Is Plant-Based Protein Just As Effective As Whey Protein?

When it comes to protein, we tend to think of animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs as the best of the best, but a recent study suggests that plant-based protein sources deserve more credit than they usually get.

Published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the study assigned 11 mixed martial artists (MMA) athletes to either a rice or whey protein supplement. They supplemented with three scoops (75 grams) of their designated protein throughout six weeks of high-volume and high-intensity training in preparation for an upcoming fight. They took one of their three scoops of protein before training and followed their usual diets otherwise.

After the six weeks, the study found the rice and whey proteins had ‘statistically similar’ abilities to help the athletes hang onto their muscle mass while undergoing the stress of intense training. That’s right, rice protein benefited their muscles just as much as good ol’ whey.  

The main takeaway: Upping our overall protein intake has a major impact on our ability to maintain fat-free mass and a healthy body composition, regardless of the source of that protein. “The whole point was increasing protein intake, period,” says one of the study’s authors, Alison Escalante, R.D, L.D.N., C.I.S.S.N., of ALLYFIT. “Though we were working with dieters that were cutting weight and in strict preparation for a fight, they were still able to both maintain their lean body mass and their performance by increasing overall protein intake.”

“We wanted to explore this because there’s a lot of hype about plant-based dieting and that’s something that we found intriguing,” she explains. So whether you have a dairy allergy, are vegan, or just need a change of pace, consider this study confirmation that plant-based proteins do in fact hold their weight, and that it is possible to nourish your muscles without relying on animal proteins.

Related: 5 Plant-Based Protein Bars That’ll Make You A Believer

We know many of you whey loyalists still aren’t sold—after all, whey protein has long been considered top dog when it comes to building muscle, as it  contains all nine of the essential amino acids, including high amounts of the branched-chain amino acids (leucine, valine, and isoleucine), which are key to muscle protein synthesis (the process through which our muscles recover and grow). It’s also digested more quickly than plant-based proteins. For those reasons, past research concluded that whey better stimulates muscle protein synthesis than other popular protein options, such as casein and soy.

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Ultimately, though, you can still maintain or build muscle using a plant-based protein supplement. “The body can combine an amino acid from one food source with the amino acids from another food source to make the proteins it needs, including what it needs to grow and maintain muscle,” says Isabel Maples, R.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Plus, many plant-based proteins out there these days combine a number of protein sources—like rice, pea, and hemp—to pack more of amino acids into every scoop. So if you’re really concerned about coming as close to whey as possible, go for one of these combo plant proteins. Look for about 20 to 30 grams of protein—and two to five grams of the BCAA leucine, the most crucial for muscle protein synthesis—per serving.

How To Build Muscle And Shed Fat At The Same Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

DON’T: Focus On Cardio

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

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

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

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

DO: Integrate HIIT

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

DON’T: Drastically Cut Calories

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

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

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

DO: Balance Your Macros

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

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

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

DON’T: Eat Your Protein All At Once

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

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

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

Peer Pressure Has Always Been My Best Fitness Motivator

“Peer pressure” has always had a negative connotation. It’s why kids are “up to no good,” right? For me, though, peer pressure was always a good thing. Instead of getting me into to trouble, peer pressure got me into running.

Peer pressure was the reason I joined the cross country team in high school and it remains the reason, to this day, I show up before dawn ready to run.

I’ve never been athletically inclined on my own, so the concept of running for fun was ridiculous to me for a long time. Growing up, I dreaded gym fitness tests knowing I’d have to run the mile. I played soccer and basketball briefly, but only because my friends were playing too. I wasn’t very good and rarely, if ever, got to play.

When I started high school, I entertained the thought of trying out for field hockey. I was moving from a private school to public school and I thought it might be a good way to make friends, but I ultimately decided that sports weren’t for me.

I got lucky in high school and was adopted by a group of friends that gave me a place to sit at lunch and a ride home after school. As we grew closer, I learned that many of my friends were on the cross country team. They actively chose to log miles every day, while I dreaded running a lap around the track in gym class. I couldn’t imagine doing it voluntarily.

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As my first year of high school came to a close, a friend suggested I sign up for cross country when  the fall came around. I scoffed at the idea. “I’m not a runner,” I told her. She brushed that off.

“Just sign up,” she said. “If you change your mind, you can quit.”

So I signed up. But I had almost forgotten about it—up until a letter, along with a training plan—came in the mail.

I called my friend: “I don’t think I’m going to do this,” I said. “I’m not a runner.” Again, she told me to just show up and quit later if I didn’t like it.

Justly chastened, I acquiesced. I bought a pair of running shoes that were too big and completely wrong for my feet and showed up. The first run was six miles. I grumbled the entire way through, walking more than I ran.

But when I finished, I was met by a chorus of cheers. Great job, they all screamed—assuring me that it gets easier. The next day, they welcomed me back and cheered again. I suddenly had this incredible support system that was rooting for me and celebrated every time I crossed the finish line, even when I came in dead last.

The camaraderie I felt on that team kept me coming back. Even with injuries (likely from my lousy shoes), I signed up for more, electing to run both indoor and outdoor track. What’s more, my circle of friends grew as I got to know members of the boys’ team, too. They lifted me up and pushed me to work harder. My body got stronger and my pace got faster. Running became part of who I was and I was better for it.

Related: I Coped With My Dad’s Illness By Running

But then high school ended. Despite my love of running, I no longer had the support of my team. Suddenly, my motivation waned. I left the suburbs of Connecticut for the streets of New York as I entered college and just couldn’t get myself out there on a regular basis.

I’d run through the streets of Brooklyn and across bridges and back, but I’d push too hard, do too much too soon, and then injure myself. After college, I started working and I just didn’t have time for running—or at least that’s what I told myself.

When I met the man I would marry, I felt that old inkling of motivation (pre-wedding workout!) but once the wedding was over, the urge to stay fit faded again.

Then, after having kids, I felt overwhelmed and out of shape. My body hadn’t bounced back from pregnancy and my mental health was suffering. I needed something for me, so I turned to what I knew had worked. I bought a new pair of running shoes and started pounding the pavement again.

It helped! I felt physically and mentally better after a run, but the motivation still wasn’t there. There was always something else to do. I had work or take care of the kids. I was too exhausted to wake up early and too exhausted by the afternoon to go out late.

I wanted it, though. I really wanted it to work.

Browsing Facebook, I found area fitness groups. One in particular, Moms Run This Town,  was in my town and the runs were near my house. I could lace up my shoes and simply step outside!

“Anyone up for an early morning run?” posted one member. I wondered what she meant by “early.”

“Does 5:45am work?” another said. I gasped at the time. An hour before sunrise.

“Anyone else want to join? All paces welcome!”

Before I had a chance to second guess myself, I replied, “I’m in.”

I hemmed and hawed. I made up excuses for why it was a bad idea. But I said that I was going, so I needed to go. Once again, peer pressure took over and I dragged myself out of bed and pushed through a three-mile run.

Related: How To Become A Runner When You Think It’s Not Your Thing

The next time an early morning run came up, I said yes again. And again. Even as the weather turned colder, I kept saying yes. Saying yes made me accountable. Saying yes meant someone was counting on me. And that’s enough.

I’m training for my first half marathon now. I wish I could say the race alone motivates me to get out and run, but honestly, it’s the fact that a friend is running the race, too.

We all have to find something that works for us and motivates us. Having accountability through a team or running group, and having someone relying on me to show up, ready to run, is what keeps me motivated.

It turns out that peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing if you just find the right peers.

7 Training And Supplement Tweaks To Make For ‘Cutting Season’

Whether you’re a dedicated gym rat who spent the winter months hitting the weights hard, skipping cardio, and chowing down for the sake of packing on muscle, or you lived out these past few months bundled up on the couch with a takeout container in-hand, it’s time to face the music: Warmer months—and the infamous ‘cutting season’—are just around the corner.

For many bodybuilders and casual exercisers alike, cutting season means it’s time to clean up that diet, break a sweat, and switch up your supplement routine to shed body fat and lean out for the summer. Here are seven expert tips to help you switch gears and get shredded.

Tried And True Training Tips

We’ve heard 100 times that ‘abs are made in the kitchen’—and while proper nutrition is crucial for shedding fat, the gym is often the easiest place to start turning up your burn. Keep the following three guidelines in mind to ensure your workout routine is as fat-loss friendly as possible.

1. Superset Compound Movements

To maximize your calories burned per minute spent in the gym, focus on compound movements that incorporate several muscle groups, like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, shoulder presses, pullups, and pushups, says Sofia Rodriguez, M.S., C.P.T. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns (even at rest), and the easier it is for you to shed body fat.

“To really activate your anaerobic energy system and burn more calories, super-set your exercises and take little to no rest in between sets,” she adds. Hit all your major muscle groups at least two to three times per week, and keep in mind that you may not be able to lift as heavy as usual if you’re cutting calories.

