Home Health What Is Metabolic Flexibility? What You Need to Know

What Is Metabolic Flexibility? What You Need to Know


There’s always that one friend who seems to be able to eat whatever he wants and still keep his waistline. It is as if he follows a strict diet, and yet you feel like there’s something else going on.

In truth, there really is something.

Although going on a diet – even a ketogenic one – is great for weight loss, there’s a different kind of process happening inside your friend’s body. It’s called metabolic flexibility.

As the name suggests, the state of metabolic flexibility allows the human body to switch fuels as needed. It ensures that the body has a steady stream of energy by using carbohydrates or fat, whichever is available. A metabolically flexible person’s body can also use even the different types of carbs and fat: dietary or stored fat and sugar (glucose) or sugar stores (glycogen).

Aside from choosing to eat snacks that give you energy and focus, you can also choose to boost this capability that has always been ingrained in your DNA. This will allow you to eat whatever you want without worrying about getting a bigger waistline.

4 Ways to Improve Your Metabolic Flexibility

Metabolic flexibility allows a person to adapt to the changing demands of the body to power different activities. However, certain factors (e.g., diet and metabolic disorders like diabetes and insulin resistance) may affect this capability, leaving modern-day humans metabolically inflexible.

If you’re looking to boost your capability to switch from utilizing one energy fuel to another, there are four strategies you can try to improve your metabolic flexibility, as listed below:

1.    Go on a Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is a popular diet that drastically reduces the eating proportions of a person. Its main goal is to make the body switch energy fuels by cutting the intake of carbohydrates and ingesting more fat.

There are several variations of this type of diet, but going on a cyclical ketogenic diet is the best choice if you wish to become metabolically flexible. This is also the most recommended form of keto for people who are prone to inflammation, diagnosed with inflammatory disease, or have a history of cancer.

2.    Exercise to achieve mitochondrial biogenesis

Another reason why people lose their metabolic flexibility is because of the lack of mitochondria, the rod-shaped organelles which serve as a cell’s powerplant. It converts nutrients and oxygen into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is considered the “currency” of chemical energy that fuels the cells’ metabolic function.

It is believed that boosting mitochondria can help improve the body’s energy-burning efficiency. More mitochondria means better fuel burning capacity. This is why mitochondrial biogenesis, a process which increases the number of these organelles inside the body, is believed to improve metabolic flexibility.

Fortunately, this can be achieved through exercise. Not just any exercise, though – it should be high-intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio. HIIT cardio offers plenty of benefits ranging from better cardiovascular health to triggering the body’s excessive post oxygen consumption (EPOC) mode, which triggers mitochondrial biogenesis.

3.    Do alternating aerobic and anaerobic workouts

As mentioned earlier, exercise can help improve a person’s metabolic flexibility. Aside from HIIT cardio, you can also choose to switch between different workouts throughout the week to help your body use up its stored fuel. One great trick is to force the body to rely on various energy pathways by alternating aerobic and anaerobic workouts in relatively short intervals.

Remember that the body uses up three pathways of fuel: ATP, glycolic, and oxidative.

To make your body go the ATP route, you can do high-intensity activities like powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting for a maximum of 10 seconds. As for the glycolic pathway, you need to do anaerobic routines like sprints and bodybuilding activities for about 10 to 120 seconds. Finally, you can divert to the oxidative pathway by performing cardio and endurance workouts for 120 seconds or more.

4.    Try Intermittent Fasting

Another effective method you can try to boost your metabolic flexibility is to do intermittent fasting. Not eating for an extended period allows your body to use fat as fuel for energy while releasing toxins that your body should be able to get rid of.

During intermittent fasting, you’re only allowed to drink water within 14 to 16 hours until you reach your eating window of about eight to 10 hours. You can also opt to satiate your hunger by drinking healthy coffee (not the coffee drinks that are filled with sugar).

If you’re new to this method, you can start by fasting in small windows of 12 to 14 hours. From there, work your way up to 16 hours comfortably. By combining intermittent fasting with the cyclical keto diet, you are able to speed up the improvement of your metabolic flexibility.

The Takeaway

The human body is equipped with capabilities that help ensure its own wellness. With a healthy lifestyle, a balanced diet, and enough exercise, you should be able to keep abilities like metabolic flexibility working for you. If not, you can try the four strategies listed in this article to help you get back into shape.


Dave Asprey is the creator of the widely popular Bulletproof Coffee, host of the #1 health podcast, Bulletproof Radio, and author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Bulletproof Diet.” Through his work, the Silicon Valley investor and technology entrepreneur provides information, techniques and keys to taking control of and improving your biochemistry, your body and your mind so they work in unison, helping you execute at levels far beyond what you’d expect, without burning out, getting sick, or allowing stress to control your decisions.