How Often Do You Need To Eat To Keep Your Metabolism Running?

The weight-loss world likes to describe our metabolism as an engine we have to rev throughout the day in order to burn through as much gas (a.k.a. calories) as possible. We’ve long been told that we can keep our metabolism fired up by eating right when we roll out of bed, and then frequently throughout the rest of the day. But if you’ve been forcing down breakfast before the sun comes up or lugging five square meals around with you for the sake of burning more calories and shedding fat, know this: The two theories behind this common advice are a little flawed.

The Thermic Effect Of Food

The first concept used to justify the idea that frequent meals ignite your metabolism is the ‘thermic effect of food,’ or TEF. TEF describes the spike in heat production (a.k.a. calories burned) that occurs in the body for up to eight hours after every time you eat—because it takes calories to digest food! On a given day, TEF accounts for about 10 percent of the calories you burn, explains Rob Danoff, D.O., director of the family residency program at Jefferson Health Northeast in Philadelphia. Hypothetically, if you could boost that TEF by eating more often, you could have a pretty significant impact on the total number of calories you burn, and thus, your metabolism.

While this idea sounds legit in theory, most studies have found no link between meal frequency and increased TEF. In fact, after examining four separate studies (in which people split the same total caloric intake among anything from one to seven meals), the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that increasing the number of meals consumed per day did not improve resting metabolic rate or 24-hour energy expenditure.

Ultimately, how many calories you burn digesting your food depends on how many total calories you eat, and what macronutrients  (carbs, fat, protein) that food comes from, explains Spencer Nadolsky, M.D., diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and author of The Fat Loss Prescription. “As long your total calories and macronutrients are equal, your body will burn the same number of calories in the digestion process,” he says. So, regardless of whether you eat three 500-calorie meals (say one-third protein, one-third carbs, and one-third fat), or six 250-calorie meals with the same macro breakdown, you’ll burn the same number of calories processing your grub in the end.

If you really want to boost your TEF, what you can do is increase how much of your total caloric intake comes from protein compared to carbs or fat, since research shows that protein has the highest TEF of the three macros.

‘Starvation Mode’

The other rational for eating frequent meals to keep your metabolism going is the idea that going too long without eating switches your body into ‘starvation mode,’ in which it stores calories it would otherwise burn.

While ‘starvation mode’ is, in fact, a real thing, it isn’t exactly an ever-present monster hiding in the pantry waiting to strike any time you go more than four hours without eating, says Wesley Delbridge, R.D., a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. “People think they’re going to go into starvation mode and halt their metabolism if they skip one meal, but that’s really not the case,” he says. “It takes longer than one day for the body to get to that point.”

Your body has plenty of fuel sources it can turn to—like the carbohydrates circulating as blood sugar or stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen, ketone bodies made from fats, and even protein from muscle tissue—when it doesn’t have any calories from food immediately available. Your body can last far longer than a few hours on these stored fuel sources before it has to start hoarding calories instead of burning them, he says.

In Defense Of Frequent Feedings

But wait, the plot thickens: Even though eating every few hours like clockwork doesn’t directly spike your metabolism, it might have indirect benefits that can still help you lean out.

First of all, one surefire way to boost your metabolism is to increase your muscle mass, since muscle requires a lot of calories every day to maintain. According to a review recently published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, optimal muscle gain requires loading up on protein a minimum of four times per day. So if eating more frequently throughout the day helps you get the protein you need to build muscle, it can ultimately help you rev your metabolism.

Featured Proteins

But that’s not the only way eating regularly can help you change your body. For example, research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that people who ate frequent mini-meals were more likely to choose healthy foods and end up eating fewer calories overall than those who ate fewer, larger meals.

Why? “One of the biggest potential benefits of eating frequently is that it can help keep blood sugar levels stable,” explains Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D. “When your blood sugar dips, your brain sends you signals to eat more—so in theory, eating more frequently keeps those dips from happening, which then keeps you from eating more.”

In fact, when researchers at the Agricultural University of Athens had people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes eat either three or six meals—but the same number of total daily calories—per day, the more frequent eaters experienced improvements in glycated hemoglobin and glucose levels (signs of blood sugar control), had fewer blood sugar and insulin spikes, and reported feeling less hungry throughout the day.

Related: The Benefits Of Eating Frequent, Smaller, Meals—And How To Do It Right

So even if eating smaller, more frequent meals doesn’t automatically power up your metabolism, it can be a major player in your fat-loss strategy.

9 Surprising Signs You Need To Cut Down On Sugar

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you need to shake your sugar habit.

According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three out of four Americans consume too much added sugar, with high-fructose corn syrup and other refined sugars making up more than 10 percent of their daily calorie intake. (The government’s current dietary guidelines recommend capping added sugar intake at 10 percent of daily calories.)

Thing is, most people just aren’t aware of how much sugar they’re consuming—or that many of the health-related downers we deal with regularly are actually sugar-related, says neuroscientist Nicole Avena, Ph.D., author of Why Diet’s Fail: Because You’re Addicted to Sugar. And we’re talking issues as serious as life-threatening disease, not just fat gain.

Here are nine surprising signs you’re eating too much sugar—and how to cut back.

1. You Look Older Than You Are

Emerging research shows that the sugar in your bloodstream naturally attaches to proteins or lipids (fats) to form molecules called ‘advanced glycation end products’ or AGEs. These molecules, among other things, are believed to contribute to premature aging, says Rob Danoff, D.O., director of the family residency program at Jefferson Health Northeast in Philadelphia. These aptly-named AGEs can damage skin proteins and break down collagen and elastin, all of which contributes to wrinkles. A 2016 review published in Scientific Reports suggests that AGEs may also contribute to the development of skin spots through the years.

