Resting energy expenditure (a.k. a. resting metabolic rate) is how many calories your body uses while doing nothing. Total energy expenditure — the calories you burn doing all your daily activities — includes calories burned during digestion, exercise, and staying warm.
Besides decreasing body fat, other targets for boosting metabolism are enhancing mitochondrial function, improving carbohydrate-burning, and supporting the healthy hormones that affect body fat, insulin sensitivity, hunger, and stress.
This guide will cover the best strategies you can implement today to burn more body fat and improve health, as well as a couple of strategies that probably won’t do much.
1. Eat enough protein
Protein is vital for boosting metabolism. Getting enough protein helps you build or maintain muscle mass, which burns more calories at rest than fat tissue.
During digestion, protein burns more calories than carbs or fat. Plus, it is the most filling macronutrient, which can help with weight loss, essential for a healthy metabolism.
For reference, the minimum daily amount recommended by the USDA is 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. To minimize muscle loss during weight loss, some research suggests 0.73 grams of protein per pound of body weight may be ideal. This translates to 65 to 130 grams for an average 180-pound American.
Vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients are the oil that makes your metabolic engine run smoothly.
B-vitamins — in particular, thiamine, riboflavin, and vitamin B6 — play a central role in creating energy from fat, carbs, protein, or ketones.
Iodine, another essential nutrient, allows your thyroid to regulate your body temperature and body weight. Low levels can be related to weight and other metabolic diseases.
Maximize your micronutrients by eating a variety of green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans and seeds, organ meats, and nutritional yeast. Don’t pass on iodized salt: it’s fortified for a reason!
3. Eat enough calories, but don’t eat all day
Eating meals more frequently to boost your metabolism may be a myth, but meal timing and daily calories definitely affect it.
Avoid crash diets that severely restrict your calories. These can make you cold, tired, and hungry all the time due to the metabolic adaptations they cause.
Taking a more moderate approach may help you sustain your goals more than an extreme diet. Check out Top10’s list of weight loss programs to see which ones will support your health goals.
Intermittent fasting — the practice of only eating in a specific timeframe — can help align your hormones with the natural changes that accompany daily rhythms. Remember to eat within a specific window consistently to get the benefits, otherwise, intermittent fasting can backfire.
4. Aerobic exercise and physical activity
Research shows that it’s the low and slow “zone 2” exercise that burns fat and improves metabolism.
By definition, zone 2 exercise is your “all-day pace”. While training for endurance, as Dr. Iñigo San Millán and Dr. Peter Attia discuss, if you’re breathing too hard to hold a conversation, then slow it down for maximum metabolic health.
For many people, incorporating easy ways to be more active, like walking more or taking the stairs can do a lot to promote metabolic flexibility. Just standing at a desk for half the day may lead to an extra 200 calories burned according to one study.
5. Strength training (or HIIT if you don’t have time)
Strength, or resistance training, builds bigger muscles. Not only does the workout burn calories, but you continue to burn calories long afterward. Plus, having more muscle mass translates into more calories burned at rest — a crucial component of higher metabolism.
Resistance training can also improve insulin sensitivity, which helps you to liberate body fat and burn through blood sugar.
If you don’t have the time, high-intensity interval training leads to most of the metabolic benefits of endurance and strength training in a shorter period of time. Check out the best fitness apps to get your metabolism in high gear!
6. Drink black coffee or green tea
Black coffee, tea, or yerba maté can do more than pick up your morning. Caffeine has been shown in clinical trials to pick up your fat-burning power. This effect is maximized when your morning cup of joe is paired with morning aerobic exercise.
For the average American, three cups of coffee a day can lead to 14 extra calories burned per hour. That amount has also been shown to be safe in large-scale studies, but be sure to do what’s best for you.
Be careful about getting your caffeine from energy drinks. Additives, excess sugar, and artificial sugars can do more harm than good for your metabolism, so it’s best to stick with black coffee or tea.
7. See if a ketogenic diet is right for you
Only about half of people are able to lose weight easily on a ketogenic diet, but there are other reasons to try this 100+-year-old tactic.
One NIH study showed that, compared to a low-fat diet, a ketogenic diet effectively raised energy expenditure by about 57 calories per day. That can make a big difference in the long run!
Ketogenic diets can also suppress hunger hormones, and upregulate fat-burning enzymes that may help you burn body fat.
The caveat is that these results might only apply in the long run. Before two weeks, ketogenic diets may actually lower energy expenditure, so find a way to stick with it for long-term benefits!
8. Drink fewer sugary drinks and more water
Drinking water helps to displace calories from sugary drinks, provides the hydration necessary for your cells to function optimally, and might even burn calories during digestion.
Two studies have shown that a pint of water was able to increase calories burned at rest by about 24–25% over one hour, although this is contested by another study.
In any case, drinking cold water may burn a few additional calories per day.
Many sweetened drinks are packed with sugar, with similar amounts of glucose and fructose. When it comes to metabolism and body fat, fructose may do particular damage.
Fructose promotes fat gain more than other carbohydrates, and it may be particularly damaging for your liver. Some scientists say that, in combination with too many calories, fructose is a contributor to the silent epidemic of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease around the world.
9. Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep is emerging as a contributor to the rise in obesity and metabolic diseases in the U.S.
Sleep deprivation is associated with insulin resistance and high blood sugar, higher stress hormones, higher inflammatory markers, and weight gain. Higher cortisol and stress hormone activation is linked with fat gain, especially belly fat.
Among its many benefits, getting enough sleep (8 hours or more) can help you feel better, reduce your stress, lose weight, and regulate your metabolism.
Paradoxically, sleep deprivation actually increases your total energy expenditure. The issue is that inadequate sleep increases stress hormones. These, in turn, tell your brain to seek out sugar and more calories than you need, which causes weight gain.
Knowing how good sleep is for hormonal health is one more reason why it feels so great to get enough sleep.
10. Activate brown fat with cold
You have two main types of fat cells: body fat, aka ”white fat”, and brown fat. These two work in tandem: body fat stores calories, whereas brown fat is metabolically active by turning calories into heat.
Unfortunately, increasing brown fat is not a comfortable experience. The most consistent way to generate more brown fat is to expose yourself (safely!) to cold temperatures.
Getting cold enough to feel it but not too cold to shiver for 2 ½ hours every day leads to 15% more calories consumed over the day compared to people at normal room temperatures.
Ice packs or cold showers may be quite effective, but something as simple as turning the thermostat down for a few hours a day can also contribute to more calories burned at rest.
Boosting metabolism means increasing the calories you burn and supporting the systems that allow you to do so. These tactics can raise your metabolic rate and help you shed fat:
- Aim for 0.36 – 0.7 grams of protein per pound of weight per day, or about 65 – 130 grams for the average American adult. This regulates your hunger, supports increased muscle mass, and burns more calories during digestion.
- Avoid crash diets, and consider eating within a regular time frame (i.e. 8 am to 6 pm). If you want some help, try these weight loss programs.
- Cardio exercise burns more calories during your workout, strength training burns more calories afterward, and high-intensity interval training gives you most of the benefits in a shorter time. No matter how you like to exercise, it will certainly help your metabolism!
- Drink black coffee or caffeinated tea and lots of water. Avoid sugary drinks.
- Get enough sleep, 8 hours or more is best.
- Be ok with being a little cold. This activates brown fat tissue, which consumes calories to keep you warm.
As your metabolism becomes healthier, it becomes harder and harder to eke out more benefits, so you’re not going to see an additive effect of implementing every one of these strategies.
That said, each of these easy strategies works together to make your metabolism more effective, and that means healthier weight and better health.