6 Safe Ways to Boost a Sluggish Metabolism (and 1 to Avoid)
Discover simple strategies for cranking up your daily calorie burn
Everyone could use a little help when it comes to losing weight. If the pounds aren’t coming off fast enough despite your efforts to cut calories and add exercise, your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories) may need a boost.
Try these six tricks to help turn up your body’s furnace.
1. Retool your exercise routine. Building lean muscle is a great way to boost your metabolism, says Alison Massey, MS, RD, director of diabetes education at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Incorporate both cardio and strength training into your routine, and aim for at least 250 minutes of moderate to intense activity each week — roughly 35 minutes per day, she recommends. “If you are looking for weight loss, thirty minutes of cardio exercise five days a week is not really sufficient in terms of weight loss or weight management for most people,” says Massey.
Christine Santori, RDN, CDN, program manager at the Center for Weight Management at North Shore-LIJ’s Syosset Hospital in Syosset, New York, emphasizes the importance of strength training. “Weight-bearing exercise can increase your metabolism significantly,” she says. “When you put muscle tissue on your frame, you are requiring your body to burn more calories to support that muscle tissue.”
2. Eat protein at every meal. “Eating protein builds muscle, and the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn,” says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, author of “The Small Change Diet: 10 Steps to a Thinner, Healthier You.” “Protein also helps with satiety, meaning that you feel satisfied with your meal and are much less likely to overeat.” Gans recommends a diet that consists of 30 percent protein, 55 percent carbohydrates and 15 percent fat.
“When you eat a mixed meal of protein, carbohydrate and fat, you can boost your metabolic rate by ten percent,” says Kim Larson, RDN, CD, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
A healthy meal that hits all three of these food groups: scrambled eggs garnished with avocado slices and a slice of whole-grain toast.
3. Eat more often. Graze on small, frequent meals throughout the day instead of eating one big meal or three normal-sized meals. Eating regularly stokes your metabolic fires and keeps the furnace burning hot. “I have seen people go from eating one meal a day to eating small frequent meals and they start losing weight,” says Massey.
4. Drink lots of water. In one study that looked at the effect of drinking water on metabolism, metabolic rates increased by 30 percent for both men and women when they drank eight glasses versus four glasses of water per day. Foods such as watermelon, which is 92 percent water, can contribute to your daily water intake.
5. Get enough Zzzzzs. “When you don’t get enough sleep, you have an increased appetite, especially for foods rich in fat and carbohydrates,” says Santori. “You’re also more prone storing calories as fat.”
Sleep deprivation also slows metabolism. One study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology found that when study participants slept for just four hours a night for six weeks, the rate at which they burned calories dropped by 40 percent.
So how much sleep is enough to keep your metabolism from going haywire? “Anything less than six hours of sleep a night is inadequate,” says Santori. And while the standard recommendation for overall wellness is seven to eight hours a night, you need to know what works for you. “If most days you’re yawning and need a 3 PM pick-me-up just to make it through, then you’re likely not getting enough sleep.”
6. Sip green tea daily. Green tea contains chemicals called catechins, which research has shown can boost metabolism. A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed promising effects of green tea on metabolism and body weight, though further research is needed to learn just how effective green tea is. From what we’ve seen so far, “drinking green tea can give a small boost to your metabolism,” says Massey. “But if you just do this, and don’t make other lifestyle changes, it probably won’t make much of a difference."
Not a fan of green tea? Oolong tea offers the same metabolism-boosting effect.
What doesn’t work
Steer clear of any over-the-counter supplements that claim to boost metabolism or burn fat. “There is very little evidence that show that these do anything, and they could be dangerous,” says Santori.
Massey adds, “It’s best to pay attention to the day-to-day lifestyle changes you can make, rather than spending your money on products that claim to boost your metabolism.”
Rosemary Black, a mom of seven, writes often on food, health and parenting. She lives with her family in Pleasantville, NY.