Your metabolism is the key to creating a balance between calories consumed and calories used. All of your body's activity -- even the stuff you can't see -- requires fuel, which is obtained from food and measured in calories. A faster metabolism means you need more calories to maintain your weight. Certain factors, such as genetics, gender and age, help set your metabolism and aren't changeable. But other factors, such as your food choices, activity level and body composition, are completely within your control. Boost your metabolism naturally by focusing on the things you can change to help you manage your weight.
Your Metabolism's Makeup
The bulk of the calories you burn daily fuels the bodily functions that keep you alive. About 60 to 75 percent of those calories are burned as fuel for your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, which includes activities such as breathing and maintenance of tissue and organ function. Another 15 to 30 percent of the calories fuel your physical activity. Included in this is exercise, such as lifting weights and pedaling a bicycle, as well as walking around your house, showering and cleaning the kitchen. The last 5 to 10 percent fuels the thermic effect of food -- energy required to process, digest and deliver nutrients from your meals to your organs and tissues.
Body Composition and Your Metabolism
You can naturally boost the calories your body burns all day by losing fat and gaining muscle because muscle requires more energy to maintain than fat. When you alter your body composition to have a greater ratio of lean mass to fat, you'll raise the number of calories burned through your basal metabolic rate. Men, for example, usually have more lean mass and less fat than women and thus tend to have higher basal metabolic rates. Another example of the notable effect of muscle mass on your metabolism is apparent during the aging process. As you experience the natural loss of muscle mass that happens as you grow older, your metabolism slows down, too. That's why fat gain seems to accelerate in middle age.
Strength training gives your metabolism a natural boost because it helps you drop fat and gain muscle. Ten weeks of resistance training may increase your metabolism by as much as 7 percent, reports a paper published in a 2012 issue of Current Sports Medicine Reports. Strength training as you age also helps mitigate the natural loss of muscle mass, so the drop in your metabolism isn't as large.
Aim for a minimum of two strength-training sessions per week that include an exercise that addresses every major muscle group. Perform eight to 12 total repetitions using a challenging weight for one to three sets. Consult with a fitness profession to help you design a program that's right and safe for you.
Eat Right to Boost Your Metabolism
While you're building more muscle, reduce your body fat by eating fewer calories and opting for healthier foods. A calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories a day leads to 1 to 2 pounds lost per week. Use an online calculator to estimate your calorie needs for maintaining your current weight and create the deficit from there. Be careful not to reduce your calorie intake too much -- below 1,200 for a woman or 1,800 for a man -- or you may slow your metabolic rate. When your body senses too much of a calorie deprivation, it may subtly reduce the energy it uses to perform basic functions by as much as 20 percent -- especially if you don't exercise -- so you end up burning fewer calories overall.
Making protein a focus of meals can also boost your metabolism slightly by positively affecting the thermic effect of food, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. Try to eat from 0.6 to 0.9 gram of protein per pound of your body weight, instead of the 0.36 gram per pound of body weight minimum recommended by the Institute of Medicine, and will make protein a higher percentage of your total calorie intake. So a 140-pound person would aim for 84 to 126 grams of protein daily. Aim for the higher end of the intake range if you're actively strength training in order to support muscle building.
Boost Your Metabolism Naturally With Activity
One of the easiest ways to affect your metabolism is through physical activity. Exceed the minimum 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to achieve a higher calorie burn. Vigorous-intensity activity will also burn more calories. Try to gradually build your fitness level so that jogging, quick cycling and aerobic dancing make up some of your formal exercise time.
Physical activity can also boost your energy use by raising your NEAT, or nonexercise activity thermogenesis. NEAT is all the movement you do spontaneously, such as tapping your foot, walking up the stairs at work and vacuuming the living room. Do more activity like this to boost your metabolism -- wash the car by hand, mow the lawn, get off the bus a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way or pace while you're talking on the phone.
Meal Planning and Your Metabolism
Eating an adequate number of calories keeps your metabolism humming along, but dividing those calories among several regular mealtimes may boost it a little more. When women ate at six predictable sittings per day, their metabolisms burned at a higher rate than when they ate between three and nine meals at erratic times, even though calorie intake with both eating patterns was the same. According to the study, which was published in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, the higher calorie burn from eating on a regular schedule came from the thermic effect of food. Plan to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks at relatively the same times daily to maximize your daily burn from digestion and nutrient processing.
Many foods and food ingredients purportedly raise your metabolic rate, including green tea, caffeine and capsaicin from hot peppers. You may experience as much as a 4 to 5 percent temporary boost in calorie burn, 10 to 16 percent improvement in fat burning, and a mitigation of the natural slowdown of your metabolic rate that occurs when you diet, notes a paper published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2010. The effects are short-lived, however, and these foods are not a replacement for the more effective metabolic boosts of gaining muscle, losing fat and moving more.
- University of New Mexico: Metabolism Makeovers: Fact or Fiction
- University of New Mexico: Controversies in Metabolism
- McKinley Health Center: Breaking Down Your Metabolism
- Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies; Frances Sienkiewicz Sizer, et al
- American College of Sports Medicine: Metabolism Is Modifiable With the Right Lifestyle Changes
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- Best Practice and Research. Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
- International Journal of Obesity and Metabolically Related Disorders: Decreased Thermic Effect of Food After an Irregular Compared With a Regular Meal Pattern in Healthy Lean Women
- International Journal of Obesity: Thermogenic Ingredients and Body Weight Regulation
- Current Sports Medicine Reports: Resistance Training Is Medicine: Effects of Strength Training on Health