I Tried Powering My Runs With Caffeinated Gum—Check Out My Results

One of the first things you learn when you start running long distances is how important it is to fuel your body while you’re running. Sure, you need to eat a healthy diet the rest of the time, but if you’re running for an hour or more, you’re probably going to need to gas up your engine while you’re on the go—and that’s not exactly easy.

In my three years of racing everything from 5Ks to marathons, I’ve seen runners down some pretty crazy foods, drinks, and other products, like Gatorade (of course), energy gels, Clif Bloks, Power Bars, bananas, salt tablets, and more. At the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon, aid stations handed out apple slices. At the Boston Marathon, runners grabbed orange slices and gummy bears out of kids’ grubby hands. During the half marathon portion of a half Ironman triathlon, one station even offered Red Bull and soda to runners! (The easy-to-digest simple sugars can really give you an extra boost—especially towards the end of a race—but wow).

The thing is, in order to find out what really works for you and avoid any gnarly stomach issues on race day, you have to test your race fuel during training. The only thing I eat on a run—and only during runs over 10 miles—is a sugar bomb of an energy chew, which I can down in about two bites. Still, I’m game to try anything, so when I heard The Vitamin Shoppe launched Run Gum—not just any gum, but gum that contains energy-boosting vitamins B6 and B12, caffeine, and taurine (an amino acid and antioxidant that can stimulate the muscles) to power workouts and busy days—I was all for seeing if it could give my runs an extra boost.

Here’s how it works: Every packet contains two pieces of gum—and each piece packs about 50 milligrams of caffeine. You can pop one piece for ‘moderate’ energy, or chomp on both for a bigger kick. Run Gum comes in three flavors: fruit, cinnamon, and mint. (I preferred the mint, but like most gum, after about five minutes they all taste basically the same.)

Featured Products

Since I was in between races, it was the perfect time to experiment with a new type of fuel. For my first trial, I took one fruit-flavored piece right before heading out to run three miles. It was 80 degrees and super-humid—not my favorite running weather—but I didn’t notice anything majorly different about my energy levels, and my pace seemed pretty on par with my usual.

The next day, I chewed one piece of the cinnamon-flavored gum at the start of another three-mile run, and popped a second piece in at the halfway point. I had started out feeling pretty tired (it was a Sunday night and I may have closed down the bar with my friends the night before), but I did feel like I picked up the pace towards the end!

Two days later, I popped one piece of mint Run Gum halfway through my third three-mile run—and that run actually felt the easiest of the three. It was still hot out, but rain had washed away some of the humidity and I’d caught up on my sleep, so I felt like I was back to my normal self.

In the moment, it was hard to judge just how much the Run Gum affected my run performance, especially since the circumstances of my runs were all a little different. (Thanks a lot, rain, heat, and hangovers…) So I turned to my data—and it was a little surprising. According to my Nike Running Club app, my fastest average pace was actually during my first run, when I chewed one piece of gum at the outset and didn’t really notice any energy boost. During my second run, when I chewed two pieces, my speed actually dropped in the last mile—even though I thought I picked up the pace. Maybe all that chewing threw off my perception of my speed… However, it was during my third run, when I started chewing on Run Gum halfway through, that I hit my fastest mile. Score!

Related: 11 Caffeine-Free Ways To Power Your Workouts

With those stats in mind, I thought maybe my first run turned out to be the fastest because I wasn’t really chewing that long while I was running. (I popped the gum into my mouth before I started, chewed for the first half mile or so to get the juice out of it and tossed it.) You see, I find it hard to chew and run at the same time (I can’t drink water and run at the same time either, and usually walk through water stations when I need a drink during races). Using my mouth for something other than breathing was distracting, and I figured that not being able to breathe at full capacity slowed down my pace when I chewed.

That said, that first run was my fastest, so clearly something about using Run Gum to kick off my run worked in my favor, whether it was the caffeine, the vitamins, the taurine, or a combo of the three. Though Run Gum may not replace my go-to fuel for longer-distance races, like half and full marathons (I think I’ll still need the sugar), I’ll definitely try chewing on some Run Gum before training runs and races to jump-start my system.

Not to mention, Run Gum’s energy boost could also prove very handy when that three o’clock slump hits me at work. If I’m going to chew gum anyway, why not chew gum that has perks.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

8 Upgrades Your Sports Nutrition Stack Is Calling For

This article was originally published by Muscle & Performance.

Many of the tried-and-true sports supplements out there can not only boost your workouts, but support your progress and results over time. And as the research on these specific nutrients—and the other nutrients they tag-team with—has evolved, so have the supplements on the market, ensuring you get the biggest bang for your buck. Here are eight of the most popular supplements in fitness enthusiasts’ regimens—and how you can upgrade them to make the most of your routine.

1. Vitamin D

This fat-soluble vitamin is known for supporting health in many different ways. Research shows that diabetics often have low levels of vitamin D, which can support insulin function. “It also helps calcium concentrations in muscle for strong contractions,” says Luke R. Bucci, Ph.D. C.C.N., C.N.S., author of Nutrients as Ergogenic Aids for Sports and Exercise.

Upgrade: Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) in softgel form

Vitamin D3 is particularly beneficial for supporting strength, testosterone levels, immunity, and recovery.  “Vitamin D3 controls calcium, which is used as an intracellular messenger, and makes sure there is enough to go around for what cells normally do,” Bucci says. This includes making sure that calcium is available for muscle-contraction cycles. D3 has been shown to be somewhat more effective than D2, and taking it in softgel form helps with absorption.

