Changing your body doesn’t have to be a soul-wrenching struggle of will power, deprivation, and guilt.
There’s a better way to make it happen: The cool thing is that by working out and planning your diet wisely, you can increase your metabolic rate by as much as 25 percent, while avoiding hunger and food obsessions. These strategies often help you stay strong and steady because they improve balance of metabolic and energizing hormones.
This article will give you completely practical ways to raise your metabolism. But before we get into the fun stuff, we want to let you know why we almost didn’t write this article.
People often jump on these lists for a day or two and think “YES! This is what I’ve been waiting for—finally THE solution to help me finally GET RID OF THE FAT.”
And then they forget about them. They’re back to old habits that don’t make them feel great physically or mentally. Instead of using this list as entertainment, use these facts to develop habits that make body composition achievable for YOU.
#1: Strength train with the classic lifts.
People often mistakenly think cardio exercises like running and exercise machines are best for burning calories and fat loss. This is because the amount of calories you burn during exercise is usually higher with cardio than weights, but it’s what happens after the workout that really matters:
Everyone knows that lifting builds lean muscle, which jacks up your daily resting energy expenditure and is the primary mechanism fueling your metabolism.
Second, weight training with the largest muscle groups in the classic lifts like squats, deadlifts, presses, and chin-ups elevates post-workout energy expenditure significantly more than steady-state cardio due to the metabolic stress it causes. In a study that compared light with moderate weights on “afterburn,” women who did 2 sets of 8 reps at a “heavy” 70 percent load burned double the calories during the hour after exercise as a group that did 2 sets of 15 reps at a light 35 percent load.
Do workouts that use 4 to 6 multi-joint exercises with up to 4 sets per exercise for a major metabolic boost.
#2: Do high intensity training (HIT) or an interval workout.
Sprint intervals or HIT with short rest periods can raise post-workout energy expenditure even more than traditional training.
For example, in the 22 hours after trained men did a special HIT protocol of 9 sets per exercise of leg press, chest press, and pull downs, they burned an extra 452 calories. A traditional training program of 4 sets to failure had trainees burn an extra 98 calories in the post-workout period.
Here are a few key points to consider when designing HIT or sprint workouts that raise metabolic rate:
- Use work bouts that last between 20 and 60 seconds, allowing you to preserve peak effort.
- Use short rest intervals ranging between 10 and 60 seconds.
- Do enough work bouts so that the body starts producing lactic acid, but not too many so that you can’t recover—most HIT workouts should be done in less than 25 minutes.
#3: Do a single maximal effort sprint.
Just one all-out sprint has the power to significantly raise metabolic rate and protect your health.
For example, a recent study found that a single extended 2-minute all-out sprint improved insulin sensitivity and increased energy expenditure for the 24 hours after the workout in overweight men. Fat oxidation was also increased by 38 percent, which is a favorable metabolic state in overweight people who typically have a reduced ability to use fat for energy.
To get the metabolic boost, try hitting the track for a tough 600 meters, or go push a weighted sled for 2 minutes as hard as possible. You could also find a tall building and run up 10 to 15 flights of stairs.
Needless to say, those 2 minutes you spend working won’t be pleasant. But you can do anything for 120 seconds! And the metabolic boost is worth it if you have little time to devote to training, or simply don’t like to exercise.
#4: Include protein at all meals.
Diets that contain high-quality protein at every meal promote leanness because protein foods require the body to burn more calories to digest and absorb than foods consisting of fat or carbohydrates.
A meal of pure protein, for example, causes the body to burn nearly 25 percent of the calories provided in the protein just to digest and “use” the amino acids. In addition to the extra energy expenditure you get from high-protein meals, there are three other ways protein aids the achievement of optimal body composition:
First, protein builds muscle in the absence of exercise, and the effect is enhanced when you pair it with smart training. Preserving lean muscle mass should be a primary goal when trying to lose body fat because the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate.
Second, protein is filling, so you eat less. A review of the issue found that for every 1 percent increase in protein intake, people naturally decrease calorie intake by between 32 and 51 calories daily.
Third, protein helps manage blood sugar and insulin, decreasing cravings for higher carb foods.
#5: Favor the highest quality, most digestible proteins.
All protein sources are not created equally. It’s important to pick proteins that are easiest for your body to digest, nutrient-rich, and raise metabolic rate to a greater degree.
