Which do you want first—the good news or the bad news? The bad news? You got it, glass-is-half-empty exerciser. Here it is: There is no magical way to speed up your metabolism. So all the mystical pills and potions that promise to ignite a lasting metabolic torch in your body won’t pay off as advertised.
Some people will say this food or that food speeds metabolism, or ‘I saw this pill on Dr. Oz!’ but that just won’t happen,” says Dr. Felicia Stoler, DCN, MS, RD, FACSM, author of The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great. “But it’s hard to quantify what speeds up metabolism when it comes to food because you’re not eating that food by itself.”
And while there are foods that have been shown to provide a metabolic jolt—like capsaicin in chili peppers and fiber-rich foods like brown rice and oatmeal—they only supply a small change and don’t greatly impact weight loss individually. Another common cop-out is to blame aging, as if your inability to pop and lock on the dance floor somehow correlates to your body’s inability to efficiently burn calories.
“When you talk about metabolism slowing down as you age you’re also talking about bone density, lean muscle mass, and voluntary activity slowing down,” Dr. Stoler explains. “Those things change over time and with age. So it’s not just ‘I’m old!’ and there’s no accountability.” Mr. P90X, Tony Horton, is 55-years-old, so think about that the next time you use that excuse. If you’re feeling creaky, the more you move, the better you’ll feel.
Remember when we said there was good news? Here it is: There are things you can do to increase your metabolism. And the even, uh, gooder news—the things that can help you boost your metabolism aren’t all that difficult to implement into your daily routine.
Use Resistance Training
A long-distance run burns plenty of calories and can give you an edge on Sir Bitey when that inevitable zombie apocalypse occurs and it’s time to flee for your life. But, you’ll want to add resistance training to your workout, too.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Translation Medicine found that, compared to a traditional resistance training workout, using high-intensity interval resistance training (this is when you train with heavy weights for a short duration of time) increased their resting metabolic rate in the 24 hours following the workout.
“People who only do cardio are training their muscles for endurance and burning calories, but they’re not building muscle mass,” Dr. Stoler says. “In terms of increasing your resting metabolic rate, you need more resistance, weight-bearing exercise.”
Muscle burns more calories than fat, so putting on more muscle equates to a higher resting metabolic rate.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to become an Olympic power lifter. Many cardio-based workouts, including INSANITY or anything plyometric, contain a resistance aspect to them. Still, it’s a good idea to get some good old-fashioned weight work into your program every now and then.
Eat, Eat, Eat
Fasting is the wrong way to go about jump-starting your metabolism. In fact, leaving your tank on empty for too many hours has an adverse effect since your body needs food to operate. According to Dr. Stoler, eating small, healthy meals more often revs up your metabolism by keeping your digestive system working. “Having a healthy diet when you’re eating more often keeps the furnace going without letting your energy levels deplete,” she says. “It’s like your furnace; it’s better to run it at a steady rate instead of turning it off and then coming home and cranking it up.”
Sleep, Sleep, Sleep
The later you stay up, the worse your diet gets. No, we’re not stalking you; a two-week sleep study from the University of Pennsylvania found that night owls tended to feast on fattier foods. A smaller 2011 study revealed why sleep and weight gain might be connected. Researchers found that when you’re sleep deprived your prefrontal cortex—the portion of your brain responsible for cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functions—is also sluggish. This impedes your willpower to resist fatty foods, which makes the gelatinous blob of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that’s disguised as dessert look far more appetizing than it would have had you hit the sack at a decent hour.
Water, you lushes! Not only can dehydration trick you into thinking you’re hungry and decrease your mental and physical abilities, studies have found that drinking as little as 16 ounces of water led to an increase in energy expenditure. You should be downing more water than that. How much, exactly? We’re so glad you asked. Take your bodyweight and divide it in half, and then add the word “ounces” to the answer. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you’d aim for 75 ounces of agua per day.