3 Very Real Health Benefits Of Tart Cherries

Berries get a lot of love, but there’s another fruit that deserves equal attention: tart cherries. Despite their sour taste, tart cherries offer some seriously sweet health benefits, thanks to all the good-for-you nutrients packed inside their juicy red shells.

Not only are they full of antioxidants, tart cherries offer vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and copper—along with less sugar and fewer carbs than another favorite snack, blueberries. They also contain trace amounts of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and both omega-3s and omega-6 fatty acids, says William Newsome, M.D., of Solutions Weight Loss in Orlando, Florida.

Here are three solid ways eating tart cherries—or drinking tart cherry juice—can benefit your health.

1. They Can Help Protect Your Cells

Tart cherries’ antioxidant content is one of their biggest perks. A quick refresher: Antioxidants are compounds that naturally occur in certain foods and help protect your cells against damaging molecules called free radicals that are produced when you’re exposed to pollution or when your body breaks down food. Research has shown that damage from these free radicals can contribute to diseases like cancer, arthritis, and dementia. One of tart cherries’ most potent antioxidants is called anthocyanin, which gives cherries (and other fruits) their purple-y color.

One study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that tart cherry extract (particularly that of a variety called Montmorency) can prevent some oxidation seen in cell membranes—so look for that variety at your supermarket!

(As a bonus, the researchers also discovered that one of the compounds found in tart cherries, chlorogenic acid, could help nix insulin spikes—sugar crashes—after meals.)

 2. They Help Promote Healthy Sleep 

Can’t seem to shut down at night? Consider sipping on tart cherry juice. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that elderly participants with trouble sleeping who drank two eight-ounce glasses of tart cherry each day for two weeks slept for a whopping 85 minutes longer than those who were given a placebo drink. The reason for this? Tart cherries contain melatonin (the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles), says Matthew Kadey, R.D., author of Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sports and Adventure. Studies suggest both drinking tart cherry juice before bed and drinking it multiple times throughout the day seem to help, without any sleepy daytime effects.

3. They May Soothe Muscle Soreness Post-Workout

Because tart cherries contain antioxidants, they may help your body bounce back after a workout. “Research shows that if you consume tart cherry juice for several days before and after exercising, you can experience less muscle soreness and faster recovery,” says Kadey.

According to one study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, runners who drank tart cherry juice for a week leading up to a race reported less pain and quicker recovery time afterward than runners who downed a placebo juice. (A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found similar results with marathoners.)

A disclaimer: Tart cherries’ post-exercise benefits seem to be far more noticeable in people who are working out hard (or long) every day—so if you take cardio or yoga classes here and there, you may not notice as much of a difference, Kadey says.

Pucker Up!

How to Add Tart Cherries to Your Diet

To reap health benefits from snacking on fresh tart cherries, aim for about a one-cup serving, suggests Newsome. If you can’t find them fresh, look for dried tart cherries, which are great added to oatmeal or DIY trail mix. (Just cut your serving size down to a quarter cup and look for a brand without any added sugar.)

Same goes for sipping on tart cherry juice. Look for a bottle labeled ‘100 percent tart cherry juice’ that’s free of added sugar or any other juices, Kadey recommends. If you find the flavor of tart cherry juice is too sour for your tastes, try mixing a few tablespoons of juice into a few ounces of water.

Keep your tart cherry facts straight:

You’re Not Too Young To Have A Leaky Bladder

Although most people think of incontinence as an elderly person’s issue, a leaky bladder can occur at any age, to both women and men. In essence, a leaky bladder is the chronic involuntary leakage of urine from your bladder. The issue is both physically inconvenient and mentally frustrating, and it can keep you from taking part in the things you enjoy, like going out with friends or hitting the gym. Read on for more information around why incontinence occurs—and what you can do about it.

The Why

Leaky bladder is classified as any sort of urinary leaking, even very small amounts.

Continence is controlled by the brain, the nervous system, the bladder, the urethra or prostate, and the muscles of the pelvic floor—a complex system of organs and muscles. Two valves in the bladder control the flow of urine, and if any part of the whole system isn’t working (due to neural damage, sphincter or bladder damage, pelvic floor issues, or other issues), incontinence can occur.

Temporary incontinence might also occur from drinking alcohol or caffeine, or taking heart or blood pressure medicines, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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There are two common types of incontinence, and you can experience one or both together: urge and stress incontinence. Urge incontinence occurs when the bladder has a functional issue (e.g. you need to pee all the time or feel like you have to pee when you don’t. This may be linked to nerves in the bladder, hormonal changes, surgery, childbirth, or even dietary habits.

On the other hand, stress incontinence is due to weakness in the sphincter or other issues. It could also be caused by loss of support in the bladder and pelvis, or, for men, due to prostate cancer treatments like radiation.

A third, less common type is called overflow incontinence—when you have leftover urine that needs to be let out—also due to nerve damage or injury.

Other types of incontinence might come from holes in the urinary tract, diseases, spine injuries, or stroke. It’s key to speak with your doctor to figure out what could be going on and how to treat it, as some types of incontinence mirror others.

The Who

It can happen to anyone. Ever leak urine during exercise? It may be a symptom of a leaky bladder. Ever have to cross your legs when you cough or sneeze? Yep, you could be dealing with a leaky bladder, too.

Certain lifestyle choices may increase a person’s risk for a leaky bladder, according says Cynthia Neville, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Director of Pelvic Health and Wellness at FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Centers in Bonita Springs, Florida. For instance, smoking has been associated with developing urinary incontinence. High impact activities, like trampoline jumping, could create bladder control problems as well.

According to the Review of Urology, men tend to experience incontinence less than women (around 3-11 percent of men). But that isn’t just because women experience incontinence due to childbirth (giving birth can weaken the pelvic muscles and cause a leaky bladder). In fact, The Annals of Internal Medicine found that 12.6 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 30 have dealt with the issue, and these were women who had never been pregnant and were otherwise healthy individuals.

Related: Shop supplements to support bladder health.

The How

Options are available. According to the Mayo Clinic, you might try bladder training (learning to hold it), double voiding (trying to pee more each time you go), scheduling your bathroom visits, managing your diet, medicines, electrical stimulation, Botox, devices inserted into your urethra, or surgery. Many women, especially after childbirth, can strengthen their bladder through exercises. Specifically, Neville recommends pelvic floor muscles exercises (a.k.a. kegels).

“The correct contraction of the pelvic floor muscles is when a person squeezes and lifts the muscles that stop gas and urine,” says Neville. “Practice contracting as if stopping both gas and urine at the same time. Contract pelvic floor muscles strongly, but try not to overuse the abdominal or gluteal muscles during the contraction.” Contractions should be held for 10 full seconds and repeated 10 times, three times a day.

According to one study in the journal European Urology, women may also benefit from vitamin C and carotenoid supplements, which can support bladder health.

Oh, and men can do kegels, too! Squeeze the muscles that prevent gas from passing, and hold the contraction for three seconds. Aim for three sets of 10 per day.

If these exercises don’t seem to be helping with your symptoms, Neville recommends meeting with a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor rehabilitation.

6 Reasons Why You Should Never Skip Leg Day

For whatever reason (*cough, excuse, cough*), plenty of people skip leg day. But ignoring all of the muscles below your belt-line is a massive mistake—training your lower body not only guarantees you’ll never be the victim of a nasty ‘skips leg day’ meme, but also helps you reap a number of health and fitness benefits. Here, experts share six big reasons why you should start showing your bottom half more love at the gym.

1. You’ll Burn More Calories

Whether losing weight is your goal or not, training your legs revs your metabolism. Classic leg-day exercises like squats and deadlifts make your body work harder because they involve large muscle groups and multiple joints, explains Laura Miranda, D.P.T., M.S.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of PURSUIT group fitness training.

“The more muscles groups you use, the more calories you are going to burn,” she says. For example, consider a bicep curl versus a deadlift. While the bicep curl mostly isolates your bicep muscles, the deadlift activates and engages your hamstrings, glutes, core, and lats. “And, just like the deadlift, most leg-day exercises require more than one muscle group,” she adds.

If you’re trying to lose weight, leg day will help you get there—otherwise, it’ll give you an excuse to eat a little more. (And who’s going to argue with that?)

2. You’ll Boost Your Cardiovascular System

When it comes to heart health, we typically think of aerobic activities, like running and biking, as being the most beneficial. However, a recent study out of Appalachian State University found that resistance exercise (like lifting weights) also offers cardiovascular health benefits. According to the study, 45 minutes of moderate-intensity resistance training both improved participants’ blood flow and lowered their blood pressure.

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“When your muscles contract, they help to push blood through your veins and back to your heart,” explains David Otey, C.S.C.S., Pn1. So though this study didn’t hone in on lower-body strength training, specifically, having more muscle there makes you better able to circulate blood to your lower extremities, he says.

3. You’ll Have A ‘Fitter’ Brain

Regular exercise has long been linked to a healthier brain, but according to research out of King’s College London, there’s a specific link between stronger legs and a stronger mind. The researchers followed older identical twins throughout a 10-year period and found that the twin who had greater leg power experienced less cognitive decline and that their brain generally aged better than the weaker-legged twin. Why? The researchers believe some of the benefit comes from the new cell production-stimulating hormones that muscles release during exercise—and since leg muscles are the largest in the body, they have the greatest potential for doing so.