2. Your Cholesterol Is Out Of Control

Excess sugar contributes to inflammation within artery walls and negatively impacts cholesterol and triglyceride levels (both of which are risk factors for heart disease), Danoff says. One 2014 JAMA Internal Medicine study shoes that a diet high in sugar may raise your risk of dying of heart disease, no matter your weight and exercise levels.

3. Your Sleep Stinks

Stop putting sugar in your sleepy-time tea! In one Columbia University study, the people who consumed the most sugar throughout the day experienced the most arousals (periods in which you move out of the deeper stages of sleep) throughout the night. Those who ate less sugar? Fewer sleep disturbances.

4. You’re Constantly Thirsty (And Peeing)

The constant ‘fluids-in, fluids-out’ routine is a hallmark of a chronically high sugar intake, says Danoff. When there is too much sugar floating around in your bloodstream, your kidneys produce extra urine in attempts to flush it out, and you pee more than usual. When that happens, your hydration levels drop, which drives you to then chug more water, starting the cycle all over again. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, Danoff recommends talking to your doctor about testing your blood sugar levels, since excessive thirst and urination can be signs of diabetes.

5. You’re ALWAYS Hungry

Filling up on sugar stokes your appetite. After all, the body digests sugar quickly and churns out the hormone insulin to shuttle that sugar out of the blood stream and into the body’s cells. The quick spike—and drop—in blood sugar can leave you low in energy and hungry enough to snack and snack and snack.

6. You See Your Dentist Far Too Often

You’ve probably heard the ‘sugar rots your teeth’ argument (a dozen times) before. But get this: Research suggests sugar may truly be the number-one driver of tooth decay. One BMC Public Health study notes that about 92 percent of U.S. adults experience tooth decay, while just two percent of Nigerians—who consume an average of two grams of sugar per day—deal with the issue.

7. You’re Anxious Or Depressed

Managing your mental health isn’t as simple as cutting back on sugar, but science suggests the sweet stuff does play a role. For example, one 2017 study out of University College London found that men who ate the most sugar had a 23 percent higher risk of suffering from mental disorders. “People often use foods, including those that have added sugars, to self-medicate or make themselves feel better when something isn’t going well for them,” Avena says. Similar to drugs and alcohol, sugar activates areas of the brain associated with reward and can “lead to changes in the brain that make us want to eat more sugar, and can cause a vicious cycle of overeating, feeling depressed, and overeating.”

8. You Get Sick Often

Throwing back sugar may make it tougher for your body to fight off invaders, with one 2014 National Institutes of Health review linking high sugar intake to poor immunity. Researchers note that a meal’s overall glycemic load (a.k.a. its ability to spike your blood sugar levels) is what seems to suppress immune function, putting meals dominated by carbs or sugar in the hot seat. That’s why Danoff always asks his patients who complain of frequent illness about their diets.

9. Your Brain Feels Like Mush

You know those blood sugar highs and lows that eating a lot of sugary foods causes? Those lows basically deprive your brain of energy, Avena says. But the link between sugar and cognitive issues may go even beyond that. One Nutrients review suggests that, long term, high sugar intake may impair the function of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates memory.

What To Do About It

Do any (or all) of these symptoms sound familiar? Avena’s advice is simple: Just try to cut back. “I know that seems like obvious advice, but most people try to quit cold-turkey and sugar-free, and that just isn’t realistic.”

Related: I Cut Out Added Sugar For Two Weeks—Here’s What Happened

Instead, take a step-by-step approach to reducing sugar intake by swapping out just one major source of sugar in your diet (like fruit juice) for a lower-sugar alternative (like water or tea). “Once that change sticks, make another small substitution,” she says.

If you’re not sure where you’re getting your sugar, chances are it’s from a box, bottle, or jar. Research shows that ultra-processed foods—foods like frozen pizza and soda—are responsible for 90 percent of Americans’ added sugar intake. Fortunately, food manufacturers will soon (well, in 2020…) have to include added sugars on their nutritional labels, which should make finding—and avoiding—it much easier.

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Until then, though, look at foods’ ingredient lists for words like high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, agave, evaporated cane juice, honey, turbinado, rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, or anything that ends in ‘-ose,’ and avoiding those ingredients as much as possible, says Avena.

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7 Protein-Packed Breakfasts Trainers Love

If you want to fuel your day, workouts, and results, you’ve really got to start eating breakfast—and, no, a bowl of sugary cereal isn’t going to cut it.

“Too many Americans eat soft and doughy fake food in the morning,” says celebrity fitness and nutrition coach Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S., founder of FIT 365, who, by the way, eats breakfast every single day. His non-negotiables: protein, healthy fats, whole carbs, and lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to prime his brain and body for all-day energy and performance. After all, when you spend all day programming workouts, coaching and pumping up clients, and squeezing in your own sweat sessions, you have to be on your A game!

To help you fuel up like an expert, we asked seven top trainers to snap photos of their go-to morning meals.

1. Breakfast Protein Cookie Dough

Go ahead, lick the bowl clean. “I love that this breakfast tastes like dessert and packs a protein punch for under 500 calories,” says Josh Hillis, C.P.T., author of Fat Loss Happens on Monday. The granola provides plenty of carbs for energy, which are balanced out by the protein and healthy fats for better blood-sugar control. Hillis recommends using more protein powder on super-active mornings.

– 1½ to 2 scoops protein powder of choice
– ½ cup granola
– 1 Tbsp chocolate chips
– 1 Tbsp almond butter
– Water to taste

Combine all ingredients except for the water in a bowl. Stir and add water gradually, until mixture reaches a cookie dough-like consistency.

