4 Ways You May Be Negatively Impacting Your Hormones—Without Even Realizing It

When we hear the word “hormones” we may think back to awkward days spent in junior high sex-ed class—but that’s just the beginning. Hormones are responsible for far more than our libidos and body hair.

Hormones act as signaling molecules (also known as chemical messengers) that help to regulate a lot of our key bodily functions, affecting our moods, metabolism, appetites, sleep cycles, and so much more. They’re responsible for a significant amount of our physiology and behavior, and without even realizing it, there’s a lot we can do to throw our hormones out of balance.

But before we get into how that might happen, let’s break down how it all works.

First, hormones are created in our endocrine glands, including—but not limited to—the hypothalamus (regulates sex drive, temperature, mood, hunger), the pancreas (produces insulin), the thyroid (controls calorie burning and heart rate), the pineal (produces mood-affecting serotonin and sleep-regulating melatonin) and the pituitary (controls all the other glands and is sometimes referred to as the “master gland”). On top of those, there are several other glands, including the ovaries and testes.

All of these glands work in tandem to manage your hormones—which include many you’ve probably heard of, like the main sex hormones estrogen (in women) and testosterone (in men), progesterone, cortisol (or, the “stress hormone”), melatonin, along with others. These hormones then travel through the bloodstream to our tissues and organs.

When your hormones are thrown off, you can end up feeling fatigued, anxious, depressed, and you may experience hair loss, infertility, and weight gain.

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Here’s how your hormones can get thrown off:

1. Eating Poorly

Our diets play a role in almost every aspect of our health, and our hormones are no exception. The impact of hormonal disruption can be significant, leading to everything from weight gain and exhaustion to digestive issues.

For example, when we eat way too much sugar, our bodies can become insulin-resistant. (We need insulin, a hormone, because it moves the sugar we consume into our bloodstreams to be used for cellular energy). Too little insulin could lead to metabolic disorder or type 2 diabetes.

So what to do?

“The most important aspect of food is quantity,” says Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, a board-certified family and obesity physician for SteadyMD and author of The Fat Loss Prescription. “Most people who are consuming too much energy are getting it through highly processed, high-calorie ‘junk’ foods like chips, candies, donuts, etc.” These foods are high in carbohydrates, sugar, and fat while also being low in protein.

Related: Here’s What A Day Of Clean Eating Actually Looks Like

Does this mean you have to kiss that weekend-morning pancake stack goodbye? Not at all. “Enjoy those foods as a treat once in a while, and eat less-processed foods whenever possible,” Dr. Nadolsky advises. “Focusing on a more whole-food approach while still being mindful of portions will help you lose belly weight and improve your hormones.”

2. Not Getting Enough Sleep

Our hormones impact the function of our sleep cycles (the reason you get sleepy at night and wake up in the morning—thanks, melatonin!) so getting enough sleep is key, according to an article in the journal Endocrine Development. In fact, says Dr. Nadolsky, her patients with hormonal imbalances often deal with sleeping issues.

Related: Here’s Exactly What To Do At Night To Have A Great Sleep

A lack of sleep can disrupt testosterone and cortisol levels, and it can throw our hunger cues off as well, Dr. Nadolsky explains. “The issue isn’t as sexy as nutrition or exercise, so it doesn’t get the spotlight it should. When a patient’s sleep is off, this is usually where I start to help them improve their health—specifically their hormonal status.”

How much sleep should you be getting? Aim for seven to eight hours (nine or more is too much, though). Also: You should also put away the iPhone while lying in bed (no thanks, blue light), find a relaxing and intentional nighttime ritual, and cut the caffeine after your morning cup, if possible.

3. Stressing Out

Similar to the way disrupted sleep patterns can alter the balance of our hormones, chronic stress also plays a role, too, according to research in the Journal of Pharmacy and BioAllied Sciences. Ongoing stress can alter hormones in ways that impact growth, promote mood disorders, and lead to other health issues.

And remember how we said food can affect our hormones? Well, chronic stress can also affect how we eat: “Changes in our cortisol regulation and hunger hormones can occur from chronic stress,” says Dr. Nadolsky. This can create an insidious cycle: Stress can lead to an increase in hunger hormones, potentially driving us to eat more highly processed foods, which leads to additional weight gain, which then disrupts our hormones even further, Dr. Nadolsky explains.

Your plan of attack? Adopt a lifestyle that allows you to seriously de-stress. Whether that’s through adopting a quiet daily yoga regimen, performing periodic breathing exercises, turning to an essential oil routine, meditating in the morning before commuting, or taking an Epsom salt bath before bed, it’s key to regulate those stressful emotions.

Related: It’s Time To Stop Being So Scared of Meditation

4. Using Certain Plastics

Food, sleep, and stress are critical components when it comes to balancing our hormones better, but we also have to pay attention to the products we use—especially plastics. Industrial chemicals like BPA and phthalates are found in polycarbonate plastics that we frequently use to package our food and water, which means they easily get ingested.

These endocrine-disrupting chemicals have a significant impact on our hormones. “More and more studies are showing these may really be a threat even at low levels despite what we thought was maybe safe before,” says Dr. Nadolsky. There’s growing evidence, according to a statement released by the Endocrine Society, that shows endocrine disruptors can affect reproduction, cancer growth, thyroid function, metabolism, and obesity, as well as cardiovascular endocrinology and neuroendocrinology.

While total eradication of these synthetic compounds from our packaging and products may be unrealistic, there are many steps we can take in our day-to-day lives to help reduce our exposure and help keep our hormones in check. These include using ceramic and glass for cooking and food storage, limiting canned and processed foods, and buying products that are labeled as BPA and phthalate-free.

The Bottom Line

Regulating your hormones is important for your health, and like any health regimen, you’ll see the most success by starting with small, manageable changes.

“The biggest bang for your buck will be trying to maintain or achieve a healthier weight and waist circumference through proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep and stress management,” says Dr. Nadolsky, but that won’t happen overnight. Be kind to yourself, and work on incorporating these changes into your lifestyle one day at a time.

If you feel you do have a hormonal imbalance, an endocrinologist can help.

Here’s a useful guide to keeping your hormones healthy:

Are You Neglecting These Two Glute Muscles?

The benefits of a strong behind know no bounds. You’ll nail bigger lifts like squats and deadlifts, feel booty-ful (sorry, had to) in your favorite pair of jeans, and move through life—whether hiking, chasing your dog around, or just carrying heavy groceries—more easily.

To build powerful and well-rounded glutes (literally), there are three muscles you need to focus on. First, the major gluteal muscle, the gluteus maximus, which helps you extend your hips (like when squatting) and rotate your legs and toes out to the sides. This muscle covers pretty much the entire surface of your butt, and if you strength train, chances are you’re already showing these big muscles some love.

But there are two smaller—and lesser-known—gluteal muscles that also deserve some attention: the gluteus medius (above the glute maximus) and gluteus minimus (beneath the glute maximus). These muscles help your hips move laterally away from your body, like when you step from side to side.

Meet The Medius And Minimus

Why are these two glutes muscles overlooked? “They are substantially smaller than the maximus—the medius is about half the weight of the maximus, and the minimus is even less—and are less visually apparent because they reside underneath the maximus,” explains Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D, C.S.C.S.-D., assistant professor in exercise science at CUNY Lehman College and author of The M.A.X. Muscle Plan.

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Just because these muscles are small, though, doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Both muscles help stabilize your hip joints, helping you run, rotate, and shuffle.

Aside from their functional feats, these two other glutes muscles can make your butt look better. “Increasing the development of the medius and minimus contributes to overall glute size, so they are most certainly important from an aesthetic standpoint,” says Schoenfeld.

Related: Your Glutes Are Begging You To Do This Workout

Plus, if you have weak medius or minimus muscles, you can land yourself with a number of surprisingly common issues, like ‘hip drop’ (when one side of your hips lowers because the opposite side is weak) or ‘knee valgus’ (when your knees cave in), says Schoenfeld. People with weak gluteus medius and/or minimus muscles may also experience low-back pain because their back takes on the stress of rotational movements instead of their glutes and legs.

Target The Tiny Two

To prevent injury, increase booty gains, and strengthen your hip muscles, add these four exercises—hand-picked by Schoenfeld—to your routine. You’ll isolate your glute medius and minimus muscles to effectively build strength.

 1. Side Lying Hip Abductions

Lie on a bench on your side. Allow your top leg to cross over your bottom leg and stretch as far as possible over the side of the bench, without touching the floor. Engage your glutes to raise this leg as high as comfortably possible, and then return it to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.

2. Cable Abductions

Set a cable machine with an ankle cuff attachment to the lowest setting. Stand next to the cable machine with your left leg closest to it. Attach the ankle cuff to your right ankle and take a comfortable step away from the machine. Hold onto the cable machine with your left hand for stability and allow your right ankle to cross over your left to bring your right ankle closer to the machine. Engage your glutes to pull your right leg back across your body and extend it as far out to the right as is comfortable (keep your leg straight), and then return it to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.

3. Lateral Band Walks

Place a looped band around your shins. Step your feet shoulders-width distance apart and slightly bend your knees and hips to assume a slight squat position. Step laterally (to the side) with your left foot, and then allow the right foot to follow. Take a few more steps to the left, and then reverse your direction and step to the right.

4. Clamshell Raises

Lie on your left side with your knees bent, your right leg over your left, and your feet together. Engage your glutes to raise your right knee up as high as comfortably possible, and then return it to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.

All About Your New Favorite Cleanser: Micellar Water

If you’ve shopped for skin-care products any time within the past year, you’ve undoubtedly spotted the beauty industry’s latest darling: micellar water. Just like regular ol’ H20, micellar water is a clear liquid—but what is it, exactly? And how do you even pronounce it?

Have no fear, beauty junkies—we had the experts break it all down for you. (And for the record, it’s my-SELL-ar.)

What is it made of?

Micellar water is made with something called micelles, which are tiny balls of molecules that react to water.

“Micellar water is micelles suspended in soft water, creating microscopic oil molecules that are great for cleaning the face by attaching to dirt, grime, and makeup,” says Dr. Rhonda Klein, a board-certified dermatologist with the Connecticut Dermatology Group. “Unlike soap, micelles dissolve impurities without stripping the skin, and since it has the same viscosity of water, the face feels clean and rejuvenated after treatment.” Also, unlike soap, it doesn’t require water in order to work, so no rinsing is necessary.

The product isn’t a new concept, despite its recent rise in popularity. In fact, its origins trace back to the coveted beauty regimen of a certain European country: “The French have been using micellar water for ages,” says Dr. Klein.

Is it a toner, a cleansing water, or a makeup remover?

There are a lot of cleansing products on the market and it can get confusing! So what’s the difference between cleansing water (another popular item) and micellar water? Micellar water contains those oily micelles, while cleansing water is usually made up of purified water.

Related: Shop skin-loving micellar water products. 

And then there are toners. Toner is usually used after cleansing to refresh and tone the skin (although many contain alcohol and leave skin feeling dry and tight, unlike micellar water). While micellar water is primarily used to cleanse the skin, many beauty enthusiasts happily use it as toner, as well.

Bonus: It can also remove makeup (although heavy makeup is probably best removed with traditional makeup remover).

Should you Try it?

