Do you want to know how to increase your metabolism?
If so, there’s something you need to know up front: most of the advice you’ll find is crap.
It’s largely a collection of silly myths, dangerous methods, and insignificant things that may technically work but won’t actually be enough to speed up your metabolism to any meaningful degree. How wonderful!
But I do have some good news. There are 7 proven ways to make your metabolic rate faster:
- Gain more muscle.
- Avoid losing muscle while losing fat.
- Eat more protein.
- Increase exercise activity.
- Increase non-exercise activity.
- Keep your caloric deficit moderate.
- Take diet breaks.
Let’s cover all of them right now, starting with their benefits…
The Benefits Of Speeding Up Your Metabolism
Most (if not all) of the reasons people have for wanting to speed up their metabolism come down to one thing: calories.
Simply put, the faster your metabolism is, the more calories your body will burn per day.
Why is this important? Because, if your body is burning more calories…
- It can allow you to eat more food.
The more calories your body burns per day, the more calories you can consume without running into problems (e.g. gaining weight, preventing weight loss, etc.).
- It can make weight loss happen.
Weight loss always comes down to Calories In vs Calories Out. If you burn more than you take in, a caloric deficit will exist and stored body fat will begin getting burned for fuel. Yay! So, if you manage to increase your metabolism, what you really end up doing is increasing the “calories out” side of this equation, which increases the likelihood of a deficit existing… which increases the likelihood of weight loss happening.
- It can make weight loss faster/easier.
Even if a faster metabolism isn’t quite enough (in and of itself) to make your entire intended deficit exist, it’s still capable of contributing to that deficit (or adding on to) to some extent… thereby making weight loss happen some degree faster and/or easier.
- It can prevent you from gaining weight.
We kinda touched on this benefit already in the first bullet point, but it’s worthy of its own. The faster your metabolic rate is, the more calories you’re capable of eating before the “calories in” side exceeds the “calories out” side. Because when that happens, a caloric surplus exists and the excess calories get stored (primarily) in the form of body fat.
- It can lessen the amount of weight you gain.
Even if you can’t speed up your metabolism enough to completely offset the amount of calories you’re eating and fully prevent weight from being gained, it will at least minimize the degree of surplus that exists, which will minimize the amount of fat you gain and/or the speed at which you gain it.
So, yeah… there are plenty of good reasons for wanting to make your metabolism faster, and plenty of benefits that can come along with doing so.
The only question is: how do you do it?
Well, in order to answer that, we first need to understand what it is we’re trying to speed up in the first place.
The 4 Components Of Your Metabolism
The speed of every person’s metabolic rate is a result of the following four components:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
This is the amount of calories your body burns at rest just keeping you alive and functioning. So, imagine the number of calories you’d burn if you stayed in bed all day not moving or digesting food. That’s your BMR, and it accounts for the majority (typically 60% – 70%) of the calories your body burns each day. While most of this calorie burn comes via your organs, the next most significant factor influencing your BMR is the amount of body fat and muscle mass you have, as both are metabolically active. Meaning, your body burns calories maintaining all of your fat and muscle. For this reason, the more a person weighs, the higher their BMR will be due to the simple fact that a larger body burns more calories than a smaller body… both at rest and during activity.
- Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA)
This represents all of the calories your body burns each day via exercise. Weight training, cardio, sports and anything similar fits into this category. This aspect of metabolism can obviously vary from one person to the next, as some people are much more physically active than others.
- Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
This is defined as the calories your body burns during the digestion and absorption process of the foods you eat, and it typically accounts for around 10% of your total metabolic rate. TEF is influenced by the total amount you’re eating (the more you’re eating, the more your body ends up burning to process it all), as well as the macronutrient composition (protein, fat or carbs) of what you’re eating, as your body burns more calories digesting certain nutrients than it does digesting others (more about this in a few minutes).
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
This is the calories burned as a result of all of the activity taking place over the course of the day BESIDES exercise (source)… which includes unconscious, spontaneous daily movement (i.e. the seemingly minor movements you make throughout the day that you didn’t consciously plan to make). So everything from brushing your teeth, to walking to your car, to typing, to shopping, to fidgeting, to adjusting your posture and much more fits into this category. NEAT actually accounts for a surprisingly significant amount of the calories that people burn each day, though it can vary quite a bit (we’re talking hundreds of calories) from one person to the next (source).
When you combine these four factors together, you get what’s referred to as your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
It’s the total amount of calories your body burns each day, and if you’re reading this article, it’s the number you’re trying to increase. Here’s how.
