Let’s be honest: for most college students, going to the gym three to five times a week is a huge time and energy commitment. Classes, studying and hanging out with friends eat up time out of the week faster than ever. Food becomes a source of satisfaction that is easy to indulge in and before you know it, BAM! Freshman 15 strikes.
There’s nothing wrong with gaining weight; a lot of people do in college. The temptation of unlimited food at the DUC, delicious choices at Cox Hall and late-night snacks gets all of us at some point or the other. But for those who want to avoid gaining too much weight and compromising their health, here are some tips and naturally healthy food choices that will boost your body’s metabolic rate.
Eat a balanced meal for breakfast (actually eat breakfast). While you sleep and your internal clock winds down, your body is in a mode very similar to hibernation. When you wake up, you have already been fasting for 10 to 20 hours and your body needs an immediate energy source. Eating a balanced meal of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and protein helps you to not only jump-start your body’s metabolism for the day, but also keeps you fuller for a longer time. As a result, you will feel less food cravings throughout the day and will be less prone to overeating.
Eat a light meal or snack every three to four hours to keep your metabolism up. Every time you eat, your body expends energy to break it down and releases heat in response, increasing metabolism. Be careful not to overeat for these light meals. One to two servings of any given protein, fruit or vegetable is enough. Fruits in particular are great sources of natural sugar that your body can quickly and readily break down for energy.
Eat your biggest meal at breakfast and decrease the size of your main meals throughout the day. Consuming a big breakfast in the morning is only beneficial because it reduces your cravings and caloric intake throughout the day. Having your smallest meal portion for dinner is ideal because your body has less time to break down food at night. Not only are you more stationary at night, your internal clock begins to tell your body that it should prepare for sleep and your metabolic rate decreases. While you sleep, any leftover food from the night is converted into long-term energy storage — fat.
Exercise. While the time and energy crunch is often discouraging, incorporating a brief 20 to 60 minute workout even for one day boosts your metabolism and builds muscle. Try a short cardio workout to reduce body fat and increase metabolic digestion and light strength training for muscle, which burns fat rapidly. Don’t forget flexibility exercises to reduce soreness. If you know you will be eating a lot of high-calorie or unhealthy foods, work out shortly beforehand so that your body can metabolize it faster and more efficiently.
Make smart food decisions that are low in sugar, salt, fat and processed carbohydrates. Here are some healthy food choices that will naturally help boost your metabolism while having that universal appeal of being low in calories. Best of all, all of these can be found on Emory’s campus in the DUC.
- Grapefruit: Hailed as one of the most beneficial citrus fruits, grapefruits are packed with vitamin C, which is required for metabolic function.
- Lean meats: Grilled chicken and turkey exponentially increase protein levels in the body while decreasing carbohydrate intake. They are the best sources of sustainable energy, keeping your more full than other foods and for a longer time. Protein is also used to build muscle, which burns fat.
- Whole grains: Oatmeal, brown rice and wheat bread are just a few examples of high-fiber foods that require more energy to break down than processed grains, boosting metabolic rate.
- Calcium-rich foods: Broccoli, spinach and unsweetened soy milk are rich in calcium, which helps to efficiently break down fat.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Salmon, tuna, egg whites and nuts help regulate blood sugar levels by containing insulin, a hormone necessary to break down carbs and fats.
- High-fiber fruits and veggies: Apples, celery and spinach are high in fiber, a tough, natural carbohydrate in foods that requires large amounts of energy to digest, helping burn calories in the process.
- Spicy foods with minimal salt: Similarly, hot peppers and other spicy foods require more energy to break down. Moreover, hot peppers increase adrenaline levels and heart rate due to the substance capsaicin within them, which causes mitochondria to produce more heat and increase cell metabolism. But watch out — avoid salt.
- Potassium-rich foods: Bananas are a fantastic source of potassium, an essential mineral that helps excise water weight retained from eating too much salt.
- Green tea: Loaded with antioxidants, drinking glasses of hot green tea is a classic Asian method that promotes fat-burning.
- Water: Your body will often trick you into thinking that you’re hungry when in reality, you’re just a thirsty college kid on a Saturday night. Drinking 64 ounces of water daily is the standard for your body to remain hydrated. Water also flushes out toxins, helps food digestion and increases metabolic rate by over 30 percent, burning over 50 calories in one day.