Given that the main ingredient in micellar water is water, it’s a safe option for most people. (Other ingredients might include vitamins, glycerin, and rooibos, like in this Derma E micellar water.)

“Almost all skin types can use micellar water without risk of drying out—even those with acne or oily skin can use micellar water to clean skin thoroughly without inflamed acne pimples,” says Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. However, if your skin is very oily or covered in extremely thick foundation, micellar water alone may not be strong enough to remove all of the impurities.

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According to Dr. Nazarian, micellar water’s biggest benefit is that its oil droplets are hydrating (but don’t feel oily)—without disrupting the natural pH of skin, a problem that comes with some classic foaming cleansers.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, it was shown that micellar cleansing water “showed lower irritation potential than traditional high-lather face cleansing formats.” The research also noted that the pairing of micellar’s moisturizing benefits and its low potential for irritation makes it a promising option for those with sensitive skin.

Related: The Best Skin-Care Tips And Products For Your 20s, 30s, And 40s

“The fact that it doesn’t require scrubbing makes it great for sensitive skin, which tends to be easily irritated by harsher scrubs or rubbing typically needed to remove makeup,” she says.

A word of warning for anyone allergic to surfactants (which is a scientific word for “oil in water” molecules): Avoid micellar water. It’s not dangerous, but someone with an allergy might become red, itchy, or puffy with repeated use.

How Do You Use It?

Using micellar water is just as straightforward as its ingredients.

Dr. Nazarian recommends saturating a cotton ball with the micellar water, then gently swiping it over your skin. Use a second dry cotton pad to wipe over your skin to absorb the micelles, which will have attached themselves to the dirt and oil on your face.

Whatever you do, don’t scrub your skin while using the product. These little work horses take the elbow grease out of washing your face, so just let them do their thing. Simply repeat until the cotton ball appears clean, at any time of day.

Should You Upgrade Your ACV To Fire Cider?

By now, we’d be surprised if you hadn’t heard about all the health-boosting power of apple cider vinegar. The pungent golden liquid is an all-star ingredient for promoting heart health, immune health, and healthy blood sugar. Plus, it packs antioxidants and B vitamins, along with the minerals calcium and potassium.

From salad dressings to straight-up shots, people are getting their fill of ACV—but there’s a new bevvie on the block that’s about to bring the heat: fire cider.

First thing’s first: Fire cider (a.k.a. ACV’s wild cousin) may be a new trend, but it’s been around for ages. In fact, the concoction—made by steeping ingredients like garlic, onion, honey, and hot peppers in apple cider vinegar—has long been a folk remedy used to promote immune health.  You can use it just like you’d use apple cider vinegar, but it’s more brazen, more intense, and even more packed with good-for-you-ness. The idea is, all of these ingredients—each health-promoting in their own right—come together to form a tonic that’s beneficial for your health as it is eye-watering.

With the internet chock-full of recipes for homemade fire cider, the tonic has become so popular that you can even buy it bottled now (three cheers for Shire City Herbals’ Fire Cider). Here are the details about fire cider’s powerful ingredients—and how the drink can boost your health.

Garlic

Found in DIY recipes and bottled fire ciders alike, garlic is part of a group of vegetables known as ‘alliums.’ (It also includes shallots, onions, chives, and leeks.) Allium vegetables are rich in organosulfur compounds (a.k.a. sulfur) that support heart health, blood pressure, liver function, and gastrointestinal health. Research suggests these organosulfur compounds also have antioxidant properties and stimulate the immune system.

Onion

Like garlic, onions also contain organosulfur compounds and offer antioxidant benefits. Plus, onions contain a specific flavonoid (a type of antioxidant) called quercetin, that helps to mitigate inflammation-triggering compounds in the body.

Chili Pepper

Many fire ciders also contain some sort of chili pepper. (Shire City Herbals’ blend uses habañero peppers.) These peppers get their kick from a compound called capsaicin, which not only contributes to their flavor, but also contributes to health in multiple ways. Capsaicin stimulates our metabolism, supports blood vessel function, and bolsters our immune system by mediating the production of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines.

Honey

You may also find honey in fire cider because it’s a great natural way to sweeten things up. And if the honey used in a fire cider tonic is raw, it offers perks beyond tasting delicious, as raw honey contains antioxidant compounds called polyphenols and flavonoids.

Turmeric

Shire City Herbals fire cider tonic adds a few extra ingredients to their recipe to really punch up the power of their drink. One is a spice you probably already know in love: turmeric. This warm, golden spice contains an antioxidant called curcumin that both promotes a strong immune system and eases digestive issues.

Horseradish

Didn’t think there were any super-spicy ingredients left to be added to this intense tonic? Think again. Shire City Herbals also adds horseradish—yet another antioxidant-packed plant—to their concoction. Horseradish root contains the antioxidants kaempferol and quercetin, and also contains sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates that support liver detoxification.

How To Get Fired Up

“Fire cider is a fantastic way to incorporate many functional foods into your routine all at once,” says Kathleen Jones, M.S.A.C.N., C.N.S., nutritionist for The Vitamin Shoppe. You can take shots of the tonic straight, mix it into tea or warm water, or even add it to savory recipes for extra kick. Jones likes adding fire cider to homemade chili, and using it in seafood marinades and salad dressings.

Ready to bring on the heat? Try Shire City Herbals’ fire ciders for yourself!

 

7 Flashy Exercise Moves That Probably Aren’t Worth Doing

Suffering through killer (but cool-looking) moves in the gym can seem like the right thing to do. After all, you’ve got to sweat buckets and push your body to the max to reap the rewards of working out, right?

Thing is, the super-tough gym moves we glorify can sometimes just leave you freakishly sore, fatigued, or even injured. Not good.

As tempting as it may be to consider workout pain a badge of honor, some intense moves just aren’t worth it. We tapped a few top trainers to filter out the exercises you can feel free to skip—and the less-brutal moves you can do instead to still reach your goals.

1. Pistol Squats

This single-leg squat is one of the toughest moves in the book. With one leg extended straight out in front of you, you have to squat down on the other leg until your hips are below your knee—and then push back up to a standing position. Eep.

Pistol squats are not for the faint of heart. They require an incredible amount of lower-body strength and balance, and they can be pretty rough on your body. These one-legged maneuvers can put a lot of unnecessary strain on the tendons and ligaments in your working leg (like your ACL, MCL, patella tendon, and meniscus), which can lead to injury, says Ian Creighton, CF-L2, general manager and coach at Brick New York.

Your move: Substitute Bulgarian split squats in for pistol squats. You’ll still build unilateral leg strength in your hamstrings, quads, and glutes, without putting excess stress on your working leg.

Stand with one foot about two or three feet in front of the other and elevate the back foot on a bench or box. Keep your torso upright and lower down so that your back knee moves toward the floor. (Your front knee should track over your toes.) Then drive through your front leg to push back up to standing.

2. Muscle-Ups

If you’ve ever watched Olympic gymnastics or taken a CrossFit® class, you’ve probably seen muscle-ups. Basically, they involve using all of your muscles to swing your body up and over a hanging bar or gymnastics rings from a hanging position.

“It’s definitely a move that makes you look super-fit and catches the eye of everyone around you,” says Mat Forzaglia, C.P.T., coach at Neo Fifth and trainer at Fhitting Room. “But I always explain that even though it looks really cool, you have to master a few things before you should even attempt it.”

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If you can’t perform eight to 10 strict pullups—which indicates you have the strength to pull your full body weight—then muscle-ups aren’t worth trying. Besides, they’re more of an added skill, anyway—you won’t find sets of muscle-ups in your next HIIT class. If you’re looking to build strength in your back and shoulders, pullups will do the trick.

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

If you can’t nail pullups on your own, use a pullup assist machine or loop a resistance band around the bar and your feet to get in on the upper-body action, he says.

3. Overhead Squats

This move, which involves squatting while holding a weighted bar up above your head, engages your core big-time and looks cool from the outside eye—but most people don’t have the mobility needed to do it properly.

If you have poor shoulder mobility and try to squat while holding weight overhead, your chest drops—and that’s bad news for form, says Forzaglia. Plus, if you have poor lower-body mobility, you won’t be able to squat back and down far enough to fully benefit from the move.

To focus on that overhead stability in a more manageable way, try single-arm overhead carries with either a dumbbell or kettlebell, Forzaglia suggests. To get your lower body in on the action, try single-arm overhead lunges, which don’t require as much mobility as barbell overhead squats.

4. Burpees

If you’ve ever done burpees, you’d probably describe your relationship with them as love-hate. The repeated cycle of dropping into a pushup and jumping back up is a sure way to build strength and spike your heart rate at the same time. “However, burpees are so high-impact that we sometimes lose control and can’t keep our form in line,” says Danielle Burrell, C.P.T., founding trainer at Rumble Boxing. Plus, dropping down into a pushup straight after jumping can put extra strain on your lower back and knees.

If you have knee issues or can’t quite nail the pushup part of burpees, try sprawls instead, which are basically burpees without the jump and pushup. “Sprawls are still super challenging, but by eliminating the jump and push up, you can focus on getting into a proper push up position where your core is engaged then pop up into a standing position in a safer manner,” she says.

You’ll start in a standing position, plant your hands on the ground, and kick your feet back so you end in a plank position. Then, you’ll pop your feet back in and stand up.

5. Bounding Box Jumps

Box jumps are another great move for simultaneous cardio and strength training action—but when you start jumping back down from that box (instead of stepping), things can go south fast. “While box jumps are a great way to develop explosive power when performed correctly, jumping down from a box and immediately rebounding and jumping back onto it puts the athlete at high risk for multiple injuries like Achilles tears,” says Creighton. Not to mention nasty scars on your shins if you fall or jump again before you’re ready.

The alternative? Slow down, step (don’t jump) back down from the box, and land softly when you jump. “An athlete can still do box jumps by simply jumping onto a box with a soft landing then stepping back down on the floor,” Creighton says. This gives you time to reset so you execute that next jump with the proper mechanics.

6. Snatches

This popular CrossFit® movement involves pulling a weighted bar from the floor and sweeping it up overhead, catching the barbell overhead in a squat position, then standing all the way up. Snatches require impeccable technique, and great mobility in your ankles, hips, shoulders, and upper back to execute properly, says Creighton.

While the snatch is great for training explosiveness, there are other less-technical but equally-effective exercises you can try—like the single-arm dumbbell snatch. Keeping your chest up and butt down, squat down to grab a dumbbell with one hand, then sweep the dumbbell up off the floor by driving your elbow towards the ceiling. “Keep the dumbbell as close to the torso as possible like zipping up a jacket,” says Creighton. Then you’ll push the dumbbell up overhead.

 7. Kipping Pullups

Like muscle-ups, kipping pullups involve swinging your body. They look like lots of fun—but require a lot of skill to master. First, you have to be a pro at strict, dead-hang pullups. Then, you have to learn to ‘kip’ (or drive your hips) properly, to produce momentum and help swing your chin up and over the bar more easily and quickly.

“What makes the move risky the swinging motion that places lot of tension on the smaller muscles in the shoulders and lead to nagging shoulder injuries including tendonitis, strained rotator cuffs, and even tears which can take a long time to heal or even require surgery,” says Creighton.

 

Like with muscle-ups, kipping is more an added skill than a foundational move—so if swinging isn’t your thing, stick to good ‘ole regular pullups. As always, use a resistance band or an assisted pullup machine to offset your bodyweight, if needed.

