Your metabolism naturally slows down with age, but with these smart tips from the experts, you can boost it to ensure you sustain energy levels throughout the day, burn calories, and enable your body tofunction optimally. By Nicola Monteath.
Metabolism is essentially a bio-chemical process which combines calories in food with oxygen, to fuel up the body and release energy – to facilitate all its functions, from physical movement to brain use, digestion, and cell repair. It’s important to have a fast metabolism, as this allows the body to burn more calories. While each person’s Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), or the rate at which food is converted into energy, is genetic, it is also affected by age and activity levels, and closely linked to muscle tissue and nutrition as well. Simply put, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. This, combined with the food choices you make, and lifestyle habits, allows you to alter your metabolism levels, in order to not feel sluggish, improve sleeping patterns, and most importantly, burn calories when you aren’t even exercising – what’s not to love about that? If that seems like reason enough to combat your body’s natural metabolic slow-down, or if you simply want to amp up your metabolism, follow these simple lifestyle tips from the experts:
Heat things up
Increase the health benefits of a dish by adding a hint of spice to it, whether it’s chopped red or green chilli peppers, or a sprinkle of cayenne pepper. Dr Dana Al-Hamwi, GP and Clinical Dietician at Sama Medical Centre, says chillies have a compound called capsacin which temporarily increases your metabolic rate. Ginger is another metabolism-boosting hero, as it heats up your body. “Cayenne pepper and ginger both speed up your metabolism by heating up your body. Once there is a rise in body temperature, the body needs to work to cool it down, increasing the metabolic rate – this burns calories. Ginger also helps curb your appetite by stimulating your digestive system," adds Wiebke Katsoudas, co-Founder of juice delivery brand Essentially. Add ginger slices to a cup of tea, enrich your juices with cold-pressed ginger root, or use in your cooking – it will help the digestive process as well as fuel your metabolism.
Make brekkie count!
This is the most important meal of the day, and for good reason. “Breakfast kick-starts your metabolic rate, but that also depends on what you eat,” says Archana Arora, Senior Dietician at Health Factory. A nutritious breakfast of whole grains like quinoa, high-protein food like eggs and lean meat, and rich-infibre items like oats and fruits are ideal. Chia seeds are also a great choice as a topping for cereal and smoothies as they are high in omega-3 fats, fibre, protein and vitamins and minerals, which help fire up your metabolism and stimulate glucagon (a fat-burning hormone).
Say yes to coffee
Who doesn’t love waking up with their morning cup of coffee? “The advantage of coffee is that it provides a short-term rise in your metabolic rate, if taken in moderation. The caffeine can also increase your durability during physical activity, allowing the body to refresh from a constantly exhausted feeling,” says Hala Abu Taha, Dietitian, The Right Bite Nutrition and Catering Services. But this doesn’t mean you now start guzzling down coffee to keep yourself wired – two to four cups of coffee is recommended per day. While it is beneficial for the body, Dana recommends having it only after breakfast, as that is when it is more effective in mobilising fat from the fat tissues, while increasing metabolism.
Devour dark chocolate
Dark chocolate contains catechins (a type of natural phenol and antioxidant), caffeine, and monounsaturated fats which boosts your metabolism and stimulates your body to burn fat even when you aren’t exercising. Dana recommends a small square (five to ten grams) of dark chocolate (over 70 per cent) as a snack, any time of the day
Have a green shot
Wheatgrass is a really hardworking superfood and to add to the feathers in its hat, it helps in the functioning of the thyroid gland – the main gland in the endocrine system which regulates metabolism. The root, usually consumed in a pill, powder or juice form, is equivalent to a bowl of salad in terms of nutritional benefits. Popular as a pre-or post-workout snack, wheatgrass is rich in fibre, amino acids and enzymes that aid in the burning of fats, while increasing your metabolism.
Up your protein intake
Protein and essential amino acids are the building blocks of the body. “The body burns more calories digesting protein,” says Archana. Protein-rich foods have a high thermic effect (the energy used in digestion, absorption and distribution of nutrients) which allows the body to burn more calories to digest it. So instead of filling your plate with foods filled with carbohydrates, replace it with protein-rich foods like lean meat, turkey, fish, chicken breast, tofu, nuts, beans, eggs, and low-fat dairy products.
Refresh with tea
Green tea is touted for being rich in antioxidants, and is the main source of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which speeds up your brain and nervous system, causing your body to burn more calories. White tea also has similar health and nutritional benefits.
Eat four-six small meals through the day to keep your metabolism pumping all day long. “Extending the time between meals makes your body go into starvation mode, which decreases your metabolism, to save energy, and prevents it from burning fat,” says Hala. Archana agrees, saying that snacking can give your body a fuel boost, and prevent you from over-eating later on – which can often lead to lethargy if you eat the wrong food. Include healthy carbohydrates and protein in each snack – think peanut butter and banana, nuts and low fat yoghurt, hummous and baby carrots, or an apple with low-fat cheddar cheese when you are feeling peckish. The protein and carbohydrate combination helps regulate blood sugar, energy levels and feelings of satiety.
Increase your fibre intake
High-fibre foods provide one of the best ways to increase your metabolism, as fibre is a nondigestible carbohydrate which uses up energy to digest food, while boosting metabolism in the process. “It’s important to have at least 30 grams of fibre per day, in foods like oatmeal or brown rice, as it helps you burn fat, since the body takes time to break it down,” says Dana. Avocado, cabbages, carrots, sweet potato and spinach, are high in fibre, as well as other nutrients and healthy fats, making it beneficial for those looking to lose weight as well.
The energy burning process of metabolism needs water to work effectively. According to Archana, the body needs water to process calories, and not drinking enough of it will only result in slowing down your metabolism. In order to encourage your liver to focus on metabolism, rather than water retention, make sure you drink a glass of water or any other unsweetened beverage before every meal and snack. Also, snack on fresh fruits and vegetables like watermelon and celery, which contain high levels of water. Hala suggests flavour enhancers like lemon slices or mint leaves for water, if you don’t like the taste of plain water. Dana also recommends having a cup of hot water with few drops of lemon juice after a meal, to get rid of toxins and improve digestion – lemon energises the body as it has vitamins and electrolytes, so lemon water is good for you at any time.
Gulp down oil
A tablespoon of oil first thing in the morning might sound unpalatable, but Dana says it works wonders for your body. “Olive oil burns built-up fat in the body and boosts it simultaneously,” she says. Have it on its own, followed by a glass of water.
Sleep well A well-rested body is efficient in burning calories. “Get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night, and try to develop a regular schedule, so you go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day in order to help keep your metabolism at its optimum level,” says Archana.