Boosting Metabolism: Myths and Facts


A slow metabolism is often quoted as the cause for weight gain. Whether that’s true or not, the market abounds with products claiming to raise metabolism and promote weight loss. Should you trust them? This article explores the myths and facts surrounding metabolism.

Defining Metabolism

The human body never rests. Even asleep, it’s busy keeping itself warm, breathing, circulating blood, and doing other basic functions. Metabolism is the sum of all these biochemical processes working non-stop to keep the body going. Metabolic rate is the rate at which it uses energy or calories to perform these processes.

Most of the calories the body burns each day is for basic functions such as breathing and maintaining the proper temperature- this is referred to as the basic metabolic rate. It accounts for 60 to 75 percent of total caloric needs. The other part of metabolism is made up of physical activity and the digestion, absorption and storage of food.

Unfortunately, factors that are out of our control such as age, gender, and genetics mainly affect basal metabolic rate. Other factors such as exercise, diet and body composition may affect metabolism but at varying levels.

Food That Increases Your Metabolism?

Green tea and caffeine-containing beverages claiming to give metabolism a surge are inundating the supermarket shelves. Some supplements are starting to pop up on the market, promising to boost your metabolism and testosterone. Additionally some diet books talk up the benefits of spicy foods. Are these claims founded? Here is the low-down on some of the most popular foods and substances touted as metabolism boosters:

  • Green tea: A research has demonstrated that green tea extracts modestly spike up metabolic rate by about four percent or around 78 calories (31 percent of calories contained in a regular-size Snickers bar). Researchers suspect compounds called catechins are the culprit for this calorie-burning lift.
  • Caffeine: Despite promises made on the label of multiple caffeine-loaded weight loss drinks, research done to link caffeine to weight loss has not been convincing. Some research has shown a short term increase in metabolism after participants drank a cup of Joe. The effect was more pronounced in lean compared to obese participants. That heart beat rate increase does translate in a metabolism jump, but as research has demonstrated, it is short lived and long-term studies do not associate caffeine with weight loss.
  • Spicy foods: According to research, capsaicin, the substance responsible for the burn of chili peppers, also acts as a metabolism stimulant for a short period of time. It’s been found to use up to 76 calories in additional metabolism. Whether chili peppers can be consumed on a regular basis for the purpose of revving up the metabolism is another question.


What Really Works to Speed Up Your Metabolism

By far the best way to positively affect your metabolism is to move that body. Both aerobic exercise and weight training.

  • Aerobic workout: Any activity above and beyond your basal metabolic rate raises your total metabolism. This includes standing instead of sitting, combing your hair, mowing the lawn, and so on. A research published in Science actually demonstrated that lean participants engaged in daily activity for about 152 minutes more that obese participants. Researchers showed that this “non-exercise” activity was about equivalent to 350 calories, or the amount of calories burned in an hour of low impact aerobic exercise, or alternatively, the amount consumed in a King Size Hershey candy bar. Planned aerobic workouts are then one of the best way to significantly impact the metabolism. Consider that one hour of light walking can use up to 250 calories while one hour of strenuous exercise can burn up to 500 calories, according to the Compendium of Physical Activity Tracking Guide.
  • Weight training: With aging, metabolism slows down and this is due largely to a reduction in muscle mass. Muscles burn more energy than fat, even at rest, so investing in building muscle really pays off to keep the basal metabolism steady.

Although some foods or beverages may temporarily and slightly boost metabolism, the best way to have a long lasting and significant effect on your total metabolic rate is to engage in more aerobic and muscle building activity. Add this to your list of reasons why you should be more active!