Here's a secret: slaving away inside your body—right this minute—is your very own personal trainer working tirelessly to help you burn calories and shed fat. It's called your metabolism, and it's the sum of everything your body does. Each time you eat, enzymes in your body's cells break down the food and turn it into energy that keeps your heart beating, your mind thinking, and your legs churning during a grueling workout. The faster your metabolism runs, the more calories you burn. The more you burn, the easier it is to drop pounds. And get this — you can make your metabolism work harder, a lot harder, 24 hours a day.
To some degree, our bodies hum along at a preset speed determined by gender and genetics, but there's still plenty of wiggle room. "You have a huge amount of control over your metabolic rate," says John Berardi, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., author of The Metabolism Advantage. "You can't affect how many calories it takes to keep your heart beating, but you can burn an extra 500 to 600 calories a day by exercising properly and eating right." And by making a few changes to your routine.
To make those changes simpler, we enlisted the help of leading experts and came up with a round-the-clock, turn-up-the-burn plan complete with new moves that will throw your metabolism into overdrive.
1. When You Roll Out Of Bed
Eat (a good) breakfast Every. Single. Day. If you don't, your body goes into starvation mode (it's paranoid like that), so your metabolism slows to a crawl to conserve energy, Berardi says. And the heartier your first meal is, the better. In one study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, volunteers who got 22 to 55 percent of their total calories at breakfast gained only 1.7 pounds on average over four years. Those who ate zero to 11 percent of their calories in the morning gained nearly three pounds. In another study published in the same journal, volunteers who reported regularly skipping breakfast had 4.5 times the risk of obesity as those who took the time to eat.
What should you be having? Morning munchies that are slow to digest and leave you feeling fuller longer. Try a mix of lean protein with complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, like this power breakfast, recommended by Berardi: an omelet made from one egg and two egg whites and a half cup of mixed peppers and onions, plus a half cup of cooked steel-cut oats mixed with a quarter cup of frozen berries and a teaspoon of omega-3-loaded fish oil.
Sip java: Sisterhood of the traveling spill-proof mugs, rejoice! A study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior found that the average metabolic rate of people who drank caffeinated coffee increased 16 percent over that of those who drank decaf. Caffeine stimulates your central nervous system by increasing your heart rate and breathing, says Robert Kenefick, Ph.D., a research physiologist at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. Honestly, could there be a more perfect beverage?
Guzzle your water cold: Chase your morning joe with an ice-cold glass of H2O. Researchers at the University of Utah found that volunteers who drank 8 to 12 eight-ounce glasses of water per day had higher metabolic rates than those who quaffed only four glasses.
Your body may burn a few calories heating the cold water to your core temperature, says Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., founder and director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Weight Management Center. Though the extra calories you burn drinking a single glass doesn't amount to much, making it a habit can add up to pounds lost with essentially zero additional effort.
2. When You're At Work
Pick protein for lunch: Cramming protein into every meal helps build and maintain lean muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories than fat does, even at rest, says Donald Layman, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois. Aim for about 30 grams of protein — the equivalent of about one cup of low-fat cottage cheese or a four-ounce boneless chicken breast — at each meal.