Best ways to increase metabolism, according to research

Naveed Saleh, MD, MS | May 14, 2021

The prospect of revving up your metabolism to burn more calories is appealing to nearly everyone. In reality, however, boosting your metabolism is difficult, and there are more myths than evidence-based strategies to back its feasibility.

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Woman measuring waist

Trying to boost your metabolism to lose weight seems like a great idea, but evidence show's it is easier said than done.

Metabolism is defined as the physical and chemical processes that utilize energy. These physiologic processes include breathing, blood circulation, muscle contraction, digestion, thermoregulation, central nervous system function, and excretion.

The following five interventions may increase metabolism, according to research.

Resistance training

Also known as strength training, this exercise strategy elicits various health benefits, including weight control and enhancements in performance. 

One way to characterize resistance training is by the number of joints involved: multi-joint (MJ) or single-joint (SJ exercises). Many popular exercise recommendations suggest that resistance training be performed in multiple MJ or SJ sets of between 8 and 10 repetitions each. 

In a study published in Frontiers in Physiology, researchers compared the effects of MJ or SJ resistance training on aerobic capacity, body composition, and muscle strength in young, active men. 

“According to our results, both protocols were equally efficient in improving body composition; however, training with MJ exercises provided higher gains in physical performance,” the authors wrote.

“The observed decreases in body fat supports a previous suggestion that RT might be beneficial to promote fat loss and is in agreement with previous studies that reported improvements in body composition in different populations after high intensity RT, even in the absence of caloric restriction. These positive effects may be due to training intensity, since previous studies showed that high intensity resistance training increases basal metabolic rate and fat oxidation,” they added.

Office cycling

A sedentary lifestyle can dampen metabolism and result in early death, according to the WHO. One fix may be the use of treadmills in the office.

According to the authors of a study published in BioMed Research International, “Usage of treadmills, at present the most commonly researched type of active workstation, has been shown to lead to reductions in sedentary time, increased low intensity physical activity, and thus increased energy expenditure during the workday, as well as positive effects on different health parameters.”

The researchers assessed the use of customized office-cycle work stations in healthy participants as compared with standing. They found that low-intensity cycling “more than doubled metabolic expenditure, whilst minimally influencing work performance when compared to standing.”

Green tea

The main flavonoids found in green tea are epicatechin (EC), epigallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin gallate (ECG), and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), with the last being the most bioactive and abundant polyphenol. EGCG totals 35% of total catechin content in green tea and is hypothesized to be an anti-obesity agent.

In obese people, several randomized controlled trials have shown that green tea can boost weight loss and improve body composition. Furthermore, green tea plus capsaicin and ginger supplements can also increase weight loss.

According to the results of a systematic review published in Nutrients, green tea catechins increased resting metabolic rate. It is unclear, however, how much green tea is needed to boost metabolism, per the authors.

“A further consideration could be the daily dose of consumed green tea required for detecting effects on energy metabolism,” they wrote. “The present systematic review included studies considering a wide range of EGCG daily dose supplementations, from 100 to 800 mg. Interestingly, the studies in which modifications of energetic parameters were detected, in particular RQ reduction, used low doses of EGCG, from around 100 to 300 mg.”

Moderate alcohol consumption

Researchers have hypothesized for some time that the effects of alcohol on metabolism are in equipoise. Although alcohol intake heightens basal metabolic rates and boosts diet-induced thermogenesis, it suppresses physical activity. 

The key to leveraging the metabolic benefits of alcohol may be to drink in moderation. In a preclinical study involving mouse models, authors publishing in Aging found that long-term, low-dose ethanol consumption resulted in enhanced “thermogenic activity, physical performance, and mitochondrial function, as well as resistance against the high-fat diet-induced obesity with elevated insulin sensitivity and subdued inflammation.”

They concluded, “Our results suggest that long-term low-dose ethanol intake can improve healthspan and resist high-fat diet-induced obesity in mice. It may provide new insight into understanding the protective effects of moderate alcohol drinking.”

Supplements

Let’s switch gears and focus on more than just increased muscle metabolism. The brain is another organ that burns a great deal of energy: an estimated 20% or more of total body energy. Research demonstrates that it’s possible to increase metabolic rates with medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) supplements, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

In Alzheimer disease patients, brain glucose utilization declines, whereas ketone metabolism is unaffected by age. Decreases in cerebral glucose use is linked to cognitive impairment in those with Alzheimer disease. Moreover, brain glucose hypometabolism predicts the presence of symptoms in Alzheimer disease.

In the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease study, patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer disease took MCT supplements for one month. Researchers then used PET scans to measure brain ketone and glucose uptake. The researchers wrote, “Brain ketone consumption doubled on both types of MCT supplement. The slope of the relationship between plasma ketones and brain ketone uptake was the same as in healthy young adults. Both types of MCT increased total brain energy metabolism by increasing ketone supply without affecting brain glucose utilization.”

They concluded, “Ketones from MCT compensate for the brain glucose deficit in AD in direct proportion to the level of plasma ketones achieved.”

Check out this article for more ways to boost metabolism.

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