You’ve Heard Of Probiotics—But What Are Prebiotics?

Probiotics—and the buzz about their benefits—are pretty much everywhere. By now, you’ve probably even picked up a supplement or tried out a few fermented foods (like yogurt, pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, and kombucha) to boost these healthy bacteria that live in your gut. After all, who doesn’t want a healthier digestive system, more regularity, and super-strong immunity?

It’s important to get your fill of probiotics to keep your gut functioning at its best, but in order for these powerful critters to work their magic, they need a little help. That’s where prebiotics come in.

Prebiotics are basically the food probiotics need in order to thrive in your gut, explains Jenny Dang, R.D. This food helps the healthy bacteria do their jobs, so you can reap their health benefits. Prebiotics are a type of carbohydrate that your body can’t break down, says Toni Fiori, R.D., who specializes in digestive health. Chances are you’ve heard of this type of carb before: ‘insoluble fiber.’

Insoluble fiber, which isn’t digestible and passes through the body pretty much intact, helps food move through your system smoothly and wards off constipation. Because it also helps maintain the good bacteria in your gut, insoluble fiber is hugely important for your digestive and immune health.

We still have much to learn about the billions of bacteria that live in our guts—but if you ate only processed foods that lack prebiotics, it’s very possible that your healthy bacteria would take a hit, even if you did take probiotics, says Fiori.

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The good news is, getting your fill of prebiotics isn’t that difficult. You can find them in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, with some of the best sources being whole wheat, bananas, garlic, onion, and asparagus, says Dang. You can also find insoluble fiber in supplements, which are often made from chicory, a relative of garlic and onion.

To serve up the prebiotics your probiotics need to live their best lives, focus on eating a well-balanced diet that includes lots of whole grains, fruits, and veggies, says Dang. (That means eating about two to three cups of vegetables, two cups of fruit, and about two ounces of whole grains each day, according to the USDA.)

Related: 5 Foods That Are Packed With Probiotics

While women need at least 25 grams of fiber a day and men need at least 38, the average American gets just about 15, so chances are you need to up your intake. Just don’t try to go from zero to 60 in one day, though. When you eat much more fiber than you’re used to, the bacteria in your gut produce gas, which can result in major discomfort, bloating, and of course, gas. Instead, slowly increase your fiber intake to avoid tummy troubles.

If you have a health condition like irritable bowel syndrome, for example, you may need to get your prebiotics from gentler sources (think bananas, oats, and honey) since garlic and onions may upset your stomach, says Fiori. A dietitian can help you sort out which prebiotic foods might settle best with you, while picky eaters who don’t get their fill of fruits, veggies, and whole grains may want to try adding an insoluble fiber supplement, like oat bran, to their routine.

Become a prebiotics vs. probiotics whiz with a little help from this infographic: 

 

What It’s Really Like To Have Weight-Loss Surgery—And Drop 140 Pounds

I’ve always been chubby. Food was comforting, sentimental even. When my grandmother cooked cakes, brisket, and roast beef, she’d cut off tiny “ah-ahs” and feed the kids like an aquarium seal trainer. I learned early to associate food with comfort.

Before I was 10, my parents separated and I started packing on the pounds. Food was there when no one else was, literally. I gained most of my serious weight over the course of hundreds of afternoons while my mother worked the night shift at her second job. The first thing I’d do after school was put on a pot of water to boil. I’d make rice or pasta as an afternoon snack, then later, more rice or pasta with a steak for dinner.

I was proud of my cooking. I thought it showed that I was self-sufficient and Mom wouldn’t have to worry about me. I could take care of myself. But as I kept cooking, my clothes stopped fitting. I had to start shopping at big and tall stores. There, I discovered that overweight people apparently aren’t allowed to live in the same fashion conscious world as everyone else. Everything was loud, obnoxious colors with elastic waistbands and illustrations of dogs wearing sunglasses.

I got called names like “Fatboy” by other kids. Adults called me “Big Guy,” which is kind of the Diet Coke of fat shaming. Note to adults: The sting doesn’t hurt any less, in case you were wondering.

When my grandmother cooked cakes, brisket, and roast beef, she’d cut off tiny “ah-ahs” and feed the kids like an aquarium seal trainer. 

When I first heard about bariatric surgery I was in my early 20s. It felt inevitable—a looming certainty in the distance. I’d researched it and read success stories online, bringing myself to tears looking at before & afters. I was a walking “before picture.”

I’d even gone as far as scheduling the surgery twice. I cancelled both times after seeing older, heavier people in doctors’ waiting rooms and convincing myself, “I’m not as bad as that guy.” 

By the time I hit my 30s I’d ballooned up to more than 300 pounds, though. And in early 2016 I was heavier than I’d ever been before. My joints ached, I had sleep apnea, and because I wasn’t sleeping right I had no energy throughout the day. My boss was even threatening to fire me for falling asleep in meetings. I had a three-year-old boy I couldn’t keep up with and my self-confidence was at an all time low. Something had to give.

It was about 140 pounds ago that I sat in my car at an Exxon gas station, sweating as I struggled to lean over far enough to pull the lever that opened my gas tank. In that moment, I made a decision that changed my life forever. That was the day I decided to get weight loss surgery (WLS).

Surgery Prep

There are a some practical matters that need to be sorted out before this type of surgery. First off, the finances. I’d heard a lot of horror stories about the insurance approval process, and mine was difficult—but not impossible. My carrier (Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield) covered the procedure at 80 percent, which meant my out-of-pocket came to about $2,500 altogether. 

There are a few different types of WLS, but the common ones are called Lap Band, Gastric Bypass, and Gastric Sleeve. Most of the people I met along the way were getting the Gastric Sleeve surgery, which is what my doctor recommended for me. The procedure, he explained, involved removing a part of my stomach, creating a “pouch” about the size of a small banana. This forcibly limits your food intake, leaving you feeling full after eating much smaller portions.

I’d researched it and read success stories online, bringing myself to tears looking at before & afters. I was a walking “before picture.”

I was required to sit through multiple seminars and meetings with nutritionists, psychologists, and doctors, who tracked my weight over a six-month period as I attempted (unsuccessfully) to lose the weight on my own. After jumping through all the hoops (and not losing weight), I was finally approved with a surgery date. I was ready.

The day of the surgery, my wife took me to the hospital and she and my father stood at my bedside until the moment the nurse wheeled me away. This was it. It was really happening. I thought I’d be nervous but I wasn’t. It was more like standing outside the gates of Emerald City, knowing something incredible waited for me inside.

The doctor administered the anesthesia and as I counted backwards from 10, the world faded away.

After the Surgery

Just a few hours after I regained consciousness, the nurses were encouraging me to get up and start walking around. This helped to relieve the gas pressure caused by the anesthesia. (A weird side effect: The anesthesia caused blood vessels to burst in my right eye. My son would call me “Blood Eye Daddy” for the next week and a half.)

There were five small scars from the incisions but they didn’t hurt very badly. The hardest thing was drinking water. I just couldn’t take in much as my newly smaller tummy got its bearings. Just a few small sips at first. I was able to drink about a cup by the time they discharged me.

I got home, sat on my couch, and let it sink in like a new tattoo. I’d followed through. This was a Decision with a capitol D. Irreversible. But it’s not like you have the surgery and suddenly life is a bunch of fluffy ducks.

I’ve heard people say that weight loss surgery is “taking the easy way out.” In my experience, that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

Here’s what it really feels like: You’re still 300 pounds but the weight feels impermanent—like it doesn’t belong to you anymore. You begin to think of your body as a temporary shell from which the real you will eventually emerge. You obsess on everything you need to do to reach your goal. It’s all you think about. It’s all you talk about. For a while, it’s all you are.   

The next few weeks were the most radical in terms of dietary changes. For 14 days I could only have clear liquids as my pouch began to heal. Water, protein shakes, and chicken broth (I couldn’t stand the beef broth—ugh, gross). Then another two weeks of soft solids and mushy foods like sugar-free Jell-O, cottage cheese, and loosely scrambled eggs. 

It. Was. Miserable.

If I had to pinpoint the hardest part of the whole experience, it would be those first few weeks after surgery. That’s when I realized that I didn’t have a problem with food but an issue with my entire lifestyle. I’d built routines that gave me comfort. Tough day? Eat heavy and watch TV late at night. Feeling bad about myself? Drown my sorrows in candy and root beer.

Related: Check out Nu Life’s new line of bariatric support products

Now, without those crutches, I was forced to deal with my issues head-on. I can only imagine this is similar to what drug addicts feel when they go cold turkey. There were nights I laid in bed, crying because I physically couldn’t eat the way I wanted to. There were days I sobbed to my wife on the phone, cursing the doctors and regretting my decision. Sometimes I dealt with it by taking bites of the foods I missed, savoring the feel of them in my mouth and then spitting them out.

But the weight started coming off.

Then, slowly, I began introducing more solid foods: fish, hard-boiled eggs, sliced meats. I found ways to mix it up. Eventually, I was cleared to start eating normally and healthier patterns took root.

Through the Looking Glass

It’s been 16 months since the surgery and the world I live in today bears little resemblance to the one I grew up in. When someone laughs, I don’t assume they’re laughing at me. If people are nice, I don’t assume they feel sorry for me. My clothes fit and I don’t have to shop at big and tall stores anymore. I can chase around my toddler and play on the floor with my new baby boy—and feel no pain. I’m more confident, I smile in pictures, and I’m not embarrassed to eat in front of other people. I can even wrap a bath towel all the way around my body.

For those of us who have battled with weight issues all our lives, it’s difficult not to tie our self-worth into how we perceive our appearance.

Are there negatives? Sure. I miss eating a juicy hamburger and a mound of fries. But I’ll still eat about half a burger and a fry or two. I don’t deny myself the things I love—it’s more about moderation and making better choices consistently.

Nowadays, I’ll have a protein shake for breakfast, turkey and cheese roll-ups for lunch, and then I try my best to eat a balanced, normal-sized dinner (that’s protein, vegetables, and a small amount of carbs). Switching to smaller plates helps control portions and makes it look like you’re getting more. Multivitamins and calcium are a must to get in the nutrition I need due to the reduced amount of calories I take in. (Every day is a struggle to take in the 65 grams of protein and 64 ounces of water my doctor recommends.) I work out at least three days a week and now that my body doesn’t creak and groan with every step, I actually enjoy it.

Last Thoughts

I’ve heard people say that weight loss surgery is “taking the easy way out.” In my experience, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. It isn’t a cure—it’s a tool. Total body transformation requires discipline, struggle, and support. My diet’s not perfect. I don’t always get to the gym and I’m still searching for those elusive abs (they’re in there somewhere!).

For those of us who have battled with weight issues all our lives, it’s difficult not to tie our self-worth into how we perceive our appearance. Whatever shape you are, my hope is that you have the courage to love yourself—whether that means taking pride in the person you are or working to transform yourself into who you’re meant to be. 

My journey is far from over. I’ve got a long way to go and my goals are always evolving. Today, I feel better than ever before and every day I’m one step closer to my best self.

 

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Snacking Stuffers For Everyone In Your Life

Flowers and concert tickets are always welcome, but the true way to anyone’s heart is by way of delicious snacks. This year, skip the snowman-shaped mugs, corny key-chains, and patterned socks, and stuff everyone’s stockings with eats and treats, instead.

