by Dr. Jonny Bowden

“Boosting Your Metabolism” is probably one of the hottest topics for popular magazines. I myself have been interviewed on the subject at least 9,000 times (OK I exaggerate but not by much). Reporters (and readers) want to know what foods or supplements or exercises will “boost their metabolism”.

But they may be asking the wrong question.

Most people who ask “how can I boost my metabolism?” are actually using the question as a code for “how can I lose weight?” There’s not a great answer to the first question, but there are many good answers to the second.

Having a “slow metabolism” isn’t always the culprit when it comes to excess weight. Many “fat” people have very rapid metabolisms. Think Newman, on Seinfeld. Always darting around, always sweating, always in motion. That’s a fast metabolism in an overweight body if I’ve ever seen one, and I’ve seen plenty.

So the better question might be this: “How can I help my metabolism function optimally, and, in the process, how can I lose some body fat?”

Ah, now you’re talking.

The first thing you can do is to eat foods that will not raise your blood sugar too high or too fast, and will therefore not boost your body's production of the fat-storage, sugar-chasing hormone insulin higher than it needs to be. That would create less of a metabolic environment geared to fat storage, and more of a metabolic environment geared to fat loss..

The second thing you can do is plug the holes that are slowing you down. Let me explain.

A guy in a rowboat who wants to go faster should first check to see if the bottom is leaking water. If it is, plugging the holes is the first order of business; buying the best titanium oars in the world won’t do much good if the boat is sinking.

Many people who ask “how can I boost my metabolism?” are just like that rower. They want to know what magic foods to eat, what terrific supplements to take, what exercises to do to “boost their metabolism” but they’re like swimmers with heavy weights attached to their legs. The answer to “how to swim faster” is not necessarily in changing your freestyle stroke, or getting better space-age material Speedos (or searching for the top ten “metabolism boosting” foods or supplements). These strategies pale in comparison to simply dropping the weights from your feet.

That’s where nutrients, whole foods, stress management, water and rest come in.

Metabolic rate is technically assessed in a lab using a metabolic cart which measures how much oxygen your body can take in and use, and how much carbon dioxide you exhale. While fruits and vegetables wont’ technically raise your metabolic rate, they will “plug the holes” in your metabolism by providing valuable nutrients without which your metabolism won’t function optimally. (Magnesium, for example, is needed for over 400 biochemical reactions. The B vitamins are right up there too.)

Same thing with water. Drinking more won’t necessarily raise the needle on the machine, but drinking less will slow you down. We already know that even 2 % less than optimal hydration will affect athletic performance negatively. Since water is needed for every metabolic process in every cell in the body, the idea that that dehydration will prevent your metabolism from operating at it’s most efficient passes the smell test with flying colors.

It's the same thing with sleep. Once again, sleeping well- deeply and restfully- won’t necessarily raise the metabolic needle. But it will bring down cortisol (a stress hormone which raises abdominal fat) and increase energy.

If you’re not sleeping well- and most of us aren’t- it’s like carrying a fifty pound weight in that proverbial rowboat.

Protein has been shown to boost thermogenesis (which is the creation of heat in the body and the resultant burning of calories). High protein diets “stimulate” or raise the metabolism, sometimes by as much as 100 percent according to one study on healthy women.

Green tea also does it (and folks who drink about 5 cups a day seem to have an easier time losing and maintaining weight).

And coffee- which is not always the villain everyone thinks it is- can briefly boost metabolism and increase the feeling of energy and alertness, so if you use it before a workout you might run a little faster and longer, work a little harder, lift a little heavier and thus burn more calories. (If you use it just to stay awake at your desk, though, it’s not going to do any of those things.)

Then of course there’s exercise. Through the arcane physiology of oxygen debt and repayment, we actually have an increased metabolism after aerobic exercise for a bit of time, though you get more of a permanent increase in metabolic rate-- which continues even while you're watching TV or at rest-- from lifting weights, since muscle burns far more calories than fat.

Much has been made of the studies purpoting to show that calcium (and specifically dairy) raises metabolism. Fuggedaboutit. Nearly every one of those studies was funded by the dairy industry and done by one researcher, Michael Zemel. Out of 35 studies investigating the link, 31 showed no effect.

But here’s the kernel of truth in that dairy industry propaganda- a deficiency of calcium will slow down weight loss (and metabolism).

The moral of the story: don’t be deficient (in calcium, or any other nutrient). It’s a complete myth that extra calcium beyond your basic needs- nor extra milk, which you probably don’t need at all- will “boost” your metabolism and help you lose weight.

Bottom line: If you want to boost your metabolism, you’re probably wanting to lose body fat. The answer may not be in whipping your metabolism to go faster with magical foods and artificial stimulants, but, rather, to dropping some of your excess baggage that may be slowing that metabolism down.

And you can begin to do that right now with a diet higher in protein, low in sugar, and high in nutrients.

Author's Bio: 

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS is the author of "the Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth as well as two other best selling books. A board certified nutritionist with a Masters degree in psychology, he is a featured health writer on America Online and was the Weight Loss Coach for for ten years. A popular and dynamic speaker, he has been contributed material to over 50 national publications and appeared on CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC as a nutrition, weight loss and health expert. Dr. Bowden is Self-Growth's Official Guide for Nutrition. For more info, free newsletter and free audio courses, please visit him at

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