metabolismThe other day someone posted a really great question in my Facebook support group. They wondered if there were any good foods/cleanses that would “rev up their metabolism.”

I wish! Wouldn’t that be great?

Unfortunately, there isn’t any single thing you can do to turn up your body’s fat-burning engine.

However, there is good news: there are a whole bunch of actions that, taken together, will boost your fat (and calorie) burn and make a real difference in how you feel, and will help change your body from the inside out.

I’ve seen these actions work. I coach my clients through many of these items as they transform their bodies. And I use the same techniques on myself.

Lift weights

Pick up heavy things and put them down, repeatedly.

Lifting weights will do more to help change your body — and change it more quickly — than any other form of exercise. You will get stronger. You will feel (and look) tighter and fitter all over. And you will boost your metabolism so that you are burning more calories even at rest.

The caveat: for most of us, when I say “lift weights” I’m not talking about the stack of 3- or 5-pound dumbbells many of us have squirreled away at home. Once you’re in shape to start lifting heavier weights, you should challenge yourself to pick up heavier dumbbells — weights heavy enough so that, once you’re warmed up, you can only eek out 10-15 reps per set with proper form.

The exercises with the biggest bang for the buck use your body’s largest muscles: squats, lunges, pulldowns (if you can’t — yet — do pullups), chest press, etc.

While the inner/outer thigh and triceps machines are great, they won’t necessarily give you the bigger metabolic boost you’re after because they work small muscle groups.

Caveat number 2: Lifting weights doesn’t give you a free pass in the diet department as the difference in calorie burn that you get with more muscle isn’t huge. But it is something and even if the scale doesn’t budge, you’ll love the results because weights build shapely muscles.

Eat lower-sugar foods

If you plan your meals to include low-glycemic foods — foods that don’t cause a big jump and then an immediate drop in your blood sugar — you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes in your body composition.

You will notice your belly start to shrink. You will feel generally “tighter” all over. Your energy will skyrocket once you make it through the first couple days (there’s an adjustment period if you’ve been indulging your sweet tooth a lot), and you will feel more satiated between meals.

What foods are considered low glycemic?

  • Veggies!
  • Lean protein
  • Healthy fats
  • Unprocessed grains

How do you know how much sugar you are taking in? Read food labels. Also, try keeping a food journal for a few days (there are dozens of free sites and apps, I happen to like myfitnesspal or the FitBit app) and see how you’re doing.

Eat enough food

One of the things that drives me absolutely bananas is when people — generally women — tell me they are eating only about 800 or 900 calories a day because they want to lose weight. And, still generally speaking, these same women are doing boatloads of cardio at the same time.

When I question them about why they are doing what they are doing, they tell me they have a specific goal or deadline — something like a wedding, a vacation at the beach or some other event. They say they are willing to “suffer” through for the goal.

Yes, they will lose weight on that low number of calories.

And yes, they likely will gain it all back (and more) quickly afterward.

Why? Because chronic undereating trains your body to function on less fuel. Your body is smart. It wants to live. That means it will adapt — at least temporarily — to nearly anything you do to it. Also, when you chronically undereat your body will respond by making more stress hormones, which affect how your body uses glucose and insulin.

The thing is, when you go off the low-calorie diet, your body is still going to think it only needs that 800 to 900 calories you’ve been chronically under feeding it. That means even a “normal” amount of fuel is considered excess, and your body, thanks to its super-efficient (slow) metabolism, will store that “extra” as fuel for the future.

That means the weight (plus more) will come back fast, especially if you decide to engage in a full-on feeding/drinking frenzy, which is often what happens when we get into the post-diet mentality.

You can’t shortcut the process and expect to have lasting results.

Keep your metabolism stoked by feeding your body enough fuel!

Tip: Try keep your calorie deficit at about 500 to 750 calories a day (in other words, if you are burning 2,000 calories a day through regular activities and exercise, make sure you’re eating at least 1,250 to 1,500 calories a day). If you’re a smaller person (like me), even a 750-calorie daily deficit is too much.

Eat enough protein

If you’re a healthy, active adult, include a protein source at every meal. For my clients who engage in strength training regularly and are trying to change their body composition, I suggest between 25 to 30 percent (and sometimes even slightly more for limited periods, depending on the circumstance) of their diet come from protein.

NOTE: Always check with a doc or dietitian before making big changes in your program or if you have any concerns.

