When you think about a good metabolism, you probably envision a person who can eat whatever they want and stay slim. In effect, we only think about metabolism as a mechanism that burns calories, but in reality, is responsible for so much more.
What Is Metabolism and Why Is It Important?
Simply put, metabolism is a series of processes by which your body turns food and drink into usable energy. Every single chemical reaction that keeps your body alive is metabolic, meaning that a strong metabolism is key to every facet of good health.
While a healthy metabolism will help prevent unwanted weight gain, that’s just one benefit of many. A “good” metabolism means your immune system is strong and better able to fight off infectious disease; you have more energy and physical drive; your cognition is sharp; you have a healthy libido; and it may help you live a longer and healthier life. Your brain also greatly benefits from a hearty metabolism as it requires approximately 16 times more energy than your musculoskeletal system to be maintained! As you can see, even if weight loss isn’t your goal, a strong metabolism is key to vibrant health.
What Determines Your Metabolic Rate?
Your base metabolic rate (AKA the amount of energy your body requires simply to stay alive) is largely determined by factors outside of your control, such as genetics, age, and sex. However, factors like body composition, hormonal health, and activity level are more mutable, and by improving those, you can strengthen your BMR.
Curious if your metabolism is running optimally? You could be suffering from a sluggish metabolism if you experience any of the following symptoms:
· Fatigue and low energy
· Struggling to lose weight
· Trouble sleeping
· Digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, and slow-moving bowels
· Anxiety and depression
· Irregular periods
· Trouble concentrating and brain fog
· Susceptibility to illness
· Low libido
· Frequently feeling cold
· Thinning hair, dry skin, and slow-growing, brittle fingernails
· Allergies and food sensitivities
· Excessive thirst and dry mouth
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above symptoms, you might see improvement by focusing on boosting your metabolism through diet and lifestyle changes.
How to (Naturally) Boost Your Metabolism
While most people’s go-to solution when they’ve gained unwanted weight is to diet, extreme fad diets and heavy calorie restriction will only backfire in the long term. Here are seven ways to naturally, safely, and effectively boost your metabolism to increase your overall health, whether it be improving mood and digestion, keeping unwanted weight off, boosting energy and activity levels, or supporting cognitive function and brain health as you age.
1. Stop Starving Yourself
No, really! While it may seem counterintuitive, keeping your body adequately fueled with calories will actually improve your metabolic rate and lead to better body composition overall. If you’re a chronic dieter, you may have noticed that you’re increasingly moody, fatigued, and maybe even catching more colds—all signs of a slowed metabolism.
This is because the human body cannot differentiate between actual famine and self-imposed restriction. When you constantly live in a caloric deficit from food restriction and over-exercising without adequate energy (food), your body goes into starvation mode and clings to the calories it does get to conserve energy and keep your body functioning. Chronic dieting can wind up putting you in a catabolic state that increases hunger and thirst while slowing down fat burn and muscle growth.
Instead of counting calories or skipping meals, focus on eating nutrient-dense food—and eating enough of it. Focus on protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fiber. By eating a variety of unprocessed whole foods, you’ll not only be supporting a healthy metabolism but also your cognitive, hormonal, and emotional health. You’ll have more energy, sleep better, and have stable blood sugar, too—all of which will better support your overall health and activity levels.
2. Add Metabolism Boosting Foods to Your Routine
In addition to eating enough whole foods and balanced meals, you should also focus on adding metabolism “power foods” to help give it boost. These include:
· High-quality proteins like wild-caught fish, grassfed beef, pastured eggs, and grassfed/raw dairy products, if tolerated. High-quality protein plays a key role in keeping you satisfied longer and keeping your blood sugar stable.
· Probiotic foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and miso, as they improve your gut’s microbiome leading to less overall inflammation as well as supporting healthy digestion.
· Garlic, which is thermogenic (heat-producing) and revs up metabolism.
· Apple cider vinegar, as it supports healthy digestion and balances blood sugar.
· Warming spices such as cayenne, chili, cinnamon, and ginger. Research suggests that these spices aid in lipid oxidation, AKA burning fat for fuel. The capsaicin found in hot pepper varieties also increases heat in the body, having a thermogenic effect like that of garlic.
· Naturally occurring caffeine in moderation, such as green tea or black coffee. While too much caffeine can negatively impact your health, moderate amounts can increase metabolism for a short period. Plus, beverages like green tea are rich in antioxidants which help fight metabolism-busting inflammation.
3. Cut Out Inflammatory Foods
While it is important to stop starving yourself and skip the fad diets, you still want to avoid inflammation causing junk food. Not only does inflammation slow down digestion, weaken the immune system, and increase aging free radical damage, but the body treats these kinds of foods as toxins, triggering the fight-or-flight response and leading to an increase in stress hormone production (cortisol) which slows your metabolism. The usual culprits are to blame, including processed foods; foods with added sugar; soda, juice, and alcohol; low-quality animal protein and dairy; refined vegetable oils; trans and hydrogenated fats; and artificial sweeteners.
4. Get Plenty of Quality Sleep—and Don’t Skip Rest Days
If you live by the mantra “No off days,” you might be surprised to learn that “gains” are made with rest. Sleep is an absolute must if you want to fire up your metabolism—but it’s also one of the most overlooked, as sleep and rest are sometimes seen as indulgences. However, getting enough ZZZ’s and not forsaking rest days in your exercise routine helps your body perform better all around. When your body is fatigued, it works to conserve energy, meaning you won’t burn calories like you do when you’re adequately rested. Too many intense workouts without adequate time off in between will also negatively impact you, as not enough rest upsets hormonal health and leads to decrease in insulin sensitivity and an increase in cortisol levels. Your body repairs itself and builds healthy muscle tissue while you sleep, so prioritize getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night and avoid working out the same muscle group multiple days in a row.
5. Build Lean Muscle
Strength training is one of the best forms of exercise to help increase your resting metabolic rate. Whether you’re lifting weights or performing body weight exercises, strength training builds lean muscle mass which naturally requires more calories to maintain than body fat. To improve your body composition—AKA, increase lean muscle mass and decrease body fat—aim to perform six to twelve reps of each exercise, 30 minutes a day, five days a week, to see the best results—just be sure not to workout the same muscle groups multiple days in a row. Strength training is especially important as you age as it not only improves bone health but maintaining muscle prevents age-related metabolic slow-down.
6. Make Cardio More Productive through HIIT
In addition to strength training, it can also help to switch up your cardio routine. While you may be used to longer, steady-state cardio workouts, you can improve your metabolism by working out more efficiently and in less time with high intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT workouts feature varying intervals of intense effort with short periods of rest that is proven to jumpstart metabolic functioning. This is because the body uses more oxygen to recover following intense activity, as well as burns more fat throughout the day. You’ll burn less calories during the actual workout but will increase your overall burn for up to 38 hours post workout.
7. Stay Hydrated
Just like sleep, drinking enough water every day is a simple, yet often overlooked, way to improve your metabolism. As adequate hydration is a key factor in all metabolic functions, even mild levels of dehydration can slow it down. Drinking water is proven to increase metabolism—albeit slightly and short-lived. However, regularly consuming enough water can have a “snowball” effect on your base metabolic rate over time, meaning consistency is key. Besides, staying hydrated will improve digestion, sleep quality, and even your mood, so be sure to drink up no matter what.
Determining the strength of your metabolism, as well as identifying health issues that may be affected by it, can be tricky. Please contact me for help and together we can incorporate the right diet and lifestyle changes to get you feeling and looking your best.