How To Increase Your Metabolism
In order to increase your metabolism, you need to either increase your Basal Metabolic Rate, Thermic Effect of Activity, Thermic Effect of Food, Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or any combination thereof.
So, how do you do that? Here are 7 most significant ways…
1. Gain More Muscle
As I explained earlier, both fat mass and muscle mass are metabolically active. Specifically:
- One pound of fat burns about 2 calories per day at rest.
- One pound of muscle burns about 6 calories per day at rest.
So, one way to increase how many calories your body burns each day is by increasing the amount of fat and/or muscle mass you have.
Yes, I included the word “fat” in that sentence, as gaining a bunch of fat would technically speed up your metabolism. The more you weigh, the more you burn. This is why overweight people generally have a higher BMR than people who are leaner (and why an overweight person telling a skinny person that they “wish they had their fast metabolism” is kinda funny, as the overweight person’s metabolism is usually the “faster” of the two).
Of course, outside of rare exceptions such as a physique competitor who got down to a very low body fat percentage for a contest, or someone who is underweight to an unhealthy degree (e.g. as a result of an eating disorder, insufficient food, etc.), I don’t actually recommend gaining fat as a means of increasing your metabolic rate.
That would have waaaaay more negatives than positives, and it’s the opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish here.
What I DO recommend doing for this purpose, however, is gaining more muscle mass.
In addition to boosting your metabolic rate, gaining muscle will also make your body look, feel and perform better in virtually every capacity you can think of.
As for how to build that muscle, I cover it all right here: How To Build Muscle: The 15 Step Guide
One Small Issue
Did you notice it? The one teeny-tiny issue with what I just explained?
A pound of muscle only burns 6 calories at rest.
I mention this because there’s a lot of misinformation out there about how many calories a pound of muscle supposedly burns, and I’ve seen claims as high as 50 – 100 calories per pound.
HA… not even close.
If that were true, gaining 10 lbs of muscle would speed up your metabolism by 500 – 1000 calories.
And that would be absolutely amazing… if it were actually true… but it’s not.
That means if you gain 10 lbs of muscle, you’ll only burn an extra 60 calories per day. Not that much, huh? You’d really have to gain the maximum amount of muscle your body is capable of gaining in order to see a truly significant metabolic boost.
And when you also take into account how painfully slow the muscle building process is and how long it actually takes, the outlook becomes even less impressive.
So while building any amount of muscle will increase your metabolic rate to some extent (at rest, plus a small additional boost during activity as well), and it’ll always be a good, useful, beneficial thing that I highly recommend doing for a variety of reasons… it’s much less significant in this regard than most people think.
Additional details here: Does Building Muscle Burn Calories?
2. Avoid Losing Muscle While Losing Fat
As I’ve talked about many times before, we all use phrases like “weight loss” and “lose weight” even though the only thing we’re trying to lose is body fat.
This matters, because “weight” can be a lot of different things… including muscle. And it’s pretty common for people to lose muscle along with fat during the weight loss process.
This is a problem for many reasons (e.g. your body looks worse, feels worse, gets weaker, etc.), one of which is the effect is has on your metabolism.
As I explained a minute ago, your body burns calories maintaining the fat and muscle you have. For this reason, your metabolic rate will gradually get slower during a period of weight loss due to the simple fact that a smaller body burns fewer calories than a larger body.
However, since muscle is approximately 3 times more metabolically active than body fat (6 calories per lb vs 2 calories per lb), the degree of slowdown will be more significant if the weight being lost is muscle rather than fat. For this reason, you always want to approach weight loss in a way that allows you to lose primarily body fat while preserving as much muscle mass as realistically possible.
In doing so, you’ll help keep your BMR higher than it would otherwise be, which keeps your metabolism higher than it would otherwise be.
So, how do you avoid losing muscle? I got you covered right here: How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle
Two Small Issues
There are, yet again, some issues worth mentioning.
For starters, this one doesn’t technically increase your metabolic rate. This is more about minimizing how much it slows down while you lose weight. That’s still useful and important, but not quite the metabolic boost you’re probably looking for.
In addition, while maintaining muscle as you lose weight is something I highly recommend doing (hell, I wrote a book about it: Superior Fat Loss), the effects it will have on the speed of your metabolism aren’t really THAT significant.
Using the same example from before, even if you somehow managed to lose 10 full pounds of muscle, it would only decrease your BMR by 60 calories. That’s certainly something, and you definitely want to prevent it from happening, but out of all the important reasons for doing so… the metabolic effects would be one of the minor ones.
