There are few better ways to wake up in the morning than peeping a mirror and thinking “man, my stomach looks good today.” Granted, if you’ve put in the work at the gym, you’re hoping that glance-smirk combo isn’t a once-in-a-blue-moon situation. But it’s not just boxer crunchers or GHD sit-ups that are going to get you that lean, chiseled midsection. A stoked metabolism, or the process by which your body uses energy from food to make energy, can certainly assist your body’s ability to burn fat and ultimately a flatter stomach. “When you increase your muscle mass by strength training, you can increase your metabolic rate, for sure. But also genetics, your diet history, your current weight, age, gender—these all make a huge impact,” says Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of The Plant-Powered Diet. “However, certain foods have been shown in research to give small boosts, as well.”
If you’re eating enough of them, that is. Whereas a lot of people think that adding extra sweat sessions and eating less could be the winning formula to a trim physique, it’s actually the opposite. “Metabolism can actually decrease when someone is not eating enough, as our bodies perceive this as a period of famine,” says Kim Hoban, RDN. “Putting fuel in the tank at breakfast, eating every few hours, getting enough sleep and incorporating consistent exercise to increase muscle mass are all good strategies to fuel a healthy metabolism.”
Are you ready to put the right fuel in your tank? Check out our list of satisfying foods to get your metabolism firing at max capacity:
Why it’s a must: You’ve seen it in a slew of supplements at your local vitamin store, and there’s a reason for that. Green tea has been proven to help metabolize glucose. One study even showed that subjects who consumed green tea with caffeine lost an average of 2.9 pounds over 12 weeks, all while maintaining their normal diet.
Chow down: Palmer suggests choosing antioxidant-rich green tea in lieu of other sweetened beverages during the day.
Why it’s a must: We mentioned caffeine with green tea, but there are surely other sources to snag that from. For many of us, mornings are incomplete without some java and that’s a good thing for you metabolism. Caffeine, like that in coffee, has been proven to stoke your metabolism in the morning and has even been reported to increase speed and/or power output.
Chow down: Not much of a java person? Cocoa beans may just be your new BFF.
Why it’s a must: “Chilis tote capsaicin, the compound that provides that burning sensation, which has been shown to increase heart rate, decrease appetite and potentially boost metabolism,” says Hoban. “Keep in mind, you’d need to eat a lot of those spices to reap significant benefits.”
Chow down: If you’re not game to chow down on them as-is, chili peppers are a main ingredient in some of your favorite hot sauces. Add some to dressings or a morning egg scramble. “Adding a bit of spice makes your food delicious and satisfying,” says Palmer.
Why they’re a must: Eggs are a protein powerhouse (6 grams each). Not to mention, they’re a super cheap grocery store buy, and also have fat, vitamin D, and coline.
Chow down: Whether egg whites or whole eggs are your style, they’re not exclusively a breakfast food. Try scrambling them with leafy greens and topping with half of an avocado, or impress a date by making this easy shakshuka recipe.
Why they’re a must: Almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, and more are known for toting metabolism-friendly properties. Almonds specifically are rich in magnesium and vitamin E, a super powerful antioxidant that boosts heart health.
Chow down: Making a great midday snack as-is, most nuts are also made into flours which can be substituted for white while baking.
Lentils and Beans
Why they’re a must: “They’re both nutrient-dense protein sources that are also high in fiber, so they provide an energy boost with staying power,” says Hoban.
Chow down: Beans can thicken soups or give your scrambled egg breakfast an extra protein and fiber boost. Looking to eat less meat? Swap that double cheeseburger for these easy double black bean burgers with avocado basil cream with much less cholesterol.
Why they’re a must: “Chia seeds have a trifecta of those healthy fats, along with fiber and protein to keep you feeling fuller longer,” says Hoban.
Chow down: Chia seeds can be added ground or whole to your favorite morning smooth, cup of yogurt, salad, or oatmeal. Feeling adventurous? Mix together a quarter-cup of the seeds in one cup of liquid to make a chia pudding, let sit for a minimum of 20 minutes to soak through, and top with chopped fruit.
Why they’re a must: Aside from the fact that they’re absolutely delicious, berries are jam-packed with fiber and antioxidants. For only 60 calories, you can snack on a cup of raspberries and get in 8g of fiber in the process.
Chow down: Delicious on top of yogurt and in smoothies, berries are just as good frozen as they are fresh. Plus, adding frozen fruit to a smoothie can make for a thicker consistency, and snacking on it at the end of your day can satisfy your craving for higher-fat options like that pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
Why they’re a must: Rich in iron and high in fiber, leafy greens are loaded with good-for-your-gut nutrients.
Chow down: Salads, sautes, you name it. Just be careful how you dress your greens. The last thing you want to do is turn a healthy salad full of color into a fat bomb by topping it with high-fat, high-cal vinaigrettes.
Why it’s a must: A solid source of Omega 3s, salmon can also help reduce inflammation and the body’s resistance to the hormone leptin, which suppresses appetite by signaling fullness, according to Hoban.
Chow down: Salmon on its own is tasty, but try baking or grilling it on top of a cedar plank to add a smoky, rich flavor.
Why it’s a must: Greek yogurt carries double the protein compared to regular varieties. “It has plenty of protein and calcium, but also offers the benefits of probiotics, which feed the bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract, improving digestive health and boosting immunity,” says Hoban.
Chow down: Add a drizzle of honey, teaspoon of cacao nibs, or some fresh fruit to soften the tart flavor for a midday snack. Or, try dividing yogurt into ice cube trays. Freeze them, then toss two cubes into your next smoothie for a thicker consistency.
Why they’re a must: OK sure, water isn’t food. But it’s essential for all of the body’s processes. “While drinking water may not directly increase metabolic rates, it will increase blood volume, carry nutrients to our cells and speed up the process of waste removal,” says Hoban. Not to mention, loading up on H20 can help increase energy, relieve fatigue, and maintain regularity in the body.
Chow down: Gulping down water not really your fancy? Try adding lemons or cucumbers to a pitcher, and keep it on the counter in plain sight, to add some taste.