Consuming more protein has been shown to be a great step toward raising your metabolism. This doesn’t mean starting a bacon and fried chicken diet, but rather adding more low-fat, nutrient rich, lean meats and legumes to your diet.
What Proteins Do
Proteins control nearly all of the molecular processes of the body. Enzymes that are found in proteins are the catalysts of metabolism. Proteins are important in promoting repair, growth and maintenance of cells throughout the body. Proteins provide the amino acids human bodies cannot naturally make.
All but a small percentage of the protein you take in is digested. Excess protein not used in repairing cells or converted into amino acids is converted into sugars or fatty acids and can be burned as fuel.
High Protein = High Metabolism
For protein to be converted into amino acids or repair and build cells requires a complex conversion. This conversion uses calories, up to 30% of the calories the protein contains, in fact. Example: one cup of white chicken breast, without bone or skin, contains about 230 calories – 175 of those from protein. Your body will use about 30% of the calories from protein to break it down for use. That equates to about 50 calories burned just by taking in this high-protein food. The same is true for legumes and grains that are high in protein.
Besides burning calories as the proteins are converted, they raise your metabolism by rebuilding muscle fibers faster. Muscles require more energy, or calories, to maintain themselves, even when you aren’t using them. The more calories your body burns, the higher your metabolism.
Fish Pulls Double Duty
“High protein” often conjures images of red meat and bacon. Legumes, nuts, milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, chicken, beans and fish are all great sources of protein. Fish, especially, packs a double punch in raising metabolic rates.
Besides the high protein content, most fish contains omega-3 fat, which has been shown to help humans burn more calories. The more calories you burn, the higher your metabolism gets.
Timing is Important
Eating protein in the morning is essential because it creates energy that long outlasts carbohydrates. A boost of protein in the morning will help prevent your body from burning muscle fiber for energy. Breaking down muscle for energy actually slows the metabolism, so it’s crucial you prevent this from happening.
Don’t skip lunch or dinner, either, and make sure there’s protein in both. Fish twice a week is recommended and it’s a quick, easy dish for either your midday or evening meal. A steady supply of protein throughout the day is very important to increase your metabolism.
If you are a late night snacker, try reaching for a high-protein nibble at night, like cheese or sliced, cooked turkey breast. You might find you sleep better and feel more satisfied with fewer night-time calories.
How Much – Too Much?
There is a wide range of opinions regarding the ideal amount of protein to take in to increase your metabolism. Some recommend 10% of your daily caloric intake come from protein, others recommend as much as 60% of your calories derive from protein sources.
The more you exercise, especially if you practice significant weight lifting, your protein intake should be on the high side, since your body tears and repairs more muscle. You are also more at risk for catabolism, or the process of burning muscle mass for energy.
A deficiency can lead to fatigue, insulin resistance, loss of muscle mass, hormone irregularities and loss of skin tone and elasticity. Vegetarians should pay close attention to their diet and make sure to include high protein grains, legumes and nuts.
Too much protein may also cause problems. You may lose calcium leading to long term bone loss. If you rely on red meats and other high-fat foods as your main source of protein, you are also at risk of high cholesterol and heart conditions related to high saturated fat levels.