4. You’ll Decrease Your Risk Of Injury

‘Use it or lose it’ might sound trite, but it’s definitely true for the joints in our lower body. “When you don’t use your joints, you set them up for breakdown,” says Miranda. By putting controlled stress on our muscles and joints during exercise, we signal them to adapt and grow stronger and more mobile, which is especially important as we age, says Marie Spano, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., C.S.C.S. If we don’t regularly move and challenge our lower bodies, though, we land with a higher risk of injury when we go for a hike or long walk.

Improving lower-body strength may even help reverse the rising need for hip and knee replacements in the U.S., suggests Miranda.

Related: Find joint and muscle support supps to boost your training and recovery.

Plus, if you’re an athlete or a runner, consistent lower-body training and strength could make the difference between getting injured and staying in the game, she says. In fact, exercises like lunges and squats promote stability in the knee, and can help prevent ACL tears, according to The American Council of Exercise. Squats and deadlifts also help develop hip strength and mobility, which are both common sources of injury for runners and other cardio lovers, Miranda adds. (So even if you’re training for a marathon, leg day is still a good idea.)

5. You’ll Build A Stronger Upper Body

Yep, leg day can actually help your upper-body training. Not only are most leg day moves compound exercises (meaning that they work your whole body), but stronger legs also give you a stronger base for upper-body exercises, like the push press and bench press, where your feet are anchored to the floor and some energy is transferred through your legs, says Otey.

Plus, if you constantly skip leg day and only train your upper body, at some point your body won’t want to carry the extra weight of more upper-body muscles and your gains will plateau. “The body is a self-regulating machine,” says Otey. Basically, it wants to grow proportionally.

6. You’ll Run Faster (And Longer)

“When most people want to get into shape, they either go on a run or hop on the elliptical,” says Miranda. But strength training can actually help you develop your endurance faster, which will make you a better, faster runner, she says. In fact, a systematic review published in Sports Medicine confirms that resistance training improves runners’ efficiency and time trial performance.

How To Add Leg Day Back Into Your Workout Routine

Convinced yet? If you’ve been neglecting your legs for a long-time, start by incorporating bodyweight exercises such as air squats, lunges, and step-ups into your routine, suggests Miranda.

Build up to three sets of 10 to 15 reps for each move, two or three times a week. Once you’ve been comfortably performing these lower-body moves pain-free for three or four weeks, it’s time to start using additional weight, so add five to 10 pounds, she says. When you’re able to comfortably complete three sets of eight to 10 reps, up your weight by another five to 10 pounds.

Related: Your Glutes Are Begging You To Do This Workout

8 Tips For Picking The Healthiest Packaged Foods Possible

We’ve all been told to eat lots of whole foods—like fruits, veggies, meat, poultry, and dairy—and to watch our intake of processed foods. But let’s be serious: Most of us aren’t about to blend up our own mayo. Avoiding supermarket aisles stocked with jars, bag, cans, and boxes just isn’t always doable.

When we buy food from a bag, box, or jar, it can be tricky to tell just how healthy (or unhealthy) it really is. After all, plenty of packaged foods contain terrifyingly long lists of ingredients, which often include preservatives and additives we don’t recognize and can’t pronounce. (What the heck is ‘dextrin,’ anyway?) Not to mention, many packaged foods come with a boatload of extra calories—on top of added sugars, fats, and sodium, says Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D.N.

To save you from spending 20 minutes trying to pick between two jars of tomato sauce or boxes of crackers, we asked dietitians for their supermarket navigation tips.

1. Check the sugar content.

Natural sugars that are found in whole foods like fruit and dairy have a place in a healthy diet, but sugars added to many packaged foods and drinks can lead to weight gain and health concerns, , says Amidor. So how much sugar a food contains—and whether it’s naturally-occurring or added—is something you’ll want to look at.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting added sugars to just five percent of our total daily calories, which is 100 calories or 25 grams. So if a food contains more than 10 grams (or 40 calories) of added sugar per serving, it should probably be a no-go, Amidor says.

And don’t expect that added sugar to reveal itself willingly in the ingredient list: “Added sugars can show up on food and drink labels under names like anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, sugar, syrup and white sugar,” says Amidor. Yikes.

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

That said, you don’t necessarily have to nix a food because it contains a little added sugar. If the other ingredients are simple and offer health benefits like fiber or other nutrients, you can cut yourself some slack.

2. Feel out the fat.

One of the reasons packaged snacks can be so dang addicting: They contain added fat for enhanced flavor, says Amidor.

And while fat can be healthy (think of the unsaturated fats in avocados, nuts, and olive oil), many packaged foods are higher in saturated fats and contain trans fats.

Trans, or ‘hydrogenated’ fats have been linked to heart disease and should be avoided as much as possible, says Amidor. Meanwhile, the USDA 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to 10 percent or less of your daily calories, since excess consumption can affect cholesterol, she says.

So when you’re deciding between two packaged foods, compare the amounts of saturated fat per serving and go with the product that has less. Stay away from anything that contains 15 percent of your total daily allotment of saturated fat, Amidor suggests.

3. Beware insane amounts of salt.

The recommended daily max for sodium is 2,300 milligrams, or about one teaspoon of salt, but many packaged foods are bursting with the stuff, sometimes packing half your daily allowance in one serving.

Ideally, though, you want somewhere around 200 milligrams of sodium max per serving, says Benjamin White, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N. So look for foods labeled ‘low-sodium’ or ‘no salt added’ and add flavor with herbs and spices at home.

4. Count the ingredients.

To keep your eats as clean as possible, pick packaged foods that contain as few ingredients as possible, says White. A food with few ingredients is less processed, and often healthier, than one with a long laundry list, he says.

And, since ingredients are listed in order of the amount contained in the food (high to low), looking at the first three can tell you a lot about what you’re eating, White adds. If one of the food’s first three ingredients is a sweetener, non-whole-grain flour, or oil, it’s probably not a great choice.

5. Do some quick nutrient math.

To make our snacks and meals as filling and waistline-friendly as possible, make sure they pack two things: fiber and protein. (You generally want at least three grams of fiber and seven grams of protein, White says.)

To figure out if a packaged food has enough of this good stuff to outweigh the bad stuff that may also be lurking, add up the grams of protein and fiber on the Nutrition Facts. Then add up the grams of total fat and sugar. If the total grams of protein and fiber are higher than the total grams of fat and sugar, you’re good to go, White says.

6. Look for added nutrients.

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, there are four nutrients in particular that Americans fall short on: vitamin D, calcium, fiber, and potassium. (Vitamin D, calcium, and potassium are found in milk and many dairy products, while potassium and fiber can be found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, according to Amidor.)

Related: 9 Nutrients You May Be Short On If You Don’t Eat Dairy

But since so many of us miss out on these four nutrients, they’re often added to packaged foods (like breakfast cereal) to help us get our fill. So if a food packs a boatload of these important nutrients despite having some rather unappealing qualities—like some added sugar—it might still be worth eating, she says. Just make sure the food provides at least 10 to 19 percent of your daily value of one or more of these nutrients per serving.

7. Cut out artificial colors and flavors.

You’ll want to avoid as much artificial anything as possible, and nixing artificial colors and flavors is a good place to start. “Color additives are used for aesthetic purposes, and do not provide any nutritional value to the food,” says Amidor. The same goes for artificial flavors. So go ahead and leave that cupcake icing colored with ‘blue number whatever’ or artificially-flavored nacho chips on the shelf.

8. When in doubt, use an app.

If you just can’t decide whether to put a product in your cart or leave it on the shelf, let your phone do the thinking for you. An app like the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores, gives you quick feedback on the overall quality of a food, says White. “The app gives a rating for thousands of foods based on their nutritional value, ingredients of concern (like additives), and the extent to which they’re processed,” he says. The closer to a rating of ‘1,’ the more worthy the food.

Related: Check out a selection of packaged staples and snacks that keep your health in mind.

3 Ways To Improve Your Squat

Sorry, leg day loathers, squats aren’t going anywhere. This classic move is just that important. “Whether you want to shore up your strength, build muscle, or lose fat, squats are one of the foundational movements that you have to be doing,” says Sean De Wispelaere, master trainer at MBSC Thrive and owner of Sean D. Thrive.

Since they work some of the biggest muscles in your body—your glutes, quads, hamstrings, your abs, and back—squats provide some of the biggest return on your reps. Since big muscles burn more calories in order to power through and recover from exercise than small muscles, squatting is crucial whether you’re looking to build strength or slim down. “And you don’t have to load up barbells to make squatting worth your while,” says De Wispelaere, “cranking out a few sets of bodyweight squats will have your muscles burning in no time.”

Whether you’re squatting heavy loads or sticking to bodyweight squats, proper form is key. “Allowing your knees to cave in or your back to round, for instance, can potentially lead to injury,” says De Wispelaere. “And if you load weight on top of improper movement pattern, you’re likely in for a world of hurt at some point.” That’s why De Wispelaere recommends establishing a solid foundation with the bodyweight squat before progressing to weighted versions.

And even though the squat isn’t a terribly difficult-looking move, it can be tricky to master perfect form. Look out for these common mistakes—and take De Wispelaere’s advice for a more effective burn the next time you drop it low.

Mistake #1: You’re Rounding Your Back

What it means: Your core is weak. (Your “core” is more than just your abs. It’s all the muscles on your front and back between your hips and shoulders.)