Dosing: Doses up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day are safe, but higher doses aren’t necessarily any better than doses between 4,000 and 5,000 IU. “You can check your body status by getting a doctor to order a 25(OH)D blood test,” Bucci says. “You want high-normal ranges to keep vitamin D3 and calcium working for you.”

Try: Nordic Naturals Vitamin D3 is cholecalciferol, the natural, most easily-absorbed and used form of vitamin D. Each softgel provides 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 in organic, extra-virgin olive oil.

2. Whey Protein

Whey protein is a fast-digesting protein source that gets to work almost immediately and provides your body with the amino acids it needs to perform physiological processes and maintain the muscle tissue you’re training. After workouts, whey quickly supplies aminos to start the muscle repair process triggered by intense training.

Upgrade: Casein protein

Your body needs protein before and after workouts, and science has long supported whey’s effectiveness in this regard. Recent research, though, shows that casein, the slow-digesting fraction of milk protein, delivers results equivalent to whey when taken after workouts. Because casein releases amino acids for longer than whey, it continues to stimulate the muscle growth process for longer. Research also shows that a combination of whey and casein consumed after workouts is better than either alone, because it offers the benefits of both immediate and sustained delivery.

Dosing:  Take a mix of whey and casein proteins before and after workouts in an amount that serves your protein needs based on what you’ve recently ingested, the intensity of your training, and your body weight. As a rule of thumb, aim for about 0.25 grams of protein for every pound of body weight before and after working out, split evenly between whey and casein. In other words, a 180-pound person would take about 45 grams of protein before and after training, which works out to about one scoop of whey and one scoop of casein.

Try: Dymatize Elite Casein delivers 25 grams of sustained-release protein, with more than 10 grams of critical branched-chain amino acids per serving.

3. Whey Protein Concentrate

Among the least expensive forms of whey protein, whey protein concentrate is processed so that of the carbs and fats remain in the supplement. (Generally, concentrated forms of whey are about 70 percent protein.) In addition, the protein molecules in concentrates tend to retain their longer amino configurations, so they must be broken down and reconfigured to be utilized for muscle-building.

Upgrade: Whey hydrolysate

“Hydrolysates are proteins broken down into much smaller units of two to three amino acids,” Bucci says. (About 90 percent of the calories in whey hydrolysates come from protein.) These small molecules are able to be transferred directly into your intestinal cells—more quickly even than single, free-form amino acids—so they’re available to support muscle tissue and recovery as quickly as possible. Plus, hydrolysates spur a stronger insulin response, an effect many athletes seek to help shuttle nutrients into the muscles post-workout, but may want to avoid at other times of day.

Dosing:  Use whey hydrolysate around your workouts and other forms of whey at other times of day.

Try: Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydro Whey is made with hydrolyzed whey protein isolates for fast delivery. Each scoop contains 30 grams of protein with just 1 gram of fat and 2 grams of carbs.

4. Multivitamin And Multi-Mineral

A daily multivitamin and multi-mineral provides a range of nutrients to help make sure you don’t have any deficits in your nutrition program. In doing so, it supports immunity, helps you recover from training, and supports muscle growth.

Upgrade : ZMA (zinc magnesium aspartate)

Many athletes and bodybuilders have low levels of some minerals, like zinc and magnesium, even if they take a multi, because those minerals are used during intense exercise. So, while you may take a multivitamin and multi-mineral, it may not necessarily help boost the levels of these minerals—especially if it contains calcium. “Your body preferentially takes in calcium over magnesium and zinc, reducing your absorption of these other minerals,” Bucci says. (Even when you’re already low in them!) ZMA was designed to help you overcome this physiological quirk, while also supporting better sleep, exercise recovery, and performance.

Dosing: Take your multivitamin and multi-mineral in the morning or earlier in the day with a meal, and take a dose of ZMA (usually about 450 milligrams of magnesium and 30 milligrams of zinc) on an empty stomach before bed. If you’re having a bedtime snack, take your ZMA about 30 minutes before eating or drinking your protein shake (which may be high in calcium), so the zinc and magnesium have time to absorb.

Try: BodyTech ZMA Tech contains 30 milligrams of zinc, 450 milligrams of magnesium, and 10 milligrams of vitamin B6, which has been shown to support muscle strength, size, and recovery when used in conjunction with intense weight training.

5. Fish oil

Fish oil is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats that are scarce in the diets of most Americans, since many of the foods we eat are high in omega-6s. (Omega-3s help support heart health, brain health, and provide numerous athletic and physique benefits, such as supporting muscle and joint health.) Because our omega-6 intake is so high, eating foods high in healthy omega-3s often isn’t enough to correct our imbalance, which is where supplements come in.

Upgrade: Krill oil

Krill oil is derived from tiny crustaceans that reside at the bottom of the food chain, which is important for ecological and health reasons. You see, the krill harvested from Antarctic waters contain fewer contaminants because their food supply and environment are far less tainted than those of other aquatic sources of omega-3s. In addition, “krill oil is more bioavailable, allowing your body to absorb more omega-3s because krill oil mixes easily with water,” Bucci says. “The phosphatidyl form of omega-3s, which is more plentiful in krill than other fish sources, is the precise type of omega-3 molecules our bodies use in cell membranes.”

Dosing: Take up to one gram of krill oil at meals throughout the day, aiming for a total of up to two grams per day.

Try: Natrol Omega-3 Krill Oil is a unique source of cardio-protective omega-3 fatty acids that supports heart, joint, and brain health.

6. Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine monohydrate has long been the most popular sports supplement for those seeking increases in strength, performance, and muscle mass, and works in a few different ways. First, it donates phosphate to the process that produces ATP, the form of energy that helps your muscles fire. Second, it pulls fluid into muscle cells, which helps them function properly so they can grow stronger. And third, it supports our production of insulin-like growth factor-1, a hormone that supports anabolism, the state in which the body grows and builds.

