Wouldn’t it be great to have a metabolism which was so incredibly fast that you could eat all your favorite calorie-rich foods with wild and reckless abandon? Unfortunately, through some cruel twist of fate, life just doesn’t seem to work that way. Heck, if we had our way, we’d replace vegetables with cream buns and chocolate éclairs, but the last time we tried that it made fitting into that new bikini a little more challenging.
And we all have that friend who can practically inhale deserts and never seem to put on a single pound! That doesn’t seem fair. Are they somehow blessed with spectacularly good genetics – which gives them the metabolism of an atomic furnace – or is there more to the story?
If you guessed that there was more to the story, you were right. First, when most people talk about metabolism they really mean metabolic rate. Metabolism refers to the creative and destructive chemical processes – catabolism and anabolism – which take place in the body, while metabolic rate is the energy you expended while at rest; i.e. your energetic (calorie) requirements for just living. So even though we talk about metabolism in the rest of the article, know that we’re really referring to metabolic rate.
The next thing you need to understand is that, in healthy adults* – hold on to your dumbbells – metabolism isn’t that important for fat loss. Put differently, the difference in metabolic rate is not usually causative of obesity. According to that study, while metabolic rates do differ from person to person, the difference is actually relatively small; most people will have a difference of about 200 – 300kcal from each other. In practical terms, that’s a difference of about 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or a small slice of pizza.
*Of course, this doesn’t consider complicating factors like insulin resistance, which can lead to metabolic syndrome – obesity can be a symptom of this. Given the quantities of sugars people consume these days, it wouldn’t be surprising if many people had a degree of insulin resistance. Excess sugar has been linked to insulin resistance, which is why we think it’s so important to stop your sugar habit – including sweeteners.
What this all means is that even if you optimize your metabolism like a finely-tuned muscle car, it’s not going to be the holy grail of fat loss (even though many people seem to think it is). The biggest bang for your fat-loss buck comes from caloric intake (reducing it), exercise and non-exercise activity (increasing those). That said, it all adds up, so we may as well do what we can to give our metabolic rate that extra little boost, especially if it means we occasionally get to eat one more cookie.
6 Popular Metabolism Myths
Metabolism Can’t Be Changed
Fortunately, this is completely false, which is a good thing for everyone; otherwise, we’d all be stuck with slowly declining metabolisms as we age. Luckily for us there are a number of things – we’ll get to them soon – which you can do to boost your metabolism and start burning more calories. On the other hand, this means we can never use ‘slow metabolism’ as an excuse for the extra muffins on the muffin top. That’s not to say your metabolism can’t be faster / slower than someone else’s, just don’t use it as an excuse to do nothing.
Eating Certain Foods Boosts Metabolism
If you’ve seen those fancy lists of metabolism-boosting foods, you’ve probably thought about adding a couple more sticks of celery to your diet, maybe a few more carrots. That’s great, the only problem is that there’s scant scientific evidence that specific foods boost metabolism significantly at all. Sure, there’s a metabolic spike after you drink a cup of green tea (and it’s also replacing that double hazel mocha latte) but these aren’t even going to make a dent in your fat loss – that’s what eating clean and working out is for! Eat the foods because they’re good for you, not because you think they’re going to supercharge your metabolism.
Meal Size & Timing Can Boost Metabolism
studies show that meal frequency has very little effect on metabolic rates (and doesn’t correlate to weight loss either). Of course, eating at regular intervals is beneficial because it promotes meal planning, so you’re less likely to reach for junk food.
Thin People Have Faster Metabolism
Actually the opposite is true: the more overweight you are, the more likely it is that your metabolism is faster than a slimmer version of you. The more you weigh and the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn at rest.
Age-Based Metabolic Slow-Down Can’t Be Helped
While it’s true that your metabolic rate generally decreases with age, it’s largely due to a corresponding decrease in muscle mass, which in turn slows down the rate at which you burn calories; however, there’s no reason that age needs to lead to a slower metabolism as long as you stay active and eat healthy. Fun fact: age, gender and race all effect your metabolic rate (e.g. men have a higher basal metabolic rate than women).