2. Focus Cardio On HIIT

To keep your precious muscle intact while shedding as much fat as possible, focus your cardio routine on high-intensity interval training (HIIT), recommends James Grage, co-founder and owner of BPI Sports. HIIT workouts, which are shorter and more demanding than your standard steady-state cardio sessions, burn more calories both during and after your session. Plus, research shows they’re particularly effective for attacking belly fat. Throughout your shred, shoot for three 30-minute sessions per week.

3. But Don’t Do Too Much Cardio

When your body doesn’t have enough of its usual energy sources, glucose or glycogen (energy in the blood or muscles from sugar and carbs), to fuel your workouts, it may break down the proteins in your muscle tissue into amino acids to convert into glucose, Grage says. This muscle breakdown is called ‘catabolism,’ and it is not what you want when you’re trying to cut body fat after building muscle for months.

As appealing as cardio may seem when you’re trying to cut body fat, doing too much (especially if you’re restricting calories or sweating without food in your system) can trigger this muscle protein breakdown and sabotage your results. In fact, one University of Tampa study found that the more cardio participants did per day, the more muscle mass they lost. However, when they limited cardio to 20 minutes or less per day, they minimized declines in muscle mass and strength. So as tempted as you may be to go cardio crazy during ‘cutting season,’ stick to those three 30-minute HIIT sessions!

Supplement Step-Ups

There’s no doubt that a successful shred depends on a solid nutrition and fitness foundation, but there are a number of supplements out there that can support your muscle-sparing, fat-crushing efforts. The following four are our experts’ top picks.

1. Glutamine

The most abundant amino acid in the body, glutamine not only fuels our immune system, but it also regulates muscle protein synthesis for muscle recovery—and it’s especially important when your body is under the stress. To support your muscles during cutting season, Rodriguez recommends adding a glutamine supplement to your routine. Take between two and five grams twice daily—one dose after your workout (to help ward of muscle breakdown) and another before bed (to support muscle-building as you sleep).

2. L-Citrulline

Another amino acid, l-citrulline increases your production of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates your blood vessels and improves the circulation of blood, oxygen, and other nutrients your muscles need to perform during your workouts and recover afterward. That extra blood flow goes a long way; one study found that just two and a half grams of citrulline a day helped healthy, active men improve on a cycling time trial.

You’ll see citrulline in various doses in all sorts of training supplements, and while you’ll benefit from smaller amounts, experts often recommend up to six grams before exercise.

3. BCAAs

Research has shown that BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids)—especially leucine—support muscle growth by directly stimulating the muscle-building process. Unlike most aminos, which are metabolized in the liver, BCAAs are metabolized in skeletal muscle, so your body can break them down quickly for fuel. Keeping a steady supply in your system can discourage your body from breaking down muscle for fuel as you cut. Grage recommends supplementing with anywhere from 10 to 40 grams per day (depending how hard and often you work out).

4. CLA + Carnitine

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a fatty acid that helps the body use stored body fat for fuel and supports lean muscle mass,” says Grage. In fact, studies show that CLA can reduce body fat without impacting muscle mass. “Carnitine, meanwhile, is a fat transporter that shuttles freed-up fat cells to the mitochondria so they can be used for energy.” These two supplements work well together by encouraging your body to utilize more fat for fuel and preserve lean muscle.

Exactly What To Eat (And Drink) After A Workout To Boost Recovery

Sure, if you’re committed to living a healthy lifestyle, you probably don’t skip out on your workouts—but what about your post-workout refueling routine? After all, proper nutrition after training has a huge impact on the results you see—whether you’re training for a marathon or building a more muscular body.

Plain and simple, exercise stresses your body. As your working muscles contract to power you through whatever movement you’re doing, you churn through your energy stores and create tiny tears in your muscle tissue. That’s why post-workout nutrition—which provides your body with the nutrients it needs to restock its energy stores, rebuild damaged muscle tissue, and grow bigger and stronger—is so important.

Here’s what four fitness and nutrition experts recommend you load up on after your next sweat.

1. Carbs

When you work out, your body first uses whatever sugar you have in your blood for energy. Once that’s used up, it typically relies on the glycogen—a form of sugar stored in your muscles and liver—for fuel. So if you want to work out again at some point, you need to refill the tank! “Your post-workout nutrition is all about replenishing the glycogen you depleted during exercise, which you can do by eating carbs,” explains dietitian and exercise physiologist, Jim White R.D.N., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. Research shows that your body is extra-efficient at using carbs for glycogen after exercise—and that glycogen helps offset muscle breakdown.

Both fast-digesting simple carbs and slow-digesting complex carbs will do the trick. If you’re on-the-go and need something quick, fruit (like a banana or an apple) is an easy simple carb option. Bars (like Bonk Breaker’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Brownie) also come in handy in a pinch. If you have time for more of a meal, go for a complex carb like quinoa, whole-wheat bread, or brown rice, suggests Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

2. Protein

If your workout involved strength training, which can create micro-tears in your muscle tissue, you also need to eat ample protein post-workout. “After your workout, your body repairs those micro-tears so your muscles grow bigger and stronger than before, but it needs protein to do it,” says White. Why? Protein is made up of molecules called amino acids, which are the ‘building blocks of muscle.’

Related: 13 Fun Protein Snacks For When You’re Bored Of Bars

White recommends eating a post-workout meal that contains a two-to-one ratio of carbs to protein. That’s about 30 to 50 grams of carbs and 15 to 25 grams of protein. Some easy combos include brown rice and beans, chicken and sweet potatoes, and smoothies made with protein powder and fruit.

3. BCAAs

While a good source of protein, like chicken breast or whey protein powder, provides a wide variety of amino acids, three—called the ‘branched-chain amino acids’ (BCAAs)—are particularly important post-workout. The BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) play a number of roles in the muscle recovery and building process: Leucine signals our muscles to begin muscle protein synthesis (the process through which they rebuild and grow), while isoleucine and valine can be used as energy sources.

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If you’re not noshing on animal proteins like steak or eggs (which are rich in BCAAs) after hitting the gym, Valdez recommends adding a scoop (usually about five grams) of a BCAA supplement to your water after strength training. (Two scoops of BodyTech’s Strawberry Lemonade Critical Aminos XT is our go-to.)

4. L-Glutamine

The most abundant amino acid in our bloodstream, l-glutamine plays a major role in recovery after a hard workout by bolstering our immune system, promoting glycogen storage, and warding off muscle breakdown. In fact, one small study published in the Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness reported that supplementing with glutamine for four days after strength-training significantly reduced muscle soreness.

You’ll find l-glutamine in most protein powders, but it can also be taken in stand-alone powder, pill, or liquid supplements. (BodyTech makes both unflavored powder and capsule options.) It’s also found in foods like meat, dairy, tofu, beans, eggs, and spinach, says White. Take up to five grams per day to support recovery.

5. Water

We know you’ve heard this one before, and that’s because it’s important. In fact, replenishing the fluids you lost during exercise is just as important as re-fueling with carbs and protein, says Valdez. Water is a necessary ‘ingredient’ for muscle protein synthesis, and one study published in the Journal of Athletic Training even suggests that failing to hydrate properly after a workout can exacerbate soreness.

Monitor the color of your urine to gauge your overall hydration status—the paler the yellow, the better. Or, weigh yourself before and after your workouts, and drink 16 ounces of fluid for every pound lost during exercise, says Valdez.

6. Antioxidants

Antioxidants do a body good in so many ways—and exercise recovery is one of them.

Let’s start with ginger: “Research has shown that adding ginger to your meals can help decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness by up to 25 percent,” says Marie Spano M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., C.S.C.S. How? Potent antioxidants in the root called gingerol, shogaol, and zingerone. (Gingerols in particular have been shown to modulate post-workout inflammation.) Spano recommends adding a teaspoon or two of ginger into a meal (it’s great in stir-fries), tea, or a smoothie within two hours of exercising.

Another antioxidant to try: tart cherry. Research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that marathoners who consumed 11 ounces of tart cherry juice leading up to, on the day of, and following their races experienced less muscle soreness. Researchers believe antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins found in cherries work their magic on post-exercise inflammation. Try stirring a cup of tart cherries into your Greek yogurt or oatmeal, or adding eight ounces of unsweetened tart cherry juice—like Dynamic Health’s Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate—to your post-workout smoothie.

Pin this infographic to keep your post-workout nutrition game strong: 

How Often Do You Really Need To Switch Up Your Workout Routine?

With group fitness and specialty gyms booming, there have never been so many ways to work out. In just a matter of days, you could do everything from barre, to treadmill sprints, to a CrossFit WOD, to cycling (underwater!). But is there a sweet spot for variety?

“There’s no right way to do it—it depends on your goals,” says Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., and assistant professor at Lehman College. If you’re just trying to stay active, you can totally bounce around from class to class as long as you’re banking enough rest.

However, if you’re exercising with a specific goal in mind—like building strength, competing in a sport, or shaping a certain physique—your routine and strategy become more important.

Say you want to build muscle, for example. To develop the coordination and proper movement patterns necessary to get strong and grow those muscles, you’ll first need to spend a few months practicing foundational movements like deadlifts, squats, rows, lunges, and bench presses. The more efficient at these moves you are, the more you can lift—and the more you can lift, the stronger and more muscular you become.