Upgrade: Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine is an amino acid-like compound that enhances creatine’s benefits. Beta-alanine combines with the amino acid histidine to form carnosine, which reduces the buildup of hydrogen ions in cells to ward of muscle fatigue and boost performance and endurance. “Carnosine is a reservoir for zinc and also a buffer to soak up excess acid produced during intense exercise,” Bucci states.  Research shows the combination of creatine and beta-alanine is more effective than either alone.

Dosing: Take three to five grams of creatine monohydrate before and after workouts for a total of up to 10 grams per day. Combine these doses with one to two grams of beta-alanine for a total of up to four grams per day.

Try: AllMax Nutrition Beta Alanine helps ward off muscular fatigue, so you can increase your performance output.

7. Arginine

Arginine is an amino acid that’s necessary for the production of nitric oxide, a gas molecule that allows blood vessels to relax so more blood, oxygen, and nutrients can be delivered to working muscle tissue. Arginine also supports growth hormone levels and the release of insulin, both of which also support your results.

Upgrade: Citrulline

You do need arginine to support nitric oxide production, but the amino acid citrulline may be even more crucial because it converts into arginine. In fact, recent research indicates that citrulline supplementation actually boosts arginine and nitric oxide levels more effectively than arginine supplementation. However, research also shows that taking a combination of arginine and citrulline may be even more effective in boosting nitric oxide levels than taking either on its own.

Dosing: To enhance muscle pumps, take three to five grams of arginine and three grams of citrulline about 30 minutes before strength training to support arginine production and nitric oxide conversion.

Try: Kaged Muscle Citrulline powder is designed to support muscle pumps and growth. Each serving contains two grams of pure L-citrulline, which has been shown to be more effective than the commonly used L-citrulline malate.

8. Caffeine

This stimulant heightens your central nervous system response (think faster heart rate and higher blood pressure) to support mental and physical performance, and support your metabolism.

Upgrade: Green tea extract

Green tea extract is another option for supporting your metabolism. “It does so because it contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a thermogenic catechin that helps prevent norepinephrine—a stimulating brain hormone that signals cells to utilize fat—from being broken down,” Bucci says. While caffeine encourages the release of fat from storage, green tea extract helps assure that the fat will be utilized as fuel.

Dosing: Take up to 200 to 400 milligrams of caffeine, whether by drinking coffee, strong tea, or a pre-workout supplement, along with 500 milligrams of green-tea extract standardized for EGCG within two hours of your workouts. “Note that caffeine blocks and reduces creatine uptake into muscles,” Bucci says, so separate your caffeine and creatine intake by an hour to dodge this effect.

Try: The Vitamin Shoppe Green Tea Extract contains 250 milligrams of green tea extract (from 30 percent EGCG) per capsule.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

We Asked, You Answered: Your Favorite Workouts

The secret to a sustainable (and fun!) workout routine is finding the right workout for you. After all, one person’s CrossFit could be another person’s worst nightmare.

Do you look forward to leg day, or do you loathe it? Are you the deadlift’s Number One Fan? We asked The Vitamin Shoppe Instagram followers to share their favorite workouts, and here’s what they said:

Featured Products

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

6 Ways To Kick Your Own Butt Back Into Gear

While we all love the warm-and-fuzzy endorphin rush that comes after a good workout, some days we just don’t want to move. And, hey, when your to-do list is a mile long, or you just really need to unwind, there’s nothing wrong with taking a day off from getting your sweat on. But if you’ve been dealing with a near-constant case of ‘meh’ motivation lately, well, that’s a different story.

Often, a little movement is exactly what we need to feel our very best—and luckily, there are plenty of little things you can do every day to boost your motivation and kick your butt back into gear. Here are health and fitness experts’ go-to strategies for getting up and going.

1. Upgrade Your Mornings

First off, stop hitting the snooze button so much! Getting enough sleep is super-important if you want to power through a workout and the rest of the day, but more isn’t always better—especially if it cuts into workout time. The sweet spot, according to the National Sleep Foundation, is seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night. To prevent yourself from hitting snooze, yoga instructor and personal trainer Stephanie George recommends keeping your phone on the other side of the bedroom, so that you have to actually get out of bed to turn it off.

Sticking to a consistent routine that involves waking up around the same time every morning—even on the weekends—can also help you have healthier days. “Eventually that routine will turn into a habit and, who knows, you make even be able to wake up without an alarm,” says George.

George also recommends making time for a healthy breakfast. “Coffee won’t cut it,” she says. “You need a well-balanced meal that provides you with the energy you need to get moving.” Try eggs with spinach, peppers, and onions scrambled in, or a protein shake with frozen berries and greens.

2. Drink More Water

Could a few extra sips of H2O be the difference between staying on the couch and lacing up your sneakers? According to the CDC, as much as 43 percent of American adults drink fewer than four glasses of water a day—less than half the recommended eight glasses. Not only is dehydration dangerous, but it also significantly decreases your energy levels, leaving you feeling tired and lethargic. “Even a small depletion of water in your body can affect mental focus, energy levels, and physical performance,” says author and sports scientist Elesa Zehndorfer, Ph.D.

Featured Products

One easy way to stay hydrated: Mix an electrolyte supplement into your water. Not only will these minerals help your body maintain its proper fluid balance, but flavored electrolyte powders also make drinking easier if you don’t like plain water.