While your legs are working to bend and extend through the reps of your squats, you want your core in what’s called an isometric hold, a.k.a. braced as it would be when you do a plank. If your back rounds while you squat, it indicates that your core isn’t strong enough to maintain the tension needed to keep you upright throughout the whole movement, says De Wispelaere.

Why it’s a problem: Repeating a movement over and over with your spine in flexion (meaning your spine aggressively rounds forward, causing your vertebrae to run into each other) can do damage to your back, even if you’re squatting without any weight.

The quick fix: Before lowering yourself down into the squat position, tense your core as though someone is about to punch you in the gut. Keep your abs clenched and pull your chest up in order to keep your back as straight as possible. “No matter how strong you are, only squat as far as you can without your back rounding,” De Wispelaere warns.

The long-term solution: To build lasting strength, performing other isometric holds—like planks or hollow holds—can help build your core strength. You can also practice tightening up your torso during the movement by practicing wall slides, De Wispelaere recommends.

To perform wall slides, face a wall and stand at arm’s-length away from it with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Raise your arms over your head until you form a “Y” shape. Keeping your chest up and your arms high, squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor. If your hands do not touch the wall at any point, inch yourself a little closer and perform another rep. Repeat until you can’t perform a squat without your hands brushing into the wall. This is a great load-free way to make sure you’re practicing good form.

Related: How To Lift Heavy For Maximum Strength Gains

Mistake #2: You’re Lifting Your Heels

What it means: Your ankles are tight.

This sounds silly, right? Unfortunately, tight ankles are more common than you think, because pretty much everything you do contributes to the struggle. Walking, playing a pickup game, and even sitting on the couch with your feet relaxed can shorten and tighten the tendon (your Achilles) that connects your heel to your calf. Since your ankles are so close to your feet—which are your physical foundation—having tight tendons can affect everything up the chain from there, even leading to knee and hip pain, warns De Wispelaere.

Why it’s a problem: While squatting, you want all parts of your feet—heels, ball, and toes—firmly planted on the floor for maximum stability. This stability will not only keep you from tipping forward or back, but will give more power to your push as you stand, helping you to lift more weight or perform more reps.

“If your heels come off the ground, your base of support is less stable, which means you won’t be able to perform the full range of motion of your squat,” according to De Wispelaere. This undercuts the benefits of the move and sabotages your ability to progress. Think about it this way: You can’t build a solid house on a shaky foundation. You can’t build well-balanced strength and muscle with and unstable base either.

The quick fix: Put a weight plate under each of your heels so they’re elevated while you perform your reps. While this doesn’t fix the problem of inflexible ankles, it does allow you to fully access the squat without lining yourself up for injury, according to De Wispelaere. If you feel unstable with your heels elevated, hold a light five to 10-pound dumbbell in front of your chest for counterbalance.

The long-term solution: To gain more range of motion in your ankles, De Wispelaere recommends performing a super-simple ankle mobility drill.

Here’s how it works: Face a wall and plant your palms on it about shoulder-width apart. Assume a split stance, like you would if you were about to lower into a lunge, with your front foot about six inches away from the wall. Keep your feet hip-width apart. Without taking your feet off the ground, try to touch your front knee to the wall by driving it forward until your heel lifts off of the floor. Hold your position wherever your heel pops up for five deep breaths. Repeat five times on each side.

Related: I Stretched For 30 Days With The Goal Of Touching My Toes—See How It Went

Mistake #3: Your Knees Are Caving

What it means: Your hips are weak.

Shakira might be the only person whose hips don’t lie. For the rest of us hip weakness is really common, according to De Wispelaere. From prolonged periods of sitting at your desk, driving in your car, and relaxing on the couch, your hip muscles shorten and weaken because, in those seated positions, they hardly have to work.

Most people fall into one of two categories: Those who found out they had weak hips and fixed them, and those who don’t know they have weak hips, he says.

Why it’s a problem: When your knees cave in towards each other instead of staying out over your toes while you squat, it can make you more susceptible to knee injuries over time, says De Wispelaere. Why? Your knees are meant to travel front to back (unlike a joint like your wrist, which can rotate around in circles), so any time you force them to go diagonally or sideways, you’re making demands that your tendons and ligaments just can’t keep up with.

The quick fix: Focus on pushing your knees away from each other and lowering yourself down between them as you squat. If you can’t do this on your own, De Wispelaere recommends squatting with a light-resistance miniband and looping it around your legs just below your knees. “The feedback from the miniband will naturally force you to push against it, driving your knees out as you squat,” he says. And, bonus perk: Squatting with the miniband will also help you build strength in your outer hips.

The long-term solution: De Wispelaere recommends doing banded walks to strengthen your hips for the future. To perform a band walk, loop a miniband around your legs just below the knee and stand with your feet a little further than hip-width apart. Keeping your legs the same distance away from each other the whole time, walk yourself in a box pattern using short, choppy steps. Perform 10 steps to the left, then 10 to the front, 10 to the right, and 10 to the back to return to your starting position. Repeat three times.

Related: Shop training accessories for effective workouts anywhere.

How To Get Past Your Muscle-Building Plateau

You’ve been going hard at the gym and riding high—your muscles are strong, your endurance is at its peak, and you’re feeling good. But you’ve also noticed that some of those gains you made have plateaued.

Muscle-building plateaus occur once your body becomes accustomed to your workout routine. Muscles have to be stressed in order for the process of growth to begin—the muscle fibers have to be torn so that they can be repaired, only to be built up stronger and slightly bigger than before.

Janelle Tank, personal trainer and owner of Nell Nation Fitness, recommends that clients facing plateaus should focus on updating the movements they already do, turning them into compounds movements that shock and challenge the muscles in a new way. Here’s how you can do that:

Start By Perfecting Your Basic Compound Strength Moves

Tank’s go-to strength movements for her clients include push-ups, shoulder presses, squats, lat pulldowns, and the bench press.

It’s important to ensure that you have the fundamental movements down correctly before moving on to increased weight. If you aren’t doing a strength exercise correctly, you won’t be getting max gains from the movement—and worse, you might hurt yourself.

Related: Shop all protein powders, snacks, and bars.

Tank’s recommendations? When working on the lower body—such as with lunges or squats—ensure you’re pushing through the heels, keep your knees back behind your toes, and keep your shoulders stacked over your hips.

With shoulder movements, you’ll push through your elbows. And if you are working on the chest, keep your chest pushed upward, towards the ceiling.

“When working your back, pull through your elbows,” says Tank. “In any movement you do, you should always have good posture—don’t look up when you have weight over your head (keep your spine neutral), and don’t let your chest fall down (keep your chest pushed up towards the ceiling).”

Increase The Resistance

Both weight-lifters and those who use their own body weight to work out will need to increase the resistance to see the gains. According to The Review of Food Science and Nutrition, increased stress on muscle fibers is a crucial part of creating muscle growth, which is what occurs when you up the resistance in your workout.

Resistance can be added in the form of five pound increments in weights during sets, or adding a resistance band to various compound movements like squats, side kicks, or lunges.

Work SuperSets Into Your Routine

Tank often has her clients do supersets (which may include two or more exercises done back to back with no rest in between, usually focusing on different body parts) to jumpstart muscle growth.

An example: “We ended a leg workout with 30 reps on the abductor machine followed by 30 weighted lunges and 30 unweighted lunges,” Tank says. “It was crazy intense! But the high repetition shock was a great challenge for my clients.”

Get Plenty of Sleep

A study in the journal Sleep showed that extending sleep to a minimum of 10 hours per night increases physical performance. You may not be able to get that many Zs very often, but it’s worth a try during a serious plateau.

Don’t Forget the Power of Protein

It’s absolutely essential to consume enough protein in order for muscles to be able to repair damage done, heal themselves, and produce the growth you want. During a period of growth, the body needs even more fuel, and more protein, than usual. How much protein are we talking?

Related: 4 Protein Shakes That Taste Like Cheat Day

For strength training, Mike Israetel, Ph.D, sports physiologist and co-founder of Renaissance Periodization, recommends looking to take in two grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, which equals the USDA’s base recommendation multiplied by 2.5.

Elliptical vs. Treadmill: Which Is A Better Workout?

Whether you’re a first-time gym-goer or a complete cardio buff, you’re bound to use—at some point—either a treadmill or elliptical to torch those calories. So which one is the better workout?

“Choosing between the treadmill or the elliptical is similar to choosing between snacking on an apple or an orange,” says John Urena, CPT, CES NASM, Level 1 Precision Nutrition coach and owner of Start to Fitness Training in Los Angeles, CA. “Both fruits offer tons of nutrients and benefits and both are low on the glycemic chart,” Urena says. “Similarly, both the treadmill and the elliptical will offer the ability to raise your heart rate and increase your oxygen consumption—and of course, burn calories,” he says.

Related: Shop protein to power up before your workout.

But there are some notable differences. Here are five good-to-know facts about the merits and drawbacks of both machines.

1. The elliptical may actually activate more muscles.

Unless you’re always cranking up that incline when you hop on a treadmill for a walk or run, you’re only going to be activating certain muscles.

“The treadmill doesn’t allow for the person running on it to produce power through their hamstrings or get full hip extension,” Urena explains. “That’s important, because most of us are sitting all day, which shortens your hip flexors. And when you’re on a treadmill, you’re not getting full extension of those hip flexors. The treadmill belt moves during the planting phase of each step and minimizes glute and hamstring recruitment.”

