Our metabolisms get blamed for a lot. "Metabolism" is a word that is bandied about in our frustrated conversations with girlfriends. Our inability to mainline chocolate without putting on weight? Metabolism. Those seven pounds that just won't budge? Metabolism. Our general fatigue? Metabolism. But do you know what your metabolism is and what it even does?
Meet the Expert
According to the NHS website, "metabolism describes all the chemical processes that go on continuously inside the body to keep you alive and your organs functioning normally, such as breathing, repairing cells and digesting food." Our bodies need energy to carry out all those metabolic processes, and it's our basal metabolic rate (BMR) that is the number of calories our body uses to just keep us alive. The site also says that "a slow metabolism is more accurately described as a low BMR." While we probably need to shift the focus from wanting to speed up our metabolism to increasing our BMR if we want to be totally accurate, at the end of the day, we all just want to know how to lose any excess weight, right?
Keep scrolling for easy-to-follow tips on how to boost your metabolism.
Eat a Metabolism-Boosting Breakfast
There is some debate around the whole idea of whether eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper is really the secret to weight loss. Instead of worrying too much about size, it's the type of foods you include on your breakfast plate that really has an effect on metabolism. If you want to fire up your system, a study found that you should factor in low-GL (so low-sugar) and high-protein foods at breakfast. Think savory, and include some lean protein like chicken (yes, for breakfast) or eggs.
Do Cardio (But at an Incline)
When it comes to basic cardio (HIIT not included), you only raise your calorie burn while you're active, but HIIT and strength training will keep your metabolism elevated for hours afterward, increasing fat burn for far longer than just the time you were working. But the thing is you may well like a jaunt on a treadmill over a heavy HIIT session. To ensure you're still getting a metabolism boost, one study found that an intermittent incline (so moving up and down on the treadmill, as if running through hills) can work to fire up your metabolism.
Drink Green Tea
"The coffee bean is a hard seed to crack. Your morning brew is very high in antioxidants, but also linked to excess cortisol and adrenal fatigue," says Kelly LeVeque, health coach and founder of Be Well by Kelly. "Drinking brewed green tea, on the other hand, is an effective way to get caffeine and provide your body with epigallocatechin gallate (EGCC), an ingredient known to speed up metabolism. Take the beWELL approach: Enjoy a cup of brew in the morning and then stick to green tea throughout the afternoon. Since high cortisol levels caused by excessive caffeine are more likely to put extra weight around your waist, avoid all sodas and calorie-laden coffee drinks."
Factor in Fiber
Increasing your fiber intake to 30 grams per day can be as effective in aiding weight loss as counting calories. How so? Well, according to Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD and creator of the F-Factor Diet, says eating a diet rich in high-fiber foods boosts metabolism because fiber is indigestible. There are two types of fiber: soluble, which takes on water as it's digested and helps you feel fuller for longer, while insoluble fiber simply passes through the system, helping us to pass our food.
“The body cannot digest fiber, but it tries to," she tells Fox News Lifestyle. "In trying to digest and eliminate fiber, the body actually expends more calories than it would with other foods. Therefore, you expend more calories digesting high-fiber foods than you do refined carbohydrates.”
Most fiber has a combination of both insoluble and soluble fibers. Foods higher in insoluble fiber include wheat bran, beans, cauliflower and apples. While soluble fiber is found in brown rice, oat bran and artichokes, among other foods You can see a chart of all soluble and insoluble fiber foods here.
Get Your Micronutrients
A healthy metabolism equals a healthy body, but metabolic syndrome can lead to diabetes, weight gain and heart disease. Of course, exercise and a healthy diet will go a long way to prevent this, but if you're going through a busy period, and your workouts and healthy meals have taken a back seat, just make sure you're supplementing with the right micronutrients. Certain vitamins and minerals have been found to support a healthy metabolism. While we can get these from a varied diet, it's worth padding your intake with a supplement sometimes. One study found that vitamins E and C are crucial for a healthy metabolism. Vitamin D is also key in preventing metabolic syndrome, and since we live in a country where the sun doesn't always shine, it's worth taking this every day regardless of the merits of your diet.
As we have mentioned before, strength training is the key to burning more fat at rest (in other words for raising your BMR). Lean muscle is definitely your ally in speeding up metabolism and thus raising your BMR. While cardio, most notable HIIT will burn fat, "HIIT training is shown to raise metabolism for up to eight hours post training," says LeVeque, strength training is what will help you build lean muscle. "Weight-lifting has been shown to increase your burn for up to 39 hours," she says.
As Escobar notes, "muscle burns more calories than fat at rest. Muscle loss occurs due to lack of exercise and it also naturally happens as people age (starting in their 30s)."
Wile cardio is integral to maintaining health, muscle is equally important. "When I see with many of clients is that their exercise consists in walking a couple of times a week, which is great but is not great for muscle building. The key to maintaining muscle mass is to do strength training workouts, from weight lifting to pilates," Escobar says.
Get More Sleep
"Sleep does not decrease the metabolism but lack of sleep can create a hormone imbalance that results in a dysregulation of the hormones related to hunger and appetite," dietician Su-Nui Escobar notes.
"Lack of sleep can cause a person to be hungrier throughout the day and feel less satisfied as they eat," Escobar continues. "Plus, it can cause cravings for sugary foods. As you can see, it is not that lack of sleep reduces the metabolism but it makes it a lot harder to eat in a way that lead to a good body weight."
Eat a Varied Diet
"It is not that certain foods will decrease our metabolism BUT proteins take more energy to digest, absorb, and use than fats. Thus, if a person eats a diet with more protein and less fat, this person will use more calories. On the other hand, if the diet is high in fat, it will take fewer calories to digest and absorb the meal. This is called the thermic effect of food. Proteins use 20-35% of energy to be used by the body, carbs 5-15%, and fats 0-5%. This does not mean that I recommend a low-fat diet but rather just make sure my patients avoid a high-fat, high-sugar diet and eat a diet that includes lean proteins, veggies, fruits, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. "
Studies have found that those who drink more water tend to burn more calories. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that adult men get roughly 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids per day and adult women get roughly 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids per day.
Standing up is integral for those looking to boost their metabolism, as long periods of sitting equate to fewer calories burned. In fact, research has found a link between poor posture (which often comes as a result of sitting too often and for long periods of time) and obesity.
It's easier said than done on work days, but investing in a standing desk or taking short breaks throughout the day — to stand up and move around — can help.
Keep Things Consistent
Avoid crash diets, which can cause your metabolism (and your weight) to yo-yo. Instead, make lifestyle changes like getting more sleep and taking on a workout and diet that are easy to maintain. While it might seem like a good idea to drop weight quickly via short but heavily regimented diets, those can cause your body to lose muscle and cause you to get rundown quickly.
NHS (UK National Health Service). How can I speed up my metabolism? Updated October 31, 2017.
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Kamada I, Truman L, Bold J, Mortimore D. The impact of breakfast in metabolic and digestive health. Gastroenterol Hepatol Bed Bench. 2011;4(2):76–85.
Kaczmarczyk MM, Miller MJ, Freund GG. The health benefits of dietary fiber: beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism. 2012;61(8):1058–1066. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2012.01.017
Sempértegui F, Estrella B, Tucker KL, et al. Metabolic syndrome in the elderly living in marginal peri-urban communities in Quito, Ecuador. Public Health Nutr. 2011;14(5):758–767. doi:10.1017/S1368980010002636