How To Boost Your Post-Workout Calorie Burn

When you think about burning calories, you probably think about burning calories during your workouts—like while you’re on the treadmill or under the squat rack.

Depending on your workout, however, you also continue to burn calories after you leave the gym—especially important if you’re trying to shed fat. These calories, which you’ve probably heard referred to as the ‘after-burn,’ come from excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC.

EPOC, simply put, is the amount of oxygen (and therefore calories) that your body churns through after your workout to restore your body to its previous state. Your body uses this post-exercise oxygen to restore the glycogen (energy) in your muscles, lower your body temp, and repair damage to your muscles, says Pam Geisel, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Tisch Sports Performance Center in New York City. EPOC gives your metabolism gets a nice little boost, which can last anywhere from three to 24 hours after you leave the gym.

The Higher Your Intensity, The Higher Your EPOC

To really ramp up your EPOC, how hard you work out is more important than how long you work out for and what type of exercise you choose.

For instance, according to one 2016 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, when guys performed sprints and other high-intensity intervals, they burned 110 and 82.5 calories in the three hours after their workouts, respectively. Meanwhile, when they performed longer bouts of steady-state cardio, they burned just 64 calories in the three hours afterward.

“Think of intense exercise like trashing a hotel room and jogging like dropping the TV remote on the floor,” says Anna Swisher, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., director of education and performance at Eleiko. “It will take hours to repair the whole hotel room, but just a few seconds to pick up the remote. More damage takes more energy to clean up.”

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

While your age, sex, and fitness level do affect how long your after-burn lasts, exercise intensity is still your best tool for maxing it out. Incorporate these six must-try strategies into your workout plan to really ‘trash the hotel room.’ (Just take it slow if you’re used to lower-intensity, steady-state exercise, and think about ramping up bit by bit from week to week.)

1. Focus On Your Body’s Biggest Muscles

Moves that work larger muscles, like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pullups, require more energy to perform and create a greater EPOC compared to moves that hit just one or two smaller muscles, like bicep curls, Swisher says. So focus your strength training efforts on these large compound moves as much as possible.

2.Lift Heavy

One Sports Medicine review found that when exercisers performed three sets of eight moves with 80 to 90 percent of their 1RM (one-rep max, or the most weight they could lift for a single rep), they had significantly greater EPOC compared to when they performed four sets of eight moves with 50 percent of their 1RM.

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What that means for you: When performing these big lifts, make sure you’re picking up something (really) heavy, Swisher says. You should only be able to pull off four to eight reps per set.

3. Perform Isolation Moves As Supersets

Isolation work—like bicep curls and tricep extensions—can still have a place in your routine. To reap the most EPOC benefit, save them for the second half of your workouts, after you’ve given your more demanding lifts your all. Superset moves that work opposing muscle groups and perform them back-to-back, with no rest in between, to up the intensity, suggests Geisel. (Since isolation moves tend to put all their stress on one joint, use a weight light enough that you can perform more than six reps.)

4. Slow Down Your Lifts

Performing strength exercises slowly and under control cuts down on how much momentum you use and increases the demand placed on your muscles to boost your after-burn. Eccentric movements (a.k.a. the lowering or ‘negative’ part of a move) cause greater muscle damage, and can increase both the intensity and duration of your EPOC, according to one ISRN Physiology review. Pay special attention to slowing down the eccentric phase—like lowering into a squat or raising the lat pulldown bar back to start—of each exercise.

5. Increase Cardio Speed And Resistance

If you’re more into cardio than weights, swap your regular steady-state jogs for all-out sprints or turn the nob on your spin bike way to the right. Doing so increases the resistance against which your muscles have to work—and how hard your body will have to work to recover, Geisel says.

6. Cut Back On Rest Intervals

Whether you’re a lifting lover or a cardio bunny, reducing the amount of time that you rest between sets and sprints ups how hard your anaerobic energy systems have to work to fuel your workouts, Geisel says. As a general rule, your rest periods should be just long enough that you’re able to give each set or sprint your all while maintaining proper form, she says. Any longer and you’re limiting your EPOC potential.

Related: Add a protein supplement to your post-workout routine to support strong muscles.

6 Trainers’ Favorite All-In-One Workouts

To strength train or get your cardio on? That is the question—but it really shouldn’t be.

Most gym-goers think you have to choose between the two fitness routines—but you can get the best of both worlds at once. If you’re strapped for time (and when aren’t you?), it’s totally possible to build muscle while boosting your heart rate and burning major calories.

We tapped six top trainers for their favorite strength-meets-cardio all-in-one workouts so you can make your gym time work double duty.

When it comes to total-body benefits, the Turkish get-up takes the cake. In a single move, you build head-to-toe strength, stability, and muscular coordination—all while jacking up your heart rate in a huge way, says Winnipeg-based certified exercise physiologist and kinesiologist Gavin McHale, C.E.P. To up the cardio benefits even further, perform them AMRAP-style (as many reps as possible).

How to nail the Turkish get-up: Lie on the floor on your back with a kettlebell next to your right side. Roll toward the bell, grab the handle with both hands using an overhand grip, then roll back onto your back. Shift the bell to your right hand and press it over your right shoulder until your elbow is locked out. The weight should rest flat against the back of your forearm. Bend your right knee to plant your foot firmly on the floor, and leave your left leg extended. This is the starting position.

From here, roll up onto your left forearm and then your left hand, keeping you right arm locked out over your shoulder. Press through your left hand to a tall seated position. Next, press through your right foot to thrust your hips up so that your torso forms a straight line from right knee to right shoulder. Swoop your left leg under your hips and behind you until your left knee is in line with your left hand. Shift your weight and push up into a half-kneeling position so your torso is vertical and left hand is off of the floor. Next, push through your left foot to stand up, keeping right arm still locked out over your shoulder. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return the bell to the floor. That’s one rep. Repeat on the opposite side, resting as needed between reps. (Master your form before adding weight.)

What’s harder than pullups or burpees? Pullups and burpees! Put together, they strengthen the body’s biggest muscles, including the lats, glutes, and shoulders. And, by performing them in minute-by-minute supersets, they improve both aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (strength) endurance, says SoCal-based personal trainer and strength coach Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., C.P.T.

Move 1: Pullups: Unless you are able to churn out at least 10 unassisted pullups in a row, perform assisted pullups using a resistance band or assisted pullup machine. Tie a large looped resistance band over a pullup bar, grab the bar with an overhand grip that’s just wider than shoulder-width apart, and place your feet in the sling created by the band. Hang here with your core braced, then squeeze your shoulder blades down and together and pull through your arms to lift your body up toward the bar. When your collarbones reach the bar, pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.

Related: Can’t Do Pullups? These Moves Will Get You There

Move 2: Burpees: Get in a high-plank position, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Pull your shoulders away from your ears and brace your core. From here, lower your chest toward the floor to perform a pushup, allowing your elbows to flare out diagonally from your body as you do so. At the top of the pushup, jump your feet forward so that they land on the floor outside of your hands. Explosively jump straight up into the air, reaching your arms overhead. Land in a squat position. That’s one rep.

This all-over workout’s rotates through exercises that work different muscle groups, allowing you to perform each move back-to-back and keep your heart rate up, says Amanda Pezzullo, C.S.C.S., Equinox Chicago Loop Tier X manager.

Move 1: Half-kneeling cable chops: Attach a D-shaped handle to a cable machine positioned at shoulder height. Stand with the machine on your right and lower down so your left knee is on the ground. Rotate to the right to grab the handle above your right shoulder with both hands and brace your core. From here, rotate your torso to pull the handle down and to the left of your body. Pause, then reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps, then repeat on the opposite side.

Move 2: Kettlebell deadlifts: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a kettlebell on the floor in between your feet. Keeping your back flat, push your hips back and slightly bend your knees to grab the bell’s handle with both hands, using an overhand grip. From here, thrust your hips forward and straighten your knees so you come to stand with the kettlebell flat against your body. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps.

Move 3: Reverse lunge to single-arm cable row: Move the D-shaped cable machine handle to knee height. Stand tall facing the machine with your feet hip-width apart, holding the handle with your right hand and your palm facing in. Pull your shoulders back and brace your core. From here, take a giant step back with your right foot, then bend your knees to lower into a lunge. Pause and row the handle to the side of your torso, keeping your elbow pointed straight back behind you. Pause, reverse the row, and then press through your front foot to return to standing. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps and then repeat on the opposite side.

Move 4: Pushup to side plank hold: Get in a high-plank position with your hands just wider than your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Brace your core. From here, perform a push-up by bending at the elbows and lowering your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Allow your arms to flare out diagonally from your body. Pause, then drive through your hands to return to start. Then, lift your right hand, rotate your hips, and stack your right foot on your left to get into a side plank position. Pause, then reverse the movement to return to start. Perform another pushup and rotate into a side plank on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Perform 10 reps.

Move 5: Cardio sprint: Run, bike, or row as fast as you can for two minutes.

Combine two strength exercises and one cardio drill and you’ve got a simple total-body circuit that will help you hit all of your goals, says celebrity trainer Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S. Perform them with timed work and rest intervals to really hone your cardio.

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Move 1: Knee-to-chest walking lunge: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hold a pair of dumbbells down at your sides with your palms facing your body. From here, take a giant step forward with one foot so that your back heel pops up. Then slowly bend your knees to lower your body into a lunge. Pause, then drive through your front heel to stand back up, and lift your back leg forward and up until your knee meets your chest. Lower your foot to return to a standing position. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.

 Move 2: Dumbbell renegade row: Place a pair of hex dumbbells on the floor just wider than shoulder-width apart. Get down into a plank position so your body forms a straight line from head to heels and grab the dumbbells with a neutral grip. Brace your core. From here, row one weight up toward your upper abs, keeping your elbow pointed straight back behind your body. Pause, then lower the weight to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.

 Move 3: Ice skaters: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and arms down by your sides. From here, bend your knees and hop to the right, landing on your right foot, while sweeping your left foot diagonally behind your right leg and swinging your arms across your body. Repeat in the opposite direction. That’s one rep.

 This high-intensity workout alternates between rowing and performing 45-seconds of bodyweight exercises (AMRAP, or ‘as many reps as possible’) to really hone in on cardio while building strength, says Lisa Niren, certified group fitness instructor at CITYROW in New York City. Move as quickly as possible between exercises to keep your heart rate up and fatigue your muscles. Each time you perform the circuit, try to finish it in less time that you did before.

Nail your rowing form: Sit on a rowing machine with your feet secured on the foot pedals. Sit up straight and bend forward at the hips to grab the handle with both hands, using an overhand grip. Drive through the foot pedals to extend your legs, then squeeze your shoulders back to row the handle to your upper abs. Lean back just slightly as you row the handle toward you. Reverse the move to return to start, and immediately repeat.

AMRAP Move 1: Pushups: Get in a high-plank position with your hands just wider than your shoulders, with your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Brace your core. From here, perform a push-up by bending at the elbows and lowering your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Allow your arms to flare out diagonally from your body. Pause, then drive through your hands to return to start. That’s one rep.

AMRAP Move 2: Plank: Get down in a low-plank position with your forearms on the floor so that your elbows are in line with your shoulders and your body forms a straight line from head to heels. Brace your core. Pretend you’re digging your forearms into the floor and pulling them toward your feet. Hold for 45 seconds.

AMRAP Move 3: Bodyweight squats: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder-level. Brace your core. From here, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body as far down as you can. Pause, then push through your heels to return to start. That’s one rep.

AMRAP Move 4: Alternating forward lunges: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hands on your hips. Brace your core. From here, take a big step forward with your right foot, then bend your knees to lower your body toward the floor. Pause, then press through your front foot to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.

AMRAP Move 5: Alternating step-ups: Stand tall and hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing in. Place your right foot firmly on the rowing machine’s fixed base, and transfer all of your weight to that leg. Drive through your right foot to straighten your right leg and raise your body to a standing position on top of the base. Pause, then slowly bend your right leg to lower to start. That’s one rep. Repeat on the opposite side.

No gear? You can still get your strength and cardio on with this bodyweight circuit, says certified strength coach and kettlebell trainer Matt Jacob, owner of Revolution 1 Fitness in Chicago. Plus, you’ll also hone your shoulder stability to help injury-proof your body’s most finicky joint.

Move 1: Eccentric bodyweight squats: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder-level. Brace your core. From here, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body as far down as you can for a count of five seconds. Pause, then push through your heels to quickly return to start. That’s one rep. Perform 10.

Move 2 & 4: Inchworms: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Keeping your legs as straight as possible and your back flat, bring your hands to the floor and walk them forward until you’re in a high-plank position with your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Pause, then walk your feet forward to your hands. That’s one rep. Perform five.

Move 3: Shoulder protractions and retractions: Get down in a low-plank position with your forearms on the floor so that your elbows are in line with your shoulders and your body forms a straight line from head to heels. Brace your core. Pretend you’re digging your forearms into the floor and pulling them toward your feet. Hold. From here, round your upper back by flaring your shoulder blades out and away from each other. Pause, then pull your shoulder blades back and together so that they sink down in between your shoulders as far as possible. The only thing that will move is your shoulder blades. That’s one rep. Perform 10.

Related: Get the most out of quick workouts with a little help from a preworkout supp.

Should You Try These Instagram-Famous Workouts?

Instagram-famous trainers are taking over the fitness scene. But are their get-fit programs really all they’re cracked up to be? Short answer: It depends.

“It’s only natural for us to see other people following a plan, having success, and want the same for ourselves,” says Ava Fitzgerald, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., sports performance coach at the Professional Athletic Performance Center in New York. In other words, it’s hard to scroll through transformation photos and abs selfies and not want to hop on board.

