Best Ways To Boost Metabolism

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Introduction

Metabolism is frequently mentioned when conversations are related to diet, exercise and weight management. Metabolism is the process through which the body breaks down food into energy to use it in everyday functions. It is the vital force that propels growth, repairs tissues, and enables every cell to function harmoniously. It has two main components:

  • Catabolism
    • The breakdown of food for the usage and storage of energy for body functions1
  • Anabolism
    • The breaking down of body tissues and energy stores for body functions1

Though there is no clear-cut definition of a healthy metabolism, it can be considered as an efficient and well-balanced functioning of the body's metabolic processes. Having a healthy metabolism can provide various benefits such as regulation of blood sugars, hormonal regulation, weight management, and an overall strong cognitive function.

There are several individual factors that can influence metabolism, some are modifiable while others are non-modifiable. 

  • Modifiable factors like
    • Diet
    • Muscle mass
    • Fat percentage
    • Physical activity1
  • Non-modifiable factors such as
    • Gender
    • Genetics1

Adopting a balanced and active lifestyle, including regular exercise, a well-rounded diet, and sufficient sleep, can contribute to maintaining a healthy metabolism. Additionally, consulting with healthcare professionals for personalised advice and assessment is recommended for those seeking to maximise their metabolic health.

Understanding Metabolism

The body’s metabolic rate is the amount of energy the body utilises every day and there are three crucial components. 

Basal Metabolic Rate 

The basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of calories or energy the body utilises while at rest. Factors that affect the BMR include fat mass, fat-free mass, age, and the amount of  thyroid hormones circulating in the body.2

Thermic Effect of Food 

The thermic effect of food (TEF) or thermogenesis is when there is an increase in the metabolic rate after food has been consumed. In order to break down and utilise the food, the body must use up energy, therefore calories are used while food or drinks are being consumed. Similarly to BMR, the TEF is affected by age, but the other impacting factors include physical activity, meal size and  composition; whether the food has protein, carbohydrates, and fats, and the quantity of them.3

Physical Activity Level (PAL)

Physical activity level (PAL) is a measurement to calculate and express an individual's activity level per day. This can include exercise or movement that is related to a daily routine or occupation. 

There are three main categories to PAL

  • Sedentary or lightly active
    • If the lifestyle does not have a large portion of physical activity, such as an office worker that does not exercise/exercise often after/before work
  • Active or moderately active
    • If the lifestyle has a portion of regular physical activity and movement, such as an office worker that exercises 3-5x a week
  • Vigorous or very active
    • If the lifestyle has a high portion of physical activity, such as manual labourers or athletes4

Through the calculation of PAL, a more accurate expenditure of energy can be measured.

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle factors play a significant role in influencing and optimising metabolism. Making positive lifestyle choices can contribute to a healthier and more efficient metabolic rate. 

Exercise

Exercise is one of the crucial implementations that can boost metabolism. Engaging in regular physical activity, including both cardiovascular-centred exercises (e.g., jogging, swimming) and strength training, can boost metabolism by increasing muscle mass and increasing energy consumption of the body. 

Metabolites are the intermediate products released during metabolism. They signal how metabolic health changes in response to exercise. A study by the European Society of Cardiology revealed that an increased number of metabolites were present in the body after an exercise regimen that included both cardiovascular and strength training. Furthermore, energy-efficient muscles use more calories for the maintenance of the body.5

Regular strength training has shown to increase muscle mass, by involving the exercise to work against a weight or force.6 With the increased muscle mass, the basal metabolic rate is higher, with studies showcasing that even 10 weeks of training can increase the metabolic rate by 7%.7

Sleep 

Sleep is another important factor for the regulation of metabolism. Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can negatively affect metabolism. 

The main hormones that are related to appetite and hunger are called leptin and ghrelin. Leptin has the main role of regulating energy expenditure and food intake. Ghrelin, on the other hand, is often called the “hungry hormone” and is produced in the stomach. It causes the appetite to increase and drive to eat. Both of these hormones are interlinked with sleep, and sleep deprivation has been shown to decrease leptin and increase ghrelin levels, while also altering glucose metabolism.8

Stress 

Stress can have a significant impact on various parts of the body, which includes metabolism. 

Stress can lead to the trigger and release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which are part of the body's "fight or flight" response. While these hormones are essential for dealing with acute stressors, prolonged stress can lead to consistently elevated levels, which can affect the metabolism. During the acute stress response, the body increases the blood glucose levels and prevents functions such as growth.9 Furthermore, it has also been shown to alter the body’s physiological functions to cause an increased likelihood of obesity.10

Dietary Choices

The amount of food and the type of food both affect the metabolism. Making informed and balanced dietary decisions can contribute to a healthier and more efficient metabolism. Having a balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) in the regular diet, is important as each macronutrient serves a specific role in metabolism, providing energy, supporting muscle function, and aiding in various biochemical processes.

