“Boost Your Metabolism in 5 Steps!” “Don’t Let Your Metabolism Die With Your Workout.” “Burn, Baby, Burn What You Eat Faster!” Do today’s hottest health and wellness headlines have you thinking that you need to be thinking (more) about your metabolism? Are you wondering what the heck metabolism actually is and why you need to be so concerned with it? If your answer is yes, we’re here to help! Your metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. It’s a two-part operation—a catabolic reaction and an anabolic reaction. The catabolic reaction breaks your food down so it can be digested and absorbed. The anabolic reaction happens when these broken-down pieces are used to rebuild and sustain your body’s tissues. When people talk about how fast your metabolism is, they’re actually referring to your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the sum of your body’s catabolic and anabolic reactions. Your BMR is basically in charge of breaking food down but is also responsible for other functions like breathing, circulating blood, adjusting hormone levels, and growing and repairing cells. Your metabolism can be fast or slow and more often than not is related to your weight. If you have a high metabolism, you burn energy quickly and typically have a leaner body, whereas if your metabolism is slow, your body typically has a higher percentage of fat. But what makes your metabolism high or low? A lot of things affect your metabolism, from your body size (the bigger you are, the more you burn), how much muscle vs. fat you have (the more muscle you have, the faster you burn), whether you’re male or female (men burn more quickly than women), and your age (the younger you are, the more you burn). And, other factors aside, some people are just born with faster metabolisms and others with slower metabolisms. When you have a faster metabolism, you may maintain a leaner look more easily, be more energetic, and be able to eat more (and less healthful) food without noticing much change on the scale. Before you curse your bestie whose metabolism appears to be through the roof, there are things you can do to speed up your metabolism if that’s what you’re after. Of course, you can’t control your age or sex, but here are six easy ways to increase your body’s ability to burn.
1. Hit the weights.
The number one thing you can do to boost your metabolism is to increase the amount of muscle that you have. At rest, a pound of muscle burns about 10 calories a day, whereas fat burns two to three calories per pound, per day. When you’re performing a hard workout, muscle burns even more, but unfortunately, as you age, the amount of muscle you have decreases every decade. This is the main reason that your metabolism diminishes with age. The way to keep your muscle from diminishing—and your metabolism lifted—is to build that muscle back up. How do you accomplish this? The best way is to strength train. Hitting the gym and opting to work with weights two to three days a week is the most effective and efficient way to build muscle.
2. Try HIIT training.
High-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT, is a type of cardiovascular exercise distinguished by its alternating rounds of intense exercise followed by recovery periods. For example, you run as fast as you can for 30 seconds, and then rest for 60 seconds. This gets repeated a set number of times, inspiring a complete workout. HIIT not only burns a huge number of calories during its exercise portions, but it also keeps your metabolism going even after you’re done. This is due to something known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. After an intense exercise session, oxygen consumption (which burns a lot of calories) stays high as your cells work to repair and restore your body. Regular cardio workouts can’t do this. An article published in the Journal of Sports Sciences notes that exercise-intensity studies indicate higher EPOC values with HIIT as compared with low- to moderate-intensity, steady-paced cardiovascular training. And a study conducted at the University of Guelph in Canada showed that fat burning was significantly higher after as little as six weeks of interval training. Try adding a few HIIT intervals to your cardio twice a week. Use a 1:2 workout to rest schedule. For example, exert yourself as hard as you can for 30 seconds, then rest for twice as long (60 seconds). Perform this for 5 to 10 intervals or however many you can tolerate. (And try our at-home HIIT videos!)
3. Don’t starve yourself.
Eat less, and your body will burn more calories and be thinner, right? Not exactly—it’s a bit more complicated than that. You see, your body is pretty smart, and it looks out for your well being. So if you eat too little (and not often enough), your body may suspect that it’s going to starve. In an effort to protect itself, it attempts to conserve energy and hold on to the calories you have consumed by slowing your metabolism. Of course, this is exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. So how do you speed your metabolism up while still being mindful of calorie consumption? The answer is to give your body just enough of what it needs to feel safe and secure by eating small meals (aka grazing) throughout the day. When you eat smaller meals as opposed to larger, heavier meals, your burning potential (along with your energy) is boosted throughout the day.
4. Keep a balance.
As you’re grazing, you want to pay attention to what you’re grazing on. Protein and fiber not only help keep your blood sugar stable, they require more energy to digest than refined carbs. A whole lot more! Studies show that meals that have the same total caloric content but are composed of different ingredients are digested totally differently. In other words, a calorie is not just a calorie. Clean, whole-food meals that include a lot of protein and fiber are digested much more slowly than meals of processed, simple carbohydrates. Almost twice as slowly, in fact. What does this mean for you? Try to incorporate some type of protein and fiber into every meal you eat in order to keep your metabolism kicking.
You need water in your body to fuel its everyday processes. And, surprise! Metabolism is one of those water-dependent processes. If you don’t drink enough water, your body suffers, and your metabolism slows to compensate. Be sure to drink plenty of pure water—not coffee, tea, soda, or even juice—to keep your body well hydrated. As a side note, it may be helpful for your metabolism to make sure the water you drink is cold. German scientists found that you can boost your burning up to 50 calories more a day by drinking cold, as opposed to warm, water. They believe that the added boost occurs when the body uses energy to warm the water up during digestion.
6. Get to sleep.
It may seem counterintuitive, but in order for your body to burn calories, it needs proper rest. According to University of Chicago researchers, 100 percent of the participants in a recent study of the impact of sleep deprivation on fat cells were unable to tolerate the metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. In fact, after just four days of sleep deprivation, the body’s ability to properly use insulin became disrupted. Shockingly, the insulin sensitivity of participants’ fat cells dropped by more than 30 percent, a difference akin to the disparity between lean and obese participants, or non-diabetic and diabetic individuals prior to sleep deprivation. When your insulin is disrupted, your metabolism goes haywire and fat ends up getting stored more often—and in all of the wrong places. So, try to aim for seven or more hours of sleep per night.