3. Focus On Balanced Plates

Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals—especially magnesium, calcium, and zinc—can make you feel tired, irritable, and lethargic, warns Zehndorfer. Not only do these minerals support your mood and energy levels, but they also help your body relax for sleep. Meanwhile, processed foods—which are often high in sugar—can lead to a rollercoaster of blood sugar spikes and crashes, and leave you too sluggish to get moving.

Your goal: Focus on lots of green vegetables, fruits, complex carbs (like whole grains and starchy veggies), and high-quality protein.

Related: 7 Protein-Packed Breakfasts Trainers Love

4. Write Down Your Goals

It’s a whole lot easier to make workouts happen when you have a clear reason for working out, which is why Chris Ryan, C.S.C.S and founder of Chris Ryan Fitness recommends writing down specific yet attainable goals and literally signing a contract with yourself to see them through. Do you want to shed a few pounds, run a race, or finally touch your toes? Write that down. What’s your plan for getting there? Maybe you’ll run four times a week or make it to yoga class every other evening. Write that down, too.

5. Find A Cause Worth Sweating For

When you need a kick in the pants that’s bigger than just you, find a fitness-focused charitable organization—like Team in Training, Cycle for Survival, or The D10—in your area to inspire you to get moving. “Not only do they make fitness fun, but they present the opportunity for fundraising and the chance to hear amazing stories that will motivate you to celebrate your body each and every day,” says Ryan. You get to reward your body and have a positive impact on the world around you—that’s a win-win!

6. Call Your Workout Buddy

Research from the University of Aberdeen shows that having an exercise companion increases how much exercise we do on a consistent basis. Having someone to hold us accountable and talk to during workouts can be just the game-changer we need to make that gym routine stick. “If you surround yourself with people who think healthy, think fun and think positive, you will be well on your way to meeting your fitness goals,” Ryan says.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

3 Advanced Abs Moves Worth Adding To Your Routine

Planks are great. They require zero equipment, light up all of our core muscles, and give us an excuse to not move at all. But let’s face it, they can be just plain boring. That’s where these hardcore moves from Performix athlete Alex Silver-Fagan come in. Not only will they torch every muscle in your midsection, but they’ll also keep your brain engaged. Plus, they just look really cool.

Think you can handle ’em? Slug back some Performix ION Multi-Phase Pre-Workout for the focus and energy you’ll need to nail every rep, and get ready to sweat.

 

Have you tried Performix’s innovative sports nutrition supplements yet? From their ioWHEY PROTEIN (you can only get it at The Vitamin Shoppe!), to their metabolism-supporting SST, to their hydration- and recovery-boosting ISO 9:2:2, they’ll change the way you fuel up, recover, and conquer your goals. 

Featured Products

My Secret To Happiness: A Healthy Gut

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told by my family that I have a “nervous belly.” As a kid, if I stayed up too late, got upset, was overly excited, or was even just in a new environment, my stomach started to bother me.

I threw up a lot and found myself in plenty of embarrassing situations. (See: The time where I thought I was in trouble and hid beneath my bed, crying, only to inevitably vomit—which forced my poor grandparents to have to disassemble the entire bed to clean up after me.)

Through the years, my stomach troubles have changed in nature. I no longer feel like I need to throw up when I get upset, for example, but I have an incredibly sensitive digestive system that seems to tie directly to my moods. For example, when I’m depressed I become constipated and bloated. When I’m anxious, I get heartburn. One time, I was constipated for two entire weeks. I feared I might actually lose my mind.

Featured Products

The gut is often talked about as the place where our intuition comes from (“trust your gut”) and where we store our courage (“she’s got guts”). Another term used is “core”—the center of a thing, its toughest part. So it makes sense that gut health is tied to our overall wellbeing.

There are even studies that suggest our moods have to do with our gut health. According to the research, micro-organisms living in our gut actually secrete substances that regulate serotonin and dopamine. These both have a profound effect on our mood, including depressive and anxious feelings. In fact, one study out of Norway showed that certain bacteria were directly linked to depression in some patients.

This wasn’t always so obvious to me, however. In the beginning, I thought it was only a digestive system issue. Docs have tested me for food allergies, colon issues, intestinal blockage, IBS, and more. I didn’t have any of those problems or diagnoses.

When I recently visited a holistic doctor and explained my issues to her, I was happily surprised (and relieved) when she asked me about my emotional state (I wish more doctors would use this approach). When I explained that I could trace my gut’s reaction to my mood—sort of like a road map—she was excited that I was connecting the two, and that I was listening to my body.

The simple suggestion she made was to start a daily dose of probiotics and to track my gut progress with a journal. She told me to make sure I found a probiotic that included a high amount of lactobacillus rhamnosus, a live culture. I also started using chicory root extract, since she told me that chicory contains insulin, which helps grow good gut bacteria.

For the first week, I took my probiotic every morning but didn’t notice much of a change. My mood was fairly stable, but my bathroom cycles were slow—every other day or less—which for me is not ideal.

For the second week, I instead tried taking the probiotic at night, with some herbal teas like chamomile, rosehip, and peppermint—and that’s when it happened. I started to feel better and well rested. Amazingly, intestinal regularity slowly found its way to me.

I got to the point where I could expect to see movement almost every single morning, which in turn positively affected my mood. Mostly, I felt freed from worrying so much about my stomach constantly. I felt confident wearing clothes without considering extra bloat. My stomach felt lighter and my mind felt clearer. Not only was my mood influencing my gut, but now my gut health was directly influencing my mood. It was an enlightenment!

I’ve since tweaked the cocktail a bit to support a more restful sleep (which further improves my mood). I now combine a regimen of calcium, magnesium, and a probiotic about an hour before bed, and if I have time, I wash it down with herbal tea.