Related: 6 Possible Reasons Why You’re Not Building Muscle

Even as you progress, your routine can stay pretty consistent from there forward. “For the average person, there’s little to no physical benefit to changing their workout routine regularly,” says Schoenfeld.

If you just want to maintain your current level of fitness, you could hypothetically do the same exercises for the same number of reps using the same weights every workout. Plus, if changing up your workouts keeps you from regularly practicing those foundational moves, it could pull you backwards.

But frankly, doing the same exercises over and over again can feel a lot like eating your vegetables; you know it’s good for you, but it can become bland and uninspiring over time. “If you hate your workout or if you get bored of it, you’re not going to do it,” Schoenfeld says. This is when you want to switch things up a little bit; not for your brawn, but for your brain!

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One simple way to keep your workouts feeling fresh without skimping on your foundation: Play around with your accessory exercises. If your workout is focused on your back and biceps, for example, you’ll always perform foundational moves like rows, but you can rotate different variations of single-joint accessory moves like bicep curls in and out from workout to workout. If you perform a dumbbell biceps curl one week, try a preacher curl or a barbell curl the next. This way, you avoid boredom without blowing up your whole routine.

Another simple tweak: Play with the rep schemes and weights you use for your go-to exercises. For example, in one workout you might be squat with heavy weight for fewer reps, but in another you might drop the weight down and up the reps.

The bottom line: Once you’ve found the routine that works for you, just stick with it. By implementing these tweaks and pushing yourself, you’ll be able to complete more reps, lift more weight, and see the motivating results you want. The same goes for endurance training. Instead of changing your entire weekly workout schedule, play with different types of cross-training (like swimming or spinning) and adjust your sprint and rest times on interval days to keep training interesting.

3 Quick Ways To Level Up Your Pre-Workout

Is your pre-workout working as hard as you are? With a little DIY chemistry, you can customize your usual formula with single-ingredient add-ins to give it more of the oomph you’re looking for.

Want pump and endurance? Try adding extra l-citrulline or l-arginine AKG. Muscle recovery and gains? There’s betaine anhydrous for that.

Here’s exactly how to max out the potential of your pre-workout supp using the performance-supporting ingredients from BodyTech‘s Alchemist Series.

 

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5 Of The Most Hardcore Pre-Workouts Out There

If you can down a serving of most pre-workouts and then settle down for a nap, it’s time to upgrade from that starter formula to a supplement that’ll really rock your world. Whether you’re looking for major stim, insane pumps, or no-nonsense ingredients, there’s a next-level pre-workout out there just waiting for you to crank up the heat.

So lace up your sneakers and get ready to rage, because we rounded up five of the most intense pre-workouts you can add to your shaker cup.

1. Sparta Nutrition Kraken Extreme Pre-Workout

New to The Vitamin Shoppe, Kraken’s Bombsicle, Watermelon Candy, and Rainbow Candy pre-workouts are no joke. Formulated for focus, pump, energy, and endurance, Kraken packs a slew of intense ingredients, including 125 milligrams of caffeine, 250 milligrams of Teacrine® (a compound similar to caffeine), and 300 milligrams of Vaso-6® (a blend of vasodilating ingredients for pump and blood flow). You’ll also feel the effects of four grams of pump-boosting citrulline, more than three grams of performance- and endurance-supporting beta-alanine, along with taurine (an antioxidant-like amino acid) and glycerol (which supports hydration). If you’re all about the patented ingredients, this one’s for you.

2. ProSupps Mr. Hyde Nitrox

An old favorite of gym rats looking for extreme energy, Mr. Hyde Nitrox turns up the heat with ingredients to support energy, strength, and intensity. The fun starts with 420 milligrams of caffeine, a blend of citrulline and a patented form of arginine called Nitrosigine® for pump, and pre-workout staples beta-alanine and creatine. Nitrox hits next level with its ‘intensity matrix,’ which includes GABA (a neurotransmitter that provides stress report) and yohimbe (an herb with vasodilating properties). Candy junkies can explore their hardcore with flavors like Red Fish Candy and Blue Razz Popsicle.

3. Bucked Up Pre-Workout

Another new edition to The Vitamin Shoppe, Bucked Up’s pre-workout formula is best known for one ingredient: deer antler velvet (yes, deer antler), which contains insulin-like growth factors (IGF-1 and IGF-2). In the body, these hormones support growth (think muscle tissue) and regulate the production of growth hormone (HGH). Research suggests that our production of IGFs impacts body composition, with higher production promoting lean mass (again, muscle) over fat mass, though there’s not much research on deer antler velvet yet. Bucked Up also offers six grams of citrulline, two grams of CarnoSyn® beta-alanine, 200 milligrams of caffeine, and more.

4. Universal Animal Fury Pre-Workout Stack

Like Universal’s other training supps, their no-nonsense pre-workout is formulated for serious lifters. In addition to training staples like citrulline (six grams), beta-alanine (two grams), caffeine (350 milligrams), and l-tyrosine (one gram), Animal Fury also packs five grams of BCAAs to support muscle recovery and growth. And, did we mention there are zero proprietary blends? If you’re looking to cut the B.S., grab a Watermelon or Green Apple-flavored canister today.

5. Finaflex Stimul8 Ultimate Super Pre-Workout

If getting shredded is top priority, Stimul8 can help you crush your workouts while leaning out. This formula’s claim to fame is its patent-pending blend of stimulants, IRISINXD®, which contains cocoa seed and green tea extract (standardized to 60 percent EGCG, green tea’s noteworthy antioxidant) to support thermogenesis and metabolism. Of course, you’ll also get a dose of TeaCrine® in there, too. Consider Stimul8’s ‘endurance and ripping matrix’ your cutting season BFF.

Related: 3 Weight Management Supplements That Aren’t Stimulants

Why I Broke Up With The Gym And Took To The Mountains

I’ve never been the sort of guy that likes the gym—in fact, I’ve always found the whole experience daunting. First off, I’m not a buff dude. I’m the not-conventionally-attractive guy sweating it out on the treadmill next to the super-fit 6’2″ bro with washboard abs. When I do actually muster up the courage to get to the gym, I find myself surrounded by a bunch of fancy equipment that I don’t really know how to use…that I simply end up forcing myself to stay on just to hit a number of reps.

In short, motivating myself to work out has been nothing short of challenging. After years of trying to force myself to get in a workout here and there, though, I found the illustrious secret to staying fit: the great outdoors.

Last summer, on a swelteringly hot day that no one should have willfully been outside, a friend of mine invited me to go rock scrambling, which is essentially the act of using your hands and legs to move up steep, mountainous terrain.

I’d hiked before, but never on high-incline rocks at a pretty fast clip. I remember thinking, This is essentially walkingright? I was wrong.

Related: How I Went From ‘Not Outdoorsy’ To Full-Fledged Biker

Rock scrambling was actually very tricky—nothing the average person can’t do with some trustworthy sneakers and some planning, but tricky nonetheless.

There were plenty of moments during that first experience where I had to tap into serious wells of strength—both physically and mentally—to assess and climb up those steep boulders. I’d had no experience doing any of it, but I had to make smart decisions and use muscles that, frankly, hadn’t seen the light of day.

I enjoyed scrambling up these rocks alongside a bunch of strangers also trying to make it to the top, and learned that I’m actually a fairly competitive person. The gym might not bring it out of me, but nature sure does.

There was one situation in which I’d climbed up a steep set of rocks and after getting stuck, needed to go back down and recalibrate my strategy. I ended up getting nervous because I didn’t have the strength to make the climb, so I slid down only to see my friend successfully complete what I’d tried to do. This only drove my spirit further, encouraging me to take a deep breath and give it another try. Unlike being at a fancy gym surrounded by four halogen-lit walls, I felt like I had achieved something real. I had pushed myself in a functional way that could serve me in my everyday life (and in future rock scrambles).

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The gym no doubt has its many benefits, but when you’re in nature, you’re faced with two simple (but very different) options: take the easy route or go the hard way. There’s something really fulfilling about pushing yourself in a semi-treacherous environment. In nature, you need to use your intuition; there’s no clear “time out” or end-of-workout (except getting out of there before nightfall)—which is totally different from waiting to hit 10 reps on a machine before you can quit.

As I regularly hiked and scrambled, I was surprised at how quickly my stamina and endurance developed. Each time I got stronger, gaining quicker physical reflexes. It felt like an accidental workout, all while being surrounded by beautiful scenery. (I live in New York City, so being able to exercise outside, smelling the air and seeing greenery, was a huge plus.)

You won’t get rock hard abs by hiking once a week, but it will develop your strength and stamina and make you feel more functionally apt. It also helps keep off those extra pounds (I’ve been known to indulge in fast food…more often than I should admit). Hiking also developed my legs, arms, and back muscles.

Another benefit: the hiking community. While some people around you may scramble like pros, nature is the great equalizer—you’re all out there doing the same thing, trying, moving forward. Strategizing routes with friendly strangers, helping an older person up a rock face, or having a quick chat with someone while taking a water break is encouraging—it’s this camaraderie that keeps me coming back to the mountains.