2. Sourdough Veggie Sausage Breakfast Sandwich

Baltimore-based strength and conditioning coach Erica Suter, M.S., C.S.C.S., loves to refuel with this super-easy and vegetarian-friendly sandwich after her morning workouts. “The bread helps me to replenish my glycogen stores, which were depleted during exercise, and the eggs promote muscle growth and recovery,” she says. By combining two whole eggs with one egg white, you can increase protein content without increasing fat content.

– 2 eggs
– 1 egg white
– 1 serving veggie sausage (links or patties)
– 2 pieces Sourdough toast

Toast your bread while cooking your eggs (Suter likes them scrambled) and sausage. Then, add the eggs and sausage to your bread and voila!

3. 6-Minute Check-Every-Box Breakfast

“Because my days start at 4:30 a.m., breakfast is a huge priority for getting me up and keeping me energized,” says physical therapist and strength coach Laura Miranda, D.P.T., C.S.C.S. “I choose this combo of food because it checks all of the boxes for health: It has avocado for fiber, potassium, and blood-sugar regulation, eggs for protein and omega-3s, kale for everything (and especially fiber), and plantains for resistant starch that keeps me fuller, longer, and has a prebiotic effect to make my gut happy.”

– 2 handfuls kale
– 2 eggs
– 1 green plantain
– ½ avocado
– Red pepper flakes

Cut the plantain into half-inch cubes and sauté, then sauté the kale until wilted and bright green, and cook your eggs however you prefer. Combine your ingredients on a plate and top with sliced avocado and red pepper flakes to taste.

4. Greek Yogurt with Berries

“My go-to breakfast is Greek yogurt with fruit and cereal,” says Silicon Valley-based trainer Jaime Mcfaden, C.P.T. “I love that it is protein-packed, full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and the crunch of the cereal gives it an extra-special taste and texture,” she says. “Growing up in a Greek family, we used Greek yogurt in pretty much every meal. Now, as a working mom, it’s so nice to grab something I can make in two minutes or less and know that I am getting all the nutrients, protein, and fat I need to get me ready for my busy day ahead.”

– 6 to 8 ounces of plain Greek yogurt
– Handful of berries
– Handful of cereal

Simply spoon your Greek yogurt into a bowl and top with a handful each of berries and cereal for crunchy, sweet deliciousness.

5. Protein-Packed Rolled Oats

This breakfast might have a lot going on, but it’s still quick and easy to pull together. “For my first meal of the day, I always want something powerful in both experience and nutritional density,” says Lisa Niren, C.P.T., head instructor and director of content and programming for the Studio running app. Her go-to includes a dose of caffeine from coffee, probiotics from kombucha, and lots of filling fiber and protein from protein powder and oats.

– ½ cup gluten-free rolled oats
– ½ cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
– ½ cup cashew milk
– 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
– Blueberries, flax or chia seeds, dried cranberries, or cacao nibs to taste
– 1 GT’s Gingerade Kombucha, on the side
– 1 almond milk cappuccino (coffee, cashew milk, and unsweetened almond milk), on the side

Cook rolled oats in almond milk until the mixture reaches your desired thickness. Then, stir in protein powder and desired toppings. Serve with the kombucha (over ice) and almond milk cappuccino.

Related: I Drank Kombucha Every Day For 2 Weeks—Here’s What My Gut Had To Say

6. Chunky Monkey Bowl

“The way I see it, every time I have this breakfast, I’m winning my morning,” says celebrity fitness and nutrition coach Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S., founder of FIT 365. “It provides me with complete nutrition.” While the grass-fed whey protein supports muscle growth, the healthy fats from coconut milk (think: MCTs) and almond butter help to promote brain function. Meanwhile, the banana’s carbs and fiber help perk you up with energy that lasts, he says.

– 1 cup coconut milk
– 2 scoops chocolate protein powder
– 5 ice cubes
– 1 small banana
– 1 Tbsp almond butter
Chocolate chips or shavings to taste

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend to a thick, smoothie bowl-worthy consistency. Top with chocolate shavings or chips, if desired.

7. Stacked Smoothie

“I call this the ‘stacked smoothie’ because it’s stacked with all the right things to start my day off,” says Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., founder of Training2xl. Specifically, it provides heaps of protein, vitamins, antioxidants, unsaturated fats, whole carbs, and fiber. “I always work out early, so it’s vital that I incorporate all of this into my breakfast,” she says.

– 1 cup cashew or almond milk
– 1 scoop protein powder
– 1 cup leafy greens (spinach or kale)
– 1 cup frozen cauliflower
– 1 scoop nut butter
– 1 to 2 Tbsp maca root, spirulina, or elderberry powder
– dash of cinnamon

Add all ingredients to blender, blend to a smooth consistency, and enjoy!

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I Tried Carb-Cycling For A Month—Here’s What Happened

Ever since cutting carbs became a thing back in the late ’90s, I’ve made it my personal mission to rehab their rep. Apart from the fact that mashed potatoes are the best, cutting out an entire food group has always seemed extreme to me. Plus, as a health and fitness journalist and a certified strength and conditioning specialist, I appreciate that carbs fuel our body for high-intensity exercise, are the prime energy source for our brain and red blood cells, contain heart-healthy fiber, and also pack B vitamins, iron, and other nutrients.

I also recognize that, as a whole, Americans eat far more carbs than we need. The current recommended daily carb intake is 140 grams per day, plus an extra 60 for every hour of intense exercise we do. However, the average American eats roughly 300 grams a day, the majority coming from highly-processed foods like frozen pizza and soda, says Donald K. Layman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois. Carbs are, first and foremost, fuel, so it really doesn’t make sense to eat a ton of them if we’re not working out consistently.