On the other hand, an elliptical workout not only offers you the option to stretch and extend those hip flexors, but you’ll get more glute and hamstring activation, Urena explains. This is because you’re forcing the pedals to go forward and back (while it’s giving you resistance), whereas the treadmill is propelling the belt for you.

That said, if you prefer the treadmill, Urena has a piece of advice: “Use an incline of at least six—if not higher. The higher the incline, the more recruitment of the glutes and hamstrings.”

Related: Shop products to promote heart health.

And while you’re working out on the elliptical, “you’ll want to make sure you’re pushing evenly with both legs so there’s not a jerking motion with every stride,” advises FitFusion trainer Kenta Seki. “It’s very common for people to push more with their more dominant leg.”

2. The treadmill demands proper form.

We tend to think of the treadmill as an easy, accessible, low-pressure machine, but that’s a bit of a misconception—and one that could set you up for injury. “People want to run to get in shape, but you should be in shape to run,” Urena says. “People don’t realize how important proper form is when you’re doing any type of running.”

To that end, there are certain precautions you can take to ensure your form is on-point while on a treadmill: “It’s very common for people to lean forward while running, which can strain your lower back and knees,” Seki says. “To prevent this, make sure you ‘lead with your hips’ the whole time. Keep your glute muscles engaged and push your hips forward, especially if you’re at an incline. Also, try not to bounce while running—ideally, your head shouldn’t be going up and down, but rather staying at one level.”

3. The elliptical may be better for folks with injuries.

According to the Journal of Exercise Physiology, people with injuries may want to skip the treadmill for the mostly low-impact elliptical. “[The elliptical] may be a more favorable exercise modality for overweight patients or individuals with back, knee, or other lower-leg limitations,” the research says.              

Related: Should You Be Doing A HIIT Workout?

Urena agrees, especially when it comes to people who suffer from back pain. “The discs in your spine are essentially cushions,” he explains. “Over time, when you run and land—whether out in the world or on a treadmill—you’re compressing those cushions. For someone with back problems or lower back strain, what will happen is that the discs will keep compressing and compressing, which could set you up for a herniated disc.”

4. For serious, athletic runners, the treadmill may be the ideal choice.

Running hard on a treadmill should not be something someone does when first starting, Urena notes, but if you’re a well-seasoned runner, you can hit your sprinting goals more easily while on a treadmill. “You can somewhat sprint on an elliptical, but it is not the most rhythmic motion,” he says.

5. Both the treadmill and the elliptical offer a great aerobic workout.

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research involved 18 college-aged people without much training on either machine. They worked out at the same level of effort for 15 minutes, and the results showed similar caloric expenditures. However, the heart rates were higher for the elliptical group.

Also worth noting: In a study by the journal Gait & Posture, it was found that elliptical training resulted in greater quadriceps activity and hamstrings use.

6 Magnesium-Packed Foods You Need To Try

An oft-overlooked nutrient that’s crucial for boosting heart health and keeping bones strong, among a host of other benefits, could be hiding in plain sight at the grocery store and in your pantry: magnesium. The last time you thought about magnesium may have been in high school chemistry, but it’s time to get the element back on your radar.

“Magnesium is one of the most underrated nutrients around,” says Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D.N., author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer. “This mineral is involved in more than 300 chemical reactions in our body and is especially important for regulating heartbeat and blood pressure, building and maintaining strong bones, and helping muscles contract and relax.” Plus, emerging research suggests it may even play a role in helping our bodies use insulin and regulate blood sugar, she says.

The majority of the magnesium in our body stored in our bones, but it’s also present in our blood and soft tissues, says Michelle Dudash, R.D.N., author of Clean Eating for Busy Families.

And just as magnesium can provide some amazing benefits, not getting enough of it can lead to serious consequences. “Magnesium deficiency has been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and metabolic disorders, including hypertension and type 2 diabetes,” says Alix Turoff, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., C.P.T. And about half the U.S. population doesn’t meet their daily magnesium needs.

The most recent recommended dietary allowance for magnesium intake ranges from 400 to 420 milligrams per day for men and 310 to 320 milligrams per day for women, according to Turoff. These triple-digit numbers may seem daunting, but it’s not too difficult to get your fill. In fact, the best sources of magnesium are actually some foods that we’re already familiar with.

Related: Magnesium is also available in supplement form.

  1. Spinach

Popeye was way ahead of the curve. According to Dudash, a half-cup of boiled spinach contains 78 milligrams of magnesium, which is about 25 percent of the recommended daily intake for women and 19 percent for men. Spinach also packs vitamin C, folate, potassium, calcium, and even a little bit of protein, she notes. Plus, it’s very low in calories, so eat up!

  1. Nuts

Whether you’re at the grocery store, the gas station, or the airport, nuts are pretty easy to find.

“Eating a small handful of nuts (about a quarter-cup) every day is a great way to get more magnesium, along with other beneficial nutrients,” Dudash says. One ounce of dry roasted cashews contains 74 milligrams of magnesium, about 23 percent of the daily value for ladies and 18 percent for the guys, while a quarter-cup of roasted peanuts pack 63 milligrams of the nutrient, for about 20 percent of the daily value for women and 15 percent for men. (Did we mention peanuts also contain protein, fiber, and vitamins A and E?) You’ll also find magnesium in almonds, she says, topping other nuts with 80 milligrams of magnesium per ounce. (That’s 20 percent of guys’ daily needs and 25 percent of gal’s daily needs.)

  1. Mackerel

Hitting the fish counter can also help you bump up the magnesium in your daily eats. Mackerel is an especially good source, with 82 milligrams of magnesium in three ounces, says Turoff. That’s about 20 percent of guys’ daily magnesium needs and 25 percent of women’s. Not to mention, the fish also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which support heart, brain, and eye health. Sounds like a great reason to make sure you’re serving this up for dinner more often!

Related: All The Things You Didn’t Know Omega-3s Could Do For Your Health

  1. Lima Beans

These underrated beans are a quick and easy way to nosh on protein and fiber, and they also contain magnesium, Ansel says. A half-cup of the beans provides 63 milligrams of magnesium, about 20 percent of your daily value if you’re a woman, and 15 percent if you’re a man.

  1. Brown Rice

Did ya need another reason to swap white rice for brown? Not only does brown rice provide more fiber, but a cup also packs a whopping 86 milligrams of magnesium, says Ansel. That’s about 20 percent (men) or 27 percent (women) of your daily dose. Good to know for the next time you order takeout!

  1. Fortified Cereals

Yes, you can also get some magnesium from your morning meal. Some cereals are fortified with magnesium, among other nutrients. One option, according to Turoff, is All-Bran cereal. A half-cup provides 112 milligrams of magnesium (woah—that’s about a third of women’s daily value and 27 percent of men’s!) plus belly-filling fiber.

Related: Are You Making This Crucial Breakfast Mistake?

*Pin this handy infographic to make sure you’re getting your fill of magnesium: 

8 Nutritionists Share The Best Low-Carb Snacks To Keep You Full And Satisfied

As much as we may love them, carbs get a bad rap. And that’s probably because they’re a little confusing. Carbs are our body’s primary energy source, and whole-food sources of carbs (like whole grains, fruit, veggies, yogurt, and legumes) also provide a variety of valuable nutrients.

It’s the carbs from sugar or refined foods, like white bread, that tend to be limited in their nutritional value. They can wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels, often leading to bloating, fatigue, and even weight gain when consumed in excess. But, heck, when portions aren’t in check, even those healthy carb sources can keep you from feeling svelte!

Research suggests carb-controlled diets can help stabilize blood sugar—which is crucial for those with diabetes or hypoglycemia—and reduce triglyceride levels, which cuts risk for heart disease. But because wholesome carb sources contain other nutritional benefits—on top of your body needing fuel—I don’t recommend completely ditching carbs long-term, even when you’re trying to lose weight. (I’ve seen severe carb restriction lead to carb overload too many times.) Still, though, your health—and midsection—will thank you for cutting back on those processed, sugary carbs.

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

So if you’re looking for carb-controlled snacks, but don’t want to go full-on Paleo or Whole30, these satisfying, nutritionist-approved bites should squelch that stomach rumbling between meals:

chicken jerky sized

  1. Chicken Jerky

This portable, protein-rich snack can be a good on-the-go nibble when you’re going easy on the carbs. Your average serving of chicken jerky comes in around 80 calories, with nine grams of protein, three or four grams of fat, three grams of carbs, and three grams of sugar. Many jerky varieties are packed with sodium, so look for an option with less than 300 milligrams.

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  1. Nuts

A handful of nuts is one of the easiest, most satisfying snacks in the book. And they provide a nice balance of protein, fat, and fiber without many carbs, says Sharon Palmer, R.D.N. An ounce of nuts weighs in at about 160 calories, six grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, three grams of fiber, and six grams of carbs—though exact nutritional info varies from nut to nut. Just go for an unsalted variety to avoid unnecessary sodium and keep thirst at bay, she says.

apple almond butter sized

  1. Apple & Almond Butter

Camilla Lee R.D.N., owner of Bloom Wellness, munches on this crunchy, creamy apple-and-almond butter combo when she has a hankering for something sweet and satiating. It packs antioxidants from the apple in addition to healthy fat, fiber, and protein from the nut butter. A small, peeled apple with two tablespoons of almond butter makes for a balanced snack when your inner hunger monster is really rearing its head. The combo clocks in around 265 calories, with seven grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, six grams of fiber, and 23 grams of carbs.

