In the world of weight management, metabolism—the process of turning food into fuel—sometimes seems like a secret code that needs to be cracked. But just how complicated is it?
Truth be told, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. We rounded up five of the biggest, most offensive metabolism myths, and busted them for your benefit.
Myth #1: You Can’t Change Your Metabolism
You have to play the hand you’re dealt, right? Wrong. Being born with a ‘crummy’ metabolism doesn’t mean you’re doomed for life.
“You can speed up your metabolism by adding more muscle to your body,” says Chris Mohr, Ph.D., R.D., and owner of Mohr Results. “Muscle is more metabolically active than fat: Each pound of muscle burns a few extra calories per day,” according to Mohr. Up to three times as many calories as a pound of fat, to be exact.
Between commuting, work, and relaxing on the couch after a long day, the average person sits for about 16 hours per day, he says. “Building muscle means you’ll burn more calories to fuel your body over the course of the day—even at rest,” he says.
Myth #2: Cardio Is Best For Kick-Starting Fat Loss
So now you know the fat-burning engine that is your metabolism runs mostly on muscle. That means that your workouts can’t focus solely on calorie-burn and cardio if you want to keep your metabolism revving, warns Mohr.
Cardio exercises, like running or cycling, are considered catabolic processes—meaning, they break down molecules in your body to fuel your activity. So while cardio has its heart-healthy benefits, you run the risk of slowing muscle growth (or even diminishing muscle mass) if your workouts are cardio, cardio, cardio.
Instead, total-body strength training is your best strategy for kick-starting your metabolism, Mohr recommends. Start by targeting your body’s biggest muscles (the more muscle, the bigger the calorie-burn bump) in your legs, glutes, and core for maximum metabolic results.
Some of the best lower-body moves are the squat and the deadlift. For an extra hit to your core, try moves like the hollow-body hold or plank.
Myth #3: If You Have A Fast Metabolism, You Can Eat Whatever You Want
This one is tricky because it actually seems reasonable. We all have that friend who eats mac and cheese and chips on the regular, but never gains a pound. But even if you’re not seeing the pounds pile up in the mirror or on the scale, that doesn’t mean you’re healthy.
“Some people may be able to eat whatever they want and not gain weight, but you have to look at your health as more than what the scale says,” warns Mohr. Because your metabolism affects more than just your weight—it plays a role in how your entire body functions.
The food your body metabolizes goes on to fuel your vital organs—like your heart, lungs, skin, and brain, for example. Hence why that friend who gobbles junk food may also have zero energy or a wonky complexion.
“You need to fuel your body with proper nutrition to make sure you have enough energy to function both physically and mentally,” he says.
Myth #4: Smaller, More Frequent Meals Will Keep Your Metabolism At Peak Efficiency
This myth is probably the most widespread because some people actually lose weight when they change their eating patterns and timing. Why? Because this strategy does help some people feel more satiated throughout the day, says Mohr. “When it comes to maximizing your metabolism or losing weight, eating a bunch of small meals is actually no different than sticking with three larger meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Whether you like to squeeze in six small meals, or opt for three more substantial ones, make sure you’re paying attention to your protein intake. “Consuming quality protein from meats, beans, and dairy throughout the day will help you build more calorie-hungry muscle over time,” Mohr says.
Your personal protein needs will vary based on your activity level and goals. (You may need anywhere between 1.6 and two grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day.)
Related: How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
Myth #5: Superfoods Can Boost Your Metabolism
Before you force a gallon of green tea down your throat every day: This one just gets a big fat no from Mohr.
“While things like green tea, cayenne pepper, or other superfoods may give you a slight increase in your calorie burn, it’s minimal,” says Mohr. Read: not enough to affect your weight. Plus, it’s likely you’d have to consume genuinely absurd amounts of these foods to see even a minimal effect. No one likes their food that spicy.
That said, superfoods may pack non-calorie-burning benefits—green tea contains antioxidants called polyphenols, while capsaicin, the active component in cayenne pepper, has antioxidant properties and may support immune and joint health, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Just focus on consuming high-quality calories from fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, suggests Mohr.