Whenever possible, slice each of your workouts into two smaller sessions. For example, do a 15-minute weight-lifting session in the morning, then do your 30-minute walk on your lunch hour or at night. You'll burn an extra 100 to 200 calories that day, explains Kelly Tracy, M.A., fitness coordinator at Duke University Diet and Fitness Center. Don't have time? Just add in some stair climbing or short walks throughout the day. Even small bursts of activity are enough to get your metabolism revved, according to a study in the scientific journal Nature. "I call it the mini stoke: For five minutes out of every hour, get up and do something, even if it's just walking around your office," says professor of medicine Peeke. "You can end up burning a couple of hundred extra calories.
Spreading your meals throughout the day might keep you from getting too hungry and overeating. If so, it is a good idea. Athletes perform better when they eat more often in smaller amounts. If you are someone who has a hard time stopping once you start eating, 3 meals a day may make it easier for you to stick to an appropriate intake than lots of little snacks.
Limit simple sugars: Limit your intake of foods like cookies, cakes and chips that contain limited nutritional value, no fibre and only serve to spike blood sugar, D’Ambrosio warns. If you eat too many simple sugars then our bodies secrete insulin to bring down blood sugar and insulin promotes fat storage. Instead, reach for grains like brown rice, oats, barley and quinoa for your fibre intake.
When you're trying to ramp up your metabolism, eating fats might sound scary — but you just have to eat the right kind. Focus on a balanced diet of protein, carbs, and healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and olive oil to see a change. "I told my friend to start her day with high-fiber cereal, plain yogurt, and a handful of walnuts, or a hard-boiled egg and a slice of whole-grain toast topped with avocado. Then eat this same balance of protein, carbs, and fat for lunch and dinner," says Eugenia Gianos, M.D., co-director of the Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at New York University Langone Medical Center. "She felt full between meals, had fewer cravings, and because good fats and fiber work in tandem to boost metabolism, she was able to drop the extra pounds and keep them off. It's a strategy I've seen work over and over again in my practice."
While drinking in moderation every so often won’t do too much harm to your waistline, making it a habit can slow down your metabolic rate. Why? When your body has a cocktail to break down, it takes precedence over any food that you’ve already eaten that’s waiting to be digested. This slows down the entire metabolic process. On the occasions that you decided to indulge, stick to low-calorie drinks. Alternate your alcohol with water to slow your pace, and cut yourself off after two drinks. Avoid ordering high-cal bar food like fries and burgers. An important note: Wine in moderation can have numerous benefits, including weight loss!
So how many calories should you consume? Depending on your level of activity, you can safely lose anywhere from half a pound to two pounds a week if you multiply your current weight by 11, says Applegate. (For example, if you're 120 pounds, aim for around 1,320 calories a day.) Unless you're less than five feet tall, don't let your daily calories dip below 1,200. "Research shows that women who consume less than this amount see their resting metabolic rate plummet by as much as 45 percent," notes Dale Huff, R.D., a St. Louis nutritionist.
It’s no secret that experts recommend putting away blue-light devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops, at least an hour before bed to improve sleep quality. However, a recent pilot study from Northwestern University shows that exposure to blue-light at night can impact glucose metabolism. Although the exact correlation is still being studied, John La Puma, MD, suggests ceasing exposure to blue light two hours prior to hitting the sack. “It resets melatonin levels so that getting to sleep becomes harder, and too little sleep means weight gain for most people,” says Dr. La Puma.
Adding interval training — bursts of high-intensity moves — to your workout is a great metabolism booster. "Studies have shown that people who do interval training twice a week [in addition to cardio] lose twice as much weight as those who do just a regular cardio workout," says obesity specialist Aronne. You can easily incorporate interval training into your workout by inserting a 30-second sprint into your jog every five minutes or by adding a one-minute incline walk to your treadmill workout. "Since your body is working harder, it's a more intense workout -- and you therefore burn more calories," says Westcott. On other days, shake up your routine with 40 minutes of cross-training. Ideally, aim for two 20-to-40-minute interval-training sessions and two 20-to-40-minute cross-training sessions a week.
It's essential for carrying the oxygen your muscles need to burn fat, says Tammy Lakatos, RD, co-author of Fire Up Your Metabolism. Until menopause, women lose iron each month through menstruation. Unless you restock your stores, you run the risk of low energy and a sagging metabolism. Shellfish, lean meats, beans, fortified cereals, and spinach are excellent sources. Check out this list of foods with more iron than beef.
Buying organic fruits and veggies might cost a little bit more, but it's worth it for your waistline. Researchers in Canada found those with the most organochlorines — AKA pollutants found in pesticides that are stored in fat cells — are more likely to experience a halt in metabolism opposed to those who eat pesticide-free organic produce. To avoid letting what you eat get in the way of burning more calories, try to at least buy organic produce when it comes to the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen": strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and potatoes.
Body composition (the more muscle we have, the higher our metabolisms), protein intake, hormones, stimulant use (like caffeine, which speeds up metabolism temporarily), fasting (which lowers metabolism) and environmental temperatures (i.e. when it’s hot or cold out, our body burns more calories trying to keep itself at a constant temperature) are also considered to have an impact on metabolism, registered dietitian Tristica Curley of Fueling with Food adds.
