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The Power of Assessing Your Metabolism Part 1

By Alexander VanHouten, Master Trainer & Life Time Education Specialist

I want you to meet Bobbie.

Bobbie is a tenacious mother of 3 boys who joined Life Time this year to help her drop the final stubborn 15 pounds from her last pregnancy. Little Aiden is now 3-years-old, and she has a hard time saying that she’s still “dropping baby weight.”

In the past year, Bobbie has grown to love the club even more than when she first signed up. All her sons, Jon, Breck, and Aiden, love the pool and the child center, which allows her to get a much needed break while doing something healthy for herself. At least a couple times per month she even goads her husband, Tom, into attending yoga with her. The doctor suggested, after all, that it would be good for his back.

She faithfully attends a variety of group fitness classes 5 days weekly. Spin and Danceaton are her favorites. If she misses them because of her schedule, she still jumps on a piece of cardio equipment and nukes 500-1000 calories before calling it a day. She’s even done a few sessions with a trainer to learn a TRX workout that she does when she’s feeling especially ambitious.

If you ask her, you’ll find that she eats “pretty well” – no processed foods, reduced sugar, organic produce and meats, and only the occasional glass of wine. She logs it all in myfitnesspal and generally stays a hundred or so calories under her self-imposed 1400 calorie limit.

Though she has seen a bit of progress with those fifteen pounds and she loves the routine that she’s established for herself, there is a deep frustration that gets her down more often than she’d like to admit. Why isn’t it all working? Cardio, calorie restriction, consistency – she does everything right, and she is still not where she wants to be.

After an intense Zumba class, she hops on the scale just to check her progress. None. Her heart rate monitor said she burned 1000 calories in that class. How is she still the same weight after 3 months? She’s beyond frustrated. Just before she accepts that she will never reach her goal, she sees a trainer at the top of the stairs smiling and handing out protein samples for “post-workout recovery.”

Not usually one to ask for help, Bobbie decides enough is enough. It’s time to get some new tips.

A Chat at the Top of the Stairs

While manning a protein booth toward the end of my shift, a sweaty, determined looking woman walked right out of her Zumba class and beelined my table. I held up a protein sample expecting that she was just famished and wanted a post-workout boost. Those Zumba people work out like maniacs!

“Can I ask you a question?” she said without even reaching for the sample.

“Of course! What can I help you with?” I set the protein packet on the table and listened.

“How accurate is this heart rate monitor?” She shoved one of the Garmins from our café out in front of her.

“Usually very accurate. Why? What’s it doing?” I look at her workout summary: 1 hour and 10 minutes, 1000 calories. According to the display, 95% of that time was in her Zone 4 heart rate.

“It keeps saying I’m burning a ton of calories, but I don’t think it’s accurate.” More frustration than is appropriate for inanimate technology poured from her voice.

I understand at once. It’s not about the watch. “Hmmmm, that’s odd. Let me look at it.” I take the watch in my hands and start fiddling with it. “When did you purchase this gadget?”

“About a year ago when I joined. It was helpful at first, and now it’s just frustrating.” She watches intently while I check her heart rate zones, age, height, and weight settings to ensure their accuracy.

“Help me understand what you’ve been using it for. What was your goal when you joined?” Everything looks good with her settings. It’s time to understand her story.

“Well, I joined to lose the baby weight from my last pregnancy. I can’t seem to work it off. I made some progress initially, but I haven’t lost a single pound in 3 months. I’m starting to think my watch is lying about the calories I’m burning in my classes.” I knew it wasn’t about the watch.

“How many kiddos do you have?” As the oldest of four from a single parent home, I’ve always had an immense respect for mothers who prioritize taking care of themselves while also taking care of their children.

“Three. All boys.” Major cool points in my book.

“What’s your name? I’m Alex.”

“Bobbie. Good to meet you, Alex.” She shakes my outstretched hand.

“Bobbie, I think I may have an idea why you’re experiencing a hard time with the last bit of your weight loss goal, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have anything to do with your watch. Do you have a minute for me to show you something?”

“Sure, I have a few minutes before I need to pick up my kids.” She looks skeptical, but then everyone does when you’re about to blow their minds.

Some Easy but Surprising Math

We sit down at a desk with a blank sheet of paper and a pen.

“First of all, Bobbie, know that you’re not alone. Many people like yourself are frustrated and a bit confused about why their math just isn’t adding up. If you’re burning so many calories and eating so few, why is the weight not coming off? Right?” I assume if she’s so concerned with her workout calories, she’s also tracking her calorie intake.

“Right. According to myfitnesspal, I should be 20 pounds lighter than I am right now, and that is simply not true.” A shadow of self-deprecation flashes through her eyes.