Everyone from your gym-junkie brother to your eco-conscious sister-in-law will be overjoyed as they sink their teeth into these out-of-the-box snacks. Our top 12 snacking stuffers will satisfy every sweet, salty, and crunchy craving—all without compromising waistlines.

1. Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn, $3.99

Cuddle up with a classic movie or get the party started with this sweet and salty holiday snack. Since Angie’s popcorn is made with simple, real ingredients like cane sugar and cocoa powder, you can feel good about licking every last bit of that chocolate-marshmallow drizzle off your fingers.

2. Kettle Bran Moscow Mule Potato Chips, $3.39

We know what you’re thinking, but trust us when we say that one of these crunchy, thick-cut chips will make you a believer that cocktail-flavored snacks can be a good idea. Every bite is such a perfect explosion of salt, lime, and ginger that you won’t even miss the vodka.

3. Barnana Organic Chocolate Chewy Banana Bites, $53.99 for 12 bags

This potassium-packed snack is a great sweet tooth-satisfier for candy lovers and health nuts alike. Okay, these bites may not count as a serving of fruit, but they sure are a high-quality alternative to our usual chocolatey sweet treats.

4. Quest Cheddar And Sour Cream Protein Chips, $19.99 for 8 bags

For a salty, cheesy snack that doesn’t totally wreck the day’s macros, fit-focused eaters need look no further than Quest’s iconic protein chips. For 120 calories, a bag contains a whopping 21 grams of protein, with just two grams of fat and five grams of carbs. Good luck finding anything in the snack aisle that even comes close!

5. No Cow Vanilla Maple Frosting Almond Fluffbutter, $12.79

No Cow’s fluffbutter makes the perfect addition to any nut butter enthusiast’s collection. Two tablespoons offer 11 grams of protein thanks to a little boost from pea protein, and the vanilla maple frosting flavor is every bit as decadent as it sounds—all for just one gram of sugar!

6. Ostrim Beef Elk Habanero Sticks, $18.99 for 10

When high-protein is high-priority, supplements aren’t your only on-the-go option. Ostrim’s beef and elk sticks are hearty, flavorful, and tender—and easy to stash in your backpack, briefcase, or gym bag. Plus, each 90-calorie stick packs 14 grams of protein.

7. Endangered Species Chocolate Company Extreme Dark Chocolate, $29.99 for 12 bars

This 88-percent cocoa bar is the ultimate pick for dark chocolate lovers—and comes with a purpose. Endangered Species Chocolate Co. uses ethically-traded cacao and donates 10 percent of profits to support endangered animals and their habitats. It’s a do-good, taste-good power combo.

8. Nuts ‘N More Birthday Cake High-Protein Peanut Butter, $11.99

Have your cake and eat it, too, with this sprinkle-filled nut butter. At 14 grams of protein per serving (but the same number of calories as your average PB), Nuts ‘N More’s birthday cake spread is a fun addition to any smoothie or slice of toast—but we usually eat ours straight out of the jar with a spoon.

9. Enlightened Sweet Cinnamon Bean Crisps, $2.99

Add crunch, protein, and sweetness to oatmeal, yogurt, or homemade trail mix with Enlightened’s bean crisps. Made from roasted fava beans, these bad boys are coated in just enough cocoa, cane sugar, and sea salt, and offer seven grams of protein and a solid six grams of fiber per serving. Crunch on that!

10. FlapJacked Double Chocolate Mighty Muffin, $3.19

Baking is hard—unless you’re stirring water into a FlapJacked Mighty Muffin cup, popping it in the microwave, and enjoying a warm, gooey muffin just minutes later. Every 220-calorie muffin comes with 20 grams of protein, six grams of fiber, and a dose of probiotics—so go ahead and spread the joy of baked goods this season!

11. Icon Meals Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Protein Popcorn, $9.99

Chocolate-covered popcorn is one of the most beautiful sweet-and-salty combos out there. Icon Meals’ protein popcorns make this treat a little more balanced by adding 10 grams of protein to every sticky, candy-coated serving. Set this stuff out in the party bowl and it’ll disappear in five minutes flat.

12. Buff Bake Snickerdoodle Almond Butter, $12.99

If our favorite cinnamon-y cookie and go-to nut butter had a baby, it’d be Buff Bake’s Snickerdoodle spread. The high-protein nut butta’ (13 grams per serving) is made with just a few simple ingredients: roasted almonds, whey protein, coconut palm sugar, cinnamon, coconut oil, chia seeds, and flax seeds. We’re so obsessed, we spread it on everything—even snickerdoodle cookies themselves.

Shop stockings-worth of yummy snacks. 

This 5-Move Kettlebell Circuit Works Every Muscle

What’s super-time efficient, challenges your entire body, and requires just one piece of equipment? This kettlebell workout from Nike trainer Kara Liotta!

Here’s what you do: Grab a ‘bell, perform each of the five moves below, rest for 30 seconds, and repeat. Churn out three or four rounds total and, voila, you’re done. This circuit fires up everything from your arms to your core to your legs, sky-rockets your heart rate, and leaves you dripping with sweat.

 

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6 Things You’re Not Doing For Your Eyes But Should Be

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, but they’re also windows into your health.

“Many systemic conditions—such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis—have adverse effects that can be seen during a routine eye examination,” says Dr. Deana LaBrosse, founder and primary optometrist at Evanston Eye Wellness, a practice based outside of Chicago. “Changes to eyesight may be the first signs of some of these conditions.”

Just like any other organ in your body, your eyes require certain nutrients and healthy practices to function properly. So it’s not surprising that the effects of a poor diet, technology, sun exposure, and smoking can have a cumulative effect on our eye health, as well—even though these effects may not be realized until later in life.

Unfortunately, many people aren’t following healthy eye-care practices—and that’s because it’s easy to take eye health for granted when nothing is wrong right now. Let’s explore six things—besides an annual eye examination—that you should be doing for your eyes tomorrow, starting today:

1. Protect your eyes from blue light  

Thanks to modern society’s use of technology (cue everyone staring at their iPhones!) and artificial lighting, the American Optometric Association says our eyes have increased exposure to retina-damaging high-energy blue light—which wasn’t an issue in centuries past.

“Excess blue light may cause deep tissue damage in the eye and lead to increased risk of macular degeneration later in life,” says Dr. LaBrosse. “Too much blue light may also disrupt circadian rhythms, making it difficult to sleep after a long day on the computer.”

She recommends wearing glasses with blue-light filters, while also supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that build pigment in the macula, which act like an “internal sunscreen” to protect delicate photoreceptors.

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2. Protect your tear film

The standard American diet is low in omega 3 fatty acids, according to the journal Nutrients. “These acids are necessary components for a complete tear film,” says Dr. LaBrosse.

More than that, environmental stressors—like our computers—cause our blink rates to decrease. “This leads to a down regulation of the oil production in the eyelids and atrophy of the meibomian glands (these prevent the evaporation of the eye’s tear film).

Supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids is necessary for many people to ensure a healthy tear film. Look for a product (like this Nordic Naturals Omega 3) that can get you to 1,000 mg of EPA + DHA omega 3s daily.

3. Clean your eyelids

Your eyelashes don’t just exist for batting—they’re actually a natural reservoir for debris and oils. But those materials can create crusts and biofilms that coat the base of the lashes and create eyelid and eye inflammation, and may lead to chronic dry eye issues, according to the American Optometric Association.

Dr. Lacrosse recommends daily eyelid hygiene with a mild, non-foaming cleanser, along with using a Jojoba cleansing oil—which has a similar composition as our eyes’ natural oils—to break up stubborn debris.

4. Maintain good computer visual hygiene

If you spend a lot of time on digital devices, it’s wise to take frequent blink breaks. The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests using the 20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes take a 20-second break to blink and shift focus to an object 20 feet away before resuming close-up work. This will help prevent digital eyestrain and keep your focus flexible.

5. Use artificial tears

“Our tear layer is the first thing light goes through before it enters the eye,” says Dr. LaBrosse. “Therefore, if your eyes are dry, your vision will be blurry or fluctuate.”

She recommends supplementing your tears during computer use or during low humidity times. Unlike a commonly perpetuated myth, using artificial tears will not cause you to become dependent on them, according to the Cochrane Database.

6. Know your family history

As with most things, prevention is key. Certain sight-threatening conditions, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, have a genetic component. “Knowing your genetic predisposition can help you employ preventative lifestyle changes to lessen your risk of visual changes later on,” says Dr. LaBrosse. If you know of family members with these issues, be sure to make this clear to your doctor.

7. Eat Well

“Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is important in reducing the risk of all diseases, including those of the eyes. In addition, stress reduction and exercise may help reduce overall inflammation in the body and eyes,” Dr. LaBrosse says.

If you worry your diet might be lacking in fruits and vegetables, she suggests taking a multivitamin or supplementing with antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin E.

“If we can detect changes early and before they impact eyesight, patients have the best overall outcomes no matter the age,” concludes Dr. LaBrosse. “If your eyes don’t look good, feel good, or see good, see your optometrist immediately.”

 

7 Ways To Soothe Your Stomach After A Belt-Busting Meal

Whether it’s cookies and eggnog at a holiday party or beers and burgers at the local bar, our favorite indulgences leave our souls fulfilled—and, at times, our stomachs aching.

Still, the idea of an uncomfortable tummy typically doesn’t stop us from enjoying the treats we love. To keep that inevitable post-meal fetal-position at bay, we asked a few food experts for their best tips for soothing your system and getting back on track.

Keep their advice in mind the next time your body punishes you for making another round at the dessert table.

1. Ginger

One of the most commonly-sought remedies for an upset belly, ginger has been around for centuries, dating back to its use as a medicine in ancient China. Ginger gets its distinct taste and smell, along with its antioxidant and soothing properties, from compounds called gingerols, says holistic nutritionist Lahana Vigliano, founder of Thrival Nutrition.

To reap its benefits, Vigliano likes drinking ginger tea, shredding fresh ginger into hot water, or taking ginger capsules. You can also find ginger candies and lozenges to pop post-meal. If you’re wondering whether ginger ale fits the bill, too, sadly your answer is ‘no.’ Delicious as it may be, ginger ale doesn’t contain much (if any ginger) and won’t do much to ease your discomfort, she says.

If you can, incorporate ginger into your meal by sipping on a mug of ginger tea, nibbling a few bites of the spicy stuff, or ordering a gingery dish.

Our Picks: Prince of Peace Natural Ginger Candies, Triple Leaf Ginger Tea, The Vitamin Shoppe Brand Ginger Root (550mg) 

2. Peppermint

Peppermint can help stimulate your body’s bile production and gets your digestive juices and enzymes grooving, says Vigliano. It also contains oils such as menthol that help to calm your digestive system.

To keep your tummy as cool as possible, drink peppermint tea before or during your meal, recommends culinary nutritionist Jackie Newgent, R.D.N. Just be wary if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which might be further irritated by peppermint.

Our Picks: Nature’s Way Pepogest Peppermint Oil, Enzymatic Therapy Peppermint Plus, Alvita Organic Peppermint Tea

3. Prunes

Not only are prunes high in fiber, which helps keep your digestive system functioning at its best, but they also contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that stimulates your system.

