How can I increase my metabolism?

Dr. Andrea Pennington, MD
Integrative Medicine

You can naturally rev up your metabolism by eating 5 or 6 small meals and snacks each day. Diabetics will do well with three small meals and snacks as their blood sugar and medication regimen suggests. The good news is that the body actually becomes more efficient at burning the food you eat -- and the fat you've stored -- when you give yourself small nutritious snacks every three to four hours. This effectively puts your body into "fat burn" mode and takes it out of the sluggish "fat storage" mode.

Depending on your caloric needs, a general guideline is to limit snacks to about 250 calories or less and meals to 350 calories or less. Consider that this is actually how the human body was designed to take in calories for energy. By only giving your body the nutrients it needs to function when you're most active, it becomes efficient at burning food as fuel and keeping your body's cellular processes ticking along at optimal levels.

There is controversy about this but I tell my clients that muscle is equal to metabolism.

Essentially most people when they talk about metabolism they are referring to the amount of calories that your body burns at rest or your basic metabolic rate (BMR).  After all if you burn more calories at rest then there is not as much activity that is required to burn a higher percentage of calories.

One main problem with health enthusiasts is they try and burn off fat or keep weight off simply by activity.  The reality is the more calories they burn at rest the greater likelihood they will maintain a lower percentage in stored fat and reduce health risks.

Changing food intake or exercise intake can help to change the way the body burns calories but nothing will help more than to get the body to increase the amount of calories burnt at rest.  

When people lose muscle they burn less calories at rest.  When people gain muscle they burn more calories at rest - period!

When I was a competitive bodybuilder my lean muscle tissue measured around 210 lbs and without cardio activity I could eat 4000 calories per day and maintain my weight.  Now my lean mass is around 175 lbs and it takes only 2400 calories to maintain my weight.

My diet had to adjust in order to make up for the reduced amount of muscle.  Muscle requires more fuel to maintain its presence in your body.  Stored fat requires almost no energy to maintain its presence in your body.

We always look at Basic Metabolic Rate in relation to lean muscle instead of weight because it is the lean muscle that regulates the metabolism not the body weight.

If you take two men and each weighs 200 lbs.

  • Guy 1 has a body fat of 20% or 40 lbs of fat and lean muscle of 160 lbs
  • Guy 2 has a body fat of 5% or 10 lbs of fat and lean muscle of 190 lbs.

Each weigh the same but which one do you think will burn more calories at rest and have a greater likelihood to stay lean and be able to intake more calories?  Of course it is Guy 2.

Fat also takes up more space than muscle.  If you gain muscle and lose fat you will get smaller.  You will be more dense and compact simply because muscle takes up less space than fat.  Muscle also increases your metabolism, stored fat does not.

To increase your metabolism experts recommend engaging in high intensity short duration activities like interval training, sprinting, and heavy resistance training. This type of training has been shown to increase lean muscle mass, and promote the increase of natural hormones like testosterone, and human growth hormone that help stimulate your metabolism. Perform high intensity short duration training sessions 2-3 times a week with at least 1 days rest in between sessions.  Another method that has been shown to increase metabolism is to increase the amount of lean protein you consume throughout the day. By consuming several small meals a day that contains lean proteins you can help increase your metabolism.

Leopold D. Galland, MD
Internal Medicine
Here are five steps to increase metabolism:

1) Maximize flavor and nutrition. Choose foods that give you the most flavor and nutritional value for the calories you consume. These foods are rich in one or more of the dietary elements that help your metabolism such as vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. Foods with appetite-satisfying flavor and lots of nutrition top the list, such as blueberries, tomatoes, ginger, onions, and fresh herbs.

2) Benefit from omega-3 oils. Omega-3 essential fatty acids are essential to the healthy functioning of body and brain. Omega-3s help heal inflammation, promote a wide range of cellular activities, and improve or prevent depression, Alzheimer's disease, and other disorders. Plant sources of omega-3s include ground flaxseeds, walnuts, and beans, especially navy, kidney, and soy. Animal sources include fish, especially oily cold-water fish such as salmon or tuna.

3) Up your fruit and vegetable servings to 9 or 10 a day. Find delicious ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into every meal. Choose those fruits and vegetables with deep colors and intense flavors that reflect their high content of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, like carotenoids and flavonoids. The deepest red and blue flavonoids belong to a subgroup called anthocyanins, found in the jewel-like colors of like blueberries, cherries, and pomegranate.

4) Skip the artificial sweeteners. The use of artificial flavors and sweeteners deprives you of the potent anti-inflammatory phytonutrients found in herbs, spices and naturally sweet fruits. Studies show that artificial sweeteners interfere with weight loss. So steer clear of these sugar substitutes and enjoy fruit, fruit juice and fruit concentrates for their flavor and nutrition. A recent editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) also raised concerns about the use of artificial sweeteners.

5) Enjoy healthy snacks and desserts. Snacks satisfy hunger, and desserts add fun and satisfaction to a meal. Indulge—but in healthy choices only. Enjoy delicious snacks such as crunchy walnuts or almonds, and dessert treats made from fruit and yogurt that will excite your palate while keeping you satisfied.

Metabolism refers to all the physical and chemical processes in the body that convert or use energy, such as:

  • Breathing
  • Circulating blood
  • Controlling body temperature
  • Contracting muscles
  • Digesting food and nutrients
  • Eliminating waste through urine and feces
  • Functioning of the brain and nerves

Daily exercise and eating smaller meals 4 to 6 times a day keeps the metabolic furnace burning. It has also been shown that certain foods increase metabolism.

  • Food is the Fuel: Increasing physical activity and cutting down on calories are two sure ways to stimulate weight loss. The third way is to add certain foods to your diet that can boost your metabolism.
  • Plus Foods: Some special foods not only will help improve your metabolism, but also have other benefits, such as containing antioxidants for disease protection. These are grapefruit, oranges, tomatoes, blueberries and yogurt.
  • Spicy Hot: Spicy hot foods have the ability to increase your metabolism by almost 50 percent for the 3 hours immediately following consumption. So try adding a bit of curry, a jalapeno pepper or some other hot spicy food to your diet.
  • Protein: Your body burns more calories to process protein than it does to process carbohydrates or fat. So increase the amount of lean protein you eat and cut down on the carbohydrates; enjoy the meat and salad but limit the potato.

These are just a few suggestions. Now go fire up the furnace and remember to stay consistent in your exercise regimen and making healthy choices for your diet.

      It depends on why you want to increase your metabolism.  If it is to lose weight, you simply need to create a calorie deficit (burn more calories than you are eating) over time.  I wouldn't get too caught up on increasing your metabolism as I would focusing on your goal.  You may want to eat six small meals a day (still staying within a certain calorie budget to reach your goal) simply because it'll keep you from getting too hungry and overindulging at your main meals.  

      Also, find opportunities to move more within your day.  If you exercise, make sure you incorporate resistance/strength training and cardio into your routine.  Circuit training is a great way to do both in less time.  Resistance training will help you build muscle and your body uses more energy (burns more calories) to maintain muscle than to maintain fat. 

      If you find eating six small meals a day doesn't work for you because you may overeat or it simply doesn't fit into your lifestyle, than I would suggest keeping a food/exercise log and track your calories in vs. your calories expended.

      Also, make sure you are making healthy food choices when possible choosing foods that have a low G.I. (glycemic index) so you feel fuller for longer and with less calories.

      Hope this helps.



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      Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.