Sprinkle a few hot peppers into your lunchtime soup or evening stir-fry. They temporarily boost your resting metabolic rate, according to research done at Laval University in Canada. Here's why: Capsaicin, a compound found in jalapeño and cayenne peppers, temporarily stimulates your body to release more stress hormones, such as adrenaline, speeding up your metabolism and thus increasing your ability to burn calories, says study coauthor Angelo Tremblay, director of the Institute of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods at Laval. Bonus: The pepper-eaters had less of an appetite, Tremblay found, probably because the spiciness of the food made them feel full.
Body composition (the more muscle we have, the higher our metabolisms), protein intake, hormones, stimulant use (like caffeine, which speeds up metabolism temporarily), fasting (which lowers metabolism) and environmental temperatures (i.e. when it’s hot or cold out, our body burns more calories trying to keep itself at a constant temperature) are also considered to have an impact on metabolism, registered dietitian Tristica Curley of Fueling with Food adds.
A recent study by the Royal Society for Public Health found that while a long commute to work obviously decreases physical activity and might eat into time spent at the gym, it can also lead to decreased sleep time and a 29 percent increase in food consumption—and usually unhealthier food at that, since there is less time to prepare meals. Though some people might not have the means (or the climate) to avoid driving or public transportation, subbing in walking or biking for part of the trip could have you feeling more energetic and lean. Make sure you avoid these simple habits that slow down your metabolism.
Adding interval training — bursts of high-intensity moves — to your workout is a great metabolism booster. "Studies have shown that people who do interval training twice a week [in addition to cardio] lose twice as much weight as those who do just a regular cardio workout," says obesity specialist Aronne. You can easily incorporate interval training into your workout by inserting a 30-second sprint into your jog every five minutes or by adding a one-minute incline walk to your treadmill workout. "Since your body is working harder, it's a more intense workout -- and you therefore burn more calories," says Westcott. On other days, shake up your routine with 40 minutes of cross-training. Ideally, aim for two 20-to-40-minute interval-training sessions and two 20-to-40-minute cross-training sessions a week.
Caffeine may provide a bit of a boost to the metabolism, especially when ingested before exercise, but no amount of metabolic boost can burn off the empty calories that energy drinks supply. According to one study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, a typical energy drink serves up a quarter cup of sugar—calories that hit your body all at once and trigger fat storage. If you want to burn calories, try the miracle beverage known as tap water. According to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, after drinking two tall glasses of water (17 ounces), participants’ metabolic rates increased by 30 percent.
But, Bustillo cautions against hanging too much hope on this: “Many companies that sell the ‘after burn’ or ‘metabolic workouts’ are just utilizing a marketing strategy with [a grain of science behind it],” he says. “They're not technically lying, because training can increase BMR [in the 24 hours post-workout], but it's not by more than 200-300 calories on average.”
It’s no secret that experts recommend putting away blue-light devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops, at least an hour before bed to improve sleep quality. However, a recent pilot study from Northwestern University shows that exposure to blue-light at night can impact glucose metabolism. Although the exact correlation is still being studied, John La Puma, MD, suggests ceasing exposure to blue light two hours prior to hitting the sack. “It resets melatonin levels so that getting to sleep becomes harder, and too little sleep means weight gain for most people,” says Dr. La Puma.
It’s not just about being a gym rat. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that non-exercise related activity, such as tapping your foot or fidgeting at your desk, can help keep off fat. To integrate more movement into your everyday routine, Pincus suggests opting for a standing or transitional desk, or just making sure you don’t spend the entire workday sedentary. “Set a timer to walk around your office every half an hour, do a few squats, something to keep the body moving,” she says.
Eating an apple each day can help prevent metabolic syndrome, a disorder associated with abdominal fat, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. They’ll keep the doctor away and your muffin tops at bay because apples are a low-calorie, nutrient dense source of fiber, which studies have proven to be integral to reducing visceral fat. A recent study at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber eaten per day, visceral fat was reduced by 3.7 percent over five years!
Experts agree that including a weekly cheat meal into your healthy-eating plan can actually help you reach your weight loss goals. Having a strategy is key: “By planning your cheat meal, you know what you’ll be eating and can cut a few extra calories earlier in the day,” says Jim White, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. “This also allows you to really pick a favorite food instead of wasting calories on something you didn’t enjoy.” Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, Real Nutrition NYC, gives similar advice. “Pick your poison. If you’re going out, pick your splurge. Are you going to dig into carbs like a bread basket or pasta or dessert? Or are you planning on tossing back a few cocktails?” She urges cheaters to avoid consuming all three of those common categories in one sitting. “Focus only on one,” she says, adding that by saving the others for another time you can “enjoy without going overboard.”
Spicy foods have natural chemicals that can kick your metabolism into a higher gear. Cooking foods with a tablespoon of chopped red or green chili pepper can boost your metabolic rate. The effect is probably temporary, but if you eat spicy foods often, the benefits may add up. For a quick boost, spice up pasta dishes, chili, and stews with red pepper flakes.
Going organic can be costly and leave a dent on your wallet, but it can speed up your metabolism. The antibiotics and growth hormones found in conventionally farmed foods could hamper your immune system and slow down metabolism. The amount of pesticides in non-organic foods can cause a above normal dip in metabolism in dieters who begin to lose weight, says Prevention.com.