How to Boost Your Metabolism
Stoke your body’s metabolism, lose weight. But how? Our culture promotes the idea of eating three square meals a day, avoiding between-meal snacks, and not eating between dinner and bedtime. No wonder we’re facing a global obesity crisis. Stoke your metabolism with the right strategies and you’ll build lean muscle, burn fat, and stay energized.
The Thermic Effect
When the body has to digest food, it has to work to get it broken down into a usable form. The term for this is the thermic effect. It means that every time you eat, your body has to rev up the furnace to break that food down. This does not mean you should eat huge meals or grab something from the drive-thru every three hours. You should eat a combination of high-fiber carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats every three hours, in portions that are correct for your size and activity level. When it comes to the number of meals, less is not more. In fact, more meals, means more metabolic revving, so eat wisely, but eat up.
Strategies to Boost Metabolism
Forget what you’ve been taught. If you want to control your appetite, regulate your blood sugar level to stay energized and alert, and build lean muscle mass, you need to more often, not less. Aim for five to six small- to medium-size meals or snacks each day. That equates to eating, on average, every three hours. Think of yourself as “grazing” all day, instead of sitting down for three massive feedings.
It’s possible to fit in six meals a day regardless of your job or lifestyle. Remember that six “meals” should not be long, sit-down affairs. A few could be, but three of those meals should just be snacks; one or two of which might just be shakes before and after your workout. And since you’re eating more often, your traditional breakfasts, lunches and dinners probably will be lighter.
- Controlling blood sugar levels improves concentration and helps regulate appetite. If you can do those two things, you’ll be in much better control of your body. After all, having consistent levels of blood sugar gives you consistent energy and makes you feel good, since you’re avoiding huge swings in hunger and mood.
- Over the course of the day, your mood, concentration, and energy levels go up and down. Aside from the stresses of your day, this is partly a function of your blood sugar levels. When these levels go down there’s a tendency to grab the first food available, and that’s usually not something good for you.
- Frequent eating is like constantly throwing wood on the fire. Digesting food cranks up your metabolism and burns more calories every time you eat. By not eating often, the fire smolders and dies. A hot fire, on the other hand, burns wood continuously. Those six smaller meals keep the fire hot. And since you know you’ll eat in a few hours, you’re less likely to overeat.
When you wake up in the morning, your metabolism is running at the lowest metabolic rate of the entire day. Basically, your body is running on fumes. The second you eat something, your body cranks into gear and metabolically starts working at a higher rate. Your morning shower may wake up your mind, but breakfast wakes up your metabolism.
Many people try to get thin by not eating. They deprive their bodies of nutrients, and while they might look healthy, they have dangerous blood profiles and a high ratio of fat to lean muscle. Their bodies are what we call “skinny fat”.
The last thing you want to do is lose lean mass. After all, you train hard to build muscle, which produces power, stabilizes joints, promotes movement, and is critical for optimal performance throughout life, not to mention on the athletic field. Moreover, the average person loses a pound of lean mass per year, so it’s imperative to take action to maintain your muscle.
What’s more, every pound of muscle you pack on requires approximately 20 additional calories. So add muscle and more of your food will go towards sustaining your physique.
If you don’t eat often, the most readily available substance for the body to consume is muscle. There’s a misconception that the body first eats away its fat. But the body is remarkably resistant to fat loss and will turn to its lean muscle first, a process known as catabolism, keeping stored body fat in reserve as long as necessary. In other words, eating less often can actually waste muscle.
Fuel with Protein
You should include a lean protein source with every meal. Protein has the highest “thermic effect” of all the macronutrients. To use the analogy that frequent eating is like throwing wood on a fire, when you eat protein, it is like throwing lighter fluid onto that fire. So include a lean protein source with every meal to get a little extra burst of metabolic power.
-- Research by Evan Gray
- Verstegen, Mark, and Pete Williams. Core Performance: The Revolutionary Workout Program to Transform Your Body and Your Life. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 2004.
- Amanda Carlson-Phillips, director of performance nutrition, Athletes' Performance