Most of us don’t think about our metabolism unless we’re frustrated by it, yet “metabolism” doesn’t only refer to weight or burning calories.
It literally means all of the different chemical reactions that happen in the body at any given time. Without metabolism, we would not be alive.
When people think of the typical use of metabolism, they’re actually referring to the metabolic rate, or the rate at which your body burns calories for energy.
The faster it is, the lower your weight. The slower it is, the more extra weight you’ll carry.
If you want to increase your metabolic function and boost your body’s overall metabolism, stay tuned. But first, let’s explore what might lead to a slower overall metabolic function.
What Slows Metabolism Down?
Several factors can slow down your body’s metabolic function and result in hard-t0-lose weight or low energy levels.
Sometimes you even think you’re doing a good thing and you’re actually hurting your metabolism. Other times, the situation is out of our control until we address underlying factors.
The top reasons your metabolism might be slow are:
1. You’re eating too little calories.
2. Your sleep is messed up.
3. You have thyroid problems.
4. You have other hormonal imbalances.
5. You do too much cardio and skip other forms of working out.
6. You don’t exercise at all.
7. Your gut bacteria are out of balance.
8. You’re eating too much sugar and processed foods.
9. You are dehydrated.
10. You don’t eat enough protein.
11. You’re older.
12. You’re extremely stressed out.
13. You spend too much time trying fad diets.
14. You’re taking medications that slow your metabolism.
15. You have diabetes or other chronic diseases.
18 Signs Your Metabolism Needs Revved Up
How do you know if your metabolic function could be low?
There tend to be telltale signs that things are running on the low end. If you have one or more of these symptoms, your metabolic function might need a wake-up call.
Work with your healthcare provider, a nutritionist, and/or a trainer to get customized answers to meet your metabolic needs.
Signs of a low metabolism can include:
- Constant tiredness or fatigue
- Low energy levels or poor motivation
- Lower basal body temperature
- Constantly feeling cold
- Hair that’s falling out or getting thinner
- Skin that is dry and cracked
- Low sex drive
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Fingernails that break easily or grow slowly
- Insomnia or sleep problems
- Mood disorders such as anxiety or depression
- Inability to lose weight
- Gaining weight easily
- Frequent thirst or dry mouth
- Poor concentration or brain fog
- Frequent infections or illness
10 Natural Ways to Rev Your Metabolism
While you can’t control every aspect of your metabolism, if you have symptoms of low metabolic functions, these 10 tips might help boost overall energy.
1. Eat Enough Calories
Starving yourself or severely restricting calories might seem appealing if you’re struggling to lose weight, but doing so deprives your body of energy.
When you don’t eat enough food, your cells won’t get what they need to effectively reproduce, which slows every aspect of the inner workings of your body.
Instead of severely counting calories or following a fad diet, choose to eat enough food each day that focuses on nutrient-rich, high-quality items.
If you need help determining how many calories you need each day to support your basal metabolic rate, work with a nutritionist to get detailed information.
2. Don’t Skimp on Protein
You need plenty of high-quality food, but in that, you need to make sure you’re getting enough protein.
Certain foods help to metabolically rev up your body.
This process is referred to as the “thermic effect of food” and if you’re struggling with symptoms of low metabolism, this could boost your overall energy.
Protein specifically increases the metabolic rate by as much as 30 percent, compared to only 10 percent for carbs or 3 percent for fats. (source)
Protein also increases feelings of fullness, which can help prevent you from overeating poor sources of food, like sugary or processed stuff.
3. Boost Your Nutrients
Running low on crucial nutrients can also cause metabolic problems. Key nutrients like B vitamins especially are essential for cellular energy, but more than half of the population has genetic mutations that make it hard to convert them into their active forms.
Additionally, if you eat a plant-based or low-meat diet, you might not be getting enough B12 either.
Without enough B12, folate, B6, and the other B vitamins, the blood can be low in red blood cells and oxygen, which can, in turn, affect the cells’ abilities to make energy.
You can be tested to determine if you have genetic MTHFR mutations, or you can take activated or higher-quality supplements.
Methyl-folate and methylcobalamin are the already activated forms of folate and B12, or folinic acid and hydroxocobalamin are pre-active forms that readily convert into the active type of nutrient.
If you’re unsure of the type of supplementation you need, work with a nutritionist to determine what might be helpful.
4. Drink More Water
Where sugary drinks slow your metabolic function, water increases it. If you’re dehydrated, your cells won’t work as efficiently. Drinking water can also temporarily boost your metabolism, so drinking it throughout the day can keep the energy levels higher. (source)
For example, research shows that drinking 17 ounces of water can boost the metabolic rate by as much as 30 percent for an hour afterward. (source)
The effect is magnified if you drink cold water since the body spends more energy heating it up. (source)
5. Drink Tea
Both green tea and oolong tea can increase metabolic rate by around five percent. (source, source) They can also help take stored body fat and turn them into energy, increasing your body’s ability to burn fat by as much as 17 percent.
Tea can also help improve hydration levels, so if you’re tired of drinking only water, adding some cold tea to the rotation can change things up and still achieve your metabolic goals.