3. Eat More Protein
Earlier, I explained that our bodies burn calories digesting the foods we eat, and that the more we eat… the more we burn. This is the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).
The thing is, we can’t just start eating a ton of extra food in an effort to make TEF as large as possible, as that would result in a lot things we don’t want (the most obvious of which would be fat gain).
So then what can we do to get more of a metabolic boost from TEF, you ask?
Simple. We can eat more of the specific macronutrient that has the most significant thermic effect.
Because, while all of the major macronutrients – protein, fat and carbs – have some degree of thermic effect, protein just happens to have the largest of them all.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Fat: 0 – 3%
- Carbs: 5 – 10%
- Protein: 20 – 30%
What this means is, if you eat a food that contains 100 calories from protein, 20 – 30 of those calories will be burned during digestion. With fat or carbs, you would likely only burn 0 – 10 calories.
For this reason – along with the many other important benefits of protein (it’s a requirement for building muscle, a requirement for maintaining muscle, and a huge factor in controlling hunger) – you always want to ensure you’re eating an optimal amount of protein each day.
In most cases, that means eating somewhere between 0.8 – 1.3g of protein per pound of your current body weight. That tends to be the sweet spot for maximizing the benefits of protein, including its ability to increase TEF. (People who are very overweight should use their “goal” body weight in this calculation.)
Full details here: How Much Protein Do I Need To Eat A Day?
One Small Issue
Yes, eating more protein will increase TEF, which will speed up your metabolism.
Yes, I highly recommend eating an optimal amount of protein each day regardless of whether you’re trying to lose fat, build muscle or just be healthy. After total calories, it’s the most important part of your diet.
And yes, higher protein diets have consistently been shown to be successful (and safe) for weight loss thanks to a combination of its muscle-preserving, hunger-controlling, AND metabolism-boosting benefits (sources here, here, here, and here).
Having said all of that, we’re still only talking about a component of your metabolic rate that accounts for around 10% of the total calories you burn per day.
So, unless you’re going from eating very little protein to eating this optimal amount of protein, it’s not likely to have a hugely significant effect on your metabolism.
It will certainly help, of course, but it may not help quite as much as some people think/wish it would.
4. Increase Exercise Activity
Now for the most obvious way of increasing how much you burn: exercising more.
From weight training to cardio, from walking to sprinting, from soccer to basketball, and virtually everything in between… it all burns a meaningful amount calories.
And the longer you do the activity, the more often you do it, and/or the more intense the activity is, the more calories you will burn.
And not only will exercise burn calories while you’re doing it, but higher intensity forms of exercise will actually increase your metabolism in the hours/days after exercising thanks to something called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC)… thereby causing you to burn even more calories.
Add in the countless health benefits, increased muscle mass, improved strength and overall fitness, and a host of other positive effects, and you can see why it’s something everyone should be doing.
So, how do you get started with exercise (or doing more of it if you’re not currently doing enough)?
Well, in terms of weight training workouts, here’s what I recommend:
- The Beginner Weight Training Workout Routine
This is the program I most often recommend to beginners.
- The Muscle Building Workout Routine
For those who are past the beginner stage, this is one of a handful of programs that I recommend.
- Superior Muscle Growth
The two workouts listed above are two of my most popular, and they are both completely free. If, however, you’re looking for additional workouts, my book – Superior Muscle Growth – contains ALL of the muscle building routines that I’ve personally used and designed for others (11 different workouts, 40+ different versions). Feel free to check it out to learn more about what’s included.
As for other forms of exercise, these would be a good place to start:
A Few Small Issues
There’s no question that you can raise your TDEE by a significant amount by increasing how much exercise activity you do.
Really, out of every metabolic component that you have control over, exercise activity is almost always the one with the most calorie-burning potential.
However, there are still a few issues you need to be aware of when trying to use exercise for this specific purpose. For example…
- It may not burn as many calories as you think.
While exercise does indeed burn a decent amount of calories, it burns surprisingly little compared to what some people incorrectly assume/hope it does. Take cardio, for example, which is the typical form of exercise people do when trying to burn as many calories as possible. Most people doing typical forms of it at typical intensities will end up burning about 5 – 10 calories per minute. So… 30 minutes on a treadmill? You’ll probably burn 150 – 300 calories. Sure, this is still definitely something, but it’s not really that much… especially considering how many calories people think they burn (one study showed overestimation by hundreds of calories). And yes, even the “after-burn” effect (EPOC) causes less calorie-burn than many people think it does (sources here, here, here, here and here).
