What is Metabolism?
Your metabolism is a measure of all the processes your body goes through in order to keep your body running. You may have heard terms like Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). These terms specify essentially the same things about your metabolism; the primary difference is in how they are measured.
Both will tell you the approximate number of calories your body burns through just to exist: To run your heart, your lungs, your brain, and all the other organs and functions in your body while you are at rest. However, BMR tends to be more accurate and requires a more restrictive testing process. RMR has fewer restrictions on testing conditions and can be calculated outside of a specified testing facility.1
How to Test Your Metabolism
RMR tests, because they’re more accessible and easier to do, are most likely the type of metabolic tests you’re familiar with. Debbie James, our registered dietitian, explains that “metabolic gases in the blood, leave through the lungs” which is why metabolism can be tested outside of a research lab through “indirect calorimetry.” This involves breathing into a device that evaluates those gases in your breath.
There is also a mathematical formula that can help you estimate your daily caloric needs. This is called the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation. An online calculator is an easy way to plug in information like your age, weight, gender, and height in order to get your estimate.
How to Increase Your Metabolism
Depending on whether you want to gain weight or lose it, you’ll adjust your calorie intake to be higher or lower than your BMR/RMR. Increasing your metabolism is one way to burn some extra calories and make attaining a calorie-deficit a little bit easier. For many, this is the main goal.
Debbie James notes that if your primary goal is to raise your metabolism “you’ll need to focus on exercise not food to achieve that.” This is because exercise can lead to long-term calorie burn while “metabolism boosting” foods yield a temporary effect.
Many people still enjoy adjusting their nutrition to match their metabolic goals, so here is a list that includes a little bit of everything:
Your body needs to burn more calories to maintain muscle than it needs to maintain fat stores. 5 and half times more to be exact. Your muscles will burn through about 6.5 calories per pound, every hour.2 If you increase your muscle mass, your body will burn more daily calories to manage the upkeep of your glorious gains.
Do High Intensity Interval Training
The same way strength training offers you the benefit of long-term calorie burn, intense cardio will have your body burning calories even after you’ve finished exercising.
Also known as “afterburn,” this continued calorie burn is a great way to kick your metabolism into high gear. Yes, it eventually wears off, but a 2011 study showed that, for their test group, calorie burn continued for 14 hours after one vigorous 45 minute cycling session, resulting in an extra 190 calories burned!
Drink Green Tea
Green tea can help temporarily boost your metabolism because it contains caffeine. For this same reason, coffee can also do the trick. However, green tea is also a natural appetite suppressant, so, we’re highlighting this one because of this additional benefit!
Eat Spicy Foods
Spicy foods, especially hot peppers, contain capsaicin. This component is behind the higher calorie burn experienced with the consumption of spice. Like green tea, spicy foods also happen to be natural appetite suppressants!
Drink More Water
When you drink water, your body needs to warm it to match your body temperature. This process, called water-induced thermogenesis, requires energy. Simply drinking cold water can temporarily boost your metabolism by up to 30% to accomplish this task!3
Eat More Protein
When you eat, your body needs energy to process your food. In a process similar to what happens when you drink water, your body goes through diet-induced thermogenesis. Your metabolism increases more when you eat protein (by about 15-30%), compared to when you eat carbs (by about 5-10%) or fats (by about 0-3%).4
Aim For Better Sleep
Sleep deprivation can really impact your metabolism. In fact, it can knock your hunger and fullness hormones out of balance, making you more likely to overeat.5 Getting enough rest is a good way to care for your metabolism.
- Emelda M. “Difference Between BMR and RMR.” DifferenceBetween.net. January 23, 2011 < http://www.differencebetween.net/science/health/difference-between-bmr-and-rmr/>.
- Ng, Nick. “How Many Calories Does a Pound of Muscle Burn Per Day?” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, https://www.livestrong.com/article/310070-how-many-calories-does-a-pound-of-muscle-burn-per-day/.
- Boschmann, Michael, et al. “Water-Induced Thermogenesis.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Dec. 2003, https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/88/12/6015/2661518
- Pesta, Dominik H, and Varman T Samuel. “A High-Protein Diet for Reducing Body Fat: Mechanisms and Possible Caveats.” Nutrition & Metabolism, BioMed Central, 19 Nov. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4258944/.
- Sharma, Sunil, and Mani Kavuru. “Sleep and Metabolism: an Overview.” International Journal of Endocrinology, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929498/.