Breakfasts, bites and bedtime treats can add to your fitness and not your waistline.
No matter your goal, a healthy metabolism will help you achieve it. This means fueling your body with the right food, at the right time. When your metabolism fails to function at its fullest potential, you end up with a few stubborn pounds you can’t seem to lose or a draggy feeling that keeps you away from the gym.
But revving your personal calorie-torching engine is a lot easier than you think. It doesn’t mean logging extra time at the gym or making massive changes to your diet. Instead, try these tweaks to your daily routine to encourage a lean, mean metabolism that’s diet, diet, running at full speed 24/7.
Going to work out? Graze within 30 minutes of waking up. Hold off on a full breakfast (more on that later), but a small, immediate morning snack jump-starts your metabolism after sleep, a state when everything in your body—from your heart rate to your metabolic rate—slows down. “Try half a granola bar or a bite of last night’s leftover veggies,” says Amy Isabella Chalker, a registered dietitian based in Santa Barbara, California, who says this habit can increase metabolism by as much as 10 percent over the course of the day.
Eat breakfast after you hit the gym. Don’t snooze that alarm, sleepyhead! Science says that working out prebreakfast can help you blast fat. One six-week study of 28 men found that those who ate breakfast after a daily workout gained no weight over the time period and were able to process surplus dietary fat more efficiently compared with men who ate breakfast and drank a sports drink before/during morning gym time who saw an average weight gain of three pounds.
When you eat breakfast, be sure to include protein. A 2012 University of Missouri study found that 1.2 ounces of protein is the magic number to control blood sugar and keep you feeling energized, instead of crashing.
Don’t skip lunch. Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, author of “The Hot Belly Diet,” notes the natural rhythm of the digestive system needs time to wake up in the morning and to shut down at night—making midday the ideal time to fuel up.
Skip the fancy smoothie or green juice. A store-bought healthy shake with protein powder or a trendy juice may not do anything but shrink your wallet, says Abby Langer, a registered dietitian based in Toronto, Canada.
Don’t double-dip in the fruit drawer. When you’re feeling snacky, it’s tempting to chase an apple with a bowl of berries or a bunch of grapes—it’s all healthy, right? Not so fast. Even the unprocessed sugar found in fruits can spike your blood sugar if you scarf too much, messing with your metabolism, Kshirsagar says.
Hit the weights. If you slept through your alarm (hey, no one’s perfect) or amped up on cardio in the a.m., take a few minutes after work to do some weight training. Studies find that building muscle can help speed your resting metabolic rate.
“The more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body burns,” Langer affirms. Some cardio is important, but “don’t slog away for hours doing it,” she says. Bonus points if you challenge yourself with weights that rev your heart rate. Here’s a food tip: Make sure you don’t binge snack in the name of post-workout recovery, and you’ll be able to take advantage of getting a good night’s sleep.
Get a full night’s sleep. Insisting upon a regular bedtime isn’t just what moms do for six-year-olds—it’s important to set a strict time you’ll hit the sack according to your a.m. alarm so you get a solid seven to eight hours of rest. “Sleep is one of the most important activities you ever do,” Kshirsagar says.
“It resets your body clock, which is important in regulating metabolism. Think of it like the virus scan on your computer.” Lab studies agree: When researchers from the Brody School of Medicine in Greenville, North Carolina, reviewed dozens of studies on sleep and metabolism, they found that again and again, it has been shown that sleep deprivation messes with the hormones involved in regulating metabolism (decreased leptin levels and increased ghrelin level—both bad news). Translation: Get those zzz’s!
SPICE IT UP
A slew of recent research is pointing to hot chilies as a surprising superfood that reduces cravings, prevents liver damage and possibly increases levels of testosterone. A recent massive Chinese study of half a million people aged 30 to 70 found that those who consumed spicy food most days of the week had a 14 percent lower risk of premature death from all causes, compared with people who ate spicy foods less than once a week.
While the Chinese study didn’t point to a specific mechanism, it’s believed a chemical in chili called capsaicin is responsible for several beneficial effects. A separate study by the University of Adelaide found that hot chili peppers activate receptors in the stomach that bring on a feeling of fullness, reducing hunger and food cravings. These are the same receptors that activate gastric nerves when the stomach stretches that tell the stomach it’s full. Capsaicin may also protect the liver.
In a study presented to the 2015 International Liver Congress, capsaicin was found to reduce the activation of hepatic stellate cells in mice—the cells that cause liver fibrosis, or the formation of damaging scar tissue in response to liver damage. And a French study of 114 men recently showed that the more spicy food they ate, the more likely they were to have higher levels of endogenous testosterone.
Photo credit: ThinkStock, Medioimages/Photodisc