growing new cells, making repairs on current ones, and storing up for the future. You are in an anabolic state if you are pregnant, growing, or building muscle through weight-bearing exercise. (Fun fact: anabolic steroids come from this term, as they unnaturally help a person “build” muscle.)


This is the breakdown part of the metabolic process. The nutrients from food are “burned up” and used as energy. The biggest contributor to this energy use is your Resting Metabolic Rate (more that later!). The other big players here are physical activity and the thermic effect of food (a fancy way of saying that digestion takes energy). 

So, am I catabolic or anabolic?  

Likely you’re somewhere in between, or what scientists call neutral. If you are aiming to lose weight, then you want to be in more of a catabolic state, so your energy burn exceeds your energy intake. Whether you are looking to gain, lose, or maintain, you want to incorporate muscle-growing anabolic exercise in your routine.

Like I mentioned above, your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is the biggest part of the catabolic process of metabolism. This is likely what you think when you think metabolism. It’s the amount of energy (aka number of calories) your body uses each day just to keep you alive. Your heart is pounding, your lungs are exchanging CO2 and O2, and your bones are remodeling all the time.

RMRs are highest in those who are young, male, and tall. Environment, enzymes, and hormone levels factor into your RMR as well. If you’re not a 20-year-old male basketball player, read on for simple lifestyle changes you can make to up your metabolic rate: 

  • Be at a healthy weight 
  • Drink plenty of water 
  • Eat every 3-4 hours 
  • Eat a combination of protein, carbs, and fat
  • Do weight-bearing exercise 
  • Refuel post-exercise 
  • Have good sleep habits 
  • Manage stress levels 

Above all else, remember that your metabolism is not a fixed point but rather a spectrum. By implementing the list above and consulting your nutritionist, you can successfully increase “the burn”!