The most worthy benefit, though, may come from nature’s generous mental health boost. If you live in a city, or have a sedentary 9-5 job, setting some time away to get into nature is a great way to feel better about life in general. It definitely helps me disconnect from the grind (I work as a real estate agent, so I’m surrounded by architecture and paperwork every day). After a few weeks without hiking, I start to crave nature and the feeling of accomplishment that follows a good scramble.

During any hike, I collect victories along the way: I can choose the harder path, or climb faster than I did last time. These small but meaningful achievements are quite profound—and, personally, way more fun than figuring out my one-rep max.

What’s The Difference Between Flexibility and Mobility?

If you work out, you know that cardio and resistance training both offer valuable benefits—including boosting your heart health, strength, and metabolism. But there are two other cornerstones of physical fitness we often overlook: flexibility and mobility. And before you ask: No, they’re not the same thing,

“Flexibility is the length or elastic property of your soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons), which gives your body the potential ability to move through a range of motions,” explains Michael Camperlengo, M.S.P.T., M.D.T., a physical therapist at Professional Physical Therapy. Try to touch your toes. If the length and elasticity of your muscles, ligaments, and tendons allows, you’ll be able to reach all the way down. But if those soft tissues are shorter, you might only be able to reach to your shins, or even your knees.

Why is that important? “When our joints are restricted by inflexibility and can’t move through their natural range of motion, dysfunction and pain can occur,” says exercise physiologist Tom Holland, C.S.C.S. “Our daily life activities become more difficult and quality of life is diminished.”

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

Mobility, on the other hand, is how your body moves through its available range, says Camperlengo. “It’s the degree to which the bones and tissues (like fibrous connective tissue and cartilage) that meet to form a joint (like your femur and pelvis for your hip joint, or the arm bones at your elbow joint) are free to move before being restricted.” If you’re lacking mobility in, say, your shoulders, you may not be able to fully rotate your arms or extend them straight up over your head.

“Mobility is essential to our overall quality of life, especially as we age,” says Holland. “The ability to move unrestricted and pain-free allows us to comfortably perform not just our daily activities but leisure activities and sports.” If your body isn’t moving through certain functional patterns correctly, you set yourself up for injury and musculoskeletal issues.

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Flexibility and mobility are very closely related. “The biggest difference is that flexibility gives a person a greater range of potential mobility; however mobility requires motion in the joint itself,” says Camperlengo. “Plus, a person must have the necessary strength and control to utilize the body’s range of motion to full potential.”

You can be flexible yet not have complete overall mobility, and you can be mobile without being particularly flexible in a certain area—but for peak health and performance, you need both.

Flexibility is something many of us struggle with, especially as we get older. “The most important areas to keep flexible are the lower extremities: The hamstrings and quadriceps have a significant impact on both your pelvis (hip joint) and knee, and the calves influence your lower back as well as your knee and ankle joints,” says Camperlengo.

“The pectoral or chest area is also a key area to pay attention to,” he adds. “Life today has us in many sedentary postures, where we’re slouching and looking down (like when using electronic devices), and keeping the pectoralis muscles flexible has significant impact on both neck and shoulder pain, as well as the maintenance of proper posture.”

Flexibility Stretches

Luckily, it’s super-easy to work on improving all-over flexibility. Stretching before and after workouts and incorporating yoga into your routine can help. You can also run through these five stretches several times a day:

1. Supine Two-Knee Twist: Lie on your back and press your lower back into the floor. Raise your feet off the floor, bring both knees toward your chest, and extend your arms straight out to the sides with palms facing down. Keeping feet and knees stacked, slowly lower both legs to the left. Keep your shoulders on the floor and turn your head to the right. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

2. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch: Start in a half-kneeling position with your right foot planted on the ground in front of you and a 90-degree angle in your right knee, and your left knee on the ground directly under your left hip. Keeping your back straight, pull your shoulders down and back, squeeze your belly button towards your spine, and lean forward into the right hip while keeping the left knee pressed into the ground. Hold the stretch for at last 30 seconds for two to three reps. Then repeat on the other side.

3. Kneeling Hamstring Stretch: Again, start in a half-kneeling position with your right foot planted out in front of you and your right knee on the ground below your left hip. Shift your weight back into the left knee, sitting toward your heel, and keep your back flat as you bend at the hips and straighten your right leg. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

4. Corner Pectoral Stretch: Stand facing the corner of a room. Place your palms and forearms on the walls at 90-degree angles, with your elbows slightly lower than your shoulders. Stagger feet to decrease the stress on the lumbar spine, then press chest in towards the corner of the wall until you feel the stretch across the chest area. Hold for 15-30 seconds.

5. Calf Stretch: Stand arm-length away from a wall with your hands flat against the wall. Without bending your knee, extend your left leg back and place your heel flat on the floor. Lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in the calf of your left leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Perform two or three reps on each side.

Mobility Moves

Unsurprisingly, the joints you want to keep mobile are closely related to the muscles you want to keep flexible. “The main areas to keep mobile are the hips, low back, upper back, and shoulders,” says Camperlengo. Incorporate these five moves to your warm-ups before working out or just do them throughout your day to keep all of your joints in working order.

1. Cat Stretch: Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Press the floor away with your hands and knees, drop your head, and round your spine. Hold for 15 seconds.

2. Carioca: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart and a slight bend in your knees. Push off with your left foot and step it behind your right foot. Then step your right foot to the side so you’re back to your starting stance. Now, step your left foot in front of your right foot. Step your right foot out to the side to get back into starting stance. Continue grape-vining to your right for 15 to 30 seconds, then reverse directions.

3. Child’s Pose: Start in a kneeling position with your knees wide. Crawl your hands forward so your arms extend straight in front of you (palms on the floor) and your torso lowers down toward your thighs and your forehead rests on the floor. Extend your hips back towards your heels and lengthen your spine. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.

4. Hip Hinge: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands placed on the crease of your hip flexors. Keeping your chest up and shoulders pulled down and away from the ears, squeeze your belly button towards your spine and push your hips back. Allow your chest to drop forward until parallel with the floor. (This is not a squat; knees should be soft but not bent.)

This Is The Most Common Gym Injury Out There

You’re crushing your last set of push-ups, whipping battle ropes around, or charging through overhead barbell presses, when suddenly you feel it: Something is up with your shoulder.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 8.6 million Americans report physical activity-related injuries each year—and new research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that of all the injuries we rack up in the weight room, a whopping 36 percent are shoulder injuries.

That’s no coincidence: The shoulder, which is a ball and socket joint, is the most complex—and has the greatest range of motion—of any joint in the body, explains physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault. Unfortunately, that freedom means that the rotator cuff (the network of ligaments, muscles, and tendons that hold the joint together) is inherently unstable.

When your shoulder moves too far in any direction, or you have muscle or joint imbalances, it’s almost too easy to land yourself with an injury, which can sneak up over time or strike fast—especially if you’re lifting heavy loads.

The rotator cuff usually feels the brunt of it; overuse can cause rotator cuff tendinitis, in which the tendons in the rotator cuff get swollen or inflamed, or even full-on tears, says Wickham. Impingement issues, which happen when the two main shoulder bones (the humerus and scapula) pinch tendons between them when you lift your arm, are also pretty common.

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Similarly, less-than-ideal bench press, military press, or snatch form can cause the shoulder joint to hyperextend or even dislocate (meaning the head of your upper arm bone pops out of place), explains Josh Hillis C.P.T., P.E.S., author of Fat Loss Happens on Monday.

Are Your Shoulders Safe?

A dull ache in your shoulder here and there might indicate a muscular imbalance or just that you used too-heavy a weight too soon. While this could set you up for an injury down the line, you don’t need to panic just yet. “Pain that is severe or sustained, and that you would rank as more than a five out of ten, however, is likely an injury that requires medical attention,” says Wickham.

To keep your shoulders in tip-top shape, you need to work on mobility. Since we spend so much of the day in sub-optimal positions (sitting at our desks, hunched over watching Netflix, driving), we don’t utilize our joints’ full range of motion, and can lose some over time, explains Hillis.

Related: 6 Healthy Habits You’ll Thank Yourself For Starting 20 Years From Now

Spending a few minutes on mobility and range of motion before strength training ensures you can move safely and get the most benefit possible. Before your next shoulder day, try these two moves: First, get on the floor on all fours, with your hands and knees planted. Rotate at your wrists and knees to move your core in five slow and controlled clockwise circles and then five counter-clockwise circles. Then, cycle back and forth between a plank and downward-facing dog eight to 10 times. (You can also follow along with daily mobility videos from programs like Movement Vault or RomWod at home.)

Since the research suggests that shoulder issues often stem from bad exercise form, Hillis also recommends working with an exercise professional to make sure your technique and movement patterns are in the clear.

How Much Should You Work Out If Weight Loss Is Your Goal?

We all cherish the endorphin rush that comes with a good sweat—but whether we want to address a health concern or fit into a favorite pair of jeans, there’s no denying that many of us have ulterior motives for working out.

