Do your health and fitness goals involve building a lean physique? Do you want to be a calorie-burning machine? Then you’ve got to boost your metabolism. Here, I’ll break down how to approach your workouts and nutrition to rev your metabolism for the long run.
What Exactly Is ‘Metabolism’?
Metabolism technically refers to all of the processes that occur within a cell in order to create and sustain the energy it needs to function. These processes require macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and proteins), which are the components of food that contain energy (a.k.a. calories).
Add up all of the calories your cells need every day, and you’ve got what most people refer to as metabolism.
When fitness aficionados talk about boosting metabolism, we’re talking about increasing the amount of calories we burn. (This includes calories we burn both at rest and in the gym.) The result: better body composition, or how much muscle versus fat we have.
How To Boost Your Metabolism
How do you increase how many calories you burn day in and day out, and unveil a leaner, more chiseled physique? Consider the following training and nutrition strategies.
Training Methods For Boosting Your Metabolic Rate
To rev your metabolism, focus your training on building muscle—which burns calories 24/7—and working at intensities that up your body’s energy needs for hours and hours after you leave the gym.
Focus On Higher-Intensity Strength & Interval Training
Research shows that resistance and interval training boost your body’s energy needs (a.k.a. metabolism) more—and for longer!—than steady-state exercise.
How? Something called EPOC, or excess post-exercise consumption, which indicates how much oxygen and energy your cells use after a workout. The greater the intensity of your workout, the higher your EPOC and the more calories you burn in recovery.
That means that workouts like weight training, high-intensity interval training, sprints, plyometrics, or anything that’s not steady-state (like a jog) likely yields greater metabolic activity following training.
In fact, studies have even shown that high-intensity resistance training can boost metabolism for up to 38 hours after a workout.
You don’t need to do tons of training to achieve this benefit. Actually, research suggests that though doubling your resistance training volume (sets times reps times weight) means you’ll burn more calories during your workout, it doesn’t provide any extra EPOC benefit.
Adding variation to your exercise plan by performing both resistance training and interval training, however, offers additional metabolic benefits, as you constantly provide your body with a new stimulus, which promotes adaptation.
Ultimately, the EPOC increase associated with resistance training or interval training only increases your metabolic rate by 10 to 15 calories per hour. Therefore, if EPOC persists for about 24 hours post-workout, you burn an extra 240 calories or so that day. While that may not sound like a ton, it certainly adds up over time.
Use Super Sets To Maximize Muscle Use
For best EPOC effects, base your resistance training sessions on super sets, in which you alternate between two different exercises with little rest. This way, you can train multiple muscle groups at a time, maximizing the demand and metabolic benefit of your workout.
Steady-State Cardio Is Fine—In Moderation
Though many people worry that steady-state cardio actually decreases metabolic rate, studies show that this isn’t the case. (One American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, for example, found that a 12-week steady state cardio program had no impact on resting metabolic rate.)
If you really hate weight-lifting or interval training, you won’t reverse your metabolic progress by swapping some of those sessions out for steady-state cardio. You just won’t progress quite as quickly.
Diet Strategies For Boosting Your Metabolic Rate
While training plays a massive role in altering metabolism, the following diet protocols are equally as important.
When people decide they want to get lean, they often look to their diet first.
After all, shedding fat requires burning more calories than you consume. Many people see cutting calories from their diet as the easiest way to achieve the necessary caloric deficit. (After all, skipping a late-night snack takes less time than burning that number of calories in the gym.)
Though slashing calories seems like a great idea at first glance, our adaptation-mastermind bodies actually drop our metabolic rate if we consistently consume fewer calories for a week or two in a row. From there, we hit the dreaded plateau.
So what can you do about this? Studies show that calorie-cycling can be an effective method for maintaining metabolic rate when working to shed fat.
How to calorie cycle: For about about seven to 10 days, you consume fewer calories than you burn. Aim for a deficit of somewhere around 200 to 500 calories. Then, for two to three days, add 200 to 500 calories back into your diet. (This prevents your body from adapting to your low-calorie ways.) From there, just rinse and repeat.
Calorie-cycling can also help restore your normal metabolic rate after a long period of time in a caloric deficit. If you were to go from 12 weeks of cutting calories straight back to your normal caloric intake, you’d probably gain some weight because your metabolism had adapted to that new lower intake. Use calorie-cycling as you transition, though, and you’ll return to your usual metabolic rate quicker.
Eat More Protein
The other easy way to increase your metabolism through your diet: Increase your protein intake. Studies show that increasing protein intake—even to the point of being in a calorie surplus—helps you burn fat, not gain fat.
The reason for the magic: Protein is, by far, the most thermogenic nutrient, meaning it requires energy to be digested and absorbed—and much more energy than carbs or fats.
This means that eating more protein alone actually increases your metabolic rate, since you’ll be burning more calories just to digest and absorb it!
References & Further Reading
2. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: “A high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/d) combined with a heavy resistance training program improves body composition in healthy trained men and women–a follow-up investigation.”