No matter what time of year, your metabolism can run smoothly – or not, adding up to a few stubborn pounds you can’t seem to lose, or a draggy feeling that can be a summer bummer. “Summer has its own special challenges, like longer daylight hours that can mean we get less sleep or we’re more active – and working up a bigger appetite,” says Laura LaValle, RDN.
LaValle sees patients at California’s Progressive Medical Center and serves as Vice President, Dietetics & Nutrition at Metabolic Code Enterprises, which educates health professionals on metabolic and integrative medicine. She notes that summer also brings temptations from hot dogs and burgers to chips and ice cream at cookouts and barbecues.
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 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 jumpstarts 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, an RD 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 pre-breakfast can help you blast fat. In one six-week study of 28 men, 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, tests showed, compared to an average weight gain of 3 pounds in the men who ate breakfast and drank a sports drink before/during morning gym time.
When you eat breakfast, be sure to include protein. A 2012 University of Missouri study found that 1.2 ounces of protein was the magic number to control blood sugar and keep you feeling energized, instead of crashing.
Don’t skip lunch. Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, MD, 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, an RD based in Toronto, Canada.
Don’t double-dip into 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 AM, 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 the 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 the next tip.
Get a full night’s sleep. Insisting upon a regular bedtime isn’t just what moms do for 6-year-olds – based on your AM alarm, it’s important to set a strict time you’ll hit the sack so you get a solid 7 to 8 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 Zzzs!
ENJOY SUMMER WITHOUT SLOWING DOWN
Laura LaValle offers tips for managing your metabolism in the face of summer’s special challenges.
- Blood sugar spikes and falls can make us hungry and cause us to overeat, according to LaValle. Help keep your engine running steady with these easy alternatives:
- Instead of the mile-high sundae: Keep low-sugar versions of ice cream in your freezer and try to limit your trips to the ice cream parlor to once or twice a month. When you do go, get one scoop or a child’s portion.
- Instead of bun-wrapped burgers: At cookouts, use lettuce or crunchy cabbage leaves to wrap your burger, and skip the white flour bun.
- Instead of super-sweet poolside cocktails: If you want to indulge in an adult beverage, make it a low-sugar margarita: Blend 1 shot tequila, 2 tbsp. lime juice, 4 tbsp. sparkling water or soda water, 1/4 tsp. orange extract or a squeeze of fresh orange juice, 1 tsp. liquid stevia (or to taste) and ice – and enjoy!
- Cold hands and feet, even in summer, could indicate that your thyroid hormone production is off-kilter, according to LaValle. Thyroid hormones influence the rate of metabolism, and nutrients like chromium, selenium and iodine can help support your thyroid hormone production. But if you have persistently chilly fingers and toes, see your doctor for a thorough assessment.
- Get some summer sun to boost mood and Vitamin D. “Vitamin D is not just for strong bones,” LaValle explains. “It supports aspects of our physiology related to metabolic function, from muscle strength to our immune system and blood sugar regulation, to cardiovascular health.” Summer’s the perfect time to catch up on vitamin D, safely, according to the Vitamin D Council, with a few minutes of exposure before you slather on the sunblock – or you can put on the sunscreen and take a vitamin D supplement instead.