I’ve always taken a pretty balanced approach to macros, typically eating between 1,800 and 2,000 calories per day, with about 40 percent of those calories coming from carbs, 30 coming from protein, and other 30 coming from fat. (I’m five-foot-two, about 120 pounds, and about 23 percent body fat these days.) That’s about 180 to 200 grams of carbs per day, which is pretty consistent with carb recommendations considering I hit the gym most days.

Me, before a month of cycling carbs.

On days I don’t exercise (usually about two days a week), though, I can be shockingly sedentary. I work from home and my computer sits all of 30 feet from my bedroom… and about 15 from my kitchen. On some of these days, I bank fewer than 1,000 steps—all day.

Realizing that I don’t need nearly as much energy to fuel typing as I do deadlifting, I wondered if I should try carb-cycling, which involves eating different amounts of carbs on different days. Could this approach to eating help me shed fat and build muscle?

I hit up one of my favorite dietitians, Jim White, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to find out. Extreme carb-cycling protocols can cut carbs as low as 50 grams a day on low-carb days, but White (who isn’t a fan of these extreme protocols) proposed I cycle carbs just a little, cutting out just the amount of carbs I’d burn during a workout and need for exercise recovery on those sedentary days.

Here’s what he recommended for me:

High-Carb Days:
– 1,600 calories
– 50 percent carbs (200 grams)
– 25 percent protein (100 grams)
– 25 percent fat (44 grams)

Low-Carb Days:
– 1,400 calories
– 35 percent carbs (123 grams)
– 35 percent protein (123 grams)
– 30 percent fat (47 grams)

The macro breakdowns weren’t drastically different than what I was already doing, and felt pretty doable. The only thing that made me squirm: the fact that I’d eat just 1,400 calories on low-carb days. Not crazy low for a woman of my height and size (again, I’m only five-foot-two), but definitely lower than what I was used to. Luckily, White assured me that we could tweak calories should I feel super-hangry or fatigued.

White told me to use my extra calories and carbs on high-carb days to ‘pad’ my workouts, eating some extra carbs before and after to help fuel performance and recover.

Getting Started

I decided to use MyFitnessPal, which lets you set unique different calorie and macro goals for different days of the week, to track my food.

Day one was a low-carb day, and it took about one meal for me to decide that following this 1,400-calorie limit was obnoxious. Cutting 60 to 80 grams of carbs didn’t sound so bad in theory, but I certainly felt it. I tried to eat more fiber- and water-rich veggies to curb my hunger without going over my calorie and carb limits (read: lots of salads and zoodles), but I still felt a little hangry by the end of the day. I did discover an awesome new recipe, though! You throw one-zucchini’s-worth of zoodles and some cherry tomatoes in a pan, form them into little nests, crack an egg into each, and sprinkle some goat cheese on top for good measure. Low-carb deliciousness.

I also drank even more milk (I love fairlife ultra-filtered skim milk) than usual. I’m a vegetarian, and this milk, which packs 13 grams of protein but just six grams of carbs per serving, has long been a staple of mine—and it’s low carb count saved me!

The next day was high-carb, and felt pretty similar to my usual eating habits. I felt full, fueled, and satisfied—phew.  The calories, though a bit lower, were totally doable. I just made sure to save most of my grains and fruit for before and after my workout.

Here’s what an average high- and low-carb day looked like:

High-Carb Day:
– Breakfast: Skim milk latte, fat-free Greek yogurt with strawberries, and slivered almonds
– Snack: Two slices of Ezekiel avocado toast with edamame
– Lunch: A glass of milk and a spring mix salad with chickpeas, egg, tomatoes, and olive oil
– Snack: String cheese, an apple, and glass of V8
– Dinner: A glass of milk and a sweet potato topped with black beans, two poached eggs, Havarti cheese, and arugula

Low-Carb Day:
– Breakfast: Skim milk latte, crustless vegetable quiche, arugula salad (no dressing)
– Snack: Baked tofu
– Lunch: Protein shake
– Snack: Glass of milk
– Dinner: Zoodles with three eggs, cherry tomatoes, and goat cheese

By the time I had a week under my belt, tracking became easier—especially considering I tend to eat a lot of the same foods throughout the week. It was just tracking meals and snacks at coffee shops and restaurants that was a pain, since many don’t have nutritional information available.

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My biggest issue was sometimes having to scramble to switch a high-carb day to a low-carb day (or vice versa) midday if I had to nix workout plans after something came up or randomly decided to hit the gym when I hadn’t planned to. I either had to get creative with my meals to stay within my calorie and macro constraints, or scarf down a bagel on my way to the gym.

Tweaking My Approach

By about two weeks in, I felt a little less bloated (a common issue for me). Since water hangs out with the carbs our bodies store as glycogen, though, I had a feeling this was just from losing water weight.

On the not-so-bright side, though, my workouts took a turn for the worse. I had to lower the weight I usually used for deadlifts—or I couldn’t get the barbell off the floor. I hoped it was a fluke and wondered if I just hadn’t gotten enough sleep, but the next workout felt just as terrible. I had to cut my bench reps short, and pullups felt extra challenging.

I talked to White, who told me to increase calories slightly. I added 200 calories to both my high- and low-carb days, bringing my high-carb days back to my usual 1,800 calories and my low-carb days up to 1,600. I hoped that would be enough to power my workouts and help me build muscle, and maintain a fat-loss-friendly caloric deficit on my off days.

Related: Are You Eating Too Few Carbs?