- It can be hard and inconvenient.
Now that you know how many calories exercise actually burns, you can see that you’d need to do a lot of it (often) and/or very high intensity forms of it (often) for it to truly have the super significant calorie-burning, metabolism-boosting effect most people would like it to. And one of the problems with this is amount of time and effort involved. Think about it. To burn an extra 500 calories a day, you’d have to spend about an hour on a treadmill… every single day. For many people, that may not be doable.
- It can lead to overeating.
Here’s a scenario that happens all the time. A person will do some cardio and assume they burned a lot of calories. In reality, they actually burned much less than they think they did. But they don’t know this. So what will often happen at some point later is that a reward mentality will kick in and the person will think “I jogged on a treadmill for 30 minutes today, surely I can now afford to eat this additional 1000-calorie meal.” And they do that, never realizing they actually only burned 150 – 300 calories. Which means they unknowingly cancel out the metabolic increase they created with exercise activity, and then some.
- It can lead to less activity later on.
Here’s a similar scenario to the previous one, only instead of eating more, the person will actually move around less (decreased NEAT) and end up burning fewer calories than they normally would. This sort of thing can happen three ways: 1) unconsciously, so you’re not even aware of it, 2) as result of being tired from working out, or 3) having the mindset of “Now that I’ve exercised, I’m just going to take it easy the rest of the day.” So the person may burn more calories than usual by exercising, but then burn fewer calories than usual afterwards because they exercised… potentially to a degree that cancels it out completely.
- Some forms of it are boring.
I realize this is a subjective thing, and I also realize that different forms of activity are more or less boring than others. But, the typical way most people exercise for the purpose of burning calories is by getting on a treadmill, elliptical, or bike and staring at a wall, a TV screen, or the back of someone else’s head for the next 30-120 minutes. And most people find this boring as hell. Why does this matter? Because if the thing you consistently need to be doing to speed up your metabolism is something you’d describe as “boring as hell,” the likelihood of you actually doing it (and doing it consistently) drops considerably.
- Too much of it is detrimental.
Too much of any form of exercise will cause problems. And when you’re using exercise for the specific purpose of burning as many calories as possible, that “too much” level can be reached quite easily. And when that happens, it increases the potential for a variety of detrimental effects to occur, such as overuse injuries, recovery related problems, and muscle loss. Plus…
- Excessive amounts can slow your metabolism.
Doing an excessive amount of exercise can worsen your body’s natural adaptive response to weight loss (more about that in a few minutes) and actually increase how much your metabolism slows down while you lose weight.
So yes, increasing exercise activity will increase your metabolism. In most cases, it will be the method capable of making the most substantial improvement to your TDEE.
Which is awesome.
But it just might not be as easy, convenient, significant or problem-free as many people think it will.
5. Increase Non-Exercise Activity
As I explained earlier, Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is basically every bit of movement and activity happening over the course of the day besides formal exercise. This includes everything from cleaning the house to fidgeting in your chair, and it can actually vary by quite a bit from one person to the next.
Part of this variance may not even be under our control, as many factors known to affect NEAT (like over-eating, under-eating and exercise) don’t always do so to the same extent among different people (sources here and here), and it could be happening partially if not entirely on a subconscious level.
What I mean is, some people could make a dietary or exercise related change that causes their NEAT to increase or decrease by hundreds of calories, while others can make the exact same change and see no difference to NEAT whatsoever.
The good news is that the rest of NEAT involves behavioral, lifestyle and environmental factors that we’re usually aware of and have some amount of control over.
Here are some examples of what I mean…
- Someone with a more physical job (construction worker, mail carrier, etc.) will usually have a much higher TDEE than someone whose job involves sitting in a front of a computer all day… all thanks to NEAT.
- Someone who spends much of their free time walking their dog or chasing their kids around will usually have a higher TDEE than someone whose free time is spent playing video games or watching TV… all thanks to NEAT.
- Someone who’s on their feet most of the day will usually have a higher TDEE than someone who sits all day… again thanks to NEAT.
And, like I mentioned before, the variance here can easily be well into the hundreds of calories. In fact, NEAT may be THE metabolic factor with the biggest variance among people of the same size with the same exercise-activity level.
So, if you’re looking to speed up your metabolism, increasing NEAT would be a damn fine way to do it.
The only question is… how?
