These Birthday Cake Protein Treats Are A Party In Your Mouth

Few things delight our taste buds—and threaten our clean-eating goals—like a sweet slice of birthday cake. Especially if it’s funfetti.

If you’re counting macros, cutting down on sugar, or just trying satisfy your sweet tooth sans the guilt, cake is pretty much out of the question—right?

Wrong. (Phew!)

These sprinkle-filled protein cake bites are worth celebrating, whether your birthday is tomorrow or 10 months away—especially if you make them with the new limited edition birthday cake-flavored BodyTech whey protein.

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For the cake, you’ll need:

Preheat that oven to 350 degrees before you get crackin’. Combine your birthday cake whey protein, casein, Greek yogurt, cashew butter, eggs, baking stevia, and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl. Mix with a whisk or spatula until evenly combined. Gently fold in as many rainbow sprinkles as your heart desires.

Pour batter into a nine-by-nine inch non-stick baking pan. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until sides start to pull away from the edge of the pan. (Also, a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean—protein goodies seem to dry out fast and the somewhat shiny surface of the cake may trick you into thinking it’s less cooked than it is.) Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes on a rack before frosting it.

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For the frosting, you’ll need:

To make your frosting, mix a scoop of the birthday cake whey protein, your vanilla extract, and baking stevia into your cream cheese until even.

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Finish by topping everything off with rainbow sprinkles. Slice into 16 pieces and serve. Extras can be stashed in the fridge.

Each cake bite comes in around: 172 calories, 15 grams carbs, 8 grams fat, 14 grams protein, and 5 grams sugar.  (*for 16 servings total)

Related: 12 Ways To Make A Delicious Breakfast With Protein Powder

The Biggest Health And Fitness Trends Throughout The Past 40 Years

Most of us remember (and are still recovering from) the low-fat diet craze of the ’80s that launched a full-fledged assault on salad dressing and cheese. But just how much do you know about the many health and fitness trends that shaped the past 40 years?

The Vitamin Shoppe turns 40 years old this month, and a lot has changed since 1977. From aerobics to CrossFit®, take a walk down memory lane.

5 Amino Acids All Gym Lovers Should Know About

Amino acids, the molecules that make up protein, help build everything from our hair to our skin to our eyes (and more!). They’re also crucial for a type of tissue we hold particularly dear—our muscle.

Five aminos have earned some extra spotlight for their muscle-boosting benefits, and may be particularly important for anyone who hits the gym and goes hard on the reg. Whether you’re considering adding an amino acid supplement to your fitness routine, don’t know much about the one you’re already taking, or just want to understand the magic that happens inside your muscles—we’ve got all the amino info you need.

The best-known—and perhaps most important—amino acids are the three branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These aminos, called BCAAs, are found in food protein sources like meat and dairy, explains Brian Tanzer, M.S., nutritionist and manager of scientific affairs for The Vitamin Shoppe. “These amino acids work to protect lean body mass—a.k.a. your muscle,” he says.

The importance of branched-chain aminos for our muscles has been well-researched, with one review (published in the Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology) concluding that the BCAAs—especially leucine—“enhance protein synthesis.” They’re often found in a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine-isoleucine-valine—both in natural food sources and supplements. All three work together, but each has a slightly different function.

Leucine

The first BCAA is an all-star when it comes to muscle-building. Leucine plays a crucial role in muscle protein synthesis (the process in which muscle is repaired and built) and in the production of growth hormones, which also support muscle mass, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “Leucine also protects muscle tissue from breaking down when under stress, like vigorous strength-training,” adds Tanzer.

Since leucine is also an essential amino acid, meaning our body can’t produce it, we have to get it from food or supplements.

Isoleucine

The second BCAA, ‘isoleucine,’ might sound a lot like ‘leucine,’ but the magic it works in your muscles is a bit different. This BCAA can be converted to glucose and used as an energy source by your muscles when you’re working out, Tanzer says. In addition to regulating energy levels, isoleucine also regulates blood sugar and stimulates hormone production and immune function, according to NCBI.

Valine

Like isoleucine, our third BCAA can also be used as an energy source by the muscle when you’re on your grind. But it also supports your workouts in another, unexpected way. “When you exercise, your body’s serotonin (its feel-good hormone) goes up, which can make you feel a little drowsy after a while,” says Tanzer. “Valine actually blocks the uptake of serotonin in your brain, which can help prevent that drowsy, fatigued feeling.” (This is known as the ‘central fatigue theory,’ in case you want to drop some science knowledge on your gym buddies.)

How To Benefit From BCAAs

To get the max benefits from these BCAAs, you’ll want to get between five and 10 grams into your system both before and after a workout, recommends Tanzer. This can be tough to pull off with food alone, since your body needs to digest the food, absorb the amino acids, and process them in the liver before it can transport them to the muscles through the blood.

That’s where a supplement comes in: “With an amino acid supplement, you skip the breakdown process and can send those BCAAs straight into the bloodstream and to the muscles,” Tanzer says.

You can start sipping on a BCAA supp—most are in powder form—a half-hour or so before your workout and keep on sipping as you sweat. (And since isoleucine and valine can both be used for energy, getting your BCAAs in before the gym can be especially beneficial if you haven’t eaten in a while.) Shake another scoop or two into your water bottle for post-sweat recovery, too.

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

In addition to the three ever-important BCAAs, there are two other aminos you may want to keep in mind—and possibly in your shaker cup.

Glutamine

This amino acid plays a role in your post-workout recovery—and just so happens to be the most abundant amino in the body, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Glutamine supports your immune function, which takes a hit whenever your body is under stress—including when you work out, says Tanzer. “Your immune system might pull glutamine from your muscle tissue, leading to gradual muscle breakdown, so replacing that glutamine post-workout can help preserve your muscle mass,” he explains.

