It’s never too late to kick up your metabolism. Certain fitness tactics related to exercise and diet help.
Here are five science-backed ways that fitness can increase your metabolism, which is simply the rate at which your body burns calories from food and drinks, providing you with energy.
1. Pick up something heavy (many times).
Okay, okay, right from the start I’m pitching a soft sell for strength training. But things like lifting boxes of books, hauling heavy yard debris and carrying a 4-year-old count, if you do them enough.
In addition to boosting metabolism, strength training is especially important for women when they’re older, in order to keep their bones healthy. Often, though, women shun strength training for fear of bulking up, but that’s unlikely to happen.
“It would take a lot of strategic planning and intense work, both in the gym and in the kitchen, to look like a bodybuilder or anything near that — a type of commitment the average person doesn’t have the desire or drive for anyway,” says Ty McDonald, a certified athletic trainer based in Toronto, Canada. “Resistance training is key in getting and keeping the metabolism high. You don’t have to get bulky; you just need to decrease body fat and increase lean muscle mass.”
In terms of traditional strength training, McDonald recommends deadlifts.
“Deadlifts require nearly every major muscle in the body to be active while performing, thus, requiring a ton of energy,” he says. “Increased demand for energy equates to an increase in metabolism to produce the required fuel to perform them.”
2. Add more muscle to your frame.
“The more lean muscle you have, the more energy your body requires even at a resting state — when you’re doing absolutely nothing, even sleeping — which directly relates to more calories being burned,” McDonald says.
The National Institutes of Health points out that your brain, heart, kidneys, liver and lungs likely consume more calories than your muscles do at rest. But that doesn’t change the fact that muscles use more calories than fat.
3. Get moving.
After reading the qualifier I added to the end of #2, you might think, meh, I’m not convinced more muscle helps my metabolism enough. If so, this tip is especially for you. Plus, it’s a no-brainer: Move them arms and legs, and get your heart rate up.
McDonald recommends HIIT, short for high-intensity interval training.
“In addition to being a great way to keep the heart and lungs healthy, HIIT is a great way to boost our metabolism while minimizing muscle loss,” he says. “Not only is our requirement for energy elevated during exercise, but it lasts quite a while after finishing while trying to achieve homeostasis once again.” Touché.
Steady-state cardio is also a good option, particularly if you’re the impatient type.
“Some people may need that immediate gratification of seeing short-term results to keep pushing through their program,” McDonald says. “Steady-state cardio will allow them to see changes in their body composition quickly while they build up their muscle mass to make these changes last.”
Think jogging, running, rowing — “doesn’t really matter; the intensity is what matters,” McDonald says — at about 60 to 75 percent maximum effort (RPE in athletic-trainer speak).
When we get chunky, seems we should eat less. Makes sense to me. But not to science.
“Couldn’t be farther from the truth,” McDonald says. “Many people with this mindset already starve themselves or drastically under-eat, which forces their body into a survival mode, causing their metabolism to slow down and preserve any energy it can, not knowing when it’ll get its next fill.”
This doesn’t mean you should binge on french fries and donuts though.
5. Eat more protein.
“We should be eating more of the right foods,” McDonald stresses.
Protein, for example, which is essential for building muscle, and for not losing it.
“Increasing your protein intake will not only help you burn more calories to process it, but it will keep you feeling fuller for longer and will also aid in repairing and rebuilding the muscles you’ll be getting from your resistance program,” he says.
Plus, believe it or not, your metabolism increases when you eat, digest and store food, a process called the “thermic effect of food” — though there’s a little twist to it: Protein has a higher thermic effect compared with fats and carbohydrates because it takes longer for your body to burn protein and absorb it, Harvard Health Publishing explains.
It’s not entirely clear that the rise is much to hang your hat on, but health and fitness experts agree that eating enough protein and other healthful foods while also strength training (looks like you might as well strength train!) works well for the metabolism.
Don’t go overboard with protein though. To find out how much you need, see where your individual circumstances fall on the Dietary Reference Intake chart from the NIH.
Mitra Malek writes and edits content related to wellness.