Rev Up Your Metabolism!

by Martina M. Cartwright, PhD, RD on Mar 14, 2013


Winter is nearly over, but is your metabolism still in hibernation? Even if your metabolic rate is slower than a snail climbing a hill of molasses, there are ways to ignite your calorie-burning machine. The key to a supercharged metabolism is stoking the metabolic engine with exercise, food and lifestyle habits that boost energy expenditure.

Metabolism, the process of converting food into fuel, is a complex interplay of hormones and enzymes that work in harmony 24/7 to produce the energy we need to function. The rate of calorie burn depends on static factors like age, gender and genetics and modifiable ones like lifestyle and body composition.

As we age, our metabolism plummets 5% each decade after 40. Men burn more calories than women due to higher lean body mass. People from metabolically challenged families find weight is easy to put on but harder to take off thanks to genes that trigger glacier-paced combustion.

To make the most of your calorie-burning capacity, include these metabolism-boosting strategies in your daily routine:

  • Exercise--build it up: Aerobic exercise encourages immediate calorie burning, but weight training builds long-term, calorie-demanding lean body mass. So pump up muscles and consider beta hydroxy beta methylbutyrate (HMB) to further enhance muscle mass (Wilson, Wilson & Manninen 2008).

  • Eat often: Small, frequent meals keep metabolism on track. Skipping meals or starvation diets only quash metabolism. So rev up your fuel burning with healthy meals throughout the day. Metabolism jumps a tick after eating because of the thermic effect of food, which keeps your metabolism buzzing (Van Baak 2008).
  • Sleep well: Sleep deprivation disrupts appetite hormones and slows metabolism. Strive for seven hours of shut-eye each night to preserve metabolic harmony (Shlisky et al. 2012).
  • Sit smart: Sitting on a therapy ball or standing may be a great way to burn calories at the office. Clerical workers can expend more energy by ditching the office chair for a therapy ball or standing (Beers et al. 2008)
  • Try thermogenic-boosting edibles: Caffeine, capsaicin and green, white and oolong teas may increase energy expenditure 4%-5% (Hursel & Westerterp-Plantenga 2010).
    • Drink tea: Green tea comes from the non-oxidized and non-fermented leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Potent polyphenolic compounds like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and a host of other catechins inhibit the enzyme that breaks down norepinephrine, thus stimulating the sympathetic nervous system and triggering a rise in energy expenditure. Green tea has been shown to promote dose-dependent weight loss and weight maintenance, especially if combined with caffeine (Hursel et al. 2011.
    • Catechin-caffeine combo: Caffeine stimulates thermogenesis via the sympathetic nervous system. Green tea contains both catechins and caffeine. This dynamic duo causes a dose-dependent increase in energy expenditure, particularly in some ethic groups. (Hursel & Westerterp-Plantenga 2010)
    • Hot stuff: Capsaicin puts the hot in chili peppers and boosts thermogenesis via catecholamines. Significant increases in metabolism have been reported in Asian populations consuming this hot commodity, but results are mixed in other ethnic groups (Hursel & Westerterp-Plantenga 2010).

A few small changes in your daily routine can help you conquer a sluggish metabolism and keep it humming.


Beers, E.A., et al. 2008. Increasing passive energy expenditure during clerical work. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 103 (3), 353-360.

Hursel, R., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M.S. 2010. Thermogenic ingredients and body weight regulation. International Journal of Obesity, 34 (4), 659-669.

Hursel R., et al. 2011. The effects of catechin rich teas and caffeine on energy expenditure and fat oxidation: a meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews, 12 (7), e573-e581.

Shlisky, J.D., et al. 2012. Partial sleep deprivation and energy balance in adults: an emerging issue for consideration by dietetics practitioners. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112 (11), 1,785-1,797.

Van Baak, M.A., 2008. Meal-induced activation of the sympathetic nervous system and its cardiovascular and thermogeneic effects in man. Physiology & Behavior, 94 (2), 178-186.

Wilson, G.J., Wilson, J.M., & Manninen, A.H. 2008. Effects of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) on exercise performance and body composition across varying levels of age, sex, and training experience: A review. Nutrition & Metabolism, 5,1.

IDEA Food and Nutrition Tips, Volume 2, Issue 2

© 2013 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Martina M. Cartwright, PhD, RD

Martina M. Cartwright, PhD, RD IDEA Author/Presenter

Martina Cartwright is a registered dietitian (R.D.) with a Ph.D. in Nutritional Science and Biomolecular Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has more than 20 years experience in me...


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