I’ve always been one to focus on the positive. “Well, I would first like to say ‘well done’ on your consistency. I believe with a few tweaks to your program, you can begin to see progress again. Let me show you why it’s not the CALORIES that matter in your burn but the TYPE OF CALORIES your body chooses to fuel your workouts.” Again, she looks skeptical, but there’s a bit of curiosity in her expression.

“Okay.”

“Whenever you do anything, your body has the option to fuel that activity with either fat or carbohydrates. There are a number of factors that play into which one is burned or how much of each. Bobbie, do you know which one you need to be burning the most of in order to reach your goal?”

“I need to be burning more fat!”

“That’s exactly right! Your body stores only a small amount of carbohydrates for quick energy during stress and intense activity in your liver, muscles, and blood stream. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you need to be burning fat during your workouts. Burning primarily through your carb stores isn’t effective because these are emergency calories, and your body does everything it can to replenish them when they are burned out. Have you ever craved carbs at the end of your workout?”

(Craving carbs post-workout is a common symptom of a metabolism that isn’t tapping into fat stores for fuel.)

“Oh yeah. My worst ice cream cravings are always after a double feature spin and barbell strength class. I’m getting better about only giving in every once in a while though. It’s just hard sometimes.” She has a slightly shameful tone to her voice, and she breaks eye contact.

“I totally get that. I would crave ice cream, too, if my body was nuking through my carb stores for 2 whole hours! And I don’t have the willpower to refrain.” She smiles, happy she’s not alone. “That’s your body showing you that you’ve burned a lot of carbs and that it needs to replenish them. Imagine that tonight when you worked out in Zumba super hard, you burned 1000 calories. However, because of its conditioning and the intensity, your body only burned 5% of those calories from fat. How many FAT CALORIES would that be?”

Her brow furrows as she says slowly, “Five percent of 1000 is 50.”

“Not bad for being worn out from an intense workout! So, if 50 of your 1000 calories came from fat, how many came from carbs?”

“So, 950 calories came from carbs…. That’s not good, is it?” A light bulb comes on.

“Well, this is hypothetical, but based on what you’ve told me, it’s very possible that’s what just happened in your workout. Do you know how many calories are in a pound of fat?” Fun fact.

“No idea. It’s probably not 50! How many?” As much as she’s used myfitnesspal, you’d think the app would readily hand out this information.

“There are 3500 calories in a pound of fat. If we take your workouts in isolation, and only 50 of your 1000 calories each time you work out is from fat, then by our math, it would take you 70 hours of Zumba to burn 1 pound of fat. How do you feel about being here at the gym for 70 hours to see one pound lost on the scale?” I know how I’d feel – depressed, overwhelmed, in the mood to give up….

“I wouldn’t do it. That’s ridiculous! By these numbers, I don’t have enough time in the next year to get to my goal! How do people do it then, Alex?” I am so glad she asked.

“The trick here, Bobbie, is that there are a lot of things you can do to your metabolism through exercise, nutrition, supplementation, lifestyle, and recovery to help it choose to burn fat more often and at higher intensities. If, after understanding your metabolism better and making some changes, you did Zumba again, you may burn 1000 calories, but you could get 50% of them to come from fat. How many calories of fat would Zumba class be worth then?” Her eyes are starting to light up. Maybe she won’t give up on that goal after all.

“Fifty percent of 1000 is 500. That’s 10 times more fat calories than what I’ve been doing!” A whole chandelier worth, not just a bulb, lights her face in an ecstatic “Aha!” realization. She gets it now. “How do I get better at burning fat?”

“Bobbie, the best thing to do is to assess your metabolism with our Active and Resting Metabolic Assessments so that we know what’s going on in your body right now. Then, with those results, your technician can make recommendations about how much cardio to do and how intensely to do it, how much fat, protein, and carbs you should be consuming, whether your body is being negatively affected by stress in your life, and what your pre- and post-workout nutrition should look like in order to get you burning fat like a boss. Does that make sense?” This must be the 1000th person I’ve helped with this, and the excitement of someone being able to totally renew his/her goal never gets old.

“Let’s do it. My body obviously needs something different. It sounds like you can help.”

We schedule her assessments for next Saturday, and she gives me a hug before running downstairs to get her kiddos. With the smile in her eyes and the pep in her step, it’s as if she’s burning more fat already….

Check out Part 2 to see Bobbie’s results and her recommendations to become a better fat burner!

In the meantime, check out one of my previous posts for tips and tricks to help you be more effective in your workouts!

Are you interested in re-envisioning your workout routine? Talk with a fitness professional, who can offer his/her guidance on a protocol and support that’s appropriate for your fitness level and personal goals.

If you want to learn more about how we design our programs to support fitness and performance using our Core 3 Training™ methodologies,

Download the Core 3 Training Manual.

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The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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