How to boost your metabolism
As you get older, it seems like your body just wants to put on weight. Even when you eat less, the weight stays. Or it’s very slow to melt away.
Just about everyone wants to ramp up their metabolism – the way your body converts food calories to energy.
You can boost your metabolism a little bit. But only a little. Here’s how:
- Don’t go too low in calories: When you restrict calories too far, your body goes into energy-and-fat conserving mode. Do this for too long and you’ll lose precious muscle, further lowering your metabolism. It’s best to lower your calorie intake slightly, but keep calories above your resting metabolic rate. This allows your body to burn calories like it should and still allows you to lose weight at a slow, gradual pace.
- Increase your muscle mass: Muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more you have on board, the more calories your body will burn (even when sitting). After the age of 25, your body’s metabolism slows down at a rate of 2 to 10% each decade due to loss of muscle mass. Each decade, this can decrease your metabolism by about 50 to 200 calories per day.
How your metabolism works
All parts of your body need energy to function, even if you sit in a chair all day and don’t move. Calories are needed to keep your heart pumping, your lungs breathing and all of your other organs functioning. This is called resting metabolic rate, or RMR.
Your RMR is roughly 60 to 75% of your total daily calorie needs. Your body creates energy by adding oxygen to food, which burns calories. Your metabolic rate is how fast your body does it. Metabolism is a well-regulated system that doesn’t like to shift gears quickly. It’s hard to budge it.
Everyone has their own unique resting metabolic rate, which is influenced by many factors: body weight, muscle mass, age, gender, hormones, genetics and even medications you take. Fever, illness, surgery and chronic stress can temporarily increase your RMR, whereas weight loss and caloric restriction lower your RMR.
Exercise to increase the burn
Burning more calories each day comes down to being more physically active and exercising more frequently and longer.
- Do aerobic activity above the “moderate” intensity level at least three times a week for 30 minutes. (You’re on the right track if you’re breathing harder than normal and starting to perspire.)
- When activity starts to get comfortable, raise the intensity level slightly.
- Start increasing the length of time of aerobic activity (45 to 60 minutes is a great goal)
There are also types of exercises you can do to burn more calories during and after the workout. Calories burned after the workout is called “afterburn”, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) due to oxygen demand by muscles. How many calories you burn during EPOC depends on the intensity and duration of the workout. While additional calories are burned, the amount is generally small (about 20 to 50 calories per workout), but it does help over the long run.
- Try high-intensity interval training: This involves alternating your intensity level from moderate to high in short amounts of time throughout the workout (For example, after your warm-up, do 2 minutes moderate and 1 minute high and repeat). HIIT does require good endurance, so be sure to build that up to avoid injury. More calories are burned during the workout and up to 24 hours afterward.
- Resistance or strength training: Aim to do this at least two days per week (although more is better) to increase muscle mass, which helps boost your resting metabolic rate. After a session of strength training, muscles are activated all over your body, thereby raising your daily RMR slightly. Research studies show that RMR may increase by around 7% with an intensive strength training program, which may give you an extra 50 to 100 calories per day.
Also consider upping the NEAT factor. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. This is the physical activity we do outside of exercise such as general walking, house cleaning, yardwork, fidgeting, etc… Standing even burns more calories than sitting, so the more you’re up and moving around, the more calories you will burn overall. Think move more and sit less, and you can burn up to several hundred more calories each day.
Ways to burn more calories from NEAT:
- If you have a desk job, get up and walk around for a few minutes every 30 to 40 minutes.
- Get up from the couch or chair do stretching exercises
- Walk around when you talk on the phone
- Park further away in the parking lot
- Take the stairs whenever possible
- Dance while cleaning
- Get up during TV commercials and move around
- When waiting in line, step side-to-side or march in place
Food and Metabolism
Calories we consume are extremely important, but so is getting the right quality for those calories. Eating more of the right kind of food is a great way to keep metabolism functioning well.
Nutrients are needed such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, healthy carbohydrates, healthy fats and lean protein for your body to burn calories effectively. This is achieved by eating a wide variety of healthy foods and limiting processed/convenience foods.
Protein helps increase energy expenditure slightly. Your body generally burns more calories digesting protein than fat or carbohydrates, but this isn’t a large amount. Too much protein could also be too many calories. The trick is to eat small amounts of protein throughout the day. Including more fiber is also helpful. High fiber foods have micronutrients that seem to boost metabolism. They also improve blood sugar levels to squelch cravings, which helps keep portions and mindless eating in check.
Staying hydrated also helps. Your body needs water to process calories.
Keep in mind: eat these foods as part of a balanced approach to nutrition. Don’t eat a ton of one thing or take supplements that claim to boost metabolism. There’s no single magic food or supplement to make you burn calories faster.
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About the Author
Heather Klug, MEd RD is a registered dietitian and cardiac educator at the Karen Yontz Women's Cardiac Awareness Center inside Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.