We often consider exercise the make-it-or-break-it factor in weight loss, but there are a lot of mixed messages out there about how often—and how intensely—we actually need to sweat to change our bodies. To clear up the confusion, we asked top fitness pros to share what a weight loss-friendly workout routine should really look like.

The Big Picture

Believe it or not, research suggests exercise has a pretty limited impact on weight loss.

And while working out is important for your cardiovascular health, mood, bone density, mobility, and flexibility—and does impact your body composition (how much muscle versus fat you have)—it’s just one part of a winning weight-loss strategy.

Related: 7 Weight-Loss Myths That Can Sabotage Your Progress

“Successful weight loss is the result of several efforts: a foundation of strength training, appropriate cardio, a supportive nutrition plan, proper recovery and sleep, and stress management,” says Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S. and author of Lift to Get Lean.

Spend Your Time Wisely

Regardless of your weight-loss goals, how often you work out should be based on your current fitness level. Perkins recommends starting with four to five workouts a week: three full-body strength workouts (about 30 to 35 minutes) to increase metabolism-revving muscle, and two to three cardio workouts (between 35 and 40 minutes) to promote fat loss.

Once you’re used to this schedule, add one or two challenging interval cardio sessions (about 35 minutes) per week. Perform cardio after strength training—and feel free to mix it up by trying a new group class or swapping your usual elliptical session for a neighborhood run.

No matter how much gym experience you have—and how motivated you are to change your body—ample rest is also key to seeing results. “When we exercise, we break our muscle tissue and energy stores down, so we need rest, recovery, and proper nutrition to build them back up,” says LA-based trainer Shannon Decker, C.P.T. “I personally make myself take two rest days a week.” If at any point you notice less-than-stellar workouts or feel fatigued or dehydrated, add another rest day to your weekly schedule.

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In the long run, over-exercising can actually sabotage weight loss by elevating levels of the stress hormone cortisol. “Chronically elevated cortisol increases your appetite and food cravings, and decreases your ability to sleep deeply,” explains Perkins.

Extra Credit

Formal workouts aside, don’t forget that the physical activity you do throughout the rest of your day also contributes to your weight loss success! Not only does moving more mean burning more calories, but it also improves a number of general health and fitness markers, like mood, mental clarity, and energy, says Perkins. Add as much general movement—whether a morning yoga flow, a walk with your dog, or playtime with your kids in the backyard—to your day as possible, especially if you work a desk job.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, whether or not you squeeze in that extra workout won’t make or break your weight loss. “Losing weight takes time and dedication,” says Decker. “It’s a lifestyle change.” If you realistically only have time to work out three days a week, it’s okay! Just remember that what matters most is consistently living an overall healthy lifestyle.

How I Went From ‘Not Outdoorsy’ To Full-Fledged Biker

At the start of April 2016, I could count on one hand how many times I’d ridden a bike since I was a kid. But by the end of that summer I rode round-trip on my mountain bike from Brooklyn, NY to Croton-on-Hudson, NY—about 50 miles each way.

So how did I transform from a self-proclaimed “not outdoorsy” person into somebody with a mean biking habit? It all started at a flea market.

For those familiar with anxiety disorders, it’s no surprise how it can shrink your world. For me, that meant I was living in a carefully constructed comfort zone, one that did not include physical activity. Exercise was something other people did. “Getting fit” meant sweating a lot and operating machinery I wasn’t sure how to use. Whether the machine was some sort of gym equipment or a bicycle made no difference, because just being in public and moving my body meant feeling uncomfortably exposed.

I’d only ever really power-walked as exercise. For a while, it was my main form of exercise because it didn’t feel out of place with all the other fast-walkers in New York City. Plus, I didn’t have to go out of my way to do it.

So one day, at that flea market in Brooklyn, I found myself forking over 120 bucks for a slightly rusty, but serviceable, used bike. (The only thing I find more anxiety-inducing than feeling vulnerable in public is wasting money, so I bought that bike to trick myself into riding it—and it worked).

With a hunk of metal staring me down (and taking up a LOT of space in my tiny apartment), I had a reasonably motivating incentive. My next step was to preemptively address every barrier that could keep me from riding (I’m tired, it’s scary, etc.). I can always come up with a reason to avoid doing difficult (or just annoying) things, so I identified three ways to support my new would-be riding habit.

I studied up.

If I feel under-equipped with something, I almost never follow through. I knew I had to demystify cycling in order to stick with it. Bike culture (a community of tight-knit people who seem to know a lot about biking) can be pretty insular, but there are tons of amazing organizations (like 718 Cyclery, Sun and Air, and WEbike) who emphasize that cycling is for everyone. After all, it’s a cheap, accessible form of transportation, a great alternative to cars or the subway, and it’s relatively easy exercise.

I started with 718 Cyclery’s Bike Maintenance classes, which are free and designed for beginners. There are women-identifying and non-binary classes, too, which I found less intimidating. YouTube was also a great resource for asking those questions I was too embarrassed to ask because they felt so obvious (how does the chain work?). Hint: Obvious questions are only obvious once you know the answer, y’all.

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I built routes and routines.

I’m a routine kind of person. I need structure. A lot of my nervousness around cycling came from unanswered questions: Where am I going? Am I wearing the right thing? Will I have to ride in traffic? What if I get a flat? These are totally valid questions. So much so that there are cycling classes that address them in detail!

Because of my lone-wolf nature—in addition to my social anxiety and general stubbornness—my strategy was to set aside low-pressure time to address each question, within my comfort zone. That meant roping in my friends who were comfortable with cycling for weekend rides.

I also mapped out every route that could be part of my schedule and made friends ride with me during the weekend, when traffic was lighter and I was on no sort of schedule. We rode from my apartment to work (and back), to the cafes I frequent, the grocery store, and my boyfriend’s house. We also found all the bike lanes along the way.

I used my navigation app to pinpoint every bike shop on those routes, too, so I was never far from a quick maintenance stop in the case of emergencies.

I took a “How to Change a Flat 101” class (in which no dudes were allowed!) just in case. I got extra crappy leggings and tee shirts to ride in, stocked up on wet wipes (for “showers” at the office), learned how to braid my hair to prevent helmet hair, and starting leaving clean clothes at my desk. It was a lot of prep, but I felt so much more comfortable and capable knowing everything was accounted for.

Related: How I Went From Gym Class Dropout To Half-Marathon Runner

I found my people.

My boyfriend is an avid cyclist, which was a huge help in the beginning, but I’m also an #independentwoman so I branched out significantly on this front.

Women-only cycling groups were a lifesaver; I was able to plug in with some feminist groups that created inclusive spaces for women or non-binary identifying people to ask questions, learn together, and have positive cycling experiences outside of the pressure and mansplaining that often comes in more traditional cycling atmospheres.

I also realized there are a ton of people just like me who ride casually or commute by bike but are by no means ride-or-die biker types. I started casually bringing it up in conversation and discovered friends I had no idea rode bikes and could offer tips. Bonus: Biking is a great way to spend time with people doing an activity that requires minimal talking!

In the end

Ultimately, finding my people, building routines around cycling, and demystifying all the scary parts of biking led to empowering myself. I liked the challenge. That’s how, a mere two months after I picked up my “baby antelope” (that’s what the bike shop guys call my tiny white trek antelope bikie), I was riding 100 miles round-trip from Brooklyn to Croton-on-Hudson.

I wouldn’t suggest picking up a bike and doing this the next day, of course. Having built up some strength from bike commuting for a while, along with having a support network of more experienced cyclists, I felt equipped to take it on—and I did!

Moral of the story: Go a little bit at a time, find your pain-points, ask questions, and push yourself a little further than you thought you could. Riding my bike has empowered me to take on other adventures I felt too nervous or incapable of attempting, has given me a new form of transportation, and makes me feel strong.

6 Skin Issues Caused By Working Out—And How To Get Rid Of Them

Exercise does our bodies (and minds) a ton of good. But let’s be real: A hardcore sweat session doesn’t always have the greatest effect on our skin. All that sweat means lingering bacteria, which makes breakouts and rashes more likely to pop up—especially if you’re not wearing the right gear.

So what’s a fitness devotee supposed to do? Follow this expert advice for beating the most common workout-related skin issues out there and hopefully you’ll never have to deal with a butt bump—yep, they’re a thing—again.

Skin SOS: Chest And Back Acne

What it looks like: Scattered red and pink bumps of various sizes.

What’s happening: All sorts of culprits can cause body acne, but often it’s a result of oil, sweat, and bacteria getting trapped in the pores, says Elyse Shelger, R.N., area medical lead for the skin-care center Skin Laundry. You’re especially prone to body breakouts if you don’t shower right after you work out. And even if you’re not hanging out in sweaty clothes post-workout, the skin-care products or fabrics you’re wearing, or even your sheets and towels, could be irritating your skin.

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What to do: When you work out, wear materials that are breathable and moisture-wicking (like bamboo, cotton, GORE-TEX, and Spandex), and toss ‘em in the laundry ASAP post-sweat. Then, properly cleanse your skin as soon as possible with a soap or wash that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide—both of which exfoliate, unclog pores, and fight acne.

