“What do I need to eat to raise my metabolism?” That is one of the most popular questions I am asked. You can find anything from green tea to supplements galore promising to boost metabolic rates. Truth be told, there is no magic food to boost our metabolism. If there was, we wouldn’t have enough of it! In fact, food does not play nearly as big of a role as physical activity does in raising those rates. However, food does play a significant role in maintaining the rates produced by physical activity, hence “fueling the fire”. Within this article I am going to focus on the nutritional piece of metabolism and will follow up with physical activity in part two.
Think of your metabolism as a fire. If you have ever built a fire before, you know you need to add the small twigs or kindling gradually to keep it burning. The kindling are like small meals throughout the day that keep that fire or metabolism burning. What happens when you don’t throw any kindling in the fire? The fire begins to dwindle down right? That is like your metabolism slowing down when you are not getting enough calories (never drop below 1200 calories), skipping meals, or having large gaps between meals. Your body can go into starvation mode and making it easier to store fat. We are very efficient fat storers, our ancestors relied on this during feasts and famines. And those who survived the famines were those who were the most efficient at storing fat. So guess whose genes were past down to us?
Now, back to the fire analogy. What happens when you throw a giant log in that fire? If it is big enough, it can put the fire out as well. Large meals are hard to digest efficiently. We usually don’t feel like exercising and burning those calories after a large meal, right? That sluggish feeling kicks in because energy and blood flow is going towards digesting the meal. In addition large meals may cause surges of insulin which can inhibit fat metabolism. So we are more likely to be storing those calories rather than burning them.
The key with fueling your metabolic fire is smaller more frequent meals throughout the day. I don’t mean, grazing or snacking, but actually have planned balanced meals/snacks set up every 3-5 hours. Not only does this help promote healthy metabolic rates, but it also maintains blood sugar and hunger levels. Have you ever noticed what happens after you skip lunch? Whether it is 3 o’clock, dinner time or later at night, hunger levels surge and it is truly a challenge to manage portion sizes by that time. Your body is in survival mode after the “famine”. And survival says “eat!” not measure and weigh your foods. So ideally the best way to manage overeating is to prevent it by eating regularly throughout the day.
Below is an example of what balanced eating looks like throughout the day. There is about 1800 calories here, so it may not be appropriate for everyone reading this. Given your activity level, you can adjust the calories/volume up or down.
Breakfast: 3 egg whites, whole wheat tortilla, 1/4 avocado, 1 orange
Snack: Nonfat blueberry Greek yogurt, 1c strawberries
Lunch: Turkey sandwich with whole grain bread, large green salad with oil based dressing
Snack: 2 Tbsp natural peanut butter, 1 large green apple
Dinner: Broiled salmon, 1 med yam, 1c broccoli
Snack: Chocolate pudding made with nonfat milk and 1 banana
Stay tuned to part 2: Training the Metabolic Muscle