What does your metabolism do?
The wellness industry loves to talk about “boosting” and “revving up” metabolism, but what does that actually mean?
Metabolism is a process of chemical reactions in the body that keep it functioning properly, including converting food into energy, circulating blood, and growing and repairing cells. How many calories and how quickly (or slowly) those calories are burned while carrying out these functions at rest is called basal metabolic rate (BMR). When your BMR slows down, whether due to age, body mass, or even levels of stress, you can experience bloating, fatigue, difficulty losing weight, or loss of muscle mass.
Though your metabolism is always working (even while you’re sleeping), it may not be working as efficiently as you’d hope. A reset of your metabolism may be just what you need to start feeling more energized on a daily basis, such as having more stamina during workouts or an improved ability to lose weight. You can get this fresh start by developing healthier lifestyle habits, which we’ve outlined below.
Five steps to reset your metabolism
1. Don’t skip breakfast.
Breakfast is an important meal that kickstarts your metabolism at the beginning of the day. You’re breaking your overnight fast, so make sure to start your day on the right foot with an impactful meal that includes a mix of whole grains, protein, and fiber. This meal’s energy can boost your BMR, helping your body burn more calories even when you are not engaging in movement. This meal could look like a bowl of oatmeal topped with walnuts and chia seeds, or avocado mash on whole-grain toast topped with an egg!
When you start the day with quality calories, it’s a signal to your body to prepare for converting available food into energy for the rest of the day. Breakfast can also stabilize your hunger throughout the day and prevent you from overeating during other meals.
2. Stay active.
Resetting your metabolism doesn’t just mean exercise! Moderate movement throughout the day can promote great health. This is referred to as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), or the energy that you expend when engaging in minor physical activities like walking your dog, gardening, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Small expenditures of energy add up over time, keeping your metabolism in action and boosting its ability to digest food and burn fat.
3. Eat more protein.
You can never go wrong with adding a bit of protein to each meal! Protein helps build lean muscle mass and creates a higher thermic effect in the body than other macronutrients – meaning that some of the caloric energy from the protein itself is used to digest and metabolize your food. This can boost the metabolic process and promote burning calories during rest.
Many people think that by dieting, or restricting calories long-term, they're improving their metabolism. In reality, it might have the opposite effect. Calorie suppression may cause metabolism to crash in an effort to conserve energy. That’s why consuming adequate total calories, which includes protein, is important to boost your metabolism in the long run. Great ways to add protein to your diet include eating a handful of nuts as your afternoon snack, or adding chicken or tofu on your lunch salad.
4. Improve your sleep.
You’ve heard it many times before, but the quality and quantity of your sleep have a major impact on your well-being. When you’re sleep deprived, your body produces more cortisol, the stress hormone that slows your metabolism and makes it more difficult to properly digest food and lose weight.
Ever notice that you feel hungrier when you don't get enough quality sleep? This isn’t a coincidence – sleep deprivation causes the release of the hunger hormone ghrelin, often leading to overeating and a tendency to overextend your metabolism in the process. Do your best to get a healthy 7–9 hours of sleep each night, and preferably get into bed around the same hour to create a consistent sleep schedule.
5. Drink more water.
Drinking water is not only helpful to maintain energy levels and create a smoother complexion, but it also speeds up your metabolism!
One study found that drinking an increase of about 500 milliliters of water improved the energy expenditure of fourteen healthy adults by about 30%. This meant that for the next hour, the water created a thermic effect in the body that sped up the ability to burn calories while in a resting state.
Water is essential in the metabolic process because it aids your digestive system to run efficiently and helps rid your body of toxins.
Foods that boost metabolism
Here are some key foods to incorporate into your diet that can boost your resting metabolic rate:
Spirulina, berries, spinach, and beets all add color and flavor to your plate, but they also provide important enzymes, phytonutrients, and antioxidants that reduce inflammation.
Superfoods are generally low in calories and high in nutrients, speeding your metabolic rate, increasing blood circulation, and giving you more energy. Try starting your morning with an antioxidant-rich green tea, or make a smoothie full of leafy greens, berries, and spirulina.
Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate, and therefore, your body expends more energy (burns more calories) as it tries to pass it through the digestive system. Not only does it keep you full for a longer period of time, but it also helps you more easily pass stool from the body.
A 2015 study found that eating just 30 more grams of fiber per day helps lower blood pressure, improves the body’s response to insulin, and can result in greater weight loss. From chickpeas to lentils and sweet potatoes, fiber-rich foods also help reduce cholesterol and keep the metabolic cycle working smoothly.
Workouts to try
When it comes to physical activity, high intensity workouts are a great way to increase your heart rate and assist in fat burning for a couple of hours following your exercise session. High intensity interval training (HIIT), especially, challenges you to switch between extremes during your workout, keeping your metabolism working at a steady increase.
When you finish a HIIT workout, you are likely to continue burning calories for hours after, which is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This is a period where your oxygen level is elevated and muscle cells work to return to homeostatic levels, increasing energy expenditure in the process.
Weight lifting and resistance training are also important, as these are great ways to build muscle. Research shows that a pound of muscle will burn about six calories per day at rest, while a pound of fat will only burn about two calories per day.
Taking control to reset your metabolism
There are some factors that affect your BMR that you can’t control, such as your body mass, sex, genetics, and age. Research has even shown that the size of your internal organs could play a role in your metabolic rate!
There are, however, significant nutritional and lifestyle changes that can shift your body’s internal chemistry, helping you maximize your metabolic rate and improve your health as a whole. Just like any other function in the body, your metabolism speed will vary depending on the stress you experience, how much (or how little) sleep you’re getting, and the nutritional quality of your diet. That’s why addressing your health holistically is key!
The path to resetting your metabolism begins with a commitment to make change and learn to listen to your bio-individual needs. Each of our bodies work differently, so it’s important to experiment and find what works best for you! You can start by integrating healthy lifestyle changes that can improve your mood and productivity on a daily basis.
Interested in learning more about bio-individuality? Check out the IIN Curriculum Guide to learn about this foundational concept that helps our students make intuitive and impactful lifestyle changes.