Well, again, some part of NEAT is happening on a subconscious level, and that likely all comes down to genetics. Which means, you probably can’t change it.
But the rest of it… that’s where you can make some improvements. For example:
- Stand more and sit less.
- Walk more and drive less.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Get up every so often and walk around.
- Play more.
- Go outside more.
- Go more places, do more things.
- Be more active and simply move more in your everyday life.
- A pedometer, or a FitBit, or an app on your phone that tracks how many steps you take a day can be helpful here, as you can then try to gradually improve your numbers and thus how much you’re burning via NEAT.
Little improvements here and there may not seem like much (and individually, they may not be), but over the course of an entire day it can all add up to something beneficial.
A Few Small Issues
Increasing NEAT can indeed have a significantly beneficial metabolism-boosting effect.
One issue, however, is that it’s easier said than done for a lot of people.
For example, telling someone who sits at a desk all day to “sit less” isn’t exactly helpful, as they may not have any real way of actually doing that (no, not everyone is going to be able to get a standing desk).
Similarly, telling someone to walk places instead of driving is great if they live in the right climate, have a schedule flexible enough to account for the additional time it will take to get places, and live somewhere where the places they want to go are even within realistic walking distances.
In addition, there’s also that pesky issue of NEAT going up or down subconsciously. Because, even if you find a way to knowingly increase some aspect of your NEAT, it’s possible that some other aspect of it will unknowingly decrease in response to that. How nice.
6. Keep Your Caloric Deficit Moderate (Not Excessively Large)
A caloric deficit (eating less than you burn, or burning more than you eat… just two different ways of saying the same thing) is the sole cause and requirement of fat loss.
And the larger your deficit is (which means the lower your calorie intake is and/or the higher your calorie output is), the faster you’re going to lose weight.
Knowing this, and also knowing that everyone wants the fastest results possible, what often happens is that people will create a much larger deficit than they ideally should (by eating an excessively low calorie diet and/or doing an excessive amount of exercise) so they can lose weight faster than they ideally should.
And I use the word “ideally” in that sentence because, in most cases, with most people, the ideal caloric deficit is going to be something moderate rather than something unnecessarily large.
Why? Because there are a ton of factors that make weight loss hard – everything from hunger, to hormonal adaptations, to muscle loss, and so much more – and the larger your deficit is, the worse all of these factors become.
(By the way, Superior Fat Loss covers what all of these factors are, what causes them, why they happen, and how to minimize/prevent them.)
Basically, when you lose weight, your metabolism gradually slows down for two main reasons:
- A smaller body burns fewer calories.
You know this part already, as we’ve been talking about it throughout this article. As you lose weight in the form of fat and/or muscle (and a loss of organ mass is a part of this as well… [source]), your body burns fewer calories simply because there’s now less of you than there previously was.
- An adaptive component.
The thing is, both research (sources here, here, here and here) and real world experience have shown that as we lose weight, a person’s metabolism slows down more than you’d predict based on the loss of weight alone. This extra amount of slowdown is adaptive thermogenesis, and it occurs as part of your body’s survival response to weight loss. You see, your body doesn’t know if you’re losing weight because you’re trying to get in better shape, or because you’re about to stave to death. So, your body responds accordingly by slowing your metabolic rate a little extra to conserve energy and hopefully keep you alive. (Note: This is NOT “starvation mode.” That’s a stupid myth.)
Aside from gaining more muscle and not losing the muscle you already have (which were recommendations #1 and #2 from earlier in this article), there’s nothing you can really do to prevent or minimize the metabolic slowdown that occurs as a result of weight loss itself.
But the adaptive component? While we can’t quite prevent it, we can certainly minimize it.
And one of the easiest ways of doing that is by minimizing how “in danger” of starvation your body thinks it is, which means NOT having an excessively large caloric deficit (caused by either eating too little, exercising too much, or a combination of both)… and instead keeping things more moderate.
In most cases, 20% below your maintenance level will be a good moderate deficit to aim for. Full details here: How Many Calories Should I Eat A Day To Lose Weight?
One Small Issue
Just like earlier, this one doesn’t technically “speed up” your metabolism. Rather, this one just helps you minimize how much it slows down during the weight loss process.
This is obviously still a useful and important benefit that I highly recommend adjusting to get, but it’s not really the big metabolic boost you’re probably looking for.
7. Take Diet Breaks
If your goal is to lose weight, and you understand that your metabolism slows down while you lose that weight, you immediately have three questions:
- How do I prevent it?