Newgent recommends regularly incorporating prunes into your diet to support stellar digestion, but you can certainly pop some prunes after that extra slice of cake—it just might take a few hours for them to really get things moving. If you want to prevent overeating in the first place, snack on a few prunes before you head out to that dinner or party, she suggests.

 4. Probiotics

Our intestines are chock-full of healthy, living bacteria called probiotics, which help us digest food, fight off harmful bugs, and produce vitamins. To bolster these good bacteria as much as possible, Newgent recommends noshing on foods that contain probiotics, such as Greek yogurt and kimchi, regularly.

You can also add a probiotic supplement to your routine to keep your gut healthy and armed with an extra layer of defense against belly-busting eating occasions. Look for a supplement that contains multiple strains of bacteria (like acidophilus and lactobacillus). Loading up on probiotics before a big meal can end up making your tummy feel worse, so make your probiotic supplement a daily thing instead of something you down just when your stomach is already a mess.

Our Picks: The Vitamin Shoppe Brand Ultimate Probiotic (13 Billion), Garden of Life Primal Defense Ultra Probiotic Formula, Nutrition Now PB 8 Probiotic Acidophilus (14 Billion)

5. Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are one of Vigliano’s go-to solutions for an upset stomach. Our bodies produce these enzymes to break down different foods and absorb different nutrients as they pass through our systems—but age, food intolerances, genetics, and medications can all affect our enzyme production. That’s when digestive enzyme supplements can be real lifesavers.

You can find supplements for specific types of foods—like lactase, which breaks down the lactose in dairy—or in blends to support overall digestion. Vigliano recommends taking a general digestive enzyme if you feel overly stuffed after a big meal, but you can also get a jump on good digestion by taking one before your meal.

Our Picks: Enzymedica Digest Gold, The Vitamin Shoppe Brand Lactase Enzyme, The Vitamin Shoppe Brand Digestive Enzymes

6. Activated Charcoal

Not only does activated charcoal make for a killer face mask, but it can also help your body rid itself of toxins. Activated charcoal has a negative electric charge, so it attracts potentially harmful molecules, which have positive charges, says Vigliano.

Try popping an activated charcoal supplement or mixing activated charcoal powder into an easy-to-eat food like applesauce or yogurt before or after a meal. Since charcoal can slurp up medications and make them less effective, just don’t take it too close to any other meds or supplements, Vigliano says.

Our Picks: The Vitamin Shoppe Activated Charcoal (520mg), Solaray Activated Coconut Charcoal Powder

7. Apple Cider Vinegar

Raw, unfiltered ACV contains vitamins and minerals, acts as an antioxidant, and supports the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Plus, research shows that apple cider vinegar can also help lessen a super carby meal’s impact on your blood sugar—and keep any potential blood sugar roller-coasters from leaving you feeling like a sloth.

To make the most of ACV’s pungent power, drink a spoonful or two diluted in a glass of water before big meals and food fests, suggests Newgent.

Our Picks: Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar And Honey Blend, The Vitamin Shoppe Brand Apple Cider Vinegar With Mother

Gifts For The People Who Make Your Life Easier

You know those people who keep your life running when you can’t get your to-do lists straight? Whether it’s your on-the-ball assistant, motivating fitness trainer, or hair colorist who doubles as your therapist, these special folks warrant a special gift that says I value you. Here are a few to choose from.

1. Evolution Salt Co’s Himilayan Salt Lamp, $13.79


For the person who always has your back, this gift offers warm, radiating light for their own self-care. Perfect for creating a relaxing, subdued ambience in their office, bedroom, or living room, salt lamp lovers swear by their ability to cleanse the air of pollutants—which you can read all about right here.

2. Evolution Salt Co’s Himalayan Crystal Fire Bowl Salt Lamp, $35.99


If your recipient already has a salt lamp—and many people do, because they’re awesome!—why not give them their first salt lamp bowl? These pretty crystalline lamps can be used at the office or even as a nightlight. Bonus: They can be left on 24 hours a day without skyrocketing your electricity bill.

3. Now Foods Lavender Essential Oil, $26.99


Lavender oil is known for its relaxing, soothing, and calming qualities—perfect for that someone who always keeps your head on straight when things get crazy. If you’re unsure about essential oils, you can read all about them right here—from how to use them to what they actually do.

4. Nubian Heritage African Black Soap, $4.29


Treat someone special to a pampering skin experience. Used to detox and purify the skin, this natural soap is made with shea butter, oats, vitamin E, papaya, and other goodies. It exfoliates the skin without stripping it of its oils, which is key—especially during the harsh winter months.

5. Soi Company’s Soy Lavender Candle, $26.95


Give the gift of relaxation with this lavender-scented candle. It boasts a whopping 140 hours of burn-time, which means your gift will go the distance. Plus, lavender is a soothing scent, perfect for those after-work downtime hours or lazy weekends.

6. Aiya America’s Ceremonial Matcha Gift Set, $69.99


For the person who makes your life simpler, easier, and happier, why not give them some matcha love? With this tea set, they’ll get a tin of matcha tea (packed with antioxidants!), bowl for drinking, whisk, scoop, tea tin, and ceremonial tea-making instructional DVD. Each bowl is handcrafted in Japan.

7. Desert Essence Jojoba Oil, $9.89


This gloriously-hydrating oil is a hit with all beauty junkies. Made from natural plant extracts, it can be used as post-shower body oil, makeup remover, hair mask, or even as a scalp moisturizer. Plus, it’s got no synthetic or gross ingredients. A little goes a long way.

8. Takeya Thermoflask, $24.29

This is the sleekest, most well-designed bottle out there—perfect for anyone who works out, travels, or is always on the run. So, you know, just about everyone. With its leak-proof lid and easy-to-drink spout, it’s perfect for carrying or hanging off a bag.

Shop the full selection of gifts for people who make your life easier at VitaminShoppe.com.

Gifts For The Hipsters In Your Life

We all have that friend—the one with the trendy but laid-back wardrobe, who listens to the cool new bands and bakes vegan chocolate cookies. Whoever this person is—your brother, sister, co-worker—they deserve a thoughtful, unique gift that reflects their creative, independent spirit. Here’s your very own hipster-approved, totally hand-curated gift list. It’s, like, super bespoke, you guys.

1. SheaMoisture Beard Softener & Skin Protector, 10.99


This one’s for the coolest guy you know, with his flowing facial hair and a serious dedication to keeping it looking effortlessly good. A small price to pay for the envy he’ll draw.

2. Badger’s Beard Grooming Kit, $29.99


Let’s say your hipster buddy wants to crank his facial hair maintenance up a notch. This grooming kit is for the gent who also wants to keep those stray hairs in check. First he’ll apply the leave-in oil to his beard, followed by the balm (about a pea-sized dollop) in order to give it shape and hold. Bonus: Its pocket size means it’s travel friendly!

3. Evolution Salt Co.’s Himalayan Salt Lamp, $13.79


For the hipster who likes to work or play in a relaxing, inspired environment, a salt lamp is key. Enthusiasts of these decorative lamps say they also offer health-boosting perks, like cleansing the air and providing a respite from the damaging blue light of our phones and computers. Mostly, though, they’re just really pretty.

4. The Dirt’s Oil Pulling Mouthwash, $18.99


Why only brush your teeth when you can also promote extra mouth cleanliness with oil pulling? If you’ve not heard of this oral health trend, rest assured your hipster friend has. It keeps your breath fresh, your lips soft, and it may reduce germs, too. And, it’s full of wonderfully-scented essential oils, like pepperminttea tree, and rose.

5. Green Foods Organic Matcha Green Tea, $14.99


Perfect for the hipster who gave up coffee or who simply wants to dial up their intake of health-boosting antioxidants, this soy-, dairy-, gluten- and GMO-free green tea is the perfect mixture of tasty and rejuvenating. Just mix with six-eight ounces of cold or hot water—and voila! You’ve got a super-delicious treat. P.S. It can be used to make smoothies, cookies, and puddings, too.

6. SpaRoom’s Aromaharmony Diffuser, $59.99

Prepare to give your best gift ever. This brilliant machine blends music and fragrance (yep, you heard that correctly) for an ultra-sensory, totally relaxing experience. The AromaHarmony speaker works alongside a diffuser so you can chill out to instrumental guitar while surrounded by calming scents. Folk rock and lavender, anyone?

7. Takeya’s Cold Brew Iced Coffee Maker, $23.79


Cold brew is the newest (and coolest) coffee craze, no matter the season. Most people like their coffee hot or cold—as long as it’s strong. And cold brew leaves behind a potent, clean coffee without the bitter, acidic flavors you tend to get when brewing normally.

8. Nutribiotic Rice Protein, $33.59


Not everyone eats meat or drinks dairy, so it can be hard to get all the protein necessary to feel strong, mentally alert, and ready for the day. With this vegan and gluten-free rice protein, you can gift someone a supplement that keeps them healthy and happy—while tasting delicious, thanks to its vanilla flavoring.

9. Orgain’s Smooth Chocolate, $37.99 for 12 drinks


We’ve got the chocolate lovers out there covered, too. With Orgain’s high-protein vegan nutritional shake, you’ll gift someone plant protein (16 grams per drink) galore. It’s made with organic brown rice, hemp, chia, and pea protein, ingredients sure to get any hipster excited. Yum!

10. D’s Naturals No Cow Bars, $29.99 for 12 bars


Everyone—not just hipsters—loves healthy food that also tastes great. After all, you shouldn’t have to skimp on flavor in order to eat well. With this yummy lemon meringue bar, you’ll get 22 grams of plant protein with only one gram of sugar. It’s also got probiotics in there, so your gut can feel good, too. Perfect as a post-run snack or during a concert in the park.

Shop the full selection of gifts for hipsters at VitaminShoppe.com.

7 Signs You’re Over-Training

Whether you’re training for a race or competition or just serious about your workout grind, it can be easy to let a commitment to fitness to turn into an obsession. And when you just can’t miss a workout, your gym time can become more of a burden on your body than a benefit.

Why? Working out inflicts minor trauma on your body by creating micro-tears in your muscles, which then repair themselves and grow back stronger—unless you don’t give them proper rest to do so, explains Laura Miranda, D.P.T., M.S.P.T,. C.S.C.S., creator of PURSUIT. When you don’t balance working out with recovery and rest, you put your body in a state of overtraining, which the experts call ‘overtraining syndrome.’ When you work out too much and rest too little, your body can’t adapt and mayhem snowballs throughout your body, affecting your mood, hormones, nervous system, and immune system.

If you can’t remember the last time you took a rest day, these common signs and symptoms might mean you’re over-training and need to pump the brakes.

1. Your Sleep Quality Is Garbage

When your central nervous system is firing on all cylinders in an attempt to heal your muscles, you might have a hard time falling or staying asleep, explains Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., Pn1, founder of Training2xl. (This is because your nervous system, when in ‘go’ mode,  churns out hormones like the stress hormone cortisol, which can mess with your Zzz’s.) Not sleeping well enough or long enough for a few days in a row can then impact your reaction time, immunity, cognitive function, and endurance.

Your body should be able to shift back into a normal sleep schedule after two rest days that involve ample bed time, but you may need additional rest days if you still experience sleep disturbances that second night, says Luciani.