I stuck with my same go-to foods, just ate more of them—though the extra calories also gave me some wiggle room to eat out and not have to order a dressing-free salad. (I’m not a proponent of starving yourself all day so you can splurge at one meal.)

Sure enough, within a few days I was lifting my normal weights again!

Final Thoughts…and Results

By the time I got my workouts back on track, I had just two weeks of my little experiment left. Knowing it takes months to build notable muscle and burn fat, and that I was cutting just 200 to 400 calories a couple of times a week, I didn’t expect any drastic results. My scale—which can also calculate body fat percentage—didn’t change, but I continued to feel less bloated than usual.

Me, after a month of cycling carbs. Pretty much the same.

The new calorie counts felt really doable, and as I got more familiar with the calories and macros in different foods, I was able to follow my carb-cycling plan without tracking throughout the day. Knowing I didn’t have to obsess about the numbers kept me from feeling like I was depriving myself. Score!

Since I’ve always had the most success when I focus on food workout fuel and letting fat loss be a happy accident of crushing it in the gym, this plan really did feel sustainable for me—and I’ll continue to follow it.

How To Build Muscle And Shed Fat At The Same Time

Building muscle or losing body fat can be a daunting enough process on its own—so, understandably, achieving both at the same time can seem downright impossible.

After all, the strategy for building muscle is typically the opposite of the strategy for losing fat. Muscle gain—or any sort of weight gain, for that matter—occurs when your body has more building materials (a.k.a. calories and nutrients) than it needs for basic upkeep, and adds to your body’s structures (like muscles and fat stores), explains Craig Primack, M.D., president-elect of the Obesity Medicine Association. Weight loss, though, happens when your body is short on materials and starts demo-ing your body’s structures for scrap parts to use.

That’s why, when we lose weight, we never lose 100 percent fat, but a mix of fat, water, and muscle, explains Denver-based dietitian Jessica Crandall, R.D., C.D.E., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In fact, up to 20 percent of that weight loss can come from muscle, as our body repurposes those proteins for other things. On the flip side, it’s also impossible to gain 100 percent muscle; usually some fat comes along with it, too. “You can’t eat a chicken breast and tell your body to store all of it in your biceps,” she says.

While it’s way easier to make major muscle gains if you’re okay with putting on a bit of fat in the process—and to lose a significant amount of weight when you’re just trying to preserve muscle—the two-for-one combo is possible! “You can gain some muscle and lose quite a bit fat at the same time,” says Sarah Walls, C.S.C.S., owner of SAPT Strength & Performance Training in Virginia.

You just need a very specific strategy: One McMaster University study, for example, found that guys were able to gain about 2.64 pounds of muscle and lose 10.56 pounds of fat in four weeks given the right training and nutrition plan (which turned out to be workouts focused on strength training and HIIT, and a high-protein, calorie-restricted diet).

Below, the experts break down the dos and don’ts of gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time.

DON’T: Focus On Cardio

Cardiovascular exercise, especially steady-state cardio, doesn’t stress your muscles enough to stimulate much of an increase in muscle size (called ‘hypertrophy’), says Walls. Over time, doing cardio alone will just increase how much of the weight you lose comes from muscle mass.

To build muscle, which boosts your metabolism and makes fat loss easier, “your training plan should be biased toward free-weight, full-body compound movements like squats and pullups,” says Walls. Since these moves engage large muscle groups, not only do they support muscle gains, but also blast a ton of calories in the process.

For maximal hypertrophy, try to work each major muscle group at least twice a week and include squats, hip-hinges (like deadlifts), pushing exercises (like pushups or chest presses), and pulling exercises (like bent-over rows and pullups) in your workouts.

Just in case you’re not sold: One Harvard School of Public Health study found that guys who performed 20 minutes of resistance training per day gained less abdominal fat over the course of a decade than to those who did the same amount of cardio.

DO: Integrate HIIT

If you are going to do cardio, make it high-intensity interval training, which alternates between bouts of all-out effort and low-intensity recovery, and has been shown to support both muscle gain and fat loss. How? HIIT burns major calories, improves your insulin sensitivity, and boosts your muscles’ abilities to use both sugar and fat as fuel, according to one Journal of Obesity review. In fact, one Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study found that just one month of HIIT training helped rowers decrease their body fat percentage, while traditional rowing had no effect.

DON’T: Drastically Cut Calories

The greater your caloric deficit, the more likely your body is to start catabolizing (breaking down) muscle for energy and other biological necessities, says Crandall. As a general rule, experts say a 500-calorie deficit—achieved through diet, exercise, or a combination of the two—is best for moderate weight loss.

That said, if you’re really vying for muscle gains, that 500-calorie deficit may be too much—especially if you want to go hard in the gym. In this case, Crandall recommends sticking to a caloric deficit as small as 300 (or even fewer) calories per day. Regularly measuring your body fat percentage can help you determine how much of a caloric deficit you need to reach your goals. (The scale can’t tell you how much of your weight comes from lean versus fat mass.)

One word of warning: Consuming the right number of calories is important, but focusing on calories alone doesn’t guarantee your body gets the carbs it needs to lift heavy weights, the protein it needs to recover from those lifts, or the fat it needs to maintain healthy hormone function, Crandall says.

DO: Balance Your Macros

The real key to simultaneous building and shredding is protein, which supports muscle mass even when calories run short. Though the current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of your body weight per day, that recommendation is the absolute minimum, not the ideal—especially when it comes to muscle-building, explains Crandall. One American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that men who ate 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for four weeks lost about three more pounds of fat—and gained two more pounds of muscle—than men who ate 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends between 1.6 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day for optimal muscle growth. That’s between 131 and 180 grams per day for a 180-pound adult.

