6 ways to boost metabolism

Six simple behaviours can help your weight loss clients increase their metabolic rate and burn more calories, faster.

When you boost your metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns energy), you burn more calories, which is an advantage for fat loss. Knowing the fitness, food or supplement factors that can elevate your metabolic rate helps you advise clients correctly and helps them get better results. If you work with weight loss clients – and that’s most of us – consider the following actions.

1. Move more

At rest, the average 70kg person burns around 1 calorie per minute. Walking burns 3 to 4 calories per minute and you’ll burn around 8 to 10 calories per minute running fast.

These figures reinforce the simple idea that the more effort you put into moving your body, the more calories you burn. Just getting out of bed doubles your metabolic rate. Walking triples it and an intense boot camp-style session can generate a 10-fold increase in metabolic rate.

This doesn’t mean flogging clients at every session, but it does mean that higher effort level training sessions, like HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), delivered safely, can provide a greater calorie burn and fitness gains in shorter sessions.

2. Build muscle

Every kilogram of muscle on your body burns around 10 calories per day at rest. It may seem small, but over a year the energy burning bonus from just 1kg of additional muscle equals 3,650 calories. This is the equivalent of about 0.5kg of body fat.

If you build and maintain 5kg of lean muscle, your metabolic rate jumps up by 18,250 (5 x 3,650) calories. That’s 2.5kg of body fat a year burnt up before you even move your muscles (though, of course, you’ll need to move them to maintain them). By contrast, body fat is less metabolically active and only burns around 4.5 calories per kilogram per day.

3. Eat more protein

Protein in food costs more energy to digest and absorb than carbohydrate or fat. Eating protein-rich foods like eggs, fish, chicken and lean meat makes your body work harder to digest and absorb calories.

This doesn’t mean you should load up on protein supplements. You still need to keep your diet balanced and ensure you work within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) of 15 to 25 per cent of daily energy intake as protein.

Hard data is scarce on the actual calorie burning benefit of switching from a 15 per cent protein diet to a 25 per cent protein diet, but it could be expected to translate into a few kilograms of body fat per year.

4. Eat enough calories

Avoiding crash diets will help you minimise the normal slow-down in metabolic rate associated with caloric restriction. Reducing calorie intake from 2,500 to 1,100 calories a day has been shown to result in a 5 to 10 per cent decline in daily metabolic rate after just one day.

Continuing on a severely calorie restricted diet for days and weeks will likely result in significant lean muscle loss as well as fat loss. This is because muscle is broken down and converted into glucose that your brain needs for fuel during a process called ketosis. Up to around one third of weight loss can be from muscle loss in extreme cases.

No amount of resistance training can prevent severe dieting-induced muscle loss. Appropriate daily calorie targets for fat loss and responses to dieting are highly individual, but the key message is don’t starve yourself.

5. Consume chilled water

When you consume cold water, your body expends energy to increase the water temperature. Drinking around 500mL of cold water could boost your metabolic rate by around 30 per cent above rest for an hour after drinking. Although this equates to only 25 additional calories being burnt, it becomes significant when you drink more chilled water over a day. Two litres could burn you 100 calories a day, or 36,500 calories a year, which is almost 5kg of body fat.

6. Drink green tea

Unlike many so-called ‘thermogenic’ supplements, which are either dangerous, useless or both, drinking enough green tea might give your metabolic rate a nudge up of around 70 calories a day. However, you’ll need to consume at least four or five cups of strong green tea to achieve a dose of around 300mg of catechins, the active ingredient. Always check with your Doctor before drinking high doses of tea or taking supplements.

With regards these last two points, however, it should be noted that not all research shows benefits of chilled water or green tea. Some people won’t respond and the body may adapt over time, so the return on effort may decrease.

What about eating every three hours?

You may have heard that eating every three hours speeds up metabolism, but, in fact, your 24-hour metabolic rate will actually be no different. Whether you eat the same foods in six smaller meals or in three larger meals, it costs your body the same energy to digest and process. So, clients don’t need to freak out about their metabolic rate if they’ve missed a snack, as they can catch up later.

By educating your weight loss clients about the factors that affect the rate at which their bodies burn calories, you can help them safely lose more fat, faster.


Matt O’Neill, Dietitian BSpSc, MSc(Nut&Diet), APD, AN is director of the SmartShape Centre for Weight Management and creator of the Metabolic Jumpstart nutrition system. metabolicjumpstart.com