Animal proteins tend to fulfill all three requirements: They are well digested if you chew them properly and have a healthy gut. They contain all the essential amino acids and a high concentration of non-essential aminos and other nutrients such as vitamin B12, the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K, creatine, leucine, and carnosine.
Animal proteins also tend to have a higher thermic effect than vegetarian protein sources. For example, whey protein raises energy expenditure much more than soy, casein, or rice protein. Beef, eggs, cod, salmon, and chicken have all performed well in metabolic studies, and they each pack a potent concentration of satiating amino acids that have a high thermic effect.
You might ask, does the superiority of animal proteins mean that vegetarian proteins should be avoided?
Definitely not. However, because the body can’t use vegetable-derived protein sources from beans, grains, and plants as efficiently as animal proteins, you have to eat more total protein to achieve the same physiological effects.
One solution is to get the majority of your protein from animal sources, using vegetarian proteins as condiments. Sprinkle ground seeds and beans on salads and sautéed veggies. Yellow peas, lentils, and fermented soy foods like miso and tempeh (if you eat soy) can add variety and flavor as well as a moderate amino acid profile.
#6: Pair high-thermogenic fats with protein: omega-3 fats, nuts, and olive oil.
Certain fats stimulate thermogenesis just as protein does, but these cool fats do it in a unique way. Studies show they enhance the activity of the uncoupling protein genes 1 and 3, which raises body temperature and leads to excess calories being burned. It’s a similar mechanism as when your body burns more calories in the cold due to shivering.
Studied examples of the metabolic boost you can get from eating certain fats include the following:
Overweight men ate foods with a high omega-3 fat content so that they increased their dietary intake from 0.43 grams a day to almost 3 grams a day. The results are impressive: The thermic effect increased by 51.3 percent and the men burned a whopping 920 calories during the 6-hour period after eating when metabolism was elevated.
In a crossover trial, thermogenesis was 28 percent higher after a meal of walnuts, and 23 percent higher after a meal that favored monounsaturated fats from olive oil compared to a saturated fat-rich dairy meal.
#7: Kick processed foods to the curb in favor of whole foods and plenty of vegetables.
Eating meals cooked at home from whole foods, such as vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts, meat, and eggs has the power to raise the thermic effect by as much as 50 percent over highly processed foods like white bread and Velveeta cheese.
In one study, when participants ate a meal that contained more whole food ingredients, the thermic effect was double that of a processed food meal. More significant is that the participants who ate the processed food meal had their metabolic rates drop below their average basal metabolic rate (BMR)—the average energy needed to keep the body functioning at rest—during the sixth hour after eating. The whole food meal group never fell below the BMR.
Processed ingredients have less fiber, requiring less enzyme production so they burn fewer calories. You should know that there are two kinds of fiber and only the indigestible fiber that is supplied in plant foods is effective at raising energy expenditure. To benefit, include lots of green vegetables, cooked and cooled tubers and whole starches, and other high-fiber veggies in your meals.
#8: Drink green tea or yerba mate.
Green tea and yerba mate come from different plants, but both contain extremely high levels of the catechin antioxidants that raise energy expenditure and can promote fat loss.
The catechins can also improve body composition outcomes from exercise. One study found that untrained women who took 20 grams of green tea powder a day and did a strength training program lost 6.5 kg more body fat compared to a placebo group. They also gained more lean mass (3.1 kg) and boosted leg press 1RM by 23 kg more than the placebo group.
Another study found that taking a green tea extract that contained 90 mg of catechins as well as 50 mg of caffeine raised energy expenditure by about 4 percent over a 24-hour period. Reviews of the metabolic effects of green tea agree that it can be beneficial, but there’s no consensus about how much is needed, or other lifestyle habits that may impact results such as diet or exercise.
Most tea bags offer between 20 and 90 mg of green tea catechins, suggesting that one could benefit from up to 4 to 6 cups a day, which would also provide a large amount of caffeine, so use caution if you are sensitive.
#9: Cook with ginger and hot peppers.
Both ginger and hot peppers improve thermogenesis by raising body temperature and energy expenditure. They can reduce appetite, are antioxidant-rich, and pack a delicious, spicy punch when cooked with leafy greens, meat, eggs, or pureed with post-workout protein drinks.