Everyone wants a fast metabolism that works to blast away calories, but it becomes more and more elusive as we age. Once you hit your thirties, you could lose as much as 3% to 5% of your muscle mass every decade—meaning that it will only become more difficult to keep your metabolism chugging along at the same pace.
It also means it'll be harder to eat the same foods and same sized portions as just a few years ago. As we age, muscle mass tends to decrease and fat tends to increase, which means your body won't burn up as many calories as efficiently and your metabolism slows.
There is good news, however. You can implement dietary and lifestyle changes to counteract a significant portion of these metabolic shifts.
To keep you looking and feeling your best, choosing the right foods, and making the right lifestyle choices can keep your metabolism revved up as you age! Not sure if your metabolism is something to worry about? Check this list of 31 Ways You Messed Up Your Metabolism Today to see!
Eat PFC in balance
There are three pillars of nutrition that every food falls into: protein, fat, or carbohydrate (ideally with a fiber focus, like an apple). One of the best ways to support your metabolism—and, by extension, your waistline—is to consume all three in balance. "'PFC Every Three' is a term I coined that refers to eating a combination of protein, fat, and carbs every few hours to keep blood sugars stable and metabolism turned on," says registered dietitian Cassie Bjork, RD, LD of DietitianCassie.com.
If you need help identifying these food groups, try The Super Metabolism Diet. The tested two-week eating plan will torch fat and ignite your body's fuel furnace so you can lose up to a pound a day!
Eat every few hours
If you're worried that eating multiple times a day will result in a surplus of calories, Bjork says that eating snacks between your meals often results in reduced hunger at mealtimes—so you're likely to eat smaller portions. "Snacking often boosts your metabolism by keeping your blood sugar levels stable," she says. "This also lowers your levels of your fat-storing hormone, insulin, and supports the release of your fat-burning hormone, glucagon." Translation: Stop sending your body into starvation mode and then overcompensating by eating massive meals once or twice a day; maybe you could get away with it when you were a student way back when, but it's not doing your metabolism any favors today. Keep your metabolism up with these 48 Healthy Snack Ideas to Keep You Slim.
Stop counting calories
The notion of calories in and calories out holds some merit, but it doesn't show the entire picture as quality is as important as quantity for long-term weight loss. "When you're on a mission to boost metabolism, counting calories is the last thing you want to be doing," says Cassie. "When you deprive your body of the energy it needs, it fights back and actually conserves energy by slowing down your metabolism. When you follow a strict calorie-counting diet, you may not be eating enough, so you're more likely to feel tired and irritable, have outrageous cravings, and get frequent headaches."
On the flip side, when you fuel your body with high-quality foods—fresh produce, high fiber foods, proteins, and healthy fats—you're more likely to be satiated and your metabolism gets a boost. The end result is you end up losing weight! For more rules you must follow if you're over the hill, check out these 40 Most Effective Weight Loss Tips for People Over 40!
Eat breakfast when you can
"Your metabolic functions will slow during sleep, which is why it's so important to properly replenish your body with a nutrient-dense breakfast," says registered dietitian Rachael DeVaux, RD. Opt for a high-protein breakfast, like cottage cheese on a high fiber cracker. "Not only is consuming protein important for maintaining muscle mass while decreasing breakdown, amino acids are harder for the body to break down, causing you to burn more calories in doing so."
Hydrating—with water—is really the only way to go. It's essential you avoid juices, soda, and other drinks with added sugars since they have very low (if any) nutritional value and are usually full of unnecessary calories. "Keeping your body hydrated increases energy expenditure throughout the day, which means your body burns more calories at rest," says Dr. Lauren Beardsley, NMD of the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa. "Good hydration also supports healthy digestive function that will help your body eliminate waste and detoxify." If you don't keep yourself hydrated, you'll suffer from a slow metabolism in addition to these 7 Side Effects of Not Drinking Enough Water.
