Before we jump into the top five let's make sure we’re all on the same page for what metabolism is!
There are four components to the metabolism:
1. Resting/basal metabolism - this is how many calories your body burns each day by just functioning at a cellular level. It is based on your weight, age, height, gender, etc. This is what people generally refer to when they talk about having a ‘slow or broken metabolism’.
2. Thermogenic effect of food - the amount of calories your body burns in order to digest and metabolise food.
3. NEAT - non exercise activity thermogenesis. Pretty much just a fancy few words to account for all the stuff you do in daily life, housework, walking, fidgeting, etc.
4. Activity - this is your purposeful activity, like gym sessions, going for a run. It is the total sum of calories expended while doing exercise and the recovery post exercise.
Yes, yes, yes, I know you are thinking: but what about foooood and my hormones and menopause! But it’s important to recognise that these are still the foundational components of human metabolism of which things like hormones, genetics, environment and food interact with. to make up your state.
I know the whole 'calories in calories out' thing seems too simple. But it really is the bottom line.
Okay, the top five ways to boost your metabolism:
1. WEIGHT TRAIN
I just want to add here, before we dive in, that nowhere will you see any mention of fat burners, caffeine, supplements, shakes, diets or anything cray! Our bodies are incredible energy systems and we DO have control what goes in and out of them. You may have been given a set of genetics of which you believe causes you to have a ‘slow metabolism’, but before victimising yourself in this camp are you consistently hitting these top five things? Unless you do have a hormonal issue that is medically diagnosed these things still apply to you 100%.
1. WEIGHT TRAINING 🏋🏼♀️
If you are already following me you know that lifting is lyffff! But, doing heavy, progressive strength training really is the most powerful tool we have to increase metabolism. Your muscles are the metabolic engines of your bod - the more you have the more energy you will expended daily.
So, if you already lift the things then keep doing it! But do ensure that you continue to progress with weights and intensity, you truly push yourself and don’t get distracted by fancy pants exercise. Keep it simple!
Choose big compound movements that are energetically demanding (like squats, bench press, deadlifts) as they will demand more metabolic damage, thus more muscle growth, thus more growth hormones! Isolation exercises certainly do have their place but whole body movements should be the bread and butter of ya training programme.
Having more muscle can slightly increase your basal metabolism and it gives us more tussie to use, recover and repair = more energy expended! But you do have to eat more to gain and maintain muscle so make sure you are eating enough!
2. PROTEIN INTAKE 🍗
The thermic effects of food accounts for about 10% of your daily expenditure. That is the process of eating, breaking down and processing it.
Ya know all those ‘zero calorie’ foods? That comes from the idea that it would expend more energy digesting them than the actual calories in the food!
The more high in fibre a food is, the less processed it is, the more energy they take to digest. So if you consider a whole almond vs almond butter or chicken breast vs protein powder or a baked sweet potato vs sweet potato chips that come in a packet ready to eat … which do you think is going to take longer to digest? The processed foods take away the whole digestion thing so energy is more easily available! Eat ya veggies, sistahs.
So, back to protein! The reason why all my nutrition clients have a protein emphasis in their prescriptions is because it is simply more energy costly to digest protein than carbs and fat. So you burn more calories eating protein than carbs and fats! That doesn’t mean the others are bad, it just is what it is!
Protein is like running
Carbs like cycling
Fats like walking
Make sense? They are all going to get you to the same place (with keeping overall energy balance in mind) butttt one is going to get you there faster than the other!
3. SLEEP 😴
Straight up facts for you:
1. Poor sleep means a decrease in: Metabolic rate, muscle growth and repair, food choice inhibition.
2. Poor sleep means an increase in: Appetite, energy dense foods, snacking for alertness, food intake.
Bottom line is this: if you are sleeping less than 6-7 hours a night you can lower your resting/ basal metabolic rate. It also affects your hunger and satiety hormones, as well as potentially decreasing your inhibition to food or ability to say ‘no’ to foods that may lead to an increase in higher calorie intake.
