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It seems some people are blessed with fast metabolisms while others complain of slow ones. Like fingerprints, metabolism — the process of converting the food you eat into energy — is unique to each person and based on a variety of factors.
Your age, height, weight, sex and body composition all contribute to your individual metabolic rate. Having more lean muscle enables you to burn more calories at rest as compared to having more body fat. On the contrary, things that will slow your metabolism include age and under-eating, as your body will become more efficient with the calories consumed.
“If your metabolism has slowed down to adapt to your caloric intake, you can boost it back up by consuming more energy — food,” says McKenzie Flinchum, RD, LD/N, CPT, owner of The Flexible Dietitian LLC, who took first place at an NPC figure show in 2013. “Additionally, since lean muscle burns more energy than body fat, if you exercise and change your body composition from less fat to more muscle, your resting metabolic rate will increase.”
Even though there is no magic pill to boost your metabolism further than its natural rate, Flinchum says there are a handful of practices you can incorporate into your lifestyle to help rev it up:
Amount of Food
Make sure you are eating enough. Not too much, not overeating — but enough to support your energy needs. “If your goals include weight loss, being in a caloric deficit is necessary,” Flinchum says. “But keep in mind that your body’s metabolic rate can slow down to become more efficient with the calories/energy that you are consuming.” So if you are feeling like you are under-eating but your body is not losing any weight, your metabolism has likely been impacted. Use this signal to slowly start increasing your food intake to allow your metabolism to speed back up to its normal rate.
Don’t just stop at cardio when you’re planning your workouts. “Lifting weights and doing resistance training will build lean muscle, which will increase the amount of calories you burn at rest,” Flinchum explains. “As a result, your resting metabolic rate will be increased.”
Catch Those Zzz’s
While sleep itself won’t boost your metabolism, it is an important piece of a healthy lifestyle. Sleep deprivation can cause you to overeat to compensate for a lack of energy you may feel.
Start your day with a brisk walk outside, a few squats and jumping jacks in your home, or a trip to the gym. “While this won’t impact your long-term resting metabolic rate, the increase in your heart rate can be a good start to the day as it can help burn some extra calories and boost your energy,” Flinchum says. If you’re not a morning person, then you can do it later in the day — any type of movement that will burn calories and help burn body fat over time can have a positive impact on your metabolism.
Even though there is not a magic food that will boost your metabolism, eating a balance of nutritious foods can help you feel and look your best. “Eat a variety of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, and lean protein,” Flinchum says. “Aim for a good source of fiber at each meal, too.”
Bringing It All Together
If you start getting enough sleep and eating nutritious foods in replacement of added sugars, excess fats, or a lot of processed foods with high sodium content or low fiber, Flinchum says you may notice a difference after just a few days. “Incorporating more vegetables and fiber-rich foods will boost the fiber and micronutrient content of your diet,” she explains. “Exercising and increasing your heart rate will burn more calories instantaneously. In order to boost your metabolic rate by increasing lean muscle and decreasing body fat, it may take months of hard work and staying consistent with an exercise program, but it will pay off. Your body composition and metabolism will both change as a result.”