Related: 4 Deliciously Sweet Snacks That’ll Help Stop Cravings In Their Tracks

chicken salad sized

  1. Protein & Produce Bento Box

A container of fresh veggies and pre-made protein can help you tackle hunger when you’re on-the-go, says Julie Stefanski, MEd, R.D.N., C.S.S.D., L.D.N., C.D.E. Stefanski recommends packing chunks of grilled chicken or cheese for your protein, along with produce like avocado (which pack heart-healthy fats that may reduce cholesterol levels), and grape tomatoes (which are rich in the antioxidant lycopene).

PB carrots sized

  1. Baby Carrots & Peanut Butter

Carrots are an excellent source of beta carotene, an antioxidant that’s essential for eye health, while peanut butter provides decadent, healthy fat and protein to keep you feeling full, says Lauren Manganiello, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. A combo of 12 baby carrots with two tablespoons of peanut butter is about 250 calories, with 9 grams of protein, 18 grams of fat, 4 grams of fiber, and 16 grams of carbs.

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photo: Mary Ellen Phipps
  1. Blueberry Pistachio Frozen Yogurt

The pistachios’ healthy fats and blueberries’ light sweetness really jazz up the Greek yogurt in this recipe from Mary Ellen Phipps, M.P.H., R.D.N., L.D., owner of Milk & Honey Nutrition. This sweet snack (or dessert!) is 235 calories, with 18 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat, three grams of fiber, and 18 grams of carbs. Just make sure to read your labels and go for the Greek yogurt with the lowest sugar count, she says.

egg salad veggie sized
photo: Trish Casey
  1. Egg Salad With Veggie Sticks

Eggs are budget-friendly proteins that supply lutein and zeaxanthin (nutrients that promote eye health), among other important vitamins, like vitamin D. This four-ingredient egg salad from Trish Casey, MS, RDN, LDN, co-owner of Advanced Nutrition Consultants, makes a great dip for veggie sticks, like baby carrots, celery, or raw zucchini. A serving of the egg salad is just about 100 calories, and provides 10 grams of protein, six grams of fat, and five grams of carbs. It’s a great (and unexpected!) high-protein, low-carb snack.

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photo: Amy Gorin
  1. Almond Pistachio Bites

These flavorful nut bites from Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., are the perfect make-ahead snack for when you need to satisfy your sweet tooth in a pinch. Each bite contains oats, nuts, and seeds, and is flavored with vanilla extract and unsweetened cocoa powder—no added sugar! One bite clocks in at 180 calories, with six grams of protein, 13 grams of fat, five grams of fiber, and 12 grams of carbs.

Related: Find a low-carb protein bar for grab-and-go nutrition.

 Pin this handy infographic for the next time you need a healthy snack idea in a flash: 

Low Carb Snacks.jpg

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

Should You Try Carb Cycling?

If you’ve ever considered going low-carb to lose weight but don’t want to completely break up with pasta, carb cycling—a diet that alternates between high-carb and low-carb days—might be an option.

According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, carb cycling may be an effective approach. The study found that overweight women who ate normally but otherwise restricted their carbs two days per week lost more weight than women on a standard calorie-restricted diet for three months. They also better maintained their weight loss, and improved their bodies’ sensitivity to insulin (which regulates blood sugar).

But carb cycling isn’t for everyone—and it isn’t meant to last forever. Here’s what you need to know.

Your Body On (And Off) Carbs

So, why cut carbs in the first place? “Going low-carb has been shown to be somewhat effective for weight loss in the short-term,” says board-certified sports nutrition specialist Jennifer O’Donnell-Giles, R.D. That’s in large part because reducing carbs is a fast way to shed water weight: For every gram of glycogen (energy from carbs) you stash in your muscles, you store three grams of water with it. So by cutting carbs and depleting some of your glycogen stores, you reduce the amount of water your body holds onto. Hence why many low-carb dieters notice they lost three-to-five pounds pretty quickly, says O’Donnell-Giles.

Your body needs carbs, though, for exercise and muscle-building. Any time you work out—whether it’s running or weight-lifting—at a moderate or high intensity, your muscles use up your glycogen stores to make chemical energy called ATP (adenosine triphosphate), explains Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., host of the All About Fitness Podcast and adjunct professor of exercise science at San Diego State University.

This is the downside to low-carb dieting: It might leave your muscles without the fuel they need to perform and grow. And since muscle is crucial for a fired-up metabolism (the rate at which your body burns calories), many long-term, low-carb dieters find that they gain weight faster after coming off that low-carb diet, says O’Donnell-Giles.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

That’s where carb-cycling comes in. By cycling through no-carb, low-carb, and high-carb days throughout the week, you can support weight loss and muscle-building at the same time. On no-carb and low-carb days, you’ll lose water weight and burn fat, explains O’Donnell-Giles. Then on high-carb days, you’ll refuel those glycogen stores with the energy you need to crush tough workouts.

How To Do It

First things first, here’s what no-carb, low-carb, and high-carb days look like on a carb cycling diet:

No-carb days: On these days, you’ll limit your carb intake as much as possible—often below 30 total grams per day, with some people staying as low as 20 to 25 grams. That means that other than protein (like chicken, fish, and steak) and fats (like nuts), you’ll eat only veggies that are high in fiber and water, says O’Donnell-Giles. And not just any veggies: Only low-carb produce like leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, and zucchini are on the menu. But starchy vegetables like winter squashes, potatoes, corn, and legumes—along with fruits and dairy—are all no-gos because they’re higher in carbs.

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Low-carb days: On these in-between days, you’ll up your carb intake to roughly 70 to 80 grams per day by adding a serving of starchier veggies, fruits, or grains to two meals. Think brown rice, oatmeal, beans, peas, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. “But many people still avoid gluten, soy, and dairy, which are higher in carbs,” says O’Donnell-Giles. (A serving of pasta contains between 30 and 40 grams, while a sweet potato comes in around 20 grams.)

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High-carb days: On these energy restocking days, prepare to load up on the carb-y goods. You’ll more than double your carb intake to between 150 to 300 grams of carbs, which should be evenly spread throughout your meals. Just make sure to eat your carbs along with protein and healthy fats to slow down their absorption and keep your blood sugar as stable as possible. “If you just ate bagels all day, you’d have really high blood sugar spikes from the fast-absorbed carbs,” says O’Donnell-Giles. This blood sugar rollercoaster can affect your insulin sensitivity and lead to weight gain—and, of course, make you feel sluggish when you crash.

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How you organize your no-carb, low-carb, and high-carb days is up to you. Some people continuously cycle through a no-carb day, a low-carb day, and then a high-carb day. Others stay on each carb level for three days before moving onto the next. Some even start the work week with two no-carb days, followed by three low-carb days, saving their two high-carb days for over the weekend, says O’Donnell-Giles.

Just plan to eat most of your carbs during the day, when your body needs them the most, and not before bed, says O’Donnell-Giles. For bonus points, load up on your carbs (along with protein) after you work out. Your body uses the amino acids in the protein and the glucose in the carbs to repair your muscles—and your revved metabolism will help shuttle the nutrients straight to your muscles to help you recover and get stronger.

Related: Find an amino acid supplement to fuel workouts and muscle recovery.  

Common Mistakes To Avoid

Limiting any type of food inevitably cuts out important nutrients, warns O’Donnell-Giles. Many people on carb-cycling diets don’t eat dairy, for example, which means they’re missing out on vitamin D, magnesium, and calcium. Meanwhile, ditching gluten means missing out on B vitamins. With a little planning, you can easily incorporate these foods into a carb cycling diet, especially on those high-carb days, says O’Donnell-Giles. The more balanced and well-rounded you can keep your overall diet, the better.

Replacing fresh, whole foods with processed stuff is another common no-no, says O’Donnell-Giles. “Some people won’t touch a banana, but will make shakes out of a packet,” she says. Swapping natural foods for processed ones—even if they’re more low-carb friendly—isn’t a good move for long-term nutrition and health, so avoid the too-easy temptation of packaged products and stick with natural foods.

When NOT To Carb Cycle

As great as carb cycling may sound for losing weight without suffering through an all-around low-carb diet—it’s not for everyone. Reconsider trying carb rotating if any of the following apply to you:

You’ve been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. When you skimp on carbs, your body produces less serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates mood and anxiety levels. According to a paper published in PLOS Biology, the body’s release of insulin triggers the release of serotonin. Without carbs to trigger that insulin spike, your production of the feel-good hormone serotonin may also be affected.

Hence why many low-carb dieters get moody and down in the dumps, says O’Donnell-Giles. For this reason, O’Donnell-Giles recommends that those on antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications avoid low-carb diets.

You have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. When you have diabetes, your body has trouble producing and/or using insulin. “That means you need about 15 to 25 grams of carbs, along with protein and fats, at every meal to keep your blood sugar steady,” says O’Donnell-Giles. Significantly switching up your carb intake throws off insulin levels, she says.

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

You’re an athlete or workout warrior. If you’re exercising heavily—like running 20 plus miles per week or crushing regular CrossFit® classes—carb cycling will leave you without the fuel needed for the long periods of time spent training. Remember those glycogen stores we talked about? If performance is a priority for you, the energy you get from carbs is even more important. “You can’t go low-carb and run 10 miles and feel good,” says O’Donnell-Giles.