Contrary to popular belief, researchers now say breakfast doesn’t kickstart the metabolism and may not be the most important meal of the day. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition had more than 300 overweight participants consume diets that included either eating or skipping breakfast. At the end of 16 weeks, dieters who ate breakfast lost no more weight than the breakfast skippers. And a second study in the same journal found eating breakfast had zero impact on resting metabolism. Breakfast is an ideal place to squeeze protein, fiber, and other nutrients into your day, but if the choice is a doughnut or nothing, opt for the nothing. Start your day with lean protein, which burns twice as many calories during digestion as fat or carbs. But don’t stress about squeezing it in before 9 a.m.
In a study conducted by Swiss and German researchers, lucky participants ate about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily for two weeks. Ultimately, these chocolate nibblers had lower stress-hormone levels and a more regulated metabolism than a control group. Scientists speculate that chemicals in cocoa, such as flavonoids, play a role in regulating metabolism by alleviating stress that can cause your fat-burning engines to go on the fritz. Should you think this is a license to go wild, take heed: We’re talking small amounts of high-quality dark chocolate. Researchers say 1.5 ounces is enough.
Strength training is another great way to make sure your metabolism is at its peak. Through strength training, you can tone your muscles and boost your metabolism. The great thing about muscles, other than looking lean, is that they burn more calories than fat. No need to bust out the big weights for strength training — try some basics, like push-ups, sit-ups, resistance bands, or yoga.
Non-exercise adaptive thermogenesis (NEAT) is the next part of your metabolism, and it's basically made up of those extra things your body does that aren’t really exercise, but that still cost energy (think: fidgeting, shivering, and all the things you do to go about your day, like walking and standing). It accounts for about 20 percent of your metabolism, and it can vary from day to day depending on things like what you’re doing to what you're eating.
It’s not just about being a gym rat. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that non-exercise related activity, such as tapping your foot or fidgeting at your desk, can help keep off fat. To integrate more movement into your everyday routine, Pincus suggests opting for a standing or transitional desk, or just making sure you don’t spend the entire workday sedentary. “Set a timer to walk around your office every half an hour, do a few squats, something to keep the body moving,” she says.
Even when you’re at rest, your body is constantly burning calories. In fact, 75 percent of the calories that you burn each day are being used up just keeping you alive. “Resting metabolic rate” is much higher in people with more muscle, because every pound of muscle uses about 6 calories a day just to sustain itself. If you can pack on just five pounds of muscle and sustain it, you’ll burn the caloric equivalent of three pounds of fat over the course of a year.
Exercise is a gift to yourself that keeps on giving. In a phenomenon known as excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), your body can take hours to recover from a robust workout (one intense enough that you can't hold a conversation) and return to its previous resting metabolic rate. The windfall: Your body is actually burning more calories than it normally would—even after you've finished exercising. There’s a catch, though. The better shape you're in, the less benefit you'll get, because your fit body replenishes its energy stores efficiently. You can improve your burn by increasing how often or how hard you work out (think intervals), suggests Walt Thompson, PhD, professor of kinesiology and health and nutrition at Georgia State University.
Your body may burn a few calories heating the cold water to your core temperature, says Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., founder and director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Weight Management Center. Though the extra calories you burn drinking a single glass doesn't amount to much, making it a habit can add up to pounds lost with essentially zero additional effort.
Plus, strength workouts have an additional metabolism-boosting benefit. Because this type of anaerobic training involves breaking down and building back up of muscle tissue, the body needs to burn more calories in the 24 to 48 hours after each session—a phenomenon known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, EPOC, or, informally, "afterburn.” Researchers, however, are currently debating how intense that afterburn really is.
Caffeine may provide a bit of a boost to the metabolism, especially when ingested before exercise, but no amount of metabolic boost can burn off the empty calories that energy drinks supply. According to one study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, a typical energy drink serves up a quarter cup of sugar—calories that hit your body all at once and trigger fat storage. If you want to burn calories, try the miracle beverage known as tap water. According to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, after drinking two tall glasses of water (17 ounces), participants’ metabolic rates increased by 30 percent.
Sure, losing weight involves cutting calories, but limiting your calorie intake too much can deliver a double whammy to your metabolism. When you eat less than you need for basic biological function (about 2,000 calories for most women), your body throws the brakes on your metabolism. It also begins to break down precious, calorie-burning muscle tissue for energy, says Dan Benardot, PhD, RD, an associate professor of nutrition and kinesiology at Georgia State University. "Eat just enough so you're not hungry—a 150-calorie snack midmorning and mid-afternoon between three meals (about 430 calories each) will keep your metabolism humming."
Before you throw a French press at someone's head, read on. You don't have to eliminate coffee — but throw a few cups of green tea into the rotation and you may find that your pants fit a little looser. "Research shows that the caffeine and catechin in green tea has the ability to increase your metabolic function by 4-5 percent and improve fat oxidation by 10-16 percent," explains Bonfiglio Cunningham. Green tea comes with an extra perk, too — its antioxidant properties. "The antioxidants found in many teas fight free radicals in the body, improving the aging process and lowering the risk of disease."
While nutritionists agree that there is no magic food to revving up your metabolism, getting enough exercise, especially the right kind of exercise, is key. Experts suggest strength training two or three times to build lean muscle mass. “A pound of muscle burns up to nine times more calories than a pound of fat,” says nutritionist Lisa Stollman. “Lifting weights is a great way to build muscle mass.” However, the point is not just to build lean muscle mass, but to maintain it. “As we age, we start to lose muscle,” says Pincus. “Strength training not only builds muscle groups to burn more calories, but also helps preserve them and prevent loss.” Check out these other nutritionist-approved ways to speed up your metabolism.