When your metabolism is running like a well-oiled machine, your body is working for you. Not only can it make maintaining (or losing) weight a little easier, but maximizing your system's calorie-burning engine will also help you feel more energetic, active, and alive. To figure out how to get it to that happy place, incorporate these everyday eating and exercise habits into your regular routine.
Do more heavy lifting
It’s so easy to glance at the “calories burned” figure on the cardio machine and then add more time to your workout to make the number higher. But if you want your metabolic furnace to burn hotter during the day, you’re going to need to add muscle. “Muscle burns more calories than fat,” says registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey, author of Three Steps to a Healthier You. She advises fitting in a total-body strength workout two to three times per week, using a weight that’s heavy enough to make the 10th rep very difficult.
You already know that cranking your metabolism means filling your dinner plate with quality protein (in the form of lean meats, eggs, fish, legumes, and yogurt). Thing is, it’s easy to get that chicken breast or piece of salmon in at dinner. What's harder is remembering to eat a high-protein meal at breakfast and lunch, says Rumsey, when you're typically on the go and too rushed to do much more than grab a piece of fruit or carb-heavy sandwich.
Getting good protein in the a.m. and p.m. "will also help you maintain and build muscle as long as you consume it before and after regular weight training workouts,” she says. Plus, research suggests that your body works harder to break down and process calories from protein than from fat or carbs, resulting in a slight bump in metabolism. And don't forget, protein promotes satiety. You’ll feel fuller and burn more calories breaking it down. Double win.
Dial back your work stress
No one has to tell you that chronic stress is unhealthy. But stress at work is especially detrimental. One study of women with a history of mood disorders in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that those who experienced extra stress during the workday burned 104 fewer calories in response to a higher-fat meal compared to women who were not stressed. As the researchers discovered in a later study, stress can change the way your body metabolizes fats, even reducing the benefits of eating a healthy meal.
Snack before bedtime
You heard that right—it's time to consider disregarding all those warnings about not eating after 8 p.m. “Conventional wisdom says that food you eat right before bed will sit in your stomach all night long, which will result in packing on the pounds,” says registered dietitian Cassie Bjork, author of Why Am I Still Fat?. Instead, the right bedtime snack “will actually boost your metabolism by keeping your blood-sugar levels stable, which allows your pancreas to secrete the fat-burning hormone glucagon,” she says.
Sleep may be the last thing on your to-do list, yet it deserves priority status, and here's one out of a million reasons why. Not getting enough rest has a disastrous effect on your metabolism, prompting you to misread your system's hunger cues and revving your appetite. As one study suggests, this appetite boost happens when your body calls for extra calories to fuel the additional time you’re awake—and that leads you to overeat. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults snag seven to nine hours of shuteye per night. Give it a try tonight.
Get up and move—right now
Maybe you put in your 45 minutes of daily heart-pumping exercise on the regular. But if you spend the rest of the day with your butt planted firmly in a chair, you’re keeping your metabolism in stall, says Rumsey. “It’s important to move as much as possible,” she says, not just because movement burns calories but because it keeps your metabolism on high.
So make an effort to get up and stand at your desk, head outside to eat lunch and then taking a stroll, or walk or down the stairs when possible. Moving more during the day, even if you're just heading down the halls of your office or taking the long route to the parking lot where you left your car, will keep your metabolism running, she says.
Stop counting calories
“People often think that restricting calories boosts metabolism, but this does the complete opposite,” says Bjork. Here's why: calories are the energy that fuels your body and helps your metabolism run efficiently. Take in too few, and you’ll start to feel fatigued and hangry. Ensuring that you’re filling up your plate with lean protein (like fish or meat), healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, almond butter), and lots of fruits and veggies will deliver high-quality, nutritionally dense calories to your body. That helps your metabolism run optimally, in turn burning calories rather than conserving them.