By Dr. Mercola
Do you feel like your metabolism is stuck in first gear? Is your body refusing to let go of that stubborn extra body fat, in spite of making good dietary choices and exercising? Fear not—there are a few simple tricks you can try that are backed by solid nutrition science.
Your lifestyle can be “tweaked” in a variety of ways, from what you eat to when you eat, how and when you exercise, and other daily habits such as sleep hygiene and stress management. ALL of these play a role in your metabolism
People today move much less and consume more inflammatory foods than they did hundreds and thousands of years ago, and this takes a toll on your metabolism.
A recent article in Time1 makes some excellent metabolism-boosting suggestions, and we will take a look at several of these in detail. But first, let’s examine one of the most common causes of metabolic sluggishness: chronic inflammation.
If Your Metabolic Engine Has Stalled, It Could Be Inflammation
If your metabolism is stalled—or stuck in reverse—it would be helpful to look at what might be keeping your body in a state of low-level inflammation. It’s well established that weight gain is often a sign of chronic low-level inflammation, and frequently this is related to the foods you are eating.
Food sensitivities can lead you down the road toward insulin and leptin resistance and can seriously hamper your metabolism.2 When you have a food sensitivity or allergy, your body feels “attacked” by a food rather than nourished by it.
Inflammatory molecules are then produced and circulated to protect you from your body’s perceived threat, causing you to decrease insulin and leptin sensitivity. Your body is under stress so it uses its resources differently. This is typically accompanied by a gut dysbiosis, an imbalance in the microorganisms in your digestive tract.
In addition to food allergies and sensitivities, inflammation can be caused by a number of different factors, including poor sleep, environmental toxins, stress, and other factors. Even overexercising may stall your metabolism by triggering inflammation, pain, water retention, etc.
The foods most likely to be pro-inflammatory are junk foods and highly processed foods, grains, foods high in sugar (especially fructose), and GMOs. For help with dietary strategies, please refer to my Optimized Nutrition Plan. However, many people have food sensitivities to what would normally be considered healthy foods, such as gluten, nuts, and dairy products.
It’s important to not rule out the possibility that you may be having an unhealthy reaction to a “healthy” food. These food sensitivities can be very subtle, so they can sometimes be challenging to identify, requiring some trial and error.
Whey Protein Fuels Muscle Growth and Repair
The featured article suggests that whey protein may be effective for kicking up your metabolism, and I couldn’t agree more. According to Paul Arciero, a professor in the Health and Exercise Sciences department at Skidmore College:
“Whey protein increases calorie burn and fat utilization, helps the body maintain muscle, and triggers the brain to feel full.”
Protein in general has a tendency to rev up your metabolic engine due to its thermogenic effects—meaning, it makes your body produce more heat and in turn, burn more calories—but whey is particularly effective for this.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that fat oxidation and thermogenic effects are greater with whey than with soy or casein.3
Consuming a high-quality, rapidly absorbed, and easily assimilated whey protein concentrate, not isolate within about 30 minutes of resistance training may maximally stimulate muscle building in young healthy individuals, but this is equally important, if not more so, for the elderly.
People tend to lose muscle mass as they age. The leaner you are, the better your metabolism will be, regardless of your age. There is only about a two-hour window after exercise for optimal muscle repair and growth, and supplying your muscles with the right food at this time is essential—and whey is among the best.
Intermittent Fasting Ignites Your Fat Burning Engine
It’s long been known that calorie restriction can increase the lifespan of certain animals. More recent studies suggest that intermittent fasting can provide the same health benefits as constant calorie restriction, which may be helpful for those who cannot successfully reduce their everyday calorie intake. “Undernutrition without malnutrition” is the only experimental approach that consistently improves survival in animals with cancer, and extends overall lifespan by about 30 percent.
Both intermittent fasting and continuous calorie restriction have been shown to produce weight loss and improve metabolic disease risk markers. However, intermittent fasting tends to be slightly more effective for reversing insulin resistance. Besides turning you into an efficient fat burner, intermittent fasting can boost your human growth hormone production (aka HGH, the “fitness hormone”) by as much as 1,200 percent for women and 2,000 percent for men.
Intermittent fasting can also improve your brain function by boosting your production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which protects your brain from the changes associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and helps prevent neuromuscular degradation.
