Boost Your Metabolism
It is no secret that your metabolism slows down as you age. This begins around age 30 and after age 40, your metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn in a day) decreases 5% each decade. Other factors such as gender, genetics, nutrition and activity level play a role. While you can’t determine your gender or whether your ancestors had speedy metabolisms, nutrition and activity levels allow you to have some control over your metabolic rate and are real options for increasing your metabolism.
Tavis Piattoly, sports dietitian for the New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Pelicans, and Tulane University Athletics, says knowing your basal metabolic rate (also known as resting metabolic rate (RMR) or resting metabolism) can give you a good starting point on estimating how many calories you need in a day. “We are at rest 70% of the day, so you also have to add an activity factor (amount of activity during a normal working day) plus calories burned during exercise to get a total number,” Piattoly said. “Knowing total calories is only significant if you’re counting calories throughout the day.”
Once you know your total caloric needs, Piattoly recommends spreading those calories into 5-6 meals throughout the day to avoid going into a caloric surplus at any particular meal. Smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day can improve body composition and energy levels. “Staying within proper energy balance prevents us from burning muscle tissue for energy and keeps our metabolic rate in check, especially if we’re eating enough protein,” Piattoly said.
Researchers have heavily examined the roles of calcium, protein, and caffeine on metabolism. For instance, says Piattoly, research has demonstrated that higher calcium diets favor burning fat rather than storing it. Calcium is also thermogenic, which means that it increases the body’s core temperature and, consequently, more calories are burned. Protein also has thermogenic benefits, as it takes the body more energy to break down protein while being consumed. Additionally, protein has a satiating effect and keeps you feeling fuller for longer, which may lower overall food consumption. Caffeine is thermogenic and, according to Piattoly, is the number one consumed antioxidant in the United States, primarily because it’s consumed in large quantities.
Julie Fortenberry, registered dietitian and owner of The Natural Weigh, says it is important to utilize caffeine before workouts as it temporarily boosts metabolism. Of course, it is important to avoid sugary versions of caffeine. If your body gets acclimated to the caffeine, Fortenberry recommends not using it for a month and then reintroducing it as opposed to increasing your caffeine intake.
Fortenberry says eating for long-term positive metabolic benefit when you are young is the way to go. Of course, people in their teens and 20s aren’t often paying attention to nutrition and are able -- temporarily -- to get away with bad nutritional habits because their metabolic rates are simply faster. Yet they are actually damaging their metabolism for the future. Fortenberry says that when people start to notice differences in their bodies as they age, it gives them that critical “ah-ha” moment that can help jump start positive life changes. “They start to notice that what worked for them in their 20s isn’t working anymore,” Fortenberry said. “It is an incentive to be healthier.”
It is also important to identify what may be hindering your metabolism, such as stress, weight cycling (gaining and losing weight), a medical condition, or lack of sleep. Hormones play a significant role in metabolism and when you continue to produce stress hormones, says Fortenberry, your body hangs on to or increases fat instead of burning it. An underproductive thyroid can also cause metabolism to be sluggish. Sleep is essential to metabolism, giving everyone a reason to get ample, quality shut-eye. At rest, people burn up to 70 percent of their daily calories. If they are not resting, Fortenberry says, the body is not burning that percentage of calories. Weight cycling also results in a detrimental metabolic scenario. “You are ultimately damaging your metabolism for the long-term,” Fortenberry said. “If I lost 10 pounds and gained 10 back, the next time it will become lose 10 and gain 20, and so on. Metabolism can become sluggish.”
It can be tempting to search for the latest metabolic booster. There is some promising research on green tea, white tea, decaffeinated green coffee been extract, medium chain triglycerides and conjugated linoleic acid, but generally there is insufficient research on most products that focus on metabolism. Piattoly says supplements like white bean extract, l-arginine, and acetyl-l-carnitine have shown no benefit for weight loss. There is little information on raspberry ketones as there has only been one study conducted in rats, which didn’t show much promise. “There are a few human trials in the works (one study is nearly complete), but I don’t know the results yet,” Piattoly said.
Fortenberry says that instead of spending money on alleged boosters or even successful ones, it is important to focus on healthy nutrition, exercise, optimizing sleep and minimizing stress. “Don’t get caught up in metabolic boosters; it doesn’t matter if a booster burns 10 extra calories a day when you are eating 5,000. The focus should be on eating well long-term and what will help you achieve a healthy metabolism in the future.”
Increasing your fitness level is almost always a positive move for your overall health and metabolism, but according to Samantha Prestenbach, owner of LIFT Training Studios in Mandeville, not all physical activities are created equally. All exercises help caloric expenditure, but it is weightlifting that allows you to build muscle mass and increase metabolism. “When you build more muscle mass, your body is still doing the work (breaking down calories), even while you are sleeping,” Prestenbach said.
There are many theories on whether exercise in the morning or evening is most beneficial. Prestenbach recommends weightlifting/exercising when you are most motivated. If you are a morning person, then your energy level is highest in the morning and you will be more likely to stick to a routine. “I am a night owl,” Prestenbach said. “My best runs and best workouts are after dinner. That is when I see my best results. Trying to do it in the morning causes me too much stress because my body doesn’t want to do it then.”
Regardless of when you decide to exercise and lift weights, it is important that you start slow, particularly if the activity is new. It is true, says Prestenbach, that your muscles atrophy over time and that you have to use it or lose it. Still, that doesn’t mean that you go full force. “If you do so, you end up causing your body a lot of stress and increasing cortisol levels, and nothing good comes out of that.”
The concept of weightlifting can be intimidating, as many people have an association between weightlifting and dark gym spaces and large, medieval-looking equipment. Prestenbach says anything new can be scary and will be so until you get used to it, but an effective environment can be incredibly comfortable. For instance, your own home is an ideal space. You barely need any equipment, just a pull-up bar and a chair. “I also use my two-year-old as a weight,” Prestenbach said.
To start out, Prestenbach recommends the following beginner weightlifting schedule three times a week:
10-15 chair squats
10 modified – on knees—pushups (remember to bring your chest to the floor.)
10-12 walking lunges per leg (knee just above floor, not touching.)
20-30 second planks (3-4 times)
10-15 assisted pull-ups (Prestenbach says this is the toughest exercise to do, as people tend to underuse their arms and backs)
“Using a pull up bar (it fits in the door frame), put your feet on the chair,” Prestenbach said. “Jump up a little to get assistance on the pull and then slowly come down until your feet are back on the chair. Jump up again to do your second pull up.”
Prestenbach says the key to building your metabolism is to be consistent and make sure you continue to challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone. “It is time to step it up when the activity has become easy,” Prestenbach said. “If you are not facing challenges, you are not progressing and not boosting your metabolism.”