2. Your Resting Heart Rate Is Elevated

Your normal resting heart rate is the number of beats per minute (BPM) your heart beats at the start of the day—once you’ve chilled out after being woken up by your alarm. If your resting heart rate is higher than normal, it could be because your body is pumping more oxygen to your muscles to help them recover and heal, explains Grayson Wickham D.P.T., C.S.C.S founder of Movement Vault.

Featured Recovery Supplements

Tons of fitness trackers and watches monitor your resting heart rate—but here’s how to test it manually, if you like doing things old school: Set a timer for 10 seconds and count the number of pulses on your wrist or neck, then multiply it by six. If your resting heart rate is five to 10 beats per minute higher than your usual number, it’s a sign that your body is under stress, says Luciani.

3. You Feel Moody And Unmotivated

Whether you’re hitting the gym, walking the dog, or flowing through some yoga, that movement usually improves your mood. However, if you train too much, you may experience the opposite effect and feel mentally fatigued and grumpy. “You might even start to lose your love of working out because your body can’t handle the stress those workouts are placing on it,” says Luciani.

If you feel unusually moody, stressed out, or uninterested in getting yourself to the gym, your nervous system and hormones may be burnt out from too much stress and not enough rest. You may also notice that your sex drive takes a hit, says Miranda. If overtraining persists for a long period of time (we’re talking months, here), you may even feel depressed, says Wickham.  It’s scary, but true—and research backs it up.

4. You Spend A Lot Of Time Under The Weather

While research shows that regular exercise can help boost your immune system, too much of it can actually have a negative effect on your immunity and make it harder for your body to fight off illness and infection. “If you’re overtraining, you become more susceptible to sickness because you’re forcing your body to work so hard that it uses all its energy for training and can’t fully maintain up a strong immune system and keep your healthy,” explains Luciani.

If you notice you’re getting sick more often, dedicate a couple days a week to active recovery, on which you’ll stick to long walks, low-intensity yoga classes, or stretching, which increase circulation (and transport nutrients to our muscles) to boost recovery without putting extra stress on our bodies.

5. You’re ALWAYS Sore

Soreness is your body’s way of telling you to that it needs more energy to repair and recover—and while a bit of muscle soreness is totally normal at the start of a new exercise routine, you shouldn’t constantly feel sore after your workouts.

Related: 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Workouts

“Athletes tend to ignore fatigue because they mistake soreness as a sign of getting better, faster, stronger, and tougher,” explains Miranda.  Studies show that muscles may need anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to recover—and any soreness past that point indicates you’re just not recovering, says Luciani.

6. Your Last Few Workouts Have Been Lame

If you’ve felt slow or weak during your usual workouts, look out. For example, if you can usually handle a 60-minute HIIT class, crank out an eight-minute mile, or a 90-minute leg day, but find yourself huffing and puffing at your usual pace or weight, you’re in need of rest, explains Miranda. Consider a few bad workouts in a row your body’s way of telling you to take it easy—not a sign that you need to train more and harder.

7. You’re Not Getting Stronger

When you hit a strength-building plateau, there are two possible causes: either your body has gotten used to your workout or you’re not giving your muscles enough time to heal and grow stronger. Basically, you’re creating micro-tears on top of micro-tears in your muscles, says Luciani. So if you’re giving the weights your all but not seeing progress, chances are you’re overtraining.

The Bottom Line

When you know you need a rest, you can still move—just keep it light and easy. Do a low-intensity activity (like yoga, walking, or light swimming), make sure you’re eating ample protein, and take some time to generally unwind, recommends Luciani.

While how many recovery days you need depends on factors like your fitness level and the type and intensity of your workouts, most athletes will need about two or three per week.The most important thing, though, is to listen to your body. If you tend to push through the signals your body and mind send you, ask yourself the following three questions before hitting the gym: Did I sleep for seven hours last night without waking up? Do I want to train today? Am I in a good mood? If you answer ‘no’ to two or more of these questions, take the day off, says Wickham.

Gifts For The Beauty Junkies In Your Life

Whether you’re seeking a few items for your vegan sister, who uses all-natural products exclusively, or your mom, who’s constantly on the search for the best hydrating facial crème, you’re in luck. This holiday season, get the beauty junkie in your life some thoughtful, top-quality, and inexpensive products that are praised by bloggers and flying off The Vitamin Shoppe shelves.

1. Aztec Secret Bentonite Aztec Healing Clay, $8.79

A.k.a. “the world’s most powerful facial,” as it claims on the packaging. Made with 100 percent natural calcium bentonite clay, which is thought to absorb excess oils and dirt from the skin, you’ll literally feel your face pulsating as the stuff does its work. Mix it with equal parts raw apple cider vinegar (we recommend Braggs—see below) or water for the perfect mask.

2. Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, $6.99

Whether you’ll be purchasing this as a set (along with the Aztec Secret Bentonite Aztec Healing Clay) or on its own, you really can’t ever go wrong with ACV. This natural, inexpensive elixir of life is beloved by health and beauty enthusiasts worldwide, since it contains plenty of vitamins and minerals along with antioxidants. (Here’s everything you can do with it to support good health (and good looks!).

3. Reviva’s Alpha-Lipoic Acid cream, $18.99

This miracle cream is loaded with antioxidants alpha lipoic acid and vitamin C, which can help keep skin looking firm, healthy, and supple. It’s blended with Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5, which boosts its anti-aging magic, too, by decreasing the appearance of those pesky fine lines and wrinkles.

4. Derma E’s Hydrating Night Cream, $29.99

What did your grandmother always tell you? Yep, that’s it: “Don’t skip your night cream!” She was right, since the stuff keeps your face looking oh-so hydrated and glow-y. Derma E’s Hydrating Night Cream feeds the skin hyaluronic acid (a natural substance that supports hydration), vitamins, and aloe.

5. Vital Proteins’ Lavender Lemon Collagen Beauty Water, $49.99

This one’s for your most dutiful skin-care buff. Made with marine collagen peptides, which help to keep our skin supple, organic ingredients (like lavender, lemon, beets, and honey), probiotics, and hyaluronic acid, this powder packs a serious beauty punch. All you’ve got to do is mix it with eight ounces of water, and you’re fast on your way to glorious skin.

6. Zuze Luxe’s Truth or Dare Lipstick, $7.74

Forget lipsticks made with gross ingredients. This Natural Products Association-certified, vegan, and gluten-free lipstick comes in a daring shade of kiss-me pink, perfect for anyone who wants to get glam in an ethical, clean way.

7. Life-Flo’s Replenishing and Renewing Rosehip Seed Oil, $7.19

Move over, argan oil—you’ve got some competition. Packed with rosehips and retinol (vitamin A), this heavenly-scented oil is perfect for anyone who wants to give their skin some dewy, natural (and sweet-smelling) love.

8. My Magic Mud Activated Charcoal Whitening Toothpaste, $8.99

Why settle for boring old toothpaste when you can hop on the activated charcoal train? Sure, the idea might sound a little weird—but for anyone interested in naturally effective ways of cleansing the mouth and brightening the chompers, this is a steal. Plus, it tastes like peppermint!

9. SanMedica SeroVital-hgh Liquid Concentrate, $98.99 (on Sale for $78.99 in December!)

This one’s for anyone interested in feeling and looking better (so, you know, all of us). Made with a human growth hormone (HGH), secretagogue, this unique product promotes the increase of HGH levels—potentially leading to improved mood, higher sex drive, and more energy.

10. Jason Natural Cosmetics’ Vitamin E Oil, $8.79

For natural body-care lovers out there, this is a gift that can’t go wrong. Made with vitamin E to nourish and moisturize the skin, it also stars almond, apricot, avocado, and wheat germ oils—a treasure trove of skin-loving goodies designed to promote the appearance of glowing, elastic, wrinkle-free skin.

Shop the full selection of gifts for beauty lovers at VitaminShoppe.com.

6 Of The Healthiest Grains You Can Eat

If your go-to grub includes oatmeal for breakfast and sushi rolls for dinner, you’re certainly not alone. Carbs are a beloved (and important!) part of our daily meals, but if we don’t eat the right carbs, we can load up on calories without getting the filling fiber and nutrients our bodies need to thrive.

That’s why it’s so important that our carbs come from whole grains, which contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial phytochemicals that are stripped from refined grains during processing. Oats and brown rice aren’t your only whole-grain options, though.

There are so many types of grains out there that it can be hard to pick which to put on your plate—so we asked nutritionists to expand your whole-grain horizons by sharing their favorites. Add these six healthy grains to your shopping list and not only will you have a more nourishing love affair with carbs, but you’ll also discover a few new flavors and textures to get your taste buds buzzing!

1. Barley

One of the larger grains you’ll find, barley has a chewy texture and nutty flavor. A serving of barley (a third of a cup) is 60 calories and contains 13 grams of carbs, two grams of fiber, and a gram of protein, says Tanya Zuckerbrot M.S., R.D., bestselling author, and founder of The F-Factor Diet. This grain is also a great source of manganese (important for the metabolism, bone health, and antioxidant activity), selenium (important for antioxidant activity and thyroid function), and thiamine (important for energy metabolism).

At the supermarket, look for hulled barley, which contains the whole grain, Zuckerbrot says. Pearl barley is refined and stripped of the fiber and nutrients in the outer layer of the grain.

This grain makes for a great brown rice substitute. Zuckerbrot likes using barley to make a higher-fiber mushroom risotto.

2. Black Rice

Move over brown rice, there’s a new variety in town. “Known as forbidden rice or emperor’s rice in ancient China, black rice is sort of sweet and nutty in flavor with a beautiful dark purple color,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. Sounds alluring, right?

A quarter cup of cooked black rice contains 50 calories, 11 grams of carbs, 1.5 grams of protein, and a little less than a gram of fiber. “It’s packed with antioxidants and vitamin E,” she says. In fact, one serving contains about as much antioxidants as a serving of blueberries. Anthocyanins, the antioxidants that give black rice and berries their dark, purple-y color, can’t be found in other varieties of this grain!

Related: What You Should Know If You’re Considering Cutting Refined Carbs

Harris-Pincus likes using black rice in Thai and Asian-style dishes and veggie bowls. Because of its slightly sweet flavor, black rice also works well in desserts, like this cranberry coconut black rice pudding.

3. Sorghum

Sorghum is a gluten-free grain grown in the U.S. that looks similar to Israeli couscous. It’s got a mild flavor and a gentle texture reminiscent of wheat berry.

A quarter cup of cooked sorghum clocks in at 57 calories, with 14 grams of carbs and two grams of protein (not much fiber here, though). It’s also a source of phosphorus, vitamin B6, magnesium, niacin (vitamin B3), iron, potassium, and selenium, all of which can keep energy up and the body balanced, says Harris-Pincus.

Because sorghum is so mild, it pairs with almost anything and easily swaps in for rice in soup, stew, chili, paella, salad, and Buddha bowls, she says. You can also pop it, just like you would with popcorn! Harris-Pincus likes to add popped sorghum into a parfait with Greek yogurt and fruit. (And since sorghum doesn’t have a hull like popcorn does, it won’t get stuck in your teeth).

4. Amaranth

Small, round amaranth is technically more like a seed—but has a similar nutritional profile to many whole grains. It’s very nutty and earthy in flavor.

