If you want to lose weight, gain weight or even just maintain weight, you probably know calories in versus calories out is the key to success. However, the total amount of calories you burn comes less from exercise and more from your metabolism — the process of converting calories into energy — that occurs naturally throughout the day.
The calories you use when breathing, digesting and generally being alive are known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Increase your BMR, and you’ll increase your daily calorie burn.
That brings us to thermogenesis, which is just a big word for the metabolic process in which your body produces heat (or energy) by burning calories. Think of thermogenesis like your internal furnace. You crank up that furnace during exercise, digestion and due to environmental factors, like shivering when it’s cold outside.
According to the Nutrition & Metabolism journal, diet-induced thermogenesis accounts for 5–15% of your daily calorie burn. So, can you increase your metabolism by eating certain foods? Good question. To find out, we asked Amy Goodson, MS, RDN.
“No food boosts your metabolism long term,” says Goodson, “but some foods can help give you a little pep in your step after eating.” To see how eating and drinking can affect your metabolism, she recommends adding these four foods to your diet.
4 FOODS THAT BOOST METABOLISM
“Protein takes more energy to breakdown, so consuming adequate protein at all meals and snacks can help increase the metabolic burn or thermic effect of food after a meal,” says Goodson. “Basically, it takes more energy to digest high-protein foods,” she adds. To take advantage of this effect, be sure to consume plenty of protein, whether from animal or plant sources. Good options include chicken, lean beef, eggs, legumes and pulses.
If you like heat, your metabolism is in luck. “Capsaicin is a chemical found in peppers that may play a slight role in boosting metabolism,” says Goodson. She points to research suggesting that consuming 135–150 milligrams of capsaicin might result in burning an extra 50 calories each day. That might not sound like much, but do a little math, and that accounts for about 5 pounds per year.
“Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and thus can help you burn more calories and possibly burn more fat,” says Goodson. One study showed coffee can increase your metabolic rate by up to 11%, while another study found people who consume 270 milligrams of caffeine daily can burn an extra 100 calories.
Goodson stresses caffeine affects every person differently, and caffeine-sensitive people should be careful not to overdo it. The 270 grams mentioned above is equivalent to about three cups of coffee, which may be too much for some people.
“The caffeine in tea has also been shown to help boost metabolism a small amount,” says Goodson. Studies show oolong tea may increase your body’s energy expenditure by as much as 10% over a 2-hour period, and that tea may also be effective in increasing fat oxidation.
BUT STILL … YOU NEED TO EXERCISE
Eating specific foods isn’t the only way to ignite your internal furnace. Goodson mentions that high-intensity exercise is also an effective metabolism booster.
“We know that metabolism is significantly increased after interval-type training, and [that it] stays elevated a little bit longer than after steady-state activity,” she says. So, to keep your metabolism burning hot, supplement your healthy diet with plenty of vigorous exercise.