Got your mother’s slow mo-tabolism? Trust me, I feel ya. Everyone is constantly looking for ways to speed up their metabolism so they can burn fat faster and become one of those people who eats everything and gains nothing. From downing warm cayenne lemon water to sprinkling metabolism-boosting spices on food, theories abound. Another go-to perpetuated by pop culture is the idea that eating small, meals boosts your metabolism. Spoiler — nope. Here’s what those small, frequent meals do instead, and what actually helps ramp up the ol’ metabolism (because it’s not cayenne).
Quick refresher that the metabolism isn’t a single muscle or organ in the body. It’s actually a reference to a chain of chemical processes in every cell of your body. These processes are what transform all the calories you eat into fuel, or energy, to keep your organs going both at rest and when you’re sweating through a spin class.
Interestingly, resting metabolism eats up a surprising majority of your total daily calorie burn. About 10 to 30 percent is used to fuel physical activity, and around 10 percent is used for digestion. Of course, metabolic rates can also vary wildly from one person to the next, and researchers still aren’t entirely clued into the mechanisms that control someone’s metabolism.
What they do know is that trying to speed up the metabolism with cayenne lemon water or spices does next to nothing, and crash dieting will actually slow it down. But what about those small, frequent meals?
The Problem with Eating Small, Frequent Meals
Here’s the thing with those mini meals — they keep you from overeating. That means you’re probably not going to sit down for a huge meal and overload your body’s production of insulin, which is a good thing, because an excess of this particular hormone inhibits the process of fat being broken down for energy. But despite those smaller meals, your body is still dutifully producing insulin, and — this is the key — that insulin level will always be elevated if you’re consistently snacking, even if it’s healthy.
Maybe mom was onto something with that whole “three squares a day” thing, right?
You might be saying, “Well, I snack on small meals and lost weight doing it!” First, that’s awesome. If eating like that works for you and helps you stay in shape, keep it up! Just know that even if it’s working for you, it’s not increasing your metabolism. You’re likely just losing weight because you are eating less food and taking in fewer total calories every day.
Here’s What Really Determines Metabolism
The main determinant of metabolism is genetics, and that is unfortunately something you cannot control. But there is one way — and only one — to influence your metabolism. And it doesn’t involve food. It involves building muscle.
Lean muscle mass burns calories faster than fat. That’s why people with more lean muscle (think athletes, men, etc.) need more calories than people with a higher percentage of body fat. As you age, your metabolism slows down, which is a reflection of the decrease in lean muscle mass that accompanies aging. This is why I am a firm believer in strength exercises for women at any age. Keeping the metabolism revving is actually just one of many, many benefits of strength training for women.
You don’t need to be “buff” or anything crazy, but building muscle really will speed up your metabolism and it helps burn more calories naturally. Straight cardio — running, cycling, spin, power walking — won’t do the trick. You need the added strength workout to build up your lean muscle mass and burn more fat to lose weight or maintain your shape, especially as you age.
My Rx for Boosting Metabolism
Shoot for 15 minutes daily or 20 minutes three to four times per week of weight lifting, even just eight to ten pounds, or what I call “body lifting” — push ups, sit ups, or squats using your own body weight for resistance. Even some yoga poses that build strength will work. If your goal is to speed up your metabolism, make a point of working those muscles, and don’t stress about eating small meals every few hours.
Instead, do what you can to eat healthful, varied foods in the morning, afternoon, and evening, and remember that with a few Bumpin Blends smoothie cubes in the freezer, you always have a back-up plan when things go south. Our smoothies are packed with all the nutrients of a full meal, with the added benefit of straight-up convenience. We whiz together whole, real vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, protein, and spices with zero added sugars, artificial ingredients, or preservatives (because yuck) so that you can blend up something delicious and nutritious in no time flat. Get started right this way.