Metabolism? That’s a handy catch-all definition of pretty much anything and everything that’s going on inside us, from our heart pumping blood round our body, to our brain producing deep thoughts … or even to our digestive system working hard to extract every last calorie from the food we’ve just eaten.

Capsaicin

Capsaicin – delicious and good for you

Whatever’s going on inside our body, it needs energy to fuel it in the form of those calories, and the fewer calories we burn off, the less more we tend to put on. So the equation here is the harder our body works – whatever it’s doing – the more calories it uses up, and the rate at which those calories are used up is known as the metabolic rate.

Here’s a bit of food for thought (genuinely, no pun intended): every single pound of fat we carry – no matter where we’re carrying it – requires two calories a day to keep itself going. Now compare that to the six calories a day every pound of muscle needs for its upkeep and all of a sudden exercise starts making sense. So any kind of muscle-building activity is going to end up being a lot more effective at burning off those surplus calories than, say, going on a crash diet.

But there are other ways to speed up our metabolism and here are five of them:

1) In a word: Breakfast. The better the breakfast, as in a decent amount of protein early on in the day, the less likely our body is to start slowing the metabolism down to save energy until our body knows it’s been fed again.

2) And as for protein, it’s made up of amino acids which are more difficult for our body to break down, therefore requiring more energy to digest, and thus speeding up the metabolism. So the more protein to process, the harder the digestive system has to work, and the faster the metabolic rate.

3) Another way of speeding up the metabolism is to add a few jalapeño, cayenne or chilli peppers to your meal. Whether you want to do that at breakfast time, though, is up to you, but you should consider doing it for other meals for two very valid reasons. The first is that these peppers contain capsaicin, a compound that causes the body to release stress hormones such as adrenaline. This causes the metabolism to speed up because the body thinks it’s in a fight-or-flight situation. The other reason is that the spiciness of those peppers tends to make a person feel fuller, faster.

4) Tea and coffee are both great metabolism boosters. A little caffeine can go a long way because it stimulates the central nervous system, and speeds up our heart rate. One study compared the change in the average metabolic rate of those who drank decaff coffee to the change of the rate of those who drank the real, caffeinated thing. Researchers found a sixteen percent increase in the metabolic rate after a cup of proper joe. As for the change in metabolism after a cup of decaff?  Er, not a lot.

Never forget that the body uses water to process calories, and once we start feeling thirsty, we’re already suffering from dehydration. At this point your metabolism slows down to conserve energy until you take on more water, leaving those calories unprocessed.

5) What about energy drinks? Well, they’ve got caffeine, too, and in many cases taurine, which can also speed up the metabolism… but there’s a price to pay when it comes to too many of those energy drinks in too short a time, and that price includes high blood pressure and all those unpleasant complications that go with it. So once in a while, no worries. But on a constant basis? No. Just … no.

In short, to boost our metabolic rate, we need to swap fat for muscle, eat plenty of protein (with or without those tangy little peppers) and keep ourselves extremely well hydrated. And, even if it’s the last thing we want to do first thing in the morning, get a good breakfast in, to set ourselves up for the rest of the day.