Avoid Sitting to Keep Your Metabolism Going
The featured Time article extols the virtues of “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” (e.g., fidgeting), but I believe it is more important to intentionally increase your movement throughout the day. Recent research has shown that prolonged sitting is absolutely devastating to your health, promoting dozens of chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Even if you exercise regularly, it will not counteract hours’ worth of sitting. In fact, as explained by Dr. Levine, co-director of the Mayo Clinic and the Arizona State University Obesity Initiative, in the video above: if you’ve been sitting for one hour, you’ve sat too long.
For men, research shows that the combination of sitting too much and exercising too little can more than double your risk of heart failure, no matter how much you exercise. Studies show that people in agrarian villages sit for only three hours a day, but the average American office worker may sit for 13 to 15 hours a day. To counter the ill effects of sitting, increase your intermittent movement all day long—hourly if not more. Better yet? Get a fitness tracker and walk 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day.
Dr. Levine recommends standing up and/or moving about 5-10 minutes for every hour of sitting, during your waking hours. Better yet, seek to keep your sitting to a minimum—I personally strive for less than one hour of sitting per day. Simply standing up is all that is needed to activate beneficial physiological effects. Just bearing your bodyweight upon your legs initiates cellular mechanisms that push fuel into your cells. Activities such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther from an entrance, and going for a walk at lunchtime are all great ways to increase your cumulative intermittent activity.
Strength Training Is the Engine That Drives Fat Loss
Most adults need more muscle building activities, and strength training (aka resistance training or weight training) is an excellent way to achieve this. Working your muscles is the key to firing up your metabolism—muscle contraction is the booster rocket of fat loss. Unlike traditional cardio, strength training causes you to continue burning more calories for up to 72 hours after the exercise is over through a phenomenon called after-burn.
Not only does strength training give your metabolism a boost, and increase your brain power but it’s also an excellent way to reduce aches and pains, while at the same time preventing osteoporosis and age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia). Light walking is not enough to preserve optimal muscle tone, bone health, and posture, so if you’re not engaging in strength training, chances are you’ll become increasingly less functional with age.
Super-slow weight training is a form of high-intensity exercise that has superior metabolism-boosting benefits, especially for older individuals. What does this involve? Basically, you just go much slower!
By slowing down your movement, you’re actually turning it into a high intensity exercise. The super-slow movement allows your muscles, at the microscopic level, to access the maximum number of cross-bridges between the protein filaments that produce movement in the muscle. Another benefit of the super-slow technique is that it shortens your sessions to 12 to 15 minutes, just a couple of times per week. For more on this, please refer to my previous super-slow weight training articles and videos. If you are new to strength training, take a look at my “Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training.”
Friendly Bacteria Can Help You Lose Weight
As mentioned earlier, health problems such as obesity, insulin resistance, and heart disease are all rooted in inflammation, which must be properly addressed if you wish to reach optimal health. Research suggests there’s a connection between certain types of bacteria and body fat. Bacterial imbalance in your gut can produce an exaggerated inflammatory response, and toxic molecules (superantigens) produced by pathogenic bacteria such as staph may play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes due to their effects on your fat cells.
So, if your metabolism has you feeling sloth-like, it may be that your gut bacteria and fat cells are interacting to produce the “perfect storm” of inflammation. A recent study published in British Journal of Nutrition found that a certain strain of bacteria—Lactobacillus rhamnosus—seems to help women lose weight and keep it off.4 This makes sense, given what we know about lean individuals having different gut flora from obese individuals.
Research also tells us there’s a positive-feedback loop between the foods you crave and the types of organisms in your gut that depend on those nutrients for their survival. Eating processed and pasteurized foods worsens dysbiosis. Sugar, refined carbohydrates, and junk foods promote the growth of disease-causing yeasts and fungi, and cause certain bacteria to release endotoxins that drive inflammation, resulting in metabolic changes that lead to overproduction of insulin, increased appetite, excess fat storage, and obesity.
A gut-healthy diet is one that eliminates sugars and processed foods and is rich in whole, unprocessed, unsweetened foods, along with traditionally fermented or cultured foods. If you are interested in learning how to make delicious naturally fermented foods at home, please refer to my earlier article. It should also be noted that intermittent fasting has proven benefits for your gut flora—so fasting actually gives your metabolism a double whammy, in a good way!
