Whether you realized it or not, what you eat on a daily basis not only affects how you feel (groggy versus energized), but it also impacts important bodily processes, like your metabolism. We like to make things easy to digest, but your metabolism is an extremely complex process that relates to your body's ability to process energy from fat, sugar, protein, and how it stores that energy.
We've already explained how carbohydrates affect your metabolism - hint: there's no need to go low-carb. In order to find out how protein, another macronutrient, affects your metabolism, POPSUGAR spoke with Avigdor Arad, PhD, RDN, CDE, director of the Mount Sinai Physiolab.
First, Dr. Arad reminded us that when people talk about their metabolisms, they're referring to their resting metabolic rate: the amount of energy or calories your body needs at rest (before physical activity and eating) to perform basic functions that keep you alive, like breathing. When it comes to our macronutrient profile, how much sugar or carbohydrates, fat, and protein we consume plays an important role in our metabolic rate.
"If you're not getting a sufficient amount of protein and you're getting too much sugar (carbohydrates) . . . then you're going to end up not expending a lot of calories," Dr. Arad told POPSUGAR. This is because foods high in sugar, such as a candy bar or even a banana, have a relatively low thermic effect - it doesn't take much energy for your body to process them. As a result, your body is going to hold onto those calories and store them as fat instead of burning them. According to Dr. Arad, "If you follow a diet that doesn't have enough protein and has too much sugar and fat, it's certainly going to affect your metabolic rate."
Conversely, Dr. Arad explained that eating adequate amounts of protein is "much more difficult for the body to process, and the body burns more calories doing so." Dr. Arad also explained that this is why most weight-loss programs recommend increasing your protein intake, because it will keep you fuller longer, and you'll be burning more calories with a greater protein consumption. Bottom line: eating more protein can boost your metabolism because it has a higher thermic effect, meaning your body is going to have to work harder to digest, break down, and store it.
Before you go and meal prep a bunch of high-protein meals, there's an important caveat you need to know. "You cannot eat too much protein because it could be toxic to your kidneys," Dr. Arad explained. On average, you should eat 0.5-0.8 grams per pound of body weight. This translates to approximately 30 percent of your total energy intake, Dr. Arad said.
Eating an adequate amount of protein is an important part of the metabolism-boosting equation, and there are a few other expert-approved tips you should follow to improve your metabolic rate. First, decrease the amount of sugar you're consuming. As Dr. Arad mentioned, sugar requires minimal energy for your body to process, and if you aren't very active, those calories will be stored as fat. Second, eat more healthy fats. Similar to protein, fats are more difficult for your body to process.
Finally, increase your physical activity by doing workouts such as strength training. The goal is to build muscle because muscle is more metabolically active than fat, aka it requires more energy, and the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate. Here's a four-week strength training plan to get you started.