4 of the best ways to support your metabolism
The idea of boosting your metabolism comes up a lot. It’s a buzzword in the health and wellness industry, but also in general conversation – with increasing trends for a HIIT workout here and a super-juice there (celery anyone?) – all with the end goal of a body that functions at its best.
Of course, it’s never that simple though. The metabolism, like many internal systems in the body, is a delicate and precarious infrastructure that needs to be looked after. Beware of quick-fix promises – here’s looking at you yo-yo diets – that can leave the metabolic system rattled and underperforming. takes a holistic approach to find out how to support and maximise the potential of your metabolism.
What does the metabolism do
Your metabolism is the mechanism in your body that converts what you eat into energy, in other words, it is how you burn the calories you consume. It’s at work 24/7: burning calories whether you’re active or resting, converting them into fuel for the body to breathe, circulate blood, repair – and essentially survive.
Everyone’s individual metabolic rate differs. There is some truth behind the idea of genetics influencing your metabolic function, however it is largely a combination of nature nurture. With that in mind, there are various factors that impact the productivity of your metabolism.
What impacts the function of your metabolism
There are multiple factors that can affect the efficiency of your metabolic system, specific to each individual: how your body processes sugars, for example, and how your body responds to exercise. Many of these are linked to the function of the thyroid – which produces hormones that regulate the metabolic rate, as well as the heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development, bone maintenance and mood.
Diets have changed over the years, and vary around the world too: some people still stick to three solid meals a day, others forgo breakfast, in certain places lunch is big and dinner is light and late, others lean towards small meals throughout the day. And then there’s the habit of constant snacking, which can be held responsible for spiking the production of insulin. The job of insulin is to regulate your blood sugar – a good thing – but spikes can prompt the body to store excess sugar as fat, rather than converting it to energy. This in turn makes the sugar much harder for the body to metabolise.
“Stress, inflammatory foods and over- or under-exercise have a major impact [on the metabolism],” explains Lyn Genet-Recitas, author of The Metabolism Plan. “Levels of stress can be mitigated and food controlled, but over- or under- exercise is a common grey area that people struggle to get right.” While boosting metabolism is often linked to HIIT-type workouts, Genet-Recitas argues this intensity will spike cortisol (the stress response hormone), which has a knock-on effect on the thyroid and insulin, commonly seen as fat stored around the stomach area.
How can you optimise your metabolism
There are some key steps you can take to ensure that your metabolism is supported and working at its best.
Getting adequate sleep is more often than not the number one tip when it comes to improving any health or physical structures. Lack of sleep increases stress, inflammation in the body, can lead to weight gain and affects mental health. “Not enough sleep slows metabolism. Less than seven hours is not enough, every two hours of sleep you don’t get, you slow weight loss by half a kilo,” according to Genet-Recitas.
Excessive exercise can put extra stress on the body, producing more cortisol and compromising the metabolism. “For active exercise, where we really push ourselves, that eight to 12 minutes is all most of us need,” says Genet-Recitas. She recommends embracing “other forms of exercise like walking to work, gentle yoga, core work that involves a non-elevated heart rate”. She advises that an intense exercise schedule, along with “daily stresses between work and family, can spike cortisol”. Timings make a big difference, too, so it’s best to avoid exercise right before bed, as your adrenals will be stimulated and prevent the body from winding down properly.
Getting the right greens, legumes, proteins and fruits is key to supporting the metabolism. Slow burning complex carbohydrates will set you up with a slow release of insulin, maintaining a stable metabolic rate and keeping you active and nourished throughout the day. Refined sugars do the opposite, spiking insulin production and throwing the whole system out of whack, causing metabolism to slow and the body to store sugar as fat rather than burning it as energy.
A smooth-running digestive system is key too. Red meat, for example, requires more work for the body to digest; and, perhaps more surprisingly, green juices and raw kale can disrupt the system too. Known as “goitrogens” – including some leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, pak choi, soy-based products like tofu and tempeh, strawberries, linseed and peanuts – Genet-Recitas explains that they can affect the body’s ability to absorb iodine (essential for thyroid function; found in seaweed, table salt, tuna, prawns), which can then overstimulate the thyroid and slow down the metabolism.
There’s no need to start cutting out all goitrogens from your diet, however. The most susceptible are those people already deficient in iodine or with pre-existing thyroid conditions. Or, if you’re consuming goitrogens in excess – those existing purely on green smoothies, for example – this may also trigger a reaction.
Monounsaturated fats – coconut oil, olives and avocados, for example – and polyunsaturated fats – omega 3s and omega 6s, eg. oily fish – can positively impact metabolism, balancing cholesterol levels, controlling blood sugar and supporting efficient cell function, aiding absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin E. As ever, it’s important to remember that everyone is different. The effect of different foods can vary for each individual, so it’s best to get to know your own digestive system – if in doubt, a food diary can help, or book in to see a registered nutritionist.
Intermittent fasting – i.e. only eating within an eight- to 10-hour period and fasting the rest – has been reported to effectively regulate the body’s metabolic function, and reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, liver disease and high cholesterol.
Intermittent fasting also creates a natural sensitivity to insulin, a sign that the cells and internal systems, including the metabolism, are working efficiently. Insulin ultimately decreases blood sugar levels, by taking glucose and transferring it into fat to be stored in neighbouring cells. Being able to effectively regulate insulin, and requiring less of it, means less excess fat is stored.