if you’re one of those people blessed with a naturally fast metabolism, then you don’t need to read any further than the end of this sentence. Still here? Well then let’s assume your metabolism is not as high as you would like it to be. Your metabolism, or basal metabolic rate, is the amount of energy your body uses while at rest. Even when “resting” you still need energy to breathe, circulate blood and perform other bodily functions. The speed of your metabolism is determined partially by genetics, which explains why some people can eat like Hungry Hungry Hippos and not gain weight while others seem to pack on pounds just by thinking about doughnuts too hard. Despite your genetic makeup, it’s possible to increase your metabolic rate by making changes to your diet and exercise routine.
Here are some ways to help make your metabolism go from a sluggish Joe to a speedy Sally, provided you want to name it like a household pet.
Break those fasting habits
In an episode of the television show “Arrested Development,” Michael Bluth asks his son George Michael, “What have we always said is the most important thing?”
“Breakfast,” responds George Michael.
“Family,” Michael Bluth replies.
“Oh, right,” says George Michael.
While Michael Bluth may have a point, when it comes to your metabolism, breakfast really is the most important thing. According to Louanne Perfetti, certified personal trainer and owner of Fitness Tactics in Edwards, eating when you get up in the morning “breaks the fast” that your body’s been in while asleep.
“Breakfast jump starts your metabolism for the day,” Perfetti said. “(Say) you had two fireplaces and in one the logs were burning like crazy and the other was sitting their simmering. If you don’t eat breakfast and skip meals, the (simmering) one never catches up and your body is always in fat-storing mode. The (fire) that’s burning like crazy is your metabolism working at its max.”
Perfetti said even a light snack can get your metabolism moving, and those who don’t like to eat breakfast can drink a protein shake, instead. Many people try to skip meals in order to lose weight, but this actually has the opposite effect.
“If you go over four hours without feeding yourself, (your metabolism) slows down because it’s not sure when it’s getting it’s next meal,” said Abby Ruby, Ph.D., certified sports nutritionist and counselor at the Vail Vitality Center. “It goes into starvation mode.”
Ruby recommends eating small meals throughout the day, which helps keep your metabolism steady and running at a higher rate.
Move those muscles
Those who eat breakfast and don’t skip meals can still boost their metabolism by adding or increasing their strength training. While physical activities such as yoga and pilates can be great for your health, to see changes in your metabolic rate you need to focus on building muscle.
“The more muscle you have on your body, the more fat you’re going to burn,” Perfetti said.
Strength training is especially important for older people, as your metabolism typically starts to decrease after age 40.
“If someone does (not exercise), when they reach their 80s they’ve lost over 50 percent of their muscle,” Perfetti said. “Because of your age (your metabolism) is going to slow down but you can help it along so that it doesn’t slow down so much.”
A combination of cardio and strength training is best when it comes to elevating your metabolism long-term.
“In the (short run) you’ll burn more calories per minute with cardio then you will with weight lifting,” Ruby said. “For a longer lasting effect, in terms of burning throughout the day and throughout your life, (you need to) increase your muscle mass.”
Perfetti suggests doing some type of strength training at least three times a week, giving your muscles a chance to rest in between sessions and replenish.
Maximize that post-workout momentum
It may seem like working out in the morning is the best way to maximize the effect exercise has on your metabolism, but those of us who have trouble rising like a rooster can rest easy. According to Ruby, there is no conclusive study showing that exercising earlier boosts your metabolism more than exercising later in the day. Whether you work out at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m., the important thing is to refuel your body post-workout. Within 30 minutes of exercising you should replace your glycogen storage, which functions as long-term secondary energy.
“You’ll absorb more of what you’re eating in those 30 minutes,” Ruby said. “(It’s) the time in which your muscles can absorb as much fuel as possible. That window doesn’t close but you’re not absorbing as much fuel after those 30 minutes.”
When it comes to what type of gas to put in your tank, Ruby recommends following a four carbohydrates-to-one protein ratio. Surprisingly, chocolate milk abides by this ratio, making it just as effective as a protein shake. Both Ruby and Perfetti agree that eating real food, as opposed to nutrition bars or energy drinks, is best for your body before and after a workout. Perfetti said the most effective way to figure out what works for you is to keep a detailed food diary for a month, including how much water you drink each day and your amount of physical activity.
“After three to four weeks, (people) have a better idea of what foods give them energy and what foods don’t,” Perfetti said. “There’s so much controversy over what to eat, and when. I think people are getting more and more confused (about) what to do and what not to do. The biggest thing is to find out what foods are good for the individuals and not just throw a program at them. (That) just doesn’t work.”
We’ll always be a little bit jealous of the person who seems to eat voraciously at every meal and still be able to fit into clothes they wore in high school (or maybe not. Hey Jordache, the ’80s called. It wants its jeans back). Our days of eating freely and lounging around without consequence might be over, but we can get our metabolism running at top speed again, just in time for that 10th, 20th or even 50th reunion.