Eat more beans
Fiber is the zero-calorie, indigestible part of a carbohydrate that adds bulk to food. When eaten, fiber swells in the stomach, allowing you to feel fuller on less food. Fiber also naturally boosts metabolism, so eat your beans! "Beans are a great source of both protein and fiber, two nutrients that end up burning lots of calories during digestion," says DeVaux. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and bran are also solid choices.
Drink Oolong tea
"Oolong tea contains catechins, an antioxidant also present in green tea that has been shown to boost metabolism for up to two hours after drinking," says DeVaux. Those who are choosy with their teas will be happy to know oolong is available in a wide range of flavors and is low in caffeine.
Eat monounsaturated fats
Fat doesn't necessarily make you fat; it's all about choosing the right fat. "Monounsaturated fats help increase metabolic rate by burning fat without any decrease in calories," says DeVaux. They also act as a buffer for the sugar you consume. "When you consume fat every time you eat, it slows the assimilation of any sugar in your bloodstream," Bjork explains. "This promotes stable blood sugar levels and boosts metabolism for hours after you eat by allowing your body to release a turbo-fat-burning hormone called glucagon." Healthy fats can also help keep you full, supercharge brainpower, and mitigate cravings. Healthy sources include avocados, seeds, nuts, fish, and olive oil; you can find out more with these 20 Healthy Fats to Make You Thin!
As you age, it's just as important as when you were a toddler to stay off that blood sugar roller coaster. But this time, it's not because you'll start stomping your feet and making your mother go nuts; this time, it's about your overall health and pants size. "When you don't snack, your body learns to live in 'starvation mode,' and your metabolism slows down as your body adjusts and compensates," says Cassie. "Your body then hangs onto extra energy at meals by turning it into fat because it's expecting that it will need that fat in case you don't eat for a while again."
That said, it's equally important to listen to your body and only eat when you're actually hungry. And don't be scared if it's late at night, says Bjork. While most people avoid eating before bedtime, her clients have seen solid success when they have a healthy bedtime snack consisting of mostly fat and some carbohydrates. "The snack helps stabilize blood sugar levels and promotes restful sleep," she reveals. She suggests a small cup of frozen berries with a few spoonfuls of coconut milk, a pear sautéed in coconut oil, or carrots dipped in guacamole.
We know this is easier said than done, but it's important to bear in mind that stress can sabotage all of your metabolism-boosting efforts. (Hey, there's a reason we researched the 32 Foods That Turn Off the Stress Hormone That's Making You Fat!)
Bjork explains how stress slashes your metabolism: "Cortisol is known as your stress hormone since it's triggered in response to stress. It's triggered when you are in danger and is meant to be released in small doses and for short lengths of time. You can thank cortisol for the surge of energy you get when you are being chased by a tiger. Cortisol causes your blood sugars to rise any time you are stressed out. It's as if you're eating large amounts of sugary foods all day long! This causes insulin—your fat-storing hormone—to come out and do its job of transporting sugar from your bloodstream to your cells to be stored as fat. This is how your metabolism tanks and you gain weight when you're stressed…independent of your nutrition!"
While there is no clear way to beat stress, try your best to work in stress-reducing activities into your daily life. This can be anything from dining out or socializing with friends to keeping a journal or meditating.
Find out the 10 Ways to Destress So Healthy Eating Works so you can reap the benefits of your smart eats!
Sleep is essential
High-quality shut-eye is key for keeping your metabolism in check. In fact, it's huge myth that we require less sleep as we age. "Research has shown that sleep-deprived people have more difficulty regulating their blood sugar and therefore are often hungrier than individuals who are getting their eight hours per night," says Dr. Beardsley. "Also, the more sleep-deprived an individual is, the more resilience he or she loses while also producing excess stress hormones making them more prone to weight gain."