There are a few things you should keep in mind before double-tapping, though: Some people promoting fitness programs online don’t have the necessary qualifications to do so safely and effectively, says certified health and fitness specialist Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. So before you start any trendy online workout program, make sure the creator is certified by an accredited organization. (A few to look for include ACE, NASM, and NSCA.) And beware any nutrition program that doesn’t come from a registered dietitian.

Before you dive into a program, also remember that many of those “before” and “after” pics in your feed represent the best possible results, not necessarily the average ones. (Some of the images may even be digitally manipulated.) After all, fitness and nutrition programs aren’t one-size-fits-all.

If you’re itching to get in on the Instagram fitness community, we dug into its most popular workout plans with the help of top trainers and dietitians, to help you find the plan that’s best for you.

1. @Kayla_Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide

Certified personal trainer Kayla Itsines’ #BBG (Bikini Body Guide) is a fat-loss program for women that’s focused on 30-minute strength circuits—combining bodyweight exercises, gym equipment like medicine balls, and free weights. Some of the program’s staple moves include med ball squat-to-presses, pushups, lunges, and jump squats.

Related: 6 Exercises That Double As Cardio AND Strength Training

Itsines sells her 12-week workout plan (complete with photos of the moves) and a clean eating plan she developed with dietitians. You can follow up your first 12 weeks with a second 12-week workout plan, or try Itsines’ recently launched Sweat With Kayla app, which transforms her plans into a phone-friendly format and includes exercise demonstration videos.

Pros: Continued Results And Community

Itsines’ workout plans are designed to continually build you up through weeks one to 12 and 13 to 24, ramping things up by including more challenging moves and heavier weights as you go. The goal: to prevent plateaus by progressively challenging your body. (Lifting heavier and heavier helps women build more muscle and burn more fat.)

However, perhaps the biggest benefit of #BBG is the enormous community behind it. Seriously, just check out the six million Instagram posts tagged #BBG. There are even closed Facebook groups in most major U.S. cities (and many abroad!) for members to offer support, swap ideas, and plan in-person meet-ups.

Cons: Little Customization For The Cost

Whether you buy the workout and eating plans together or apart, it will cost you around 100 bucks. However, the workouts are not easily customizable and the nutrition plan offers only regular and vegetarian versions.

Fitzgerald recommends building up a base of strength before starting the program, since many of the moves aren’t quite as beginner-friendly as they may seem and the program doesn’t provide modification options. Jackknives (an ab move), for example, are hard to nail if you don’t have the core strength to properly perform a hollow-body hold first. Plus, moves like burpees-to-bench-jumps and double bench jumps can be disasters waiting to happen if you have cranky knees or balance issues.

The meal plan is a similar story—the recipes offered are balanced, but may not fit your unique calorie and macronutrient (carbs, fat, protein) needs, says White. You may need to adjust portion sizes and swap out ingredients—like dairy products—if you have any dietary restrictions.

Your Move: Try The App First

For a #BBG experience that’s a little more interactive and customizable, go for the Sweat With Kayla app. “It includes workouts, recipes, and challenges to keep you motivated, along with recipes for a regular diet, vegetarians, pescatarians, lacto-vegetarians, and vegans,” White says.

You can also store progress photos, connect with other women doing the plan, and read additional content about fitness and nutrition. Download a seven-day free trial of the app to make sure the workouts and eating plans fit your individual needs before handing over your credit card—the app costs 20 bucks a month.

2. @ToneItUp

Best friends and trainers Katrina Scott and Karena Dawn share workouts, full exercise plans, recipes, and nutrition plans online as Tone It Up. (Katrina has a B.S. in health science and Karena has ‘studied kinesiology.’) In addition to loads of free workout videos, recipes, and more, they also sell premium workout programs (called “Beach Babe”) for about 40 dollars, along with a nutrition plan—created by dietitian Lori Zanini, R.D.— that includes veg, gluten-free, and other options for 150 dollars. Tone It Up also has a large Instagram community, with almost two million posts tagged #tiu.

Pros: Great For Beginners

The Tone It Up program packs beginner-level, at-home-friendly resistance training, as well as short cardio and stretching workouts, into roughly 30 minutes per day. “Overall, the movements are simple, and include squats, lunge variations, bicep curls, triceps extensions, upright rows, conventional rows, and a plethora of dumbbell work,” says Baltimore-based strength coach Erica Suter, C.S.C.S. Since the exercises all use just your bodyweight or very light weights, Tone It Up is a good program for women looking to ease into a lifting program, she says. And since Tone It Up offers so many free workouts and videos, you can get a feel for their style (and your results) risk-free.

Cons: Not Ideal For Advanced Exercisers Or Major Transformations

While using body weight and light dumbbells makes strength training accessible to beginners, it’s not as effective for more experienced exercisers or women looking to transform their body in a big way. “While going light may be beneficial at the start of the program, it might not be enough for women to see drastic physique changes,” Suter says. That’s because we need to continually increase the stress (a.k.a. weight) put on our bodies in order to continue burning calories and building muscle.

“Women may think they can look as toned and lean as the girls in the workout videos from just their workouts, but this is far from the truth,” she says. Sticking with four-pound dumbbells will only land you in Plateau Central in the long run.

Your Move: Increase The Intensity On Your Own

While many of Tone It Up’s workout videos include progressions and modifications to help match the moves to your fitness level, at a certain point you’re going to need to increase your workouts’ intensity in order to continue seeing results. That means lifting heavier weights, adding in extra reps or sets, or shortening your rest intervals, Suter says. If you have anything left it the tank at the end of your workouts, that’s your cue to take things to the next level—so grab heavier dumbbells or pump out an extra set of each move.

3. @AnnaVictoria’s Fit Body Guide

NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)-certified personal trainer Anna Victoria’s FBG (Fit Body Guide) is a fat-loss and toning program that’s broken up into three 30-minute strength workouts and three cardio workouts per week. Each workout plan—she has multiple—takes you through 12 weeks of workouts and can be combined with a 12-week meal plan for roughly 80 bucks. At first you’ll build strength using your bodyweight and perform lower-intensity cardio—but as the weeks and months progress, you’ll add weights to your strength training and build up to high-intensity intervals for your cardio.

Pros: Highly Customizable Nutrition Plan

The FBG meal plan focuses on whole foods, has vegan and vegetarian-friendly options, is highly customizable, and provides macro guidelines for flexible eating. While it does contain recipes, it also offers information about healthy foods and proper portion sizes so you can create your own meals. Victoria, who isn’t certified in nutrition, created the nutrition plan and had it approved by a nutritionist, says White.

Cons: Less Exercise Instruction Than Most Beginners Need

Expect to find everything from biceps curls to box jumps to single-leg Romanian deadlifts in Victoria’s workouts. Instructional images give you a rough idea of how to perform the moves, but don’t come with the full descriptions really needed to master form. So while an experienced exerciser who is familiar with the moves may be able to follow right along, the plan may be more difficult for a beginner, who won’t be able to perform single-leg glute bridges or Bulgarian split squats with proper form in the first week of a new program, White says.

If you’re more experienced in the gym, though, these are totally effective moves. They use multiple muscle groups at once to build muscle and trigger significant metabolic changes.

Your Move: Download The Program Preview

Not sure if you’re ready for Anna Victoria’s workouts? The Fit Body Guide offers previews, so you can check out before diving in. “Before purchasing a meal plan guide or workout guide, I would recommend downloading the previews and trying them out first to see if the plans are for you,” White says. If the moves are outside your comfort zone, build your squat, deadlift, lunge, pushup, and row strength before you get started.

4. @EmilySkyeFit’s Fitness Inspiration Transformation

Certified personal trainer Emily Skye’s FIT or Fitness Inspiration Transformation is a program designed to build muscle and burn fat. Each phase lasts four weeks and includes 30-minute daily workouts (consisting of strength training and HIIT circuits) and various nutritionist-developed meal plans and nutritional guidelines.

Pros: Highly Effective Exercises

Large, compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and swings make up the bulk of the training program. By working large groups of muscles with every rep, these moves help women get the most benefit in the least time possible, explains Canada-based kinesiologist and certified exercise physiologist Gavin McHale, C.S.E.P., C.E.P. Skye provides instructional videos, which makes nailing these technical exercises easier. Since these moves require some base strength, though, Emily Skye’s program is probably best for those with some strength-training experience.

Cons: Structure Not Ideal For Getting The Most From Those Exercises

Skye’s offers three four-week workout phases: Phase 1 is a full-body plan, Phase 2 is a legs and butt plan, and Phase 3 is an abs and core plan. But this approach just doesn’t make sense, says McHale. After all, as soon as you stop training your legs, you start losing your hard-earned leg gains—and miss out on a significant calorie burn. In an ideal world, each phase of the program should focus on your full body and build on what you accomplished in the last one.

Related: Should You Lift Full-Body Or Bodybuilder-Style?

Plus, newbies who don’t have a particular move down pat may struggle to perform the number of reps in the workouts (around 12) with proper form. Remember: the more reps you do, the greater your chances of breaking form and using muscles other than the ones intended.

Your Move: Combine The Three Phases Into One

Instead of focusing on each phase separately, McHale recommends merging all of Emily Skye’s programs. That way you’ll train upper and lower body multiple times a week, and benefit from HIIT and additional core work throughout the full 12 weeks. This will keep your strength balanced and progress steady.

Meanwhile, when performing large, compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, rows, bench presses, and kettlebell swings, feel free to dial down the number of reps and focus on quality over quantity. You can up the number of reps—or the amount of weight you use—as you get more comfortable.

Related: Shop training accessories for effective workouts from home.

 

How 3 Super-Popular Diet Trends Benefit Men And Women Differently

Put two people on a diet and they will never (let’s repeat that: never) have the exact same results.

“The more we learn about nutrition, the more we see the need for personalized nutrition, and finding the right diet for the right person,” explains Donald K. Layman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois. “One diet might be really good for one person, but really bad for someone else.”

And that’s especially true when it comes to men and women. The two sexes respond to diets quite differently—and understandably so, considering the differences in our bodies, namely in our hormones. (Read about how and why men and women experience weight loss differently here.)

This certainly applies to trendy nutrition protocols, like Paleo, intermittent fasting, and keto. We asked the experts how each might affect men and women differently, to push you one step closer to finding the diet that works for your body.

The Ketogenic Diet

The purpose of a ketogenic diet is to force the body to run on fat, rather than carbs, for energy. How do you do this? By getting about 80 percent of your daily calories from fat. You’ll eat a moderate amount of protein, but limit carbs as much as possible—about 20 grams a day, which is less than you’ll find in a banana. Eating this way shifts your body into a state of ketosis, in which the body breaks fat down into ketone bodies, a sort of stand-in for carbs.

Related: What You Need To Know About The Ketogenic Diet Trend

It can take anywhere from weeks to months to shift into ketosis and burn fat for fuel, and you’ll need to test your urine or blood to know for sure. Once the body makes the shift, though, increases in satiety hormones and fat metabolism may contribute to weight loss, according to a review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

As you can imagine, this diet is hard for anyone to follow long-term, though men may have better luck. According to Layman, research has shown that a diet’s carb content is a large predictor of whether or not women will stick with it, he says. The more carbs women are allowed, the more sustainable the diet—as any gal who’s scarfed down half a pizza after going low-carb can tell you.

However, there may be worthwhile benefits for women struggling with hormonal issues, namely polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which is often marked by insulin resistance and can lead to a snowball weight gain, infertility, and diabetes. In one study of obese women with PCOS, following a ketogenic diet for 24 weeks led to significant improvement in both weight and fasting insulin levels. “Because PCOS is driven by an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, and higher insulin levels, a lower carbohydrate diet may help to create a more insulin-sensitive environment and allow the body to use fats and proteins for fuel,” Smith-Ryan says.

According to the researchers, though, the results of this study were similar to those of previous studies in which women consumed up to 100 grams of carbohydrates per day, which qualifies as low-carb but not ketogenic—suggesting women with PCOS can improve their symptoms without having to cut fruit out of their lives. A low-carb—but not severely low-carb—diet is often recommended (and successful), says Layman.

Intermittent Fasting

By dividing days and weeks up into “fasting” and “feasting” periods, intermittent fasting protocols (which exist in a variety of forms, including high and low-calorie days or only eating during certain hours, like 12 to six P.M.), may promote weight loss by making it easier for some dieters to cut calories.

While more research is needed to know exactly how it works, studies suggest that there may be advantages to intermittent fasting beyond cutting calories, Layman says. For instance, a 2017 review from the National Institute on Aging notes that fasting triggers physiological stress pathways that enhance DNA repair and metabolic health. Additionally, a review out of Brazil notes that intermittent fasting can improve the blood lipid profile (lower triglyceride levels, specifically) and inflammatory responses of men.

It’s worth noting, though, that despite fasting’s potential health benefits, a 2017 JAMA Internal Medicine study concluded that it’s no better for weight loss than typical calorie-counting.

Though intermittent fasting can help some people lose weight, it’s not exactly easy to sustain. Case in point: A third of the participants in that JAMA Internal Medicine study we just mentioned dropped out.

And while throwing in the towel is an issue for both men and women, the psychology involved in fasting may pose a different, more serious threat to women. When it comes down to it, intermittent fasting is about “saving up” calories for later, a behavior that can lead to or worsen disordered eating. “Many women will penalize themselves so they can indulge later,” says Layman—a behavior that’s much less common in men. For that reason, he doesn’t recommend anyone—male or female—with a history of body image and eating disorders attempt intermittent fasting. Considering 20 million American women and 10 million men will deal with an eating disorder at some point in their life, fasting may not be a risk worth taking—especially for women.

