This article was written by Dr. Jonathan Goodman, an experienced naturopathic physician who seeks to promote health through education, inspiration, humor, cutting-edge science and ancient medical wisdom. Check out his website here or follow him on Facebook.
Is the needle (or number) on your scale stuck or going in the wrong direction? Are you frustrated because all the same things that helped you lose weight before aren’t working now? Are you starving yourself but not seeing results?
Chances are your metabolic rate has slowed down. It’s not your fault – most of us don’t know why our metabolism slows down or how to boost it. Let’s find out.
First of all, what IS metabolism? Your metabolism, or metabolic rate, is the rate at which your body burns calories. (Calories are the energy your body uses to function). This rate is typically measured at rest, hours after you’ve eaten, so you know your baseline.
Once you know this number, you can better figure out how to reach your weight goals. Think of it as your income in making a budget: you decide how much to eat (spend) based on your rate.
You’re born with the genes you inherit, so a big part of your metabolic rate is fixed. When you gain weight, you actually INCREASE your metabolic rate, as more energy is needed to burn the additional pounds you’ve put on. As you lose weight, your metabolism begins to slow, making it harder to keep losing. You need every advantage to win the “war” of weight loss.
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1. Eat Fewer Carbs
You need to keep your carbs down to boost your metabolism. Most of us get about 55% of our daily calories from carbohydrates. If you’re eating 2000 calories a day, that’s between 250 and 300 grams of carbs –way too many if you’re trying to keep metabolism up. Even if you’re cutting calories and eating 1200 calories a day, 55% will put you at 165 grams of carbs.
The research shows that to maximize your metabolism; you need to keep carbs down to between 10 and 20 percent of calories a day (JAMA. 2012;307(24):2627-2634). That’s 50-100 grams for a 2000 calorie diet and 30-60 grams when you’re down at 1200.
You gain up to 100 calories a day of metabolic power when you make these changes. That adds up to a quarter of a pound a week just from those changes. If that doesn’t sound like much, it’s 13 pounds a year – ask yourself, would you rather gain or lose that between now and next year?
2. Do Strength Training
Aerobic exercise – running, elliptical, biking, Zumba, etc., is essential for long-term heart health, good mood, blood sugar control, and weight management. Strength training, on the other hand, builds muscle, and muscle burns calories better than fat. (Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Mar; 32(3): 573–576.)
How much better? Muscle burns about six calories per pound versus 2 for fat. Not dramatic for one pound, but convert twenty pounds of fat into muscle, and you’re burning 80 calories more a day. Muscle also helps reduce insulin resistance, a sign of pre-diabetes.
What kind of strength training should you do? I tell my patients to start with push-ups, planks, and pull-ups. If military style push-ups are too difficult, start with either of two modifications: knees on the ground or against a wall.
Plank is challenging so only do this if you have tried it before. Consult your fitness expert at a local gym. Pull-ups require you to install a bar if doing it at home. For all three exercises build strength doing three sets a day. Alternate days on and off with aerobic exercise.
Yoga and Pilates are both wonderful ways to build strength and lean muscle while stretching and cultivating focus and mindfulness.
3. Do you have low T?
Men pound for pound burn calories at a faster rate than women. Unfair? Maybe so, but why the advantage? Men have significantly more muscle compared to fat than do women, and the biggest reason is testosterone. Men typically have 10-20 times more testosterone than women, and this hormone is essential for muscle building.
I measure testosterone in all my patients when they start my program. Many are low and need support. In many cases, testosterone will naturally increase as a result of fat loss since the fat converts testosterone to estrogen. Either way, look into your testosterone level if you are having trouble losing weight and gaining muscle.
4. Intensify Your Workout
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) does a better job of burning calories for the amount of time you are exercising. Building in one-minute bursts of running on the treadmill or faster speed on the elliptical will increase your fat burn and lead to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. EPOC means your body continues to burn calories after the workout.
5. Take Glutamine
Glutamine, an important amino acid, helps support levels of human growth hormone, an essential factor in muscle growth (Welbourne TC. Increased plasma bicarbonate and growth hormone after an oral glutamine load. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995 May;61(5):1058-61.)
Working out can deplete glutamine levels, so I recommend supplementing with two teaspoons a day. Glutamine is also good for the digestive system, repairing leaky gut, and reduces sweet cravings.
6. Drink Green Tea or Coffee
Caffeine is healthy in moderate doses. Coffee and green tea are excellent sources of both caffeine and antioxidants. EGCG is another antioxidant in green tea that has been shown to help the body burn fat (Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Dec;70(6):1040-5.) Drink 3-4 cups of green tea and 1-2 cups of coffee a day.
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