One study published in the Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness found that glutamine helped active men preserve muscle strength—and avoid soreness—following strength-training tests.

Tanzer recommends mixing five to 10 grams of glutamine into your post-workout BCAA drink. More bang for every sip!

Citrulline

The last noteworthy amino might be in another supplement you already take: your preworkout. “Citrulline is a precursor to nitric oxide synthesis, which helps relax the blood vessels and boost circulation to your working muscle tissue,” explains Tanzer. Better circulation to your muscles benefits both your workout performance—and later recovery.

Because of its effect on blood vessels, you’ll also find citrulline in some ‘pump’ supps. (You’ll probably also see a similar amino acid, arginine, in these products—but citrulline appears to be the more effective of the two because it is better absorbed, according to Tanzer.)

Along with boosting blood-flow, the nitric oxide produced by citrulline can also boost the muscle’s ability to use energy, according to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. The researchers found that cyclists performed better on a time trial and reported feeling less fatigued after taking citrulline regularly.

Citrulline may also help remove ammonia and lactic acid (which build up throughout exercise) from the muscles, and may help you grind on without that muscle ‘burn’ feeling, says Tanzer.

Somewhere around six grams of citrulline pre-workout is ideal, says Tanzer, though you’ll still benefit from the lower doses found in many preworkout formulas. You can add extra to your usual preworkout before you hit the gym, and add some to your recovery drink, as well, he says.

Just check with your doc before taking citrulline if you have any kidney issues, Tanzer recommends. The ammonia citrulline helps pull from the muscles has to go through the kidneys before leaving the body.

Related: Check out a wide variety of amino acid supplements.

5 Protein Powder Flavors That Are Anything But Ordinary

Whether you’re trying to slim down or hoping to bulk up, getting more protein is probably on your radar. Foods (and beverages) high in protein can help curb your hunger, making it easier to eat fewer calories and stay fuller longer. And post-workout protein is key to encouraging potential muscle repair and swift recovery time.

Protein powder is an easy, simple, and delicious way to get more protein in your diet (the average 130-pound person needs 48 grams of protein per day, although that number changes according to your goals). But too often people find themselves in a rut of drinking the same ol’ chocolate or vanilla protein shake each day.

Why stick to the basics when there are so many new and amazing flavors out there? Try switching things up a bit by adding a few of these into your daily protein regimen.

1.      Mocha CappuccinoON Whey mocha capp

The Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein by Optimum Nutrition offers up 24 grams of protein in a single scoop. Since their protein powder only has two grams of sugar per serving, it’s a great choice for those who want to keep their sugar intake low. And if you’re a Starbucks aficionado, try ON’s Mocha Cappuccino Powder.

Take it to the next level: Blend a scoop of powder with six ounces of cold brew coffee, six ounces of milk or a milk substitute, and one cup of ice for a Frappuccino-inspired drink.

Related: Shop whey protein to boost your protein intake.

2.      Cinnamon Bun

dymatize cinnamon bunWith 25 grams of protein and less than a gram of sugar, ISO 100 Protein Powder by Dymatize Nutrition gives you the protein boost you need in your diet without the added carbohydrates. This powder is also hydrolyzed, which means that it’s faster to digest. And if you’ve got a thing for breakfast pastry, Dymatize Nutrition Cinnamon Bun is the flavor for you.

Take it to the next level: Combine one scoop of protein powder, an apple, eight ounces of milk or a milk substitute, and a cup of ice in a blender. Puree away! Top it off with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg, and enjoy your new favorite post-workout meal.

Related: 12 Ways To Make A Delicious Breakfast With Protein Powder

3.      Fuzzy Navelnectar

Syntrax creates truly unexpected Nectar Protein Powder flavors, like Fuzzy Navel. All of their powders are high in protein (this one contains 23 grams of protein in a single scoop) and low in carbohydrates. They’re also lactose-free.

Take it to the next level: Mix up a scoop of Fuzzy Navel Nectar with 8 ounces of cold water—or if you’re feeling peachy, turn it into a high-protein ice cream. Blend one cup of frozen peaches, one cup of milk, ¼ teaspoon of xanthan gum, and a scoop of protein powder in your blender. Add this mixture to your ice cream maker, turn it on, and leave it be for 15 minutes until it turns into a thick and frozen treat. Enjoy!

4.      Orange Dreamsicle

orange dreamsicleThe Orange Dreamsicle ISO 100 Protein Powder has the same benefits of the other protein powders by Dymatize Nutrition, but with a fruity twist.

Take it to the next level: Blend a scoop of protein powder with one cup of milk or a milk substitute, two teaspoons of vanilla extract, ½ cup of orange juice, and one cup of ice for a refreshing, filling treat. Perfect for those hot summer months.

Related: Shop plant protein for all your vegetarian and vegan needs.

5.      Birthday Cake

birthday cakeThe brand-new (but limited edition—sad face) BodyTech Whey Tech Birthday Cake Powder is loaded up with 24 grams of protein in one scoop, with only one gram of sugar. Now you really can have your cake and eat it too!

Take it to the next level: Throw one cup of raw oats, one scoop of BodyTech Birthday Cake protein powder, three egg whites, ¼ cup of milk or milk substitute, and 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder into a blender. Once the ingredients are thoroughly blended, cook in a hot skillet or on a griddle like you would a typical pancake. Top with a dash of maple syrup or your favorite fresh fruit.

Related: 8 Tasty Ways To Combine Your Morning Coffee With Your Morning Protein Powder

Should You Make The Switch To Grass-Fed Whey Protein?

Hit the yogurt or meat section in just about any grocery store these days and you’ll find tons of products labeled ‘grass-fed.’

