Whenever we struggle with our weight, we're quick to blame our metabolisms and scour the internet for fast fixes. But let's be clear: There's no magic bullet guaranteed to boost your metabolism or miraculously blast your belly fat.
Metabolism — aka the way our bodies convert food into energy — is complex. The process deals with more than just what you eat and how much you work out. And the speed of your metabolism is influenced by a variety of factors, including your age, weight and sex.
Still, there are a few tried-and-true tactics you can use to keep your metabolism running at its prime calorie-burning capacity. Here are 10 things you can do every day to ramp up your metabolic rate — and three things that are sure to sabotage your weight-loss goals.
1. Get Moving
Incorporating exercise into your everyday routine is a surefire way to keep your metabolism chugging along. But the key is to be strategic about your workouts.
If you're a treadmill-loving gym-goer, add weight-lifting to your fitness plan. Pumping iron a few days a week can increase your lean muscle mass, which will rev up your resting energy expenditure, says Lisa Moskovitz, RDN, CDN, founder and CEO of The NY Nutrition Group. Translation: The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest.
If you want to kick your calorie burning into high gear, try HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, a few times a week. The short, intense bursts of exercise that characterize this workout keep your metabolic rate elevated for hours afterward, thanks to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
Plus, HIIT makes you sweat bullets. Since sweat is one of the body's most potent detoxifiers, it helps the body get rid of toxins that may be stalling your metabolism, says New Jersey-based physician Kristine Gedroic, MD, founder and director of he Gedroic Medical Institute and author of A Nation of Unwell: What's Gone Wrong?
2. Sip Green Tea
Good news for tea lovers: A warm cup of green tea may offer some moderate metabolism-boosting benefits due to antioxidants called catechins, says Moskovitz.
One particular catechin, EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), especially helps break down fat, says Pauline Jose, MD, a clinical instructor at UCLA and family medicine specialist at pH Labs, a national nonprofit health information organization.
While a March 2013 review published in Advances in Nutrition found that green tea extract has a positive effect on fat metabolism, other research has observed that green tea catechins must be ingested with caffeine in order to aid in weight loss, according to the 2014 book Antioxidants in Sport Nutrition.
3. Eat the Heat
"Spicy foods turn up the heat — literally — in your body, and this in turn can temporarily boost your calorie expenditure," says Moskovitz, who adds that your average spicy dish can increase your metabolic rate by up to 8 percent. It's all thanks to capsaicin, the compound in hot peppers responsible for their spicy bite, according to a February 2012 review published in Chemical Senses.
4. Drink Coffee
If you don't already, you may want to sip a cup of joe with your breakfast. Coffee contains stimulants like caffeine that increase such neurotransmitters as norepinephrine and dopamine, which in turn increase a person's energy and resting metabolic rate, says Dr. Jose.
But the effects are short-lived, adds Moskovitz. To make the most out of your metabolism-boosting brew, try consuming coffee before you exercise, which will give you an extra shot of energy during your workouts.
5. Opt for Organic
Though buying organic groceries is more expensive, it might be worth it if you're trying to boost your metabolism. By eating organic, you can avoid harmful pesticides and herbicides found in our food supply that can adversely affect your health, including metabolism, says Dr. Gedroic.
A growing body of research is linking chemicals in our environment — like pollutants and pesticides — to weight gain. Indeed, according to a May 2016 article published in Environmental Health Perspectives, environmental contaminants can disrupt metabolic functions and contribute to obesity.
One of the most pervasive chemicals is glyphosate, says Dr. Gedroic. Found in herbicides, glyphosate disturbs the balance of beneficial gut microbes, leading to chronic inflammation, and interrupts the proper functioning of glycine, a critical amino acid that's involved in maintaining a healthy metabolic rate.
6. Catch Enough Zzzs
A poor night's sleep might do more than leave you tired — it can screw with your metabolism, too. A September 2019 study published in the Journal of Lipid Research found that lack of sleep — defined by no more than five hours in bed — made study participants feel less satisfied after a fatty meal and modified their lipid metabolism. But there's more bad news: Even though one night of recovery sleep helped, it didn't reverse all the negative effects.
So, what can you do? Take a cat nap. Yup, napping for 30 minutes may negate the health effects of poor sleep, according to a March 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Researchers found that a quick nap could nix the hormonal impact of a not-so-restful night, relieve stress and boost your immune system.
