Like whether drinking green tea actually gives it a boost.
If you’re hoping to lose weight, understanding your metabolism can help. “‘Metabolism’ is really a catch-all word for the different processes going on in the body,” Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist, tells SELF. But when it comes to weight loss, most people are talking about energy metabolism, or how your body burns calories, he explains.
Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, it’s good to have a handle on how your metabolism works. But if weight loss is a goal of yours, it’s extra important to keep your metabolism chugging along as smoothly as possible. Here, eight important things to know about your metabolism if you want to lose weight.
1. Figuring out your basal metabolic rate is a good weight-loss starting point
Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of calories you burn in a 24-hour period just by being alive, says Talbott. “Once you calculate it, you get a ballpark number of how many calories your body needs on a daily basis,” he explains. Then you can work on creating a calorie deficit by changing your exercise and eating habits.
Head over here to get the formulas for calculating your basal metabolic rate (and further figure out how many calories you should eat for weight loss).
And keep in mind that eating less than your basal metabolic rate in an effort to lose weight quickly can just backfire. Since your body doesn’t have enough calories to do its various jobs, it will try to burn less energy to compensate.
2. Gaining muscle mass is a key way to rev your metabolism.
“Muscle can really drive your metabolic rate,” says Talbott. That’s because muscle is more metabolically active than something like fat or bone, meaning it expends more calories while performing its duties. Luckily, the best way to gain muscle can also make you feel like a total badass.
Whether you’re using weights or only doing bodyweight exercises, strength training can add some more muscle to your frame. And don’t worry that doing these types of exercises will make you more muscular than you’d like. It’s actually really hard for women to gain a ton of muscle, and it would take a lot more effort than regularly incorporating strength training into your workout schedule, says Talbott.
3. Your metabolism works best when you keep your blood sugar stable.
The foods you eat play an essential role in your metabolism because of how they affect your blood sugar. “High-carbohydrate foods and foods high in sugar can spike your blood sugar, then bring it crashing back down,” Taz Bhatia, M.D., board-certified physician, founder of CentreSpringMD in Atlanta and associate professor of integrative medicine at Emory University, tells SELF. Of course, carbohydrates can be part of a healthy diet (and sometimes you’ve just got to indulge in something, whether it’s healthy or not), but there are two simple ways to keep your blood sugar more balanced even when you’re eating carbs or sugary food.
First, reach for complex carbohydrates, which your body takes longer to process, leading to less of a blood-sugar spike. Second, don’t just eat the carbs or sugary treat by themselves. “Adding other macronutrients like protein and fat can slow absorption and digestion,” keeping your blood sugar more stable, says Talbott.
Stabilizing blood sugar is also the reason experts often recommend eating small meals throughout the day. “You won’t have big peaks and falls in blood sugar, which is important for your overall metabolism and appetite control. When your blood sugar dips, your brain sends signals to eat more,” says Talbott. That’s why skipping meals is a no-go. In addition to messing with your blood sugar levels, it can make you more likely to overeat the next time you sit down for a meal.
4. You have to clock enough sleep for your metabolism to function properly.
Yes, it can be hard to tear yourself away from the internet at bedtime, but it’s worth it. “When you’re sleep-deprived, your body can produce more cortisol [a stress hormone], which interferes with your blood sugar control,” says Talbott.
A lack of sleep can also mess with your levels of the hormone ghrelin, which promotes hunger, and the hormone leptin, which reduces it, according to Harvard Health Publications. So, how much should you get? The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours per night. If that sounds practically impossible, check out these 10 commandments for better sleep.
5. And you should definitely been drinking a lot of water.
Without sufficient hydration, your body can’t complete all of its processes as well as possible, says Talbott. That includes burning calories. “One of the best things you can do is structure your drinking throughout the day,” he explains. Specific recommendations about how much you should drink vary, but try these 12 easy ways to drink more water every day. (You can also keep track of the color of your urine for a hint as to how hydrated you are.)
6. Your metabolism slows as you age.
This is why you might realize you’ve put on weight even though your habits haven’t changed, or even if you’ve gotten healthier as you’ve gotten older. “Every few decades, women should be eating less than they did before,” says Bhatia. Specifically, the USDA recommends women aged 19 to 30 eat no more than 2,000 calories a day, but the number drops to 1,800 for women aged 31 to 50, then it shifts yet again to 1,600 for women 51 and over. So yes, the older you are, the more you may have to alter your lifestyle to account for your metabolism. The good news is that when you’re eating a lot of fresh, wholesome foods, you should still be able to stick within those calorie bounds and feel satiated.
7. You can get your metabolism tested, but there are other ways to keep track of it.
Unexplained weight gain, a larger midsection than usual, or random fatigue can all hint at metabolic changes, says Bhatia. It’s no reason to panic—doing the aforementioned things like getting enough sleep and eating regular meals can help if you’re not already incorporating them into your life.
But if you’re already following these metabolism rules and are gaining weight out of nowhere, you can get your metabolism tested to see what’s up. Ask your general practitioner or similar medical expert if they can recommend a lab that does that kind of analysis.
8. Unfortunately, eating or drinking certain things doesn’t change your metabolism in any huge way
There are lots of “superfoods” people credit as metabolism-boosters, like dark chocolate, green tea, and chili peppers. While eating and drinking those items can certainly be good for you, in normal amounts they won’t affect your metabolism enough to cause **weight loss all on their own, says Talbott.
“The [metabolic] effect is often there, and sometimes it’s measurable, but it’s probably more than just sprinkling a bit of pepper on your spaghetti,” he explains. But when combined with moves like eating frequent, small meals throughout the day, strength training, staying hydrated, and sleeping well, reaching for these foods and drinks definitely can’t hurt.