How quickly our metabolisms burn the food we eat into real energy — or store it as fat — varies from person to person.
You’ll hear over and over again people complaining about their glacially slow metabolisms and tips to hack our internal engines and speed it up.
But maybe we’ve been thinking about metabolism all wrong. We chased dietitians across the country to share the biggest misunderstandings their patients have about their own metabolisms. And asked them to set the record straight.
Metabolism Myth #1: Large Meals Slow It Down
You shouldn’t eat two bacon cheeseburgers, a side of fries, and a sundae in a single sitting just out of caloric principle. Still, doing so won’t stall your metabolism. It’s a myth that “eating small meals throughout the day is better for your metabolism than three square meals,” says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RDN. “This regimen change to your diet will in fact not change what your metabolism does or the thermic effect of food just because they are smaller meals."
In fact, parsing out your meals can actually cause you to eat more depending on the portion size of those "smaller" meals, Michalczyk says. The calories in a snack can easily catch up to what you would get in a full meal. Add them up over the course of the day, and you’ve blown your calorie input. So, rather than measuring the size and frequency of your meals, pay attention to calories.
Metabolism Myth #2: Skipped Meals Also Slow It Down
You don’t want to make skipping lunch a habit—as your body needs those calories and fuel—but one skipped meal will not shut down your metabolism, Michalczyk assures. “It takes a consistently very low-calorie diet to signal starvation mode to your body and slow your metabolism,” she explains.
Just don’t make skipped meals a regular thing. You’ll be missing out on nutrients and setting yourself up to likely binge later. “What actually could be happening from skipping a meal is consuming more calories than you normally would at the next meal leading to weight gain in the long run,” she says.
Metabolism Myth #3: Caffeinated Beverages Keep It Elevated
Yes, a cup or two of coffee or green tea will raise your metabolism--but don’t consider them a cure-all for boosting your internal furnace. “Beverages that contain caffeine, like coffee and green tea, have shown to increase your metabolism but only for a short window of time. Relying on them regularly as a means to boost metabolism may cause more harm than good depending on your particular health state,” says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, CPT. For instance, excess caffeine can mess with sleep patterns, heart conditions, and cause jitteriness in some.
What’s more important: Being dehydrated, which can slow your metabolism. “Aim to increase your water intake to help prevent dehydration and keep your metabolism running strong,” says Shaw.
Metabolism Myth #4: It’s Locked In From Birth
“While it's quite factual your metabolic rate is influenced by your age, gender and genetics, there are certainly ways you can increase your metabolism,” says Shaw. There’s hope! “For instance, incorporating more strength training into your routine can help build more muscle, which in turn has a higher metabolic burn than fat,” she says.
How does it work? “When resting then, your body would naturally burn more calories when you have a higher muscle mass,” Shaw reports. Meaning just putting on some extra muscle will lead to a speedier metabolism even when you’re outside the weight room.
Do cardio, too, which can spike your metabolism for a few hours afterwards, adds Dana Angelo White, MS RD. Aim for 75 minutes of vigorous or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic work per week, as well as two days of strength training. This could be a great excuse to finally try that Zumba class. Running or jogging, HIIT class, or spin class works, too. Anything to get your heart rate up. If it’s a regular part of your routine, you’ll boost your metabolic rate to offset any decline that comes with ageing, she says.
Metabolism Myth #5: Chilli Spikes It
They may add flavour, but spices won't really give your metabolism a worthwhile boost. There is some evidence that chilli can improve metabolism and heart health, but adding hot sauce to your nightly meal isn’t going to make a dramatic difference.
“The phytonutrients capsaicin found in hot peppers has been shown to slightly increase your metabolism several hours after eating. However, don’t think that if you continuously eat chilli it will make you quickly shed kgs. It only raises it slightly and only for a short period of time after consumption,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, Wall Street Journal best-selling cookbook author of the upcoming Smart Meal Prep for Beginners.
Add peppers to your stir-fry for a better meal, but don’t think you’re cooking up an excuse to skip the gym the next day.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health US.