Can you speed up your metabolism?

Your metabolism is the process of converting the food you eat, into the energy that you need to survive. This process is running 24/7, and it provides energy to fuel crucial functions that take place without you even thinking about it.

Lady with her eyes closed lying down

Even when you’re asleep, your metabolism helps the body carry out all the necessary functions that keep you alive – and it’s largely controlled by the food you eat, your hormones, and your mitochondria. While it may sound like your metabolism is something you have little control over, there are actually many ways you can support your metabolism to become more efficient in burning energy. Before we get into the actionable steps, let’s cover the basics.

Metabolic rate

Your metabolic rate can be divided into several important categories, and while it may seem that exercise is the only way to ‘burn' energy or calories - there's a lot more to it than that.

Basal metabolic rate (BMR)

The number of calories or energy you need at a minimum is referred to as your BMR. This number determines how much energy your body needs to function at baseline, and it makes up around 60-70% of the calories you expend. Your BMR is the energy your body requires to sustain all basic functions from cell production and circulation, to keeping your heart beating.

Resting metabolic rate (RMR)

Your RMR is the energy required to keep you alive while you’re at rest.

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)

All of those ‘lighter’ activities you do on autopilot like household chores, typing and even fidgeting all come under the umbrella of NEAT – which accounts for up to 30% of your daily energy expenditure.

Thermic effect of food (TEF)

Some foods like protein are harder to digest and require more energy to do so. TEF is the amount of energy required to digest foods, and it accounts for up to 10% of your daily energy intake.

Thermic effect of exercise (TEE)

The amount of energy or calories burned from exercise alone – which you may be surprised to learn only accounts for around 10% of your daily energy expenditure.

From this quick summary, you can already see that you burn energy in so many different ways. And you may be relieved to know that exercise isn’t actually the most influential factor that determines how much energy you expend each day.

How mitochondria influence metabolism

You can think of mitochondria as the tiny (but powerful) energy batteries that live inside your cells, and as a crucial part of energy production – we need them functioning optimally to keep our metabolism running efficiently. Mitochondria are located at the site where your metabolism functions in the body. These tiny organelles that are found inside almost every one of our cells supply the body with an energy currency called ATP – which provides energy to the rest of the body.

As an integral part of our metabolism, mitochondria combine the food we eat and the oxygen we breathe, turning it into the fuel our cells need to work and live. This means that if mitochondrial function is low, the body may be less efficient at generating ATP as a result – which of course impacts your metabolism and the way the body utilizes and produces energy.

Can you ‘boost’ your metabolism?

While you can’t necessarily ‘boost’ or ‘speed up’ your metabolism, you can rev up your cellular engines and help the body more effectively convert food into fuel (and unlock more energy as a result!) with these research-backed tips.

Increase your NEAT

Any kind of movement you perform requires energy (aka calories), so the more active you are – the higher your NEAT will be (which we know accounts for the majority of your metabolic rate). But ‘active’ doesn’t just mean exercise. It also includes the basics like household chores, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, playing musical instruments, singing and standing up from your desk regularly. These smaller acts of movement are actually the most significant when it comes to expending energy – which is why having a varied life and enjoying hobbies and activities that keep both your brain and body occupied can help increase your metabolism.

Support your mitochondria

At the core of our metabolism the mitochondria are what convert the food we eat and the oxygen we breathe into fuel for the body. If mitochondria aren’t functioning optimally – it may impact the way your body utilizes and produces energy. To support your metabolism from its source, taking care of your mitochondria and making sure they are in tip top shape is key.

Learn how you can support your mitochondria here.

Avoid restrictive diets

If you've ever hit a plateau with any weight loss goals, you may be familiar with the effects of metabolic adaptation. The body has an adaptation response for almost everything, and a big reason why diets don’t work for so many people is because of this important survival mechanism. This adaptive response kicks into action to help the body survive when food is scarce. When you try to lose weight by exercising more and eating less, instead of recognizing that you’re on a weight loss journey – from a survival perspective, the body thinks you’re in starvation mode. Historically, this may have been caused by events like a famine, but today – food scarcity is commonly caused by chronic dieting.

If we don’t have enough energy from the food we eat, the body will adapt to using as little energy as possible and conserve as much energy as it can for our basic life-sustaining functions (aka our metabolism will ‘slow’ right down). The body is clever, and there are much more sustainable ways to support a healthy metabolic rate – like prioritizing protein.

Eat more protein

We don’t often think about the calories it takes to digest food (aka TEF, or thermic effect of food), and some nutrients like protein require more calories to digest. The thermic effect of protein is a lot higher than carbohydrates, which means that high protein foods take more calories to digest. Because eating more protein increases the amount of energy you burn, eating a high protein diet has been linked to a healthy, firing metabolism.

Sleep well

Getting enough sleep supports a healthy metabolism by helping you better regulate your appetite. Sleep deprivation influences leptin and ghrelin – two hunger hormones responsible for controlling feelings of hunger and fullness. When you’re lacking sleep, you’re also more likely to make poor food choices, which can lead to overloading on foods that won’t support a healthy metabolic rate.

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