There is a special food category that helps athletes to keep fit. Many specialists call it “thermogenic” food. Normally people think that “thermogenic” foods are supplements or exotic herbs, hot spices or foods like cayenne, chili pepper, mustard, cider vinegar, guarana, green tea. It is supposed that these foods “magically” ramp up your metabolism and burn off body fat.
There might actually be some science behind a few of those things. For example, there is a slight thermogenic effect from capsaicin in hot pepper, and a slight boost in the 24-hour metabolic rate from the EGCG in green tea. This effect is not infinite.
That’s like getting excited by the theory that drinking enough ice cold water is going to get you ripped because the body has to “warm it up” (which expends energy). Believe it or not, the research on cold water thermogenesis shows that it actually exists! But... water-induced thermogenesis only amounts to an extra 50 grams a week in weight loss! Such is the case with most so-called “thermogenic foods” and spices. The effect is real, but tiny.
Details are important and little things can make a difference, so it doesn’t hurt to eat spicy foods, drink green tea and drink ice cold water. However, when you put too much attention on the small stuff you’re not only being horribly inefficient, you’re also putting yourself at risk of falling for the latest fad diet. In any endeavor, including weight loss, a small handful of critical factors (the 20 percent) will produce the vast majority of your results. The rest (80 percent) is minutia. Only after you have the critical factors (the fundamentals) in place first, should you “sweat the small stuff” that might help your results an extra percentage point here and a percentage point there.
In reality, all foods are “thermogenic” because the body must use energy to digest them. This is known as the “thermic effect of food” (TEF) or “specific dynamic action of food.” However, not all foods have the same “thermic” effect. Dietary fat has the lowest thermic effect. The most thermogenic food is lean protein from solid foods, especially the following:
• chicken breast
• turkey breast
• game meats (venison, elk)
• bison, buffalo
• very lean red meat such as top round and lean sirloin (grass fed is especially nutritious)
• almost all types of fish
• shellfish and other seafood
• egg whites
Protein drinks could also be added to this list. They can be quite helpful for boosting overall protein intake or as a convenient meal replacement. However, I have always had a theory that the thermogenic effect of solid, whole food proteins is higher than most people think and that solid whole food proteins have a higher thermic effect than liquids.
That’s why it is recommended to focus primarily on whole foods for the majority of your calories. This is a good idea anyway because liquid calories have been proven less effective at activating the appetite and satiety mechanisms in your brain and gastrointestinal tract, and it’s easier to overconsume liquid calories than solid calories.
In any case, research has proven that the thermic effect of protein is the highest of all the macronutrients, requiring about 30 percent of the calories it contains, just for digestion and processing.
When you combine thermogenic lean protein foods with the right amounts and types of essential fats, add in plenty of green vegetables and just the right amount of natural starchy carbs and whole grains (at the right times - see below for the trick), your body will literally turn into a turbo-charged fat burning machine - without drugs, supplements or weird diet gimmicks.
STEP 1: Select a green vegetable or fibrous vegetable such as asparagus, green beans, broccoli, Brussels’ sprouts, cauliflower, salad vegetables.
STEP 2: Combine that with one of the lean proteins (mentioned above).
STEP 3: The lean protein and fibrous carb forms the foundation of your fat burning meal. From there, add natural starchy carbs or grains such as brown rice, oats, or sweet potatoes - in the amount your calorie needs dictate and to the degree your body can tolerate them (some people are carb-sensitive). Fruit is also ok, but focus even more on the green and fibrous vegetables.