Skin SOS: Face Breakouts

What they look like: Surface-level whiteheads, deep blackheads, small red bumps, or deep (and often painful) cystic pimples.

What’s happening: Like with your back and chest, when the pores on your face get clogged with oil, dirt, and bacteria, pink, inflamed bumps or pustules can pop up, says Julia Tzu, M.D., founder and medical director of Wall Street Dermatology.

Related: 4 Possible Reasons Why You’re Still Breaking Out As An Adult

What to do: First thing’s first: “Try not to wear makeup while working out, as the sweat and makeup can remain in your pores and lead to pimples,” says Shelger. Then, “Sanitize your yoga mats, wash any gym or yoga towels, and try not to touch your face after your hands have been in contact with dirty surfaces.” And—no ifs, ands, or buts—wash your face with a noncomedogenic (‘non-pore-clogging’) skin-care product as soon as you’re done working out, says Tzu. Micellar cleansing water or facial wipes can come in handy if you’re in a real time crunch.

Skin SOS: Chafing

What it looks like: Red, irritated skin that can be painful when exposed to the elements (including your shower).

What’s happening: Chafing simply indicates that a sensitive area of your body—usually your underarms, nipples, thighs, or the skin beneath tight sports bra or waist bands—has fallen victim to friction. Whether from your skin rubbing against itself or against irritating clothing, too much friction can lead to redness, bumps, and that awful stinging, says Shelger.

What to do: The best way to deal with chafing is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Before you sweat, apply petroleum jelly or chamois cream to spots that are prone to irritation, and avoid wearing textured clothing. If you do develop chafing, it’s important to keep the area clean and dry to prevent further irritation, Shelger says. Apply petroleum jelly regularly to help speed up the healing process.

Skin SOS: Athlete’s Foot

What it looks like: A dry, scaly rash that’s often accompanied by super-fun symptoms like itching, burning, stinging, and redness.

What’s happening: “Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungal infection,” says Shelger. “Like other fungi, it lives and grows best in damp environments. Wearing damp socks or shoes is the most common cause, but since it’s contagious, it can also be spread by walking barefoot in gyms, locker rooms, showers, and spas.”

What to do: Antifungal creams and powders are your best bet here, says Tzu. You can grab an over-the-counter tube at your local drugstore, but if the rash gets worse, you may need to see a doctor for a prescription-strength treatment. At home, you can also try soaking your feet in diluted vinegar, which creates an acidic environment that wards off bacteria. Fill a foot tub or bucket with one part water and one part vinegar, and soak your feet for up to 10 minutes a day until your skin clears up, she suggests.

To avoid getting the rash in the first place, never share shoes or walk barefoot on mats and floors, and remove sweaty socks as soon as your workout is over so your feet can breathe, suggests Shelger.

Skin SOS: Heat Rash

What it looks like: A red, inflamed rash or tiny pink blisters.

What’s happening: Typically, heat rash happens when heat and humidity block our sweat ducts, causing them to swell, says Shelger. It’s most common in areas where the skin folds (which are harder to keep dry), or where clothing creates friction.

What to do: If you already have those tiny heat rash bumps, all you can really do is keep the area clean to prevent further irritation. “Heat rash is usually self-resolving, requiring no treatment,” Shelger explains. But if you’re dealing with any uncomfortable symptoms—like itchiness, pain, or redness—a topical OTC steroid like cortisone cream may help, says Tzu.

Skin SOS: Butt Bumps

What they look like: Clusters of inflamed bumps on the buttocks that resemble pimples or terrible razor burn. They’re often itchy and can become crusty and sore-like in more serious cases.

What’s happening: Say hello to folliculitis, a.k.a. irritated hair follicles on your booty that are likely wigging out because of sweat, dirt, or bacteria clogging your pores. This can be caused by tight pants that cause friction and prevent your skin from breathing, or hanging out in sweaty workout gear for too long, says Shelger. Your backside is one of the most common spots for folliculitis, but it’s not the only place the bumps can pop up; any spot that’s cut off from oxygen and sitting in sweat and bacteria can fall victim.

What to do: Use a gentle benzoyl peroxide skin cleanser to help banish the bumps, suggests Tzu. Otherwise, make sure you’re wearing loose, 100-percent cotton undies when you work out (or consider going commando), and change out of damp clothes as soon as you’re finished.

How Much Cardio Do You Really Need To Do?

For some people, there’s nothing better than a good cardio session, whether it’s a sunrise spin class, a lunchtime run, or a long walk after work. Others, though, prefer to spend their workout time with weights in-hand, avoiding cardio at all costs.

But even the biggest cardio hater has got to wonder: Is skipping out affecting your health? Love it or hate it, here’s how much cardio we all actually need to do.

The Case For Cardio

Each type of exercise offers undeniable benefits. Strength training boosts our metabolism, slashes our risk for health problems like type 2 diabetes, and helps us age better. Meanwhile, cardio torches calories, supports our cardiovascular health (like blood pressure and cholesterol), improves insulin sensitivity, increases lung capacity, promotes better sleep, and combats anxiety and depression, says Mariel Schofield, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., of Florida sports therapy clinic Westlake Sports Therapy. Cardio also keeps our circulatory system working optimally—so we can recover from strength training faster—and improves our body’s ability to utilize oxygen, adds Erica Suter, M.S., C.S.C.S.

In the long run, regular cardio exercise—like walking, swimming, cycling, or stair-climbing—has been shown to protect us against premature cardiovascular-related death while reducing risk of some cancers.

The Cardio Sweet Spot

If you want to improve your fitness or stay in shape, you should work out about five times a week total—three strength training and two cardio, says Yusuf Jeffers C.P.T., C.S.C.S., head coach at Mile High Run Club NYC. The CDC’s recommendation is similar, at 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (about five 30-minute workouts) a week.

Research also supports the idea that it takes just a few cardio sessions a week to reap legitimate health benefits, with one study finding that one to two hours of jogging had the greatest impact on mortality risk, and another finding that three 20- to 40-minute walks a week reduced symptoms of depression.

And for all the weight room addicts who still aren’t sold: According to The American Journal of Cardiology, cardio is more efficient at improving your cardiometabolic health, which means it actually benefits your strength training, too. So choose a form of cardio you enjoy—and get moving.

Optimize Your Cardio For Your Goals

If you’re pretty new to exercise, perform your cardio at a moderate pace. You should be able to speak intermittently with a workout buddy as you go and your heart rate should be between 50 and 70 percent of your max (220 minus your age). Start with 15 to 20 minutes and work your way up to 30 minutes or more.

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From there, how you spend your cardio time should reflect your goals. If you’re training for an endurance event like a running race, obstacle course race, or triathlon, keep your cardio steady but bump your heart rate up to between 70 and 90 percent of your max for at least 10 to 15 minutes of your workout. You should have a hard time saying more than a word or two at a time at this intensity. Up the amount of time you spend in that range as you feel more comfortable.

If you just want to burn as many calories as possible during your cardio sessions, swap steady effort for high-intensity interval training (HIIT), in which you alternate between bursts of all-out effort and low-intensity recovery. Alternate between sprinting and walking on the treadmill, or performing a few rounds bodyweight moves (like air squats and jumping jacks) and resting. These quick workouts (often 30 minutes or less) demand so much of your body that you continue burning calories long after leaving the gym.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

7 Things You Should Never Do After A Workout

Churn out tough workouts all you want, but if you really want to see results from your efforts, you’ll also need to pay close attention to what you do after those gym sessions.

Poor post-workout practices can steal your success—but they’re pretty easy to avoid if you know what to look for. Read on to arm yourself against any unintended backtrack.

Immediate No-No’s


You Rush Out Of The Gym

We get it, you have places to be, and after tossing around heavy weights or ramping up your heart rate on the tread, the last thing you want to do is more work. But sticking around for a few extra minutes of mobility drills can really pay off in the long run, according to Sean De Wispelaere, master trainer at MBSC Thrive and owner of Sean D. Thrive.

When you push, pull, squat, and hinge, you put a high demand on your joints and the muscles that surround them, says De Wispelaere. Mobility work—like sitting in a deep squat or moving your arms through Y-, T-, and W-shaped patterns—helps you maintain your full range of motion and avoid injury when it counts.

By increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to your muscles and connective tissues, they’ll also prevent that stiff, locked-up feeling that sometimes follows a tough workout, says De Wispelaere.

You Stay Jacked Up

Not only does working out tax your muscles, but it also taxes your nervous system. During exercise, your sympathetic (‘fight-or-flight’) nervous system kicks in to power you through—but to recover, you need your parasympathetic (‘rest and relax’) nervous system to take over, says Joe Dowdell, strength coach and owner of Dowdell Fitness Systems.

To shift gears from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic state, Dowdell recommends doing some light stretching and diaphragmatic breathing after training. As you hold each stretch, take a few slow and controlled deep belly breaths. This tells your system to calm down and sets you up for muscle-building recovery. If you regularly struggle to cool down and recover after exercise, try a supplement like True Athlete’s ZMA With Theanine, which contains zinc and magnesium to promote muscle recovery and the amino acid l-theanine to support relaxation.

