Everyone talks about their metabolism (both negatively and positively), but what is it – and how can we optimize it? Let's take a dive into this hot topic with actionable tips to help you rev up your metabolism through nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, hormonal optimization, sleep, and more!
I'm sharing six all-natural things you can do starting right away to help your body burn more calories and fat every single day...and these super-healthy things will also give you so many bonus benefits!
The best thing when it comes to these six components: when you get them working together, not only does your metabolism rev up … but you also FEEL GREAT. You’ll feel more energized, lighter on your feet, and you might even start to hear people comment on your healthy “glow!”
What is METABOLISM?
It’s tempting to think of your metabolism as a “thing” – kind of like your body’s speedometer that controls the rate your body burns energy.
But your metabolism actually is a complex PROCESS where your body turns the food you eat into energy. And since you have dozens of trillions of cells, you can just imagine how complicated this whole process is!
Your own metabolic burn depends on many things. Some are outside your control…like your genetics and gender. But the great news is that you have control over a LOT of the other factors…like your activity level, sleep, and even how stressed you feel!
Eat foods that boost your metabolism
Every food you eat has what’s called a THERMIC EFFECT. Digesting your foods requires effort, and effort means your body is burning fuel!
One food group takes more effort than others: protein!
Eating foods high in protein (meat, eggs, fish, legumes, tofu, etc.) rev up your metabolism because it takes your body more energy to digest them.
Eating protein raises your metabolic rate by 15-30% while your body is digesting it! Meanwhile, carbs increase it only by 5-10%, and fat by 0-3%.
Eating enough protein helps your body build and maintain muscle, and that’s a big part of living an active life, especially as you get older! For even more benefit, spread out your protein over the course of the day instead of eating it just at one meal.
Additional foods to help rev up your metabolism:
Legumes: On top of containing plenty of plant-based protein, legumes (lentils, black beans, kidney beans, etc.) also contain resistant starch. That’s a form of fiber your body can’t digest.
Resistant starch can help improve your metabolism because it helps stabilize blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity, both of which are key in fat storage.
Coffee and tea: The amount of caffeine in an average cup of coffee (around 100 mg) appears to boost your metabolism by up to 11% for up to 2 hours.
Also, studies suggest the antioxidants and catechins in green tea (especially green tea extract) appear to rev up your metabolism by 3% to 4% (and as much as 8%), over the course of a 24-hour period.
Ginger: One study found that adding a heaping teaspoon (2 grams) of ginger powder to hot water and drinking it after breakfast raised metabolism – people burned about 43 extra calories AND they didn’t feel as hungry for the next three hours.
Apple Cider Vinegar: In mice studies, apple cider vinegar was found to promote the production of an enzyme called AMPK, which lowers the rate of fat storage and boosts the rate of fat burning.
(Tip: try combining ginger and 1-2 tbsp of organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar in hot water for a refreshing morning drink.)
Chili peppers: Add some red pepper to your dinner to fire up your metabolism! Many studies have investigated supplements containing capsaicinoids, which is the component that gives chili peppers their “heat.”
You can get some of the same benefits from food by adding the spicy peppers to your recipes. Yum! Throw them into some chili with black beans and ground turkey for a 1-2-3 metabolic punch.
It’s important to know that none of these foods will suddenly make your body burn hundreds of extra calories a day...but it’s pretty surprising how quickly layering in small, consistent changes can rev your daily burn!
Consume enough calories - even if trying to lose weight!
Let’s say you decide to go on a diet and you slash your calories because you just want to get the weight loss over with.
Well, your body is smart and built for survival! If you suddenly cut your calories, your body will think there’s a famine going on, and actually SLOW down your metabolism to help protect you.
Yes, in order to lose weight you do need to adjust your calorie intake ... but to keep your metabolism stoked you need to make sure you don’t cut it TOO much.
Exactly how much of a calorie deficit you need depends on your age, size, and activity level. There are a lot of different calculators out there to help you figure out exactly what that number is.
It's important to note that while there are calculators and math involved, this is not necessarily an exact science. This gives you a starting point so you can experiment...give it a try for a week or two and notice what happens. If you need to make adjustments, make them.
Stay active to burn calories
How active you are each day (including your workouts and your normal activities of daily living) makes up about 10% to 30% of your daily calorie burn. Very active people can actually burn up to half their daily calories from activity!
Nearly all workouts can help you burn more calories, but strength training and high-intensity interval training workouts can give you some bonus burn after your workout is over.
Workouts that use resistance training (like weight lifting) can help build muscle, which helps raise your resting metabolism so you burn more calories round-the-clock (this isn’t a huge number, but we’ll take it anyway!).
Workouts that include high-intensity intervals – basically alternating “intense” bouts with easier recovery periods – can also help you torch more calories than regular steady-state cardio in a shorter period of time.
Working out offers a ton of additional benefits:
Working out is good for your gut health…and your gut health is good for your weight! Studies show that regular exercise makes for more healthy bacteria inside your digestive tract – and having more healthy bacteria is linked to being at a “normal” weight.
It cuts stress…and that’s good for your weight because it can lower the level of stress hormones in your system.
It helps improve your sleep…and that (you guessed it!) is also good for your metabolism!
It helps keep your blood sugar balanced.
It can help protect you from many diseases, from heart disease and hypertension to diabetes.
It’s a natural mood booster.
And it helps keep your mind and ability to focus sharp!
Aim to workout 3-5 times each week - with variety between resistance and interval training.
Burn calories OUTSIDE of your workouts
Cranking out a workout is definitely great and it does boost your metabolism, especially if you lift weights or do an intense cardio session.
But for an all-day metabolic burn, it’s all about BEING ACTIVE during the day. Think about standing instead of sitting, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and finding excuses and reasons to MOVE...this can account for hundreds of extra calories a day!