Sure, we all like to picture our cheese coming from cows that used to hang out on sunny, green pastures instead of inside giant, cramped warehouses—but it turns out grass-fed animal products may not only be better for our consciences, but for our overall nutrition, too.

Remember the phrase ‘you are what you eat’? Consider this: “A lot of standard cow feed comes from dent corn, which is super-high in starch [a.k.a. carbs],” explains Joe Pilewski, director of product development for NutriForce Nutrition. This corn is quite nutritionally different than grass—and more difficult to digest, he says.

So, it would make sense that a cow’s daily grub affects, well, our daily grub. Research, like a 2013 study published in PLOS One, has found that organic, grass-fed milk contains fewer omega-6 fatty acids and more omega-3 fatty acids than the conventional stuff. Many Americans consume too many omega-6 fatty acids from foods like processed veggie oils, and not enough omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in foods like fatty fish, explains Ryan Andrews, M.A., M.S., of Precision Nutrition. And since omega-3 fatty acids support our heart and brain health, and our immune system, we wouldn’t say ‘no’ to getting more out of our dairy. According to the study, grass-fed milk is also higher in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a fatty acid that supports lean muscle mass.

Similarly, research suggests grass-fed animal products may also be higher in antioxidants like vitamins A and E. One review published in Nutrition Journal found that grass-fed beef contained more beta carotene (a precursor for vitamin A) than grain-fed beef. It also found that grass-fed beef packed more alpha-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E.

So, while that’s a pretty solid case for picking grass-fed dairy and meat products, does it mean you should also switch to a grass-fed whey protein supplement? After all, whey protein is made from milk!

The short answer: It depends on what you’re looking for. “Protein powder has gone through manufacturing in which many nutrients have been processed and removed,” explains Andrews. Chances are, you love your go-to whey protein isolate because it’s just the protein (and low in fat, carbs, and sugar, if it contains any at all)—but you don’t get the nutritional benefits, like extra omega-3s or vitamins, of grass-fed whey.

That said, there’s more to our food than its nutritional stats. “People are really starting to ask where their food is coming from and if it’s a sustainable choice,” says Andrews. Going for grass-fed may be a more environmentally-sustainable choice, on top of being an opportunity to support companies that prioritize the treatment of their animals, he adds.

It’s worth noting that many protein supplements utilizing grass-fed whey prioritize clean, natural ingredients across the board. You might notice that these supps use sweeteners like stevia, or stick with natural flavors. “There are a lot of facets that constitute clean whey,” notes Shawn Sherwood, vice president of research and development for Designer Protein. Those may include everything from being non-GMO to skipping artificial flavors and sweeteners, he says. If a supp’s super-clean street cred is a priority for you, look out for products labeled Non-GMO Project Verified, USDA Organic, and/or NSF certified.

Related: Shop the full selection of natural whey protein supplements.

 

4 Out-Of-The-Box Ways to Make Muscle Mac Even More Delish

Gone are the days of you eating macaroni shaped like cartoon characters, but let’s face it: You’ll never be too old for a warm bowl of cheesy noodles. We know this to be fact, considering how quickly Muscle Mac is flying off the shelves these days.

In case you’re getting bored with your usual single serving, here are four flavorful, What’s Good-approved ways to jazz up your microwaveable meal into an Instagram-worthy feast. Everything in moderation, right?

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Potato Skin Mac

Bar food and mac-and-cheese? Yes, please. Top your bowl with crumbled bacon, chopped scallions, and a dollop of sour cream. Game-night dinner, done.

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Nacho Mac

Another favorite appetizer turned into your teenage fantasy meal. Mix jalapenos, diced tomatoes, and taco-seasoned ground turkey into your mac-and-cheese. (Swap the jalapenos for banana peppers if you don’t do heat.)

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Ranch Mac

If you’re a believer that everything tastes better with ranch, go ahead and swirl it into your mac. Add diced chicken and bell pepper into the mix for a boost of protein and color.

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Chili Mac

Give a bowl of mac-and-cheese some Texan vibes by mixing in kidney beans, diced sautéed onion, diced tomatoes, and ground beef. Two comfort foods in one!

Check Out Our Go-T- High-Protein Eats

I Overcame Orthorexia And Fibromyalgia—And Finally Feel Whole

As told by Kim Capella

It was during middle school that I first felt self-conscious about being heavier than other kids. I stopped participating in sports and eating in front of people because I thought they’d judge me for being overweight. I spent much of my time being bored at home, making boxes of flavored rice or hash browns.

In high school, I decided to try to lose weight. I thought I just needed to eat less in order to shed the pounds, so I restricted myself to 800 calories a day. But that definitely wasn’t the answer. I’d lose 10 pounds, gain it back, then lose it again, gain it back. The cycle continued until I was 20 years old.

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Setting a Goal

One night while I was searching around on tumblr, I came across a blogger who talked about eating healthy foods instead of restricting calories. She made it seem so realistic, so I wrote down my goal weight and decided to take a healthier approach. I wanted to lose 65 pounds over the next year.

In the kitchen, I started off simple. I had no idea how to cook and felt lost in the produce aisle, so I swapped white rice for brown and tried a new type of fruit or vegetable every week. I swapped the bag of Goldfish snacks I ate for breakfast for a whole wheat English muffin with a slice of cheese and an egg on top.

Related: Check Out The Vitamin Shoppe’s Healthy Kitchen 

The gym totally scared me, so I asked a friend to try a Zumba class with me. For a while I went just once a week, but as I grew more and more comfortable I went more often. After a few months of classes, I ventured into the gym to use the cardio machines. I kept going to the gym a few times a week and the pounds started to drop.

After just nine months, I’d lost those 65 pounds and reached my goal weight of 120 pounds.