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When it comes to carbs and fats, Crandall recommends a relatively balanced approach. Most adults need a baseline of roughly 130 grams of carbs—which not only fuel exercise, but also help shuttle protein into your muscles—per day, plus another 40 to 60 grams for every hour of intense exercise (like heavy strength training) they do. Fats can make up anywhere between 15 and 30 percent of your total daily calories, depending on how much you need to feel satiated.

DON’T: Eat Your Protein All At Once

Hitting your daily protein goals is important, but, if like most Americans you get the vast majority of your protein at dinner, you’re essentially depriving your muscles of the building blocks they need all day long only to then give them more than they can handle in a single sitting, says Crandall. The result: Your muscles waste—or at least don’t grow optimally—throughout most of day, and the excess protein you eat at dinner gets stored as fat.

A 2018 review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests that people should consume 0.4 to 0.55 grams of protein per kilogram of their body weight at each and every meal (it recommends four per day) for optimal muscle growth. That’s 33 to 45 grams of protein four times per day for that same 180-pound adult.

Related: 8 Breakfasts That Pack Between 20 And 30 Grams Of Protein

What Is The Keto Flu—And How Can You Avoid It?

Most of us are painfully familiar with the flu—the nausea, headaches, brain fog, and distinct urge to hide under the covers are not anyone’s idea of a good time. And while flu season is thankfully over, the threat of these symptoms still looms for people who are jumping on the keto bandwagon.

The ‘keto flu,’ which has nothing to do with actual influenza, has become a rite of passage for all who take part in the ketogenic diet, which involves slashing carbs and loading up on healthy fats in order to transition the body from burning sugar to burning fat.

Toying with the keto lifestyle? Do not fear the ‘keto flu’! It doesn’t have to be as awful as it sounds.

First, The Basics

To understand the keto flu, you first have to understand ketosis. Ketosis, the holy grail of a keto diet, is the state in which the body converts both dietary and stored fat into fatty acids and compounds called ketones, which the body can use to produce energy instead of relying on carbs and sugar. Simply put, this is the body’s ‘fat-burning state,’ and it’s obviously an attractive concept for anyone interested in dropping fat, says dietitian Jaime Mass, R.D.

Achieving the fat-burning glory of ketosis is no joke, though. To get there, you have to cut carbs significantly lower than the average low-carb diet (we’re talking just about 20 grams of net carbs per day) and drastically increase fats to upwards of 70 percent of your total calories. Think of it like your backup generator; it won’t switch on unless your primary power source shuts down.

Enter ‘Keto Flu’

It takes most people at least three weeks of eating a keto diet to actually shift into ketosis. In that time, your blood sugar (glucose), glycogen, and insulin, all plummet, explains Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.S.D., assistant professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In order to begrudgingly shift over to burning fat, you have to completely empty your body of all its available sugar sources.

While that happens, most people feel pretty terrible. “In that shift of going from glucose to ketones, there is a period where the body is essentially adjusting to the fuel you are providing—and in a large way,” says Mass. Essentially, your cells are caught in limbo: They’re not getting carbs they’re used to having for optimal function, but they’re not yet efficient at running on fat. As a result, your energy plummets and you may experience fun symptoms like lightheadedness, dizziness, fatigue, and even headaches.

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Keto flu symptoms tend to spike once you’ve completely emptied your glucose tank, and subside as your body shifts into full-force ketosis. Even then, though, some may continue to feel lethargic and find they can’t push their bodies to the same intensities they could during their sugar-burning days, says Pritchett. That’s because the process of converting ketones into energy is pretty complicated, time-consuming, and inefficient compared to the process of using glucose—so while endurance athletes often thrive in ketosis, weightlifters and HIIT-lovers may struggle.

Surviving (And Minimizing) ‘Keto Flu’

Transitioning into ketosis will never be a 100 percent seamless process; you’re pretty much bound to run into some sort of keto flu-like issue along the way. However, there are a few tricks to save yourself some major suffering.

For starters, decrease your carb consumption down to keto-friendly levels gradually instead of going cold turkey. “If you ate a lot of carbohydrates—especially processed and sugar-dense foods—regularly for years, I would suggest first cutting out the highly-processed sweets for a week,” says Mass. “Then, the next week, cut all processed carbs.” By easing your way into the eating style, you limit the severity of any sugar withdrawals.

Related: Want To Try Keto? Here’s What A Healthy Day Of Eating Fat Looks Like

From there, up your fluid intake to make sure that you’re properly hydrated as your body depletes itself of that blood glucose and stored glycogen. “For every gram of glycogen we store, we store three grams of water. So when you start keto and break down that glycogen for energy, you release that stored water,” explains Mass. Translation: The water weight you quickly lose on keto can leave you unknowingly dehydrated if you’re not careful. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition shows mild dehydration (losing more than one percent of your body weight in water) decreases cognitive function and memory—so that water loss can definitely contribute to the brain fog many experience during the keto flu.

Pritchett also recommends taking it easy on exercise as your body transitions into ketosis those first few weeks; using what little energy you do have on exercise can just exacerbate keto flu symptoms. As your body and energy levels adjust, you can slowly increase your exercise frequency and intensity back up to those of your normal routine.

6 Carbs That Can Help You Lose Weight

Carbs have it pretty rough. Meal after meal, they do their job, tirelessly working to fuel our bodies with the energy we need to thrive, be active, and, yes, even lose weight. And how do we repay them? By cutting them out of our diets.

“Many fad diets like the Atkins Diet have vilified carbohydrates as a dietary evil and blamed them for weight gain,” explains Georgie Fear, R.D., C.S.C.S., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss. These fad diets (and the slew of best-selling books that accompany them) have used cherry-picked shreds of evidence to suggest that obesity is caused solely by carbohydrates—and as convincing as they may be, they’re wrong, she says.