Hmmmm. Important no?
Not only are we a highly stress society but we are savagely under rested. You have to get very honest with yourself and real about how you are spending your time, especially in the evenings. How can you get to bed earlier? What are you REALLY doing past 9pm that is causing you to stay up? * cough* Netflix *cough* Instagram.
Not getting enough sleep can actually slightly lower your resting metabolic rate which then impairs food choices, inability to perform and recover from the gym, impaired food hormones and increase of appetite. A metabolic shit show, right?
I challenge you to go to bed 30 minutes earlier tonight, How do you feel the next day? And this weekend challenge yourself to go to bed when you feel tired and wake up naturally. Take note of how much sleep your body’s begging for. Does that extra zzz impact how hungry you are? Are you easily making better food choices? Take note!
4. HITT 🔥
Yes, 1-2 high intensity workouts a week can slightly increase metabolism due to the increase of activity as well as the metabolic demands of the activity but there are many caveats to this. Doing high intensity does push you beyond your comfortable limits but you also have to willing to go there - and most people don’t perform HITT training or go to those uncomfortable places because a) they don’t know how to and b) they don’t have the relative strength to be able to. However, we will get to that! HITT does cause prolonged exercise recovery which is ‘costly’ in terms of calories expended.
High intensity training (think CrossFit, Orange Theory, Fitspos doing magical ‘fat burning’ ply workouts) is not magical. It is not a super fat burning tool but it is fat utilising. This simply means that it encourages the utlisation of lipids (fats) for fuel during the recovery process.
HITT is simple, short and effective due to the fact that it forces you to work above your comfortable anaerobic threshold that you may not reach by doing aerobic training or weight training. So there is a higher demand on your body = greater energy demand!
The idea here is that your metabolism is essentially elevated hours after the workout compared to more steady state, like walking. For example, do 30 seconds of all out sprint on an Assault bike or rower, recover for 30 seconds. Repeat five times and tell me you are not more pooped than if you went for a 30 minute walk. But also, tell me how your body recovers from that. And that is the key with HITT - how hard can you recover in order to express that intensity again?
In order to get the benefit you HAVE to work above that threshold. You have to work really really hard. You SHOULD be really uncomfortable during those work periods. Doing random back to back exercises is NOT HITT! That is cardio but with weights and different exercises. You should NEED more time to recover than you spent working.
IMPORTANT: If you are a new trainee or novice lifter first spend time working on your aerobic fitness and stay within low intensity steady state and moderate intensity steady state cardio first. Once you have built some aerobic capacity and relative strength then start with something that is more high intensity 1 x per week and build from there. Start with single modalities, like using a bike, treadmill or rower rather than bunching exercises together.
Also, remember that no matter how ‘intense’ your workout is, it doesn’t make up for the energy that you put in through food each day. And if you are doing hard workouts but sitting for the rest of the day you are still considered sedentary. Be mindful of energy intake and keep moving during the day!
5. NEAT 🚶🏼♀️
This leads nicely onto non exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Like I said above, you can have the most intense workout or run an hour each day, but if you sit on your booty for the rest of the day and sleep for 8 then your metabolism is not going to be that happy. It has been shown that increased activity in small bouts across the day is better than one big movement session. So it isn’t the actual sitting that is unhealthy but the lack of movement throughout the day, that is.
Exercise in as little as ten minutes stints is hugely beneficial. Taking a 10 min walk or brisk stroll after eating your meals can help regulate your blood glucose, ‘wake up’ your muscles and contribute to that daily energy expenditure.
And no, you don’t have to do 50 burpees every hour but try parking a bit further away in the carpark, set an alarm to do a couple of laps around the office or go up and down a few flights of stairs … it all adds up.
Enough NEAT can contribute massively to your daily energy expenditure without having the extra physiological and psychological stress of having to do more more more purposeful exercise! In fact, those ten minute walks can make a 100-300 calorie difference in expenditure! An increase of 5K-15K steps per day can elevate daily calorie burn without the hunger, fatigue, time pressure of exercise.
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