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How to Optimize Your Metabolism

Metabolism is a blanket term that describes all the chemical reactions your body uses to turn food into fuel to keep it alive and functioning. It is, however, often used interchangeably with the term “metabolic rate,” or the number of calories your body needs each day simply to keep the lights on; that is, how much energy do you need to just live, before you add activity and exercise to the mix. The higher your metabolic rate, the more calories you burn, the more energy you have and the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off. However, for most people, metabolism begins a steady decline after age 40, and many of us sabotage our metabolisms with poor daily lifestyle choices. Here are 10 ways to give your metabolism a boost.

Eat Protein with Every Meal

Eating temporarily increases your metabolism for a few hours, because of the energy required to digest, absorb and process the nutrients in your food. Different foods have different thermic effects, which refers to how much they increase your metabolic rate. Protein causes a 15 to 30% increase, compared to 5 to 10% for carbohydrates and 0 to 3% for fats. Aim for around 30 grams of protein per meal, from sources like lean beef, turkey, white meat chicken, fish, tofu, beans, eggs and low-fat dairy products.

Make Sure You Eat Enough

Many of us take on a crash diet to lose weight as quickly as possible, but drastically cutting calories can actually be an impediment to weight loss, as it causes a major decrease in metabolism. When you don’t eat enough, your body’s evolutionary defense mechanisms kick in. If it thinks food is scarce, it will lower the rate at which you burn calories to conserve energy. Consuming too few calories can also cause your body to break down muscle for energy and the lower your muscle mass, the slower your metabolism.

Drink Plenty of Water

Water is essential to keep our joints lubricated and our cells, organs and brains functioning properly, but even the slightest bit of dehydration can cause our metabolism to slow down. However, studies have shown that drinking 17 ounces of water – that’s your standard small bottle of most commercially available water brands – can temporarily increase your resting metabolism by 10 to 30% for one hour. Non-athletes can divide their bodyweight in half to get the number of ounces of water they should consume each day, but those who exercise should aim for closer to two-thirds of their bodyweight in ounces. Or, try snacking on fruits and vegetables, which are made up mostly of water, instead of on salty pretzels or chips.

Try a HIIT Workout

High-Intensity Interval Training – HIIT – is a series of quick, very intense bursts of activity separated by brief periods of rest. HIIT has been shown to increase your resting metabolic rate, even after your exercise has been completed, and the effect is believed to be greater than for other low or moderate intensity types of exercise. Try a more intense exercise class that includes vigorous cardio moves like squat jumps or burpees, or add periods of jogging or running to your regular walk.

Stand Up More

Sitting for long periods at a time decreases your body’s metabolic activity. In fact, it takes just 20 minutes of inactivity for your body to enter a non-energy burning state. After 30 minutes, your metabolism slows by up to 90%. If you stand up – or better yet, move – your metabolism will turn on again within about 90 seconds, and if you keep moving, your metabolism will get a jump-start back to more normal levels.

Lift Weights

Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, which means it burns more calories than fat while your body is at rest; muscle tissue burns roughly six calories per pound daily to sustain itself, while fat burns only two calories per pound. It’s a small difference, but it can add up over time. Lifting weights – or other heavy things, or doing other types of resistance training – will help you replace fat with muscle and raise your base metabolic rate.

Eat Spicy Foods

Capsaicin is the compound in peppers that produces their heat, and it can also boost your metabolism. So can other warming spices, like ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and cumin. The effect is mild – only about 10 extra calories burned per meal – but adding these spices to your food could, at the very least, be a tasty experiment.

Take a Coffee Break

The caffeine found in your daily cup of coffee can temporarily increase your metabolic rate by 3 to 11%, with higher doses having a more pronounced effect. Most of that increase in metabolism is due to an increase in fat burning, however all things are not equal in that area; one study showed caffeine consumption increased fat burning by 29% in lean people, but only by 10% in overweight people.

Drink Green Tea

Green tea contains caffeine and therefore provides the same metabolic boost as coffee, but in addition, the primary antioxidant in green tea – epigallocatechin gallate, or ECGC - can increase your metabolism by 4 to 5 percent. And while that slight metabolism boost may not be enough to increase your metabolism enough to drop serious pounds, replacing more sugary drinks with green tea can cut out hundreds of calories per day, which would have a more significant effect.

Get Some Shut-Eye

While your metabolism slows up to 15% during sleep, a lack of sleep can cause a decrease in your overall metabolic rate. One study showed that adults who slept just four hours per night for five nights straight had a 2.6 percent average decrease in metabolism, and that their metabolic rate returned to normal after 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep. At the very least, lack of sleep can cause a dysregulation of metabolism through an increase in inflammation, a higher intolerance to glucose and increased oxidative stress. Lack of sleep is also associated with hormonal imbalances, including an increase in the hunger hormone grehlin and a decrease in the fullness hormone leptin, which leads to weight gain.