Hands up if you or someone you know feels cursed with a slow metabolism. What exactly does having a slow metabolism mean? Does it slow as we age? Is it possible to speed it up to burn more calories and lose weight?
In today’s post, I’m going to answer these questions and guide you through the steps to increase your metabolism.
What is metabolism?
Your metabolism is the biochemical process in your body that turns digested food into usable energy. Our bodies need energy all day, every day, not just to run after the kids or crush it in spin class.
We need energy for functions such as breathing, thinking, circulating blood, processing food, adjusting hormone levels, and growing and repairing cells. The number of calories your body uses to complete these basic functions is called your basal metabolic rate—your metabolism.
What does having a slow metabolism mean?
The food you eat is either used immediately for fuel or stored for later use. If your metabolism is slow, you’ll have a harder time using food for fuel, and thus the calories you consume will be more readily stored in your fat cells.
As you probably guessed, this sets you up for easy weight gain and difficult weight loss. The goal of speeding up your metabolism is to do things that make it easier for your body to burn energy instead of storing it and lose weight instead of gaining it.
Your metabolic rate is dependent on a handful of things, such as your age, gender, genes, body size and composition, physical activity, and, of course, eating habits. Let’s talk about that first one for a minute: age.
You’ve likely been told that your metabolism starts tanking around age 30. While there is some truth in the idea that our metabolism slows down with age, it’s a little more complex than just having a birthday. As we get older, we experience hormonal changes that influence the way we burn and store fat. The pituitary gland slows its production of growth hormone, which stimulates cell growth and is important for building and maintaining muscle mass and utilizing fat for fuel.
As women get closer to menopause, estrogen production declines, which can also affect metabolism. Additionally, most people are less physically active as they age due to working more hours, having babies, etc., in contrast to when they were in their 20s, so lifestyle factors also play a role.
It is totally possible to speed up a slow or aging metabolism, so don’t worry! Below is your guide to supercharging your metabolism at any age.
12 Ways To Increase Your Metabolism
1. Drink lots of water.
Many of us are in a continual state of low-level dehydration. You’d probably pay closer attention to finishing off your Nalgene if you knew that drinking enough water can lower your appetite and boost your metabolism by as much as 30% [source]. So simple, but very effective!
I recommend drinking the equivalent of half your body weight in ounces daily (e.g., a 150 lb woman should get 75 ounces). You might need to increase this if you live in a hot climate or get sweaty during a workout.
Try to sip water between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and dinner. Avoid guzzling at meals because too much liquid can dilute the digestive juices needed to break down your food and absorb the nutrients.
2. Fast intermittently.
During periods of fasting, the body calls upon its stored energy, breaking down fat to fatty acids for use as fuel. I’ve talked about the incredible health benefits of fasting before, and revving up your metabolism is a big one!
Start with fasting for 12 hours between dinner and breakfast (e.g., 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) if you are a beginner. As you become a better fat burner and build metabolic flexibility, experiment with extending this fasting window to 13 hours and up to 16 hours. In my experience, women are more sensitive to fasting than men, so don’t push it!
3. Eat breakfast within 1–2 hours of waking.
A good breakfast stabilizes your blood sugar which prevents insulin spikes, snack attacks, and energy dips throughout the day. Your morning meal should include protein, healthy fat, and fiber to help you stay full and energized.
One of my favorite breakfasts is a smoothie, as I can cram a whole bunch of nutrients into a delicious and easy-to-digest meal. Here is my go-to metabolism-boosting smoothie.
4. Have a cup of coffee or green tea.
Both coffee and green tea increase thermogenesis [source], the process by which your body produces heat, which can rev your metabolism and increase the number of calories you burn. Add coffee or green tea to a smoothie to knock out breakfast too!
5. Ramp up antioxidants.
Altered metabolism is linked to oxidative stress and inflammation, so boosting your antioxidant levels can help with this. Eat the rainbow [source]! Aim to include at least three different color foods on your plate at each meal—red from bell peppers, green from kale, blue from blueberries, and up your plant intake altogether [source].
