Metabolism affects how our body breaks down foods and uses the nutrients for energy. It helps regulate blood sugar, regulate hormones, determines the rate at which calories are burned and effects whether we burn fat or store it. There are a number of factors that affect our metabolism and whilst some like age, gender and genetics we have no control over, we can have an impact on our metabolism in other ways.
Ultimately the food we eat, the type of exercise we do, body composition and our lifestyle can support a healthy functioning metabolism when we make the best choices. As with everything health related there are no magic pills or tricks, its consistency over time that gains results.
Here are my top tips to boost and keep your metabolism in check:
1. Eat balanced meals regularly
Eating regularly fuels your body and regulates blood sugar levels which in turn keeps your metabolism fired. Everybody is different here and it depends on the size of your meals. As a general average guide aim for 3 meals and 1-2 “snacks”. A well balanced meal should keep you feeling full for 3-5 hours.
Each meal should contain a palm sized portion of protein (animal or plant-based), ½ plate full of non-starch colourful vegetables, a small serve of healthy fats (e.g. 1/2 avocado, 1 tsp oil or grass fed butter) and ¼ plate size of “smart carbs” when needed (complex carbs such a quinoa, sweet potato, brown rice, buckwheat, oats, etc.).
2. Exercise regularly & with intensity
Regular exercise boosts your metabolism, but more importantly it’s the type of exercise that has an impact. Strength training, circuits and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) increases EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) which increases the amount of energy you burn at rest for up to 48 hours post workout. It works by helping you consume more oxygen and makes your cell powerhouses (the mitochondria) work harder to burn energy. Not to mention muscle mass is far more metabolically active than fat, so the more muscle you have the more calories you burn at rest!
Try adding a 10min HIIT session at the end of a weight training workout twice a week. Pick an exercise such as sprints, boxing, box jumps, skipping, bike, rower etc. and go as hard as you can for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds rest (or rest up to 1 min depending on your fitness level). To really kick it up a notch try Tabbata style (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for 5 mins).
3. Think thyroid
Your thyroid is your metabolic control centre which regulates everything from metabolism, appetite, body temperature, muscle strength, growth, and the health of your major organs and endocrine (reproductive) system. Your thyroid needs iodine, zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin D and B vitamins to keep it functioning optimally. Insufficient iodine levels also inhibit thyroid function.
Keep your thyroid healthy by: eating at least 3 serves of seafood weekly for iodine and zinc; snack on homemade nori wraps filled with avocado, sprouts and thinly sliced carrot and cucumber (sea vegetables like nori, kelp and wakame are high in iodine); eat 1-2 brazil nuts a day for selenium; avoid or limit soy intake which can inhibit thyroid hormone production.
(If you have a diagnosed thyroid problem, please follow the advice of your healthcare practitioner, particularly in relation to iodine intake).
4. Mind your gut health
Our gut is our second brain and is the first step in metabolism and ensuring the nutrients from our healthy food are properly digested and absorbed. Keep your gut healthy by eating wholefoods and adding in some fermented foods which have pre and probiotics to feed your healthy gut bacteria – kombucha, kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut etc. Limit processed foods, sugar, trans fats, alcohol, stimulants such as caffeine, and antibiotics which all kill off good bacteria in your gut. Avoid foods which make you feel bloated or sluggish.
5. Quit “dieting”
One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to burn fat and lose weight is not eating enough. When you don’t eat enough or eat less calories than your resting/basal metabolic rate (BMR) your body stops burning fat and starts storing it to conserve energy as a starvation mechanism. Keep this up for a period of time and your body and organ functions start to slow to use less energy, and metabolism slows. Remember that your BMR is the absolute MINIMUM energy your body requires just to function at complete rest (so not even taking into account incidental exercise), so don’t eat less than that.
Whilst not exact, calculate your approximate BMR here as a general guide.
6. Don’t skip the egg yolks
Egg yolks contain metabolism-stoking nutrients, including fat-soluble vitamins, essential fatty acids and — most significantly — choline, a powerful compound that attacks the gene mechanism that triggers your body to store fat around your liver. Studies have found that moderate consumption of two whole eggs per day has no negative effect of a person’s lipid (fat) profile and may actually improve it.
7. Stay hydrated
50-65% of our body is water, so drink up to ensure all body systems are functioning optimally. Drinking water between meals is best as drinking too much water during meals dilutes hydrochloric acid in your stomach which aids digestion.
Start your day with a glass of warm water and squeeze of half a lemon or lime – it helps to kick start your metabolism and cleanse your liver.
8. Get a good nights’ sleep
Sleep is rest and repair time for the brain and body. Our sympathetic nervous system activity decreases and parasympathetic nervous system switches on to aid digestion, repair cells and release important hormones from the pituitary gland (including growth hormone to aid muscle repair and growth). Lack of sleep not only inhibits insulin secretion during the day (affecting carbohydrate metabolism and blood glucose levels as well as causing food cravings), but lowers the amount of appetite suppressing leptin released. A good nights’ sleep will ensure your metabolism is functioning optimally.
Aim for 7-9 hours’ sleep per night in a dark room without any light distraction (even the sleep mode light on your tv) to rest and restore your body, and ensure you sleep between the hours of 11pm and 4am to keep your circadian rhythm in check.
9. Ensure adequate protein intake
Eating a source of protein at every meal will ensure you eat adequate protein to keep you satiated (feeling full) and preserve lean muscle mass. Improving your body composition by increasing your muscle mass and decreasing fat mass increases the calories you burn at rest. Protein also has the highest ‘thermogenesis’ (calories burned from digestion).
Start your day right with a protein and fiber rich breakfast such as a veggie packed omelette topped with avocado and cottage cheese.
10. Drink green tea
Next time you boil the kettle switch up your regular tea for green tea which contains catechins – a type of antioxidant that triggers the release of fat from fat cells and helps speed the liver’s capacity for turning fat into energy.
11. Try these metabolism boosting foods and spices:
Chilli, cayenne pepper, cumin, mustard & ginger – all contain capsaicin which revs up your metabolism and increases body temperature having a thermogenic effect. Whilst the effects may only be small and short lived, they sure add a flavoursome kick to your meals.
Coconut oil – studies have shown that consuming 1-2 tablespoons a day of coconut oil can increase energy expenditure by 5%. Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) such as in coconut oil are metabolised in the liver and used as a source of energy and less likely to be stored as fat.
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