If you feel you’re a victim of your slow metabolism, you’re hardly alone.
Most people believe that they’re brought into the world with a certain metabolism, and that as they age, it’s inevitably going to get slower—and there’s absolutely nothing they can do to stop it.
But what most people don’t realize is that while genes certainly come into play, you’re not actually stuck with your slow metabolism for life. In fact, there are several things you can do to speed up your metabolism now—even if you’re getting older (metabolism naturally starts to slow around age 30 partly due to muscle loss, but that’s mostly preventable).
First, let’s clear a few things up about what we’re actually talking about here when we talk about metabolism.
What is metabolism?
Metabolism refers to how much energy your body uses or how many calories you burn in a day. Boosting your metabolism means your body will produce extra heat and burn more calories for fuel during the day—without doing any additional exercise.
To get a rough idea of what your current metabolism is, start by calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which measures how many calories you burn at rest (i.e. if you didn’t move all day long). They’re rarely 100% accurate, but you can start by using a free online BMR calculator to do this.
The website link I gave you above says my BMR is 1,435, meaning I would burn 1,435 calories if I didn’t move all day.
Next, you’ll want to add in your activity level—how often you work out, the intensity level of your workouts, how active you are outside of the gym, etc. Then you’ll have your approximate metabolism.
That same website says I burn between 2,475 and 2,726 calories a day, which I’d say is a little on the low side but accurate enough (you could get more accurate results if you knew your body fat percentage and based the calculation on your lean body mass index, but we don’t need to get into all that now).
Now that you know what your starting point is, here are 10 hacks to boost your metabolism:
1. Drink 16 ounces of chilled water first thing in the a.m.
Instead of rolling out of bed and turning on your coffee pot first thing in the morning, switch up your routine and down a 16 ounce glass of ice water instead (then you can have your coffee).
German researchers found that doing so boosts metabolism by 24% for at least 90 minutes afterward (but make sure it’s at least 16 ounces, since a smaller amount seemed to have no effect on metabolism).
As a bonus, the cold may wake you up more than even the coffee does (that’s true for me), and the water will help rehydrate you from the night before, which can also have an effect on metabolism.
2. Sprinkle cinnamon on everything.
If you’ve ever read the 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferris (and if you haven’t, I highly recommend it), you probably remember the section on his cinnamon experiments. Basically, he found that eating about one and a half teaspoons of cinnamon a day can help regulate glucose levels, which in turn helps control weight gain. As a bonus, it can also actually help you feel full faster.
When buying cinnamon, try and get either Saigon cinnamon or Cassia cinnamon for maximum effect. Then sprinkle it in your coffee, in your oatmeal, or even on your protein pancakes. Just don’t go overboard—Tim found that there are active substances in cinnamon that can have an adverse effect if you consume too much of it.
3. Drink green tea all day long.
I know, you’ve heard this one before. But did you actually realize that drinking green tea can increase your metabolism by 4% over a 24 hour period? That can add up to an extra 70 calories burned a day, without putting much effort in.
Green tea has also been shown to suppress fat absorption, support healthy glucose levels after eating a meal, prevent insulin spikes (which can cause fat storage), and reduce overall appetite. Pretty rad, right?
If you have trouble getting the recommended 3-5 cups a day, try making it iced and adding lemon or even soda water to make a healthy, sugar-free soda.
4. Drink lemon water before meals.
Drinking lemon water whenever possible and especially before meals can lower blood sugar peaks by about 10%—making it less likely your body will store carbohydrates and sugars as fat.
Plus, lemon water can help detox your liver, helping your metabolism to run more efficiently. This is one reason a lot of people (myself included) like to drink a giant glass of (iced) lemon water in the morning to start off the day.
Just make sure you’re using fresh squeezed lemons for the full effect and not the prepackaged, chemical-laden stuff.
5. Sprinkle cayenne pepper on everything.
Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, a compound found in many hot peppers that is known to boost metabolism an extra 15 to 20% for up to two hours after eating it (whoa!). It can also increase fat oxidation in that same time period, which helps the body use fat as fuel (a.k.a. helping you lose fat).
Another benefit of cayenne pepper is that it can suppress your appetite—helping you cut cravings for fatty, salty, and sweet foods.
So sprinkle cayenne on your dinner, add a few shakes to popcorn (yum!), or even add it to your smoothies and feel the burn.
6. Get cold.
Exposing yourself to cold may sound unpleasant, but it has quite a few benefits, including:
- Boosting your metabolism
- Increasing energy expenditure
- Lowering body fat
- Lowering blood sugar
- Cutting food cravings
The key is to get a little uncomfortably cold whenever possible—by taking a cold shower, an ice bath, walking to the mailbox and back without a jacket on, swimming in a slightly (or really) cold pool. It doesn’t have to be for that long—even 5 minutes a day of chilly temperatures will help.
If you’re interested in learning more about this one, definitely check out this article by Ben Greenfield on burning fat with cold.
7. Build muscle.
Not only does muscle look more attractive on both guys and girls and keep you from getting the skinny fat look, adding muscle also gives you a higher metabolism.
In fact, some experts estimate that every extra pound of muscle on your body burns 30-50 calories extra a day, while others estimate each pound burns 6 extra calories a day, compared to 2 calories burned by fat. Either way, if you want to increase your metabolism, gaining muscle is a surefire way to go about doing so.
8. Eat protein.
Through a process called thermogenesis, your body actually uses about 10% of its calorie intake for digestion. And since it takes longer for your body to digest protein than carbs or fat, eating a high protein diet can cause your body to expend more energy through this process—i.e. helping you burn more calories throughout the day.
And not only can protein help boost your metabolism just by eating it, a high protein diet can also help preserve muscle, especially when you’re cutting back on calories. Plus, as an added bonus, protein helps keep you full longer!
9. Swap your regular workout for HIIT.
Yeah, I had to say this one. But it’s true: a 10 (or 12) minute HIIT session will boost your metabolism for up to 24 to 48 hours after your workout is finished. Compare this to regular sustained cardio, where your metabolism is raised during the workout but returns to its regular rate afterwards.
Basically, HIIT causes a spike in metabolism after you’re finished because your body is so strained from the intense workout it needs extra time to recover.
10. Eat healthy fats.
Eat fat, boost your metabolism? Yep, it’s not crazy.
Getting enough healthy fats from foods like avocados, coconut, nuts, eggs, and fish can help stimulate the right hormones to ensure that your metabolism doesn’t shut down, even when you’re cutting back on calories. Not getting enough healthy fats will cause your hormone levels to suffer and create a risk for adrenal fatigue, which can cause all sorts of problems, including weight gain.
Healthy fats are also what keep you full and give you long-term energy, so always make sure you’re getting enough in your diet.
Feeling revved up from all these metabolism hacks? Go do some burpees! Or drink some tea. Or something.