Metabolism is a term that we hear all the time. In fact, you’ve probably heard (or even yourself said), statements like, “I want to speed up my metabolism,” and “You’re going to ruin your metabolism.” But can you actually alter your metabolism? We talked to Naras Lapsys, accredited practicing dietitian from The Body Doctor, to see if there is any truth to whether you can speed up your metabolism, and, if so, how to do it.
What is metabolism?
“Metabolism itself is the combination of all the different biochemical processes that the body uses to convert food into energy,” explains Lapsys. It covers “an enormous number of chemical reactions in the body…[it] encompasses your breathing, eating, [and] digestion; how the nutrients are delivered to your cells; how your body, muscles, and nerves use the energy; and how the body processes waste.”
However, he points out that when people talk about metabolism on a day-to-day basis, they’re “usually talking about the rate that the body burns fuel,” or the words we’re all obsessed with—the rate that we burn calories.
What determines my metabolism?
We all have our own metabolic rate. Your metabolism may run faster or slower than your friends or your family. It really does depend on each individual and certain factors, like your age, sex, body type, activity level, and eating habits.
“The older you are, the slower your metabolism…Men generally have a higher metabolism than females. If you’ve got a bigger body, as well, you burn more calories than someone with a smaller body,” says Lapsys.
Even things like body temperature can play a role. For example, if you don’t have that much body fat, your metabolism may be faster because your body needs to more fuel to stay warm. So, don’t expect your metabolism to be the same as the person next to you.
Can I speed up my metabolism?
Good news—yes, it is possible to speed up your metabolism. Bad news—it is also possible to ‘ruin’ or slow it down. Of course, there are some factors that we can’t change, like our age. But, there are other things that we can do that can have better results for our metabolic rate.
Keep in mind, though, that it’s also somewhat possible to ‘ruin’ your metabolism. But we use the term ‘ruin’ quite loosely. Often, what happens is that when we make dramatic changes to our diet or body composition, it will change the hormones in our body. In turn, this can have an impact on our metabolism until our hormones are fixed or working better with these new changes.
“Stress really has an impact on your metabolism, as well,” says Lapsys. “And so people often say, ‘Well, I’ve made all these changes to my eating pattern and nothing’s happening and I’m still very stressed so my metabolism is ruined.’”
“I think it’s possible to get into a position where it’s difficult to change your metabolism and you could say that it’s ruined, but really you’ve got to look behind it and say ‘Well, what’s actually going on and what’s the root cause of the problem here?’”
For example, if you’re not sleeping well, you’re probably not going to see the changes that you’re hoping to see. That is until you start sleeping better. The same thing goes for stress, and if you don’t learn how to manage your stress properly it can negatively impact your metabolic rate.
How to Speed Up Your Metabolism
Taking stimulants like pre-workout drinks, caffeine, and green tea can speed up your metabolism. However, studies have shown that any changes are both very mild and temporary. The key is to make a permanent change to your metabolic rate, so here are some ways to do that.
Make changes to your body composition.
As your metabolic rate is individualized, so are the methods by which you can speed up your metabolism. For a long-term effect, Lapsys recommends looking at your own body composition and seeing what you should change.
For example, “It might be that it’s important to lose body fat, that it’s important to gain muscle, or look at what your total body weight is and work on aspiring to get yourself to a more appropriate body weight because that’s going to change your metabolism,” Lapsys says. So, just focus on yourself and what you need as a starting point. Listen to your body and work from there.
Focus on different training styles.
What kind of training you do will also play a crucial role in speeding up your metabolism long-term. So, if you need to put on muscle, then start lifting weights. Lapsys also highlights the importance of improving your cardiovascular fitness, as well.
Let’s say that four months ago, you would feel puffed out after climbing two flights of stairs. However, by focusing on your cardio, now you can fly up six flights of stairs without trouble. By concentrating on heart-based exercises, “you’re now permanently more fit. You’re a fitter person than you were four months ago.” This will have a positive, long-lasting change to your metabolic rate.
Studies have shown that including moderate aerobic exercise for intentional weight loss can actually help you decrease the amount of muscle mass you lose, keeping your metabolic rate higher. So, make sure that you lift weights and work on that cardio. Your metabolism will thank you!
Focus on what you can control.
Another important point that Lapsys highlights is sleep. The amount of sleep that you get can make a huge difference to your metabolic rate.
One study shows that “sleep deprivation and sleep disorders may have profound metabolic and cardiovascular implications.” The results illustrated that lack of sleep can actually alter your hormones by increasing your ghrelin levels (hunger hormone) while decreasing leptin (the hormone that tells your brain that you’ve eaten enough). This is one of the reasons why you may eat more when you have fewer hours of sleep!
The same goes for managing your stress levels. Lapsys says, “These are all factors that you have control over in your life, and they’re really, really important.”
Focus on these variables that will have long-term effects on your metabolism (if you keep it up!). Don’t think that drinking an extra cup of coffee during the day will have a significant impact. As much as that would be a great excuse to have another cup, unfortunately, it won’t have the lasting results you want.