What About Coffee?
If you’re a coffee lover, I have good news! When consumed correctly, high-quality organic coffee can be used as a health- and fitness-enhancing tool (as long as you aren’t pregnant, in which case it’s best to avoid it altogether). Coffee has a number of excellent health benefits besides boosting metabolism, including lowering your blood glucose levels, and reducing your risk for Parkinson’s disease, dementia, stroke, and several cancers. A number of studies show that coffee has pre-exercise benefits, but the science is less clear when it comes to drinking coffee after exercise. When consumed before exercise, coffee has been shown to exert the following positive effects:
- Improved energy and endurance
- Increased microcirculation
- Reduced pain
- Better muscle preservation
- Improved fat burning
However, when consumed after exercise, the caffeine from coffee inhibits mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin), the mechanism that increases protein synthesis in your muscle tissue. You do not build muscle while exercising. Muscle building occurs afterward, so if your goal is to gain muscle mass, you don’t want mTOR to be inhibited. That said, if your main goal is to lean down and maximize fat burning, having coffee after exercise might be just the ticket, as it will help keep you in fat burning mode longer. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology,5 consuming caffeine after exercise helped muscles refuel. Post-exercise caffeine increased muscle glycogen by 66 percent among endurance athletes, enabling them to replenish energy stores more quickly. Make sure your coffee is made from fresh organic beans that are pesticide-free. If you exercise in the evening, you may want to skip the coffee altogether, as it can significantly disrupt your sleep.
Another Metabolic Marvel: Green Tea
Green tea is arguably one of the healthiest beverages you can drink. Green tea has been shown to benefit your brain and heart, boost metabolism, and has anti-cancer properties. In one study,6 people who consumed six or more cups of green tea daily were found to have a 33 percent lower risk for type 2 diabetes than those who consumed less than one cup per week. The positive effects of green tea may be related to its rich source of antioxidants called catechins. There is evidence that the catechins and other natural agents in green tea work synergistically to augment thermogenesis and lipolysis. According to research in Physiology & Behavior:7
“Positive effects on body-weight management have been shown using green tea mixtures. A green tea-caffeine mixture improves weight maintenance through thermogenesis, fat oxidation, and sparing fat free mass… Taken together, these functional ingredients have the potential to produce significant effects on metabolic targets such as thermogenesis and fat oxidation.”
According to the Time article, a study in Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that green tea combined with a total of three hours of moderate exercise per week reduced abdominal fat in subjects over a three-month period. Unsweetened, brewed green tea was said to increase calorie burn by about 100 calories per day.
Your Lifestyle Can Hinder or Bolster Optimal Metabolism
If your metabolism isn’t what it used to be, you may need to do some dietary detective work. Remember that when you eat may be as important as what you eat, so intermittent fasting may give your metabolism the boost it needs. And, while sugary beverages and sports drinks are best avoided, organic coffee and green tea may actually be able to give your metabolism a boost, as long as you’re not adding sugar to them. Needless to say, exercise, and high intensity exercises in particular, cannot be overlooked if you want to rev up your metabolic engines.
If you are already fit, it’s possible that you are simply spending too much time sitting, like I was, and the remedy for this is to get out of your chair and move more often. I have managed to reduce my sitting to less than an hour per day unless I am travelling. For those who think this isn’t possible with your job, talk to your boss as studies show that companies that adopt this approach actually boost their profits because their employees are far more productive and take fewer sick days.
Other metabolic menaces you may need to address include food sensitivities, poor sleep, and stress. Chronic low-level inflammation may be pushing the kill-switch on your fat-burning engine. You might have to do some experimenting, but rest assured there are a number of effective strategies for hitting your “metabolic reset” button—it’s just a matter of finding where yours is stuck.
Sources and References
- 1 Time July 24, 2014
- 2 J Clin Invest. June 2011
- 3 Am J Clin Nutr March 2011
- 4 Eurekalert January 28, 2014
- 5 Science Daily July 2, 2008
- 6 Ann Intern Med April 18, 2006
- 7 Physiol Behav. April 26, 2010