We’re not going down the yellow brick road to Dr. Oz. There’s no magic elixir for effortlessly melting off pounds of fat. (Secret formula: diet and exercise.) However, there are ways to stoke your metabolism, making it a more efficient calorie furnace. Here’s our top five metabolism hacks.
The cliché about muscle burning more calories than fat is true. At rest, the former uses over three times the energy of the latter. Check out these charts:
Notice that your brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and digestive system are really punching out of their weight classes, but then they’re always working, even when you’re resting. You’re not going to change the size of those other colored areas (though you can make them work harder); the two you can grow or shrink are muscles and fat. Get more of the former, and it’ll help you lose more of the latter. Easier said than done, we know, but The Barbell will be your guide.
2. CHILL OUT
Shivering is your body’s attempt to stay warm by forcing your muscles to work and generate energy, and it can boost your metabolic rate as much as five-fold. Reason enough for cold showers. But shivering is your body’s emergency maneuver, so it’s not something you’ll want to do for long. The good news is you don’t have to completely chill out to heat up your metabolism. Researchers discovered that even in mildly cold conditions (64° F) our bodies are burning as much as 30% more brown fat to keep us warm. So, lower your thermostat. One more (little) hack: Drink ice water. Just note that the effect is negligible when compared to skin-cooling.
3. GET SPICY
Heat can also boost your basal metabolic rate, forcing your body to work harder (sweating, panting) to maintain a healthy body temperature. But only up to a point. When your brain senses you’re becoming dehydrated, it’ll slow your metabolism—another safety maneuver, like shivering. Instead of bringing the heat to your skin, this is time for an inside job. Capsaicin, the component that makes plants like chili peppers so spicy, can temporarily jolt your BMR up 8%. That’s not a dramatic difference, but it may be enough to choose demon hot sauce over mild.
4. SLEEP IT OFF
Many people associate slumber with growing fat. It seems counterintuitive that sleeping boosts your metabolism. And, in fact, your BMR reduces during a night of sleep, just not much: 10-15% overall (very little during REM cycles, more during deep cycles). So, you do burn fewer calories when sleeping, but that doesn’t come close to offsetting the fact that sleeping recharges your metabolism. The yin-and-yang hormones, (good) leptin and (bad) ghrelin, control appetite and regulate energy expenditure. In a study, sleep deprived subjects suffered an 18% reduction in leptin and 28% increase in ghrelin, making them hungrier and less efficient at burning calories. Multiple studies link chronic sleep deprivation to obesity. This is less a hack, and more a lifestyle: Get at least seven hours, and ideally eight, of sleep nightly. Nap if necessary.
5. SPEED AWAY
In addition to its many workout benefits, caffeine is a fat-burner. But like that splash of hot sauce, don’t expect dramatic results from a cup or two of coffee. In one study, 200 mg. of caffeine increased the metabolic rate of 12 subjects by 4-11% during the three hours after ingestion. Another study, demonstrated that the fat-burning effects of caffeine were much greater in lean subjects than obese ones, which takes us back to our first hack. Swell up and lean out. It makes everything easier.