Your metabolic rate, or as it’s more commonly referred to, your metabolism, is how many calories you burn. A high, or fast, metabolism typically means you have more energy, you feel better, you have an easier time keeping fat off, and of course, you burn more calories. A low, or slow, metabolism means the opposite—you burn fewer calories, tend to feel more sluggish, lack energy, and of course, struggle keeping your weight in check. No wonder so many of us want to speed up metabolism!
You might be surprised to learn that most of the energy you burn throughout the day is when you’re resting, which is called resting metabolic rate or RMR (makes sense) or basal metabolic rate (BMR, which isn’t quite the same but is often used interchangeably). In fact, RMR can account for up to 80% of the total energy you expend. Our metabolism increases, and we burn more calories (above RMR) when exercising, when moving throughout the day, and when we eat (e.g., breaking down food, which is called the thermic effect of feeding).
While people who have more muscle tend to have higher metabolic rates, metabolism varies quite a bit from person to person—even when those people have the same size, weight, and body composition, and researchers aren’t sure why. Fortunately, even if you have a slower metabolism, you can train your body to burn more calories. For example, if you incorporate weight training into your schedule even just a couple of times a week, you can reverse up to 50% of the metabolic slowdown often associated with age.
While we encourage regular exercise, as the benefits are priceless, there are some more painless ways to speed up metabolism. Here are 5 to get started with—no pain, all gain.
5 Painless Ways to Speed Up Metabolism
#1 Get enough sleep
You just can’t get enough sleep—you’re too busy, too many people are counting on you, and there’s no way you can get it all done without skipping out on at least a little sleep. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” right?
Sadly, now you’re exhausted, your thinking is foggy, you’re less productive, and you’re struggling to lose weight (or at the very least, not gain it). You’re so sick of hearing people tell you to make sure you’re getting enough shut-eye. Sorry, but the benefits to your health, longevity, brain functioning, and metabolism just can’t be overstated. Lack of sleep is strongly linked to the risk of obesity, which can be at least partly explained by the negative effect it has on metabolism as well as its effects on insulin sensitivity, hunger hormones, and behavior (such as making poor food choices and skipping out on exercise).1, 2, 3
Take care of yourself by getting at least six, and preferably seven to eight (but no more than nine), hours of quality sleep. After you’ve recovered from your lack of sleep in the past, you’ll soon find the extra hours you spend in bed will likely be paid back ten-fold in increased energy, productivity, improved health, and increased metabolism. You’re worth it!
#2 Drink more water (especially cold water)
Drinking calorie-free water over soda is a no-brainer for dropping weight and to speed up metabolism.4 Yet water may have another bonus: it can speed up metabolism by up to 30% for up to an hour after drinking.5 Want to make it an even more effective metabolism booster? Keep it cold. That way, your body has to work harder to heat it to body temperature.6 In one study with middle-aged and older overweight adults, when they drank a half-liter of water before meals, they lost 44% more weight than those who didn’t drink water.7
If plain water just isn’t your thing, you can always slice up some fruit, add it to a pitcher filled with water, keep it in the fridge, and enjoy sipping refreshing fruit-infused H2O throughout the day.
#3 Stand more
Feel like you always have a deadline that’s keeping you tied to your desk throughout the day as your glutes go numb? Sadly, sitting down all day is not just uncomfortable, it is NOT good for your health. Sitting has even been called “the new smoking,” and it turns out that even if you do exercise daily, it isn’t enough to overcome all of the harmful effects of sitting 12 to 14 hours per day.8
If you’re used to sitting most of the day (guilty!), stand up for short periods throughout the day, gradually increasing the time you’re standing. And just by standing, you’ll burn about 1.36 calories per minute, which adds up to 81.6 calories per hour.9
A 2005 study published in the journal Science found that NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis; in other words, the calories you burn by being active during the day outside of planned exercise) plays a big role in calorie expenditure. Folks who were obese were shown to stay seated an average of 2 hours more per day than lean participants. Yet, once the obese people started behaving more like the lean people (i.e., sit less, move more), they were able to expend an extra 350 calories per day.10
A standing desk can be a great option to speed up metabolism. If that doesn’t work for your office, you can try standing during phone calls, encouraging your co-workers to join you for walking meetings, and/or incorporate simple desk jockey exercises throughout your day. You can start just by remembering to change positions every 30 minutes throughout the day.
#4 Drink coffee or green tea
If you’re like most Americans, you’re already drinking coffee (64% of Americans drink coffee daily). And if you aren’t drinking coffee, you’re probably drinking tea—on any given day more than 159 million Americans are enjoying a cup.
The amount of caffeine found in coffee can boost metabolism by up to 11% and increase fat burning11 and has been associated with helping maintain weight loss.12 Tea, specifically green and oolong tea, has also been shown to speed up metabolism to a slightly lesser degree—up to 5%.13
Just remember to keep the high-calorie additives away from these metabolism-boosting beverages. When you start adding sugar, syrups, and milks, you can find yourself drinking a decadent dessert that will defeat any of the previously mentioned benefits to the metabolism.
#5 Don’t diet
You came to learn about ways to speed up metabolism, so you likely are looking for ways to lose weight or maintain your weight loss (and you came to the right place!). Of course, dropping calories to create a calorie deficit is what you do to lose weight, right? This is one of those “yes, but…” scenarios. That’s because if you cut your calories severely, your metabolism responds by slowing down to conserve energy, and you’re more likely to lose calorie-burning muscle, which also slows metabolism.14
To help prevent your metabolism from stopping fat loss in its tracks, you need to eat enough calories. A good starting place is to eat at least enough for your BMR (which is the number of calories you burn if you’re lying quietly in bed all day). You can still create a nice calorie deficit by using the tips above and adding some additional activities to your day.
Of course, following a healthy nutrition plan that contains plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits, quality proteins, and essential fats is important to both health and metabolism. Unlike crash diets, following that type of smart plan will not only help you lose weight now but keep it off for the long haul (while protecting your metabolism).
Other Ways to Speed Up Metabolism
There are other ways to boost metabolism, including ensuring you lift some heavy weights at least a couple of times every week, incorporating high-intensity workouts into your plan, and increasing your activity levels throughout the day. You can also eat more protein at every meal to increase the thermic effect of feeding. You can enjoy a bit more flavor in your food, as spices, especially capsaicin found in peppers and mustard, can help boost the metabolism (though the effects may be fairly minor). If you want to boost your metabolism first thing, start with a healthy breakfast, and enjoy organic foods when possible. And ensure you’re getting enough calcium, vitamin D, iron, and omega-3 fats.
Even laughing regularly can help you burn calories and boost metabolism (by 10 to 20% over your base energy expenditure) as can lowering the temperature of your home (especially at night) to around 66 degrees F.
No matter how sluggish your metabolism seems right now, it is possible to wake it up to burn a few extra calories. And some ways are easier and more painless than others!