I recommend eating dark leafy greens at least twice per day. Throw a handful in your morning smoothie and have a serving of cooked greens with lunch or dinner.
Also, you have the opportunity to enhance the flavor and antioxidant effect of your meals by including herbs and spices [source], such as turmeric, cinnamon, parsley, and oregano.
6. Eat fat to burn fat.
Eating healthy fats (while limiting processed carbs and sugar) helps to train your body to burn fat for fuel. Fat burning takes more energy than sugar burning. My favorite metabolism-boosting fat is MCT oil.
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a special type of fatty acids quickly absorbed by the body and efficiently converted to fuel for immediate use instead of being stored as fat. MCTs have been shown to enhance thermogenesis (heat production) when studied in rats [source], thereby promoting fat burning.
7. Turn up the heat.
…in your food by adding chilis and cayenne pepper. The capsaicin in these spices has been shown to boost metabolism by increasing thermogenesis [source]. Put a pinch of cayenne pepper in your morning water or spicy smoothie, or add some chili flakes to your egg scramble.
8. Stop snacking.
This one surprises many of my clients because we’ve been told to eat lots of snacks or small meals throughout the day to keep our metabolism humming. This myth might be causing you to actually gain more weight! Here’s why: eating elevates your blood sugar, which also raises insulin.
Constantly increasing insulin will lock the doors to your fat cells, so you can’t burn off stored fat for fuel. By spacing out your meals, your insulin levels can go back to baseline and your body will shift into fat-burning mode [source].
If you’ve been on the grazing-train for a while, you’re likely a primed sugar-burner. To start shifting your metabolism to burn fat, try to go 4–6 hours between meals. To do this, you must include PFF (protein, fat, and fiber) at every meal to prolong satiety.
9. Do HIIT and resistance training.
HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training (30–60 seconds of all-out work, followed by a couple of minutes rest, and repeat). The harder the workout, the more calories are burned during and after, thanks to the afterburn effect.
My favorite thing about HIIT is the fact that you get a ton of benefits in a short period of time (between 15 and 30 minutes is all you need!) [source]. No more slogging away on the treadmill for hours!
Also, be sure to incorporate weight-bearing exercises into your workout routine to help you build more lean muscle mass. Muscle uses more energy than fat, so increased muscle mass means increased basal metabolic rate.
10. Cut back on alcohol.
Bummer, I know, but alcohol puts a major damper on your metabolism. When you drink, your body has to stop what it’s doing to deal with the alcohol. It puts calorie burning on the back burner, causing your ability to burn fat to decrease by 73% [source] after having just one drink!
If you’re really keen to heal your metabolism, be mindful of how much alcohol you’re consuming each week, and perhaps try an alcohol-free month. You may be surprised at how much you were actually drinking in a week, but you’ll certainly be surprised by how much of a difference it can make!
11. Manage stress.
The body’s primary stress hormone, cortisol, is secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stress. When you’re stressed, cortisol is released into the bloodstream, which increases hunger (cue cravings for fat, sugar, and salt), slows your metabolism, and makes you gain weight.
Manage stress by incorporating at least one stress-reducing practice daily, such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, walking in nature, and harnessing the power of adaptogens!
12. Get good sleep.
Being sleep-deprived wreaks havoc on your metabolism, hunger hormones, insulin sensitivity, and, ultimately, your waistline. Most adults need 7–9 hours of sleep each night. At a very minimum, ensure you’re getting at least 6.
If you’re struggling to meet these guidelines, simply start by getting in bed 15 minutes earlier each week.
We hope these tips are helpful for optimizing your metabolism to support your body in finding its happy, healthy weight while improving your overall well-being in the process!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Gina Jansheski, a licensed, board-certified physician who has been practicing for more than 20 years. Learn more about Hello Glow's medical reviewers here. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.50