Ok, so you're eating healthy and have cut down on your calories but still aren't seeing the kind of weight loss progress you're after. If this sounds all too familiar, part of the problem could be your metabolism.
So how exactly do you go about improving it? Well, from increasing your protein intake and eating spicy foods, to drinking coffee and green tea, we're going over 10 science-backed ways you can go about boosting your metabolism. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, however, let's first clear up what your metabolism actually is and what it does.
What is Metabolism?
When we’re talking about your metabolism, what we're referring to is the process through which your body breaks down what you eat and drink and converts it into energy. It’s through this relatively intricate process that your body ultimately gets the energy it needs to stay up and running.
Even at rest, your body is in constant need of calories. Whether it’s for repairing damaged cells, keeping your blood circulating, or even something as seemingly simple as breathing, your body is constantly using up energy.
The total number of calories it takes to maintain these basic functions is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which represents the number of calories your body burns up at rest. In other words, you can think of your BMR as the total number of calories you’d burn off in a day if you were completely inactive and also didn’t eat anything.
Your BMR is influenced by several things, including your body composition, sex, and age, and how many calories your body burns off at rest is ultimately determined by a combination of all these factors.
Other Factors that Affect Your Metabolism
On top of your basal metabolic rate, there are also a couple of other factors that affect the total number of calories you burn off in a day as well. The most obvious is your physical activity level.
Physical activity, whether it’s working out, playing sports, or even something simple as walking around the house burns calories, and the more physically active you are, the more calories your body is ultimately going to burn off each day.
On top of your physical activity level, another factor that contributes to the number of calories you burn is something known as the “thermic effect” of food. While it might surprise you, the food you eat requires energy to process. In other words, digesting and transporting that food ultimately burns up some calories.(1) And as we’ll see below, some kinds of foods ultimately require more energy to process than others.
Together with your BMR, your physical activity level, and the calories, it takes to break down your food add up to create your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), which represents the total number of calories your body burns off in a day. You can easily calculate your TDEE using a free online calculator.
10 Science-Backed Ways to Boost Your Metabolism
When it comes to boosting your metabolism, there are several things you can do. From increasing your protein intake to eating more spicy food, research shows that there are a number of different tried and true ways by which you can increase your total daily energy expenditure.
1. Eat Lots of Protein
As we’ve already discussed, digesting food uses up energy and some kinds of food ultimately require more calories than others to break down. When it comes to finding foods with high thermic effects -- i.e. they require more energy to metabolize -- nothing is better than dietary protein.(2)
That’s because, compared to either carbohydrates or fat (the other 2 macronutrients), research shows that the body uses up significantly more calories in order to metabolize the protein you take in through your diet.(3)(4)
Ultimately, that means taking in a healthy supply of protein with every meal can actually help your body start burning off some extra calories after you eat, which at the end of the day, can help to boost your overall metabolism.
2. Drink Coffee
On top of eating lots of protein, drinking coffee -- or more specifically the consuming the caffeine in coffee -- has also been shown to increase your calorie expenditure.
That’s because clinical trials involving both obese and non-obese subjects have shown that caffeine helps to boost lipolysis and thermogenesis, 2 different metabolic processes which can both help to increase the total number of calories you burn off in a day. (5)(6)
In fact, research shows that consuming somewhere around 600mg of caffeine with a 12 hour period leads to an average increase in energy expenditure of about 100 calories per day.(7) However, it is important that caffeine does appear to become less effective with habitual use.(8)
3. Drink Green Tea
In addition to coffee, green tea may also help boost your metabolism. While it does contain small amounts of caffeine as well, the main ingredient in green tea that may help to increase your calorie expenditure is something called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).
Research shows that EGCG helps to induce a physiological process known as thermogenesis. Thermogenic compounds have been shown to increase your overall energy expenditure by increase the amount of heat your body produces.(9)
4. Take The Right Supplements
Certain supplements also contain ingredients that have been shown to induce metabolic processes like thermogenesis and lipolysis (the process through which stored fat is broken down and turned into energy) as well.(10)
Research findings suggest that several natural ingredients, including things like apple cider vinegar and fucoxanthin (in addition to caffeine and EGCG), can be effective agents for improving your metabolism.(11)
However, in order to see positive results, you’ll need to make sure that the supplement you’re taking contains proven ingredients at dosages that have actually been shown to be effective.
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5. Do HIIT
Cardiovascular exercise is another tried and true way to increase your daily energy expenditure, and thus your metabolism. And when it comes to maximizing your efforts, nothing works better than high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Not only can HIIT help you to burn more calories in less time during your workout, but it can also help to keep your metabolism elevated for longer afterward compared to other forms of cardio like traditional steady-state exercises.
And indeed, several studies comparing HIIT to steady-state have confirmed that those who did HIIT, on average, were able to maintain higher metabolisms in the hours after training.(12)(13)
6. Lift Weights
On top of HIIT, lifting weights can also be an effective way of boosting your metabolism.
That’s because moderate to high-intensity weight lifting has been shown to modulate fat metabolism and induce thermogenesis, both of which can help to increase your overall energy expenditure.(14)
In fact, numerous studies have demonstrated that lifting weights helps to activate important metabolic sensors within your body that help to increase the breakdown and mobilization of fat tissue.(15)(16)
7. Build Some Muscle
Not only can lifting weights help to improve your fat metabolism, it can also help you build muscle, and the more fat-free mass you have, the higher your metabolism will be.
Compared to fat tissue, your body has to burn up significantly more calories in order to maintain your muscle mass.(17)
That’s at least partially because your muscles are going through a constant state of flux, where tissues become broken down and in need of repair. In order to make these repairs, your body relies on a process known as muscle protein synthesis (MPS), which can use up quite a bit of energy.
At the end of the day, the more muscle mass you have, the more energy your body will have to use up in order to maintain it.
8. Add More Activity into Your Daily Life
If working out simply isn’t your thing, there’s no need to worry, you can also potentially boost your energy expenditure simply by increasing the amount of activity in your daily life.
No matter whether it’s making sure to get your steps in each day or even something as simple as spending more time on your feet and less time sitting down, there are lots of easy and effective ways to improve your calorie-burning potential. It’s simply about finding a routine that you enjoy and stick within the long term.
9. Eat Spicy Foods
Eating spicy foods is another way to potentially increase your metabolism. That’s because there’s plenty of evidence that spicy foods can boost your energy expenditure by enhancing your skin and core body temperatures.(18)(19)
You know how you have a tendency to get all hot and sweaty when you eat spicy food, well in order for that to happen, your body has to burn up energy. And ultimately, the more often you get hot and sweaty while you eat, the more calories you’re going to have to burn off.
For example, one study found that compared to a placebo group, those who regularly consumed capsaicin — the main ingredient in hot pepper and other spicy foods — saw a 50+ calorie increase in their resting metabolic rates on average.(20)
10. Don’t Reduce Your Calorie Intake Too Much
Lastly, while your goal may be to lose weight, you don’t want to reduce your calorie intake too drastically if you’re looking to boost your metabolism.
The issue is that when you drastically reduce your calorie intake, your body naturally decreases your metabolism in an attempt to conserve energy. In order to avoid crashes in your metabolism, you’ll need to make sure that your calorie intake is appropriate given your goals.
One effective way to do this is through intermittent fasting. It can help you to naturally reduce your daily calorie intake, while at the same time helping to assure that your metabolism doesn’t pay the price.
While certain factors are more or less out of your control, there are several things you can do to boost your metabolism. And from eating spicy foods and taking the right supplements, to working out and drinking coffee there are a number of different science-backed options at hand.