Blaming your weight on your metabolism? Discover the role metabolism plays in weight loss, find out whether there are any metabolism-boosting foods or drinks, and see if you really can speed up a slow metabolic rate.
What is the metabolism?
The word “metabolism” tends to be used interchangeably with “metabolic rate,” which refers to the number of calories that your body burns at rest. The higher your metabolic rate, the more calories your body will burn, and the easier you’ll find it to shed pounds. In essence, metabolism is the reason why some people can eat more and stay thin—they need to consume more calories to maintain their weight. For a variety of reasons, some people have faster metabolisms than others. Age, gender, genes, and body size all play a part in determining the speed of your metabolism.
Can your metabolism help you to lose weight?
There are many different opinions about the importance of metabolism for weight loss and weight gain. While metabolism does influence weight loss, it’s certainly not the only thing to have an effect. Other important factors include diet, stress, sleep, and physical activity. All things considered, someone in excellent physical shape is more likely to be an active, healthy person than someone in poor physical shape.
There are a couple of exceptions in which excessive weight gain can be caused by a medical problem that’s slowing your metabolism, such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) or Cushing syndrome, but these are relatively rare.
Is it possible to boost your metabolism?
Metabolism is largely based on genetics, which means that it’s mostly out of our control. However, there are many ways that you can burn extra calories and keep your body fit:
- Regular exercise. Cardio can help you to burn calories and coax your metabolism into working harder. Vary your workouts with high-intensity activities like martial arts, sprinting, and strongman circuits, rather than overloading on steady-state aerobic exercises like cycling or jogging.
- Strength training. Muscles burn more calories than fat because it is metabolically-active tissue, so increasing your muscle mass through strength training is a great way to cut calories and lose weight. Some examples of exercises you can do to strengthen your muscles include weightlifting and high-intensity exercise. Studies have shown that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can boost your metabolism for up to 48 hours, although the significance of this metabolic afterburn is disputable.
- Healthy diet. A low-fat diet featuring high levels of fiber and complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and grains) is a great way to lose weight. Incorporating protein-rich foods into your diet is also extremely important. Research has shown that protein can boost your metabolic rate by as much as 15–30% (a rate that compares favorably with fats and carbs). In addition, a study has shown that people for whom protein made up 30% of their diet were likely to eat roughly 441 fewer calories every day, indicating that a high-protein diet can lead to a reduced appetite.
- Sleep. Studies have shown that people who sleep for fewer than 8 hours a night reduce their levels of leptin—the hormone that regulates appetite and energy use—by 15.5%. By getting plenty of shut-eye, you can be sure that your metabolism is in tip-top shape.
Do any drinks or snacks boost metabolism?
Many of the claims for metabolism-boosting foods are unsupported by evidence. That said, seaweed—a good source of iodine, a mineral required for the proper functioning of your thyroid gland—may be a good choice for anyone who wants to keep their metabolism running quickly. Certain spices, such as ginger or cayenne pepper, may also help to burn calories.
A couple of different metabolism-boosting drinks may be worth exploring. Green tea and oolong tea may boost metabolic rate by up to 5%, while they also have the potential to convert fat stored in your body to fatty acid, increasing the rate at which you can burn fat. Although it’s a bummer to hear, it’s worth noting that some researchers do not believe that green tea has any significant effect on weight loss.
Water is a great choice for people who want to lose weight. Studies have shown that water has the potential to temporarily increase your metabolism while also increasing your energy expenditure by around 24%, indicating that drinking water may be a way of increasing your resting metabolic rate. And before you crack open a LaCroix to celebrate, we must add that we mean plain old water because all zero-calorie drinks are not created equal, as shown in our excellent article Water For Weight Loss.
Ultimately, the effects of these metabolism-boosting foods and drinks are questionable, although they may provide some short-term boost to your metabolic rate.
What's the verdict?
While metabolic rate does have an impact upon weight, it is only one part of the equation. Other factors like diet and exercise are just as important, if not more so. The best way to ensure that you remain healthy is—drumroll… to eat right and exercise regularly. Maybe next time we’ll just have your mom write these articles? But seriously, folks, do remember to consult with your doctor if you do choose to start a new fitness routine.