It’s time set things straight: Carbohydrates are not the enemy.

Carbohydrates are our body’s primary energy source, helping to power everything from brain function to our workouts. The key is making sure that the carbs we eat are from whole, nutritious foods—straight from good ol’ mother nature, says Canada-based nutrition counselor Abby Langer, R.D. These carb sources, like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, contain fiber, which increases satiety, regulates digestion, and is consistently linked to weight loss. (Men need 38 grams a day, while women need 25.) Studies have even shown that just increasing fiber intake can be as effective for weight loss as full-fledged dieting.

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To reach your daily fiber (and other nutrient) needs and hit your healthy weight for good, Langer recommends incorporating about half a cup of healthy carbs into each meal. Here are your six most weight loss-friendly options.

1. Potatoes

Potatoes are subject to tons of hate from the low-carb clan, but sweet potatoes, white potatoes—they’re all good. “I cannot say anything bad about potatoes. There’s nothing unhealthy about them,” says Langer. One particular perk: Potatoes are full of resistant starch, a type of fiber that literally resists digestion, filling you up but never making its way to your bloodstream. (It’s one reason potatoes are often identified as one of the most satiating foods around!)

Related: Why Everyone Needs To Stop Hating On White Potatoes

Carb up: Try serving up your spuds baked, and play around with healthy toppings like Greek yogurt, black beans, poached eggs, or cheese. Be creative; just don’t fry them or drown them in butter and sour cream.

2. Starchy Vegetables

Potatoes are technically starchy veggies, but the other carb-rich veggies out there—think carrots, squash, corn, and beets—deserve a shout-out too, Langer says. Starchy vegetables sometimes get a bad rap simply because they contain more carbs than non-starchy vegetables (think spinach or asparagus), but that’s not a bad thing! For example, a third of a medium carrot’s six grams of carbs come from fiber, plus a carrot packs a full day’s-worth of vitamin A.

Carb up: Exactly how you integrate starchy veggies into your meals depends on which you prefer. Fear’s personal favorite? Kabocha squash. “I love it cubed, tossed with olive oil and salt, and roasted,” she says. “It’s a great thing to toss on a salad to make it more filling than it would be with just leaves.” The cube, roast, and toss rule-of-thumb applies to pretty much any starchy veggie out there, whether it’s squash, beets, or parsnips.

3. Whole Grains

This is a big category, and includes everything from whole-wheat bread and brown rice to ancient grains like spelt, millet, barley, oats, freekeh, bulgur, sorghum, farro, quinoa, and amaranth. Unlike refined grains, these good-for-you grains all have one thing in common: fiber—and lots of it. Replacing any white carbs in your diet with whole grains can both reduce overall calorie intake and boost your metabolism, according to 2017 research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Carb up: If you regularly eat white carbs, swap them out for their whole-grain counterparts. Or, cook up your favorite ancient grain and mix in your favorite veggies and protein for a satisfying, balanced meal, suggests Langer.

4. Legumes

Carb- and fiber-rich legumes (think beans, chickpeas, peas, and lentils) are all over your weight-loss goals. After all, a single serving provides about half your daily fiber needs, and according to one 2016 meta-analysis, simply adding about three quarters of a cup of legumes into your daily diet can directly contribute to weight loss. Not to mention, legumes are also a great source of plant-based protein, which makes your meals more satisfying and revs your metabolism. A cup of cooked lentils packs 18 grams!

Carb up: Stock up on canned legumes, rinse them to remove excess sodium, and then throw them on top of everything from salads to pastas to potatoes to open-faced sandwiches—the options are endless!

5. Fruit

Fruit—be it bananas, apples, or blueberries—can absolutely be a part of your weight-loss plan. Despite the fact that they’re rich in simple sugars, fruits are linked to better blood sugar control, which supports healthy weight loss.

Carb up: When you need a healthy snack, pair your favorite fruit with a source of fat and protein, like string cheese or peanut butter, for example. The combo will help slow digestion and keep you feeling fuller, longer, says Fear. Just stick to three or fewer servings of fruit a day and you’ll be golden.

6. Dairy

Aside from being a great source of vitamin D, calcium, and protein, dairy can help your weight-loss efforts. In fact, one Harvard University review found that dieters who ate a serving of yogurt daily lost more weight than those who didn’t.

Carb up: Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, and even regular cheese can all help you hit your goals. And, no, you don’t have to opt for low-fat; new research shows that full-fat diary might be more effective for weight loss, since fat is so satiating. As long as dairy doesn’t bother your stomach, feel free to incorporate up to one serving of full-fat dairy with each meal, Fear says.

Consider this infographic your quick healthy carbs guide:

The 4 Best Moves For Your Inner Thighs

When we think about working out our legs, we tend to think about the bigger muscles—quads, glutes, and hamstrings. After all, these are the muscles that power us through the big moves, like squats and deadlifts, that shape our lower-body.

It’s only at the end of a long, tough workout (if ever) that we think about the smaller muscles in our legs, so usually we plop down on the hip adductor machine and absentmindedly butterfly our legs in and out while we scroll through Instagram. But that’s a big mistake. If you want strong, defined legs, you need to show your inner thighs way more love than that. Comprised of six distinct muscles, the inner thigh or ‘hip adductor’ muscles are responsible for pulling your thigh bone (femur) toward the mid-line of your body and stabilizing your hip joint.