Studies show that evenly portioning your protein over the course of the day yields better results, as your body is better able to break down and use the protein in smaller, consistent doses.

How do you know if you are getting enough protein?

As I mentioned above, keep a food log. This a good wake-up call — nearly every one of my clients who starts logging their nutrition information tells me they are shocked when they see how low their protein intake actually is.

Do HIIT cardio

High-intensity interval training rocks at boosting your metabolism.

HIIT workouts should include a thorough warmup. Then, you crank up the intensity for between 30 seconds and 2-3 minutes, and then you scale back the effort for an “active recovery” period of 30 seconds to 2-3 minutes. Alternate between the high-intensity and active-recovery sessions for the desired amount of time,a and then do a thorough cooldown so your heart rate returns to near-normal.

The HIIT portion can include sprints, conditioning circuits (like burpees and kettlebell work or plyometrics). You can run up hills. You can go faster or steeper on the treadmill. It’s up to you.

The thing that’s cool about HIIT workouts is that not only do you burn more calories during the workout because of the extra intensity bursts, but you also burn more calories AFTER the workout, as your body recovers from the exertion. The extra burn isn’t huge, but over time, it adds up.

Studies also show that HIIT workouts are especially effective at targeting belly fat.

Caffeine

OK, maybe I misspoke in the intro of this blog post. There is an ingredient in some beverages that can help boost your metabolism — caffeine. Yay! That means coffee (my fave!) or green tea can be helpful when it comes to elevating your calorie burn.

Just be careful not to drink too much.

Studies show that taking 100 mg of caffeine boosted the resting metabolic rate in both lean and obese people by 3 to 4 percent. Depending on your brand/brew of coffee, 8 oz provides between 95 to 200 mg of caffeine.

Green tea has less caffeine than coffee but, as a bonus, it does contain antioxidants that have been shown to help boost fat burning.

The downside to caffeine is that too much can interfere with the following two metabolism rev-er uppers.

Sleep

Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, a number that can vary based on health, training load and general stress. Some of us naturally need less sleep; others, more.

Chances are you already know how much sleep you ideally need, and chances are you occasionally feel stressed because you’re not getting that much as often as you’d like.

One of the biggest sources of our calorie burn each day is through NEAT calories — non-exercise activity thermogenesis. These are the calories you burn when you’re not exercising but you are moving around and performing activities of daily life: walking, doing chores, working, etc.

Studies show that when we are tired, we move less. That means we burn fewer calories. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

But there’s more at work. A 2007 review of sleep research showed that chronic (i.e. long-term) partial sleep loss is tied to both obesity and diabetes.

Not getting enough sleep on a continual basis is correlated with insulin resistance (your body’s ability to metabolize glucose) and it also plays havoc with hormones that help regulate your appetite. So not only are moving less, you want to eat more AND your body is less able to properly utilize as fuel the food you eat.

So try to get some sleep. But don’t stress too much about it because stress will also tamp down your metabolism.

Relax

An interesting study published in 2014 in Biological Psychology suggests that stressful days — the very days that can have us craving calorie-laden comfort foods — actually slow down our metabolism.

Researchers fed a group of women a 930-calorie meal consisting of sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy. Before eating, the women were quizzed on the relative stress levels of the previous 24 hours. All the women received the same meal.

Women who were more stressed burned 104 fewer calories than the women who were not stressed. Also, the stressed-out group had higher levels of insulin, which affects how the body stores fat, and can slow down the process of metabolizing calories into energy.

Other research shows the same effect in men.

Drink up!

There’s a reason nearly every “lose weight” article suggests drinking water — not only does it help keep you satiated and healthy, it also helps boost your metabolism.

A German study found that drinking 500 milliliters of water increased metabolic rate by up to 30 percent. The study concluded that drinking 2 liters of water per day could boost energy expenditure and that the effect of water should be considered in weight loss programs.

Cheat sheet:

  • Lift weights and do HIIT cardio.
  • Eat enough food — avoid low-calorie “crash” diets.
  • Drink at least 2 liters of water every day.
  • Eat a low-glycemic diet with adequate protein.
  • Add some caffeine to your diet if you can tolerate it, but don’t add too much.
  • Relax.
  • Get enough sleep.

Check out my latest fitness program, 6 Weeks to Sculpted, which contains 8 workouts designed to rev up your metabolism and burn fat.

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