- How do I minimize it?
- How do I reverse it?
Well, we just went over why it’s not preventable, as everyone who loses weight will experience some degree of metabolic slowdown for one or both of the reasons I explained a minute ago (a smaller body burns fewer calories + adaptive thermogenesis).
In terms of minimizing it, we also just covered one of the best ways to do that: keep your deficit moderate in size rather than excessively large.
But what about reversing some aspect of this slowdown once it has already happened?
Is that possible?
The answer is yes.
Of course, those of you who’ve read Superior Fat Loss already know this, as it’s designed for the specific purpose of minimizing/reversing all of the things that suck about losing weight, including metabolic slowdown.
But for those of you who don’t have it (and, um, hi… you should get it, it covers all of this and much more), let me fill you in on the basics of “diet breaks.”
A diet break is a planned 1 – 2 week break taken periodically throughout the weight loss process that involves temporarily coming out of your caloric deficit and going back up to your maintenance level.
This approach serves to give your body a temporary “fed” signal, essentially showing it that you have plenty of food available, you’ve stopped losing weight, you’re not in any danger of starving to death, and everything is just fine.
Upon receiving this signal, your body will lessen/stop the adaptive metabolic response that kicked in while you were in a deficit – aka, adaptive thermogenesis – at which point your metabolism will start to increase back up to something closer to what it would normally have been at this body weight.
After the 1 – 2 week diet break is over, you’d simply resume your deficit and get back to losing weight again. Depending on how much weight you want to lose and how long you’ll need to be in a deficit, you’d take additional diet breaks every so often in this same manner for this same purpose.
One Small Issue
While diet breaks will indeed help to speed up your metabolism to some extent (and also provide a variety of other physiological and psychological benefits), it’s important to remember that this is a method for increasing your metabolic rate back up to its “normal” level after a period of slowing down due to being in a prolonged caloric deficit… and not a method for increasing it beyond “normal” to something even higher.
So, again, while still extremely useful and beneficial and I highly recommend it, it’s probably not quite the “boost” you were hoping for.
You just saw the 7 most effective ways of increasing your TDEE and speeding up your metabolic rate.
And it’s at this point that you may start thinking to yourself: “wait, what about everything else???”
As in, what about the countless other ways you’ve heard about that are supposedly capable of boosting your metabolism in some super meaningful way?
Well… about that… um… how shall I put this…
It’s largely all crap.
More specifically, any supposedly useful method of speeding up your metabolism that you didn’t already see in this article is either insignificant, dangerous, a myth, just plain stupid, or all of the above.
To show you what I mean, let’s cover a few of the most popular ones right now.
Myth #1: Eat Breakfast To Jump-Start Your Metabolism
This one is the idea that, by eating breakfast bright and early every morning, you kick your metabolism into gear and get it started for the day, thus turning your body into a calorie-burning machine as soon after waking up as possible.
Or some such nonsense.
And I call it nonsense because… that’s really all it is.
One study compared the effects of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner vs eating only lunch and dinner (with the same total calories still being consumed in both instances), and there were no differences whatsoever in terms of a metabolic boost (or anything else, for that matter).
So, whether you eat breakfast bright and early, delay it until a little later on, or skip it completely and make lunch your first meal of the day… it doesn’t matter at all with all else being equal.
Feel free to do whatever is most Preferable, Enjoyable, Convenient and Sustainable for you (PECS!) and therefore makes you most likely to consistently eat the right total amount of calories and macronutrients each day.
Because, when it comes to losing weight, building muscle and being healthy, that’s what actually matters. Not the time of day that you do (or do not) eat.
Myth #2: Eat 6 Small Meals A Day To Speed Up Your Metabolism
This one is the idea that, instead of eating 3 big meals a day (i.e. breakfast, lunch and dinner) with significant time in between each meal, you’ll “rev up your metabolism” and “stoke the metabolic fire” and blah blah blah by eating 6 smaller meals throughout the day… with each coming no more than 2 – 3 hours a part.
The thinking behind this is that eating more often (6 meals a day) would increase TEF more so than eating less often (3 meals a day), thus boosting your metabolic rate.
And as borderline logical as that may sound, the reality is that it isn’t true. I know this from firsthand experience, as I spent most of the early/mid 2000s eating between 5 – 7 meals a day because I believed this myth. But when I experimented with eating less often (2-4 meals), I noticed no differences whatsoever.
But hey, don’t take my word for it.