The Verdict On Carb Cycling

Though carb cycling can be less restrictive than all-out low carb diets or other eating plans, it’s likely not realistic in the long-term. While it can help you lose weight initially, your body will eventually adapt: “You can try carb cycling for three to four months, but your body will hit its limit,” says McCall. At that point, you’ll likely plateau and need to reassess your nutrition strategy.

In the long run, O’Donnell-Giles recommends finding the carb middle ground in your diet. Weight loss and maintenance are all about consistency, she says. A steady, moderate amount of carbs (somewhere between the low-carb and high-carb day amount) keeps hormones (like insulin) consistent while helping you feel energetic and satisfied, she adds. Just make sure those carbs come from quality, whole foods.

I Tried Oil Pulling For Two Weeks—Here’s What It’s Like

As someone who has at least one new cavity every time I visit the dentist, I’d been considering adding oil pulling—the ancient practice of swishing an oil in your mouth for about 20 minutes in order to promote oral health—to my daily routine for some time. So, when What’s Good asked me to try out a new oil-pulling mouthwash on the market, I signed up without hesitation.

I was sent The Dirt Oil Pulling Mouthwash (a combo of coconut oil, natural extracts, and essential oils) and asked to swish with it every morning for two weeks straight. Here’s how it all went down.

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photo: Christina Heiser

It took a few days to get used to oil pulling—but then it became enjoyable.

I’m not much of a morning person, but since I’d heard that oil pulling on a full stomach makes some people feel nauseous, I set my alarm for the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. in order to do it before I got hungry.

At first I was a little put off by the strong earthy taste of the mouthwash, which is full of essential oils like peppermint, tea tree, and rose, as well as extracts like turmeric and cardamom. After four days, though, my taste buds got used to the flavor and I actually started to like it!

To pass the 20 minutes, I’d usually just chill in my PJs on my couch. That quiet chunk of time helped me relax—and I noticed that I wasn’t as stressed out later during the day. Maybe there was something to this whole ‘morning person’ thing after all…

Related: 7 Ways To Become A Morning Person

My breath was fresh all day long.

I hate traditional mouthwashes—not only do they dry out my mouth (since most of them contain alcohol), but they also tend to leave a funky aftertaste that makes my nose burn a bit. But that wasn’t the case with this coconut oil-based mixture. My breath felt fresh for hours without any of the artificial ickiness I had come to associate with mouthwash.

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photo: Christina Heiser

My lips felt softer than they’ve ever been.

As a beauty editor, I’ve known about the moisturizing superpowers of coconut oil for years—and this mouthwash definitely delivered. During my 20 minutes of swishing, a small amount of coconut oil always seeped out onto my lips, and it had a major conditioning effect. Normally, I apply balm throughout the day because my lips tend to get flaky—but as I got into my oil-pulling groove, I noticed I didn’t need to tend to my lips all that much.

Related: 12 Health And Beauty Uses For Coconut Oil

I started paying more attention to my mouth.

Halfway through my oil-pulling experiment, I called April Patterson, D.D.S., a cosmetic and restorative dentist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to find out if there was any scientific evidence that the trend works. Patterson told me that while she’s tried oil pulling before and is a fan, it won’t change your mouth’s pH level—which determines whether bacteria can survive in your mouth. (The higher the pH, the harder it is for bacteria to thrive.)

There are some small-scale studies on oil pulling—which suggest it can help nix stinky breath and help keep some bacteria at bay—but larger studies are needed to support its effectiveness.

Still, Patterson pointed out that patients of hers who oil pull tend to pick up better dental habits across the board. “When people oil pull, they often become more attuned to their mouths,” Patterson told me. “They start doing a better job brushing and flossing.” And that’s exactly what happened to me.

While I’d listened to my own dentist extol the virtues of brushing for a full two minutes twice a day (and flossing at least once a day) time and time again, I always used to rush through the process without much care. Oil pulling for those 20 minutes each morning forced me to really think about what was going on in my mouth. For example, I realized just how much tartar buildup I have on my bottom teeth—which I could’ve easily gotten rid of before it hardened if I had just brushed and flossed as much as I was supposed to. And that’s why I plan to keep up with my new oil-pulling habit—although probably not every day, to be honest, because I just love sleep too much.

Since dedicating such a large amount of time to my morning swish, I’ve found it a whole lot easier to hit the two-minute mark with my toothbrush. After all, compared to 20 minutes, two feels like a breeze. And that in itself is good news for my mouth.

Related: Check out a number of oral-care products for a happy mouth.

Yes, I Take My Toddler To The Gym

“Good job, mommy. Now just do one more!” commanded my toddler. I was doing sit-ups in TRX class and my three-year-old was at my feet, giving me a high-five every time I came up. Later, as the class moved on to planks, she scrambled right beneath my raised body. (FYI—if you ever need to hold your plank just a bit longer, bring your kid along; the prospect of squashing her is real motivation.)

Here’s the deal: If I’m at the gym, chances are my toddler is at my side. This is partly a logistical decision—childcare is hard to find in the mornings (when I prefer to work out) and my gym doesn’t have childcare—but it’s also a choice. Before you judge, hear me out.

Sometimes my daughter sits on an exercise mat and watches me take part in a group class. If I’m exercising on my own, then I’ll bring her to an open gym area where we run sprints, do burpees, and generally make working out something to look forward to. Basically, I’m showing my daughter—from the start—that an active lifestyle is important and that working out can be a lot of fun.

Related: How Motherhood Forced Me To Get Serious About My Health

I joined the gym when my daughter was almost a year old. At that time, she’d sit in her jogging stroller, chomp on a muffin, and read Elmo books while I did the machines. As she got older, we packed a gym-only backpack that was full of play dough, crayons, and other activities to keep her entertained during my group exercise classes.

I’m showing my daughter—from the start—that an active lifestyle is important and that working out can be a lot of fun.

Her gym-only backpack usually keeps her occupied, but sometimes she decides to join in by mimicking my moves. (My current fitness goal is to be able to do mountain climbers half as well as my toddler can!)

Related: Shop training accessories and get your workout on.

I was apprehensive when I first arrived at the gym with a baby on my hip. My community center, where I work out, has a track, an open gymnasium, a fitness room with machines, and a group exercise room. That means that there is generally plenty of space for my daughter and me to exercise without infringing on anyone else’s space.

I try to be respectful, and I expect that other gym-goers will respect the fact that my daughter’s presence is not affecting their workouts. Only once in two years have I had to leave a workout early because of my daughter’s behavior. It was during one of our first group classes, and I was worried that any peep out of my daughter’s mouth would disturb the other participants.

“You didn’t have to leave,” the instructor later told me, but I was worried about disrupting everyone else. That’s because no one wants to work out to the tune of a whiny tot. I get it. At the same time, though, I’ve come to realize that no one’s gym mojo is actually being disrupted by my daughter doing crunches next to me.

People now recognize and greet my daughter at the gym. Her chatting puts smiles on their faces, and I’ve realized that she doesn’t actually have to be silent and perfectly still to be welcome in this public space.

I want my daughter to recognize exercise and activity as a source of strength and empowerment so that she is always able to connect with her body in a positive way.

Many of the moms I know complain that they can’t get to the gym because they have no childcare—which makes me sad. If we’re going to raise children to embrace healthy lifestyles, then we need to make gyms places that welcome families. (Of course, many parents relish gym time as time away from the kids, and I totally understand that, too). Still, I believe parents should be encouraged to bring their kids along if they’d like to.

Related: Read more inspiring health, nutrition, and fitness transformation stories.

Growing up, I didn’t have exposure to the gym like my daughter does now. I didn’t step foot in a gym with any regularity until I was an adult, and even then my trips were born out of necessity—because I thought exercise was something you’re “supposed” to do, or because I wanted to lose a few pounds.

I’ve come to realize that no one’s gym mojo is actually being disrupted by my daughter doing crunches next to me.

Eventually, I figured out that exercise is something I want to do. It makes my body feel strong and able, and I find it empowering regardless of my size.

I want my daughter to recognize exercise and activity as a source of strength and empowerment so that she is always able to connect with her body in a positive way. If I can begin teaching her that now, I think it’s worth the small inconvenience of taking her with me to the gym.

Today, as we were walking out of the gym, my daughter sprinted ahead, arms flung wide.

“It’s fun to spread your wings and run fast,” she sang out.

“Yes!” I agreed. “It is.”

 

How Many Times A Week Should You Strength Train?

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You’re Training For General Health

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

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

If You’re Training For Fat Loss

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

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

Related: This Is The Best Cardio Workout For Weight Loss

If You’re Training For Muscle Growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

If You’re Training For Strength

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

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

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

7 Ways To Use Green Superfood Powders—Other Than Putting Them In A Smoothie

It can sometimes be difficult to get enough (or even any) veggies at every meal. If you’re skimping on your greens or just want to kick up the amount of nutrition you’re getting from your diet, there’s a healthy—and easy—answer.

Enter the world of supergreen powders. Green superfoods like chlorella, spirulina, broccoli, wheatgrass, barley, and moringa boast plenty of health benefits, like protecting against oxidative stress (stress caused by free radicals), boosting the immune system, promoting digestive health, and increasing metabolism —and they can be easily added to your snacks and meals via powders.