Paleo

Rich in meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds—and devoid of dairy, legumes, processed foods, and refined sugars—Paleo is all about eating as closely as possible to how our ancestors supposedly did. But because the diet doesn’t address calories or how much of each macronutrient (protein, fat, and carbs) you’re eating, the results are largely contingent on what you do eat while following the diet, Layman says. (Eating a Paleo diet that’s all fruit and nuts will affect your body differently than one full of lean protein and vegetables, for example.) However, Paleo does offer one big benefit: a diet free of refined and processed sugars.

“Fifty-five percent of Americans’ calories come from carbs and roughly 90 percent of the carb calories come from grains. So if you stop eating grains, you likely lose weight,” Layman says. And since most of the processed foods people eat—like crackers, pretzels, pasta, and mac and cheese—are made from refined grains, which offer little nutritional value, nixing processed foods may be a good idea.

For many people, the Paleo diet tends to be pretty meat-heavy, and that may make it more mouth-watering to men, Layman says. After all, data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that the average man eats significantly more meat, poultry, and fish than the average woman.

That said, Paleo can be successful for men and women alike, as long as you can maintain a balanced diet after eliminating dairy, legumes, salt, processed foods, and refined sugars. However, it’s important to make sure that you don’t miss out on the calcium and vitamin D that dairy supplies. This is especially big for women, who are at an increased risk of osteoporosis and tend to require higher intakes to keep their bones strong, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. (You can get calcium elsewhere, like in dark leafy greens or sardines. Vitamin D can also be found in mushrooms, especially those treated with UV lights.) Women should meet with their doctor or a dietitian to make sure their intake of these two nutrients is still adequate while following Paleo.

Related: 5 Mistakes People Make When Going Paleo

4 Mistakes People Make On The Quest For Abs

It’s the hottest month of the year and everyone is striving for that coveted six-pack—or at least a slimmer middle. And everyone has their own ideas about what they need to do to score the results they want. Some of them are right on track. Others, not so much.

Here, experts share the four most common strategies that, although well-meaning, can sabotage your abs efforts and keep that dream middle out of reach.

1. Getting Caught Up with the Little Stuff

Spend too much time on the interwebs (or just talking with your health-fanatic friends about the latest diet craze), and you can quickly get sucked into trivial little ideas about fat loss, explains board-certified sports dietitian Georgie Fear, R.D., C.S.S.C., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss.

“You see people who won’t eat bananas because they are high in sugar or peas because they are high in starches, but who can’t lose weight because they are still eating too many calories overall,” she says. “They get so focused on the details that they can’t see the big picture.” Sound familiar?

The solution: Before you get too laser-focused on the little things, remember that shedding fat is about taking in fewer calories than you burn. So focus in on the few key behaviors that have the biggest impact on your calories-in-calories-out equation, Fear says.

Exercise is definitely a major way to help you move the calories-out needle, but adjusting your nutrition can be an even more effective strategy. After all, it’s far easier to swap out a 400-calorie dessert for a 100-calorie piece of fruit than it is to burn 300 calories at the gym. To start shaving extra calories out of your day, Fear recommends nixing sugary, processed foods and cutting way back on alcohol. For most people, those two simple changes make a significant difference, she says.

2. Skipping the Weights

In many exercisers’ minds, cardio is still king. But when it comes to torching that layer of fat hiding your abs from view, it’s anything but. In fact, 2015 research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that, minute-per-minute, strength training is far more effective at fighting abdominal fat compared to cardio.

Related: Why Cardio Isn’t The Best Way To Lose Weight

The solution: Cardio (especially high-intensity cardio) still has a place in your workout routine, but if you’re aiming for a tighter, more chiseled-looking stomach, resistance training is where it’s at. “Try to strength train at least four to five times per week, even if it’s only for 30 minutes at home,” says Mark Barroso, C.P.T. Barroso recommends focusing your lifting sessions on “structural exercises” that recruit one or more large muscle groups at once while loading the spine. Think barbell back squats, deadlifts, and standing shoulder presses. Because these moves recruit multiple major muscle groups, they give you a huge metabolic boost—but they also work your core in a big way. (But more on that next…)

3. Putting Too Much Focus on “Abs Exercises”

Crunches and planks are great, but if you spend so much time performing them that you don’t have time for all of those structural exercises we just mentioned, there’s a problem. After all, findings published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research show that structural exercises actually train the muscles of the core more than traditional core-specific exercises do (think supermans and side-bridges). And they definitely burn more calories.

The solution: Program your workouts so that you save exercises specifically for your abs for right before your cool-down. That way you can make sure every single upper, lower, and total-body exercise you perform also hits your core, says Barroso. Squeeze your core like you’re about to get punched in the gut and maintain good posture with a long, neutral spine as you perform your structural lifts, he says. You’ll immediately feel (and see) your core working like never before. Bonus: Engaging your core increases your total-body strength, meaning you might even be able to go up in weight.

Related: The 5 Most Effective Abs Exercises

4. Going Super-Low on Carbs

Despite what fad diets everywhere would have you believe, cutting carbs can easily throw your six-pack results into reverse. “It can sap your body of the energy you need for tough workouts and decrease sleep quality, which is repeatedly linked to weight gain and higher levels of abdominal fat,” says Fear. Research published in Nutritional Neuroscience even shows that people following very low-carb diets spend less time in the restorative REM stage of sleep. (This may be because the hormones your body produces to help convert fat into energy when carbs are M.I.A. also affect sleep.) Plus, when you cut down on whole-food carbs, you automatically reduce your fiber intake, she says. That can trigger constipation and bloating, and leave you feeling hungrier—none of which will give you the sleek-looking middle you want.

The solution: Fear recommends paying less attention to cutting all carbs, and more attention to replacing refined carbs (like white bread, crackers, and pretzels) with whole ones (like sweet potatoes, quinoa, and fruit). “Focusing on good-quality choices is all most people really need to do,” she says. To keep your carb intake under control, fill a quarter of each meal’s plate with starchy carbs like whole grains or potatoes and half of your plate with non-starchy veggies (like leafy greens or zucchini) or fruit. (Save that last quarter for carbs.) If you exercise for more than an hour, you may need some additional carbs to fuel your performance and promote recovery on those days, says Fear. On more intense workout days, up your starches to fill a full third of your plate, she says.

Related: Check out a number of protein bars to support recovery on the go.

Why Cardio Is NOT The Best Way To Lose Weight

Want to lose fat? Then you need to get your butt on the treadmill. At least, that’s what most people assume—and why most weight-loss warriors aren’t getting the results they want from their workouts.

Consider this: When obese participants followed a diet and either a strength-training or cardio program for eight weeks, the two groups lost a similar amount of weight—but the strength trainers lost less fat-free mass (a.k.a. muscle) than the cardio-doers, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Meanwhile, when Harvard researchers followed 10,500 men over the course of 12 years, they found that strength training was better than cardio at warding off belly fat. (Cue the collective sigh of relief from cardio haters everywhere.)

We’re not saying you should cut cardio out of your life, but if strength training isn’t already a major part of your weight-loss plan—well, it needs to be.

Cardio vs. Strength Training

“People think to lose fat mass they need aerobic exercise and to forget about resistance training,” says Rania Mekary, Ph.D., a researcher with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead author of the 12-year study.

On the surface, that assumption makes sense. After all, when you perform moderate-intensity cardio like running, biking, or swimming, the vast majority of your calories burned come from fat, she explains. (Hence why, when you’re cruising along at an easy pace on a cardio machine, it rewards you by telling you that you’re in the “fat-burning” zone.) Meanwhile, during resistance training, the bulk of your calories burned come from glycogen, stored carbs housed in your muscles and liver.

The first option seems far more advantageous for those trying to shed fat. That is, until you consider the fact that your muscle mass —which, when left to its own devices, decreases after age 30—is a key driver of your metabolism. And rather than building muscle, cardiovascular exercise can actually burn up some of it.

“Fat is the major energy source during aerobic training, but many people don’t realize that protein also contributes. And that protein comes from muscle,” Mekary says. “So if you are running, running, running, it can make you lose even more muscle than you would otherwise.”

The result: a slower and slower metabolism. That partially explains why, after many people lose weight, they tend to put it right back on. In fact, research from Columbia University shows that losing just 10 percent of your body weight significantly lowers your basal metabolic rate, the number of calories you burn just to stay alive.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

Meanwhile, strength training increases your metabolic rate in a big way. Over the short term, it causes just enough microscopic damage to your muscles that they have to work hard to recover—a process that requires a lot of energy (a.k.a. calories). Known as ‘excess post-exercise oxygen consumption’(or EPOC), your metabolism can stay elevated for up to 72 hours after your strength training session, according to research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. You just don’t get that lasting boost with cardio, especially when it’s steady-state, Mekary says. Over the long term, by building the amount of muscle mass you have with strength training, you can increase your metabolism even further.

What’s more, strength training helps to dull the spikes in hunger-stimulating hormones that often come with weight loss, explains Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., a board-certified family and bariatric physician, diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, and author of The Fat Loss Prescription. That makes losing weight—and keeping it off—that much easier.

Better Together: How to Combine Cardio and Strength for Optimal Fat Loss

Still, for the best fat-loss results, you don’t want to ignore cardio altogether. “By combining anaerobic and aerobic exercise, you maintain muscle, burn more calories, and are able to burn both fat and glycogen,” says Mekary, noting that, according to her research, combination training is even better for fat loss compared to strength training alone. “It’s a win-win situation.”

While the best way to divide your workout routine depends in part on what you actually like to do (what does your schedule matter if you won’t stick to it?), Mekary recommends devoting about 70 percent of your workout time to strength training and 30 percent to cardio. If you hit the gym five days per week, that works out to roughly three strength days and two (slightly shorter) cardio days per week.

“Ideally, you would schedule strength and cardio workouts on different days,” says Nadolsky, noting that performing cardio right before a strength workout can slightly inhibit muscle-building results. (Another study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that men made comparable strength gains after 24 weeks regardless of whether they hit cardio or strength training first. But the guys who did cardio first initially had lower levels of testosterone—a marker of recovery and muscle-building potential—than those who hit the weights first.) It’s not a huge difference, but if you’re focusing on building muscle and can schedule your workouts like that, by all means, go for it.

Making the most of both your strength training and cardio sessions just takes some simple strategizing. During your strength workouts, focus on hitting as many muscle groups as possible by performing compound moves such as squats, deadlifts, thrusters, pull-ups, and bench presses. Spend the bulk of your cardio time on high-intensity intervals (HIIT) such as sprints on the treadmill, bike, or rowing machine. However, some moderate-intensity, steady-state can be good from time to time, too—especially when you feel like you need a little extra recovery from your lifting sessions and don’t want to go too hard with HIIT.

Related: Find a supplement that supports muscle-building.

7 Beach Activities That Double As Great Workouts

Our perfect beach trip includes building sandcastles, vegging out with a good book, and slurping down some ice cold lemonade. But as much as we love to lounge in the sand, we also look forward to getting in some great exercise.

The shore is the perfect spot to switch up your routine with some fun (and effective!) high-intensity workouts. Check out these seven activities to maximize your time in the sun.

  1. Beach Sprints

“When you’re running in sand you’ll have to push harder with every stride because the sand ‘gives’ underneath the weight of your body,” says SoCal-based trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S. This “give” ups the demand placed on your glutes, hamstrings, and quads—three of your body’s biggest muscle groups. The result: more muscle formed, more calories scorched, and athleticism gained. In fact, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that athletes who ran sprints on sand for eight weeks improved their 20-meter sprint performance significantly more than those who stuck to more stable surfaces.

Turn up the burn: Swap out a steady-state run for a series of sprints. Donavanik recommends running 10 to 15 30-second sprints in the sand, giving yourself 90 seconds of recovery between rounds. Start out on the packed sand close to the water, and once you handle that, increase the intensity even more by taking your sprints either into super-shallow water or up onto the looser, dry sand.

Related: Should You Be Doing A HIIT Workout?

  1. Bodyweight Exercises

Who needs dumbbells when you’ve got a beach? When you’re in the sand, bodyweight workouts train your body’s small stabilizer muscles (because of that ‘give’), which are key for injury prevention. Create a quick circuit by combining large, compound bodyweight exercises such as squats, push-ups, lunges, and glute bridges for a total-body workout, recommends Colorado-based Kourtney Thomas, C.S.C.S. Drills like skips, butt-kicks, marches, and spiderman scrawls also become crazy-hard in the sand, says corrective exercise specialist Dani Almeyda, M.S., C.E.S., co-owner of Original Strength in North Carolina.

Turn up the burn: To get the most out of the bodyweight exercises you choose, Thomas recommends performing AMRAPs (as many reps as possible) of each move. When your form starts to break down, or you seriously can’t do any more, move onto the next exercise. Perform your circuit three to five times. To take it to the next level, try making your moves more explosive: Squats become jump squats, lunges become scissor lunges, and pushups become burpees, Thomas says. Since you won’t have a hard surface to push off, these moves will feel harder than ever.

  1. Beach Volleyball

All that running, jumping, and diving after the ball will jack up your heart rate and challenge your muscles, resulting in a serious (and fun) calorie burn. In fact, you can burn up to twice as many calories playing volleyball in the sand than you would playing on a hard gymnasium floor, according to Harvard Medical School. What better way to get in a solid workout with your friends?!