Unexpected Hurdles

As I grew more and more interested in food and healthy eating, I found myself taking it too far. I started obsessing over eating uber-healthy and looking at foods as either ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ My weight continued to drop and when I hit 105 pounds, I developed an eating disorder called ‘orthorexia.’ Defined by the National Eating Disorders Association as an unhealthy obsession with “food quality and purity,” orthorexia can lead to extremely restrictive dieting. It all made sense. I’d become so afraid of foods I thought were unhealthy, and would even skip outings with friends to avoid them.

It took about a year—and a lot of help from my friends and family—to really mend my relationship with food and put 15 pounds back on. When I finally felt more balanced mentally, I started noticing pain in my back, knees, and elbows, like my body was one giant bruise.

Another year and tons of doctor appointments later, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a neuromuscular disorder classified by chronic pain and sensitivity. By the time I was diagnosed, I’d stopped exercising and started working from home because I felt so awful all of the time.

Finding A Solution In Food

I took medication for a few months, but felt even worse. After noticing that dairy seemed to make me feel stiff and sharpen my pain, I decided to quit my meds and experiment with how my diet affected my symptoms.

After a few weeks without dairy, I felt noticeably better. I’d also stopped eating meat (in those months of terrible pain, I just stopped craving it). I realized I was only a few changes shy of being vegan and was curious whether going all-out would continue to help ease my symptoms. So I nixed eggs and the little fish I’d been eating.

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Three months in, I knew 100 percent it was for me. I felt strong enough to exercise again (though running was still too harsh on my body). I fell in love with cycling and could eventually ride more than 40 miles without pain. I even felt confident enough to return to work.

The Reward

My entire rollercoaster of an experience completely shaped me into the optimistic and confident person I am now. When my self-consciousness almost kept me out of the gym, orthorexia tested my relationship with food, and fibromyalgia forced me to stop working out, I had to really work to shift my mindset and practice positive thinking. Now, positivity is my first reaction.

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I know now that I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to—because I’ve already done it! Right now, I’m training to do a 100-mile bike ride called a ‘century,’ and the challenge doesn’t intimidate me.

Advice For Others

You always need an end goal, whether it’s losing 50 pounds or completing a race. But once you’ve picked that end goal, just focus on the day-to-day steps that will move you toward it.

When you think about the workout you’ll do tonight or the healthy dinner you’ll make instead of everything that stands between you and your goal, you’ll feel less overwhelmed by the task ahead. Those little baby steps add up; you’ll get there!

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Kim’s Go-To Products At The Vitamin Shoppe

I’ve found that turmeric has helped ease my post-exercise pain. I love plnt’s Turmeric Capsules and take one every morning.

As a vegan, it’s hard to find protein bars that fit my dietary restrictions and still taste good. I love D’s Naturals No Cow Bars in Blueberry Cobbler and Chocolate Fudge Brownie, because they’re nice and chewy. I also love the S’mores and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Orgain Plant Based Protein Bars.

Does Your Post-Workout Routine Need A Tune-Up?

We’ve all had workouts that felt just plain awful. Like when we didn’t have time for that pre-workout snack, rushed through our warmup, or skipped our usual caffeine boost. And after sweating with a grumbling stomach or missing our squat P.R., you bet we made sure we were back on our workout prep game for next time.

“When you prepare well for a workout, that workout tends to go well,” says Brian St. Pierre, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition. “You feel good, you feel stronger, and you see that immediate effect on your performance.”

Related: Pre-workout products to help you go the distance

But even if you’ve got your pre-workout down, there’s a fair chance your post-workout game needs some help. “We don’t see that immediate, noticeable result when we neglect post-workout recovery, so it’s often overlooked” says St. Pierre. Don’t be fooled, though: Your recovery efforts could make or break your fitness long-term.

If you’re not giving recovery enough attention, you could find yourself feeling lethargic, losing motivation to train, even having trouble sleeping, says St. Pierre.

So After That Last Rep…

The first key to helping your body bounce back after exercise is proper post-workout nutrition. “If you fueled before your workout, eat a meal that includes a serving of both protein and carbs within an hour or so,” says St. Pierre. If you exercised on an empty stomach, he adds, get those nutrients as soon as you can.

Why You Need Protein

“When you work out, your body breaks down muscle tissue,” says St. Pierre. “Protein helps stop muscle breakdown and helps your body create new muscle tissue.” Consider protein the building blocks of your muscles. Without adequate protein, you may end up losing muscle instead of building it, he says.

But what is protein, really?  “On a molecular level, protein is essentially a chain of different amino acids including branched-chain,” says St. Pierre. Some of these branched-chain amino acids (or BCAAs), like leucine, seem to be especially important for muscle synthesis, he says.

Related: BCAAs to add to your routine

All protein sources contain BCAAs, but some are better than others. “Animal proteins, especially dairy, are the richest natural sources of branched-chain amino acids,” St. Pierre says. So consider that when picking your post-workout grub.

But Don’t Forget The Carbs

In addition to protein, carbohydrates also help your body rebound from tough workouts in multiple ways. “Carbs not only make sure your blood sugar levels kick back up after exercise, but also help replenish energy stored in your muscles and liver in the form of glycogen,” says St. Pierre. Carbs act as our bodies’ fuel because they’re made up of glucose (that’s sugar!) molecules.

Without this energy, your body might struggle with basic functions, like balancing hormone levels. “So many people worry about carbs, but without them you might see a surge in the stress hormone cortisol,” says St. Pierre. Elevated cortisol can lead to weight gain and other chronic health concerns over time, according to the Mayo Clinic . Read: Don’t ban carbs from your diet!

Yes, You Always Need to Stretch

Tacking 10 minutes of stretching onto an already-long workout isn’t always possible. But that doesn’t mean you should just skip it all together. Stretching not only supports flexibility and mobility, but also increases blood flow to your muscles, says St. Pierre.

