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How to Increase Metabolic Flexibility

In this  article I want to talk about metabolic flexibility and how it can be promoted.

First, I will tell you all about what metabolic flexibility is, before explaining the benefits and the lifestyle measures that can promote metabolic flexibility. 

In-depth knowledge for your new & fit self.

What Does Metabolic Flexibility Mean?

First, let's make clear what metabolism actually means. Metabolism is the basis for all possible processes in our body. This means all the biochemical processes that take place in our cells, such as the conversion of food into body mass (muscle or fat), the build-up, breakdown and maintenance of body substance as well as energy production and energy consumption.

Flexibility means that something is adaptable. Accordingly, metabolic flexibility describes how adaptable our metabolism reacts to various processes and behaviors, for example to the intake of too little or too much food or to longer periods of fasting.

Our metabolic flexibility does not necessarily decrease with age. Through certain behaviors, we can keep our metabolic flexibility at a higher level for longer and even promote it.


Mitochondria As a Driver For Increased Metabolism

Our mitochondria is crucial for improved metabolic flexibility. Mitochondria are parts of our cells and fulfill very important tasks. We can "train" our flexibility and the number of mitochondria.

The more mitochondria our cells have and the more active they are, the more flexible and better our metabolism and metabolic rate are. The metabolic rate describes the speed at which energy metabolism takes place.  


Catabolic vs. Anabolic Metabolism

Our metabolism can be in a catabolic state (breaking down processes) or in an anabolic state (building up processes).

However, metabolism is generally a fairly complex network of sequential and simultaneous processes. Most metabolic processes are amphibolic, meaning that they are catabolic and anabolic in different steps.

Benefits of Good Metabolic Flexibility

The biggest advantage of good metabolic flexibility is an increased basal metabolic rate. This means that we burn more energy even at rest, without exercising.

It can also benefit our fat metabolism and we are able to burn more fat and store less of it. There are also positive effects on blood sugar levels. These can be better regulated and insulin resistance can be prevented. If insulin resistance already exists, it can be positively influenced and alleviated.

Good metabolic flexibility also ensures better control of the feeling of hunger. Due to the more effective regulation of blood sugar, cravings occur less frequently and the feeling of satiety lasts longer, even if the calorie intake is reduced.

Performance during athletic activities can also increase because our body uses and allocates energy more efficiently and cleverly. This means, for example, that you can run longer or faster, move more weight or improve your explosive strength.

Furthermore, metabolic flexibility ensures good regulation of blood pressure and body temperature. This also enables you to better resist cold or heat.

The biggest advantage of good metabolic flexibility is an increased basal metabolic rate. This means that we burn more energy even at rest, without exercising.

How Can Metabolic Flexibility Be Promoted?

The development of new mitochondria requires a specific co-activator called "PCG-1 alpha", which can be activated in various ways.

We can activate PCG-1 alpha by exercising a lot in nature, avoiding long periods of sitting, letting plenty of daylight shine on our skin and eyes, fasting or freezing from time to time.

In summary, it can be said that living like in the Stone Age is beneficial for our metabolic flexibility. In the next section, the individual components of Stone Age living are explained in more detail.

Regular Fasting (long-term or 16:8)

Prolonged fasting trains the mitochondria to be more flexible. It makes no difference whether you do intermittent fasting, e.g. the 16:8 method, or whether you occasionally incorporate longer periods of fasting, for example for 24 or 48 hours. Fasting in any form has a positive effect on metabolic flexibility.

Cold Exposure

Cold increases the number of mitochondria because we train our body to produce more heat. According to current knowledge, ice baths or cold showers for an average of around 11 minutes per week (not all at once, but divided up) are a good way to promote metabolic health. It makes sense to approach exposure to cold slowly, starting with 30-60 seconds and increasing slightly day by day.


Daylight and Sun

Vitamin D, which is produced by sunlight, promotes the health and activity of the mitochondria. 10 minutes of sunlight per day is good for promoting metabolic flexibility.

Endurance and Strength Training

Both aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise promote the formation of new mitochondria. Any type of exercise benefits our cellular health.

Fasted Training

If we occasionally schedule our training within the fasting period, we can further promote and train our energy metabolism.

Good metabolic flexibility is expressed in the ability to be powerful and focused during fasting or with little or no carbohydrates. Insulin is particularly important here. Low insulin means that we can burn fat better. A lot of insulin, on the other hand, usually causes us to burn carbohydrates and/or store dietary fat as body fat. Whenever we eat something, we release insulin, especially when we eat carbohydrates.

BUT, this doesn't mean that you burn more calories from fasted training or that this is better for you if you want to lose fat. At the end of the day, how much fat you lose depends on your energy balance. The introspective context was just talking about your metabolic flexibility and how efficiently your body uses the different kinds of fuels/energy, and it has nothing to do with weight loss directly!

Also remember: Fat burn ≠ fat loss.

You can burn more fat during a fasted workout, but that doesn't mean that you lose the same amount of fat because this still depends on the length and intensity of your calorie deficit.

If you want to achieve your fitness goals now through personalized guidance from your online nutritional and fitness coach, book a call now!


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Sources Of Information:

  • Šrámek, P., Šimečková, M., Janský, L. et al. Human physiological responses to immersion into water of different temperatures. Eur J Appl Physiol 81, 436–442 (2000).

  • Podstawski R, Borysławski K, Pomianowski A, Krystkiewicz W, Żurek P. Endocrine Effects of Repeated Hot Thermal Stress and Cold Water Immersion in Young Adult Men. American Journal of Men’s Health. 2021;15(2). doi:10.1177/15579883211008339

  • Emily N C Manoogian, Lisa S Chow, Pam R Taub, Blandine Laferrère, Satchidananda Panda, Time-restricted Eating for the Prevention and Management of Metabolic Diseases, Endocrine Reviews, Volume 43, Issue 2, April 2022, Pages 405–436,

  • Bret H. Goodpaster, Lauren M. Sparks, Metabolic Flexibility in Health and Disease, Cell Metabolism, Volume 25, Issue 5, 2017, Pages 1027-1036, ISSN 1550-4131,


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