You Don’t Eat

Some people feel ravenous after an intense workout, while others can’t even stomach the thought of eating—but food fuels your recovery and progress, says Mike Roussell, Ph.D.

What to eat? Roussell recommends carbs. “Protein is typically the post-workout go-to, but exercise sensitizes your muscles to carbohydrates, so you need those as well,” he says. In the few hours after your workout, your body will use carbs for good (a.k.a. energy storage in your muscles) instead of evil (a.k.a. storage as fat). Replenishing the carbs you store in your muscles (called ‘glycogen’) helps you recover and feel ready for your next session faster.

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Eat something that contains both protein and carbs after your workouts, whether it’s chicken and rice or a smoothie (made with protein powder, fruit, and yogurt or oats), or a protein bar.

You Try To Annihilate All Inflammation

We usually think of inflammation as the enemy, and in many cases it can be a sign that something is wrong—“but when exercise produces an inflammatory state in the body, it’s actually is a good thing,” says Roussell.

You see, exercise is stress, and your high heart rate and muscle fatigue signal to your body that something is up, which triggers an inflammatory state. “However, one of the ways your body gets bigger and stronger is by dealing with that inflammation,” says Roussell. So while you might be tempted to down antioxidant supplements right after hitting it hard, these substances can potentially hinder your muscle gains.

Related: The Best Post-Workout Snack For Your Fitness Goals

Instead of focusing on blasting your body with antioxidants, focus on replenishing your body with carbs and protein, recommends Roussell.

Same-Day Mistakes


You Stew in Your Sweaty Clothes

Sweat can feel like a badge of honor, but please get out of your gear ASAP. Otherwise you’re more prone to skin issues like rashes and staph infections, not to mention B.O.

Plus, washing up can also benefit your freshly-worked muscles, says Dowdell. Soaking in an Epsom salt bath (which is rich in magnesium sulfate) can promote relaxation and help reduce muscle soreness, he says. Mix about a cup in with your bath water and soak for up to a half hour. You don’t need to hop in the tub right after you’re done sweating; a long soak will still do you good later in the evening.

You Don’t Catch Enough Zzz’s

The hard work you put in at the gym doesn’t transform into results right then and there, but in the hours and days after you finish—and sleep is a key component of that process. “Sleep is crucial to recovery and often overlooked,” says De Wispelaere. Since fitness-boosting hormones like growth hormone are released while you’re dreaming, whether or not you get to bed early can really affect your results.

To score high-quality sleep, De Wispelaere recommends the following steps:

  • Four hours before bed: Stop consuming caffeine.
  • One hour before bed: Limit how much you drink. (You don’t want to have to pee in the middle of your muscle-building sleep!)
  • 45 minutes before bed: Ditch the screens. The blue light that emanates from phones and laptops sends the wrong signals to your brain about what time of day it is, potentially keeping you up.

Next-Day Mistake

If an intense workout left you delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), jumping right into another tough session will not only hurt, but it can also backfire on your results. Remember what Dowdell said about those sympathetic and parasympathetic states? If you go hard day after day, your body can’t fully shift out of that sympathetic state, and you don’t recover properly.

“On the day after an intense session, stick to 20 to 30 minute low-to-moderate intensity exercise,” he recommends. (That’s about 65 to 70 percent of your max heart rate.) Jogging or biking, for example, boosts blood flow to your muscles and help remove waste products associated with DOMS. For extra points, tack on 10 to 15 minutes of mobility work after your cardio.

What Happened When 6 Whey Lovers Did A Blind Plant Protein Taste Test

We know what you’re thinking: Plant-based proteins taste like dirt. Ten years ago (um, okay, maybe five) that may have been true, but today’s plant proteins are smoother and tastier than ever—so good, in fact, that whey has some serious competition.

Whether dairy bothers your stomach, you live the vegan life, or your morning smoothie is itching for an upgrade, plant protein is just waiting to win you over.

We put a bunch of whey devotees in a room to prove once and for all that plant protein is seriously good—and we’re willing to bet that their three favorite picks from our blind taste test will make converts out of you, too.

 

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Plant Protein

With 24 grams of protein, four grams of BCAAs and four grams of glutamine, Optimum Nutrition pulls out all the stops in making sure their plant protein is as muscle-friendly as their whey. Made with a variety of plant-based proteins—from peas, brown rice, sacha inchi nuts, quinoa, and chia—and naturally flavored and sweetened, Optimum Nutrition’s plant protein was the across-the-board favorite of our taste-testers. The vanilla’s pleasant ‘note of cinnamon’ and the chocolate’s ‘mocha-y vibe’ make these proteins delicious when mixed with plain ol’ water. Once you’re hooked, try the berry flavor.

 

Orgain Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder

One of the OGs in plant protein game, Orgain has mastered the texture and flavor of their brown rice-, chia-, hemp-, and pea-based proteins. A two-scoop serving offers 21 grams of protein and five grams of fiber for just one gram of sugar. (It’s sweetened with a variety of ingredients, like erythritol, stevia, and monkfruit.) Multiple taste-testers identified it as the closest to whey, thanks to its thick, creamy texture. In addition to creamy chocolate fudge and sweet vanilla bean, the peanut butter and iced matcha latte flavors are also scrumptious with every sip.

 

Garden Of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Protein

One of our testers loved Garden of Life Sport’s plant protein so much she now swears she’ll never take another protein home. This buzzy protein packs everything the most active us could need from a protein supplement, including 30 grams of protein, 5.5 grams of BCAAs, five grams of glutamine, probiotics, tart cherry, and turmeric. The chocolate and vanilla flavors are simple and un-messed-with; our taste-testers said they’d drink them both with H20 and in smoothies.

6 Ways Bad Posture Impacts Your Body Long-Term

Your mother might have nagged you to stand up straight throughout your adolescence—but she was right to do so. Good posture and correct body alignment prevent excess strain on your joints, muscles, and spine, reducing pain and the chance of injury, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most people don’t sport ideal posture, says Mt. Sinai, NY-based Kristine McCarren, PT, DPT. And it can cause a world of hurt in the long-term

Here are six ways poor posture can affect your body—plus tips for how to improve your stance.

1. Headaches

Poor posture strains the muscles at the back of your head, neck, upper back and jaw.

“The human head weighs about 10 pounds,” McCarren says. “Your cervical spine is designed to support this weight with its structure, alignment and surrounding musculature and soft tissue.”

When your muscles are pulled in directions other than their normal tension, this puts pressure on nearby nerves, triggering tension-type headaches, explains Alex Cadwallader, DPT, who practices at Linwood, NJ-based Coron Physical Therapy.

2. Jaw pain

Have you ever noticed that when you’re sitting at your desk, you roll your shoulders forward and your head slouches? Now your rear neck and shoulder muscles are sitting in a constant lengthened position, while your anterior neck and shoulder muscles are chronically shortened, McCarren says.

“Then, the muscles attached to your jaw’s bony structures become misaligned at rest and with movement, such as chewing, causing pain,” McCarren says.

When you open or close your mouth, you might also experience popping in your jaw’s temporomandibular joint (TMJ). “In addition to a dental evaluation, patients with TMJ disease can benefit from postural education and regular exercise to optimize muscle and soft tissue function,” McCarren says.

3. Back and neck pain

Poor posture commonly contributes to chronic back and neck pain, tightness or stiffness—and can reduce your quality of life.

In addition, belly fat increases pressure on your spine’s intervertebral discs and other bony regions. “Any time there’s altered mechanics in one section of the spine, the other regions must compensate,” Cadwallader says.

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4. Knee, hip, and foot pain

Muscle weakness or tightness, limited flexibility, and poor alignment from your hips down might keep your kneecap from sliding neatly over your femur, according to the Mayo Clinic. What can result is a condition called patellofemoral pain, causing knee pain.

Poor foot and ankle alignment can also trigger plantar fasciitis, where the tissue connecting your heel to the ball of your foot gets inflamed and causes heel pain.

5. Shoulder pain and impingement

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons connecting your upper arm to your shoulder. Muscle tightness or weakness from poor posture can irritate these tendons, causing discomfort, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Your shoulder is made up of four joints, connected by 17 muscles,” McCarren says. “Many of these muscles become weak or tight with prolonged poor posture.” Ultimately, your rotator cuff tissue could tear. This can cause major pain and weakness, really impacting your daily activities.

6. Fatigue and breathing problems

Poor posture can restrict your rib cage, compressing your diaphragm. This reduces your lung capacity, leading to shallow or labored breathing, exhaustion, and lack of energy, which affects your overall productivity.

“Bad posture affects the intercostal muscles between each rib,” Cadwallader says. “Plus, rolled shoulders cause your shortened muscle fibers, which keeps your rib cage from fully expanding and affects your breathing.”

How to Improve Your Posture—Today

You can introduce smart posture habits right now, but unlearning years of bad habits may take work. “Because posture is usually a lifelong development, it’s very difficult to completely eradicate deficits,” Cadwallader says. “Hard work and dedication are the only true ways to improve posture.”