Luckily, when you stretch (or foam roll) isn’t crucial—as long as you do it at some point. “Just spend five to ten minutes of stretching or foam rolling in the morning or before bed,” suggests St. Pierre. Make it a habit and you’ll improve muscle tissue quality while stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you relax or even wind down for sleep, he says.

And About Those Zzz’s…

If fitness and nutrition are the first two requirements for a healthy lifestyle, sleep is the third. “The research pretty clearly states that adults need seven to eight—and maybe even nine—hours of sleep a night,” says St. Pierre. Without it, you might experience tanking energy and endurance in the gym, slower reaction time, and a lack of motivation, he says.

We get it: You’re crazy busy. But sleep is just that important. “Prune out little parts of your day so you can slowly build up your sleeping time,” St. Pierre suggests. Even adding an extra half-hour of shuteye at a time helps, he says. After all, do you really need to stay up late scrolling through Instagram? (Hmm, don’t answer that.)

7 Protein Bars Top Trainers Swear By

Trainers are some of the fittest—and busiest—people we know. Yet somehow they manage to keep their nutrition in tip-top shape as they run from client to class and back again.

We asked six fitspirational trainers to share their go-to protein bars and the results were pretty varied. Take a look:

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1. “The texture, consistency, and simplicity of the Oh Yeah! Victory Bar takes the cake,” says Ben Williamson, IFA-certified personal trainer and owner of Crush Fit. “They’re super soft and are very light on the stomach.” Ben’s favorite flavor is the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, but the Peanut Butter Chip is a close second.

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2. “Right now I’m loving the Quest Double Chocolate Chunk Bar,” says Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., founder of Women’s Strength Nation. “I like that this flavor doesn’t use any artificial sweeteners and has a hefty dose of whey protein and very few carbs.” For a special treat, Holly likes to cut a bar in half, roll each piece into a ball, lightly coat with ghee, and bake for a few minutes. The result is like a protein bar cookie!

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3. You’re not seeing double; the Oh Yeah! Victory Bar got a second shout-out! “Their Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough bar is my favorite,” says Nikki Metzger, C.S.C.S., owner of BODI gym. “I love that these bars pack 21g of protein but don’t use any artificial sweeteners or flavors.”

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4. “I have a whey allergy, so I look for plant-based bars that are low in sugar,” says Nike trainer Joe Holder. “Health Warrior Chia and Protein Bars fuel me up without causing any leftover fatigue or stomach troubles.” Joe’s favorite flavors are Chocolate Peanut Butter and Honey Almond.

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5. “My favorite bar is the Almond Butter Perfect Food Bar,” says Rachel Cosgrove, C.S.C.S., owner of Results Fitness. “I’m always looking for a bar that’s low in sugar, high in protein, and made of whole food ingredients.”

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6. “I’m loving both the Peanut Butter Orgain Plant Based Protein Bar and the Chocolate Peanut Butter Vega Protein+ Snack Bar,” says Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., founder of Women’s Strength Nation. “I don’t usually go for vegan bars, but these taste AH-MAYZING, digest easily, and are made of clean ingredients.”

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7.Dymatize Elite Peanut Butter Protein Bar, get in my belly!” says Jake Boly, C.S.C.S., founder of Concrete Athletics. “They don’t have tons of fiber or sugar alcohols, which tend to give me digestive troubles, so they’re great when I’m on the go.”

5 Delish Protein Shakes To Switch Up Your Blender Boredom

A protein shake is everyone’s go-to after a great workout or when you need an easy on-the-go breakfast. But as any veteran blender knows, the same old mix gets old fast.

Here are five flavor-filled recipes created in our test kitchen that might just change your shake game forever. Your bored taste buds will thank you.

 

Cookies and Cream Shake

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Cookies and cream ice cream lovers, this dessert-worthy shake is for you. The Greek yogurt makes it extra creamy, while cocoa nibs add that cookie-pieces crunch.

Ingredients

Throw everything into the blender and blend until consistent. Add more ice for a thicker shake.

At 269 calories, this indulgent-tasting shake offers 38g protein, 12g carbs, 6g fat, 3g fiber, and 6g sugar.

 

Chocolate Mint Shake

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Prepare for a flavor bomb of chocolate, mint, and a hint of coffee. It’s the frozen peppermint mocha of #gains.

Ingredients

Blend all ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Add ice for a thicker shake.

At 216 calories, this shake packs 29g protein, 7g carbs, 8g fat, 3g fiber, and 3g sugar.

 

Vanilla Pumpkin Pie Shake

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Fall weather may come and go, but this pumpkin spice shake transcends the seasons. And a special treat for the lactose-intolerant or vegan: It uses plant protein!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon, ground
  • ¼  tsp nutmeg, ground
  • 1 scoop plnt Vanilla Plant Protein
  • 1 cup ice
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin puree

Combine ingredients in blender. Blend and enjoy!

This pie-flavored shake comes in at 185 calories and contains 20g protein, 15g carbs, 5g fat, 4g fiber, and 2g sugar.

 

Strawberry Banana Shake

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Ingredients

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Garnish with sliced strawberries and cocoa nibs if desired.

At 281 calories, this shake offers 27g protein, 32g carbs, 6g fat, 3g fiber, and 15g sugar.

 

Apple Crisp Shake

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Everyone’s favorite classic dessert just got a makeover. The P28 High Protein Apple Crisp spread adds tons of flavor and a protein boost.

Ingredients

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Top with extra cinnamon and nutmeg if desired.

This fall-flavored shake comes in at 342 calories. It packs 21g protein, 33g carbs, 16g fat, 10g fiber, and 13g sugar.

