Your metabolic rate relates to the energy your body uses in a day, measured in units of energy called calories. When you're managing your weight, a faster metabolism means you can take in more calories from food and drink without gaining weight. But if your metabolism seems slow, you may wonder about ways to give it a boost. Exercise, certain foods or drinks and other lifestyle modifications can raise your metabolism and train your your body to burn more calories all day long.
Components of Your Metabolism
Your metabolism has three primary components. The largest one is your basal metabolic rate, or BMR. This is the sum of all the bodily functions that keep you alive -- such as breathing, pumping blood and keeping your heart beating. About 60 percent of your calories are burned to fuel your BMR.
Approximately 30 percent of the calories you burn daily consist of activity -- all kinds of movements, big or small, such as showering, making dinner and running on the treadmill. Every activity you do that's not sleeping or sitting counts.
The final 10 percent of your metabolism comes from the thermic effect of food -- that is, the calories burned to digest food and absorb and deliver the nutrients to your tissues.
Building muscle boosts the largest calorie-burning component of your metabolism, the BMR. When you perform resistance training, your metabolism increases to fuel protein synthesis -- the process by which your muscles grow.
Once the protein synthesis is complete and your body carries more muscle, your BMR also experiences a boost. Muscle tissue requires a greater number of calories for your body to maintain than fat tissue does. The more muscle you have compared to fat, the higher your metabolism. To build muscle mass, strength-train all the major muscle groups at least twice per week.
High-intensity interval training, which involves alternating short bouts of all-out cardio exercise with bouts of lower-intensity work, is a way to tweak your exercise routine and boost your metabolism. When you perform HIIT, you consume more oxygen than when you work at a slow, steady pace. As a result, you increase your post-exercise metabolism slightly for up to 24 hours, reports the American College of Sports Medicine. Build a fitness base before trying HIIT, though; it's not for people with health issues or who are new to exercise.
One of the easiest ways to boost your metabolism is to move more every day. Minor movements, such as tapping your foot, pacing while on the phone, taking for the stairs and doing household chores can notably increase your metabolic rate. This nonexercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, can differ by as much as 2,000 calories between people of similar size, according to a paper in the 2007 issue of the Journal of Internal Medicine. Those who burn a greater number of calories all day long incorporate more movement during work and leisure activities.
Protein is harder for your body to break down, so it increases the thermic effect of food, or the number of calories you use for digestion. When you increase the percentage of calories you consume from protein, your overall metabolic rate increases slightly, explains a paper published in a 2014 issue of Nutrition and Metabolism. So, if you consume 2,000 calories per day, you'd burn 14 extra calories through digestion if protein makes up 30 percent, rather than 20 percent, of your calorie intake. Increasing to 30 percent of calories from protein amounts to 150 grams of protein, rather than 100 grams, for the 2,000-calorie diet.
Enjoy a Spicy Meal
Capsaicin, the compound in hot peppers that creates their spicy bite, can mildly raise your metabolism, reported Chemical Senses in 2012. Add peppers, such as jalapenos or habaneros, to a chili or sprinkle cayenne spice into salad dressing to get a small dose of capsaicin. It will both raise your calorie burn and fat oxidation, especially at high doses, but only by a slight amount. Spicy meals can't replace exercise and healthy portion control when it comes to managing your weight, though, because amounts in food most likely provide only a minuscule metabolic boost.
Drink Green Tea
Drinking green tea may offer a small boost to your metabolism, suggested a review published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry in 2011. Researchers hypothesize that compounds in green tea called catechins stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, which promotes greater calorie burn and fat oxidation. The effects are mild but could provide support to weight-loss efforts.
Have a Cup of Coffee
It's long been established that caffeine offers a metabolic boost, as shown by a classic study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1989. Researchers found that the amount of caffeine in a typical cup of coffee raises a person's metabolic rate by 3 to 4 percent for 150 minutes. Over the course of a day, people who consumed caffeine every several hours burned an extra 79 to 150 calories total.
A later study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009, confirmed that caffeine induces a thermogenic, or calorie-burning, response. So your morning cup of java -- and any other caffeine intake throughout the day -- may provide a small calorie-burning boost.
Drink Ice-Cold Water
A glass of water chilled to 37 degrees Fahrenheit offers a small thermogenic benefit, according to a 2006 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Your body has to increase its energy expenditure to raise the temperature of the water to body temperature before processing it. The tiny metabolic boost from cold water isn't enough to make a significant difference in your weight, however.
Eat More Often
A regular meal schedule keeps your metabolism burning at a steady rate. When study participants ate at six predictable times during the day, they burned more calories through digestion after meals than when they ate at three to nine unpredictable times per day, despite taking in an equal number of calories. This research was published in a 2004 issue of the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders. Sticking to a regular eating schedule may offer a slight metabolic boost and help you avoid unwanted weight gain.
Cutting calories is necessary for losing weight, but deny yourself too many and your efforts may backfire. If you eat fewer than 1,200 calories a day as a woman, or 1,800 calories per day as a man, you send a signal to your body to conserve calories and decrease your overall metabolic rate. Fail to exercise, too, and you may experience as much as a 20 percent reduction in your overall metabolic rate.
Lose weight at a gradual pace to keep your metabolism stimulated as you lose weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends sticking with a loss rate of just 1 to 2 pounds per week.
- University of New Mexico: Metabolism Makeover: Fact or Fiction
- University of New Mexico: Controversies in Metabolism
- American College of Sports Nutrition: Metabolism Is Modifiable With the Right Lifestyle Changes
- American College of Sports Nutrition: For All-Day Metabolism Boost, Try Interval Training
- Journal of Internal Medicine: Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis--Liberating the Life-Force
- Nutrition and Metabolism: A High-Protein Diet for Reducing Body Fat: Mechanisms and Possible Caveats
- Chemical Senses: The Effects of Capsaicin and Capsiate on Energy Balance: Critical Review and Meta-Analyses of Studies in Humans
- Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry: Antiobesity Effects of Green Tea Catechins: A Mechanistic Review
- Linus Pauling Institute: Tea
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Normal Caffeine Consumption: Influence on Thermogenesis and Daily Energy Expenditure in Lean and Postobese Human Volunteers