How to Boost Metabolism: What Works and What Doesn’t
There are lots of myths about how to boost metabolism these days, and it’s easy to buy into trends that make such lofty promises. But before you break out your wallet, read on to find out about how to really boost your metabolism, with methods backed by science.
These days, lots of brands, influencers, and websites promote products or services that supposedly boost your metabolism. You may desire a higher metabolism because it promises faster, more efficient weight loss.
But what products or methods actually work to increase your metabolism? Read on to find out.
What is metabolism?
First, let’s begin by defining and understanding metabolism. There are a few things that go into metabolism, and we will take a look at each.
Metabolism is the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life. It is the sum of all the reactions in our body that convert food to energy for all our cells.
We need energy to move, think, speak, blink, even breathe. Even when we are asleep, we are still expending energy (burning calories) to maintain our basic bodily functions.
Metabolic reactions use energy and break down energy
Metabolic reactions can be classified into two categories: anabolic or catabolic. These activities occur every day, and they balance each other out.
- Anabolic reactions support building, storage, and growth. These metabolic reactions require energy. Anabolic reactions begin with smaller molecules, and create and support larger molecules. An example of an anabolic reaction is creating glycogen as stored energy from simple glucose molecules.
- Catabolic reactions release energy. Catabolism is the breakdown of larger molecules into smaller ones, that can then be used as energy or building blocks for something else. A catabolic reaction example is the breakdown of stored glycogen into glucose.
Anabolic and catabolic reactions do opposite things, but they are both necessary to sustain life. A perfect balance between anabolism and catabolism leads to weight maintenance. But when the balance is favored in either direction, we either gain or lose mass.
How to calculate metabolism and calorie needs
There are a few ways to determine how much energy we use, and how many calories we need each day. The first step is to determine your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Your BMR is the amount of energy your body uses when at rest in a fasting state.
You can calculate your BMR using equations, such as the Harris-Benedict equation:
- Men: BMR = (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) – (5.677 x age) + 88.362
- Women: BMR = (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) – (4.330 x age) + 447.593
For example: a 30 year old woman who weighs 140 pounds and is 5’3″ has a BMR of approximately 1400 calories. She needs this amount of energy in order to support basic life functions, like breathing and heartbeat.
To take it one step further and determine approximate calorie needs, or your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), you also need to take into account your daily activity level. To do this, you multiply your BMR by an Activity Factor (AF). Choose the category that best matches your lifestyle:
In the previous example, let’s say our woman is moderately active. To find out her calorie needs, multiply her BMR (1400 calories) by her AF (1.55). She needs 2170 calories a day to maintain her basic metabolic needs and her active lifestyle.
How to boost metabolism
Now that we have a better idea about what metabolism is, it’s time to get into what actually affects it. There are a few things you can do to optimize your metabolism, and ensure that it remains consistent throughout your lifetime.
Participate in strength training exercises to build lean muscle mass.
One way to increase your metabolism is to build lean muscle mass. Why? Muscle mass uses more energy at rest than fat mass. So, if you have more muscle, your BMR will go up.
Strength training exercises are an efficient way to build more muscle mass. Whether it’s weight lifting, bodyweight exercise, or any other resistance style training, aim to complete 2-3 sessions a week.
Eat enough food, and don’t drastically restrict calories.
Food is the body’s source of energy. Remember – we need a certain number of calories a day to support basic essential life functions.
When we don’t eat enough food to support our bodily functions and activity level, the body goes into starvation mode. In starvation mode, our metabolism slows down. This happens for a few reasons.
First, when we are in starvation mode, our body is in the catabolic state more often than the anabolic state. This means we are breaking down molecules more than we are building them. While the goal of caloric restriction is weight loss, the body ultimately does lose muscle mass during starvation mode, too. Lower muscle mass = less metabolically active tissue = lower BMR.
Another reason why eating enough is so important for metabolism is because the body holds onto energy quite well. In order to literally survive through starvation mode, the body becomes more efficient at using and storing energy. Simply put, the body adapts to require less calories to function, holds onto calories more efficiently, and thus BMR decreases.
Eat balanced meals and include protein with meals and snacks.
We know the benefits of eating well balanced meals leads to good health outcomes, satiety, and fullness. But eating well can also add a boost to metabolism! This is because of the thermic effect of food (TEF) – the amount of energy used above BMR to digest, absorb, and metabolize food. We need roughly 10% of our daily calories to support food processing through TEF.
Protein has the highest TEF of all the macronutrients, so make sure you’re getting enough with meals and snacks. Protein also helps keep us full by slowing down the rate of digestion. Aim for 3-4 oz of protein with meals, and 1-2 oz of protein with snacks.
Protein needs vary, but for the average person, 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day is sufficient. Aim for the higher range or a few grams more per day if you are very active.
Stay active as you age.
We naturally lose muscle mass and gain fat mass as we get older. In order to optimize your metabolism as you age, maintain an active lifestyle. Consistent strength training will help you build and maintain muscle mass.
Combine strength training with cardiovascular activities, like walking, running, or biking for maximum health benefits.
Opt out of metabolism boosting pills, powders, and supplements
There are plenty of products available that promise to boost your metabolism and rapidly burn fat. As an RD, I recommend saving your money and saying no to these products.
For one, supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the US. This means that the products you buy may not have the ingredients they claim to have, or the ingredient amount is inaccurate. This can have negative health consequences in the worst case scenarios.
No single supplement or superfood can outperform a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. These products often make unreasonable promises. They are offering to boost your metabolism and help you lose weight without changing your lifestyle. Of course that sounds enticing! And that is why they sell.
Keep your metabolism in optimal shape by exercising regularly, eating balanced meals, and eating enough to support your needs and activity level.