If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve probably come across foods and supplements that claim to “boost your metabolism.” But what does this actually mean, and is it even possible?
Simply put, “metabolism” refers to the process of converting food or drink into energy for your body to use. Meanwhile, the speed at which your body utilizes energy (i.e., calories) is known as your metabolic rate.
Your body utilizes energy in a few different ways. At a very basic level, your body needs energy for all the unseen processes that keep you alive and functioning. This is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR), and it accounts for a whopping 60–75% of your total daily caloric burn, according to a review in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Your BMR is influenced by several different variables, including age, sex, body composition and even organ weight. One study found organ weight accounts for as much as 43% of the differences between individual BMR’s. Your body also uses roughly 10% of your daily calories to digest your food, as well as 15–30% to fuel physical activity.
“Your body is always burning calories,” says Lyssie Lakatos, RDN and co-founder of Nutrition Twins. Anything that increases this burn can be considered a metabolism booster.
While your metabolism is constantly humming along, there are a number of ways you can manipulate your diet and exercise to speed things up a bit. Just keep in mind that none of these tactics are quick fixes or major dial-movers. That said, you might see small effects. And if you employ these strategies consistently, you’ll see even greater effects. “It’s small amounts, but it all adds up,” Lakatos says.
One of the best ways to boost your metabolism is to add strength training to your routine. Granted, you probably won’t burn as many calories during a strength training session as you might going for a run or a bike ride, but the benefits for your metabolism last well beyond your workout. How? Through the muscle you build.
“Muscle mass burns more calories, even while you sleep,” says nutritionist Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, the other half of Nutrition Twins.
If you’re new to strength training, start with two days per week and work every muscle group. This is the minimum recommended to stay healthy by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
If you don’t mind sweating, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be a great way to speed up your metabolism, Lakatos says.
Similar to strength training, the metabolism-boosting effects of HIIT may not be immediately apparent. In fact, you’ll likely burn more calories during longer, steady-state cardio, though that may depend on how long your HIIT session lasts. However, you’ll continue burning more calories up to 48 hours after performing HIIT than you will after your steady-state cardio workout.
The reason: It takes more time and energy for your body to cool down after higher-intensity exercise than following moderate- or lower-intensity exercise. As a result, your body will use more energy (read: calories) while it returns to a resting state. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the “afterburn effect.”
If you needed one more reason to get some shut-eye, consider this: Skimping on sleep prompts your body to store fat and slow your metabolism, Lakatos Shames says. More specifically, sleep deprivation throws your hormones out of whack, causing ghrelin (aka the hunger hormone) levels to go up and leptin (the satiety hormone) levels to go down.
In addition to messing with your hormones, sleep deprivation will likely make you less motivated to exercise or make other healthy choices, which can slow your metabolism. So aim to get 7–9 hours of sleep per night to maintain health and keep your metabolism humming along.
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.