Slow metabolisms get a lot of the blame for what’s not going right. Feeling sluggish? Must be your metabolism. Unable to lose weight? Slow metabolism. Gain weight over the holidays or birthday celebrations? Yep, it’s your metabolism…. So, if a slow metabolism is the problem, learning how to speed up your metabolism is the solution, right?
Yes and no. Metabolism can definitely impact all of the above, but so can lifestyle choices. For instance, the weight gain could be due to the increased consumption of calories combined with decreased activity levels over the winter or holidays. Together, though, these can also slow metabolism.
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What is Metabolism?
According to Harvard Health, metabolism is “the internal process by which your body expends energy and burns calories.” 1 The metabolism runs 24/7, even when you’re chilling with Netflix or sleeping in on a Sunday. Your body is always hard at work to convert food and nutrients into the energy you need to breathe, pump blood through the body, repair cells, digest food, and live your life. Metabolism describes all of the natural chemical processes that are part of everyday life. And the faster your metabolism (or, more accurately, your basal metabolic rate or BMR), the more calories you burn at rest.
Many factors can affect metabolism, including:
- Genetics—some people just naturally have a faster (or slower) metabolism
- Body size and composition—larger people, especially those with more muscle mass—tend to burn more calories (but not always)
- Age—as you age, unless you are working to build muscle, you will lose mass. This, in turn, can lead to a slower metabolism at around a 10% decrease per decade
- Gender—men tend to burn more calories than women because they tend to have more muscle and less fat
- Activity levels—the more active you are, the more calories you naturally burn during the day. Yes, even fidgeting counts.
- Diet composition—for instance, it takes more calories to burn protein than it does fat or refined carbohydrates.
If your metabolism is “slow,” it’s harder to burn calories, which can lead to more fat being stored. A fast metabolism, on the other hand, can make it easier to lose weight. If you’re in the slower category, you probably want to speed up your metabolism. But how?
How to Speed Up Your Metabolism
Even small changes can help you rev up your energy to help you lose more weight. Depending on your genetics, age, and size, you may, however, never have a “fast metabolism.” But speeding up your metabolism even a small amount may add up to a big difference over time.
Here are 9 ways to help speed up your metabolism:
1. Eat a High-Protein Breakfast
Whether you eat your breakfast just as the sun is rising or you wait several hours or even into the early afternoon (i.e., practice intermittent fasting), breaking your fast with a protein-rich, rather than a carb-heavy meal is one good way to fire up your metabolism and improve energy levels for the day. 2, 3
2. Eat More Protein at Every Meal
Protein, of course, isn’t just for breakfast. Because protein has the highest thermic effect, it takes more calories to digest, absorb, and process nutrients—up to 30% versus just 5 to 10% for carbs and fats. 4
In addition, eating a higher-protein diet has been associated with reducing the metabolism drop that typically results when losing weight. This is due to its ability to help you hold onto muscle mass.
3. Avoid Starvation Diets
If you cut calories too much or for too long, it can slow or even shut down nonessential processes and leave you feeling sluggish, decrease muscle mass, and slow metabolism to a crawl. 5
If you’re cutting calories to lose weight, decrease them by no more than 500 to 750 calories per day below your maintenance level. Better yet, decrease your calorie levels by half that amount and increase activity levels to burn more calories and give your metabolism a boost. 6
4. Manage Meal Patterns
Having a regular meal pattern has been found to have several benefits, including:
- Supporting healthy levels of inflammation
- Improving circadian rhythms
- Promoting resilience to stress
- Supporting gut health
- And improving metabolism
Just by eating breakfast (or more of your energy-rich foods earlier in the day) and eating fewer meals (only two to three per day) at consistent times, you may be able to support a healthier metabolism according to recent research. 7
5. Stay Hydrated
Drinking water—especially instead of sugary drinks—has been shown to not only help you lose weight but to keep it off. One reason is obviously due to a decrease in calories. Water is calorie-free while sodas can add up to hundreds of excess calories per day. In addition, drinking water may speed up the metabolism, at least temporarily. 8
One small study found, for instance, that after drinking 17 ounces of water, metabolism increased by as much as 30% for the next hour. 9Other research found that water helps you feel fuller, so you may eat less. For example, in another small study, when 17 ounces of water were consumed before meals for 12 weeks, the participants lost almost 3 pounds more than those who didn’t drink water before eating. 10Finally, another small study found that when 500 ml of water was consumed, the body was more likely to burn fat over blood glucose (or carbohydrates), which could help you reduce body fat levels over time. 11
Finally, water is needed to flush out toxins and keep food moving through the digestive tract to ultimately remove waste. All of this is vital for a healthy metabolism.
6. Sip on Some Green Tea
While the effect is smaller than some unscrupulous marketers want you to believe, there is research indicating that green tea may help support fat metabolism. In addition, research suggests green tea may be beneficial as it:
- Displaces drinks like sodas and juices, so you consume less sugar and calories
- Promotes hydration levels
- Supplies antioxidants that may help promote health
- May promote fat burning 12, 13
So, it may support improved weight-loss results when combined with regular exercise and a healthy diet. 14
Not a green tea drinker? Consuming coffee may have similar benefits for burning fat and boosting metabolism. 15, 16
7. Rev Up Your Workout Intensity
Adding high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to your regular routine one to three times per week can help rev up metabolism for up to a full day. 17 If you typically walk, jog, run, cycle, swim, or any other fitness activity at a fairly consistent pace (after the warmup), then you can boost the intensity by picking up the pace for 15 to 30 seconds of all-out effort followed by a slower pace for another 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat the cycle for up to 15 minutes for an intense, calorie-burning cardio session.
Weight training (aka strength training or resistance training) is another type of workout that not only burns calories as you work out but can boost the metabolism for several hours as your body recovers. 18, 19 Weight training is also one of the best ways to put on more calorie-burning muscle mass, which can help enhance lifespan and, perhaps more importantly, health span. 20
8. Stand Up For Your Health
Let’s face it: many of us sit way too much during the average day. If you’re an office worker, you likely sit during your commute to work, at a desk during the work day, and then on a couch as you relax in the evening. Yet too much sitting negatively affects health, partly because you’re burning fewer calories during the day, which can lead to weight gain.
Changing things up to stand or step for even part of the workday has been shown to lead to lower weight, body fat, and waist circumference as well as reduce health risks by lowering blood pressure, improving levels of blood fats, and even supporting healthy levels of insulin.
Even taking short breaks throughout the day to stand up, walk around, or enjoy an exercise snack may help strengthen your metabolism. 21
9. Don’t Neglect Sleep
On average, as a society, we get only around 6.8 hours of sleep per night. That means most of us are sleep deprived, which isn’t good for a healthy metabolism. In fact, sleep deprivation is often associated with an increased risk of obesity and diabetes. 22
Sleep is vital for numerous hormonal and metabolic functions, and not getting enough can not only lower metabolism, but it can lead to hormone imbalances (including the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin) and increased levels of low-grade inflammation that can make it harder to lose weight.
To help speed metabolism, make sure you’re practicing good sleep hygiene and getting seven to nine hours per night of quality sleep. As a bonus, getting enough sleep can help prevent overeating at mealtimes, which can also stave off weight gain.
How to Speed Up Your Metabolism: A Recap
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There are no supplements, foods, drinks, or pills to magically speed up your metabolism. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make small changes to your diet and exercise plan to burn more calories, even while at rest.
Some tips are more effective or faster acting than others, but any or all of them may help you tip the odds in your favor for a healthier metabolism, which can lead to higher energy levels, less body fat, and potentially a longer life and health span.