Macronutrients

Protein-Rich Foods

Eating protein-rich foods can help maximise muscle growth if accompanied by strength training.11 With increased muscle mass, the body will require more energy to maintain the muscle mass. Protein also has been shown to have a higher TEF compared to other macromolecules like carbohydrates and fats.12 Research has shown that diets that are higher in protein have metabolic benefits that can be equal to or even exceed high carbohydrate diets.13 

Lean protein-rich foods include: 

  • Tofu
  • Chicken breast
  • Fish
  • Legumes

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are types of foods that take a longer time to digest and cause a gradual release of glucose in the bloodstream. Simple carbohydrates on the other hand digest quickly and cause elevations in the blood glucose much faster.

These types of carbohydrates provide a steady release of energy and support stable blood sugar levels, preventing spikes and crashes that can negatively impact metabolism.

Complex carbohydrates include:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa 
  • Broccoli 
  • Lentils

Healthy Fats

There are various types of fats that allow for bodily functions to take place such as the absorption of vitamins and providing adequate energy. The main types of fats include polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, saturated and trans fats. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated are labelled as healthy fats while saturated and trans are unhealthy fats.

Research has shown that diets that may have a high ratio of polyunsaturated fats can cause the TEF to increase and cause an increase in the resting metabolic rate.14

Healthy fat sources include:

  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Salmon
  • Mackerel

Hydration 

Staying well-hydrated by consuming the required amount of water throughout the day has been shown to help boost metabolism. Water is essential for various metabolic processes, including digestion and nutrient transport.

Studies have shown that water can help with gradual weight loss as it can induce thermogenesis and if the consumption of water is increased then it can even help accelerate the loss of weight.15,16 

Meal Frequency and Timing

Spreading the three meals plus the required healthy snacks throughout the day has been shown to regulate and boost metabolism. This is because the body has a steady supply of nutrients and prevents prolonged periods of fasting. 

A paper published by Biomed Central showed that individuals that skipped meals were associated with higher levels of blood glucose and triglycerides, and ultimately were more likely to get metabolic syndrome.17

However, there has been no linkage to show that increasing the meal frequency (5-6x a day) has shown an increase or change in metabolism.18

Metabolism-Boosting Foods and Beverages

Protein-rich foods increase the TEF which causes more calories to be used to digest them. 

Selenium, iron, and iodine are essential minerals for thyroid functionality and regulation. If diets are depleted in these minerals it can lead to the thyroid’s ability and cause a decrease in the metabolism.19

Selenium rich foods:

  • Brazil nuts
  • Ham
  • Fish

Iron-rich foods are:

  • Leafy green vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, peas etc.
  • Red meats
  • Tofu

Iodine-rich foods are:

  • Cod
  • Seaweed
  • Iodized salt

Coffee can boost the entire body, which includes metabolic rate with research backing this and showing that coffee consumption can lead to an increased metabolic rate and can help with fat burning.20

Avoiding Metabolism Myths

Metabolism myths are prevalent in society and are related to the metabolic processes and what factors influence it. Dispelling these myths is important for promoting accurate information and making informed lifestyle choices.

Myth: Certain foods have negative calories

There is no scientific evidence supporting the idea that certain foods, such as celery or cucumbers, consume more calories to digest than they provide. All foods have a net energy input.

Myth: Metabolism slows down with age, and there's nothing that can be done 

Metabolism does naturally decrease with age due to factors such as muscle loss, and increased inactivity, but regular exercise with an emphasis on maintaining muscle mass through strength training and a healthy balanced diet can mitigate this decline.

Myth: Metabolism-boosting supplements are effective

Majority of supplements marketed as metabolism boosters lack sufficient scientific evidence to support their claims. A balanced diet and regular exercise are sufficient and effective for boosting and maintaining metabolic health.

Summary

Boosting metabolism involves adopting lifestyle and dietary practices that enhance the body's ability to efficiently convert food into energy. A strong emphasis on exercise regularity, especially a combination of both cardiovascular workouts and strength training, accompanied by a balanced diet can raise the BMR, support TEF and boost the metabolism. Adequate hydration, sufficient sleep, and stress management are also integral for maintaining a healthy metabolism. When in doubt, consult with a health professional to curate the best plan for optimising the metabolism.