I can’t say things are always perfect, but they have vastly improved. More so, I believe that part of my recovery is feeling like I have some control over my symptoms. To have my doctor listen to me and then ask me to keep track of my gut-mood fluctuations felt so necessary and long overdue. Who better knows our moods and symptoms than ourselves?

When I wake up feeling rested, my mood and demeanor get right in line. These days, I don’t skip a day of my probiotics if I can help it. I need my core, the very toughest part of me, to be strong so I can face the day. A happy gut is a happy system.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

Think You Can Handle Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Workout? Try For Yourself

Whatever your politics, you can’t deny that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one strong woman. Not only is the 85-year-old one of just three women presiding over the Supreme Court, she’s also a pancreatic and colon cancer survivor—and, oh, she can do 20 pushups.

Yep, in addition to regularly making monumental contributions to women’s rights and law in the U.S., RBG works out for an hour twice a week with her trainer Bryant Johnson, C.P.T.

In the past two decades of working out with Johnson, the Justice has perfected bodyweight strength moves like one-legged planks and assisted pistol squats. The legend of her fitness prowess has spread so far and wide that Johnson even wrote a book—aptly named The RBG Workout—about it.

In the foreword of the book, Ginsburg writes that she hopes her workout will “help others to experience, as I have, renewed energy to carry on with their work and days.” (And trust me, I know firsthand that this workout is no joke. I tried it for myself live on Facebook and sweat buckets.)

So, want to be like RBG? Johnson, who’s also a member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council, shared a sample gym session with us so you can put your fitness to the test. After warming up with a few minutes of cardio and a quick full-body stretch, you’ll be ready to jump right into RBG’s full-body routine.

It’s all about having strength, stability, and mobility for life—and it’ll kick your butt! Think you’re ready for it?

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

How Much Do Genetics Factor Into The Speed Of Your Metabolism?

When it comes to weight loss (and gain), many of us believe our metabolism yields ultimate power over our success—and that there’s not much we can do to change it. After all, we all have that one friend who attributes his perpetually skinny frame to a ‘fast metabolism,’ just as we have that friend who blames her widening waistline on the sluggish metabolism she inherited from her mother. But are we really born with inner engines that run at different speeds—and does ours really determine our weight fate?

Metabolism refers to your body’s process of converting calories into energy,” explains exercise and obesity researcher Tim Church, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H, professor of preventive medicine at Louisiana State University and chief medical officer of ACAP Health Consulting. How fast or slow you convert those calories into energy, though, depends on a few factors—some of which you are born with.

First off, there’s how tall and naturally muscular you are. People with larger frames—who also tend to weigh more—actually have faster metabolisms than their smaller-framed friends. “The more you weigh, the more tissues you have, and the more tissues you have, the more calories you burn,” says Church. Then there’s whether you’re male or female. Men, who typically store less body fat, have more muscle mass, and are all-around larger than women, also typically have faster metabolisms because their muscle and size requires more calories to maintain than women’s generally smaller, less muscular frames.

Those metabolism factors are pretty much out of your control—but they’re not the only factors that determine the ultimate speed of your metabolism. The baseline number of calories your body needs to fuel essential functions, like breathing and circulating blood, is also determined by other factors, like your age (okay, also your of your control), your hormonal function, and your body composition (how much muscle versus fat you have). This metabolic baseline is called your BMR, or basal metabolic rate.

While your BMR is roughly how many calories you’d burn if you literally slept all day and didn’t move or eat anything, it only accounts for about 60 percent of your TDEE, or total daily energy expenditure, which is the total number of calories you burn per day and includes the energy you use to move around, exercise, and digest food.

In a nutshell, the more you move your body, the more energy it uses, and the higher your TDEE—meaning you have a ‘faster’ metabolism on days you exercise than on days you binge on Netflix.

Featured Products

Though it’s easier to boost your TDEE by moving more every day, it is also possible to boost your BMR over time, too. Remember when we said that the amount of muscle mass you have factors into your BMR? While you might be born with a more or less naturally muscular body than someone else, you can build more muscle mass and increase the baseline number of calories your body churns through every single day with strength training and proper nutrition (we’re looking at you, protein!). Research suggests muscle mass determines up to 60 percent of the variability in different people’s metabolisms, so putting in the work to build more is certainly worth your while.

Related: How Many Times A Week Should You Strength Train?

By the time you’re an adult, lifestyle behaviors like being active and building muscle outweigh the aspects of your metabolism you’re born with. In a perfect world, weight loss comes down to a simple equation, says Church: Use more energy than you take in. However, if you’re faithful to your healthy routine, move your body regularly, and nourish it with the appropriate calories, but still aren’t seeing any changes in your waistline, give your doctor a call. Underlying health issues, like a thyroid disorder or diabetes, could be throwing your hormones out of whack and sabotaging your metabolism.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

Watching Your Weight? Here’s How Protein Can Help

Protein, which builds pretty much all of the tissues in our body (think muscles, organs, and even hair), is a key part of any healthy diet—but it’s especially important for people who want to build muscle or shed body fat (or both!).

How much protein you eat—and when you eat it—can help you reach your health and fitness goals. You just have to know how to use it! Watch the following video for the full run-down on how protein can help you manage your weight, and try a supplement (like the new MyTrition Natural Protein Blend) to meet your needs!

 

Featured Products

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

The Movement Your Workouts Are Sorely Missing

In the age of desk jobs and screens everywhere, we don’t exactly spend our days running, jumping, and climbing around outside like our ancestors did. And try as we might to make up for all the time we spend sitting by hitting the gym or attending our favorite workout class, the movement we do squeeze into our day doesn’t always reflect how our ancestors moved, or challenge our bodies to their fullest potential.