Here’s a study that took 2 groups of overweight people and had each person create the same sized caloric deficit every day for 8 weeks. The only difference between the groups was that one ate 3 meals a day, and the other ate 6.
Guess what happened? They all lost the exact same amount of weight, and no differences were seen in terms of fat loss, appetite control, or anything similar. Meal frequency had no impact on metabolism. It turns out TEF is dependent on the total amount eaten, not when or how often the eating happens.
Myth #3: Negative Calorie Foods
This one is the idea that there are certain foods you can eat that require so many calories to digest that it cancels out all of the calories it contained and then some… which means not only does it increase TEF enough to completely burn itself off, it increases TEF so much that it burns off additional calories from additional foods!
But also… complete nonsense.
As I explained earlier, protein has the highest thermic effect there is… and it tops out at 30%. So if a food contains 100 calories from protein, up to 30 of those calories will be burned when your body digests it.
Which means in order for a “negative calorie food” to truly exist, the TEF of that food would need to exceed 100%. And that just doesn’t happen.
Full details here: Negative Calorie Foods: The Ultimate List
Myth #4: Mustard, Horseradish, Black Pepper And Ginger
This one is the idea that various spices have some kind of significant thermogenic effect, and the simple act of eating them gives you a meaningful metabolic boost.
Well, in the case of stuff like mustard, horseradish, black pepper and ginger, here’s a study showing that this isn’t true at all.
Myth #5: Hot Chili Peppers/Cayenne Pepper, Capsaicin And Capsiate
This one is the same idea we just covered, only now we’re looking specifically at hot chili peppers like cayenne pepper, capsaicin (a component of chili peppers) and capsiate (a similar substance)… which are claimed to be the most effective in terms of increasing a person’s metabolism.
And looking at the research on this, it does indeed appear to be true! When consumed in high doses, there is a real metabolic boost!
Hooray! We have a winner! This is amazing! We’re all going to lose weight so fast and easy now! We won’t even have to work out or eat right! We just need to stock up on hot chili peppers and get capsaicin and capsiate in supplement form!
You’re not actually buying this, are you? Good.
Because while there is a legit metabolic effect from these substances, the degree of effect is laughably small. I’m talking a “boost” of 10 calories a day (wow!!) from capsaicin, and maybe as much as 50 calories a day from capsiate (source). And that’s at very high doses of each.
As an added bonus, there’s also some research showing that your body may adapt to these barely-existent effects and become desensitized over time (source), taking it from “practically useless” to “completely useless.”
So yeah, there may be some degree of benefit here, but it’s too insignificant to actually give the slightest crap about.
Myth #6: Everything Else
I can keep going on and on here, but to save time, let’s just throw everything else into this final category.
That means stuff like…
- Green tea.
- Garcinia cambogia.
- Drinking cold water.
- Whatever else you may have heard of that supposedly speeds up your metabolism.
It’s all either A) something that has some proven metabolic benefits that are simply too insignificant to make much (if any) difference in the grand scheme of things, B) unproven/disproven myth-based nonsense, C) things that work but come along with potentially dangerous side effects, or D) some combination thereof.
The 4 Big Points Of This Article
Here are the four most important points I want you to take away from this article…
1. Most Methods For “Speeding Up Your Metabolism” Are Crap
I come across articles called something like “101 Ways To Boost Your Metabolism” on a daily basis, and most of what they contain are complete crap.
And I know that may be disappointing to hear.
I know you probably came here hoping there were other things you could do, or other methods with meaningful benefits, or special “tips” or “tricks” or “hacks” that really work, or some safe supplement you could take that has no risk of side effects, or “101” other ideas to try… but there aren’t.
2. There Are Some Methods That Actually Work
There are a handful of legitimately proven ways to increase your metabolism and/or minimize how much it slows down while you lose weight, and this article covered all of them.
- Gain more muscle.
- Avoid losing muscle while losing fat.
- Eat more protein.
- Increase exercise activity.
- Increase non-exercise activity.
- Keep your caloric deficit moderate.
- Take diet breaks.
So if a higher TDEE and a faster metabolic rate are what you’re looking for, these are pretty much the only effective, significant and completely safe methods for making it happen.
3. The Methods That Work May Not Be As Amazing As You Think
Throughout this article, after describing each of the proven and beneficial ways of increasing your metabolism, I mentioned some sort of issue that made that method a little harder, more problematic, more complicated, or less significant than many people assume.
I didn’t do this to discourage you from implementing these methods or trying to make your metabolic rate faster.