How I Fell In Love With Lifting Weights And Lost 60 Pounds

As told by Jessica Fonseca, The Vitamin Shoppe Health Enthusiast

Growing up, when I wasn’t in school I was home helping my single mom take care of my younger siblings. Our diet had two requirements: fast and easy. Which meant that microwave meals, sandwiches, and cereal made up most of our daily eats. I was always a little heavy, but couldn’t find the time or motivation to exercise.

I got married young—at 16 —and was pregnant a year later. While I was pregnant, I found out that I had hypothyroidism, meaning my thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones. It made me feel fatigued all the time and explained my sluggish metabolism. The weight just kept piling on.

Three years and three children later, I was up by 90 more pounds. My husband and I split our attention between the babies and work; our own health and nutrition were afterthoughts. We filled our dinner plates with refried beans, rice, and fried pork chops, the traditional Mexican food we knew.

Baby Steps Towards A New Lifestyle

Three years ago, my husband, who was always very thin, started hitting the gym because he wanted to bulk up. I decided to go with him and started exercising four days a week.

Related: Check out muscle builders from The Vitamin Shoppe.

At first, I walked into the gym most days without a plan. I spent the majority  of my time on cardio machines, like the treadmill or stationary bike. Meanwhile, my husband hit the weight room, and after a year he’d put on pounds and pounds of muscle. I’d lost only six pounds.

My husband and I split our attention between the babies and work; our own health and nutrition were afterthoughts.

I decided to try strength-training with him for just one month to see what would happen. That’s when the inches and pounds started to fall off—finally.

Kicking Into High Gear

Once I had a taste of those results, I was all in. We overhauled our diet, loading up on vegetables and protein. Spaghetti squash with pasta sauce and turkey meatballs became one of our favorite dinners. I also upped my training, lifting weights five days a week. Over the next six months, I lost 25 pounds.

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Related: Get all your protein needs met. 

I had more and more energy as time passed, and  lost fat but gained muscle. I even ditched my morning coffee.

We’d been going to The Vitamin Shoppe often for protein powder and supplements like CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), and about a year ago I noticed our local store was looking for a part-time employee. I was so invested in this new lifestyle that I left my full-time job and became a Health Enthusiast. From there, my motivation to feel healthier and fitter hit an all-time high.

The Reward

So far, I’ve lost 60 pounds and dropped almost 10 dress sizes. My three sons all wrestle and play soccer, and I’m the mom that can go out and run around with them instead of watching from the sidelines.

Once I had a taste of those results, I was all in.

Whenever I have a tough day—hey, they happen—I look back at old progress photos. Seeing how far I’ve come these past few years really lights the fire in me to keep pushing forward. I feel so confident now, and I love sharing my story with my The Vitamin Shoppe customers. I want them to know that they can make this journey, too!

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I never would have thought I’d feel so full of life, love deadlifting, or start a new career in the health industry.

Advice For Others

Find someone that will motivate you and keep you going. My husband always encouraged me (he’s gained more than 70 pounds of muscle, by the way) and held me accountable for eating healthy meals and making time for the gym.

Jessica’s Go-To Products at The Vitamin Shoppe

I’ve taken CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) throughout my health and fitness journey. When it comes to protein, I love Garden of Life Protein & Greens in vanilla.

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9 Healthy Snacks Nutritionists Always Keep On Hand

When you’re go, go, going all the time, it’s difficult to avoid the convenience of the drugstore snack aisle or the drive-thru. Running late to an appointment? The convenience store around the corner makes a mean chili dog. Worked late? Frozen pizza bagels it is.

But there are other options, we promise. To make it a little easier to stay on that healthy-eating train, we asked top nutritionists to share the snacks they always keep in their purses, in their cars, or at the office. Take that, potato chips.

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1. Homemade Trail Mix

“I combine nuts­—like walnuts or almonds—with dried tart cherries and dark chocolate chips,” says Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.S.D., Director of Nutrition Graduate Program at Central Washington University. The dark chocolate takes care of a sweet tooth, while the combo of healthy fats, protein, and carbs keeps you satisfied, she says.

Related: Check out healthy pantry items from The Vitamin Shoppe

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2. 100-Calorie Almond Packs

“When I need a quick pick-me-up, some almonds and an apple provide the energy I need,” says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. The 100-calorie pack guarantees portion control and the nut-fruit provides essential vitamins, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein, he says.

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3. Avocado

“When I have a long day, especially if I’m traveling, I’ll keep an avocado in my purse,” says Tori Holthaus, R.D., founder of Yes! Nutrition, LLC. “It’s delicious with even just a sprinkle of salt.” One avocado offers about 24g of healthy fats, 13g of fiber, and 4g of protein to keep you full, she says.

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4. Dry-Roasted Edamame

“This edamame snack is notably filling and satisfies my snack-time crunch cravings,” says culinary nutritionist Jackie Newgent, R.D.N. One serving packs 14g protein and 7g fiber! “I especially enjoy fun flavors, like wasabi,” she says.

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5. Greek Yogurt

“If I have fridge access—like at work—I love having Greek yogurt , because it’s a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D,” says Pritchett. Top it with trail mix for a great post-workout snack, she adds.

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6. Cookies and Cream Quest Bar

“If I’m stuck in a long meeting, driving around a lot, or just looking for a snack, this bar is my go-to,” says White. Few other bars offer 21g protein and 14g of fiber, he adds.

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7. Smoothie Packs

“I keep single-serving packs of Vega One in my purse,” says sports nutrition specialist Kim McDevitt, M.P.H., R.D. “The chocolate powder makes an amazing afternoon pick-me-up mixed into cold brew coffee!” The powders offer protein, greens, and vitamins and minerals, she says.

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8. Tuna Packets and an Apple

“On a busy day, a tuna packet is an easy, portable protein source,” says Pritchett. “Add an apple into the mix for extra fiber and you’re sure to feel satisfied.”