With so many supergreen powder combos out there, you can maximize your nutrient and mineral profiles while creating some delicious dishes (and nope, smoothies aren’t your only option!):

omelette
It’s green eggs and ham—taken to the next level. In this savory breakfast bake recipe by Just Jessie B, you’ll add the green powder into your eggs, beat them so they’re thoroughly mixed, and make a nourishing omelet filled with nutritional goodness. (And if you have kids, this may be a great way to get them to eat a healthy breakfast!)

Know Your Supergreens: A Cheat Sheet On What’s What

soup

A barley grass powder like Green Magma can be easily mixed into a summery greens-based gazpacho, like in this Food.com recipe. Avocado, cucumber, and apple cider vinegar, anyone?  And since you’ll be pureeing the ingredients, the barley powder will work into the mix seamlessly.

salad dressing
If you’re already eating a healthy salad, why not boost the nutritional value by adding your green powder to a bit of salad dressing? Check out this creamy, dreamy green salad dressing recipe by Edible Goddess. If you want something with a little crunch, these delicious Spirulina Crunchies make a great salad topper.

hot cereal

Yes, you heard that correctly! Green oatmeal may look a bit strange, but it will be tasty and nutritious, we promise. This Green Living Ash oatmeal recipe uses spirulina, but you can mix in any green you’d like. Big fan of overnight oats? Try this simple green goodness Muffin Myth recipe.

chia pudding
To make this delicious dessert (or dessert for breakfast!) Hunger Thirst Play recipe, add the supergreen powder of your choice to some chia seeds, add nut milk, and voila—you’ve taken a superfood (chia) and turned it into a super-superfood dish! Just remember: When you’re mixing the supergreen powder to the chia seeds, be sure to stir or whisk vigorously to de-clump.

Related: Shop supergreen powders, from chlorella to moringa.

energy balls
Do a quick search on Pinterest and you’ll find a million different mouth-watering recipes for energy balls or bombs (small bites filled with protein, carbs, and fats). If you’re looking to limit your sugar intake but still want to get in on the energy ball game, swap sugar for supergreen powder and enjoy a nutritious little treat. Perfect for breakfast, snack time, or even dessert.

mocktail
If you’re in the market for a creative drink (mocktail or cocktail!), this nutrient-packed spirulina and matcha-based Blonde Berry recipe will up your beverage game (not to mention, matcha is a great source of antioxidants). With a base of coconut water and a strong stir, you’re good to go. Cheers!

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

For so many of us, coffee is what gets us out of bed in the morning. That sweet-smelling, energy-giving liquid enables us to conquer the world. But if you want your morning coffee habit to be even more beneficial, we have a suggestion for you—add protein!

Protein is a powerhouse macronutrient. It fills you up, helps build muscles, and assists in cell repair and creation. It’s important to get a good amount of protein at the beginning of the day to kickstart your metabolism and keep your body well-fueled, and protein powder is an easy, tasty solution.

Here are eight ways you can get your java and protein fix in one. Mornings, prepare to be transformed.

Related: How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

Cafe Mocha Protein Shake

Go for some chocolate-y goodness with this mix of cold coffee, almond milk, and plnt’s chocolate protein powder to create a drink that will certainly keep you going until lunch. Check out this recipe from food and fitness blogger Jennifer Meyering.

Vanilla Swappuccino Protein Shake

Love Frappucinos, but trying to steer clear of all that sugar? Make a healthier version at home by mixing up Hungry Girl’s Vanilla Swappuccino Protein Shake. Use BodyTech’s French Vanilla Whey Protein Powder for a whopping 17 grams of protein in one serving.

Energy Bites

You don’t need to drink your protein to get the coffee-flavored taste you want in the morning—make energy bites with coffee-flavored protein powder, instead! Garden of Life’s Organic Plant Protein in Smooth Coffee is a delicious way to add a kick to Ambitious Kitchen’s to-die-for peanut butter energy bites.

Ready-to-Drink Coffee with Protein

Pressed for time? Skip all the mixing and blending and pick up Orgain’s Organic Coldbrew+Protein, a prepared version of iced coffee. 10 grams of protein will fill you up on the go.

Espresso Protein Smoothie

If you’re paleo (or just trying to get more healthy fats into your life), this espresso protein smoothie from Paleo Power Couple will definitely fit the bill. It’s delicious, too, with a big serving of coconut milk and two full shots of espresso (yes, please). With the paleo power of Ancient Nutrition’s Bone Broth Protein in Coffee flavor, you’ll feel super-energized.

Related: Shop plant protein and get your mornings started.

Coffee Protein Pumpkin Brownies

Brownies for breakfast? Why the heck not? With fiber from pumpkins, caffeine from coffee, and protein from a powder like BodyTech’s Vanilla Whey Protein, these brownies have a lot more nutritional value than the ones you’re used to.

Vanilla Cappuccino Protein Pudding

If you’re vegan (or even if you’re not), you will love this decadent pudding from One Green Planet. Make it with plnt’s Vanilla Pea Protein powder for extra plant-powered benefits.

Iced Mocha Green Monster Smoothie

It doesn’t seem like coffee would be a good combination with greens, but Oh She Glows has created a crazy-delicious spin on a green smoothie, adding coffee for taste and effect. You won’t even taste the spinach! Add plnt protein in chocolate to up the chocolate-y goodness factor.

Related: Shop whey protein from all of the best brands.

 

All Calories Are Not Created Equal—Here’s Why

For plenty of people, calories are king. We watch, count, and talk about calories an awful lot—but is there a difference between a PopTart calorie and a broccoli calorie? And do we really need to whip out our calculators every time we sit down for a meal?

First things first, we need to understand what a calorie really is. A calorie is a unit of energy that our body gets from a food or drink we consume, explains Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Keri Gans Nutrition. Our body needs calories to maintain basic functions and power us through daily activities, like exercise. (We each need a different ideal number of daily calories, depending on our gender, size, our health goals, and our activity level.)

What That Number Doesn’t Tell You

Calories alone shouldn’t be your only food-selecting compass. “There’s a big difference between 100 calories from almonds and 100 calories from cookies,” says Gans. While 100 calories of almonds provides heart-healthy unsaturated fats, fiber, protein, and some calcium, 100 calories of cookies likely provides little more than a quick burst of energy (and later, crash) from simple carbs and sugar. Without fiber or protein on board, the cookie’s carbs and sugar break down fast and send your blood sugar flying.

When you pick up a food product, Gans recommends asking yourself: “What nutrition does this give me that I need? What does it contain that I could do without?” Pay attention to where your calories are coming from. Protein and fiber? Great. Saturated fat and added sugar? Not so great.

Get in the habit of reading ingredient lists: “If we’re just focusing on the calories in a packaged food that has 50 ingredients, we’re way off,” says Brittany Michels, R.D., dietitian for The Vitamin Shoppe. Calories aside, our healthiest food choices are packed with nutrients, aren’t processed, and are free of antibiotics, chemicals, and preservatives, she says.

Foods that have a high ratio of important nutrients (like vitamins and minerals) to calories are called ‘nutrient-dense’ foods, explains Michels. These foods give your body more health bang for your buck. Meanwhile, foods that provide calories but little or no vitamins or minerals are ‘empty calories,’ says Gans. To support your body and health, you want your daily calories to be as nutrient-dense as possible. Foods like salmon and seeds may be high in calories, but they also happen to pack plenty of nutrients.

Related: What You Need To Know About The Popular Whole30 Diet

Considering Calories And Weight Loss

The number of calories you consume does matter, especially if you’re trying to lose weight, so while calories aren’t equal across the board, you should consider them.

You’ve probably heard that you need to consume fewer calories than you burn in order to shed pounds—but you don’t need to count every single calorie to get there. Instead of slaving over your food-tracking app, Gans recommends choosing whole foods and learning how to combine them for balanced, healthy meals. “Fill a quarter of your plate with lean protein like chicken or fish, a quarter with whole grains or fiber-filled carbs like quinoa or sweet potato, and half with vegetables like spinach or broccoli,” she says. When you combine nutrient-dense foods, you’ll feel full and satisfied, and likely land in the right calorie range without all the counting.

Keeping these portion sizes in mind is key, though, says Gans. Too much of a nutrient-dense, healthy food is still too much. Take avocado, for example. The fruit contains fiber and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, but one serving is just a quarter of an avocado, says Gans. So if you spoon your way through the whole thing (been there, done that), you’re still racking up major calories and sabotaging your weight-loss efforts. Other good-for-you fats, like nuts and olive oil, can also be easy to overdo if you’re not conscious of serving size, says Gans.

The bottom line: Calorie count doesn’t define whether a food is healthy or not. Keep your body in tip-top shape (and at a healthy weight) by picking nutrient-dense, whole foods over empty, processed foods, while staying aware of serving sizes when you nosh.

Related: Find a supplement to support your weight-management plan.

13 Burpees That’ll Blow Your Mind (And Torch Serious Calories)

When you’re looking to SWEAT, there’s one move that always jumps to mind: burpees. After all, this bodyweight move hits just about every muscle and is sure to send your heart rate through the roof.

Check out these 13 creative ways to mix up your favorite hurts-so-good move. Warning: A few of them are pretty advanced, so test with caution!

Related: Find the performance supp that’ll give your next workout just the boost it needs.

