Your base metabolism is the rate at which your body burns calories for energy. People with faster metabolisms have more energy on a basic level; they're typically more motivated and active, though it's an open question which came first.
If you're trying to lose weight, one of the most important things you can strive to do is boost your metabolic rate. Boosting your metabolism will give you more energy, which you can then use on other efforts, whether it's your daily work or working out.
When you're young, you have a fast metabolism. As you age, that metabolism slows down, since your body is no longer growing and is, frankly, quite a bit less active. Speeding it back up to those rates of your youth is practically the holy grail of weight loss for many.
What Even Is The Metabolism?
To be more specific than just "your body burning calories", let's define what the metabolism scientifically is. In essence, your metabolism is all of the various bodily processes that go into keeping your body alive daily. This includes two kinds of processes: anabolic and catabolic processes.
Anabolic processes – not, it's not about steroids – are the bodily processes related to synthesizing and producing molecules and compounds. For example, if your body needs to repair your skin, it might draw out a handful of amino acids and some vitamin C and use an anabolic process to synthesize collagen for use in wound healing.
Catabolic processes are the opposite: they're about breaking things down. Mostly, this means breaking down nutritional molecules or fat and converting the parts into sugars that your body can then use for energy to fuel itself.
Together, these two broad categories of processes form the metabolism. Everything – proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and so on – have a role to play. You can read deeper into it here if you'd like.
There's just one more thing: the metabolism isn't what you think of when you think of your metabolism. That, in actuality, is your Basal Metabolic Rate.
Your metabolic rate is the rate at which your body does all of the things it does as part of the metabolism when resting. Your metabolism spikes when you exercise because you need more energy to burn to move, but when you're done, it settles back down. That settled state is your BMR, and that's what you're looking to boost.
Is It Even Possible to Boost Your Metabolism?
There are a lot of different factors that go into your body's metabolic rate. Unfortunately, most of these factors are not factors you can realistically change. Let's take a look.
Your organs. Different organs use different amounts of energy to do their jobs naturally. Some organs require more energy than others. Your liver, for example, uses a lot of energy because it's a dense organ constantly processing your bodily fluids. People who naturally have a larger liver are going to have a slightly higher metabolism. This can't be changed, not really; you can't exactly work out your liver and let it grow larger like you can with muscles. Putting your liver under stress just leads to liver disease.
Your bodily composition. Two people who each weigh 150 lbs. will have different metabolic rates depending on their body fat percentage. Someone who is 10% body fat will have a higher metabolic rate than someone with 15-20% body fat, even if they're the same weight. More fat means less muscle and other tissues that consume energy. This can be changed, of course, by losing weight and building muscle, but you're looking for ways to boost your metabolism without working out, so that doesn't count.
Your age. Your metabolism is at its peak when you're a child, and decreases by about 1-3% per decade as you age. Unfortunately, there's no known way to reduce the effects of aging on a base physiological scale, so there's not a realistic way to influence this factor.
Your genetics. While science isn't sure exactly what genetic factors influence metabolism, they know it does; studies of Indian families found that one of the strongest determining factors in base metabolic rate was family membership.
All of this combines to mean that influencing your base metabolic rate is going to be an extremely uphill battle (if it's even possible at all). Just about the only factor you can influence is your bodily composition; losing fat and gaining muscle does it, and that's about it.
Ways to Push Your Metabolism Higher
Science and anecdotal evidence agree that there's essentially no way to push your base metabolic rate to a point where you're going to shed pounds like water. There's just no way to make that large of a change on your body.
That said, you can still do some things that influence your body to burn more energy, more or less passively.
The strongest thing you can do is, of course, work out. Actively working out doesn't change your base metabolic rate, but it may give you a bit of passive increased metabolism for a day or so after working out. The reason is that working out and pushing your body damages it, and your body needs to burn extra energy to heal. Even this, though, is short term; once your body heals and restores itself, your metabolic rate settles back down.
A significant reduction in body fat and mass can lead to a higher metabolism simply because you're not suppressing it by being sedentary and obese. We can't necessarily call this advice, though, for two reasons. First, as per the title of this post, you're looking for ways to do this without working out, and the best way to do it is to work out. Second, by the time you've sculpted your body to the point that this would be a metabolic change, you're no longer concerned with losing weight, because you've reached a healthy state.
You can do some things to push your metabolism to work a little harder, though. The influence won't be huge – and in fact, it most likely won't even be noticeable – but it's technically there.