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9. Nut Butter Packs

“I love keeping squeeze packets of Justin’s nut butter in my purse,” says Holthaus. Pair the nut butter with a piece of fruit—like a banana—for extra fiber, she says.

How I Transformed My Body—From The Inside Out

As told by Nicole Hill

When you’re poor, you buy the food that’s cheap. So my childhood dinners consisted of pasta and ramen noodles.

I was always a little chunkier as a kid, but in middle school the weight really started to pile on. I dipped anything and everything in ranch dressing and loved Mountain Dew. My classmates bullied me because of my size, and I began to binge-eat and self-harm in failed attempts to cope. By the time I started high school, I had spiraled into a depression. My weight continued to creep up and I entered high school at 260 pounds.

The Initial Spark

Thankfully, theater helped me find my place in school—and helped me discover that my weight didn’t define my worth. As I started to love who I was on the inside, the more I got the itch to take care of my body and my health.

I first set out to lose weight just before college, though I really didn’t know where to begin. I started running—even if it was just for 15 minutes a day—but my relationship with food still needed work. I limited myself to 800 calories a day and never, ever treated myself. Sure, I lost some weight, but my food restrictions were just a new form of my old self-harm in disguise. I felt exhausted all of the time.

Switching Gears

The more research I did online, the more I realized my strict approach to weight loss couldn’t last. Then a college upperclassman, I upped my calories and decided to focus more on eating natural, whole foods like vegetables and brown rice. I learned about macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—and realized my vegetarian diet seriously lacked protein. I started incorporating meat-free proteins like hard-boiled eggs into my diet, and it worked for me.

As I started to love who I was on the inside, the more I got the itch to take care of my body and my health.

The more I fueled my body with healthy foods, the more energy I had to exercise. I set a  goal of hitting the gym five days a week, mostly focusing on cardio and doing a little strength training on the side. I didn’t love long bouts on the treadmill, so eventually I switched gears and spent most of my time lifting weights. When I allowed myself to do workouts I actually enjoyed, my gym time turned from a chore into a treat.

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With every weight I lifted and every healthy meal I cooked for myself, I felt my confidence and pride grow. My physical transformation reflected the ways my thoughts and self-worth changed.

The Reward

After almost two years of changing my lifestyle, I’m down 80 pounds. I can’t believe how far I’ve come. I no longer think about how I want to look, but rather how I want to feel. I know that I will always be a work in progress and that I have the power to make decisions every single day to feel my healthiest.

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These days I share my story and post photos of my favorite meals and workouts on my Instagram account. I’ve even started my own online health-coaching business!

I can’t believe how far I’ve come.

A few years ago, I would have never thought I could turn my life around. But by focusing on eating one healthy meal at a time and losing just that next pound, I chipped away at my goals and ended up infinitely stronger.

Advice for Others

Think of exercise and nutrition as celebrations of your body, not punishments. I tell myself that I “get” to go for that walk or run, not that I “have to.” It’s a blessing to be able lift those weights. Embrace what your body can do!

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Nicole’s Go-To Products at The Vitamin Shoppe

Even before I became an ambassador for Quest and Lenny and Larry’s, I was obsessed with the Quest Raspberry White Chocolate protein bar and Lenny and Larry’s Chocolate Chip Complete Cookie. They’re so delicious and I feel like I’m indulging, but I know I’m eating a snack that will help me reach my goals.

How Training for a Bodybuilding Competition Forever Changed Me

As told by Jessica Penley, The Vitamin Shoppe Health Enthusiast

Exercise was a regular part of my life growing up. I played volleyball throughout high school and trained almost every day. But when I started college and no longer had coaches guiding my fitness routine, I hit a major wall. I had no idea what to do at the gym, but I still continued to eat the fast food and macaroni-and-cheese I liked so much.

Discovering Bodybuilding

I had always been intrigued by bodybuilding, so when I found a three-month training plan online, I set out to try it. Most of my new workouts started with strength training (focusing on a different muscle group each day) and ended with 20 minutes or so on a cardio machine.

The training plan also included what a day of typical bodybuilder-style meals looked like, so I got in the routine eating small, frequent meals that consisted of lean protein, veggies, and a starch, like rice. The eating structure helped me cut down on processed foods and sweets, and for the first time I realized that my results in the gym depended on the food I put in my body throughout the rest of the day.

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I lost a few pounds and got into decent shape, but fell into an on-again-off-again pattern with my gym and eating routine for the next few years. It wasn’t until I started seeing a lot of personal fitness accounts pop up on social media that I got the itch to really get serious about my fitness and train for a bodybuilding competition.

A Roller Coaster of Coaches

I knew I needed help in getting my body stage-ready, so I started working with a trainer I’d met at the gym. He removed whatever processed foods, like cereal, were left in my diet, cut down my carbs, and switched up my workouts so that I lifted weights six days a week and hit cardio every day, first thing in the morning. I lost 15 pounds in the first two months, but then my progress plateaued. Not to mention, I felt absolutely exhausted all the time—perhaps because my diet was so devoid of carbs.

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Over the course of the next year, I spent eight months working with a new coach, but eventually fell back on the original guy. Coach number two added carbs back into my diet, and while the extra fuel made me feel stronger and more energetic from the change, my workouts stayed the same for months and months, so I plateaued—again. Totally exasperated, I spent another few months stuck in the same rut with my first coach.

I felt absolutely exhausted all the time—perhaps because my diet was so devoid of carbs.

I hired my current coach a year ago (third time’s a charm), telling myself it’d be my last shot before giving up on bodybuilding. A pro bodybuilder himself, he trained me in the gym three times a week and kept a close eye on my meal plan. I picked a figure competition in April to enter and prepared myself for five months of hard work.

