If you've ever tried to lose weight, you've probably wished you could speed up your metabolism and burn calories more easily. Weight-loss programs often promise to provide "metabolism-boosting" secrets, but the savvy dieter should know that many of these are just gimmicks.
Many theories about metabolism are falsely rooted in the idea that there are particular foods or beverages that will magically increase your ability to burn calories. While most nutritionists agree that eating meals based on whole grains and lean proteins is a healthy diet practice, this approach won't actually help you burn calories faster. Neither will "fat-burning" foods like grapefruit or cabbage.
"Unfortunately, there isn't a food that we can eat that is going to burn away those excess pounds," says Jenna Anding, PhD, RD, of the department of nutrition and food science at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.
Here's the truth about other popular metabolism-boosting theories, including the one that actually works.
5 Metabolism Boosters: Separating Fact From Fiction
Don't eat close to bedtime.
You may have been told not to eat too close to bedtime because of the theory that your metabolism slows down at night and you'll lose less weight than you would if you ate the same food earlier in the day. Not true, says Donna L. Weihofen, MS, RD, health nutritionist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wisc. "Calories count whether you eat them in the morning or at night. The problem with nighttime eaters is that they are usually eating far more calories than they think, and the calories are denser."
Drinking water speeds metabolism.
Drinking plenty of water is healthful for a number of reasons, but it doesn't make your body burn calories faster. It can help you feel full, which may keep some cravings at bay. "But that effect doesn't last very long," Weihofen cautions. "One of the things that does help is soup before a meal. A broth-type soup does help cut down on the amount of calories you will eat." Of course, broth won't speed metabolism, either, but it will help you stick to your diet plan.
Eat at the same time or at certain times every day to burn calories.
Some diets recommend eating every couple of hours, while others advise sticking to a consistent schedule or number of meals for weight-loss success. Following a set schedule may help you stick to a diet plan, but doesn't help you burn more calories. "There's no magic to that," explains Weihofen. "It's whatever fits your lifestyle and your diet."
Eating breakfast boosts metabolism.
Eating breakfast on a regular basis is important for shedding pounds, but not solely because it improves your metabolism, says Emily Banes, RD, clinical dietitian at Houston Northwest Medical Center. "People who eat only one meal a day will shut down their metabolism. So breakfast is partly a metabolism-booster and it is partly to make sure you stay on track for the rest of the day," notes Banes. People who eat breakfast are less likely to binge later in the day, which of course promotes weight loss.
The reality is that there is only one way to enhance metabolism: Build more lean muscle mass. "The best way to increase metabolism is by incorporating physical activity, both cardio and weight training, to increase lean muscle mass, which is what burns the calories!" advises Dr. Anding.
Even at rest, muscle tissue burns more calories than fat, Anding says. So weight-loss programs that encourage strength training and other forms of exercise to improve your metabolism are your best bet.