According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary your metabolism is referenced as “the sum total of the chemical processes that occur in living organisms, resulting in growth, energy production and waste elimination”. In essence, what this means is, your metabolism is the biochemical engine that keeps you alive.
However, the speed at which it runs varies from individual to individual. For instance, those with a slow metabolism tend to have more leftover fuel (calories), which gets stored as body fat. On the other hand, those with a fast metabolism burn more calories and are less likely to accumulate a lot of body fat.
What Is Metabolism?
Metabolism is a term that collectively refers to all the chemical processes in your body. The faster your metabolism, the more calories your body is able to process and burn through.
This is the reason why some people can eat a lot without gaining weight, while others seem to accumulate fat rather easily.
The speed of one’s metabolism is commonly known as their “metabolic rate”. In more simplistic terms this is the number of calories your body burns in a given amount of time.
Your metabolic rate can be divided into several diverse categories:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): Your metabolic rate when you are asleep or at deep rest. It is the minimum metabolic rate needed to keep your body warm, lungs breathing, heart pumping and brain ticking. (1)
- Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): The minimum metabolic rate required to keep you alive and functioning while at rest. On average, it accounts for up to 75 percent of total calorie expenditure. (2)
- Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): The number of calories burned when your body is digesting and processing food. The rise in metabolic rate after meals usually represents about 10 percent of total energy expenditure. (3)
- Thermic Effect of Exercise (TEE): The number of calories burned during exercise.
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): The number of calories burned during activities other than exercise. This includes fidgeting, changing posture, standing and walking around. (4)
What factors affect your Metabolic Rate?
- Age: The older you get, the slower your metabolic rate becomes. This is one of the reasons people tend to gain weight as they age. (5)
- Muscle Mass: The greater your muscle mass, the more calories you burn. (6)
- Body Size: The bigger you are, the more calories you burn. (7)
- Temperature: When your body is exposed to cold, it needs to burn more calories to prevent your body temperature from falling. (8)
- Physical Activity: All body movements require calories. The more active you are, the more calories you’ll burn. Your metabolism will speed up accordingly. (9)
- Hormonal Imbalances: Hypothyroidism, Polycystic ovarian syndrome, Cushing’s syndrome and Hypothalamic Disorders can drastically slow down metabolic rate and increase the risk of weight gain. (10)
Some people are born with a Faster Metabolism
There is no denying that some people are just born with a faster metabolism than others. And although genetics may contribute to these differences, not all scientists agree on the extent to which it affects ones metabolic rate or weight gain. (11,12)
In fact, there are studies showing that some obese people have a higher total and resting metabolic rate, compared to people of normal weight. However, researchers point out that this is because some obese people have greater amounts of muscle to help support their extra weight. (13, 14, 15, 16)
So, although one thing is clear — not everyone is created equal when it comes to metabolic rate, it is scientifically unclear just how much of this variation is attributed to genetics. However, most of the scientific litterature supports the fact that we have a lot more control over it by our lifestyle choices than our genetic predispositions.
Metabolic adaptation is directly related to adaptive thermogenesis or better known as the starvation mode. Simply put, when your body doesn’t get enough food, it tries to compensate by reducing its metabolic rate and the number of calories it burns.
Although the extent to which the metabolic rate decreases during calorie restriction is highly variable between individuals this slowdown is more pronounced in some people, especially those who diet frequently and/or are obese. The greater the slowdown, the more difficult it becomes to lose weight by dieting or restricting your food intake. (19, 20, 21)
Starvation mode is probably partly affected by genetics; however, many experts agree that previous weight loss attempts undoubtedly play the leading role. (22)
Can You Speed up Your Metabolism to Lose Weight?
Long term weight loss must include strategies to enhance and speed up your metabolism. The good news is there are multiple ways you can accomplish this.
Here are 5 simple way to amp up your metabolism naturally
- Don’t Starve Yourself
While eating less is a mainstream weight loss method, eating too little will prove counterproductive in the long term. It’s proven that calorie restriction causes a decrease in your metabolic rate “meaning” the number of calories your body is capable of burning.
This metabolic slowdown is what’s known as the “starvation response” or metabolic adaptation. This is built into our DNA as a survival mechanism as a way to ward off potential starvation and death.
- Drink More Water
Temporarily boosting your metabolic rate doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as just drinking a glass of water. In fact, many studies show that drinking water leads to an increase in the number of calories burned, an effect known as water-induced thermogenesis.
However, drinking chilled water has an even greater effect than warm water, as it requires the body to warm the chilled water up to body temperature. Studies on this phenomenon provide varying results but just 16 ounces of ice chilled water has been shown to cause anywhere between a 5 to 30 percent increase in the number of calories burned for between 60 to 90 minutes afterward. (25, 26, 27)
It seems that increasing your water consumption is also beneficial for your waistline. In fact, several studies show that drinking up to 1.5 liters or just over 50 ounces of water daily can lead to significant weight loss over time. (28, 29)
Also, you can further maximize this thermogenic benefit by drinking water before meals, as it also fills you up and reduces calorie intake. (30)
- Eat Protein
Eating adequate amounts of protein is essential if you want to maintain and build your metabolically active tissue (muscle mass). But dietary protein also has other extremely important qualities and functions.
Although all food leads to a temporary increase in ones metabolic rate, known as the thermic effect of food (TEF) protein is up to five times more metabolically stimulating than either carbohydrates or fat. (31)
This boost in calorie expenditure not only proves that you can eat more calories from protein foods than you can from carbohydrate foods or fat without the likelihood of gaining weight or body fat. In fact, protein has been shown to help promote weight loss or prevent weight regain. (32, 33)
- Drink Caffeinated Beverages
As discussed earlier in this piece, although plain water is good on its own, caffeinated, low-calorie beverages, such as coffee or tea, is useful as well. In fact, controlled studies show that drinking caffeinated beverages can temporarily speed up your metabolic rate by as much as 11 percent. (36, 37)
For weight loss purposes, sugar-free beverages like plain black coffee are best. Like water, cold coffee may be even more advantageous.
- Move Your Body
There is no denying that the more active you are, the higher your metabolic rate becomes. And yes, even the most basic of activities, such as walking or doing household tasks, have an over-all impact in the long run.
This type of boost in metabolic rate is “technically” referred to as Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). (40)
If you are fairly sedentary or spend a majority of your work related time sitting there are several simple ways in which you can boost your NEAT.
- Stand up regularly
- Walk around more
- Take the stairs whenever possible
- Do household tasks
- Fidget, such as bouncing your legs or tapping your fingers
Regular exercise is highly recommended for anyone who wants to lose weight or improve their health. But even light activities like walking around, doing household tasks or fidgeting, can give you an advantage in the long run.
In addition to the direct effect of the exercise itself, strength training also promotes the growth of lean muscle tissue. And because muscle is the physical location where calories are burned for energy the more you have the higher your metabolic rate will naturally be. (47, 48)
In fact, one study showed that doing strength training for just 10 to 15 minutes a day, three times per week, resulted in an average increase in resting metabolic rate by nearly 8 percent, after half a year. This translated into an additional 125 calories burned each and every day. (49)
Take Home Message
Although your basal metabolic rate is fundamentally genetically predetermined, the strategies outlined here can give you considerable advantage on how to enhance and increase yours naturally.