Take a stimulant. Caffeine is the most common relatively safe stimulant you can take. A stimulant like caffeine pushes the body to burn more energy on a passive level, at least as long as you're metabolizing it. That means drink some coffee, drink some tea, or take a caffeine pill or supplement that includes caffeine.
Note that we're not recommending any other sorts of stimulants here. Most stimulant drugs are controlled substances because they can do some serious damage to your body, even in small doses. Caffeine is about the only one that you can safely take, and even that, you'll build up resistance and have side effects when taking and quitting.
Get more exercise. Yes, yes, we know, you said no working out. And we're not suggesting that! Working out can help, sure, but so can getting more baseline exercise. Even just going for a mile or two walk each day gets your body moving, burning energy that you otherwise wouldn't burn.
Technically, this doesn't boost your metabolic rate, since your base metabolic rate is explicitly calculated as the amount of energy you burn in 24 hours while doing nothing at all. Still, though, that technicality isn't helpful for anyone. Just go for walks to get that little extra bit of exercise in.
Eat a light, healthy breakfast. "Eating more" isn't generally what you would think of as a way to lose weight, but it's surprisingly pretty important to eat a good breakfast. Breakfast, eaten shortly after waking up, stimulates your body into starting the day. It helps shake off the evening's hibernation and push you into a more awake, energetic state.
A light breakfast is important because you don't want to overload your body with nutrients it then needs to digest and store. A small breakfast with fruit, veg, and healthy ingredients – such as a small omelet or a green smoothie – is often plenty. Couple it with a cup of coffee or tea and you're good to go.
Our recommendation? Keep a small glass of water next to your bed. Immediately when you wake up, before you even get out of bed, drink that water. This will help you wake up, stimulate your body to get hungry for breakfast and start the day, and it helps keep you hydrated.
Drink more water. Speaking of, drinking more water is probably one of the few things actually scientifically proven to boost your resting metabolic rate. Adding more water to your daily consumption – a lot more water, like 1.5 liters of water on top of what you drink now – helps you burn as much as 50 more calories per day.
Sure, 50 calories per day might not seem like a lot, but it adds up over time, especially as a passive burn. It takes about 3,500 calories to lose one pound, so drinking water alone can help you lose one pound per 2-3 months. Slow, but certainly not bad for something that requires no effort.
Drink more tea. Actual tea here, camelia sinensis, not herbal tea. Green tea (and the processed variants like black tea) include a compound called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. This compound is touted to have a huge array of different health benefits, and one of those benefits seems to be a bit of stimulation of the metabolism.
Of course, it might be hard to tell; green tea also contains caffeine, which does the same thing. EGCG is powerful for other health benefits, though, like a reduction in inflammation. There's not much in the way of downsides to drinking more tea throughout the day, other than the caffeine resistance, so drink all you like.
Eat more fiber. Alright, so we're cheating a bit here. Eating more fiber isn't going to increase your base metabolic rate. It will, however, do three things for you that help you with your weight loss.
First, fiber is tough and harder to digest than other nutrients. This means your body has to spend more energy and resources breaking it down, which in turn means that you're burning more energy. Ideally, the calories in fiber you're taking in are replacing, not supplementing, other caloric sources.
Second, because fiber takes so long to digest, it makes you feel full longer. This effect is an appetite suppressant, and it means you won't get nearly as hungry as early in the day. This helps you resist the urge to eat more, which helps maintain a caloric deficit and thus lose weight.
Third, fiber is a prebiotic, which helps keep your gut full of good bacteria rather than bad bacteria fueled by sugars. Science is still figuring out just how much the gut biome affects other areas of health, but one thing is certain: keeping it healthy is important.
Avoid Taking Metabolism Boosters
There are a lot of health supplements that claim they can help boost your metabolism, and those are often fine. What you need to watch out for are the products specifically designed to hypercharge the metabolism. This is either not true, in which case you're paying for an expensive supplement that doesn't work, or it's relying on a stimulant like Ephedrine to do the job. The side effects and potential dangers simply aren't worth it.
At the end of the day, the best thing you can do for your metabolism is to lose weight. It's a hard cycle to start because you want to boost your metabolism to lose weight, but you need to lose weight to boost your metabolism.
Unfortunately, the best advice we can give is to start working out, if you are physically able to. Getting more exercise, including heavy resistance training to build muscle mass, is the best way to achieve your goals. Just make sure to take things slow, set realistic expectations, and don't push yourself beyond what you can handle. That's how you hurt yourself, lose your progress, and end up in a worse state than you started.