Turn up the burn: Fewer players on the sand means more work for you. Try a game of one-on-one so you have to run, jump, and lunge over more surface area to defend your side of the court, says Hannah Davis, C.S.C.S., creator of Operation Bikini Body. She recommends playing for at least 20 minutes to tap into your fat metabolism.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

  1. Stand-Up Paddle Boarding

This water sport continues to gain popularity—and for good reason, Almeyda says. Propelling yourself through the water while standing on a board engages all of your muscles, while also challenging your balance and coordination.

Turn up the burn: Use Mother Nature to your advantage when looking for ways to make paddling more difficult. Increase the resistance by paddling against the wind, tide, or current. You can also try standing up on the board instead of kneeling for a greater core and leg workout. To stay safe, head out from the beach (most resorts have rentals) and stick to shallow areas.

  1. Playing with Your Dog

To ensure you don’t laze away the whole day, get your pup involved. Just make sure you pack a ball or Frisbee. After all, one review published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health found that dog owners were more likely to meet recommended physical activity guidelines than those who are Fido-free. And your dog’s seaside energy will certainly give you a workout.

Turn up the burn: Don’t make your dog do all the work. Once you throw the ball or Frisbee, jog or run after your pooch. If you’re feeling competitive, have someone else throw the ball and see if you can beat your canine to the prize, Davis recommends.

  1. Swimming

We’d be remiss to overlook the many benefits to gain from breaking up your sand time with a dip in the ocean. “Swimming is resistance cardio that is low-impact but packs a major calorie burn punch because it involves your entire body,” Davis says. “So you can gain strength and stamina while still being extra-kind to your joints.” Talk about a combo deal.

Turn up the burn:
If you think swimming is hard, try treading water. You can burn up to 40 percent more calories per minute treading water than you can swimming leisurely, according to one Harvard estimate. Just stick close to the shallows so you can give your legs a rest when needed.

  1. Kayaking

This classic water sport will shine the spotlight on your core and back muscles while getting your heart rate up in a big way, Davis says. And, thankfully, most popular beaches offer kayaks for rent.

Turn up the burn: Tap into your competitive spirit by racing a friend to a nearby buoy or landmark, she says. For greater speed (and better results), focus on using your entire core to power each stroke—not just your arms.

Related: Shop a variety of sun-care products for your next outdoor adventure.

4 Ways To Get Lean When You Hate Cardio

Everyone is looking to get shredded for the summer—but many of us dread the thought of slaving away on the dreadmill, er, treadmill.

So what’s an abs-seeker to do? To find out, we tapped three diet, fitness, and weight-loss experts for their insight on getting lean without going cardio-crazy.

  1. Do Heavy Total-Body Strength Circuits

Good news for cardio-haters: Strength training is better for achieving fat loss than is cardio is. That’s because, even though cardio tends to burn more calories in the gym, strength training increases the number of calories your body burns while recovering from your workout throughout the rest of the day, explains says Albert Matheny, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., registered dietitian, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab in NYC. Plus, increasing muscle mass can increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR)—the number of calories your churn through just to stay alive.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

Still, when it comes to leaning out, some forms of strength training are better than others. Ideally, your sessions should involve lifting heavy, using your whole body, and taking as little rest as possible (without breaking form, of course), explains SoCal-based trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., C.P.T. That combo ensures you build the most lean muscle possible while also burning the most calories during your sweat sessions. Win-win. To make all three work at once, he recommends following his personal strength-training setup.

You’ll perform:

  1. One set of a big, compound lift, such as a squat, deadlift, bench press, or pull-up with a heavy load. Select a weight you can lift for six reps, max.
  2. One set of another compound lift (that works a different muscle group) with a medium-to-light load. Select a weight you can lift for 10 to 12 reps.
  3. One set of an isolation exercise, such as a bicep curl, triceps extension, or calf raise with a medium-to-heavy load. Select a weight you can lift for eight to 12 reps.
  4. One set of a bodyweight core exercise. Perform until fatigue.
  5. Rest for 30 to 90 seconds, and then repeat for a total of three to five rounds.
  1. Cut CaloriesMostly from Refined Carbs

There’s no way around it: Leaning out requires a caloric deficit—burning more calories than you take in per day. However, when it comes to calories, most people don’t overdo it on protein (more on that next!) or even fat. That leaves one culprit: carbohydrates.

While they can and should be part of your daily diet, most people eat way more carbs— typically from refined foods such as white bread and pasta, cookies, and chips—than they need, which accounts for most of the excess fat on their frames, Matheny says. The current recommended daily allowance of carbs, which pinpoints the minimal amount that the average person needs for proper brain, central nervous system, and red blood cell function (with a little wiggle room for safe measure) is 130 grams per day. Aim for whole, natural carb sources such as fruit, veggies, and whole grains like oats and barley.

However, on days that you push it hard in the gym, you’ll need more carbs to power your workouts and fuel muscle recovery. As a general rule, high-intensity exercise burns through roughly 60 grams of carbs per hour. So on those intense exercise days, eat an extra 30 grams as part of both your pre- and post-workout snack. Consider it a mini form of carb cycling.

Related: The Perfect Post-Workout Snacks For Your Fitness Goals

  1. Eat More Protein

When people lose weight, they tend to lose not just fat, but muscle, too. Ideally, though, you want to lose fat while gaining metabolism-revving muscle, Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., a board-certified family and bariatric physician, diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, and author of The Fat Loss Prescription. To make that happen, you’re going to need to increase your protein intake, he says. Nadolsky recommends most people trying to lean out get roughly 30 percent of their daily calories from protein. (FYI, protein contains four calories per gram so, if you are eating 1,400 total calories per day, that works out to 105 grams of protein.)

Meanwhile, a 2015 review published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that getting 25 to 35 grams of protein at every snack and meal is optimal for muscle-building.

Related: 7 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Protein

  1. Boost Your NEAT

One reason why cardio bunnies claim steady-state cardio is so great is because it puts you in the “fat-burning zone,” which is when your body burns a higher percentage of its calories from fat compared to carbs during low-intensity exercise.

Good news: You don’t have to climb an elliptical to burn fat grams.

Low-intensity daily activities—from walking to the supermarket instead of ordering groceries online to taking the stairs instead of the escalator—all count toward your fat-burning efforts, Nadolsky says. After all, the lower your activity’s intensity, the greater the percentage of your calories burned will be from fat. (Fun fact: You burn the greatest percentage of your calories from fat when you’re sleeping!)

In fact, these everyday activities, collectively known as “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” or NEAT, account for six to 10 percent of the total number of calories sedentary adults burn on any given day, according to German researchers. Meanwhile, they account for more than half of the daily calories burned by super-active adults. To lean out, you need to join the second group.

Try simple swaps such as parking at the far end of the parking lot, breaking up long hours hunched over a computer with stretch breaks, and trying to get in more steps than you did last week.

And, according to recent research out of New Zealand, walking for 10 minutes immediately after each meal is better for regulating blood sugar and insulin levels than one 30-minute walk at another time of day. Which is why one of Nadolsky’s favorite ways to get moving outside of the gym is with post-meal walks.

Relate: Try a supplement, like CLA, to support your weight-management efforts.

How Many Times A Week Should You Strength Train?

Whether you’re looking to improve your health, shed fat, add definition, or just get super strong, strength training is hands down one of the best ways to spend your gym time.

For instance, when Harvard researchers followed 10,500 men over the course of 12 years, they found that minute-per-minute, strength training was better at fighting abdominal fat (a marker for overall health) than traditional steady-state cardio.

Meanwhile, a comprehensive review published in Aging Clinical and Experimental Research identified strength training as one of your best bets for increasing bone mineral density and strength—no matter your age.

And, contrary to popular opinion, cardio doesn’t have a monopoly on cardiovascular health. According to a review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports, regular strength training significantly improves blood pressure, cholesterol, and other markers of heart health.

Problem is, when you first decide to introduce strength training into your regular workout routine, a bunch of questions are bound to pop up: How often should I strength train? How should I format my strength sessions? Should I do total-body strength circuits or dedicate different days to different muscles?

Like in many things fitness, the answer is a resounding “it depends.” But by zeroing in on your goals, you can pinpoint the best strength-setup for you and your body.

If You’re Training For General Health

“Two to three sessions per week is a good minimum for staying healthy,” explains Minnesota-based exercise physiologist Mike T. Nelson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S. Men who strength trained three days per week improved their LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol levels, as well as markers of inflammation, according to one study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. Your two or three weekly strength training sessions should be part of a routine that also incorporates other types of exercise, like steady-state cardio, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and flexibility work, for well-rounded fitness, says Nelson.

Keep in mind, though, that when you lift less frequently, you’re better off making those strength training sessions full-body workouts, he says. Stick with large, compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, push-ups, and pull-ups to hit all those muscles. Spread your strength-training days out throughout the week, with a day or two for another type of exercise or rest in between each lifting session.

If You’re Training For Fat Loss

The ideal amount of strength training for fat loss largely depends on how much cardio you’re doing (whether steady-state or HIIT)—but you generally want to strength train as often as possible, without running yourself into the ground, Nelson says. One factor that might limit your weekly strength workouts? The low-cal diet that’s often part of a fat-loss plan may leave you with less energy for strength training, he says.

Given that, Nelson prefers to start weight-loss clients with three days of full-body strength workouts, plus three days of cardio per week. That might mean you lift on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and hit cardio Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.

Related: This Is The Best Cardio Workout For Weight Loss

If You’re Training For Muscle Growth

If you want to maximize hypertrophy (a.k.a. muscle growth), strength training should be your primary focus all week long. If you’re trying to transform your bod with muscle, we’re talking to you. “The best results will come with strength training as much as you possibly can, as long as you are recovering from each workout,” Nelson says.

After all, a 2017 review published in the Journal of Sports Science concluded that your weekly training volume (or total number of sets, reps, and weight used) has the biggest effect on how much mass you gain in any worked muscle group.

So how much can you handle? Brand-spanking-new lifting newbies should start with three days of full-body strength training a week. But people who have been regularly strength training for a while (say six months or more), can often strength train five or six days per week.

Since you want to rest any given muscle group for about two days before hitting it again, lifting five-to-six days a week requires some strategic workout structuring. That means focusing on different muscle groups on different days, says Nelson. You might work your back and biceps one Monday, legs on Tuesday, chest and triceps Wednesday, etc.

Keep track of your lifting performance, energy levels, soreness, and mood to make sure that you don’t push it too hard, he says. Any issues in these areas  suggest that you need to dial down your weekly training frequency and/or volume.

Related: 5 Signs You Need A Day Off From The Gym

If You’re Training For Strength

Research from Arizona State University shows that strength-training newbs reap maximal strength gains by training each muscle group three days per week. Veterans, though, do best working each muscle group two days per week—as long as they lift closer to their 1RM (a.k.a., ‘one rep max,’ or the max amount of weight you can lift for just one rep) during each strength sesh. That means fewer reps per set than if you were lifting for max muscle gain.

To hit each muscle group two to three days per week, try dividing your workout routine into upper- and lower-body days, says Nelson. That might mean alternating between upper-body and lower-body Monday through Saturday and resting on Sunday. You can also break up your upper-body days into push and pull days to keep things interesting. You might focus on moves like the bench press on ‘push’ days and on moves like pullups on ‘pull’ days.

Related: Find a performance supplement to power your training sessions.

6 Possible Reasons Why You’re Gaining Weight (That Have Nothing To Do With Food or Exercise)

Nothing is more frustrating than when you dedicate yourself to eating healthy, saying ‘no’ to your favorite junk food, and crushing your workouts week after week—only to continue gaining weight despite your efforts. And it’s not as rare as you might think.

That’s because the scale’s reaction to your weight-loss plan is largely determined by the countless chemical messengers, called hormones, that are floating through your bloodstream and body tissue. Together, they decide how fast your metabolism churns, how you build muscle, and where exactly you store those extra calories.

We talked to top weight-loss docs about your all-important hormones, six common problems that could be causing your mysterious weight-gain, and, most importantly, how to get your scale moving in the right direction.

  1. Hypothyroidism

About five in every 100 people—most of whom are women—have an underactive thyroid, otherwise known as hypothyroidism, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland, a small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, doesn’t produce enough hormones, explains endocrinologist Kent Holtorf, M.D., medical director of the Holtorf Medical Group and a founder and director of the non-profit National Academy of Hypothyroidism. Since your thyroid hormones (called T3 and T4) affect the way your body uses energy, low levels mean that all of your body’s functions (including your metabolism) slow down big time, he says.

How to tackle it: If you suspect your thyroid might be out of whack—symptoms include fatigue, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin, weakness, thinning hair, and of course, weight gain—ask your doctor for a referral to an endocrinologist who can perform comprehensive and thorough thyroid testing, Holtorf recommends. Traditionally, physicians have diagnosed (or ruled out) hypothyroidism based only on the amount of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) that your brain’s pituitary gland produces.

However, just because your pituitary gland tells your thyroid gland to get busy, it doesn’t mean that your thyroid gland is actually coming through and producing the thyroid hormones you need, he says. That’s where other testing—for those T3 and T4 thyroid hormones themselves—comes in. Treatment typically involves taking a synthetic thyroid hormone, typically with the name levothyroxine, which gets hormone levels back on track to alleviate symptoms.

Related: Could You Have A Thyroid Issue?

  1. Medications

No medication comes without potential side effects and, unfortunately, for a lot of meds, those side effects include weight gain. “I have a lot of patients who gain weight due to the medications they take,” explains says board-certified family and bariatric physician Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., a diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. The most common culprits include medications for diabetes, blood pressure, and mental health conditions, as well as birth control. Corticosteroids, hormones often included in allergy meds, can also contribute to weight gain, he says.

