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I hear this term quite a lot - "if you exercise it will boost your metabolism". The implication generally being that if you do some exercise not only will the exercise burn some calories, but you will also continue to burn more calories throughout the day.

This doesn't make much sense to me. We store calories so that we have some reserves to draw on when needed. If we burn a load of calories, the body wouldn't just think "oh ok, I'll just off load some more for the hell of it". I'm sure it would be the opposite, it would see you exerting yourself and think it would need to hold on to the calories to be used when you exert yourself again.

So, what does boosting your metabolism actually mean?

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After heavy exercise, your body needs calories to recover from the exertion, not just during the work itself. Those are the extra calories. –  VPeric Jan 5 '12 at 14:16
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There are (at least) two different ways to look at this.

  1. Adding muscle mass => higher basal metabolism
  2. Post-workout metabolic effects

The first one being that the more muscle you have, the more energy your body will demand to maintain itself. You can probably find a basal metabolism rate calculator, and input different values of your weight to see how much difference this would do if you for example were to gain/lose 5 kgs.

The second is another story. Some people hype the post-exercise "burn" coming from for example high intensity interval training. After these types of training, there is a slight elevation in metabolism for a while after the workout. However, this is a lot less than the amount of energy spent in training, thus the post-exersize effect can be considered negligible.

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So weight lifting (preferable higher reps) is the only way to effectively boost your metabolism? –  Mongus Pong Jan 5 '12 at 16:07
    
Not necessarily, but it is one of the quickest ways there. Many people do body-weight exercises and can build respectable muscle mass doing that. Additionally, the HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has more to do with conditioning than weight lifting. –  Berin Loritsch Jan 5 '12 at 19:19
    
@BerinLoritsch body-weight is still weight lifting, just with the body as the weight. (I'm just being a little picky). I'm not sure what you mean by your second sentence. Markus says in his answer that the metabolism boost from HIIT is negligible. What do you mean by conditioning? –  Mongus Pong Jan 6 '12 at 9:44
    
Conditioning is an encompassing word that includes sprints, running, swimming, biking, or anything that increases demands on the energy systems that feed your muscles. It's short for metabolic conditioning, but depending on your goals you can aim for endurance (marathon running), or more anaerobic performance (basketball, sprints, football, etc.). –  Berin Loritsch Jan 6 '12 at 12:34
    
It should be noted that increased muscle mass boosts BMR very little. The effect is along the lines of 10 cal per pound of extra muscle mass, if my recollection is correct. The effect is more pronounced when you really use those muscles. –  Illotus Jan 7 '12 at 22:46
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High reps isn't the primary metabolic booster--increased muscle mass is. Increased muscle mass comes from lifting heavy and increasing base strength. HIIT increases mass, ergo resting metabolism.

At the same time, HIIT isn't the only way to increase base metabolism.

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