Keep these five tips in mind each day:

1. Walk Tall.

Take a breath in, rolling your shoulders up and back. Then, exhale, rolling your shoulders down. 

2. Do posture checks throughout the day, especially at work.

At first, set a reminder on your phone for a quick check every 15 minutes, McCarren suggests. “Work from your head down: chin tucked back, shoulder blades down and back, abdominals drawn in, pelvis tilted into a neutral position, hips and knees at a 90 degree angle, and feet flat on the floor,” McCarren says.

3. Try seated pelvic tilts.

Sit on the edge of a chair, your hands on your thighs and feet on the floor. As you inhale, rock your pelvis and ribs forward as you expand your chest and look up. Then, exhale as rock your pelvis and spine back and forth, looking at the floor.  

Related: Got Back Pain? Here’s What To Do About It

4. Try chin tucks.

These help with headaches, jaw pain, and upper back pain, says Cadwaller. “Give yourself a double chin by driving your cervical region toward your back and holding for the position for three to five seconds 20 to 25 times.

5. Do a wake-up or bedtime bridge pose.

Lie on your back in bed with your knees bent and your feet resting on the mattress. Inhale, then slowly exhale and curl your tailbone to lift your buttocks and spine, one vertebrae at a time, until your shoulder blades bear your weight. Pause and inhale, then slowly exhale as you roll your spine back down.

Assessing your posture

To really maintain good posture, according to the American Chiropractic Association, you need to have sufficient muscle flexibility and strength, postural muscles that are in balance on either side of your spine, and normal joint motion throughout your body.

The “wall test” is an easy way to assess your postural alignment at home, explains Pamela J. Bigelow, PT, MSPT, MTC, a physical therapist at New Jersey at Rehab Excellence Centers and Advanced Physical Therapy.

To do it, try this: Stand so that the back of your head, shoulder blades, and buttocks touch the wall. Your heels should be less than six inches from the wall. Put a flat hand behind the small of your back. “If your low-back curve posture is correct, the back of your head, shoulder blades, and buttocks should touch the wall,” Bigelow says. “There should be less than two inches of space between the back of your neck and small of your back, and the wall.”

Blind Taste Test: Which Natural Proteins Reigned Supreme?

The clean eating trend is no longer just for hippies and health nuts. And if you’re looking for a cleaner, meaner whey protein supplement, you’ve got plenty of options. But can a shake really exude the spirit of a chocolate fudge brownie or vanilla ice cream without artificial flavors and sweeteners? Yes, friends. Yes, it can.

We gathered a bunch of whey lovers in one room to taste test shake after shake (chocolate and vanilla), and pit the latest and greatest natural proteins against each other.

Here were their top picks.

 

Garden Of Life Organic Grass-Fed Whey Protein

Garden of Life has finally gifted us all with a line of organic whey proteins. Our expectations of the latest product from the leader in super-clean, natural supplements were high, but we weren’t disappointed: Both the chocolate cacao and vanilla flavors were crowd favorites. The vanilla had a ‘buttery vanilla flavor’ that our taste-testers compared to vanilla pudding, and said they could sip on all day. Meanwhile, the chocolate boasted a ‘pleasant, genuine cocoa flavor.’ Garden of Life uses ingredients like organic cacao, organic vanilla flavor, sea salt, and organic stevia for flavor that’s rich (but real!) and a serving packs 21 grams of protein.

Want to mix things up? Try the strawberry or peanut butter flavors.

 

Optimum Nutrition Naturally-Flavored Gold Standard 100% Whey

It was only a matter of time before protein giant Optimum Nutrition launched a natural whey protein—and no surprise that it was another taste test winner. With 24 grams of protein and 5.5 grams of BCAAs, it packs all the muscle-building power of your favorite Gold Standard, but swaps out artificial sweeteners for good ol’ sugar (just four grams a serving, don’t worry). Taste-testers loved the smooth, subtly sweet flavor of the vanilla and compared the chocolate to hot cocoa.

 

Isopure Natural Whey Protein Isolate

With just three grams of carbs and a solid 25 grams of protein per scoop, Isopure’s natural protein also swaps artificial flavors and sweeteners for sugar. The testers’ taste buds loved Isopure’s slightly thicker consistency, along with the caramel vibe of the vanilla flavor.

Isopure also packs added vitamins and minerals—including B vitamins, calcium, and magnesium—for a more nutritionally-balanced refuel. Win win!

How To Train And Supplement For Every Fitness Goal

When your workouts don’t reflect your goals, what you see in the mirror won’t either—and nothing is more frustrating than spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

How you spend your time in the gym—and which supplements you take to support your workouts—depends on whether you want to get strong, pack on muscle, shed fat, or boost your endurance. Use this quick fitness cheat sheet to make sure every rep you perform and supp you take accelerates your progress.

Goal: Strength

Training: When you’re training for absolute strength, you want your body to use the ‘phosphagen energy system,’ in which it breaks down a form of creatine to rapidly produce energy. Thing is, your body can’t produce energy like this for very long—we’re talking less than 30 seconds—so your workouts will need short periods of all-out work and long periods of rest.

To maximize strength gains, lift between 80 and 95 percent of your one-rep max and perform four to eight sets of just two to five reps, says New Jersey-based trainer Bryant Klein, C.S.C.S.  Rest for three to five minutes between sets.

Supplements: The more creatine stored in your muscles, the greater capacity those muscles have to churn out that fast and hard work when they need to—and research shows that how much you consume affects your stores. Studies have found that just two weeks of consuming between five and 20 grams of creatine a day can improve exercise performance and support strength gains.

“One study also showed that participants who took a daily creatine supplement while following a resistance training program significantly increased their resting testosterone levels after 10 weeks,” says dietitian Beth Warren, R.D.N., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition. Research suggests taking 20 to 25 grams of creatine a day for five days to increase muscle creatine levels, and supplementing with between two and five grams a day from there. Up your creatine stores deliciously with a powdered supplement like BodyTech’s Fruit Punch 100% Creatine Monohydrate.

Goal: Hypertrophy

Training: If you’re set on building muscle mass, you need to increase the amount of time your muscles spend under tension to tap into your body’s glycolytic energy system, which relies heavily on the glycogen stored in your muscles and is associated with stimulating muscle growth.

Related: 6 Possible Reasons Why You’re Not Building Muscle

To ramp up that time under tension, perform three to six sets of eight to 15 reps (about 90 seconds of work) with 65 to 75 percent of your one-rep max, recommends Klein. Rest for one to three minutes between sets.

Supplements: Whey protein, which is made from cow’s milk, can be a major player in a muscle-building diet because it contains a high proportion of essential amino acids (which cannot be made by our body) and branched-chain amino acids (which play crucial roles in the muscle protein synthesis process responsibly for size gains).

In fact, supplementing with whey protein while resistance training regularly is the ideal combo for promoting muscle hypertrophy and exercise recovery, says research published in Nutrition & Metabolism. Studies suggest that 20 to 40 grams of protein both before and after exercise offers the most muscle-building benefits. Optimum Nutrition’s Vanilla Ice Cream Gold Standard 100% Whey and BodyTech’s Rich Chocolate WheyTech Pro 24 both pack 24 grams of protein per scoop.

Goal: Endurance

Training: “Muscular endurance training improves performance swimming, running, and other sports that require you to reproduce force over an extended period of time,” says Klein. To train your muscles for endurance, you’ll need to tap into the oxidative energy system, which can utilize fat (with the help of oxygen) to help your muscles work for long durations.

Endurance workouts need to be lower intensity, so you’ll drop your weight down to 50 percent of your one-rep max, says Klein. Perform three to six sets of 15-plus reps and rest for a minute between sets.

Supplements: When it comes to muscle endurance, a few minerals can be particularly helpful: iron, copper, and zinc. According to Warren, these minerals play key roles in the flow of oxygen to working muscles and throughout the body, and warding off oxidative stress. And since many young athletes don’t get enough of them, supplementing can help boost performance and workout recovery.

The National Institutes of Health recommends adults get about 900 micrograms of copper, eight (women) to 11 (men) milligrams of zinc, and eight (men) or 18 (women) milligrams of iron, per day. A daily multivitamin can help you reach your needs.

Goal: Fat Loss

TrainingBurning fat requires a strategic combination of cardio, strength training, and nutrition—but to lose fat in a sustainable way, you also need to preserve (or build) muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate (the amount of calories you need to live every day), and the fewer calories you need to slash to support weight loss, explains Klein.

To maximize muscle mass and shed fat, you’ll strength train just like you would for hypertrophy (that’s three to six sets of eight to 15 reps with a couple minutes of rest in between).

Supplements: Carnitine, an amino acid-like compound our body produces and that we get from food, helps our body convert fat into energy by escorting fatty acids into our cells’ energy-producing machines (called mitochondria), says Warren. “When you increase levels of muscle carnitine, you support the fat burning-process because your body becomes more efficient at processing fuel,” she explains.

One 2016 Obesity Reviews meta-analysis found that those who supplemented with carnitine lost significantly more weight than those who took a placebo. BodyTech’s Carnipure Carnitine supports fat metabolism—and tastes like raspberries (win-win!).