How to tackle it: Read your meds’ full list of side effects and talk to your doctor about any meds that are linked with weight gain. “There may be other options for you that are weight-neutral or can possibly even contribute to weight loss,” Nadolsky says. If your doctor doesn’t advise switching meds, he or she may have some advice on how to minimize the side effects.

  1. Perimenopause and Menopause

As if PMS wasn’t bad enough, fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone that occur during both perimenopause and menopause can lower women’s metabolisms and increase the risk of fat storage. Unfortunately, most of this weight gain occurs around the abdomen, according to research from Monash University in Australia.

Related: The Truth About Belly Fat

How to tackle It: “We cannot stop ‘the change,’ but there are some things we can do to naturally mediate the side effects,” Nadolsky says. For instance, 2017 research published in Menopause found that by participating in a 20-week exercise program, post-menopausal women significantly reduced their weight while simultaneously improving menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and mood disturbances. Talk to your doc about these and other lifestyle changes that might reduce your waistline before opting for hormone replacement therapy.

  1. Low Testosterone

“This is one of those chicken-or-egg issues,” Nadolsky says. “A lot of patients gain weight as they age, which then lowers their testosterone levels, which then can further deteriorate their body composition.” That’s largely because fat tissue contains an enzyme, called aromatase, which converts androgens (like testosterone, which promotes muscle-building and fights fat) into estrogens. So, as men’s waistlines increase, their levels of testosterone lower. In fact, research published in Clinical Endocrinology suggests that weight gain (among other variables), not just aging itself, may cause many men’s testosterone levels to decline as they get older.

How to tackle it: While getting to the gym to combat low T can be tough (low energy levels are another common side effect), building muscle can go a long way toward reducing fat levels and their effects on testosterone. In one landmark Harvard School of Public Health study of 10,500 men, those who performed strength-training workouts for just 20 minutes a day gained significantly less belly fat over a period of 12 years compared to those who performed the same amount of daily cardio. (Prior research has also shown that strength training triggers the body’s release of testosterone.) Thank you, muscle power!

Related: Find the right testosterone-support supplement for you.

  1. Poor Sleep

Affecting men and women alike—and in a big way—sucky sleep not only makes you less likely to work out and more likely to binge on junk food, it changes the way your body metabolizes and stores calories, according to Nadolsky. Here’s a compelling example: In one University of Chicago study, when dieters slept for 8.5 hours per night, half of the weight they lost came from fat. When they switched to sleeping only 5.5 hours per night, their rate of fat loss dropped by 55 percent—even though they were following the exact same diet. Holtorf notes that getting less-than-optimal shut-eye results in increased levels of stress hormones including cortisol, which can increase the tendency to store calories as abdominal fat.

How to tackle it: Get more sleep—whether on your own by setting a bedtime and upping your sleep hygiene (turn off those gadgets!), or with the help of a sleep medicine physician. If you’re clocking lots of time between the sheets but still feel groggy during the day, you may want to speak to your doc about sleep disorders. Obstructive sleep apnea, for example, occurs in up to 20 percent of adults, according to the National Sleep Foundation, and is strongly associated with weight gain. “If you wake up un-refreshed, snore, or gasp during the night, definitely talk to your doctor about the possibility sleep apnea,” Holtorf says.

  1. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Affecting one in 10 American women, PCOS is a common hormonal condition that’s associated with small cysts forming inside the ovaries. While its exact causes are not yet clear—its effects are. “PCOS is essentially insulin resistance that affects the ovaries,” says Holtrof, noting that it’s intricately linked with weight gain and problems losing weight. After all, in insulin resistance, levels of the hormone insulin (produced by the pancreas in response to carb intake) get excessively high. As a result, the body ups its production of male sex hormones, called androgens, which can lead to weight gain in women—typically around the middle.

How to tackle it: Apart from weight gain, symptoms of PCOS include irregular menstrual cycles, excess facial and body hair, acne, thinning hair, patches of darkened skin, and skin tags. If you observe these symptoms, talk to your gynecologist, Nadolsky says. Hormonal contraceptives are commonly used to regulate hormone levels in women with PCOS and can help ease symptoms, including weight gain, in women with the disorder. Your doc may also recommend a medication like metformin, to address the insulin resistance.

Related: 8 Possible Reasons Why Your Hair Is Falling Out

What Is The “If It Fits Your Macros” Diet—And Should You Try It?

#IIFYM (or If It Fits Your Macros) is the most buzzed-about eating plan on social media, blowing up as a “non-diet” diet that helps physique competitors and bodybuilders reach their goals by tracking their macros (aka macronutrients) intake. With no food off the table as long as you hit the right final numbers, proponents tout IIFYM as a science-backed advance in flexible eating, while critics call it the “Pop-Tart diet.”

In the end, what you get out of “If It Fits Your Macros”—from healthy weight loss, better energy, and bigger muscles to nutritional deficiencies and food obsession—depends on how you choose to play it.

All About Macros

IIFYM really hones in on the ‘macros’ you consume. These macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—contain all of the calories that you consume and burn for energy, and are the nutrients the body needs in the greatest amounts to function properly, explains Jessica Swift, M.S., R.D.

Each macronutrient has its own benefits and roles in the body. Carbohydrates serve as your main form of energy and power your muscles during high-intensity exercise, explains Kamal Patel, M.P.H., director of Examine.com. Protein triggers the release of powerful satiety hormones within the gut, helping you feel full, and breaks down into the amino acids that form your muscles. Fat slows the release of carbohydrates into the bloodstream and aids in the production of hormones, including muscle-building testosterone. Carbs and protein contain four calories per gram while fat contains nine.

While all three macronutrients are necessary, the average American diet contains far more carbs than are needed for energy, says Patel. This can cause blood sugar and insulin spikes, and lead to weight gain over time. Meanwhile, fat intake is often one of two extremes. Too much calorie-dense fat can send your total daily calorie intake through the roof, Patel says. But ‘low-fat’ food products often pack more sugar and calories than their full-fat counterparts, leading you to consume more than you realize. All of these factors can result in caloric surpluses and weight gained, not lost. The premise of IIFYM is to find the right balance of these macronutrients for your body and goals.

How IIFYM Works

To start IIFYM, you’ll first calculate the number of calories you burn per day, which is also how the number of calories you would need to eat per day to maintain your current weight. The interwebs are chock-full of calculators ready to determine your total energy expenditure—IIFYM.com even has its own calculator.

The IIFYM calculator also determines how many of those calories should come from each macronutrient, based on your goals—and how aggressively you want to pursue them. If weight loss is your end-game, IIFYM—like all other diets—recommends a caloric deficit, explains Patel. That means consuming fewer calories than you expend each day. IIFYM suggests a caloric deficit of 15 to 20 percent to lose fat fast—without also losing lean muscle.

On the flip side, if you’re trying to build muscle, IIFYM suggests a caloric surplus (consuming more calories than burned) of five to 10 percent. It is possible to build muscle while burning fat, but caloric deficits do reduce muscles’ tendency to effectively absorb and use amino acids to grow.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

For example, let’s consider a 30-year-old, 180-pound, 5’10” man, working a desk job and exercising for an hour five days per week. According to IIFYM’s calculator, to get down to 160 pounds, he would need to consume 2,108 calories, 153 grams of protein, 68 grams of fat, and 221 grams of carbs each day. To gain 20 pounds of muscle, however, he would need to consume 2,728 calories, 177 grams of protein, 67 grams of fat, and 348 grams of carbs each day.

IIFYM first calculates optimal protein and fat intake, and then bases carb intake on whatever calories are left. While recommended fat intake, according to IIFYM, is pretty stable from person to person, recommended protein intake increases for those trying to build muscle.

However, many people who follow the flexible-dieting approach like to calculate their carbs and protein intake and leave fat as the “leftover” macro instead, says Patel. When that’s the case, carb intake is largely contingent on how much you exercise, and at what intensity. The more and harder you exercise, the more carbs you need to fuel those workouts.

Your calories—and which macros you get them from—undoubtedly affect your weight and body composition, but the IIFYM site explains that these numbers are estimates, not absolutes.

Keep in mind that most nutritionists recommend getting 40 percent of your daily calories from carbs, 30 percent from protein, and 30 from fat for overall health. Sure, those percentages may vary based on activity levels, current metabolic health, and goals, but it’s a pretty good starting point for most people.

Weighing the Good and the Bad

IIFYM says that you can fill your plate with whatever you want, as long as your total daily food intake adds up to the right amount of protein, carbs, fat, and total calories.

On the positive side, IIFYM’s flexibility definitely makes it easier to stick to than many of the stricter diets and elimination strategies out there. Plus, a JAMA meta-analysis shows that, since pretty much all diets lead to similar weight-loss results when you follow them to a T, the most effective diet for weight loss is simply the one that you can stick with.

Just don’t get too excited about the idea of filling up on junk as a great weight-loss strategy. “You can create a caloric deficit and lose weight while still eating in a way that negatively impacts your cholesterol and other health markers,” Swift says. “For example, you could eat pizza, soda, and potato chips as long as it fits your macro goals. This way of eating can be reckless because it doesn’t account for lean versus fatty proteins, good fats versus bad fats, or calorie sources.”

Related: How To Eat Carbs And Still Lose Weight

But, according to Patel, IIFYM can also help dieters become more aware of their eating habits—which can help them clean it up. Since you have to track every calorie and gram of carb, protein, and fat, IIFYM can help you become a pro food label reader. “IIFYM can often be a gateway to researching and becoming more aware of good nutrition in general,” Patel says. Still, while it’s important to learn about nutrition and to be informed about the foods you put in your body, at a certain point, all of the macro- and calorie-counting may create an obsessive and unhealthy relationship with food, he says.

It’s important to remember that we don’t eat macros in isolation. They come packaged alongside vitamins and minerals (a.k.a. micronutrients) and, if you’re eating processed foods, alongside manmade chemicals, Swift says. If you follow IIFYM, you still want to choose whole foods over highly processed ones, whole-grain carbs over refined ones, and healthy fats over trans fats, she says. After all, whether you are vying for fat loss, muscle gain, or all of the above, your health still matters.

Related: Find pantry staples and seasonings to help you whip up healthy meals.

Why Do Men Seem To Lose Weight More Easily Than Women?

Simply cut off the soda supply and your average guy will seem to drop five pounds overnight. Meanwhile, many women overhaul their diets and work out five times a week, and still struggle to lose one measly pound.

It’s infuriating—at least for women. But what’s behind this weight-loss inequality?

Much of the difference between how men and women lose weight comes down to their levels of fat-free mass, explains board-certified family and bariatric physician Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., a diplomat of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Fat-free mass includes every bit of your body that isn’t fat—like organs, bones, connective tissues, and muscle.

Guys tend to have way more mass, including fat-free mass, than women. (After all, the average guy in the U.S. is five-foot-nine, while the average gal is five-foot-four, according to the CDC.) According to PLOS ONE research, the size of a person’s kidneys, brain, and liver greatly contribute to their resting energy expenditure (the number of calories burned doing nothing).  Plus, research published in the British Journal of Nutrition confirms that after accounting for lean body mass levels there’s little to no difference between the resting metabolisms of men and women. So it makes sense that larger guys (and their larger organs) burn more calories than smaller women.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

“Calories are fuel. And the bigger your body’s engine, the more fuel you are going to need and burn every day,” Nadolsky explains. “It’s also easier for you to cut calories from your daily intake without feeling like you’re starving.”

Think of it this way: If you’re a guy who burns 2,500 calories per day just binge-watching Netflix, you can cut 500 calories to lose weight and still be eating 2,000 calories a day. But if you’re a girl with a resting metabolic rate of 1,500 calories, you can only safely cut 300 calories—most experts recommend a minimum of 1,200 calories a day—a deficit that won’t move the scale’s needle all that quickly. The same thinking applies to workouts. A big guy is going to burn far more calories running a mile than will a petite woman.

Still, size doesn’t explain everything. For instance, according to research from the National Institutes of Heath, women’s daily energy expenditure varies by about 100 calories or so throughout their menstrual cycle. (It’s highest during the luteal phase.)

Yep, this is where hormones come into play. After all, the luteal phase (which begins after ovulation) involves a delicate interplay of hormones, including estrogen, which peaks at menstruation and then tapers off, and progesterone, which increases throughout the luteal phase and then nosedives to help trigger menstruation.

Animal research published in Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that a woman’s natural estrogen (called estradiol) and progesterone may promote fat retention and discourage lean muscle formation. But meanwhile, research published in Diabetes links declining levels of estrogen and progesterone during menopause with the body’s cells becoming more likely to store fat. So women’s hormonal fluctuations—and their impact on weight—are definitely a bit more complicated than men’s.

And then there’s the hormone of note for guys: testosterone. An anabolic hormone (meaning it helps build tissues in the body) testosterone contributes to muscle formation. Men have 15 times as much testosterone as women, largely explaining why men have a greater propensity for putting on lean, metabolism-boosting muscle, says Neerav Padliya, Ph.D., vice president of Research Alliances at MYOS RENS bionutrition and biotherapeutics company. Having all that extra muscle no doubt contributes to men’s faster metabolisms.

In the end, these hormonal differences do influence weight-loss efforts, but women can hack guy-style weight loss with the right strategy.

Related: Attention All Men Over 30: You’re Leaking Testosterone

Muscle Up: How to Lose Weight Like a Guy

It all comes down to muscle. “Lean mass is the largest source of energy expenditure in the body, and the only one which is variable,” Padliya says. So by increasing how much muscle you have (a major part of that being lean mass), you can pump up your calorie-burning potential.