6. Skip Foods That Trigger Inflammation
While you’re adding beneficial foods to your diet, be sure that you don’t sabotage your metabolic progress by eating inflammatory foods that slow things back down.
Foods that hamper digestion, cause intestinal problems, are low in nutrients, or that you’re allergic or sensitive to can all rob the body of critical nutrients that bring energy but can also lead to inflammation.
When the body is inflamed, it goes into repair mode, which can cause it to slow metabolic function and focus more on healing.
Foods that can trigger inflammation include:
- Sugar of all kinds, including sugary drinks, desserts, and even fruit juice
- Processed foods that contain preservatives
- Grain-based foods like pasta, bread, crackers, muffins, chips, and so on
- Refined vegetable oils
- Artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols
- Dairy products, if you’re at all sensitive to them
- Beans and legumes
- Seafood with higher mercury levels, like shark and swordfish
- Soy products
- Anything you’re sensitive or allergic to
While you don’t have to avoid every item on this list forever, if you find that this represents most of your dietary intake, it’s time to overhaul your habits and work with a nutritionist to find a healthy plan that meets your needs.
“Dieting” doesn’t boost metabolic function, but eating a nutrient-dense, energy-rich food plan does.
7. Eat Spicy Foods
If you can tolerate them, spicy foods can rev your metabolic function by requiring extra energy to digest. But we’re not talking about a little spice here—we’re talking about enough to likely make you break a sweat.
Most people may be unable to tolerate foods at this level, so don’t eat spicy foods just for metabolic value. But if you happen to love it hot, then enjoy those metabolic benefits.
8. Drink Coffee
Coffee has plenty of its own health benefits thanks to antioxidants and other nutritional compounds, but it can also help boost your metabolism, especially if you drink it in the morning.
Research shows the caffeine in coffee can raise metabolism by as much as 11 percent. (source)
9. Do HIIT or Strength-Based Workouts
Chronic cardio will actually hurt your metabolism, but there are other types of workouts which can boost how well your body burns fat and your cells make energy.
HIIT, also known as high-intensity interval training, is based around quick, intense bursts of activity. The workouts tend to be shorter, which can make them more doable on a regular basis, but they’re going to get you sweating and more energized than your average cardio session.
Research shows that high-intensity interval training can even keep your metabolism high well after your workout has ended. (source)
Lifting weights has numerous benefits for bone health and overall stamina, and it also can boost your metabolism. You don’t even have to be a bodybuilder or lift extreme amounts of weights to benefit, either.
When you lift weights and build muscle, even at smaller degrees, you increase your baseline metabolic rate.
If you want to harness HIIT or weight-lifting for metabolic benefits, find a personal trainer who is well-versed in these and get a customized program.
This will help avoid injury or excessive workouts for your current shape, and will also challenge you in a safe and healthy way.
10. Get More and Better Sleep
While sleeping more to boost metabolism might seem counterintuitive, you only think that your body does nothing while you rest.
In reality, the body is extremely active while you sleep, regenerating and recharging, repairing and revving. Not to mention, lack of sleep is strongly associated with a slow metabolism, obesity, and countless other health problems. (source)
When the body gets deprived of sleep, especially when it’s on a regular basis, your metabolism suffers because your cells literally get too tired to do their work. Everything slows down, your body holds onto fat, and your cells fall into a slump of their own.
Too little sleep is also associated with high blood sugar levels, poor insulin response, and digestive problems—all of which can independently hinder optimal metabolic function. (source)
When you get chronically worn down, your appetite signals also change. Your brain thinks you’re hungrier, and your body absorbs food and nutrients less efficiently.
It can all work together to increase your weight while slowing down how the body can use food for energy. Hormones control the appetite and satiety cycles, and these hormones are incredibly sensitive to sleep and other factors. (source)
If you struggle with low energy, can’t seem to lose weight, or have other signs and symptoms of metabolic issues, your body is trying to tell you something.
While underlying medical conditions can cause this, it could be as simple as needing to change up your diet, be better hydrated, or sleep more.
Working with professionals who can provide expert advice on your unique situation is a fast-track way to optimize your metabolism, but in the meantime, make sure you’re giving your body the basic TLC that it needs and deserves.
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- Goss AM, Chandler-Laney PC, Ovalle F, Goree LL, Azziz R, Desmond RA, et al. Effects of a eucaloric reduced-carbohydrate diet on body composition and fat distribution in women with PCOS. Metabolism: clinical and experimental. 2014 doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2014.07.007. Epub 2014/08/16.
- Song HJ, Cho YG, Lee HJ. Dietary sodium intake and prevalence of overweight in adults. Metabolism: clinical and experimental. 2013;62(5):703–8. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2012.11.009. Epub 2013/01/30.
- van Beek L, Lips MA, Visser A, Pijl H, Ioan-Facsinay A, Toes R, et al. Increased systemic and adipose tissue inflammation differentiates obese women with T2DM from obese women with normal glucose tolerance. Metabolism: clinical and experimental. 2014;63(4):492–501. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2013.12.002. Epub 2014/01/29.
Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.