Smart ways to boost your metabolism

Getting back into shape after festive excess isn’t just about what you eat, but kick-starting your metabolism with more activity to help you burn off food quicker. Even if you haven’t overdone it, you may find that just getting older is causing gradual weight gain because your metabolism is slowing down.

“As we age the basal calorie rate (the rate at which we burn calories) starts to decline by on average a reduction in two per cent every decade from our late twenties,” explains fitness expert and personal trainer Lucy Wyndham-Read.

“Men have an average 5-10 per cent higher calorie burn than women because they have more dense muscle tissue which is more efficient at using calories.”


The less you do, the slower you burn calories

“The more time we sit around the less energy our body needs, so it will slow down your hourly calorie burn rate ‒ it’s important to be as active as you can,” says Lucy.

“If you sit at a desk all day, then every 20 minutes stand up and walk for 30 seconds to keep that calorie burn higher,” suggests Lucy.


How to measure metabolic rate

”Weight gain and lack of muscle tone are generally clues your metabolism is slower,” says Lucy.

Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you need to maintain your body at rest. It’s based on height, weight, age and gender. Calculate this using an online calculator. Once you know your BMR you can use the Harris Benedict Equation which factors in the activity you do to calculate the total calorie intake needed to maintain your current weight.


The cause of middle-age spread?

Lack of muscle tone due to lack of exercise can result in weight gain because muscle tissue burns more calories than fat.

“After our late twenties, if we don’t actively keep our muscles toned (even just doing squats and lunges or power walking), muscle tissues become less active and your body burns less calories,” advises Lucy.

“This is why people complain about “middle-age spread” in their thirties and forties.

“But adding activity and movement to our everyday routine can keep muscles toned and help prevent middle-age spread,” says Lucy.


Exercise tips to boost metabolism

  • Add weights to your routine: “Creating more lean muscle mass means you’ll burn more calories when you do nothing,” says personal trainer Fiona Bugler.
  • Try High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): In 1994 Canadian researchers found that whilst those who exercise moderately burn twice as many calories as those who follow a HIIT programme, the higher intensity group burnt more subcutaneous fat.

“This is because high intensity training stimulates the metabolism and creates an excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) which can result in calories being burnt at an increased rate 48 hours after your session – adding to the fat-loss effect,” explains Fiona.

“The added bonus is it takes less time to do the training. A personal trainer at your gym can show you some techniques,” she continues.

How diet and lifestyle affect metabolism

  • Get enough sleep:Research has shown getting insufficient sleep can slow metabolism, resulting in weight gain. “Less than 6 hours sleep can affect metabolism so aim for 7-8 hours,” says Lucy.
  • Cut down on stress:“Too much stress increases the release of the stress hormone cortisol which can result in weight gain because it causes fat to be stored,” says Lucy.

Food to speed up metabolism

  • Spices: Cayenne pepper, turmeric, ginger, lemon, chilli powder and cinnamon can affect metabolic rate. “They increase your thermic effect when you eat them so they very slightly increase your calorie burn,” says Lucy.

It is a good habit to swap salt for some spices or herbs, so you reduce your salt intake but increase your calorie burn. Try swapping sugar for cinnamon ‒ great on porridge or sprinkled on a latte,” suggests Lucy.

  • Sip iced drinks:“To keep that calorie burn high drink plenty of water and add an ice cube so your body has to warm it up, which raises your metabolic rate,” says Lucy. 
  • Nutrient timing:“If you’re going to eat carbohydrates eat them before or after exercising as your metabolic engine will be fired up, meaning you’ll burn them up,” says Fiona Bugler.

“Some nutritionists use the analogy of burning logs on the fire. Throw them on when the fire is burning and they’ll burn, but add them when the fire is embers and they’ll just sit on the fire. At other times of the day eat protein, fruit and veg,” she says.

  • Eat foods that support liver function:According to research in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition an efficient liver and its capacity to detoxify chemicals (from food and the environment) is crucial to effective weight loss and fat metabolism.

Foods that support liver function include cruciferous vegetables ‒ broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, rocket, watercress, mustard, onions and garlic.


Signs indicating your metabolism is improving

“You’ll notice weight loss and excess body fat in areas like the waist, bottom, hips, arms and tummy starting to decrease, so your percentage body fat reduces,” says Lucy.

Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: