Let’s face it. Many of us have fallen off of the fitness wagon. Studying, hanging out, and just not being in the mood to get out and exercise, often get in the way of staying in shape. If you’re hoping to get back into fighting form for the summer but are finding yourself at a loss when it comes to seeing results, Her Campus has 10 tips for boosting your metabolism.
We’ve spoken to health experts in the fields of exercise and nutrition who’ve dispelled myths about metabolism and have advice on what you can do to boost what you’ve got.
1. Pump iron
According to Martha Tillman, director of the South Forty Fitness Center at Washington University in St. Louis, and Jumoke Solar, personal trainer and health and wellness presenter, strength training is an excellent way to boost your metabolism. “One pound of muscle burns 5-14 calories a day,” says Jumoke. “And your metabolism will burn an extra 25-70 calories a day.”
Since muscle burns more calories than fat, focus on building muscle rather than just blasting calories. Don’t shy away from the weight rooms on campus just because they’re often filled with hulking, grunting, amateur body builders. If you need tips on how to get started, check out HC’s guide to strength training and make sure to consult a professional if you want to learn the best routine for you.
2. Spice up your life
Since a new food is constantly touted as having magical nutritive powers, you might be a little skeptical about what really works. However, Karen Ansel, MS, RD, CDN and American Dietetic Association Spokesperson notes that there are, in fact, bitter and spicy metabolism-boosting options out there. Ansel mentions that green tea extract and capsaicin in chilies and red pepper have been shown to moderately increase metabolism.
Some studies, such as one published in the British Journal of Nutrition and another in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, noted that adding red pepper to meals boosted metabolism by as much as 20% for about 30 minutes. Since the body expended extra energy cooling itself down, the effect was a noticeable (though short-lived), solution.
3. Chow down on more protein
Ever wonder why protein shakes seem to be popular food staples among bodybuilders? According to Ansel, it’s because eating protein may increase metabolism by helping to build muscle. Unlike carbs, protein increases muscle mass, which helps to boost metabolism in conjunction with a strength training routine. Additionally, in an interview with Web M.D., another registered dietitian, Molly Kimball, reported that protein is helpful because it “generally requires about 25% more energy to digest.”
Since the body works harder to digest protein than it does other sorts of foods, meals or snacks that are high in protein are often good alternatives to snacks that are only high in calories or carbohydrates. Some high-protein foods include hard-boiled eggs, slices of apples with a two-tablespoon portion of peanut butter, or a handful of almonds.
4. Don’t skimp on the fish
Researchers from the University of Western Ontario noted that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish (and flaxseed) oil boosted metabolism by “[decreasing] levels of fat-storage enzymes” in the body.
If you have trouble finding good, fresh fish in your school cafeteria, try looking up a tasty recipe online and preparing your own. Grilled or sautéed fish isn't difficult to prepare (and this is coming from a cooking novice!), and eating more of it might help jumpstart your body’s metabolism.
5. Keep a water bottle handy
The “8x8 rule” (8 eight-ounce glasses of water a day) is as popular as the apple-a-day saying, but it’s not just talk. In two separate studies, German scientists at the Franz-Volhard Clinical Research Center in Berlin, discovered that drinking 6 to 7 cups of water a day increased metabolic rate by 30% in both men and women, for 30-40 minutes.
While Leslie Bonci, a spokesperson from the American Dietetic Association was quick to clarify that drinking water does not “flush fat” out of the system, the results of the German study noted that “up to 40% of the increase in calorie burning is caused by the body’s attempt to heat the ingested water.” So if you’re a fan of coffee, soda, juice, or tea, make sure to include water in the rotation and keep a water bottle in your purse at all times.
6. Stay in your lane: don’t crash diet
Most of us are familiar with the South Beach Diet, the Zone Diet, the Cookie Diet, and the Fit-Into-a-Dress-That’s-Two-Sizes-Too-Small-by-Saturday Diet. While it may seem intrepid to try each food-fad that comes out, leap-frogging from diet to diet is actually more harmful than helpful.
Fitness is the sum of your nutrition history, and as Ansel explains, “Crash dieting can decrease your metabolism over time.” Make sure to start off your day with a good breakfast and don’t rely on get-fit-quick schemes or diet pills that can throw your system out of whack. For one healthy and delicious diet, try SELF’s Jumpstart Diet.
7. Don’t skip out on meals, but don’t stockpile them, either
Tips on when, what, and how much to eat can be frustratingly variable, but err on the side of consistency. Research by Penn State University, warns that not eating enough can cause the body to enter starvation mode, which slows down metabolism; while on the flipside, Ansel explains that eating too frequently can lead to weight gain.
Ansel and physical trainer, Jumoke Solar, both agree that eating small meals throughout the day with a snack or two in between is just right. “Advice that you need to eat frequently to boost your metabolism has been greatly exaggerated,” Karen asserts. “Most people will do fine with three meals and one small (150 calorie) snack a day.”
8. Get some extra R&R
Staying up late is practically an unwritten rule in the land of higher education. Whether you pull an all-nighter after staying up late to study, or hit the sack in the early hours of the morning after spending time with friends, you’re probably not getting as much sleep as you should. The thing is, missing out on sleep can have greater implications than just grogginess or being cranky.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that dieters who snoozed for 5.5 hours a night for two weeks lost the same amount of weight as when they slept for 8.5 hours—but went on to discover that more muscle mass was lost in the 5.5-hour trials. Since muscle is crucial for losing weight and maintaining a healthy metabolism, staying up until the crack of dawn might be undoing your fitness efforts.
9. Get up and go
Jumoke Solar, MS, CPT and Group Exercise Instructor tells her clients to perform some form of exercise on most days—usually five times a week for 30-60 minutes. Getting extra exercise doesn’t mean running a 5K marathon: taking a bike ride through the park on a lovely Saturday afternoon and leaving your car back on campus is healthy and fun. If you’re in the gym, mix things up instead of sticking to your status quo. Interval training (speeding up and then slowing down) is a good way to surprise your muscles and keep them working hard.
10. Boys will be boys: don’t compare yourself to them
It’s an old story with a bitter end: your guy friend or brother eats whatever he wants with fewer negative results or embarks on the same fitness regimen as you but has more rapid, noticeable results. Instead of getting frustrated or thinking that you’re doing something wrong, remember that men and women are built differently. “Men have faster metabolisms for two reasons,” says Karen. “One: they weigh more and two: they have more muscle mass.”
Since more muscle equals a speedier metabolism, men are generally pre-wired to have a metabolic rate that differs from that of women—but that’s no reason to despair! Stop looking over your shoulder at everyone else at the gym and remember that your body is unique, even if your workout isn’t. “I don’t think there are any particular exercises that a woman should try,” says Jumoke. “The most important thing is that you are safe and consistent.”
U.S. News & World Report, “Sleep Loss Undercuts Weight Loss Efforts”
Web M.D., “Make the Most of Your Metabolism”; “Drinking Water May Speed Weight Loss”
Yoshioka, M. et al., Effects of red pepper added to high-fat and high-carbohydrate meals on energy metabolism and substrate utilization in Japanese women (1998) British Journal of Nutrition 80, 503-510
Martha Tillman, Director of the South Forty Fitness Center, Washington University in St. Louis
Jumoke Solar, MS, CPT, Group Exercise Instructor, Health & Wellness Presenter
Karen Ansel, MS, RD, CDN; American Dietetic Association Spokesperson, Contributing Editor for Woman’s Day Magazine