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Make the Most of Your Metabolism

Revving Your Engine

Though some of the factors affecting metabolic rate can't be changed, happily, there are ways to maximize the metabolism you're born with -- even when you're dieting.

Among the best ways is exercise. This includes aerobic workouts to burn more calories in the short term, and weight training to build the muscles that will boost your metabolism in the long run.

"Since muscle burns more calories than fat -- even while at rest -- the more muscles you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate, which means the more calories your body will be burning just to sustain you," says Kimball.

Personal fitness trainer Kelli Calabrese MS, CSCS, ACE, notes that every pound of muscle in our bodies burns 35 calories a day, while each pound of fat burns just 2 calories per day.

While 30 minutes of aerobic exercise may burn more calories than 30 minutes of weight training, Calabrese says, "in the hours following the cessation of exercise, the weight training has a longer-lasting effect on boosting metabolism."

Having extra muscle also means you can eat more and gain less.

Adds Yanagisawa: "We don't tell people to exercise while dieting only to burn calories -- we also know that exercise builds muscle and that is what will help you burn more calories and maintain the weight loss you work so hard to achieve."

Some women fear they'll "bulk up" with weight training. But Calabrese, author of Feminine, Fit and Firm, says not to worry.

"Women don't have the hormones necessary to develop those huge muscles, so you can feel good about doing weight training," she says.

Eat More, Burn Better

Of course, the diet advice we'd all love to hear is "Eat more and lose more weight!" But what really works is "Eat more often, and you'll lose more weight." Small, but frequent, meals help keep your metabolism in high gear, and that means you'll burn more calories overall.

"When you put too many hours between meals, your metabolism actually slows down to compensate," says Kimball.

If you then eat a huge meal -- at the same time your metabolism is functioning as if you're starving -- your body wants to hold on to every calorie.

While this won't make much difference on an occasional basis, Kimball says, make it a way of life and it can get harder to lose or maintain weight.

Kimball's advice is borne out by the findings of a study that was presented at the 2005 annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine. Researchers from Georgia State University reported that when athletes ate snacks totaling about 250 calories each, three times a day, they had greater energy output then when they didn't snack.

The study also found that snacking helped the athletes eat less at each of their three regular meals. The final result was a higher metabolic rate, a lower caloric intake, and reduction in body fat.

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