"As we approach 40, our metabolism begins to drop and muscle mass declines," says Jim White, RD, ACSM, founder of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. While cardio is great for heart health, it's important to remember weight and resistance training will best serve you to preserve or increase metabolism-revving muscle mass. "Don't be afraid to lift heavy, especially when resting metabolic rate slows with age," says DeVaux. "Strength and resistance training have also been shown to leave the biggest boost on metabolism post-workout." Research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology reveals that, even though weight loss is often associated with a slower metabolism, women who added resistance training to their routine actually maintained their resting metabolic rate. For a post-sweat refueling session, reach for any of these best protein shake recipes for weight loss!
Refuel after workouts
Pumping iron without proper refueling is like filling up a gas tank with a hole in it. You can put in all the work to build muscle, but you won't see results until you feed your body with the proper nutrients that actually contribute to muscle growth—protein—and energy replenishment—carbs. For the best post-workout fuels, don't miss 16 Post-Workout Snacks Fitness Experts Swear By.
Eat more protein
You don't have to keep protein intake restricted to just post-workout. Consider eating it at every meal! Research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggests that low-protein diets prompted greater lean muscle loss in postmenopausal women, potentially slowing their metabolisms along the way. And don't associate protein solely with meat. Also adding beans, nuts, and quinoa can help you get more of the muscle-building nutrient.
Turn down the heat at night. You'll not only trim your your heating bills, but you'll also scorch belly fat. Striking research published in the journal Diabetes suggests cooler temperatures may be optimal for weight loss. According to the study, turning the AC to a cool 66 degrees Fahrenheit at night may subtly transform a person's stores of brown fat. Brown fat is considered to be a metabolically-active, "good" fat, stimulated by cold temperatures, that serves to keep us warm by burning through "bad" fat stores. When participants spent a few weeks sleeping in bedrooms with varying temperatures, men had almost doubled their volumes of calorie-burning brown fat compared to those who slept at a balmy 81 degrees. Cool!
Eat before bed
Let's put the nighttime eating myth to bed. You can eat before bed; in fact, you might want to if you're looking to boost metabolism. When men consumed an evening snack that included 30 grams of protein, Florida State University researchers found these men had a higher resting metabolic rate the next morning than when eating nothing. It's likely because protein is more thermogenic than carbs or fat, meaning your body burns more calories digesting it. Why not try one of these protein shakes before hitting the hay next time?
Change up your workout routine
It's no surprise that as we age, our metabolism slows down, says registered dietitian Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, but you don't have to settle with a slow metabolism. Exercise is important for maintaining muscle mass, but even more important is exercising in a different way or at a higher intensity. "Changing up your routine can increase the speed at which your body is burning calories," she says.
As we've mentioned, exercise is certainly important in maintaining metabolism, but you aren't limited to a gym. "[As you age], activity is essential," Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, tells us. Especially since "metabolism and hormonal changes in your 40s create an ideal environment for excess fat storage – especially in the midsection," she elaborates. You don't even need to step foot in a gym to increase your activity. Check out these 40 Easy Ways To Burn More Calories Right Now.
Cut out artificial sweeteners
Props for cutting out sugar, but don't think you're better off if you're replacing it with artificial sweeteners. Research published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism shows that artificially sweetened beverages may confuse the body's normal metabolic response to sugar, which can actually increase appetite. Plus, diet drinks are increasingly being linked with weight gain, metabolic syndrome, and a host of other ills. The best advice? "Let go of your sweet 'crutch' and limit your sweets altogether," says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN of RealNutritionNYC. "My rule is 150 to 200 calories of sweets a day."
Be more consistent
The older you get usually means you're required to juggle a lot of commitments and eating on the fly. The issue? An irregular eating schedule can undercut your metabolism. A Hebrew University study from 2012 found that mice that were fed high-fat foods sporadically gained more weight than mice than those that ate a similar diet on a regular schedule. Your best game plan is to come up with a set of go-to meals you can rely on every week to nourish you. Start with these 99+ Best Healthy Dinner Recipes for Weight Loss.