So, to boost your muscle mass, metabolism, and weight-loss results, your first step is to perform more strength training, ideally with heavy loads (sets of six to 12 reps) and shorter recovery times (30 to 60 seconds between sets). This sort of protocol is optimal for muscle-building, partly because it triggers a short-term spike in T levels, Nadolsky says.

From there, make sure to complement your muscle-building workouts with muscle-friendly nutrition. According to a 2015 review published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, people need to get about 25 percent of their daily calories from protein in order to increase muscle mass lose weight (in combination with strength training).

Ideally, each meal and snack should contain somewhere around 25 to 35 grams of protein to stimulate maximum muscle growth. That’s roughly the equivalent of a cup of Greek yogurt with a sprinkle of nuts, one half-cup of chopped chicken breast, or a two-egg omelet with veggies, milk, and cheese mixed in.

Related: The Easy Way To Pump Up The Protein In Your Oatmeal

Sure, should guys follow these tips, they’re likely going to put on more muscle than women. But any muscle women can build puts them a step closer to easier weight loss.

Related: Find a protein supplement or snack to boost your intake.

Is The Blood Type Diet Legit?

Do you know your blood type? You probably should, just in case of an emergency. (Universal recipient? Score!) Plus, according to the buzzy Blood Type Diet, knowing your blood type is important for more than just your medical records. In fact, it suggests your blood type impacts which foods you need—and which ones you don’t—for better health.

What’s Your Blood Type—And What’s On The Menu?

Your blood type is determined by tiny markers (antigens), which cover the surface of red blood cells. The most common (and likely most familiar) way of classifying these antigens is as follows: A, B, AB, and O. Type A has A antigens, B has B antigens, AB has A and B antigens, and O has neither A nor B antigens (which is why Type O folks are universal donors but can only receive their own blood type).

These antigens exist not just in the blood, but also in other cells throughout the body, including the digestive tract, according to naturopathic doctor Peter J. D’Adamo, N.D., Blood Type Diet founder, author of Eat Right For Your Type, and director of the Center of Excellence in Generative Medicine at the University of Bridgeport.

“The biochemical makeup of humans varies greatly based on blood type,” says D’Adamo. According to D’Adamo, our blood type affects our individual microbiome (and its defining characteristics, like the amount of digestive acid we have to the activity of our digestive enzymes) and therefore how different foods may affect us.

Eating the ‘wrong foods’ for your blood type can produce digestive issues, sluggishness, and weight gain, proposes D’Adamo, blood type dieters may experience improved energy and vitality—and possibly weight loss when eating for their type

The basics of The Blood Type Diet are as follows: People with type A should go vegetarian; Bs should avoid certain foods (including chicken, corn, and tomatoes), ABs should eat small, frequent meals and avoid caffeine and alcohol; and Os should up their meat intake and avoid grain, legumes, and dairy.

As you can already see, many of the diets’ recommendations center around which animal-based foods are or aren’t recommended for your blood type. According to D’Adamo, people with type A evolved to have low levels of stomach acid and high levels of intestinal digestive enzymes, which, together, make it difficult for them to digest animal protein and fat—hence D’Adamo’s suggestion that As go veg. The other blood types, however, have evolved to better metabolize either all or certain meat types, he says.

The diet also recommends certain supplements for each of the blood types, which can be found on D’Adamo’s website. While some of the ingredients are staples for almost everyone—vitamin K, calcium, iron, and manganese­—others are a bit more obscure. Think ‘okra sprouts, bladderwrack seaweed, and gum tragacanth’ level of obscure. (D’Adamo’s book The supplements range in purported function, from helping to optimize metabolism to repairing damage done by eating any foods contraindicated for your blood type.

What the Science Says

The Blood Type Diet hasn’t been proven to work—but it hasn’t been disproven either.

For instance, a 2013 review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that, at that time, no existing studies on the protocol adequately investigated the effects of following versus not following the diet.

Then, 2014 research published in PLOS ONE found an association between following a type A diet and cardiometabolic benefits, like lower body mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Meanwhile, type AB and O diets were linked with some of those benefits, while no significant connection was found between the Type-B diet and improved cardiometabolic health.

It’s important to note, though, that study participants weren’t assigned to specific diets based on their blood types—so the type A diet showed benefits across participants with A, B, AB, and O blood types. While the study suggests the type A diet (largely vegetarian) specifically may promote health, it doesn’t support the idea that your blood type determines the foods you should and should not eat.

“At this point, we can’t make the necessary link that certain types of diets need to be followed depending on blood type,” explains registered dietitian nutritionist Jessica Crandall, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She notes that most improvements in weight and health associated with the Blood Type Diet may be due to dieters becoming more aware of what they are eating as well as prioritizing consumption of whole foods.

“The diet really does focus on cutting out processed foods, which is great and can be beneficial,” she says. However, according to Crandall, one of the diet’s missteps is advising all dieters to avoid all wheat products. Celiac disease, in which a person has an immune response to gluten (the protein in wheat), only affects less than one percent of the U.S. population, according to a consensus statement from the National Institutes of Health.

Related: What Going Gluten-Free Can And Can’t Do For Your Health

Troubleshooting

“I recommend that anyone considering this diet works with a dietitian to determine if it fits your individual needs,” says Crandall. “I’d want to know why they picked this diet, make sure that they get enough protein as well as vitamins and minerals, and also perform blood work to determine any areas where supplementation is needed.”

The Blood Type Diet makes various nutritional supplements specifically for dieters, but Crandall urges that “your blood type isn’t reflective of your blood levels of vitamins and minerals, and, when it comes to supplements, more doesn’t equal better.”

The bottom line: Talk to a professional before embarking on any diet. “You need to make sure that if you choose to follow a Blood Type Diet, you do so in a healthy way,” says Crandall.

Related: Check out a number of supplements to support digestion.

Are You Doing Too Much Cardio?

For many of us, exercise is synonymous with cardio. Want to lose weight? Get in shape? Boost your heart health? You better pound the pavement. Or cycle the calories away. Get your heart rate up, sweat it out… you know the drill.

“Cardiovascular exercise is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of disease and death, improve energy and well-being, and help perform activities of daily living with ease,” says exercise physiologist Kristen M. Lagally, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology at Illinois State University.

After all, cardio has long been known to reduce the risk of heart disease—the number-one cause of death in the United States. And, 2017 research published in Cell Metabolism even found that performing high-intensity cardio intervals slows aging at the cellular level. More than that, in one British Journal of Sports Medicine study, researchers even found that a twice-weekly cardio routine increased the size of the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for memory and learning, in women.

Heart healthy, brain-boosting, and anti-aging? Sounds great. But before you commit to cardio, cardio, cardio, know that more isn’t necessarily better.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

In a study of more than 5,000 healthy joggers and sedentary adults done by Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers found that jogging one to 2.4 hours per week was associated with the lowest risk of death. But as jogging times increased from there, so did the risk of death—with strenuous exercisers having a mortality rate on par with adults who didn’t exercise at all.

What gives? Like all forms of exercise, cardio stresses the body to force it to adapt and come back stronger, Lagally says. Work out too much, though, and you break it down without giving it a real chance to build itself back up.

Here are three main reasons doing too much cardio can backfire—as well as ways to get your routine on the right track.

Related: Find your supplement soulmate for your protein and fitness needs.

It Sabotages Muscle-Building

In one Obesity study of 10,500 men, cardio came up short in preventing abdominal weight gain. Why? Because unlike strength training (which proved to be far more beneficial at fighting belly fat), cardio didn’t significantly increase participants’ levels of lean, metabolism-revving muscle, according to the researchers. While strength training burns calories while promoting an increase in muscle mass, cardio can actually burn calories from that muscle mass.

“When you’re young, avoiding muscle-building exercises and performing strictly cardio may not result in significantly noticeable problems,” Lagally says. But over time, it can exacerbate sarcopenia, the natural loss of muscle that occurs with age (and can start as early as 30 or 40) and limit your ability to perform everyday tasks.

What’s more, that muscle loss can also cause your basal metabolic rate—the number of calories that you burn just being alive—to decline. It’s the perfect storm for weight gain.

Related: Exactly What To Eat To Build Muscle

What To Do About It:
Keep track of your muscle mass by regularly stepping on a bathroom scale that calculates your body fat percentage, recommends San Diego bariatric surgeon Julie Ellner, M.D. The goal is to never lose muscle. If you lose weight while your body fat percentage stays the same or increases, that means you need to up your muscle-building game. No matter how much you love cardio, schedule at least two days per week of strength-focused exercise.

It Makes You Eat (Or Think You Can Eat) Everything

Research goes back and forth on whether exercise increases or decreases appetite, especially in women. But as anyone who has ever trained for a marathon can attest, if you do enough cardio, at some point you are going to wind up ravenous. Unfortunately, many cardio bunnies overestimate the number of calories they burn during their workouts, leading them to over-consume calories later—which leads to gain weight instead of loss.

What To Do About It:
Keep your eyes off of your cardio machine’s display. When researchers at the University of California at San Francisco’s Human Performance Center tested the calorie-counting accuracy of various machines, it found that the treadmill overestimated caloric burn by an average of 13 percent while the elliptical overestimated by a full 42 percent.

Instead of worrying about how many calories you cardio burns—and how many calories you should eat as a result—Ellner recommends focusing on eating according to your hunger cues. Even if your workout does rev your hunger a bit, that’s OK. Your body knows what it needs to best recover from your cardio sessions. Eat when you are slightly hungry and stop when you are slightly satisfied.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

It Overstresses Your Body

“With cardio, adequate recovery is key,” Lagally says. “Without it, you increase your risk of overtraining syndrome, which can include regular and continued soreness, overuse injuries like stress fractures, reductions in performance in spite of continued training, a sense that their regular exercise sessions feel more difficult than normal, repeated illnesses, or changes in GI tract function.” Anything sound familiar?

What To Do About It:
Pay attention to your mood—it often shows symptoms of overtraining far earlier than your body does. If you notice that you have a persistently blue or irritable mood, or just don’t feel as into your workouts as usual, that may be your body telling you to dial things back.

Lagally recommends taking one or more days off from your typical cardio routine, cutting the intensity or duration of your sessions, or replacing one of your weekly cardio workouts with some cross-training.

“It can be difficult for those who rely on cardio, or specific modes of cardio like running, to cut back,” Lagally says. “But in the end, making changes in frequency, mode, duration, and intensity to allow for greater recovery will ultimately improve performance, caloric expenditure, and reduce the risk of overtraining issues.” So, to break out of a rut, you’ll also have to break out of your go, go, go routine.

Related: 4 Possible Reasons Why You’re Feeling Wrecked Days After A Workout

5 Moves That Torch Major Calories

No one heads into the gym thinking, “how few calories can I burn today?” Nope, we want the maximum burn from every rep and bead of sweat.

To make that happen, you have to tune into two important exercise factors: the number of muscle fibers used and the intensity to which you work them, says Gavin McHale, a Winnipeg-based kinesiologist and certified exercise physiologist. After all, calories are nothing more than energy. So, if you work more muscles, and work them hard, you are going to churn through more energy.

Even better, exercise intensity is the main driver of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. Commonly called “the after-burn,” EPOC refers to the number of calories you burn after you leave the gym as your body works to recover by lowering your body temperature, repairing muscles, and flushing metabolic byproducts from your system.

These five exercises are the perfect combination of both muscle recruitment and intensity, helping you to burn the max number of calories possible. That said, we don’t recommend performing them all in a row. They are all doozies on their own, so packing them all into one workout could wipe you out more than we want—and potentially lead to injury, says McHale.

Instead, try integrating one or two of these moves into each of your workouts. Ideally, you should perform them near the beginning of your workout, after your warm up, when your muscles are fresh and you’re ready to hit it hard.

kbs

1. Kettlebell Swing

“Kettlebell swings are one of the best bang-for-your-buck exercises,” McHale says. “A perfect combination of strength and cardio, these will fry anyone’s posterior chain [think glutes, hammies, and lowback] and lungs when done correctly.” According to research from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, a high-intensity kettlebell workout can burn up to 20.2 calories per minute—that’s roughly the equivalent of running a ridiculously fast six-minute mile.

Instructions: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab a kettlebell with your palms facing into your body. From here, push your hips back and bend your knees just slightly (most people bent their knees too much; this is not a squat) so that the kettlebell swings back behind your legs. Immediately squeeze your glutes and thrust your hips forward to stand up, sending the kettlebell directly in front of your chest until the handles parallel to the floor.

Get more burn: Swing the kettlebell using your glutes, not your arms. Choose a weight that allows you to perform 12 to 25 reps with proper form, McHale says. As soon as you catch your breath, start your next set. Perform two to four sets.

Related: 5 Moves Every Gym Newbie Should Master

turkish getup

2. Turkish Get-Up

Another kettlebell staple, this exercise burns a ridiculous amount of calories because it literally works every muscle in your body, McHale says. And, for an exercise that’s just “getting up off of the floor,” it’s incredibly taxing.

Instructions: Lie flat on your back on the floor and hold a kettlebell by the handle with your right hand. Fully extend your arm toward the ceiling so the kettlebell is directly over your shoulder. Bend your right knee to place your right foot flat on the floor.

From here, lift your torso up onto your left elbow and then onto your left hand, your right shoulder pushing up off of the floor. Lift your hips off of the floor so that your body forms a straight line from left foot to right shoulder, and then swing your left leg under your body.

Raise your torso that it is vertical, the kettlebell still over your right shoulder, and you are in a half-kneeling position. Extend your legs to step your rear leg forward. Reverse the movement to return to start.

