If Metabolism 101 were a class, you'd be the teacher's pet: You never skip breakfast—you know a little food in the a.m. kick-starts the day's calorie burn. And you don't crash diet, either, because that leads your body to hang on to Every. Last. Calorie. Ready for the advanced course? We found out what real people with high metabolism do right. Adopt their ways to shrink your waist and get in peak shape.
Eat the correct number of calories
Science time! Metabolism is the chemical process in the body that converts the food you eat into fuel. The result: You get the energy that keeps you going each day. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories per day your body naturally burns at rest, says Dr. Louis Aronne, an obesity specialist at the New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. Knowing your number is key because it means you'll be aware of exactly how many calories to consume to maintain your weight (or lose or gain, if need be).
Calculate your calorie burn
Of course, you don't just sit around all day—even a couch potato has to lift the remote once in a while. So in order to get a more accurate figure, factor in how active you are. Your result is the number of calories per day you need to maintain your current weight. Want to lose? Shave 500 extra calories a day by eating less, working out more or, ideally, doing a combo. You'll drop 1 to 2 pounds per week.
Make workouts a regular thing
"Doing cardio exercise three to five times a week is associated with a higher metabolic rate at rest," says Wayne Westcott, professor of exercise science at Quincy College, in Quincy, Mass. That means that even when out of the gym, your body is burning above and beyond what it would have had you never hauled butt over there.
And there's new research to show how you can boost your rate while you're exercising, too. You've probably heard of Tabata, a workout in which, for four minutes, you alternate 20 seconds of all-out effort with 10 seconds of rest. When Michele Olson, professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University, in Auburn, Ala., had subjects try it with squat jumps, they burned 13.5 calories per minute; most moderate-intensity cardio burns just 6 or 7 calories per minute. "You can do it with almost any exercise," she says, like sprints, jumping jacks or—better yet—burpees.
Don't blow off lifting
A pound of muscle burns more calories than a pound of fat. Up to nine times the amount, in fact. "Lifting weights is the top way to stave off age-related metabolic drop," says Dr. Pamela Peeke, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Never yo-yo diet
Yet another reason not to let your weight seesaw: You'll hamstring your metabolism. "My patients with the lowest metabolisms are the weight cyclers," says Dr. Scott Isaacs, clinical instructor of medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine. "When you lose weight, you lose muscle and fat, but when you gain it back, it's mostly fat, which burns fewer calories."
Have a bedtime snack (gasp!)
Forget what you think you know about not eating after 8 p.m. Two recent Florida State University studies found that having 150 calories about 30 minutes before you go to sleep—that's an extra 150 calories added to your day, not taken out of your daily allotment—boosted metabolism in the morning, compared with having none. For best results, your p.m. snack should be protein (we like low-fat milk or cottage cheese). The one caveat is that this applies only if you're exercising regularly. But you are, aren't you?