We all know women who seemingly have won the genetic lottery when it comes to metabolism. They chow down chocolate cake, ice cream and all your favorite carbs without gaining weight. They might be biologically gifted, but it’s more likely that they rely on both balance and healthy habits to keep their stellar metabolism in check. We’re stuck with the baseline metabolism we were born with, but there are a few things to help our systems run as efficiently as possible. Here are the main metabolism-boosting habits to borrow.
1. They Get a Full Night of Shut-Eye
Getting the full 7 to 9 recommended hours of sleep is the sweet spot for your metabolism. Researchers have found that insufficient sleep throws off your body’s ability to “maintain metabolic and hormonal equilibrium,” and that can contribute to diabetes and obesity. Research also suggests sleep deprivation leads to reduced levels of the hormone leptin, which regulates appetite and metabolism. A decrease in leptin promotes hunger and increases cravings for high-carb foods–the sweet, salty and starchy stuff.
2. They Eat Small, Frequent Meals
“Picture your metabolism as a wheel. Eating every three to four hours keeps it spinning,” says Melissa Majumdar, speaking for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you’re skimping on calories during the day, you’re slowing your metabolism and more likely to overeat at night. Consuming mini meals steadily keeps your metabolism humming. Her advice is to front-load the calories, meaning eating while you’re most active during the day. How you intersperse meals and snacks is up to you. “Some people prefer to do three meals and two snacks, and others might like four smaller meals. This will depend on your schedule and preferences,” Majumdar says. Here are some of our favorite low-calorie lunch recipes.
3. They’re Pro Protein
Opt for lean protein at every meal, whether it’s chicken, turkey or beans and tofu. Several studies suggest that including an adequate to high amount of protein in your diet will boost your metabolism. “Start your day with eggs, Greek Yogurt or collagen in your smoothie,” says Lauren Slayton, author of The Little Book of Thin: Foodtrainers Plan-It-to-Lose-It Solutions for Every Diet Dilemma. Protein also helps curb hunger. Protein should make up 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories. “If people are trying to manage their hunger, they’ll do better on the higher end of that spectrum,” Majumdar says. That’s about .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
4. They Choose Whole Foods Over Processed Foods (Most of the Time)
In a small study, researchers found that it takes more energy to burn whole foods than processed foods. That means our bodies burn more calories when we choose whole-grain breads, fresh vegetables and fruits over processed items. A bit of prep on Sunday ahead of a busy workweek can ensure that you reach for the protein-packed salad instead of the leftover mac and cheese in an emergency. On the day you have the most free time (that’s Sunday for us), dedicate an hour or two to shop for groceries and prep the essentials: chop produce, oven-roast proteins, cook grains (something like farro, quinoa or brown rice) and mix together a simple vinaigrette or sauce. During the week, you’ll have ingredients ready to throw into a bowl or to-go container for lunch. See more tips for meal planning here.
For balanced eating, each plate should consist of 1/2 veggies or fruits, 1/4 of lean protein and 1/4 of starch–and something dairy if you’d like, Majumdar says. Snacks should have a combination of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats.
Here are easy-to-pack suggestions that hit all the notes:
- Cottage cheese or Greek yogurt with fruit
- Prepackaged cheese with cut-up veggies
- Nuts with a piece of fruit
- Whole-grain crackers with hummus or cheese
- Fruit with nut butter
5. They Remember This Add-In
Although there’s no single food, supplement or ingredient that can permanently alter your metabolism, there are a few items that give your metabolism a minimal and temporary bump. Green tea is one of them. Trade your morning coffee for matcha, a powdered green tea. “All green tea increases your metabolic rate a little bit (75-100 calories), but every bit counts,” says Slayton, owner of Foodtrainers. “Most of our clients like a matcha latte (matcha plus water and topped with unsweetened almond milk), but matcha powder can be added to smoothies as well.” (Here’s another sneaky way to add green tea to your diet.)
6. They Drink Tons of Water
Hydration plays a big role in your body’s metabolic processes. Learn more about the best and worst drinks for hydration here. “I suggest clients drink a cup of water every hour during day (stopping a few hours before sleep because sleep is important for metabolism and you don’t want to be getting up to go to the restroom),” says Slayton. “Water drinking, especially cold water, increases metabolism but only for a short time.” Everyone’s water needs differ, so pay attention to your body each day.
7. They Don’t Overeat After Exercise
Tacking on some muscle is crucial to boosting your metabolism. After all, muscle requires more calories than fat to exist. Adding significant lean muscle is the surest way to see a corresponding increase in metabolism. Additionally, though, you get a big metabolic boost right after a hard workout. While it’s wise to replenish your body with healthy carbs and protein, don’t fall into the trap of overindulging after a workout. Eat a filling dinner, but don’t make it an excuse to eat fried chicken every night. Instead, reach for one of our healthy one-pot meals.
Your resting metabolic rate is may be established by factors you can’t change, such as your age, height and overall build, but there are crucial things you can do to help maintain the burn. It’s most important to eat healthy whole foods, not skip meals, work out when you can (even if it’s for five 10-minute blocks a day)–and cut out the junk most of the time.