While strong, balanced hip adductors improve lower-body performance and reduce your risk of injury, neglected or imbalanced hip adductors can contribute to a range of lower-body injuries, especially in your knees, explains celebrity trainer Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S. One study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine linked imbalances in the hip adductors to lower-body injuries in runners—especially ligament strain and injury that leads to pain and stiffness in the outside of the knee.

The best way to strengthen your inner thighs isn’t with the hip adductor machine, but with functional movements that’ll get you up off your butt and get the rest of your legs in on the action, too, says Brown.

The following four moves emphasize your lower body’s natural movement patterns (squats, hip hinges, lunges, and step-ups) and fire up your inner thighs to strengthen your entire lower body—and even engage your core.

1. Sumo Squat

By using a wider stance than standard squats, sumo squats require your adductors to work double-time to pull your legs together as you rise up out of each rep, Brown says. Plus, they’ll still score you the butt and quad results you crave.

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How to do it: Stand tall with your feet about twice shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed out diagonally away from your body. Grab one end of a dumbbell with both hands and hold it in front of your pelvis with your spine neutral, chest up, and core braced. This is your starting position. From here, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body until your elbows are inside of your knees. Pause, then slowly push through your heels to return to start. That’s one rep. Perform three to five sets of three to five reps.

2. Sumo Deadlift

A trainer favorite, this deadlift variation recruits your hip adductors in the same way that the sumo squat does. While the sumo squat prioritizes your quads, though, the sumo deadlift prioritizes your hamstrings and lights up your back.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Deadlift And Crush Your Next PR

How to do it: Stand with your feet about twice shoulder-width apart and a barbell or pair of dumbbells at your feet. Push your hips back and slightly bend your knees to grab the bar or dumbbells with an overhand grip. Maintain a flat back and brace your core. Your hips should be higher than your knees and shoulders higher than your hips. This is your starting position. From here, push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to thrust your hips forward and stand up. That’s one rep. Perform three to five sets of three to five reps.

3. Lateral Lunge

Think regular lunges are hard? Get ready to take things to the next level with this side-to-side variation. Lateral lunges train the adductors and quads and improve hip mobility all at the same time, says Baltimore-based coach Erica Suter, C.S.C.S.

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides with a neutral grip. This is your starting position. From here, take an exaggerated step to the right with your right leg, simultaneously pushing your hips back and bending your right knee to lower your body as far as you can as you the ground. Pause, then press through your right foot to push your body back up to standing. That’s one rep. Perform two to three sets of eight to 10 reps per side.

4. Lateral Step-Up 

This single-leg exercise builds total-body strength and stability (adductors included!) in a big way. Choose a higher or lower step to make the move more or less challenging for your quads and glutes.

How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at your sides with a neutral grip. Stand with a bench or step to your right, and place your right foot firmly on the step. Drive through your right foot to straighten your right leg, lifting your left foot up off the ground. Without resting your left food on the bench, pause and then slowly bend your right leg to lower back to start. That’s one rep. Perform two to three sets of eight to 10 reps on each side.

Should You Add Turmeric To Your Sports Nutrition Stack?

How we nourish our bodies affects both how we feel when we exercise and the results we see from that exercise. And while most of us have our pre- and post-workout fuel routines down pat (hey, protein!), you could be overlooking a powerful workout supplement hiding in your spice rack.

Turmeric, which continues to grow more and more popular in the wellness world, is becoming a go-to for gym junkies. For one thing, the curcumin in turmeric is a strong antioxidant. (Antioxidants help to neutralize harmful free radicals, repair damaged cells, and keep your immune system going strong.)

Related: 12 Easy Ways To Incorporate Turmeric Into Your Diet

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The thought behind coinciding your turmeric supplementation with your workouts is that its antioxidant power can support recovery by mediating workout-related inflammation. But there is one catch: When it comes to exercise, inflammation can actually be good. While chronic inflammation is linked to a variety of health issues, post-exercise inflammation is what’s responsible for your progress and results, says Albert Matheny, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab. When you damage your muscles and other tissues during exercise, your immune system responds to repair that damage and build your muscles back stronger and more efficient than they were before—so if you want to adapt and see results, you need some inflammation.

That said, while research on curcumin and exercise is still developing, there is some evidence for its potential benefits. For example, one European Journal of Clinical Physiology study found that supplementing with a high dose of curcumin (2.5 grams twice daily) reduced symptoms of post-workout delayed onset muscle soreness.

Curcumin can also come in handy when you just don’t have time to recover—say, if you’re competing in a sport two days in a row or need to make it through a race. One Journal of Sports Science & Medicine study suggests that curcumin may help minimize muscle damage between competitions when recovery periods are short.

Beyond soreness and recovery time, curcumin may also benefit active people with certain conditions. For instance, one study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that daily turmeric extract supplementation improved pain and mobility following physical activity in those with joint issues. (And it’s not the only study to come to such a conclusion.)

Want to give turmeric a try? Matheny likes to incorporate the spice into whole foods when possible (curried chicken and potatoes after leg day, anyone?), but suggests trying a curcumin supplement—about 1,000 milligrams once a day—after extra-tough workouts or when you need to recover quickly. After all, turmeric supplements often contain much higher concentrations of curcumin, plus black pepper, which significantly boosts curcumin’s absorption. Try plnt’s turmeric supplement, which contains 450 milligrams of turmeric (95 percent curcumin), along with five milligrams of black pepper.

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.

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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 body weight 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.

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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.


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.)

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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.


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.

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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.

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?

2. 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.

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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.

3. 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

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

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.

2. 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

3. 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.)

Related: 7 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough 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.

4. 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.

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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.

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.

In fact, 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.

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 major 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 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.

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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, muscle 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.

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 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— 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.