Losing weight is a struggle, and it can be especially frustrating if you have friends who stay svelte with hardly any effort. This might lead you to wonder whether you can speed up your metabolism. Before we take a crack at that question, let’s go over what metabolism means.
What Is Metabolism?
Metabolism is the driving force of life. Specifically, it’s the sum of the chemical reactions that take place in your body. These reactions are powered by energy (read: calories), and you get that energy from food. Leftover energy is then stored as fat. Fast metabolizers burn through energy quicker than slow metabolizers. You may be tempted to identify yourself as one or the other, but it’s not a black-and-white phenomenon. Metabolism is determined by a huge range of factors, some of which you can change and others that you cannot. These include: age, sex, height, weight, body composition, genetics, diet, activity level, hormones, stress, illness and more.
How Does Metabolism Change Over Time?
Generally, metabolism slows down with age. After all, babies, children and teens require more energy to fuel their growth than adults. Your metabolic rate evens out in adulthood, but it can slow down or speed up due to health changes outside of your control. Here are a few examples:
- Thyroid issues: Thyroid hormone is directly tied to metabolism. People with hypothyroidism gain weight easily because they don’t produce enough of this hormone, and the reverse is true for hyperthyroidism. Before you panic about your thyroid, know that less than 5 percent of the US population has these issues. Only a medical professional can diagnose and treat thyroid disorders.
- Surgery and trauma: It takes a lot of energy for your body to recover from an injury. Depending on the severity, the recovery process can increase your metabolic rate by 20 to 25 percent. Surgical procedures can increase metabolic rate by 15 to 30 percent.
- Cancer: Weight loss is a common symptom in cancer patients because of widespread changes that affect metabolism (think: medication, inflammation and nutrition).
These are examples of extreme shifts in metabolic rate. Smaller bumps in life, such as getting a fever, will also affect metabolism.
7 Ways to Hack Your Metabolism
Metabolism is affected by many factors you can’t control, but what about those that you can? Right off the bat you should know that there’s no miracle pill you can safely take to turn your body into a fat-burning furnace. However, there are small ways to hack your metabolic fate:
1. Build muscle. We often make a beeline for the treadmills and ellipticals when we want to shed pounds, but did you know that hitting the weight room is also good for weight loss? That’s because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat, even when you’re laying down. Try to add strength training to your workout routine at least once a week.
2. Intensify your workout. If you hate weights, there’s another option: work out harder. Raising your heart rate through high-intensity interval training (HIIT) helps you build muscle, lose weight and raise your metabolism.
3. Drink lots of water. As stated above, metabolism involves many chemical reactions and these reactions all happen in the presence of water, so staying hydrated helps.
4. Sip on caffeine moderately. Coffee and tea lovers can benefit from a small bump in metabolic rate from a caffeinated beverage of choice. Try not to overdo additions like sweeteners, cream or milk if you’re watching your waistline.
5. Flavor with spice. Peppers and chili contain capsaicin, which can turn up body temperature and somewhat aid with weight loss.
6. Fuel with lean protein. Foods high in protein help with weight loss because they make us feel more satiated after a meal. But, did you know that high-protein foods can also increase your metabolic rate? That’s because it takes more energy to digest and process protein than carbohydrates and fat.
7. Turn down the heater. We all have a special type of fat (called brown fat) that burns energy to help us stay warm. In a small clinical trial, researchers showed that lowering bedtime room temperatures helped study participants build more brown fat. The science is still new, but it suggests that cooler temperatures may boost metabolism.