The new year is here—and for many of us, that means a renewed focus on healthy weight management. Here are a few tips and tricks for keeping your metabolism in check as you start working toward a healthier weight.
First, a primer on the way metabolism functions in our body. Simply put, metabolism is the process by which our bodies use the calories in the food we eat and turn it into energy. We are continuously burning calories—even at rest—to continue breathing and pumping blood. The number of calories needed for anything beyond rest, such as walking, talking and daily activities, is unique to your body and lifestyle. And when we consume more calories than we need, our body stores them as fat, usually in the belly and thighs.
It’s important to note that there are a few factors regarding our metabolism that we cannot change. First, men tend to burn more calories (even at rest) than women. That’s probably because men tend to have more lean muscle—which burns more calories—than women, whose bodies are designed to carry more fat to accommodate child rearing. Second, metabolism tends to slow after age 40. No matter what your age or gender, here are 10 strategies that can help optimize your metabolism.
1) Build lean muscle. Lean muscle burns more calories than fat, so the more lean muscle you have, the faster your metabolism. This difference adds up over time! Experts say that incorporating 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise most days of the week, plus 2 days of strength and resistance training, is optimal for boosting your metabolism. In addition, high-intensity exercise is more beneficial, so step up the intensity of your workout to rev your resting metabolic rate for several hours afterward. Try to work out in the morning, since activating your muscles will help to boost your average metabolic rate for the day.
2) Stay hydrated. Metabolism requires water for efficient functioning, and any amount of dehydration will impair your ability to burn calories. Shoot for eight 8 oz glasses of water per day. Additionally, drink a glass before you snack or have a meal—we often mistake thirst for hunger, and water is a natural appetite suppressant. Add some ice to your water to burn a few extra calories!
3) Eat lean protein. The body burns more calories digesting protein than carbohydrates or fats. While you should keep a balanced diet, consider swapping some carbs for healthy lean protein, such as chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef, low-fat dairy, tofu, nuts, beans and eggs. And try to use grass-fed and organic products when possible.
4) Don’t skip breakfast! Going without the first meal of the day (or not eating enough in general) puts the body into starvation mode, which signals the body to produce more of the stress hormone cortisol and slows your metabolism. Eating smaller meals more often (i.e. every 3-4 hours) will keep your metabolism running and burning calories all day while providing you with sustained energy. Just avoid eating a heavy dinner or eating late!
5) Keep your thyroid balanced. An under functioning thyroid gland can lead to sluggish metabolism, so have your thyroid regularly checked by your doctor. But mild hypothyroidism is common and can go undetected in blood tests—the best way to detect it is to measure your basal (or resting) body temperature in the morning to determine if it is low. For natural thyroid support, try Emerald Labs’ Thyroid Health or Natural Factors’ Thyroid Health Formula.
6) Eat thermogenic foods. Thermogenic foods are those that require more calories to consume, digest and eliminate than they originally contain (i.e. your caloric output is more than the caloric intake from the food), or any food that raises your body temperature. Green tea, for example, is a great thermogenic—for maximum benefits, drink 4-5 cups per day (caffeinated or decaf) or take in supplement form (try green tea supplements from Pharmaca, Thorne Research or Herb Pharm). Thermogenic foods to try include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage), mushrooms, celery, asparagus, leafy greens, apples, pears, berries, cinnamon, ginger, garlic…and chili peppers!
7) Avoid crash dieting. Crash diets are low-calorie restriction diets that are harmful to your metabolism and sacrifice good nutrition for the sake of losing a few pounds quickly. While you may initially lose weight, the majority of the loss is typically from muscle mass, not fat, which can further slow the metabolism and encourage weight gain.
8) Get B vitamins. These are key players in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and a deficiency in B vitamins can result in decreased metabolism. Try supplementing with a B complex to improve metabolism and energy. I recommend Pharmaca’s B Complex, New Chapter’s Coenzyme B Food Complex or Thorne Research’s Basic B Complex.
9) Control stress. Cortisol is a necessary hormone in our fight-or-flight response, but it’s also our key stress hormone. Chronic stress results in an overabundance of cortisol production, and a prolonged period of elevated cortisol slows the metabolism and can cause excess abdominal fat. To control stress, try yoga, exercise, meditation and good sleep and nutrition habits. You can also help control cortisol levels through supplements like Pure Encapsulations’ Cortisol Calm by or Integrative Therapeutics’ Cortisol Manager.
10) Try metabolism-enhancing supplements, like these:
Thermo-Fit by Natura is a balanced supplement formulated to optimize metabolism, increase thermogenesis, decrease conversion of excess carbs into fat, support thyroid function and encourage breakdown of stored fat.
Diet Slim by Gaia Herbs is an herbal formula designed to support utilization of dietary fat as energy rather than storing it as excess weight, promote fat burning and thermogenesis, and boost energy.
Green Coffee Bean Extract comes from unroasted coffee beans, which contain chlorogenic acid and other natural compounds that have been shown to promote healthy weight control, fat loss and blood sugar levels. Try green coffee bean from Genesis Today, Paradise Herbs or Creative Bioscience.
7-Keto Lean by Integrative Therapeutics contains 7-keto DHEA (which will not metabolize into sex hormones) and has been shown to support fat metabolism and weight loss.
While supplements may be an added boost to your metabolism, your best approach to optimal metabolism is to stay within your caloric needs, exercise regularly and maintain a well-balanced diet. If you suspect you have a medical condition that is compromising your metabolism, seek help of a qualified health professional.