Boosting your metabolic rate should make it easier to lose weight or consume more food without gaining weight. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. For the most part, your genes determine your metabolic rate, but lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise optimize how well your body metabolizes food for energy.
A luxury car has a first-class engine, but the quality of gas you use and whether you perform routine maintenance will determine how well that engine works. If you have the signs and symptoms of a sluggish metabolism, check your diet and supplements to see if you can fine-tune your body’s metabolic rate by choosing foods and supplements that boost metabolism.
Some foods can boost metabolic rate either by requiring your body to use more calories to burn them, by increasing heat in your body, or by increasing norepinephrine, a brain neurotransmitter that helps regulate metabolism.
Though the effect size is small for each individual food choice, building a balanced, nutritious, calorie-conscious diet that incorporates these healthy foods can help boost your metabolism and overall energy so that you can be more active. Building muscle is another great way to rev up your metabolism.
Protein-rich foods take more energy to digest than those high in carbohydrates or fats. Protein is needed to build muscle, and it helps with appetite control. Incorporate meat, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds into your diet to increase the calories you burn while digesting food. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF). Digesting, absorbing, transporting, metabolizing, and storing food takes energy. Diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT) is indicated as a percentage increase in energy expenditure over basic metabolic rate. DIT values are highest for protein (15-30%), followed by carbohydrates (5-10%) and fat (0-3%).1
Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are essential for building muscle. You can increase your resting metabolic rate by an average of 5% by making strength-building a part of your daily exercise routine.2
Proteins are the most satiating macronutrient, followed by carbohydrates and fats. They help you stay full longer, which can prevent overeating.3 Research suggests that meals with a protein content of 25% to 81% induce the most satiety.4
Legumes, which include beans, lentils, and peas, are another great source of protein that can increase TEF and burn more calories as your body digests them.
Legumes are also high in fiber. Fiber slows digestion, which helps you feel full and satiated longer. Since humans lack the enzymes needed to digest dietary fiber, they pass through the upper gastrointestinal tract and are fermented in the large intestine by the gut microbiota into several metabolites. One of which is short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). While the gut microbiota cannot use SCFAs, they are important to human health and play a role in preventing and treating metabolic syndrome, bowel disorders, and certain types of cancer.5
Polyphenols are bioactive compounds that may reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. Lentils are rich in polyphenols, are high in antioxidants, and can neutralize harmful free radicals in the body.6
Leafy greens are high in magnesium, a mineral that is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions that regulate metabolism, protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, and blood pressure control. Magnesium is essential for energy production. Low magnesium levels are associated with a slower metabolic rate and an increased risk of obesity. Some research suggests that consuming more magnesium can boost metabolism and improve insulin sensitivity.
Leafy greens are high in vitamin K, which is essential for optimal bone health, blood clotting, and cognitive and heart health.7 Besides vitamin K, leafy greens are rich in vitamins A and C, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Spicy foods are thought to increase metabolic rate by increasing heat production in your body. Capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their heat, is thought to be responsible for this effect. More research is needed on the effect of capsaicin on metabolic rate. Research studies have yielded mixed results.8
Capsaicin may also support weight loss by reducing caloric intake. After reviewing 74 clinical trials, researchers found those consuming foods high in capsaicin before meals reduced calorie consumption by about 74 kcal per meal. A minimum dose of 2 mg of capsaicin was required to get these effects, and there was some variability in the trial results.9
Ginger and related spices can increase metabolic rate by stimulating heat production in the body, increasing the absorption and use of nutrients in the body, supporting thyroid function, and improving fat cell breakdown.10 Ginger powder dissolved in water reduced caloric consumption by 43 kcal when compared to drinking hot water. Participants reported enhanced satiety and reduced hunger.11
Caffeine in coffee may boost metabolic rate by 3-11%.12,13 A small study suggested that metabolic rate increased immediately after caffeine consumption and remained elevated for two to three hours. Body temperature also increased.13 Caffeine blocks adenosine production and increases brain chemicals that help you feel more energized and awake. 14
Caffeine is also recognized for its ability to enhance athletic performance and reduce perceived exertion, which may contribute to its metabolism-boosting effects.15,16
Green tea contains a group of antioxidants called catechins, which have been shown to increase metabolic rate, possibly by increasing norepinephrine release. Norepinephrine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that helps regulate metabolism. Catechins may act synergistically with caffeine in green tea to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, which can increase fat metabolism and metabolic rate.17,18
The effects of food on metabolism are likely to vary based on sex, age, and weight.
For many people interested in metabolism-boosting foods and supplements, their goal is weight loss or changing their body composition. When combined with a nutritious diet and exercise, some supplements can support your weight loss efforts.
B vitamins are essential for converting food into energy. B12 and B6 are involved in carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. They may also increase metabolic rate.
Vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol, is essential for bone, muscle, and immune health. There is also some evidence that vitamin D3 promotes insulin sensitivity and can aid in weight loss.21 Vitamin D deficiency increases your risk of muscle atrophy and bone loss, which can affect metabolism.22
Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and for maintaining and healing broken bones. After reviewing 15 randomized clinical trials, researchers found that high-calcium diets reduced weight gain and decreased fat storage. Calcium may also increase fat burning and body heat production, which increases metabolic rate.23
Research suggests that calcium may suppress hunger and increase fat excretion in the stool, supporting weight loss.23,24 When fat is lost in the stool, it is not absorbed into the body and used for energy.
Calcium is essential for glucose uptake into muscle. Glucose provides skeletal muscles with energy and regulates blood glucose levels.25 Healthy glucose levels reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Magnesium is a mineral involved in several enzymatic reactions needed for fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Magnesium may boost metabolism, and it increases insulin sensitivity.26 Diets with higher amounts of magnesium are associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. If your diet may be low in magnesium or you are in a high-risk population for magnesium deficiency, Foundation Vitamin Pack delivers optimal amounts of vitamins K and D3 along with magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids, a combination that supports your metabolic, cardiovascular, and bone health.
If your goal is to fuel your body with nutrients to boost your metabolism and energy levels, there are some foods to avoid. Foods to avoid:
Your body functions best when fueled with nutritious whole foods that support cellular metabolism. While your genetic predisposition largely determines your metabolic rate, a healthy diet, and daily exercise maximizes your genetic potential and promotes overall health and well-being. Read 8 Healthy Aging Tips: How to Promote Wellness as Your Age for more tips on healthy aging.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
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