Confused? Check out this video: 

Get more burn: Get the exercise steps down pat (this one is complicated!) before introducing the kettlebell. Then, it’s time to go heavy with the weight (not so heavy that you risk dropping it on your head) and perform two to four sets of two to four reps per side, McHale suggests.

pullup

3. Pull-Up

Kettlebells are great. But sometimes, your own body weight is all you need to torch calories. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that pull-ups burn an average of 9.95 calories per minute (granted you perform 10 reps in a minute). By using your own body weight, the pull-up hammers your lats (the largest muscle group in your upper body)along with your shoulders, biceps, and core, for a nice caloric burn. “Also, having the arms in an overhead position ramps up the heart rate, which is great if you’re hoping to burn calories, McHale says.

Instructions: Stand in front of pull-up bar, and grab the bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Brace your core like you are about to get punched in the gut, then pull your shoulder blades together and bend your elbows to pull your body up to the bar. When your collarbones reach the bar, pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start.

Get more burn: A lot of exercisers can’t do multiple (or even a single) unassisted pull-ups. If that’s you, don’t worry; the less skilled your body is at a certain move, the more calories you’ll burn with each rep. Try performing pull-ups (aim for three sets of 10 reps) using an assisted pull-up machine, or with an exercise band wrapped around the bar and strung around your knees. Just don’t “drop” on the eccentric portion. Lower back down to the starting position slowly for an increased burn.

Related: The Right Way To Do A Lat Pulldown

deadlift

4. Conventional Deadlift

“Because you can load these up with weight and they require input from so many major and meaty muscle groups, deadlifts are an excellent way to burn more calories both during and after a workout,” McHale says. Expect to feel the burn through your glutes, lats, quads, hamstrings, and core.

Instructions: Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet hip-width apart. Push your hips back and slightly bend your knees to grab the bar with your hands spaced shoulder-width apart, palms facing your body. (You can also use an alternated grip, one palm facing your body and the other facing away from you.) Your arms should be fully extended, shoulders slightly in front of the bar, with the bar about an inch from your shins. From here, keep your lats tight, thrust your hips forward and straighten your knees until you are fully standing and your hips are extended in front of the rest of your body. The bar should nearly scrape your body throughout the entire movement, and it should hang against the front of your thighs at the top of the movement. Pause, then reverse the movement, making sure not to round your back, to return to start.

Get more burn: Perform three to five sets of three to 10 reps, using an amount of weight that allows you to just eek out your last rep with proper form, McHale says. If you’re using a heavy weight for six or fewer reps, you can rest up to two minutes. Otherwise, keep the rest short, between 30 and 90 seconds.

Related: Shop a variety of performance supplements to fuel your best workouts.

squat to press

5. Squat to Press

This move recruits major muscle groups throughout your lower and upper body for the greatest calorie-torching potential, he says. Meanwhile, by including a healthy dose of explosive power, it gives your heart rate a swift kick in the butt.

Instructions: Grab a racked barbell with a grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder-width. Position the barbell on the front your shoulders with elbows pointing straight out in front of you and your upper arms parallel to the floor. Bend your hips and knees to lower into a full squat, keeping the bar in line with the center of your feet. Once you reach the bottom of the squat, immediately reverse the movement. As you do so, rotate your arms so that your elbows point toward the floor. Press the bar overhead. Once you reach a full standing position, your arms should be extended straight overhead with the barbell just behind your ears. Lower the bar to your shoulders, then either repeat or return the bar to the power rack for rest.

Get more burn: Start by taking a quick 15- to 30-second break between reps. Then slowly reduce the rest periods until you move immediately from one rep to the next without rest. Perform three to five sets of five to eight reps.

 

 

What Going Gluten-Free Can And Can’t Do For Your Health

Mention gluten, and everyone has an opinion. One in four Americans believe that going gluten-free is the right health move,. But only a quarter cite disease or gluten sensitivity as the main reason they nixed it from their diets, per data from The NPD Group.

On the other hand, a number of dieters promoting healthy carbs, including those that contain (you guessed it!) gluten, have been pushing back against the trend.

So what’s the bottom line? Consider this the no-nonsense down-low on gluten—and whether or not it belongs on your plate.

Gluten, Decoded

Gluten is a combination of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. Naturally present in wheat, barley, and rye, gluten breaks down into amino acids in the body’s small intestine, courtesy of specialized digestive enzymes in our body, explains Kendra Perkey, M.S., R.D.

Unless you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, that is.

Affecting less than one percent of the U.S. population, according to a consensus statement from the National Institutes of Health, celiac disease is a condition in which the immune system responds abnormally to gluten, explains Shaista Safder, M.D., gastroenterologist at the Arnold Palmer Hospital Center for Digestive Health and Nutrition. Over time, the immune system’s ‘attack’ response damages the lining of the small intestine and results in an inability to absorb necessary nutrients. Physicians typically diagnose celiac disease through two steps: blood work and a subsequent biopsy of the small intestine.

In non-celiac gluten sensitivities, people often report stomach upset, brain fog, and/or fatigue, symptoms they say are improved by going GF, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. It remains unclear as to what these issues refer to, but there seems to be a strong link between this non-celiac intolerance and other gastrointestinal issues, like irritable bowel syndrome, says Safder.

There is no test for identifying gluten sensitivities, and many cases are self-diagnosed or identified after monitoring how cutting gluten affects symptoms.

What A Gluten-Free Diet Might Actually Look Like

Going G-free isn’t as simple as saying see-ya to all things wheat. As with any eating protocol that involves eliminating certain foods, going whatever-free doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to be or feel healthier. After all, every time you remove something from your plate, you have to replace it with something else. In this case, what you replace gluten with truly matters. Are you swapping it with whole foods or processed ones?

A diet that’s naturally gluten-free will include fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains (quinoa, sorghum, rice, millet, buckwheat, and teff are all GF), dairy, lean meats, and healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, and seeds.

The issue is that there are so many gluten-free foods that are processed, which means you’re still not getting the nutrition you need. Read: a gluten-free cookie is still a cookie.

Related: Browse spices, oils, and ingredients to whip up wholesome, healthy meals at home. 

When Going Gluten-Free Can Set You Free

For people with celiac disease, a strict gluten-free diet can radically improve health and quality of life—if not be altogether lifesaving. “It’s like someone who’s allergic to peanuts cutting all peanut-containing foods from their diet,” explains Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., founder of Better Than Dieting and author of Read It Before You Eat It. They can’t just reduce their intake —they need to eliminate peanuts (or gluten) completely.

Others who do not have celiac disease claim to feel better on a GF diet, reporting reductions in diarrhea, constipation, and/or bloating. Some say they have more energy. In fact, Safder notes that up to 25 percent of people with IBS report clinical improvement of symptoms after cutting gluten from their diet.

What’s more, a whole food-focused gluten-free diet just so happens to be low in FODMAPs (a variety of fermentable short-chain carbohydrates that cause stomach issues in some people), which are found in wheat, rye, and many packaged food additives, she says. Bonus points: People following a naturally gluten-free diet often wind up cutting out a lot of sugar-laced, processed foods.

Related: 10 Possible Reasons Why You’re Suddenly So Bloated

When Nixing Gluten Can Actually Hurt Your Health

“There are no real benefits to avoiding gluten when you do not have issues with gluten,” Perkey says. She notes that while many fad and elimination diets have labeled gluten, or grains in general, as “bad,” there is nothing intrinsically wrong with gluten.

What’s more, because wheat (the main source of gluten in the average American’s diet) contains fiber, iron, zinc, folate, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B12, magnesium, and phosphorus, you may end up falling short on these nutrients by nixing gluten, says Taub-Dix, who explains that substitutes for wheat, such as rice, contain significantly less of them.

Because gluten is what gives baked goods and pastas their fluffy, springy texture, many gluten-free food products have to compensate by adding extra sugar, fat, and even food additives to improve their taste, says Perkey. They could even be higher in calories than their gluten-containing counterparts, she adds.

Though many people cut gluten for weight-loss purposes, a gluten-free diet is not a weight-loss diet, and may even have the opposite effect. A review published in the Journal of Medicinal Food suggests that celiac disease patients following a gluten-free diet may actually have an increased risk for becoming overweight.

Related: How To Eat Carbs And Still Lose Weight

Even more troubling: 2017 research from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that 73 self-reported gluten-free dieters had elevated urine arsenic levels and blood mercury levels. The study authors speculate this may be due to a possible increase in rice consumption when on a GF diet.

According to the FDA, rice is a leading dietary source of inorganic arsenic because it more readily absorbs arsenic contained in the soil than do other crops. “While the effects of higher arsenic levels are not known, it is something to consider,” Perkey says.

To Gluten Or Not To Gluten?

“If you are thinking about trying a gluten-free diet, ask your doctor if it’s a good choice for you,” Safder says. “It’s true that a gluten-free diet can be healthy. But it can also keep people from getting all of the nutrition they need.”

If you and your doctor decide that a GF eating strategy is right for you, it’s best to cut gluten out under the supervision of a registered dietitian who can make sure that your new diet is a healthy one.

10 Top Trainers Share The Songs That Push Them Through Tough Workouts

Listening to music can make any workout feel easier and more enjoyable (science even says so!). And if your favorite song has a heavy beat, all the better: A Social Psychological and Personality Science study found that amped up bass is particularly good at making exercisers feel more powerful and confident—which might be just what you need to push through those ‘wanna quit’ moments.

We polled 10 trainers for the tracks that help them dig deep when it really counts. Consider this your new pump-up playlist.

  1. “Set Yourself Free,” Tiësto

“There’s something about electronic dance music that breathes life and energy into me. The music is also super positive and upbeat, which I find more motivating and not as overstimulating as other genres. Plus, I can break out in dance in between sets as my ‘active recovery.’”
Erica Suter, M.S., C.S.C.S., a Maryland-based trainer and strength coach

  1. “Blue Orchid,” The White Stripes

“I churn out extra reps every time I play it.”
Sam Simpson, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., co-owner and vice president of B-Fit Training Studio in Miami

  1. “Latch” (Lost Kings Remix), Disclosure ft. Sam Smith

“It helps me dig a little deeper when training capoeira and HIIT. The energy builds throughout the entire song to keep your fist pumping and head bobbing!”
—Brett Hoebel, trainer on NBC’s The Biggest Loser season 11 and creator of the ‘20 Minute Body’ workout

Related: Find performance supplements to pair with your workout jams.

  1. “Party Up (Up In Here),” DMX

No matter my mood, the 90s classic pumps me up and gets me ready to kick some serious butt in the gym. It keeps me motivated and revs me up and enables me to find my edge and really push beyond.”
—Lisa Niren, C.P.T, trainer at CITYROW and CYCLEBAR

  1. “Get Ur Freak On,” Missy Elliott

“It makes me want to smash all the weights.”
—Amy Dix, C.P.T., online strength and nutrition coach

  1. “Owe Me,” Big Sean

“This song is my jam. It has a slower tempo but it’s the perfect power song for a sweaty ab sesh or some bootie work!”
—Taylor Gainor, C.S.C.S., co-founder of LIT Method in Los Angeles

  1. “Hype,” Dizzee Rascal and Calvin Harris

“We play this jam during our toughest classes, the lyrics always help us dig deep and get after it every time. ‘I’m so legit / I do not slip, I just stick to the script / Fully equipped, there is no stopping me / I do not quit, I do not kip / Ready for action, I got to be physically fit / Sit ups and burpees and dips…’”
—Bonnie Micheli, co-founder of Shred415

Related: Workout anywhere with these training accessories.

  1. “Get Right,” Jennifer Lopez

“It really gets me in the mood to push through a really brutal workout. The beat is infectious and I can literally put on my iPod and listen to it five or six times in a row.”
Dre Nichols-Everett, C.P.T., CEO of D3: Dre’s Diesel Dome Fitness in Chicago

  1. “Delirious (Boneless),” Steve Aoki, Chris Lake, and Tujamo ft. Kid Ink

“The beat is RIDICULOUS! I actually don’t know the lyrics LOL…but the beat is just so hard! It’s like the ultimate song to work out and rage to.”
—Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., LA-based personal and online trainer

  1. “Bikini Body,” Dawin ft. R City

“I literally can’t not dance when I hear this song. It really keeps me motivated. But more than that, I love the message. It reminds me that we all need to embrace our bodies exactly how we are in a given moment. If you have a body that can move and lift, you should be incredibly grateful to be able to work it out!”
—Hannah Davis, C.S.C.S., trainer and founder of Operation Bikini Body training program

Save this handy infographic to make sure these jams end up on your workout playlist: 

Push Through It Playlist.jpg

Is Intermittent Fasting Really All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

Nutrition experts used to debate whether you should eat three big meals or five little ones per day. (Okay, maybe they’re still debating it…) But another foodie fight has recently stolen the spotlight: fasting. As in eating just one meal per day on some days—if that.

Known as intermittent fasting (IF), this eating approach generally involves going anywhere from 14 to 36 hours at a time without eating. Essentially, you’re tricking your body into thinking you’re starving in an effort to slash calories and get your hormones in check.

Sound like fun? This seemingly torturous dieting style has seen serious traction—here’s what you need to know about its potential perks and whether or not it might work for you.

How It Works

Proponents of intermittent fasting believe the eating style shifts your body into ‘starvation mode,’ causing your metabolism to burn body fat for energy because energy from food is unavailable.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

One of the most popular intermittent fasting protocols is the 5:2 Diet, which involves eating only 500 to 600 calories on two non-consecutive days per week. (You eat normally the other five.) The Eat Stop Eat method requires eating zero food (you can have calorie-free beverages) for a full 24 hours once or twice per week, and eating normally the rest of the time. Meanwhile, on the Warrior Diet, people fast every morning and afternoon and eat one large meal at night. Other methods include restricting food intake to four, six, or eight-hour windows each day.