Competition Prep

For the first month of contest prep, I lifted super heavy and spent a half-hour or so on cardio, six days a week. We ramped up my protein to 200 grams a day in hopes that I’d pack on muscle fast.

Eight weeks out from my show, we added more cardio to my routine. I woke up, hit the gym for 30 minutes of cardio, ate my breakfast there, and lifted for an hour before heading to work at my new gig at The Vitamin Shoppe. After my shift, I went back to the gym for another hour of cardio. Did I mention I was also taking exercise science courses at community college on top of work and training? I had a lot going on.

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Around this time, we also started cycling the carbs I ate. I’d have 90 grams one day, 120 grams the next, and then 150 grams on day three. That cycle repeated and repeated as the days and weeks went.

A few weeks before my contest, we cut carbs almost completely. I ate tons of chicken breast and asparagus, started weaning my body off water (a common contest practice to look as lean as possible), and honestly, I felt pretty damn tired. But even in moments of exhaustion or struggle during a long cardio session, I was so excited for competition day—I’d been working my butt off!

The Big Day

I had no idea what to expect when I finally walked into my physique competition, and man, was it a long day. I got my hair and makeup done around five o’clock in the morning, and got my second spray tan in 24 hours. I didn’t take the stage for final judging 9 p.m. But wow, was it incredible to walk out there in front of the judges after grinding for five months.

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For that moment, I’d lost 40 pounds and spent countless hours in the gym and on meal prep. I felt like a total badass for finally competing and accomplishing my goal.

When the show ended, I celebrated with a Hawaiian barbecue pizza, way too many glazed donuts, and about five Diet Cokes. (Many contestants drink zero water on competition day, so I was THIRSTY.)

Forever Changed

After preparing so diligently for that competition, I feel like I can accomplish anything. I challenged myself physically, mentally, and emotionally—and came out stronger for it.

Of course, I cut back on the crazy cardio sessions and reintroduced carbs—oh, how I missed them!—into my daily grub after the contest. I kept consistent with my lifting routine, put some weight back on, and shifted my focus from being uber lean to gaining muscle.

I feel like I can accomplish anything.

My experience instilled so much confidence and drive in me that I decided to go back to school full time and finish my associate’s degree in kinesiology. Soon I’ll be applying to bachelor’s programs in nutrition.

Advice for Others

You have to be patient with yourself and your progress. Don’t quit after a week or two of working out hard and eating clean meals because you don’t see change yet. It takes time! It took me two years to make my dream of competing in a bodybuilding competition happen, but every moment of effort was worth it when I finally did it.

Jessica’s Go-To Products At The Vitamin Shoppe

Even before I became a Health Enthusiast®, I loved the BodyTech® Whey Tech Pro 24 Chocolate Mint whey protein. It tastes exactly like my favorite cookies!

I also take BodyTech’s Critical Aminos. I mix them into my water when I hit the gym.

How To Keep Your Chill During The Holidays

We all love the holidays. That is, until we’re stuck standing in a never-ending line at the mall or Uncle Pat decides to bring up politics at the dinner table. Hello, stress.

“Prioritizing ‘me time’ could not be more important during the holidays,” says Emily Fletcher, founder of Ziva Meditation in New York City. “We feel like we have to spend all possible time with family or get everything done, but make sure to save a few quiet moments just for you every day.”

And your ‘me time’ can be anything from walking the dog to lifting heavy. In fact, if your me time usually includes exercise, hold tight to that. “Even if you only have time for an eight-minute workout, that burst of movement will help you burn off stress and reinvigorate you,” Fletcher says.

Related: Check out products that help you manage stress.

Still, stuff happens, and when it does, don’t judge yourself. Instead, use these mini-meditations and mindfulness tips to stay your kindest, most compassionate self, straight through ‘til January.

When Packed Airports And To-Do Lists Are Driving You Nuts…

If you’re scrambling to find the perfect gift for your mom or struggling through a mob in the grocery store baking aisle, consider this: Stress doesn’t translate to good gift-giving. “According to Ayurveda—the ancient teachings we follow in meditation—the state of mind of the gift-giver is as important as the gift itself,” says Fletcher.

So take a moment to feel your feet planted firmly on the ground. “Take a few breaths, breathing in through your nose for two seconds and out through your mouth for four seconds,” says Fletcher. This will help your body to calm itself down by activating the vagus nerve, which connects your brain to your heart, lungs, and gut, she says.

Then, imagine the moment your loved one opens that gift. Take it a step further and picture everyone in the store opening gifts with their families. “Focus on giving with joy, instead of buying the right gift or wrapping it perfectly,” says Fletcher.

When Family Dinner Doesn’t Feel So Sweet…

If the mood starts to shift from jolly to tense because Dad threw a zinger at the significant other you brought home, step away from the table for a moment. Take a few of those deep breaths (exhaling for twice as long as you inhale) to get your body out of ‘fight or flight’ mode, says Fletcher.

When you rejoin the room, focus on the most wonderful thing about the family member who stressed you out. “When you consciously choose to see the good, that positivity takes over,” says Fletcher.

If you still struggle to keep your cool, repeat this affirmation: “They’re doing the best they can.” Remember that their words and actions reflect only their state of mind, not you, Fletcher says.

When You’re Just Not Feeling the Holiday Spirit…

The harder we try to be chipper 24/7 throughout the holidays, the more we stress over feeling down or tired, says Fletcher.

If you’re having a Grinch-y moment, ride it out. “Don’t shove down whatever you’re feeling,” she says. “If you’re sad, cry. If you’re tired, sleep. Do what you need to do to move those feelings through.”

Fletcher’s final recommendation? Volunteer. It’ll offer some perspective. After all, giving your time and a helpful hand is what the holidays are truly all about.