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.
Eat six small meals a day to avoid blood-sugar spikes and minimize urges to binge. Try to schedule meals at the same time each day. If you feed yourself well throughout the day, you'll learn to understand when your body truly needs food. You can't starve yourself and expect to make good choices at the next meal. Need a few healthy lunch ideas? Check out these top food swaps from a nutritionist.
Move more and faster. Research shows high intensity interval training (where you go all out for 30 to 60 seconds, slowing down for a couple of minutes, and repeating) coupled with strength training is an excellent way to make new, improved mitochondria. Strength training builds muscle and creates more mitochondria, while interval training improves mitochondrial function and how quickly they burn oxygen and calories. You can learn more about an effective exercise plan here.
As the endocrine system controls the rate and direction of metabolism, what you consume and your level of physical activity will overall influence the speed of your metabolism and how much you weight you gain. The belief that your metabolism is to blame for increased fat is not correct. Eating more calories than you can burn is the primary cause. The best way to control how many calories you burn is through your level of physical activity, according to the Mayo Clinic. What appears to be a faster metabolism in others is more often a more active lifestyle, that leads to weight loss or maintaining a steady weight.
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.
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.
When it comes to weight loss, a strong metabolism is the key to not only reaching your goals, but also to reaching them in record time. Sadly, many diets and weight loss programs have the opposite effect and wind up lowering your body’s ability to burn calories, making your journey to your ideal weight much harder than it has to be. So, if you struggle with losing weight or don’t feel like the numbers are reducing as quickly as you’d like, here are nine effective actions you can take that will put your metabolism (and your weight loss) in higher gear:
Late night snacking is clearly not recommended, but staying up late in and of itself directly affects the speed of your metabolism. In a study published in Lancet, researchers studied the effects of chronic sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine functions on 11 young men who were restricted to four hours of sleep a night for six nights. The results of the study showed sleep debt negatively impacts carbohydrate metabolism and endocrine function. Researchers concluded that seven to eight hours of sleep a night for adults will help keep your metabolic rate at a healthy, steady pace.
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Don't think you have time to hit the gym circuit? You can get great results with only two 15-minute lifting sessions a week. Westcott's research, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in January 1999, found that doing just one set of 10 reps reaps about the same muscle-building benefits as three sets, as long as they're performed to muscle fatigue. Bonus: Weight training also gives your metabolism a short-term boost. When women lift weights, their metabolisms remain in overdrive for up to two hours after the last bench press, allowing them to burn as many as 100 extra calories, according to a study published in June 2001 in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
But there are easy things you can do to stoke your fat-burning potential. "There's no reason you can't have the same metabolism in your 30s and 40s that you had in your 20s," stresses Pamela Peeke, M.D., author of Fight Fat After Forty. Here are some experts' tips on how to boost your metabolism — so you, too, can guiltlessly binge on Ben & Jerry's every now and then.