A quick note for all of our gym-goers and exercise-lovers: On fasting or low-calorie days, workouts are off the table, as sweating it out on empty stomach can result in dizziness or fainting, not to mention poor workout quality.

The Possible Pros

The ultimate goal, for most people: weight loss. Much of the diet is centered on the all-important concept of caloric balance. Consume fewer calories than you burn, and, hypothetically, you’ll lose weight. And, for some people, it’s easier (or more appealing) to cut calories by skipping meals than by trimming calories at every meal, explains Luigi Fontana, M.D., Ph.D., a research professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

According to Fontana, intermittent fasting can reduce weekly caloric intake by 20 to 25 percent. Proponents of IF note that, in theory, even if you eat normally (or end up slightly overeating) on your regular eating days, eating minimally the rest of the time results in a caloric deficit.

Related: This Is The Best Time Of Day To Take A Protein Supplement

Weight loss aside, some experts believe IF may hold further hormonal and health benefits. For instance, in one small University of Copenhagen study, men who followed an intermittent fasting protocol improved their bodies’ glucose-uptake rates, a measure of insulin sensitivity. (A decline in insulin sensitivity is often a precursor of diabetes.)

But There’s A Catch

But even if intermittent fasting may deliver on some health fronts, is it really any better than the more conventional strategy of cutting calories on a daily basis? So far, it doesn’t seem like it. For instance, one 2014 Translational Research review concluded that IF improves visceral (belly) fat and insulin resistance similarly to a daily calorie-cutting strategy. Plus, it also found conventional dieting to support total weight loss over time better than an intermittent fasting approach.

What’s more, IF may actually contribute to muscle-wasting and lowered metabolic rates over time—both of which are counterproductive to long-term weight loss and health. For example, one Pennington Biomedical Research Center study found that when men and women fasted every other day for 22 days, their resting metabolic rates dropped five percent.

Related: 6 Ways Building Muscle Benefits Your Health and Well-Being

Is It Worth Trying?

People interested in intermittent fasting should talk to their doctor before taking up the diet, Fontana says. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people recovering from an illness or surgery should not attempt intermittent fasting, since their bodies demand a pretty constant stream of nutrients.

Most health experts’ main concern with IF is that it can promote an unhealthy relationship with food. “Intermittent fasting does not allow a person to rely on his or her own hunger and satiety cues, but gives that ‘job’ to an artificial time clock,” says Kimberly Gomer, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. This may be especially problematic for those with a history of disordered eating. “Those with a prior history of compulsive or binge eating, as well as anorexia, can be at risk for these behaviors to be exacerbated by fasting,” explains Gomer.

Make Meal-Timing Work For You

Instead of following a strict eating protocol like intermittent fasting, experts recommend taking a more intuitive, mindful approach to eating.

Gomer suggests eating small meals throughout the day, starting when you feel slightly hungry and putting the fork down when you’re slightly satisfied. (Keep in mind it takes about 15 to 20 minutes for the body to fully register fullness.)

Another tip? To improve your ability to tap into your bod’s signals, work on nixing distracted eating. According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, multitasking during your meals—whether it’s watching TV to walking down the street—can reduce your brain’s ability to gauge food intake and lead to overeating.

Related: 6 Possible Reasons Why You’re Hungry All The Time

What You Need To Know About The Popular Whole30 Diet

As if Whole30 weren’t popular enough already, the recent release of The Whole30 Cookbook has turned the diet into more of an internet-wide craze. Still, for as buzzy as Whole30 is, it’s pretty misunderstood.

We talked with top registered dietitians, as well as one of the Whole30 creators, to decode what’s on (and off!) the menu—and how to tell if the plan is right for you.

What’s the Whole30 Diet All About?

Whole30 originated in 2009 after co-founder Melissa Hartwig, a certified sports nutritionist, cut out all sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, and food additives from her diet for 30 days—and found herself feeling better than ever—the Whole30 is an elimination diet intended to help people establish a diet rooted in whole foods and identify food sensitivities that may contribute to health related issues.

As in Hartwig’s own experiment, Whole30 dieters are instructed to remove all added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, as well as carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites from their diets for 30 days straight. No exceptions.

Then, once they successfully make it through the 30 days sans slip-ups (one bite of a prohibited food and you start over at day one!), Whole30-ers can slowly reintroduce each food group back into their diet, one food group at a time, generally over the course of 10 days, Hartwig explains. The thought is that you would reintroduce, say grains, on day 31, and then dairy on day 35. Any sudden stomach issues on days 31 through 35 would point to a sensitivity to grains. That might be your cue that you could alleviate future stomach woes by avoiding grains long-term.

Before You Try To Whole30 All Your Health Issues Away…

While many Whole30 dieters and proponents claim that the approach has helped them to have more energy, feel better, and surmount a myriad of health concerns, proceed with care.

“Self-diagnosing food intolerances and allergies—or anything else, really—can easily be inaccurate, if not dangerous,” explains Wesley Delbridge, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “If you suspect that you have a medical issue in relation to food, it’s best to talk to your doctor or dietitian for evaluation. Every person is different, and diagnosis isn’t generally as simple as, ‘I feel better today.’” A diagnosis of Celiac disease (a disorder in which gluten damages the small intestines), for example, hinges on the examination of a biopsy taken from the patient’s small intestine.

The creators of Whole30 hear these concerns loud and clear. According to Hartwig, the program is not meant to be a substitute for a medically-supervised elimination diet, and those interested in trying it should always speak with their healthcare practitioner before overhauling their diets.

Axing Foods—And Nutrients?

Self-diagnosing aside, most concerns over the Whole30 revolve around the elimination of foods that are healthy, should someone not have an actual food allergy or intolerance, explains Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.S.D., assistant Professor in Nutrition and Exercise Science at Central Washington University.

“The diet eliminates a lot of foods that are packed with benefits, like beans and dairy,” she says. She notes that whenever you remove an entire food group from your diet, you risk nutritional deficiency. (For instance, if you nix dairy for a month, you need to make sure you are getting vitamin D and calcium elsewhere.)

To help pack in as much vitamin D into Whole30 as possible, Hartwig recommends incorporating fatty cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel into your meal rotation. Some of the best Whole30-approved sources of calcium include Chinese cabbage and leafy greens, like spinach.

That’s not to say that the foods you can eat on Whole30 can’t make up a healthful diet. A balanced menu on the program incorporates meats, seafood, eggs, loads of vegetables, some fruit, and unsaturated fats from oils, nuts, and seeds. These are all great foods that can be part of a healthy, well-rounded eating plan, Pritchett says. Major points.

Will You Lose Weight?

Contrary to popular opinion, the Whole30 is not a weight-loss plan, Hartwig explains. Still, that doesn’t mean that people don’t lose weight on it.

In fact, she notes that many people who follow the protocol report losing up to 15 pounds within the month. Delbridge has observed similar amounts of weight lost among Whole30 followers.

Why all of the weight loss on a non-weight-loss diet? The reason is two-fold. First, so many foods are eliminated that people may end up with a caloric deficit, meaning they consume fewer calories than they burn per day, without even trying. (It’s worth noting that the diet does not recommend calorie counting.) Second, the Whole30 diet tends to be high in protein and fat, both of which help to prevent overeating by making you feel full long after each meal, Delbridge says.

Delbridge notes, though, that many people he has seen lose weight throughout the Whole30, gain some or all of it back afterward. He suspects that straight-up eliminating sugar (or any other food) may contribute to increased cravings and potential binges once Whole30 is over.

Many proponents of Whole30, though, claim that following the program actually helped them improve their relationship with food and ultimately reduced cravings.

The Bottom Line

If you want to cut down on (or completely eliminate) your intake of added sugar, alcohol, or food additives, go for it, says Delbridge. “As long as you are getting the nutrients you need, if you feel better not eating a specific food or food group, that’s totally cool,” he says.

And if you suspect you might have an allergy or intolerance to legumes, dairy, or any specific grains (like wheat), systematically removing each food and then reintroducing it into your eating plan is a good first step in identifying any issues. Just make sure to take on the science experiment with a registered dietitian’s oversight, he says. That way, you can be sure that as you cut a food group from your plate, you don’t miss out on any vital nutrients.

5 Exercises Every Gym Newbie Should Master

When you’re a fitness newbie, it’s tempting to look around at other gym-goers to figure out what you should be doing. Those box jumps look cool, right?

But before you try to crank out your first power clean or achieve some tricked-out lift for your Instagram feed, you’ve got to nail a few choice moves.

“These exercises will literally be your foundation for every exercise moving forward,” explains California-based trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., C.P.T. Just like a house will eventually crumble if it’s built on a shaky foundation, your body will pay the price down the line if you don’t establish a solid fitness base.

Hence why many people who fire up their gym membership in the New Year get injured, burnt out, or simply give up after they don’t see the results they want—they don’t give their bodies the foundational training they need.

So rather than sweat it out in vain or risk a sidelining injury, set yourself up for success with these five foundational moves every gym newbie should master. (Hey, self-proclaimed gym vets, you may want to make sure you’re solid on these, too…)

Related: Find the supplements to support your performance in the gym and post-workout recovery.

lat-pulldown

1. Reverse-Grip Lat Pulldown

This beginner-friendly move hits your back, deltoids, biceps, triceps, and core muscles while promoting proper shoulder alignment, which is critical to avoiding the super-common neck and shoulder injuries that occur in both exercisers and gym-phobes alike, says Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., founder of Women’s Strength Nation. This exercise is your base for chin-ups and pull-ups, and can help promote proper movement patterns when performing row variations and even isolation exercises like bicep curls.

Instructions: Sit down at a pull-down machine and grab the wide pull-down bar with your hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing you. Lean your torso back just slightly and maintain a flat back, with your core engaged. From here, pull the bar down until it just touches your upper chest, keeping your elbows tucked in close to your sides and your torso stationary. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return the bar back to starting position.

Related: The Right Way To Do A Machine Back Row

plank

2. Plank

“The plank is perfect for people new to the gym because it teaches you how to properly brace your core—a must during every single strength-training exercise out there,” Donavanik says. “On top of that, it will help you develop your mind-muscle connection. You’ll become more aware of what’s happening in your body—where your shoulders are, if your hips are aligned, and how your core, quads, and glutes are engaged.” Once you’ve mastered that skill, you’re ready to safely perform more advanced exercises—whether they involve a plank as their base, or if, like deadlifts and cleans, they just require awesome total-body awareness to be performed safely and effectively.

Instructions: Get on the floor on your hands and knees and then extend your legs straight behind you, lowering your torso onto your forearms so that your elbows are directly under your shoulders and your body forms a straight line from head to heels. To make sure that you don’t just “hang” in the plank (a common mistake), brace your core like you’re about to be punched in the stomach, pull your shoulders down and squeeze them back as if you are trying to pull your elbows to your knees, and squeeze your glutes and quads as tightly as possible. Your entire body should feel tight.

leg-press-crop

3. Leg Press

“I love the leg press for newbies because it puts you in a controlled environment where you can dedicate all of your mental and physical energy to strengthening your legs in one movement,” Perkins says. “You don’t have to worry about balance or leaning because the machine keeps you in place, you can focus 100 percent of your attention on feeling and learning how to properly activate your glutes, quads, and hamstrings.” As you learn to better engage these muscles, you’ll be better equipped to perform both isolation moves like single-leg deadlifts and compound ones such as step-ups and split-squats.

Instructions: Sit down at a leg press machine and place your feet on the platform between hip- and shoulder-width apart, with your toes turned out just slightly. Move the safety bars holding the platform in place and, while keeping your body firmly pressed against the seat, bend at the knees and hips to lower the platform until your legs form a 90-degree angle. (If your knees extend far past your toes in this bottom position, you need to adjust your feet placement so they are closer to the top of the platform.) Pause, then push through your heels and reverse the movement to return the platform to starting position.

pushup

4. Pushup

The pushup builds total upper-body strength, while teaching your chest, deltoids, rotator cuff muscles, triceps, and biceps how to work together as one cohesive unit, Donavanik says. That way, when you progress to using more weight in exercises like the bench press or incline bench press, or take on plyo pushups and burpees, you know you will get the most out of every single rep.

Instructions: Get on the floor on your hands and knees, and then extend your legs straight behind you so that your body forms a straight line from head to heels. Your shoulders should be stacked directly above your elbows and wrists. Look straight between your hands and slowly pull your elbows back so they flare out diagonally from your body as you lower your chest toward the floor. Make sure to keep your shoulders pulled down and back, away from your ears. Once your chest comes within a few inches of the floor, push through your chest, triceps, and shoulders to straighten your elbows and return to the starting position. If you cannot keep your body in a straight line throughout the entire movement, try spreading your feet slightly wider apart or performing an incline pushup with your hands on a low bench.

Related: 6 Ways Building Muscle Benefits Your Health And Well-Being

squat

5. Bodyweight Squat

The all-powerful squat hones in on your lower-body’s fundamental movement patterns, developing strength through all of your major leg muscles as well as smaller stabilizers, while teaching your body to transfer power between the core and lower body. Hence why the squat forms the basis of pretty much every big lower- and total-body movement out there, from dumbbell and barbell squats, to cleans, snatches, and jerks, Donavanik says.

Instructions: Stand tall with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart, and toes turned out just slightly. From here, start the movement by hinging at the hips, or pushing your butt back, and then bending at the knees to lower your torso as far as you can without pain or your heels lifting up off of the floor (as if you’re sitting down in an invisible chair.) Make sure to keep your back flat and chest up as you descend into the squat. At the bottom of the movement, pause, and then push through your heels to extend the hips and knees and return to the starting standing position.