Here's welcome news: You may have inherited your mom's slow-mo metabolism, but you’re not stuck with it. New research shows you can trick your body into burning calories more efficiently, especially if you hit the gym. By strength-training just a couple of times a week, for example, you’ll reverse 50% of the seemingly inevitable metabolism slow-down that comes with age, says Gary Hunter, PhD, a professor of human studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. So take control of your metabolism by making these boosters part of your routine—and (finally) stop sweating every cookie.
Weight loss doesn’t get easier than this: Simply drinking more water may increase the rate at which healthy people burn calories, according to a study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. After drinking approximately 17 ounces of water (about 2 tall glasses), participants’ metabolic rates increased by 30 percent. The researchers estimate that increasing water intake by 1.5 liters a day (about 6 cups) would burn an extra 17,400 calories over the course of the year—a weight loss of approximately five pounds!
Sprinkle a few hot peppers into your lunchtime soup or evening stir-fry. They temporarily boost your resting metabolic rate, according to research done at Laval University in Canada. Here's why: Capsaicin, a compound found in jalapeño and cayenne peppers, temporarily stimulates your body to release more stress hormones, such as adrenaline, speeding up your metabolism and thus increasing your ability to burn calories, says study coauthor Angelo Tremblay, director of the Institute of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods at Laval. Bonus: The pepper-eaters had less of an appetite, Tremblay found, probably because the spiciness of the food made them feel full.
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.
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.
Have a few cups of java for a metabolism boost, but if you’re never seen without a mug at your lips, that could work against you, says nutritionist Amy Shapiro. Caffeine is a natural appetite suppressant. If you’re constantly consuming it, you may not eat much—or realize how hungry you really are—until you get home for dinner. “Not eating enough throughout the day can make your metabolism sluggish,” she says. “By the time you eat dinner, instead of immediately using that food for energy, your body is aggressively storing it as fat, just in case it will be deprived again.”
If you have a fast metabolism, it means your body burns more calories during rest as well as during activity. It also means you’ll need to take in more calories to maintain your weight. As expected, someone with a low metabolism is the opposite – meaning they burn fewer calories at rest and during activity, and have to eat less if they want to avoid weight gain, the school says.
Bodybuilders have known for years that strategically placed ‘cheat meals’ can help prevent the metabolic slowdown mentioned above. One meal every five to seven days that contains as many carbs and calories as desired can work. Just make sure not to make a habit out of cheat meals. In fact, you could also just as easily eat clean each day and meet your calorie needs, rather than consistently depriving yourself, then occasionally indulging.
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.
Green tea has long been heralded for its antioxidant polyphenols. But new evidence shows the active ingredient, catechin, may crank up metabolism. Researchers conducted a series of studies in dieters and found that those who went green lost more weight than those who didn't, suggesting that catechins may improve fat oxidation and thermogenesis, your body's production of energy, or heat, from digestion. But how much do you have to drink? According to one study, if you drink five eight-ounce cups of green tea a day, you can increase your energy expenditure by 90 calories a day. Sounds like a lot of tea, but it's not hard to do if you also drink it iced.
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.
Now that you know how many calories you eat each day, it's time to increase your metabolic rate. You're not going to rev up your metabolism by eating a huge calorie-filled breakfast or snacking more often. You're also not going to fill up on metabolism-boosting foods or sip on energy drinks or special teas. You're going to keep your diet exactly the same and increase metabolism with movement.
Some ingredients in energy drinks can give your metabolism a boost. They're full of caffeine, which increases the amount of energy your body uses. They sometimes have taurine, an amino acid. Taurine can speed up your metabolism and may help burn fat. But using these drinks can cause problems like high blood pressure, anxiety, and sleep issues for some people. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend them for kids and teens.