Invest in Yourself: Boost Your Metabolism

Is a “slow metabolism” a real thing?

I’m often told by patients that no matter what they do, they can’t lose weight because they have a “slow metabolism”. They’ve accepted a steady, slow increase in weight over the years which they attribute to their “slow metabolism” and are convinced this is inherited and they are genetically predetermined to suffer the consequences. Therefore, they are resigned to the fact that there is nothing they can do to improve their metabolism or manage their weight. But is this true?

I’m not sure if they have come to this conclusion on their own or have been told by others such as physicians, family members, or friends, but regardless, I find myself giving them a crash course in metabolism and how they can positively impact their own weight management.

The human body requires energy (ie. calories) to function. The total amount of energy a body burns in a day is the sum of the metabolism, physical activity, and digestive process. This means there are actually three distinct targets to help “boost metabolism”:

1.     Your ACTUAL metabolism (ie.  Basal Metabolic Rate)

2.     Your level of physical activity (ie. exercise)

3.     Your digestive process (ie. food intake)

Metabolism, also known as Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), is the amount of energy the body “burns” in the resting state. This is the energy the body utilizes to exist (ie. keep your heart beating, lungs breathing, and legs moving). The BMR accounts for roughly fifty to sixty percent of the daily energy expenditure and does not include the amount of energy expended with physical activity and eating. Depending on how physically active one may be, exercise can account for thirty to forty percent of daily energy expenditure. The remaining 8-10 percent actually comes from eating. This is the energy required for the gut to digest food. By optimizing all three of these components of your total energy expenditure, you can boost your metabolism, better manage your weight, and improve your health.


Tips to Burn More Energy

Remember, there is no quick fix for weight loss, by making small changes, you may be able to boost your metabolism so your body works with you, not against you!


·      Build Muscle: Metabolism, or BMR, is directly related to muscle mass. There is certainly a genetic component to our underlying metabolism, as well as the influence of age, but we can improve it with healthy lifestyle changes: the more lean muscle mass, the faster the metabolism. Unfortunately, after the age of 20, BMR slowly decreases for the remainder of the lifespan at a rate of about 2-3 percent every decade. To some extent this can be overcome, or slowed down, with exercise. When you exercise, especially muscle building exercises such as strength training, you increase your muscle mass, and thereby, increase your BMR. This means that your body will utilize more energy (ie. burn more calories per minute) throughout the day just existing. Therefore, by increasing your lean muscle mass and decreasing your body fat percentage, you can speed up your metabolism and increase the amount of energy (ie. calories) you burn throughout the day.


·      Eat More Protein: Protein provides the building blocks for muscle, and, as noted above, the more muscle, the faster your metabolism. As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass, which is why our metabolism slows down. Incorporate lean protein into every meal and, to get the most out of your strength training, try to eat at least 20-30 grams of protein within two hours of the completion of your workout.


·      Get Your Sleep:  The recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-8 hours nighty. Hormones that regulate metabolism and appetite are themselves regulated by the circadian pattern. Therefore, when sleep patterns are disrupted, these hormones become disrupted, thereby promoting weight gain. In order to keep your metabolism functioning at its best, healthy sleep is essential.


·      Move: We live in a sedentary society.  Most of us sit on the way to work, sit at work, and, after a long day’s work, plop ourselves on the couch at night.  By becoming more mindful of movement, you can burn more energy throughout the day. Try setting your phone or watch to remind you ever 30 minutes to get up and walk around.  Take the stairs.  Fold laundry while standing up in front of the television rather than snuggling into the couch. Find the inner toddler in you and never stop moving!


·      Fidget: Even though your elementary school teachers probably repeatedly reprimanded you for fidgeting, it turns out fidgeting is great for boosting metabolism.  Fidgeting contributes to NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). This is extra energy utilized throughout the day by activities like mindlessly shaking your leg, tapping your pen, or playing the air drums.  All of this movement adds up, so, fidget away!


·      Choose Your Drinks Wisely: Think coffee, green tea, and water. First of all, caffeine is NOT the enemy. Caffeine is a stimulant that increasing our metabolic rate. Coffee has added health benefits but try to avoid adding the calorie-rich flavorings and sugar. Green tea, in addition to supplying the caffeine, has added antioxidants that boost metabolism. Finally, our cells need water to work efficiently which translates to maximizing burning calories.


·      Eat Your Vegetables: We are surrounded by highly processed foods, which, although inexpensive and convenient, wreak havoc on health. They also have a negative effect total energy expenditure. On the other hand, minimally processed foods such as lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats, and vegetables optimize the energy required for digestion because they tend to take longer break down. Eating at least 5-6 servings of vegetables a day keeps the digestive process churning which means you will be burning more energy to fuel digestion.



·      Spice It Up: The heat felt when eating spicy food is a result of the capsaicin found in peppers and spices. Capsaicin has the added benefit of boosting metabolism. So go ahead and challenge your taste buds by adding a little kick to your meals.


·      Eat: It takes energy to digest food. This means that you are burning calories by eating calories. Restricting your diet or skipping meals has the opposite effect by decreasing the efficiency of energy use. Our bodies have a direct highway of communication between the stomach and the brain. When too few calories are consumed, the brain immediately responds by assuming we are in “starvation mode” and quickly sends the message to the rest of the body to slow its energy use and conserve our energy stores. In other words, too much calorie restriction results in a slowed metabolism. So choose your foods wisely, avoid processed foods, and don’t skip meals.