Your metabolism is the process your body uses to make and burn energy from food. You rely on your metabolism to breathe, think, digest, circulate blood, keep warm in the cold, and stay cool in the heat.
It is a common belief that raising your metabolism helps you burn more calories and increase weight loss. Unfortunately, there are more myths about boosting metabolism than tactics that work. Some myths can backfire. If you think you are burning more calories than you actually are, you could end up eating more than you should.
Here are the facts on 6 metabolism myths.
Myth #1: Exercise boosts your metabolism long after you stop.
It is true that you burn more calories when you exercise, especially when you get your heart rate up with activities like biking or swimming.
That increased calorie burn lasts as long as your workout. You might keep burning extra calories for an hour or so after that, but the aftereffects of exercise stop there. Once you stop moving, your metabolism will go back to its resting rate.
If you load up on calories after a workout, thinking your body will keep burning calories the rest of the day, you risk weight gain.
What to do: Exercise for your health and refuel with healthy foods. Do not let exercise give you an excuse to overindulge in high-calorie foods and drinks.
Myth #2: Adding muscle will help you lose weight.
Muscle burns more calories than fat. So will building more muscle not boost your metabolism? Yes, but only by a small amount. Most regular exercisers only gain a few pounds (kilograms) of muscle. That is not enough to make a big difference in the number of calories you burn. Plus, when not in active use, muscles burn very few calories. Most of the time, your brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs account for most of your metabolism.
What to do: Lift weights for stronger bones and muscles. Make strength training part of a well-rounded exercise program that includes activities to get your heart pumping. To keep off extra weight, you also need to eat a healthy diet and appropriate portions.
Myth #3: Eating certain foods can boost your metabolism.
Eating foods like green tea, caffeine, or hot chili peppers will not help you shed excess pounds (kilograms). Some may provide a small boost in your metabolism, but not enough to make a difference in your weight.
What to do: Choose foods for their good nutrition and taste. Eat a variety of healthy foods that fill you up without filling you out.
Myth #4: Eating small meals during the day increases your metabolism.
Unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence that eating small, frequent meals boosts metabolism.
Spreading your meals throughout the day might keep you from getting too hungry and overeating. If so, it is a good idea. Athletes perform better when they eat more often in smaller amounts. If you are someone who has a hard time stopping once you start eating, 3 meals a day may make it easier for you to stick to an appropriate intake than lots of little snacks.
What to do: Pay attention to your hunger cues and eat when you feel hungry. Keep track of your daily diet and limit high-sugar, high-fat snacks.
Myth #5: Getting a full night's sleep is good for your metabolism.
A good night's sleep will not boost your metabolism but going without sleep can add pounds. Sleep-deprived people tend to eat more calories than they need, possibly to deal with feeling tired.
What to do: Plan your life so you have enough time for sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, look into ways to unwind before bedtime and make your bedroom comfortable for sleep. Talk to your health care provider if self-care tips for better sleep do not help.
Myth# 6: You will gain weight as you age because your metabolism slows down.
While it is true that our metabolism is slower than when we were kids, a lot of mid-life weight gain happens because we become less active. Jobs and family push exercise to the back burner. When we do not move as much, we lose muscle and gain fat.
As you get older, you may also have trouble regulating your meals with age. After a big meal, younger people tend to eat less until their bodies use up the calories. This natural appetite control seems to fade as people get older. Unless you pay close attention, big meals can quickly add up.
What to do: As you get older, it is important to make exercise a regular part of every day. By staying active and sticking with smaller portions of healthy foods, you can ward off weight gain as you age.
Weight-loss boost metabolism; Obesity - boost metabolism; Overweight - boost metabolism
Cowley MA, Brown WA, Considine RV. Obesity: the problem and its management. In: Jameson JL, De Groot LJ, de Kretser DM, et al, eds. Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 26.
Hodgson AB, Randell RK, Jeukendrup AE. The effect of green tea extract on fat oxidation at rest and during exercise: evidence of efficacy and proposed mechanisms. Adv Nutr. 2013;4(2):129-140. PMID: 23493529 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23493529/.
Maratos-Flier E. Obesity. In: Melmed S, Auchus RJ, Goldfine AB, Koenig RJ, Rosen CJ, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 40.
Whiting S, Derbyshire EJ, Tiwari B. Could capsaicinoids help to support weight management? A systematic review and meta-analysis of energy intake data. Appetite. 2014;73:183-188. PMID: 24246368 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24246368/.
Review Date 5/26/2020
Updated by: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.