What Is Metabolic Flexibility?

by Dr. Nick Zyrowski April 28, 2022

Being flexible comes in handy in many situations. Think about all the tasks you need to complete each week. Did you have to make changes? Most of us can think of a few times we had to be flexible with our schedules or lifestyles. Your metabolism needs to stay flexible, also. Why is this so crucial for diets and creating your most healthy life? Let’s explore what metabolic flexibility is and how you can achieve it. We will discuss what can ruin that flexibility and the best ways to maintain it.

Defining Metabolic Flexibility

Having metabolic flexibility means that your metabolism can use the fuel available for your body. When you want to eat some carbohydrates, and your metabolism is flexible, your body will be able to use those carbohydrates as a fuel source. The same holds for using fats and proteins as fuel for energy. (1)

Think about when you eat a meal or snack. When you eat the right kinds of foods, your body feels energized. You might wake get up feeling tired and groggy in the morning. Once you eat, you may feel much better.

If it has been a while since you ate, your body can still burn the food you have eaten for energy. Your metabolism switches over to using the fuel stored in your body.

It Is Not New

When referring to metabolic flexibility, some health gurus want to make you think this is something new. That is not the case. Metabolic flexibility has been around for ages.

Before we had grocery stores and restaurants on every corner, people had no other option. It was necessary to rely on fuel your body had until you ate again.

Way back in time, there were hunters and gatherers. Some days they would have plenty to eat, and other times food would be scarce. Having built-in metabolic flexibility gave people access to go days without food. They did not die or become super weak. (2) They managed to thrive and carry on with their lives as they had before. Today, when many of us imagine going several days without food, we cannot envision feeling good and being able to function. Yet, our ancestors did and may have been healthier than some of us are today.

Benefits of Metabolic Flexibility

You may wonder why metabolic flexibility matters. Why not eat whenever and whatever we want? Food is plentiful now, and we don’t worry about searching for our next meal.

The benefits of metabolic flexibility can be much the same as eating a ketogenic diet or implementing intermittent fasting. You can think of it as another tool in your healthy lifestyle.

When you are metabolically flexible, your body doesn’t look for food to have energy all the time. It remains satisfied. Your body will burn whatever fuel it has available and uses it as an energy source. Your blood sugar will also remain more stable. (3)

Metabolic flexibility allows you to get fewer sugar cravings, which can benefit you in several ways. You will also get to a fat-burning state much faster. Your body can switch from food sources with no problems. It will become a seamless process, and you won’t even notice. Your body will burn fat for hours at a steady pace. It will become an everyday process for your body.

What Affects Metabolic Flexibility?

Even though we are all set up for a flexible system, some things can disrupt our metabolism. You should check for these so that your body doesn’t become inflexible.

The first thing is eating the standard American diet. What is that? It is eating a diet full of processed carbohydrates and sugar. If you look at many meal plans, it will suggest you eat a minimum of three meals a day. If that weren’t enough food, you also get two snacks to hold you over between meals. That way of thinking is outdated and, in some situations, can lead to unhealthy lifestyles for many people. We don’t need nearly as much food as we have gotten told over the years. If you start tracking the number of processed carbs you eat each day, it could range from 200 to 300 grams! Eating a diet with that many carbs teaches your body to look for carbohydrates for fuel. When you don’t eat them, your body becomes weak, and you may get fatigued. That leads to weight gain for some people.

The other huge factor that affects metabolic flexibility is insulin resistance. Anyone with type 2 diabetes has a problem with this. In our country, this issue continues to rise. Between 2001 and 2014, the number of type 2 diabetics in the U.S. increased by around 120%! (4)

Most cases of insulin resistance develop because of dietary habits. That goes back to the standard eating plan that many of us have gotten taught. The prevalence of diabetes has become an epidemic of incredible proportions and will continue unless something changes. Many prediabetic people may not know their insulin levels and don’t make changes until getting diagnosed.

Becoming Flexible

Now that you know what affects metabolic flexibility, we can dive into what you can do to keep it flexible. These changes don’t have to take place in a day. Small steps lead to impactful success later.

We all have different bodies, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for everyone. Some universal actions are helpful for all of us, no matter our body composition.

Eating fewer carbs will help your metabolism. Before you take those veggies and berries out of your diet, we mean processed foods, not whole foods. For some people, switching to a ketogenic diet works wonders for their health. That means you limit total carbs to 50 grams or less per day. Most find they lose weight once they reduce their carbs and get into ketosis. Ketosis is where your body turns fat into ketones and burns them for energy. (5)

You may not want to eat a ketogenic diet. You can reduce your carb intake to around 100 grams, and you may see a drastic difference in your health. Some people try a cyclical ketogenic diet where they go back and forth between lower and higher carb intake. It is a way of confusing the body and keeping it flexible so that it doesn’t get used to one way of using fuel.

Intermittent fasting is an excellent way of gearing your body up for metabolic flexibility. Many people call this time-restricted eating. You can play around with the timeframes to find your sweet spot. An easy way to practice intermittent fasting is to eat an early dinner and wait a few hours to eat breakfast the next day. You should fast for at least 12 to 18 hours to get the full benefits.

Let’s Get Physical

Physical activity is crucial when it comes to your metabolism. Movement helps lower insulin levels and teaches your body to burn fat. You can eat better, but a sedentary lifestyle is not beneficial for your health. Your metabolism needs to get revved up, and exercise is a fantastic way to do it.

You don’t have to run a marathon. Do something you enjoy, and you will be more likely to stick with it. Go for a walk or ride a bike. Pick a sport you like or play with your kids. Do whatever it takes to get your body moving. If you feel like you don’t have time, find a way to fit it in where time permits. You can take a brisk walk on your lunch break. (6) Grab a healthy meal replacement and get some sunshine while you work outside. There is always a way to do something physical that will pay enormous health dividends!

Cut the Sugar

We mentioned that eating too many processed carbs can wreck your metabolism. One of the main culprits that affect people trying to obtain healthy lifestyles is sugar intake. Sugar causes the dysregulation of carbohydrate metabolism.

You may be thinking you know how bad sugar is for you, and you don’t need to get reminded. The problem is sugar has a way of sneaking in when we don’t notice it. Many people don’t realize they drink their calories and much of that contains sugar. How many of us stop by our favorite coffee shops on the way to work? If you order one of the popular coffee drinks, the chances are good that you may be consuming up to 100 grams of sugar! (7) One of these drinks can mess up an entire day of otherwise healthy eating.

Always read labels and check for sugar content. Your metabolism will thank you. When you find you have a sweet tooth, opt for replacements like allulose, monk fruit, or stevia. There are many desserts you can make using these that are tasty and healthy. You can also eat some berries full of antioxidants, and they are naturally sweet.

Supporting Natural Health

Using metabolic flexibility to your advantage is a helpful way to improve your health. When it comes to diet and exercise, you must choose what works for you. You always want to eat whole foods and avoid processed junk with no nutrient value.

When you eat a diet that helps you maintain metabolic flexibility, you can switch between healthy carbs and good fats to support a healthy lifestyle. Your body will continue burning fat and using the available fuel for energy. Obtaining metabolic flexibility is another natural way to improve your health and wellness, so get started today and see how fast your life can change!

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Dr. Nick Zyrowski
Dr. Nick Zyrowski

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