Who knew that sprinkling cayenne pepper into your favourite vegetable soup could boost your metabolism? Or that getting a solid night’s shut-eye could also give it a push?
Many people believe their metabolism, which is the rate at which we process food and nutrients, and burn calories, is a fixed factor in their bodies. However, you can make changes to alter your metabolism, says Joey Shulman, the Thornhill, Ont.-based author of The Last 15: A Weight Loss Breakthrough. “Metabolism changes as we age and due to gender and physical activity,” she says. “But there are certain things you can do to pick up your metabolism. It’s like an engine, you can rev it up.”Here’s how:
Increase metabolism by getting your z’s
Not only do we crave unhealthy comfort foods when we’re tired, but our sleep levels are linked to our hormone levels, says Shulman. ‘People who are sleep-deprived tend to have more secretions of the hormone cortisol, so they’re more stressed out. And that’s going to trigger fat storage as well,’ she says. Lack of sleep also causes fluctuations in the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin, which indicate whether you’re full or hungry.
Increase metabolism by eating by the clock
“We’re like prehistoric people when it comes to our bodies,” says Brenda Arychuk, a registered dietitian based in Edmonton. “So we should be eating regularly, not skipping meals or fasting because those types of things can slow down your metabolism.” When you deprive your body of food, it goes into what Arychuk calls ‘hibernation mode,’ burning less energy in order to conserve. Ideally, you should aim to eat three meals and two snacks at regular three-to-four-hour intervals.
It’s also helpful to think of this old adage: eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch and a pauper at dinnertime. Or, imagine that your metabolism is shaped like an ice cream cone, as Shulman suggests. ‘It’s strongest in the morning, and then whittles down as the evening comes.’
Increase metabolism by drinking more water
“Drinking water is involved in the chemical reaction in the body to actually process the calories,’ says Arychuk. “So staying hydrated is important. If we’re dehydrated it can slow down our process a bit.” Can’t stand water? Other low-calorie thirst-quenching options might be skim milk, vegetable juices or herbal, caffeine-free teas.
Increase metabolism by lifting some weights
Dust off the five-to 10-pound weights in your basement and start lifting. But don’t worry, there’s no need to pump iron like Arnold to get results. “You need to build lean muscle mass in order to become more metabolically active,’ says Shulman. ‘To boost metabolism, it’s all about strength training.” More muscle mass boosts your overall metabolic rate, which means you’re burning more calories even when you’re not active.
Increase metabolism by avoiding refined foods
Cut back on white flours and sugars, the kinds you’d find in processed foods such as pastries and cookies. “These refined foods tend to overstimulate insulin,” says Shulman. And that can cause your metabolism to lag.
Increase metabolism by spicing things up
Add some wasabi or cayenne pepper to your dishes to kick up the flavour, and your metabolism. “Thermogenic foods are a little harder to digest and burn a few more calories. That includes things like spicy foods and proteins,” says Shulman. You’ll need to eat these foods regularly for them to have any effect on your metabolism. Try adding a daily sprinkle of a hot spice into your lunchtime chili or evening soup. Eating lean meats such as chicken or turkey may also speed up your metabolism since your body has to work harder to digest proteins.
Increase metabolism by going green
With your tea, that is. Like spicy foods, green tea is considered to be a thermogenic drink that can rev up your inner engine. As a bonus, green tea is also loaded with polyphenols, a form of antioxidants, to help protect your body against chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Coffee or cola drinker? Switching out one of your standard drinks with a green tea is a good start.