Most of the exercise we do these days involves moving forward or backward—think running, lunging, and cycling (even deadlifting involves moving forward and backward through our hips)—and while these movements do benefit our bodies, they’re not the only movements we should be doing! Lateral exercises, which involve moving from side to side—like lateral shuffles and lateral lunges—are often left out of our workout routines. But that ends now.

Why Lateral Movements Matter

Most of us spend about 90 percent of our active time on those forward or backward movements, which leaves some of our muscles under-utilized and under-activated, and can mess with our stability and put our hip, knee, ankle, and shoulder joint health at risk, explains personal trainer Jenny LaBaw, C.P.T., CF-L2.

Lateral movements work many of our smaller stabilizer and forgotten-about muscles—like our hip abductors, hip adductors, gluteus medius, deltoids, and obliques, to name a few—and strengthen our joints, tendons, and ligaments at all angles by requiring our body move through a different range of motion. If you never train your body to move laterally, there’s a greater chance something will go wrong when life forces you to move that way, whether you’re navigating a busy sidewalk, carrying your groceries, or chasing your dog, says physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of mobility company Movement Vault.

Incorporating lateral movements can balance out all of our repeated forward-backward movement, and help us build well-rounded strength, improve mobility, and avoid injury.

Featured Products

Moving from side to side more often also helps us get better at the forward-backward moves, like squats, that we all love so much. By working our muscles in a different plane of motion, we teach our body to better activate our supporter muscles, explains Wickham. “Once you learn to activate those supporter muscles, you can strengthen them, and once you strengthen them your lifts go up.”

And, of course, lateral movements also prep your body for any sport that requires you to make quick movements in different directions, like tennis, basketball, and soccer, adds celebrity fitness and nutrition coach Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S., founder of FIT365. But even if the only sport you’re into is weekend Ultimate Frisbee or running around the backyard with your kids, the ability to move laterally will make you better at it.

4 Lateral Moves To Try

Ready to start building some side-to-side strength? Add a couple of these moves to your next workout to develop a more balanced, capable body.

1. Skater Jumps

Start in a slight squat position and push off through your right foot to jump to your left. Land on your left foot and allow your right foot to track behind it so your right toes touch the ground behind your left foot and you’re in a curtsy-like position. Then, push off through your left foot to land in a curtsy position on the opposite side. That’s one rep. You can swing your arms in opposite directions to propel you as you jump from side to side. Imagine you’re jumping side to side over a hurdle!

Do three sets of eight to 10 reps—or try these Tabata-style and alternate between 20 seconds of jumping back and forth 10 seconds of rest for four minutes total.

Why they work: “Skater squats are a great movement because each rep requires you to stop, stabilize, and absorb the load before you rapidly change directions,” says Brown. “Not only does this transfer over into sport performance, but it also helps develop neglected lower-body muscles, like the gluteus medius, hip abductors, and hip adductors.”

2. Lateral Lunges

Start standing with your feet hips-width distance apart. Keep your hands at your side and take a large step to the right with your right foot. As you step, bend your right knee and sit back into your heel as if squatting off to your right side. Keep your left leg straight and your right knee above your right foot. Then, push off through your right foot to return to the starting position. That’s one rep.  Perform three sets of eight to 10 reps on each side.

Make these count as cardio by adding a hop in between each lunge, so that you’re immediately exploding up off the ground in a jump shot after returning your lunging foot back to starting position. Or, up their strength-building potential by performing them while holding a kettlebell.

Why they work: Lateral lunges light up your gluteus medius and maximus muscles, quadriceps, and hip abductors and adductors, says Wickham.

Related: Are You Neglecting These Two Glute Muscles?

3. Lateral Step-Ups

Stand to the side of a bench, box, or step that’s just shorter than knee-height. Step the foot closest to the step up onto the platform, pressing through your heel and squeezing through your glutes to drive upward until your leg is fully extended. Allow your opposite leg to trail your anchor leg, so you finish standing on the platform. Then, step down with your trailing leg, followed by your anchor leg to return to your starting position. That’s one rep. Perform three sets of eight reps on each side.

Why they work: Lateral step-ups are great for hip, glute, hamstring, and quad strength, as well as overall lower-body stability, explains Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., Pn1, founder of Training2xl. If the boxes or benches at your gym are too high, start off by doing these on stacked weight plates.

4. Lateral Arm Raises

Start standing and hold a pair of light dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing in. Keeping your arms straight and bracing your core, raise the dumbbells up and out to your sides until they’re about shoulder height and you look like a giant ‘T.’ Pause, then slowly lower the weights back down to your sides. That’s one rep. Aim for three sets of eight to 10 reps.

Why they work: Many lateral movements give all of the attention to your abs and lower body, but strong shoulders are important too, whether for carrying kids or just hailing a cab, and moving your arms laterally works your deltoids, says LaBaw.

We Asked, You Answered: Top 15 Gym Pet Peeves

The gym is a place of transformation, inspiration, and hard-earned victories. But let’s face it—it’s also a place full of, well, personalities. From the people who grunt extra loudly to the folks who refuse to wipe their mats down after use, there’s always someone bending (or full-on breaking) the rules of gym etiquette. We asked The Vitamin Shoppe Instagram followers to share their biggest gym gripes, and here’s what they said:

 

 

 

Featured Products

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like this post? Get more like it in our Facebook group, Staying Fit With The Vitamin Shoppe. 

Is The ‘Fat-Burning Zone’ A Sham?