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15 Beautifying Ingredients That Are Sitting In Your Kitchen Pantry

Natural beauty products and practices are growing in popularity—and for good reason. Plenty of drugstore products are filled with unpronounceable chemicals, fillers, and irritants, which is why from-the-earth ingredients are so valued, especially ones for the skin and hair.

And guess what? You probably have a good deal of beautifying ingredients sitting right under your nose. Like, right in your sandwich.

Here, 15 items you can find in your kitchen pantry that have serious beauty benefits.

1. Olive Oil: It totally makes sense that this do-everything kitchen favorite has serious skin benefits, as well. Extra virgin olive oil is an amazing moisturizer, makeup remover, and overall skin protector, according to the journal Clinics in Dermatology . Add it to masks or scrubs (you can even make your own scrub with a two tablespoons of olive oil and honey and a half cup of sugar) or just plain slather it on when you’re skin is feeling parched (and no, it’s not true that oil will block your pours).

2. Coffee grinds: You may have seen coffee scrubs in upscale skin-care stores, but they’re just as easy to use in your own DIY exfoliating blends. Make sure you use fresh, unused grounds, and combine them with an oil or other emollient. Then, scrub away! This is terrific to use on dry or rough body parts, like elbows, knees, or even lips. A word to the wise: You better enjoy the smell of coffee, because it’s strong!

3. Honey: As good as honey tastes, you should know it’s just as good for your skin. The sweet treat has been used for centuries for skincare, in scrubs, as a bath soak, and even to wash your face. Organic manuka honey is a terrific variety to try, prized for its purity.

Related: Why Has Manuka Honey Become So Popular–And What Do You Actually Do With It?

4. Avocado: Avocado is full of healthy fats (like monounsaturated fatty acids) and Vitamin C, both of which help your skin stay healthy-looking and supple. Mash it up and pop it on your face. (And make sure to save some for guacamole—the best time to snack is as your mask dries!)

5. Egg whites: Sticky, goopy egg whites are actually a bit of a miracle worker for your face, helping to pull gunk from your pores while toning, and tightening the skin. In fact, egg whites are a craze in the Korean beauty world! They contain both collagen and protein, two powerhouse ingredients for skin-care.

Related: Is Matcha Really A Miracle Worker?

6. Mayonnaise: Women have been using mayo hair masks for decades to get enviable super-shiny hair. Ask your grandma—she might have slathered some Hellman’s on her tresses back in the day, too! Yes, you may smell like a potato salad while you’re doing it, but the healthy fats and moisture in the condiment are super-nourishing for hair. Leave in for at least 20 minutes and then shampoo it out.

7. Coconut oil: Coconut oil is the workhorse of the natural world, and for good reason. This incredibly healthy oil is great for baking, cooking, and even oil pulling. It’s also a powerful moisturizer for both hair and skin, and can be used in a variety of treatments. Buy a big tub of organic coconut oil and keep it in your bathroom to use when skin is dry, makeup is stubborn, or hair needs a little oomph.

8. Yogurt: The lactic acid in this kitchen staple (also a super-healthy treat) is an amazing exfoliator, helping to slough off the blah skin and reveal the bright skin underneath. If you want to try a yogurt facial, be sure to use an unflavored option, though! Then, rub in a few teaspoons and let it soak in for 10-15 minutes.

9. Apple cider vinegar: It’s easy to find apple cider vinegar, which is good news for your skin and hair. ACV (as it’s often abbreviated) makes a terrific natural skin toner and it promotes a healthy scalp. This type of vinegar also helps clarify hair, especially when you’ve got a lot of product buildup. It’s also not uncommon to use it as a shampoo!

10. Cornstarch: Cornstarch, frequently used as a thickener in soups and stews, can do double-duty on both your face and your body. It can be used as a setting powder after makeup application (or just to mop up oil) and its super-absorbency makes it a quick, easy fix for other areas where you find yourself getting damp, like inner thighs or armpits.

11. Cucumber: Most people have seen this crunchy veggie used as an eye de-puffer, but did you know it can tone the skin and help to relieve the sting of sunburn? According to the journal Fitoterapia, the jury is still out on how the particular compounds in cucumber help the skin, but they do contain high water content (while boasting a soothing scent), which can help to moisturize the skin.

Related: We Tried 5 DIY Body Scrubs—Here’s What Happened

12. Turmeric: Turmeric is a star these days, adored for its digestive and immune systems support. Some evidence, according to Phytotherapy Research, points to skin health benefits, and it makes a great addition to a facial mask or scrub.

13. Mustard powder: Mustard is much revered in the Indian Ayurvedic health (considered the world’s oldest holistic healing system), both for its culinary and medicinal properties. The powder, made from the mustard seed, can be a great exfoliator for the skin.

14. Banana: DIY hair devotees swear by banana hair masks, and studies in Phytojournal have shown that the fruit favorite can add to the endurance, shine and softness of your hair. Blend the fruit up with an oil of your choice, plus some honey, and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Rinse out and enjoy the tropical vibe left behind.

15. Green tea: You already know that green tea is great for your insides (hello antioxidants!) but its benefits can be reaped on the outside, too. Try it as a toner, mix it with other ingredients to make a mask, or put it into action as a hair rinse. According to the Journal of the German Society of Dermatology, green tea has shown remarkable efficacy in skin-care.

Web

10 Santa-Worthy Holiday Protein Treats

If we could live solely off Christmas cookies this time of year, trust us, we would. After all, it is bulking season, right?

Since we want to survive into the new year without overdosing on sugar, though, we’ll take our holiday treats with a side of protein and greens, please.

Behold, 10 of the most decadent—but non-waistline destroying—holiday recipes. Ever. Prepare to drool.

Mint Chocolate Protein Shake 

 

Double Hot Chocolate Merengue Protein Shake

Related: Your shake is only as strong as your protein powder—pick your favorite BPI blend. 

Pistachio Protein Eggnog

Caramel Candy Cane Protein Shake

 

Grinch Spritzer

Related: Stock up on The Vitamin Shoppe brand products used in these goodies. 

Christmas Pudding Protein Milkshake

 

S’Mores Butterscotch Chilled Protein Latte

 

Snickerdoodle Gingerbread Cookies

 

Santa’s Cookies And Cream Protein Shake

Related: Take your healthy baking and blending to the next level with these plnt ingredients. 

Christmas Morning Shake

The Game-Changing Workout Drink You Didn’t See Coming

You’ve tried sports drinks, chocolate milk, and good ‘ol H20 before stepping onto the treadmill or setting up shop in the weight room. But if you haven’t pre-gamed with beet juice, your workout is missing out.

Mounting evidence shows that drinking beet juice can improve your exercise performance and fitness gains. A recent study published in Circulation: Heart Failure, for instance, found that exercisers with heart failure who drank about 2/3 cup of concentrated beet juice enjoyed a significant boost in their muscle power just two hours later.

Another study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that healthy men who drank about a cup of beet juice extended their time-to-task failure during moderate-to-high intensity cycling tests two hours later.

Even if you aren’t a competitive athlete, that’s a big deal. After all, the more you can put into your workout, the more you’ll get out of it.

So how do beets work? While they’re rich in many health-promoting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, beets’ naturally occurring nitrate is what draws the interest of exercisers and scientists alike, explains board-certified sports dietitian Georgie Fear, R.D., C.S.S.D., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss. Once in our bodies, this nitrate converts to nitric oxide, a compound that dilates blood vessels and thereby allows blood to move more efficiently to and from your muscles, she says.

Still, researchers are finding nitrates can do even more than that. “We are beginning to learn that nitrate also acts as a signaling molecule, directly affecting the contractile proteins within muscles,” explains Andrew R. Coggan, Ph.D., associate professor in the department kinesiology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and co-author of the Circulation: Heart Failure study. The more efficiently those proteins are able to work, the more forcefully your muscles can contract—making you stronger, faster, and able to exercise for longer.

The nitrate in beets is also believed to potentially affect your muscle cells’ mitochondria (microscopic power plants that use oxygen to convert food into cellular energy called ATP), improving the body’s conversion of energy during aerobic exercise, says Fear. During any given exercise, your body actually needs less oxygen to do its thing when you’ve got nitrate in your system, she says.

Beetroot juice
photo credit: iStock

Juice Up

Fortunately, you don’t have to guzzle beet juice morning, noon, and night to benefit from its nitrates. Eating three to four whole beets or drinking one serving of beet juice is enough to help fuel your exercise, Coggan says.

Beet juice can also be found in powdered form. The powder is typically made by freeze-drying beet root—and sometimes the greens that grow from it, as well. Look for a label that lists beets as the only ingredient. These powders can be mixed into water, and have the same properties as your standard juice. 

If you don’t like consuming beets plain, you can always experiment with blending them into your favorite pre-workout smoothie or protein shake recipes, Fear says.

Try Fear’s pear raspberry smoothie recipe if you’re still developing your love of beet flavor. Combine ¼ cup cooked beets, ¾ cup frozen raspberries, 1 cup orange juice, 1 large pear (cored and sliced), and ½ scoop vanilla whey protein powder in the blender. Blend until smooth and enjoy!

In terms of timing, Coggan recommends consuming beets or beet juice about two to three hours before your workout for peak nitric oxide levels and exercise performance. Keep in mind that your levels will drop by 50 percent in about eight hours, though, he says. So for optimum workout results, your best bet is to get your beet on every day—or at least every day you plan to exercise.

Get Your Beet On