You hit the gym five days a week. You eat all the veggies you can get your hands on. You religiously avoid all white carbs. But in spite of your good intentions, the number on the scale refuses to budge. WTF?!! If this scenario sounds familiar, your metabolism might be to blame. Before you start thinking you’ve been screwed in the genetic lottery, take a deep breath. It’s okay. You can fix this.
First thing’s first. What is metabolism, exactly? After all, it’s a word we hear tossed around a lot in the health world. Your skinny friend who lives solely off junk food credits her thin frame to “a fast metabolism,” but what does that even mean? Is the concept of a fast metabolism scientifically legit, or is it a load of B.S.?
From a purely technical standpoint, metabolism refers to the “chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life.” Metabolism is often expressed in terms of “basal metabolic rate” (BMR), the amount of calories expended per day in order to sustain basic life functions—you know, breathing, pooping, heartbeat, all that fun stuff. The faster your BMR, the more calories you burn at rest and the less fat you store.
Metabolism is primarily influenced by three factors: Your age (metabolism slows about 5% per decade after age 40); your sex (men generally burn more calories at rest than women); and lean muscle mass (the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate tends to be). The bad news is that some of these things—like our age and gender—are simply out of our control. The good news? By making a few lifestyle tweaks, it is possible to boost a sluggish metabolism. Here are some ways to help bring your metabolism up to speed.
The best way to rev up your metabolism, hands down, is to put on slabs of lean muscle mass. Here’s why: Muscle has a faster metabolic rate than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest—meaning you’ll scorch more calories even while bumming around on the couch. Every pound of muscle uses about 6 calories a day just to sustain itself, while each pound of fat burns only 2 calories daily. That’s just another reason to listen to your instructor when they tell you to grab heavier weights!
Eat more protein.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to get on board with lean grilled chicken breast. Protein has a high thermic effect, which means your body burns more calories to digest it. In fact, one study found that high protein diets boosted metabolism by as much as 40%; by contrast, fats and carbs have a much lower thermic effect. Try to eat a lean protein at every meal.
Get more sleep.
We know, we know—you can sleep when you’re dead, right? But skimping on sleep can mess with your circadian rhythm, predisposing you to metabolic disturbances like weight gain and even diabetes. Additionally, inadequate sleep is associated with higher levels of ghrelin, a hunger-inducing hormone, which means that sleep-deprived individuals may be more likely to overeat. As a general rule, aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
Sip green tea.
Touted for its waist-whittling effects, this miracle brew contains a compound called EGCG that is thought to fire up metabolism and encourage the body to burn fat. Studies have linked green tea with raising metabolic rates and speeding up fat oxidation in overweight individuals. If green tea isn’t your cup of tea (literally), supplements will do the trick.
Don’t skip meals.
Fasting or skipping meals may seem like a quick fix for dropping unwanted pounds, but this tactic will only backfire. When you eat, your metabolism goes into overdrive to break down the food into smaller, digestible parts. On the flipside, when you don’t eat for extended periods of time, your metabolism begins to slow down. When you finally do eat something, your metabolism responds sluggishly and doesn’t process the food as efficiently as before, resulting in greater fat storage. To keep metabolism fully charged, try to eat a balanced meal or healthy snack every 3-4 hours.
Skipping breakfast is the ultimate nutritional no-no, a bad habit that squashes your metabolism and sets you up for weight gain. The American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who cut out breakfast were 4.5 times almost more likely to be obese. Too busy for a bite to eat? Try one of these 5-Minute Breakfast ideas.
Drink more H20.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that drinking water—about 17 ounces—increases metabolic rate by 30 percent in healthy men and women. The body needs water in order to process calories, so even if you’re mildly dehydrated, your metabolism may wind down. Even on non-training days, you should aim to drink a minimum of 2 or 3 liters of water a day; on days you do workout, amp up that amount depending on the intensity of your activity.
Turn up the heat.
With spice, that is. Capsaicin, the substance that gives red chili peppers their trademark oomph, may increase metabolism temporarily by up to 23 percent, and in other studies the hot pepper was found to regulate appetite. To reap the fat-burning effects of capsaicin, try spicing foods with cayenne pepper or chili flakes.