Your body just plain burns more calories while you’re moving than when you aren’t. If you’ve ever gone from being active all day to having a desk job, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Also, this is so good for your health since being sedentary is linked with a long list of health issues, from obesity and diabetes to heart disease and cancer.
Can you take a 5- or 10-minute break every hour for a quick walk around the office? If you work at home, can you sneak in some push-ups or squats every once in a while?
Start brainstorming little ways you can boost your activity level. Your body and your metabolism will definitely thank you for it.
Our bodies have a love-hate relationship with stress. Some stress can be good for you. Our bodies are incredibly adaptable and can actually IMPROVE when under stress. But that doesn’t mean that because a little stress is good for you, a lot is even better.
Here’s a quick list of what can happen metabolically/hormonally when you’re under stress:
→ Almost immediately, you can start burning fewer calories. A study done a few years ago at Ohio State found that stress was linked to burning fewer calories for women.
In the study, women were fed a high-fat, high-calorie meal. Those who reported being under a lot of stress the day before burned 100+ FEWER calories than the women who weren’t under stress.
Plus, the stressed-out women had higher insulin levels, which can exacerbate fat storage.
→ You start to crave high-fat, high-sugar foods, thanks to the extra cortisol (a primary stress hormone) in your system.
→ Emotional eating. Snacking on those fatty, sugary comfort foods can fire up your brain’s reward centers, giving you temporary relief. Over time, this can become a habit or a go-to method of self-soothing.
These less-than-healthy comfort foods can leave you feeling blah and tired, affect your mood, and set you up for feeling even worse.
PLUS … studies show “ultra-processed” (like the fatty/sugary foods in the studies) actually cause you to eat more than you would if you ate healthier foods.
So … what can you do?
Stress is a natural part of life, and it hits all of us eventually. It can be a job with constant deadline pressures … relationship or financial issues … and it can even come in the form of “good” stress, like a new baby in the house!
The most important thing you can do is to BE AWARE and listen to your body.
Be mindful of how you are feeling … and what you are eating. This lets you stay in (or regain) control. If you find yourself stressed or tense, take note!
Take regular anti-stress breaks. Take a walk or find some other way to get some alone time. Also, experiment with meditation or breathing exercises a couple of times a day.
Make time for exercise. This can help with stress management and boost your metabolism in the process. A brisk walk counts!
Honor your needs. Just because someone in your life has an urgent need doesn’t mean your own needs are less important. Make time for YOU!
And above all, don’t stress about stressing! The key to it all is being MINDFUL, and adding “self-care” to your to-do list.
Get enough high-quality sleep!
Making time for enough sleep at night is huge. I’m talking about 7 to 8 hours a night - and doing whatever you can to make it quality sleep is also important!
On the health side of things, getting enough sleep every night can lower your risk of heart disease, depression, and diabetes. But for your metabolism, studies show that not getting enough sleep actually drops your metabolism by 2-8%!
Poor sleep can lead to weight gain, which can lead to poor sleep, which can lead to weight gain, and on and on!
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
→ You notice the scale goes UP a couple of pounds after a few days of bad sleep. It might not be a coincidence. One study followed adults who were limited to 5 hours of sleep over 5 nights. They gained an average of 1.8 lbs (.8 kg)!
→ You feel hungry after a bad night of sleep. This is believed to be linked to two hormones – ghrelin (which signals hunger) and leptin (which signals when you’re full) – that get disrupted without adequate sleep.
Your body releases more ghrelin and less leptin – leaving you feeling hungry!
→ You have less willpower. This is because a lack of sleep activates a part of your brain that is sensitive to food stimuli.
Here are some tips from the National Sleep Foundation
Avoid alcohol, caffeine, or other stimulants for a few hours before bed.
Get some exercise during the day.
Don’t eat heavy meals just before bed.
Go outside for some sunshine and fresh air to reinforce your body’s natural circadian rhythms.
Make sure your bedroom is sleep-friendly: dark, not too hot, and quiet (or use a noise machine).
Avoid naps (especially late in the day) if they disrupt your sleep pattern.
Create a relaxing evening wind-down routine. Over time this will signal your body it’s time for bed.
Avoid bright lights and devices that emit blue light for an hour or two before bed, because these can interfere with your body’s sleep cycle.
If you have trouble sleeping, be sure to talk to your doctor.
If you are doing everything “right” and you aren’t getting the results you want, often it’s things like sleep and stress that are to blame! So it’s definitely worth giving both some attention.
Drink plenty of water
You know how people always recommend making sure you’re drinking enough water? Well, there’s a reason for it. It WORKS!
Studies show that drinking half a liter of water boosts your resting metabolism by 10-30% for about an hour. That’s just over two cups of water.
You get more of a boost if you drink cold water because your body has to work to bring it up to body temperature.
Not only that, but water also helps fill you up before you eat.
One study had people who were overweight drink half a liter of water before they ate their meals, and they lost 44% more weight than people who didn’t drink the water.
You’ll also feel more energized, it’s good for your skin and digestion, and just generally helps you FEEL better!
As a general rule of thumb, a good starting point is half your body weight in ounces of water each day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, that would be about 75 ounces. If you want more tips on how to incorporate more water into your day, check out my Hydration blog post.
Here’s a quick summary of these six all-natural ways to boost your metabolism so you can burn more calories and fat every single day:
Eat foods that boost your metabolism (especially protein).
Make sure you get enough calories.
Stay active during the day.
Get at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep.
Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water every day!
I hope these tips help energize and rev up your metabolism!
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Or, if you’d like to talk about your healthy lifestyle goals and find ways to improve your healthy habits, schedule a FREE 30-minute goal-mapping session with me HERE.