A quarter cup of cooked amaranth (which is gluten-free) is 62.5 calories, and contains 11.5 grams of carbs, 2.5 grams of protein, and 2.5 grams of fiber. It’s high in calcium, magnesium, and iron, which can prevent muscle soreness and fight fatigue, says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T.

Amaranth also contains B vitamins, which help our body turn food into energy, adds Zuckerbrot.

Cooked amaranth can be used like cooked quinoa (we’ll get to that soon!) and makes a great base for nourishing Buddha bowls. Like sorghum, amaranth can also be popped or puffed, and adds texture to parfaits, oatmeal, salads, and soups.

5. Quinoa

You probably already know that quinoa is a rock star—but did you know that it’s technically a seed?! This small, delicate, and fluffy ancient staple is gluten-free and has an earthy, nutty, almost sweet flavor.

A quarter cup of cooked quinoa is 56 calories, with 10 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of protein, says Zuckerbrot. Unlike many plant foods, quinoa contains all nine of the essential amino acids our bodies need, so it’s also considered a complete protein. It’s also high in phosphorus and iron. “Phosphorus is needed to maintain strong bones, and iron is important to sustain energy and oxygen transport,” she says.

Try adding quinoa to chilis and stews, or sprinkling it into salads.

6. Bulgur

Bulgur is a quick-cooking form of whole wheat that has a somewhat nutty taste and chewy texture.

A quarter cup of cooked bulgar comes in at 38 calories, 8.45 grams of carbs, two grams of fiber, and 1.4 grams of protein. It’s also a good source of the minerals manganese, magnesium, and iron, says Zuckerbrot.

Bulgar is a great way to add bulk to just about anything—especially salads and beans. Zuckerbrot also likes using it to make high-fiber stuffing.

Are You Getting Enough Fiber?

Gifts For The Fitness Fanatics In Your Life

The good feeling a solid sweat leaves you with is a gift in itself, but if you spend your free time pounding the pavement, tearing it up in spin class, or loading up a barbell, chances are your wish list is chock-full of gear, supplements, and goodies to make your workouts feel even better. After all, living a fit lifestyle is about much more than just the time we spend moving.

Here are the products we trust to help us work hard, restore our bodies, and feel fitter and stronger than ever. Treat your gym buddy—or yourself!—to a routine upgrade or two, and power into the New Year on your a-game!

1. Cellucor Cherry Limeade C4 Ripped, $39.99 for 30 servings

You probably know that your workout routine starts before you even step foot into the weight room—about a half-hour before, to be exact. Cellucor’s C4 Ripped preworkout formula boosts your workouts and your efforts to get shredded with ingredients to support energy and weight management, like caffeine (150 milligrams), B vitamins, green coffee bean extract, and cayenne extract. Consider it classic C4’s shredded twin.

2. Optimum Nutrition Fruit Punch Gold Standard Pre-Workout, $29.99 for 30 servings

This tried-and-true preworkout is perfect for the gym-goer looking to build muscle. Optimum Nutrition’s formula packs 175 milligrams of caffeine, three grams of creatine, and 1.5 grams of beta alanine. A scoop also offers a slew of B vitamins, plus citrulline for a little extra pump. Your workouts—and muscle gains—will thank you.

3. Classic Black 28 Oz Blender Bottle, $9.99

If you’re still using a smelly shaker cup from three years ago or trying to pour your supplements into plastic water bottle without making a mess, consider this your invitation to cut that out. Treat yourself to a new Blender Bottle for easier shakes than ever, wherever you are. C’mon, a 28-ounce bottle is BPA-free and fits in your cup holder.

4. Optimum Nutrition Vanilla Ice Cream Gold Standard 100% Whey, $29.99 for 32 servings

Whether you mix it up plain with water, blend it into a smoothie, or stir it into your oatmeal, whey protein is practically its own food group for fitness lovers. With 24 grams of protein, 5.5 grams of branched-chain amino acids, and just three grams of carbs, Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard whey is an absolute staple. A 32-serving tub ($29.99) helps keep your stomach satisfied and your muscles growing—and the vanilla ice cream flavor is as versatile as it gets.

5. BodyTech Rich Chocolate WheyTech Pro 24, $49.99 for 74 servings

If chocolate protein is more your speed (who doesn’t love chocolate milk, after all?), BodyTech’s WheyTech Pro 24 is a fan favorite. The rich, chocolate-y whey packs 24 grams of protein, just three grams of carbs, and costs only 67 cents a serving! We love baking it into protein cookies, rolling it into truffles, or mixing it into fudge.

6. Quest Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Protein Bar, $24.99 for 12

Ultra-portable and available in flavors that taste like dessert, protein bars come in handy when you’re on the go, at work, in the car, or just don’t feel like whipping up a snack. Quest’s chocolate chip cookie dough bar is low-carb (just four grams of net carbs), low-sugar (less than a gram), and high protein (21 grams). Plus, with 14 grams of fiber, it’ll keep you feeling satisfied until your next chow-down. We stash them everywhere from the office to our gym bag.

8. Lenny & Larry’s Double Chocolate Complete Cookie, $19.99 for 12

Treat yourself and load up on protein at the same time with one of Lenny & Larry’s best. These vegan cookies contain nothing artificial and pack eight grams of protein and three grams of fiber per serving, so you can satisfy your sweet tooth guilt-free. So why not make your desserts do double duty? These will make all your chocolatey dreams come true.

8. Scivation Strawberry Kiwi Xtend BCAAs, $23.99 for 30 servings

If you down your preworkout before the gym and shake up your protein after but don’t give much thought to what you’re sipping during your workout, you might be missing an opportunity to level up your fitness. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) support your muscles and boost recovery. Scivation’s Xtend BCAAs contain seven grams of the good stuff per serving, at the ideal muscle-building ratio of 2:1:1, leucine to isoleucine to valine. And, as a bonus, this supp also includes an electrolyte blend for hydration and performance, along with citrulline for pump.

9. True Athlete ZMA With Theanine, $29.99 for 180 capsules

Sure, your workouts are huge for growing stronger and fitter and seeing your body change—but in order to see those results, your body has to recover. True Athlete’s ZMA supplement combines zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, and theanine to support rest and recovery—all while you snooze.

10. Universal Animal Pak, $31.99 for 44 packets

When you’re hardcore about the gym, you need a hardcore supplement regimen to support your training. Universal’s Animal Pak is basically your supplemental foundation, and covers all of your bases—from key vitamins and minerals to important amino acids to adaptogenic herbs to antioxidants to digestive enzymes. This training supplement is the go-to of heavy-lifters and bodybuilders alike.

11. 6 Pack Fitness Innovator 300 Stealth Meal Bag, $79.99

Solid nutrition ensures all your hard work in the gym pays off—but keeping your eats consistent and tune into your goals can be tricky, especially when you’re busy or traveling. That’s where this cooler-than-a-lunchbox meal bag comes in. Stash a full day’s-worth of meals, snacks, and supplements in this bag and you’ll have quick access to healthy meals no matter where you are.

12. Accufitness MyoTape, $6.92

Whether your goal is to bulk up or slim down, taking body measurements is a reliable way to track your progress over time. Accufitness’ looped measuring tape adjusts to fit around any body part you want to measure—whether your waist, biceps, chest, or thighs—for accurate measurements. At $6.92, it’s much cheaper—and more helpful—than a scale!

Shop the full selection of fitness-friendly gifts at VitaminShoppe.com. 

Who’s Good: Q&A With MNDFL Meditation

These days, all you need is a basic knowledge of superfoods and an iPhone upgrade to be deemed a social media influencer. So how do you distinguish between the people on Instagram who can provide solid info, inspiring ideas, and encouragement along your own health and wellness journey and the many one-trick ponies filling feeds with butt selfies? We can help you cut through all the noise (and smoothie bowls). Welcome to Who’s Good, a regular interview series from the editors of What’s Good that catches up with the best, brightest, and boldest social media has to offer.

Up this week: We spoke with Lodro Rinzler, chief spiritual officer at MNDFL Meditation. The meditation studio has three locations in New York City and also runs a separate non-profit, MNDFL Ed, dedicated to making meditation accessible and meaningful, especially for youth.

Thanks for joining us, Lodro! Let’s start with some basics: What is meditation, and why would someone want to do it?

Meditation is, quite simply, substituting your discursive mind for an object—like the breath, a mantra, or a contemplation. Science is now proving what some spiritual traditions have been saying for thousands of years. It’s no longer a monk in robes on the other side of the world telling you that mindfulness and meditation are good for you. Instead, it’s The New York Times, academic papers, your doctor, boss, neighbors, or friends!

A little bit of mindfulness meditation every day over the period of two months leads to increased gray matter in the hippocampus and more activity in the anterior cingulate cortex [which controls high-level thinking, like ethics, morality, and decision-making]—meaning drastically reduced stress levels, better sleep, a boosted immune system, and increased productivity overall. For me, showing up for something as simple as the breath allows me to show up more fully and authentically for the rest of my life.

How can the average person begin getting into meditation? 

While there’s a lot of great resources online, I often recommend working with someone who is a certified meditation teacher and really knows their stuff. It’s important to study with someone who can hold your hand a bit as you get going and answer questions that you have along the way. If you’re not near a meditation center you can go online and check out MNDFL Video, which also has access to those really special teachers.

(Note: Everyone’s first class at MNDFL is $10—and they have 35 expert teachers on-hand.)

How does MNDFL work? We love the idea of a community of meditators. What are some of the values and missions you have?

M N D F L exists to enable humans to feel good. We are New York City’s premier meditation studio, and recently expanded to three locations (Greenwich Village, Upper East Side, and Williamsburg). Each week we have over 150 30- and 45-minute classes featuring expert teachers from a variety of traditions, offering simple techniques in an accessible manner. When classes are not in session, the space is open for self-guided practice. The mission is to make meditation accessible to all.

How can meditation be helpful in an age of high stress, social change, and political turmoil?

Since November 2016, we have seen a spike in attendance for our MNDFL Emotions classes. People are definitely grappling with some strong emotions since the transition in presidency. Meditation allows us to feel how we feel, to express our own innate peace and humanity, and form more authentic (and often offline) connections with others.

What are some of qualities you look for in an instructor?

Great question. I look for a mix of someone who is very well-trained in their lineage, who will offer time-tested techniques (as all too often people call themselves meditation teachers and offer stuff they made up last week, which is pretty harmful).

In addition to excellent training and certification as a teacher, the other thing I look for in a meditation instructor is kindness—someone who has an open heart and genuinely cares about other people.

What does the average person get wrong about meditation? How do we bust those “I can’t do it” myths?

My teacher always says that any meditation is good meditation; there’s no getting it wrong so long as we attempt to do it. I would say that most people think they should sit once and feel instant peace. That’s a bit like expecting meditation to be a massage instead of a training. For example, you wouldn’t expect to be able to pick up a guitar and immediately play Free Bird. We need to train in meditation in the same way, doing a little of it regularly and—over time—we get better at it and see the benefits first-hand. So, the number one thing I advise is to get consistent with your practice over a few weeks and be patient with yourself along the way.

7 Comfort Foods That Taste Delicious With Cauliflower Swaps

Cauliflower, like other cruciferous veggies, is good for your ticker, brain, and bowels (not so sexy, but definitely important), thanks to its high fiber, folate, and antioxidant content. And at less than 60 calories per cup, it’s low-calorie way to fill up.