Metabolism Is The Holy Grail Of Fat Loss
Despite what many people believe, having a fast metabolic rate isn’t going to be the key to fat loss in healthy adults. For fat loss, you’ll get far more benefit from reducing your caloric intake and upping your activity and exercise.
6 Proven Ways to Boost Your Metabolism
Lift Heavy Weights Frequently
The best way to increase your metabolism permanently is to do regular resistance training workouts. Weight training will build lean and sexy muscle and muscle is a metabolically active tissue – it requires a lot more energy to be built, maintained and used than fatty tissue. However, it’s important to realize that even though the increase in metabolism is permanent (as long as you keep the muscle), it’s only about 4 calories more per pound, per day than fatty tissue. Of course, resistance training has a myriad of other benefits from better body composition to better health, and is one of the best routes to fat loss.
Use the Afterburn Effect
You burn calories when you work out, but did you also know that there’s a way to burn calories – potentially a ton of them – up to 24 hours after you’ve completed your workout? It’s known as the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or afterburn effect, and we think it’s awesome. So how do you get this metabolic afterburn effect to kick in? The key is workout intensity. High-intensity interval training is a great way to get the kind of workout intensity you need for the afterburn effect to kick in post-workout. Remember, it’s about intensity, traditional cardio will give you very little afterburn effect.
Eat More Protein & Fiber
Remember how we explained how you can’t really boost your metabolism by eating specific foods? Well there’s a little more to the story. By eating protein-rich and high-fiber foods you’re able to crank up your metabolism a bit. Why? Protein-rich and high-fiber foods require about twice as much energy to metabolize than high-carb or high-fat foods. The metabolic-raising effect is going to be short-lived and minimal, but there are also other benefits to eating protein-rich and high-fiber foods which makes it worthwhile.
Get Enough Sleep
Not only does getting enough sleep prevent you from turning into a crazy-person but it also makes sure your metabolism is in balance. Research has found that just a few nights of bad sleep will completely unbalance your metabolism. So don’t skimp on sleep!
Learn to Relax
The younger sibling of sleep, mastering relaxation is your ticket to Zen-like cool when the world around you is going crazy. Even if the idea of shaving your head and joining a monastery high up in the mountains isn’t your idea of fun, there’s a good reason to learn to relax: it’s great for your mood and it can keep you looking lean.
Stress, especially chronic stress, is bad for your metabolism. When you get stressed, your body — your adrenal glands — pumps out a chemical cocktail, with one of the ingredients being cortisol. Back in the day, you’d either kill a bear or run for the hills. It’s not a bad thing. These days though — in the office, for example — you don’t have the same options, which makes things a little tricky. Long-story short: excess cortisol, from chronic stress, will disturb the balance of your metabolism (the net effect is that it raises the insulin) – comfort eating anyone?
The solution is to get your chill-vibe on, slow down and turn the mental chatter down for at least 30 minutes a day – and relax, it’s good for you!
Ice Water, Green Tea, Hot Peppers…
So what about the all-too-common metabolism-boosting foods / drinks you’ve heard about? You’ll often find cited scientific studies which do indeed show a metabolism-boosting effect, but at the same time they omit the fact that the effect is almost always small and short-lived. For example, drinking water (which has enough other benefits) has been found to boost metabolism but not by very much and certainly not for any length of time to do you much metabolic-boosting good. Still, if you wanted to put it to the test, you’ll need to drink an extra 1.5 liters a day for a very hypothetical weight loss of five pounds by the end of the year.
Sometimes, as in the case of this research on the metabolism altering effect of green tea, no evidence of efficacy is found at all. The fitness world, especially when it comes to nutrition, is mired with myths and incomplete research; if it sounds too good to be true, get out the magnifying glass, because you’re going to want to take a closer look.
Having an incredible metabolism isn’t a silver bullet, in the end you’ll get a lot more mileage out of a few of our favorite things — intense workouts, eating clean and sleep — and as a bonus they’ll naturally increase your metabolism too.
What’s your favorite metabolism-boosting tip? Let us know in the comments below.