The Right -- and Wrong -- Ways to Boost your Metabolism

By: Craig Ballantyne, Cscs, M.sc.

There are seven common "facts" about boosting metabolism, burning calories and losing weight. Some are true. Some are not. Today, I will tell you which to believe and which to avoid-and where to save your money.

Your metabolism is the engine that runs your fat-burning machine. More specifically, it's the rate at which you burn calories every day. Children have a much faster metabolism while they grow, but a person's metabolic rate declines with age, and even more so in sedentary individuals. If your metabolism has slowed with age, you'll find it much more difficult to burn body fat with your workouts and diet.

There has recently become a large, lucrative industry in boosting your metabolism. All sorts of powders, potions, pills, drinks and secret techniques have been promoted to raise your metabolic rate and help you burn fat. The trouble is, very few of these metabolism boosters actually work.

The good news is that you can increase your metabolism through exercise and fat-burning nutrition. Of course, that shouldn't surprise you. Staying active, building muscle and eating the right foods in the right amounts help you keep your metabolism stoked.

I've examined the claims about seven popular metabolism boosters, from exercise to nutrition, to show you which ones work and which ones aren't worth trying.

1. Strength training.

Claim: Boosts metabolism up to 10 percent after a training program.

Is it true? Yes.

And a recent study from the prestigious Journal of Applied Physiology showed strength training also doubled post-exercise fat burning. Any "expert" who says strength training doesn't burn fat is living in the 1970's. Strength training MUST be a part of your fat-blasting workout routine.

Focus on multi-muscle exercises, such as squats, pushups, rowing and standing single-leg exercises such as lunges. Strength-train three days per week, taking a day off between workouts. Do total body workouts each day, picking one lower body exercise, one upper body pushing exercise and one upper body pulling exercise to complete your workout.

2. Eating breakfast.

Claim: Breakfast boosts metabolism because it breaks your overnight fast.

Is it true? This is a tough one to prove.

However, research clearly shows that eating breakfast is associated with successful weight loss. So make it a habit to consume some protein, fiber and fruit (and even vegetables) at this time. This will keep your appetite in check till your next meal.

An omelet made of omega-3-enriched eggs, along with broccoli, mushrooms and peppers, is a high-fiber, high-protein breakfast that helps you get a lot closer to your recommended intake of vegetables for the day.

3. Green tea.

Claim: Burns an extra 80 calories per day

Is it true? Yes and no.

It has been shown to burn 80 calories per day in young men on the first day of supplementation. But will this effect last once your body gets used to it? I don't think so.

After all, take a look at caffeine. You can find studies that show it increases metabolism as well. But really, is anyone losing fat with caffeine? The revolving doors at Starbucks say "No!"

Coffee is okay in moderate doses, and I recommend green tea to everyone for health reasons. But don't expect rapid fat loss from green tea or green tea supplements. The only way you will lose fat with green tea is if you replace a 300-calorie Frappucino with an iced, unsweetened green tea.

4. Fat-burner pills.

Claim: Boost your metabolism big time!

Is it true? See the above comments on caffeine and green tea.

Most fat burners are simply caffeine pills with a few other ingredients thrown in. You'll get an increase in mental energy, but that doesn't mean it will boost metabolism or burn fat. So it doesn't matter if the pills contain green tea extract, caffeine, CLA, Hoodia or any other "miracle ingredient." Research hasn't proven the effectiveness of these pills. Avoid them, and avoid the potential crash and burn from high caffeine pills.

5. Ice-cold water with lemon juice.

Claim: The body will burn calories warming up the water and the lemon juice also burns more fat.

Is it true? Nice in theory, short in practice.

Nobody is losing fat with ice-cold water. If it sounds too good to be true ... you know the rest of the story.

6. Eating six small meals per day.

Claim: Boosts metabolism and can help control cholesterol.

Is it true? Yes.

And it's simple and effective. Try to split your meals up into smaller meals that can be eaten over the course of the day. Start the day with breakfast and then snack every three to four hours until your day is done. Avoid buffets or gorging at any specific meal. You'll have a steady state of mental alertness and your body will be a fat-burning machine.

7. Interval training.

Claim: Interval training causes a greater increase in post-exercise metabolism than regular cardio.

Is it true? Yes.

Interval training is simply a short bout of hard exercise followed by a short bout of easy exercise. This process is repeated about six times per workout (following a warm-up and preceding a cool-down). For example, you might speed walk (or run) for one minute and then walk at a slow pace for one minute.

A recent study from Australia found that an interval program led to more weight loss than a long, slow cardio training program. Other research has shown interval training results in greater fat burning during recovery from exercise. So while long, slow cardio training stops burning calories as soon as you step off the treadmill, interval training keeps your metabolism going and going and going.

Bottom line: Hard work and proper nutrition burn more calories and help you lose fat. On the other hand, magic pills and potions just don't work.

But that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

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