I did it only to help ensure that you have realistic expectations for what these methods are truly capable of in terms of helping you with goals like weight loss and preventing weight gain.
Because, in my experience, people seeking out ways to “increase their metabolism” have unrealistic expectations for what can be accomplished.
They come to me assuming every pound of muscle will magically burn 50+ extra calories a day, or that eating 25g more protein will cause them to lose an extra 2 lbs a week, or 30 minutes on a treadmill will burn 1000 calories, or not taking a diet break is the reason why they haven’t lost any weight in the last 6 months, or something equally untrue.
Sure, those stupid “101 Ways…” articles and other similar forms of myth-based, misinformation-filled garbage are likely to blame for that.
But this is why people end up overestimating how much of a difference these proven methods will make, and that often causes them to A) rely too heavily on them and get nowhere as a result, or B) become discouraged by how underwhelming their impact was and eventually give up.
One of my goals here was to help you prevent that from happening.
4. You’re Doing It Wrong
If you’re reading this article, it’s most likely because you want to lose weight and/or avoid gaining weight.
Unfortunately, increasing your metabolism to make that happen isn’t exactly ideal, efficient, or even realistically possible in many cases.
Because losing weight/preventing weight gain is ALWAYS going to be more about how many total calories you’re eating rather than how many total calories you’re burning.
Again, it comes down to calories in vs calories out.
The problem is, no matter how much of a positive impact you’re able to make to your metabolism, it’s still only one side of that equation.
And, to be quite honest, it’s the less important side.
You see, when most people say they want to increase their metabolism, it’s usually from the perspective of trying to outrun their diet.
They’re trying to find a way to burn enough calories to offset the amount they eat so they don’t have to pay as much (if any) attention to their diet or make the hard changes (e.g. eating less, eating better, counting calories, tracking macronutrients, etc.) that need to be made and no one actually wants to make.
And the problem with that is… it almost never works.
This is partially due to the less significant nature of how much your metabolic rate can realistically be increased, but it mostly comes down to the fact that no matter how many calories you’re burning, it’s always going to be easier for you to out-eat it (knowingly or unknowingly).
Basically, if this was a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors… rock beats scissors, paper beats rock, scissors beats paper, and what you can eat beats what you can burn.
To quote myself from a previous article…
Let’s say someone made the decision to go to bed an hour and a half early so they can wake up an hour and a half earlier than usual the next day to give themselves time to travel to the gym and spend an hour on the treadmill (burning around 500 calories) before going to work or school or wherever else.
Later on, however, they ate two extra handfuls of almonds and wiped out that entire hour of cardio (and the 500 calories it burned) in the span of about 3 minutes.
Sure, the real problem here is the issue of dietary noncompliance that caused this example person to eat more than they were supposed to, but the point remains the same. It’s laughably easy to out-eat what you can burn via exercise.
This old video shows an entertaining example of this in action…
And even though this quote is referring specifically to increasing exercise activity, the same thing would apply to any of the other method discussed in this article.
Again, I’m not telling you this to deter your from implementing any or all of the 7 methods we’ve covered here.
I’m doing it to make you aware of fact that you could implement every single one of them and successfully increase the “calories out” side of the equation to some truly significant degree, but if you’re not simultaneously focusing on the “calories in” as much as you need to be, all of the metabolic boosts in the world aren’t going to matter.
So, here’s my advice.
If you want to lose weight or prevent weight from being gained, focus first on how many total calories you’re eating, and make the necessary dietary adjustments needed for successful long-term weight loss.
I’ve already written articles that will explain exactly how to do that:
- How To Lose Weight And Keep It Off
- How Many Calories Should I Eat A Day To Lose Weight?
- How To Calculate Your Macros For A Weight Loss Diet
- Why Am I Always So Hungry (And How To Control It)
- The Best Foods For A Weight Loss Diet
Once you get this aspect of things in check, the next step is to go through the 7 methods covered in this article and try to implement as many of them as you can.
This is actually going to be easier than you think, as many of them overlap with the adjustments you just made. So, they’ll already be taken care of.
To ensure all bases are covered though, here are some additional articles you’ll find helpful:
- How To Build Muscle
- How To Build Muscle And Lose Fat At The Same Time
- How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle
- How Much Protein Per Day?
The only relevant topic I haven’t covered in an article (yet) is diet breaks. Feel free to check out Superior Fat Loss for those details.
And… that’s it.
That’s everything you need to know about increasing your metabolism.