References

  1. Services D of H & H. Metabolism [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 19]. Available from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/metabolism
  2. Johnstone AM, Murison SD, Duncan JS, Rance KA, Speakman JR. Factors influencing variation in basal metabolic rate include fat-free mass, fat mass, age, and circulating thyroxine but not sex, circulating leptin, or triiodothyronine2. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [Internet]. 2005 [cited 2024 Feb 19]; 82(5):941–8. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002916523296744.
  3. National Academies of Sciences E, Division H and M, Board F and N, Energy C on the DRI for. Factors Affecting Energy Expenditure and Requirements. In: Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy [Internet]. National Academies Press (US); 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 19]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK591031/.
  4. Human energy requirements [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 19]. Available from: https://www.fao.org/3/y5686e/y5686e07.htm.
  5. Benefits of exercise on metabolism: more profound than previously reported [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 20]. Available from: https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Benefits-of-exercise-on-metabolism-more-profound-than-previously-reported, https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Benefits-of-exercise-on-metabolism-more-profound-than-previously-reported.
  6. Krzysztofik M, Wilk M, Wojdała G, Gołaś A. Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. Int J Environ Res Public Health [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2024 Feb 20]; 16(24):4897. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6950543/.
  7. Westcott WL. Resistance Training is Medicine: Effects of Strength Training on Health. Current Sports Medicine Reports [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2024 Feb 20]; 11(4):209. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/fulltext/2012/07000/resistance_training_is_medicine__effects_of.13.aspx.
  8. Sharma S, Kavuru M. Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview. Int J Endocrinol [Internet]. 2010 [cited 2024 Feb 20]; 2010:270832. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929498/.
  9. Kuti D, Winkler Z, Horváth K, Juhász B, Szilvásy-Szabó A, Fekete C, et al. The metabolic stress response: Adaptation to acute-, repeated- and chronic challenges in mice. iScience [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 Feb 20]; 25(8):104693. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9307515/.
  10. Xiao Y, Liu D, Cline MA, Gilbert ER. Chronic stress, epigenetics, and adipose tissue metabolism in the obese state. Nutrition & Metabolism [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 Feb 20]; 17(1):88. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12986-020-00513-4.
  11. Bosse JD, Dixon BM. Dietary protein to maximize resistance training: a review and examination of protein spread and change theories. J Int Soc Sports Nutr [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2024 Feb 21]; 9:42. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3518828/.
  12. Halton TL, Hu FB. The Effects of High Protein Diets on Thermogenesis, Satiety and Weight Loss: A Critical Review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition [Internet]. 2004 [cited 2024 Feb 21]; 23(5):373–85. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2004.10719381.
  13. Noakes M, Keogh JB, Foster PR, Clifton PM. Effect of an energy-restricted, high-protein, low-fat diet relative to a conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet on weight loss, body composition, nutritional status, and markers of cardiovascular health in obese women1. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [Internet]. 2005 [cited 2024 Feb 21]; 81(6):1298–306. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002916523277126.
  14. Marken Lichtenbelt WD van, Mensink RP, Westerterp KR. The effect of fat composition of the diet on energy metabolism. Z Ernahrungswiss. 1997; 36(4):303–5.
  15. Vij VA, Joshi AS. Effect of ‘Water Induced Thermogenesis’ on Body Weight, Body Mass Index and Body Composition of Overweight Subjects. J Clin Diagn Res [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2024 Feb 22]; 7(9):1894–6. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3809630/.
  16. Dennis EA, Dengo AL, Comber DL, Flack KD, Savla J, Davy KP, et al. Water Consumption Increases Weight Loss During a Hypocaloric Diet Intervention in Middle-aged and Older adults. Obesity (Silver Spring) [Internet]. 2010 [cited 2024 Feb 22]; 18(2):300–7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2859815/.
  17. Park H, Shin D, Lee KW. Association of main meal frequency and skipping with metabolic syndrome in Korean adults: a cross-sectional study. Nutrition Journal [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 22]; 22(1):24. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-023-00852-x.
  18. Ohkawara K, Cornier M-A, Kohrt WM, Melanson EL. Effects of Increased Meal Frequency on Fat Oxidation and Perceived Hunger. Obesity (Silver Spring) [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2024 Feb 22]; 21(2):336–43. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4391809/.
  19. Köhrle J. Selenium, Iodine and Iron–Essential Trace Elements for Thyroid Hormone Synthesis and Metabolism. Int J Mol Sci [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 22]; 24(4):3393. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9967593/.
  20. Acheson KJ, Zahorska-Markiewicz B, Pittet P, Anantharaman K, Jéquier E. Caffeine and coffee: their influence on metabolic rate and substrate utilization in normal weight and obese individuals. Am J Clin Nutr. 1980; 33(5):989–97.

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Omar Sajjad

Medical Doctor- Fudan University

Omar is a medical doctor with a strong acumen in public health, research and medicine with several years experience in government and private sectors. He has a passion for ensuring that safe and effective health information is available for everyone.

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