Metabolism is a familiar word to nutritionists and persons watching their weight, but what exactly is it? Simply put, metabolism is the biochemical process that converts the calories we eat and drink into energy that keeps our bodies running. We all need energy for exercising and moving through our day, but there are also many “behind the scenes” functions, such as breathing, circulating blood and repairing cells that require energy. The calories our bodies need to accomplish these basic functions are our basal metabolic rate. The more we can speed up our metabolism and raise our metabolic rate, the more calories we can burn.

There are many factors that can affect our metabolism: age, hormones, genetics, disease and some medications, just to name a few. But here are a few ways to counter some of those influences and give our metabolism a kick in the behind:

  1. Lift weights – Muscles burn more calories than fat cells, even when you’re not exercising. Strengthening your muscles will increase your basal metabolic rate, making you burn more calories all day.
  2. Do aerobic exercises – High intensity workouts can raise your metabolism for several hours after you exercise. You don’t have to sustain the intensity for long periods, so intervals work well. The key is to really challenge your endurance by switching back and forth between high and low/moderate intensity.
  3. Stay hydrated – Drinking water can boost your body’s ability to burn fat by raising your metabolic rate as much as 30 percent. The boost can occur as quickly as 10 minutes after drinking, but reaches a peak at 30-40 minutes. For more about the benefits of water, read my blog post Seven Boosts to Your Health from One Simple Source.
  4. Keep the fire stoked – Going long periods without food can slow your metabolism. Having healthy snacks or small meals every 3-4 hours keeps your metabolism cranking, so you burn more calories over the course of a day. Good examples for snacks are healthy proteins, such as nuts or Greek yogurt, paired with fruits or vegetables.
  5. Spice it up – Some sources claim that the compounds in spicy foods can give your metabolism a kick-start. The effect is temporary, but every little boost can help. Try adding chili peppers or cayenne pepper to your meals. Just be careful not to pair that with calorie-laden cheese and sour cream!
  6. Add some “Fuel Injectors” to your diet – Some foods and beverages have been shown to turbo-charge your metabolism.
    1. Studies suggest that green tea contains a plant compound called EGCG, which promotes fat burning and can sharpen your memory (more on that in an upcoming blog post!)
    2. Whole grains help your body burn more fat because they take extra effort to break down than processed grains, like white bread and pasta. Whole foods that are rich in fiber, like brown rice and oatmeal, are your best bets.
    3. Beans contain protein and fiber, which are two of the building blocks of boosting your metabolism.
    4. Dark chocolate (70 percent or higher cacao) is a source of magnesium, which helps to support healthy glucose levels and stimulates the fat-burning hormone adiponectin.
    5. Caffeine in coffee, tea and espresso gives a short-term jump to your metabolism and gives your mind and body a boost. Caffeine can also rev up your energy, allowing you to exercise harder and longer.

So, if you are feeling sluggish and need to increase your calorie burn, I encourage you to try some of these tricks. Don’t be discouraged if results are slow to develop. It may take some time to see noticeable improvements. I’ve been focused on this for several weeks and am only beginning to see results. Keep in mind, if your goal is to lose weight, the basic principle is that you must burn more calories than you take in. Also, please be aware that before changing or adding to your diet or exercise efforts, it is recommended to consult a health professional, especially if you have any known medical conditions.

Until next time, may the burn be with you!