If you’ve hopped on any cardio machine ever, you’ve probably seen the graph or different colored hearts (or whatever) identifying the different exercise ‘zones’ that use your heart rate to categorize the intensity of your workout.

Which zone we should be cardio-ing away in, though, isn’t so clear—and the enticing ‘fat-burning’ zone, in particular, is actually pretty misleading.

You’re in the ‘fat-burning zone’ when you exercise at a pace that gets your heartrate up to between 60 and 75 percent of your maximum (220 minus your age). “If you measured your exertion or effort on a scale of one to ten, the fat-burning zone would be a five or six,” explains exercise physiologist Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., host of the All About Fitness Podcast. This is a pretty low-intensity pace, and you’ll probably be able to carry on a conversation as you move.

Given its name, you’d think the fat-burning zone is where you want to be if you’re trying to lose weight, right? Well, not quite.

Workouts that focus on the fat-burning zone are a rooted in the outdated (but persistent) belief that long, slow workouts are more effective for weight loss than shorter, more intense workouts. Here, exercise experts break down why the fat-burning zone isn’t really your fat-loss friend.

The Fat-Burning Basics

To fuel literally everything we do, our body produces and uses a form of chemical energy called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). What we create that ATP from, though, depends on what ingredients we have in our system (like carbs or fat from food, or stored body fat) and how much energy we need how quickly (depending on whether we’re just hanging out or sprinting, for example).

Technically, the fat-burning zone is legit: At lower intensities, our body’s primary ATP fuel source is fatty acids from food or body fat, whereas at higher intensities—usually an effort level of seven or higher—we primarily use the carbohydrates circulating in our bloodstream as sugar or stored in our muscles as glycogen.

Featured Workout Products

“Our body needs oxygen to turn fat into ATP, and when we’re resting or working out at a low intensity, that oxygen is readily available,” explains Tiffany Chag, M.S., R.D, C.S.C.S., sports dietitian at Hospital for Special Surgery. When we work out at higher intensities, oxygen becomes scarce and our body turns to carbs, instead. It’s never entirely one or the other—just a different proportion: Fat can still account for between 10 and 45 percent of our total energy expenditure during high-intensity exercise.

Exercise Intensity And Weight Loss

While it’s true we burn a higher percentage of calories from fat in the fat-burning zone, that doesn’t translate to quicker fat loss. Burning more calories total—regardless of whether the energy used comes from fat or carbs—is what matters for fat loss, explains running coach and exercise physiologist, Janet Hamilton, MA, RCEP, CSCS, founder of Running Strong.

Unsurprisingly, we burn more calories overall when we work out at higher intensities—like 75 to 85 percent of our max heartrate, or an effort level of seven or eight—because our organs and muscles have to work harder to meet that high energy demand. For example, a 155-pound person burns about 260 calories cycling at a moderate pace for 30 minutes, but churns through about 315 at a more vigorous pace.

That’s where HIIT (high-intensity interval training), which involves alternating between short intervals of max-effort and intervals of low-intensity recovery, comes in. By upping the intensity so much (even just for short bursts of time), we can burn just as much fat, if not more, in less time—even if carbs account for a larger percentage of our calories burned, explains Christi Marraccini C.P.T., Head Coach at Tone House in New York City.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

By pushing so hard during HIIT’s work intervals, we increase our body’s demand for oxygen during the rest intervals, and throughout the rest of the day after the workout, explains McCall. (This is called ‘EPOC,’ or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.)  Our body continues working harder-than-usual to deliver that oxygen, and we continue burning calories.

The Time And Place For The Fat-Burning Zone

HIIT is great, but too much high-intensity work can lead to injury or burnout over time—so our experts recommend your weekly workout routine strikes a balance between higher- and lower-intensity exercise. Every other—or every third—cardio workout can be HIIT, but the rest should actually land in that fat-burning zone. “This kind of breakdown will allow your body to recover and your muscle to repair after tough workouts, while still giving you the opportunity to move,” says Chag.

Like what you’re reading here? For more health information and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

HMB Is Making A Comeback—Here’s Why

This article originally appeared in Muscle & Performance magazine. 

Can you shed body fat while holding onto muscle mass? If you strategize and supplement correctly, you can.

Intermittent fasting is one of the fastest growing diet trends for fat loss out there. However, it generally means going 12 to 24 hours without ingesting calories of any kind. Millions of people have benefited from the rapid weight loss associated with intermittent fasting, but when you restrict nourishment—especially protein and amino acids—for hours, you run the risk of elevating cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) and putting the body in a state of catabolism (or breakdown), potentially endangering your hard-earned gains.

One familiar product, however, could very well be your key to avoiding undue muscle loss. A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate— commonly known as HMB free acid (HMB-FA)—may be an ideal supplement for those who partake in intermittent fasting.

HMB, which is found in foods like avocado, alfalfa, catfish, and citrus fruits, is an active anabolic metabolite of the essential branched-chain amino acid leucine, which resides in all human muscle cells.

In the study, researchers from Texas Tech University assessed the effects of HMB-FA supplementation on catabolism (muscle breakdown), cortisol release, testosterone, and resting energy expenditure during a period of acute fasting. Eleven healthy men and women participated in the double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment, during which they received either an HMB-FA supplement or a placebo while undergoing a three-day meat-free diet, followed by a 24-hour fast.

Interestingly, markers of catabolism were unaffected by the fast, meaning HMB didn’t seem to directly impact muscle breakdown. However, the fasting cortisol response of those supplementing with HMB was blunted by a whopping 32 percent, while no change occurred in the placebo group. This reduction in cortisol allowed for a 162-percent increase in the participating men’s testosterone-to-cortisol ratios, a key factor in their ability to maintain and build muscle.