As chock-full of nutrients as it may be, cauliflower also happens to taste rather bland—and unless you’re picking up an orange or purple variety, it’s not particularly pleasing to the eye, either.

That said, cauliflower’s subtle flavor makes it a versatile, healthy substitute in all sorts of recipes—from dips to ‘meatballs’ to smoothies—because it masterfully takes on whatever other flavors you’re cooking with. If you’ve ever tried cauliflower mashed ‘potatoes’, you know exactly what we’re talking about.

Save major calories and up your intake of the good stuff with these seven nutritionist-approved cauliflower recipes—all of which are bursting with flavor.

1. Cauliflower Fritters

These healthier fritters are sure to be a crowd pleaser at any potluck, game day get-together, or holiday gathering. After all, who doesn’t love a bite-sized appetizer?

These healthy bites are also easy to make: “First, mix together two cups of finely chopped cauliflower florets with two eggs and your favorite seasonings (like salt, pepper, and fresh parsley, or garlic, ginger, and cilantro) to make a batter,” says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., author of The MIND Diet. Form the batter into palm-sized fritters and cook in a shallow non-stick pan in a little olive oil over medium-high heat, until lightly browned on both sides (about two or three minutes per side).  

Then, top each fritter with a dollop of plain Icelandic or Greek yogurt (both are higher in protein and lower in sugar than most yogurts) and garnish with herbs and spices like cilantro, mint, sriracha, turmeric, capers, and good old fashioned salt and pepper, Moon says.

2. Cauliflower Romesco Spread

Your usual Romesco spread gets a nutritional boost with the addition of cauliflower. “This spread is amazing as a veggie dip, on top of chicken or fish, or simply spread on whole-wheat crostini,” says Moon. And, even better: “It’s 100-percent plant-based and packed with healthy fats, fiber, and whole grains,” she adds.

Pop the following into the food processor: one head of roasted cauliflower florets, one blanched and peeled tomato, two cloves of garlic, half a cup of toasted almonds, two slices of whole-grain bread (look for one high in fiber and protein, like Dave’s Killer Bread), a tablespoon of either ancho chili or mild paprika powder, and half a teaspoon of thyme.

Blend until smooth, and then slowly add two tablespoons of red wine or pomegranate vinegar and a quarter cup of olive oil. Add a little water if too thick and season with herbs and spices like garlic, onion powder, rosemary, turmeric, or pepper, to taste.

3. Cauliflower ‘Meatballs’

Cauliflower is a great substitute to use in meatless burgers and ‘meatballs,’ but you can also swap it in for half the meat portion of any burger or meatball recipe to slash both calories and saturated fat while increasing fiber, folate, and antioxidants.

If you’re going halfsies, Moon recommends combining a cup of steamed and drained finely-chopped cauliflower with a pound of lean ground turkey or beef. If you’re going all-out veggie, she recommends combining one cup of cauliflower with one cup of a grain (like cooked quinoa or brown rice) and half a cup of bean paste (think smashed cooked chickpeas or black beans).

Related: 7 Vegetarian Protein Sources

To keep the patties or meatballs packed with flavor, season with your go-to herbs and spices, like onion powder, ginger, or red pepper flakes, or even a dollop of your favorite sauce, like tahini, sriracha mayo, mustard, or pesto.

4. Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Craving a rich, creamy soup to warm you up in the winter months, but not interested in downing tons of fat-laden calories? Cauliflower to the rescue.

Start by blending boiled or steamed cauliflower until smooth. Add that ‘creamy’ blend to any of your favorite soups to thicken them up and add make them feel more indulgent—without the saturated fat and calories in cream, Moon says.

5. Cauliflower-Powered Smoothies

Don’t be alarmed—cauliflower makes for a healthy but undetectable addition to any smoothie. “Adding frozen cauliflower to smoothies is a great way to add bulk and nutrients for few calories,” says Moon.

If you tend to feel gassy after eating cruciferous veggies, steam your cauliflower before popping it in the blender to make it easier to digest, she adds.

Cauliflower’s mild flavor will get lost beneath the other flavors and ingredients in your smoothie, but it’ll add bulk, creaminess, and fiber to keep you feeling more satisfied.

6. Cauliflower Crust

Cauliflower crust has become so popular you can buy it pre-made in tons of grocery stores these days. Nutritionists love cauliflower crust because it adds nutritional value to a pizza or flatbread while cutting back on carbs, says Moon.

To make your own cauli crust, start with one head of boiled cauliflower rice. (Press with a towel or cheesecloth to get as much moisture out as possible.) Then, mix the cauliflower rice with two eggs, and salt and pepper to taste. If desired, you can add other herbs and up to a cup of your favorite cheese here, too. Combine well. Lightly spray a baking sheet, spread out the dough, and bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees (or until medium brown). Then add your desired toppings and bake for another five to 10 minutes, or until any cheese is melted.

7. Cauliflower Grilled Cheese

Cauliflower also helps transform grilled cheese—one of our childhood favorites—into a healthier, veggie-based meal.

Ilyse Schapiro, M.S., R.D., C.D.N uses cauliflower to make the ‘bread’ for this comforting sandwich. Here’s how to do it: Mix one head’s-worth of cooked cauliflower rice with one egg, two ounces of grated cheese (like cheddar or Parmesan), and a sprinkle of salt. Form into two ‘slices of bread’ and bake at 450 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cauliflower is dry and golden.

Then, heat a pan over medium heat. Butter one side of each slice of the cauliflower ‘bread’ and place them in the pan. Cover the other side of each slice with cheese, and form your sandwich. Cook until golden brown on each side (about two to four minutes). Schapiro likes to serve her sandwiches with hot sauce, sriracha, or pesto, and a side salad.

Featured Healthy Cooking Staples

3 Physical Signs You’re Way Too Stressed

You’re logging eight hours of sleep a night but waking up exhausted. Or, you’re tossing and turning for hours though you typically sleep like a log. You get nagging headaches and your belly aches, even though you’ve been under-eating. What gives? Your body may be sending you a loud and clear message: You’ve got major stress.

Yes, it’s true: Stress can negatively affect your both your mind and body. But if you can recognize common stress symptoms, you can learn to manage them.

First things first: Why does stress manifest as physical symptoms? “Everything’s about balance in our bodies, so when things are off-kilter, your body alerts you physically when there’s a problem,” says Dr. Terry Strazzullo, DPT, of South New Jersey-based CORON Physical Therapy. “When you’re stressed, you make subtle physical changes your body notices: You clench your jaw, hike your shoulders up, tense your neck muscles, or don’t drink enough water or eat as well.”

Unchecked stress can contribute to chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic.

So what are the most common symptoms of stress—and is there anything outside of chilling out (because, let’s be honest, that’s easier said than done) you can do to ease them?

Related: Shop essential oils to calm your busy mind. 

The Nagging Headache

You know the drill: Your alarm didn’t go off. You can’t find your keys. You didn’t prep for your morning meeting. Now you’ve got a headache.

Stress is the most common cause of tension-type headaches, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, you may be surprised that major life events (the birth of a child, death of a loved one, a move, a career change, or a divorce) usually aren’t the culprits behind stress-triggering headaches. Instead, it’s the daily grind (i.e. sitting in traffic or dealing with an annoying coworker) that triggers random tension headaches. Responding to these stressors by tensing your muscles or stiffening your shoulders may make tension headaches worse.

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Tension-headache symptoms include soreness in your temples, a band-like sensation around your head, and the contracting of your head and neck muscles. “Tension headaches are a secondary symptom of holding stress in our necks, a habit many women have,” Strazzullo says. “It creates trigger points in the muscles, radiating pain into our necks and heads, becoming a headache.”

At-home treatments include over-the-counter or prescription medications like NSAIDS, as well as relaxation or meditation exercises, according to the National Headache Foundation.

To help promote a better responses to stress, you can reach for adaptogens, which are compounds that help the body respond and adapt to stress. According to the journal Pharmaceuticals, adaptogens help to keep our hormones and immune system working at their best, reducing the potential for stress to run amok in our bodies.

Interested in trying this all-natural approach to reducing stress? Look for ginseng, holy basilashwagandha, rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea),schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), and astragalus root. Read more about these health-boosting powerhouses here.

Too Much Or Not Enough Sleep

Stress is a major contributor to disrupted sleep, whether you’re snoozing too long and waking up exhausted or suffering from nightly insomnia. More than 35 percent of adults report, according to the Mayo Clinic, getting less than seven hours a sleep a night.

Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night to feel our best. If we don’t get enough sleep we could be at risk for chronic problems like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Sleep disruptions can also contribute to fatigue and low energy during the day.

If you’re looking for sleep support, you do have a few options. Melatonin, which is naturally released by our pineal glands, modulates our sleep and wake cycles. During the day, the pineal gland is inactive, but when darkness hits, melatonin floods the body—leading to sleepiness. Fortunately, you can take melatonin supplements for occasional sleeplessness.

You can also try drinking tart cherry juice (which contains melatonin), get a solid workout in, and quit looking at your phone before bed, as a cell phone’s blue light slows melatonin production. (Check out more ways to promote a better night’s sleep.)

STOMACH ISSUES

Stress can also cause nausea, stomach aches, diarrhea, and constipation. “Stomach aches are a common and often first symptom of stress,” Strazzullo says. “We feel knots and butterflies.”

Our brains have a direct effect on our stomachs, according to Harvard Medical School. For example, if you think about eating, your stomach releases gastric juices before the food gets there. Conversely, if your gut is irritated, it signals your brain. That means your stomach distress can be either the cause or result of stress. If you experience gastrointestinal issues with no obvious diagnosed cause, be sure to examine your stress levels.

To promote digestive health, there are a few things you can do. For one, try taking probiotic supplements on a daily basis. It’s also important to avoid refined carbs, sugars, alcohol, and processed foods, and increase fiber and water intake.

STOP THE CYCLE

“Any time you have experienced distressing symptoms, there’s no harm in seeing your doctor, especially as you get older,” says Strazzullo. “It’s never a good idea to self-diagnose. Your primary care doctor is there to rule out any physiological issues and also funnel you to the correct specialist. If it’s stress, he or she can refer you to a mental health professional.”

Stress can mess with your mood, causing you to feel anxious, restless, unmotivated, overwhelmed, irritable, sad, or depressed. Your friends might also notice you’re behaving differently when you’re stressed: over- or under-eating, having angry outbursts, turning to alcohol, withdrawing from your social life, or exercising way less. No good.

The great news: While you can’t completely avoid everyday triggers, you can work to keep your stress under control so you stay on top of your game. Here are some suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Set aside 10 minutes a day for relaxation. Practice meditation, yoga, Tai chi or deep breathing. You can also try a one-minute meditation when you get home from a long day at work. Or, experiment with essential oils, which work by stimulating smell receptors that, in turn, send messages to the brain’s limbic system, helping us control our emotions. Lavender oil, for example, is known to provide a calming, soothing effect.
  • Exercise regularly. Working out can help you take a break from everyday stress, prevent headaches, and get more sleep. Exercise also releases feel-good hormones that can help keep your mood in check. And the confidence boost that comes with regular fitness is helpful, too.
  • Eat smart. Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to give you more energy. Fresh, clean foods supply you with nutrients, vitamins, and minerals—all of which help keep you physically and mentally healthy.