7. Improve Your Iodine Intake
"Iodine is a trace mineral that's critical for the production of thyroid hormones that control metabolism," says Dr. Gedroic. If you don't get enough iodine, your metabolism may be sluggish, and you might find it difficult to shed those stubborn pounds.
Most people used to consume enough iodine — in the form of iodized salt — which was found in breads. But, in the latter half of the 20th century, iodine was replaced with a chemical called potassium bromide to make bread fluffier, according to Dr. Gedroic.
Since your body can't produce iodine and you can't count on bread for your daily dose (by the way, the daily recommended dietary allowance for iodine is 150 micrograms for anyone 14 and older), Dr. Gedroic suggests incorporating iodine-rich food sources into your diet, like organic grass-fed dairy, organic cage-free eggs, sea kelp, nori and seaweed rather than relying on iodine supplements.
8. Stay Hydrated
"Water is the best way to keep your body functioning at its peak," says Moskovitz. In fact, when you're dehydrated, your metabolism dips and your body burns 2 percent fewer calories, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
So how much H20 do you need to bolster your metabolism? ACE recommends 2 liters a day, and make sure it's ice cold. Guzzling glacially cold water can temporarily boost your metabolism by a few calories since your body must first use energy to heat your H20 to body temperature before it can properly hydrate.
9. Boost Your Vitamin B6
"Vitamin B6 plays a key role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein in the body," says Dr. Gedroic. And the best way to get enough metabolism-boosting vitamin B6 is through a healthy diet. Foods like chicken, turkey, pork, beef, salmon, organic whole-grain cereals, eggs, sweet potatoes and bananas are bountiful in B6.
If you're vegan or vegetarian, Dr. Gedroic suggests taking a food-based vitamin B6 supplement to ensure you're consuming enough daily. The recommended daily allowance of B6 falls between 1.3 and 1.7 milligrams for adults, depending on your age and sex.
10. Eat Fermented Foods or Take a Probiotic
Noshing on fermented foods and popping a probiotic both provide your body with healthy bacteria, which are essential for a balanced gut. "And a balanced gut is critical for many things, including proper digestion and a healthy metabolism," says Dr. Gedroic.
Adding healthy bacteria to your gut helps your body properly break down and absorb food so you can get the nutrients you need and keep your systems, including your metabolism, running smoothly.
3 Things You Should Never Do
Some metabolism-boosting strategies may seem like a good idea in theory, but in reality, they may drag down your metabolism and weight-loss efforts. Here's what not to do if you want to keep your metabolism running hot.
1. Skip Breakfast: If you forego breakfast, you might be sabotaging your weight-loss goals and messing with your metabolism. According to a June 2014 study in the Journal of Rural Medicine, missing breakfast was significantly related to a greater likelihood of obesity.
That's because breakfast jumpstarts your metabolism and gets your digestion moving, says Moskovitz, who recommends opting for a meal rich in lean protein and high in fiber.
2. Yo-Yo Diet: If you go on and off extreme diets, and your weight rises and falls like a roller coaster, you're doing more harm than good to your body and your metabolism. "Crash dieting is not only dangerous, but over time it can make it harder to lose weight and much easier to gain weight," says Moskovitz.
3. Slash Too Many Calories: Cutting calories is necessary for losing weight, but when you deny yourself too many, your efforts may backfire. When you drastically decrease your calorie intake, your metabolism slows down as a protective mechanism to ensure that your body is getting an adequate number of calories for basic energy demands, says Moskovitz.
- Advances In Nutrition: “The effect of green tea extract on fat oxidation at rest and during exercise: evidence of efficacy and proposed mechanisms.”
- Antioxidants in Sport Nutrition: Chapter 8: Green Tea Catechins and Sport Performance
- Chemical Senses: “The Effects of Capsaicin and Capsiate on Energy Balance: Critical Review and Meta-analyses of Studies in Humans”
- Journal of Rural Medicine: “Skipping Breakfast is Correlated with Obesity”
- Environmental Health Perspectives: “Uppsala Consensus Statement on Environmental Contaminants and the Global Obesity Epidemic”
- Journal of Lipid Research: “Four nights of sleep restriction suppress the postprandial lipemic response and decrease satiety”
- Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: “Napping Reverses the Salivary Interleukin-6 and Urinary Norepinephrine Changes Induced by Sleep Restriction”
- Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: “Body-Weight Fluctuation and Incident Diabetes Mellitus, Cardiovascular Disease, and Mortality: A 16-Year Prospective Cohort Study”
- American Council on Exercise: “8 Things that Slow Down Your Metabolism”
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Iodine: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin B6: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”