You know those people that it seems like they can eat anything (and everything) and they don’t put on an ounce of fat? Then there are those people who look at a bowl of pasta or a birthday cake and it’s like ten pounds magically appears. If you’ve ever asked “How do I raise my metabolism?” then chances are you’re in the second group.
Let’s start by just defining what we actually mean by “metabolism”, to get on the same page. Basically, the metabolism is all of your body’s processes. Everything from powering your cells to repairing damage, replacing old cells, creating new ones, and so on all fall into this lump category of “metabolism”. All of these things require energy, in the form of calories, to take place. That energy can come from the food you’re eating now or it can come from fat or muscle stored on your body, which is past overeating that you did. Of course, when people are asking this question they’re generally looking for ways to expend more energy and ideally have the excess come from the stored fat.
For the first group, there’s a handful of reasons as to why they may be able to just burn through food, not all of which are related to the metabolism, but for the sake of this post we’ll stick with those. For the rest of us, here’s how to get that metabolism cranking and the fat dropping:
1. Exercise, preferably strength train and/or High Intensity Sprinting/Intervals. Training has a huge effect on the metabolism because, by its very nature, it’s damaging to the body. The whole idea behind training, especially strength training or high intensity activity, is that it creates damage and stress, which the body will respond to by repairing and coming back stronger.
Strength training has a double bump on the metabolism because it creates the most damage to be repaired, requiring a lot of fuel to do, PLUS it has the side effect of building muscle. Muscle is a much more metabolically-active tissue than fat, meaning that with more muscle you’ll burn more calories at rest than with the same amount of fat. Now, it used to be thrown around that this was a huge amount of calories, which has been shown to not be true, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an insignificant effect.
2. Increase NEAT. NEAT stands for “Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis”. This is basically any activity you do (which requires energy) that isn’t considered “exercise”. Most of this activity is involuntary, such as fidgeting, bouncing your leg, pacing, etc which is one of the ways that the aforementioned “can eat anything” crowd stays lean. They’re hardwired to burn off extra energy by being more active with little movements. People who tend to gain weight easily, if you look at the whole day, are much more likely to sit and not move at all.
You can simulate this, though, with some intention. Take the stairs as opposed to the elevator, park on the far end of the parking lot, schedule a lap around the office every hour, get a stand-up or treadmill desk, etc. These are all things that burn a few extra calories without you doing a real workout. Basically, the more active you can be throughout the day, even if it’s not a focused workout, the higher your metabolism will be humming along.
3. Sleep better. Rest, but particularly sleep, is tremendously important and it’s the first thing most of us sacrifice when life gets in the way. This is when the body does most of its repairs and also when it releases several critical hormones that are not only important for you health but specifically are involved in your metabolism. It’s been shown that just a single short night of sleep can make your metabolism operate similar to a diabetics for the next day. Stack that on day after day of low sleep for many of us and you end up with a run down and damaged metabolism that’s likely to store fat… which is a protection method of the body.
4. Eat enough carbohydrate. The body doesn’t really need carbohydrate to survive, like it does fat and protein. However, carbs are the body’s quick energy source and they’re also a kind of signal to the body of whether things are good or not. In a situation of low carbohydrate, the body has a tendency to think that a famine is here or coming, and it’ll ratchet down the metabolism a bit to help conserve energy. In a situation of enough carbs in the diet, the body thinks that everything is A-Ok and it’ll keep the metabolism humming along.
Obviously this isn’t a license to eat every carb you come across, but if you’re working out, particularly with weights, a little extra carbs around your workout is a great signal to your body to keep going strong.
5. Cold exposure. This one is a little out there for some people, but it does have an effect. Basically, your body always wants to keep you within a certain, fairly narrow temperature range. If you get too hot or too cold for long, you die. However, as mammals, we’re able to regulate our temperature internally. If we’re too hot, we sweat. If we’re too cold, we shiver and burn more calories.
The body has a substance called “Brown Fat”, which isn’t really like normal fat (“White Fat”) at all. Brown Fat is responsible for temperature regulation and it largely feeds off of White Fat to fuel that fire. When we’re exposed to cold the body likes to burn White Fat to keep our temperature up. There’s been some evidence to show a fairly solid amount of caloric expenditure from living in a chilly environment (keeping the heat low), cold water baths, etc. Again, I’m not necessarily recommending anything drastic or dangerous, but keeping your heat a little lower or your jackets a little lighter can add up.
Looking for a simple flow chart to design strength training workouts like we use here at Relentless to build muscle, boost your metabolism, and shed fat? Check out our 1-Page Workout Planner here!