Take Your Intermittent Fasting With A Side Of HMB

If you’re using intermittent fasting as a dieting strategy, or just want to keep cortisol levels in check, it seems that HMB-FA might provide some supplemental support. Research suggests the best dose for HMB is 38 milligrams per kilogram of body mass (about 17 milligrams per pound) daily, split into three equal doses. BodyTech’s HMB provides about 250 milligrams per capsule.

Featured Products

Take one dose 30 to 60 minutes before training, another immediately after training, and the final dose with a meal. On rest days, take your three doses with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Chronic consumption of HMB has been deemed safe, and you’ll notice its full effect after about two weeks of supplementation.

I Set One Small Goal Every Day For An Entire Month

The Vitamin Shoppe’s new brand campaign, Victory Is Yours, is all about celebrating the small wins that eventually add up to big gains, like parking your car in the furthest parking spot so you have to take more steps, or actually making it to yoga class after a busy day.

As a Health Enthusiast at The Vitamin Shoppe (I work in the human resources department at the corporate office in New Jersey), I wanted to be a part of Victory Is Yours by achieving one small goal (be it personal or wellness-related) each day for a month. It was a challenging—but very fulfilling!—experience, especially because I’d recently dealt with some health issues.

A few months ago, I got the flu (despite being a fairly healthy person) and was down and out for two weeks. During that time, while I was lying on the couch, a simple turn of my head led to a herniated disc in my neck, which left me immobile for months. I couldn’t drive because I wasn’t able to turn my head, I had difficulty putting on clothes and doing simple tasks, and I was constantly experiencing nerve and muscle pain.

It’s easy to take your health for granted until you no longer have it on your side. During my month of victories, I was able to be more mindful of that—while my health got better and better each day. It took time, patience, and dedication. Here is what my month of small victories looked like:

Day 1: My trainer bailed on me last minute because he was double-booked, so I had to decide to either be lazy and just not work out or sign up for an awesome class I’d been wanting to try. My choice? I hit a barre class.

Day 2: I tried to set myself up for success by meal-prepping ahead of time: I made a shake (I like Next Step’s Fit N’ Full Shake, Swiss Chocolate Flavor) for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and a healthy snack. Meal-prepping definitely helped me make better choices when hunger hit!

Day 3: I added more weight to my workouts and felt great. It was my fourth workout of the week!

Day 4: I attended a wrestling match my nephew played in. It was great spending time with family, while rooting him on for doing something active.

Day 5: Instead of sitting all day at work, I stood for one hour, every other hour, during the whole work day.

Day 6: I set frequent reminders to get up and drink eight glasses of water (I usually only drink one or two glasses of water a day).

Day 7: Instead of having road rage or being annoyed while sitting in traffic, I started listening to inspiring podcasts during my commute to and from work. I was excited to start and end my days feeling empowered, informed, and motivated.

Day 8: I substituted my daily afternoon pick-me-up of Diet Pepsi or Sprite with Diet Snapple or regular tea. Game changer.

Day 9: Sometimes if I’m tired or in a mood, I can boost back with a little musical pick-me-up. So I made a playlist of songs that makes me feel like 1000 percent. Though music is sometimes too distracting to listen to when I’m doing tough tasks, I learned to take a break once in a while to reset and help me power through. On that playlist: David Bowie, Queen, and the Beatles.

Day 10: I passed my step goal for the day: 10, 892 steps!

Day 11: I sent a card to a patient in need at a local hospital. It only takes a minute to make someone’s day.

Day 12: My fiancé and I marked something off our wedding planning check list and then picked our invitations! One stressor down—3,495,873 to go.

Day 13: I went for my first run in a while. It felt good to be back on the treadmill!

Day 14: I gave my body the break it needed, while also enjoying some good food, drinks, and time with friends. Treat yourself; it’s self-care.

Day 15: I finished listening to an audio book. I’m a bookworm but I often find it hard to read at night when I’ve been reading all day long on the computer. Just like inspirational podcasts, audio books have become my saviors. No matter what, I can still fit books into my schedule!

Day 16: I took off every stitch of makeup off before I went to bed—mascara and all. While this may seem like a really small win, it was pretty big to me: I usually always fall asleep with my makeup on. I wanted to set a goal to be nicer to my skin.

Day 17: They say that a family that sweats together, stays together. Instead of simply going to a baby shower on Saturday (and eating and drinking with family), my cousins and I signed up for a 7 a.m. fitness class at Orange Theory. It was so motivating to be doing something healthy like that with my extended family—and we had so much fun!

Day 18: I washed, folded, and put away two loads of laundry, instead of letting it all hang out on the dreaded chair in the corner. For someone who hates doing laundry, this was definitely a victory.

Day 19: I decided to pick up a new hobby: photography!

Day 20: Even though I’m a daily contact wearer, I also use special screen protection glasses (since I’m staring at a computer all day). The thing is, I often forget to put them on, so I made an effort to honor my eye health and remember to use them.

Day 21: I stretched upon waking up. I definitely do not do this enough. I grew up playing soccer and have always had tight hamstrings (I need more yoga in my life), so it was nice to take those few minutes to listen to my body in the morning. I made a plan to stretch regularly throughout the day at my desk and before I go to bed. I’m not sure if I can keep this ritual up regularly, but it’s made me realize that I need to stretch way more often.

Day 22: I unplugged from all electronics an hour before bed. I have to admit that it was a bit weird, as I’m used to winding down while scrolling through my phone or watching TV. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the conversations that me and my fiancé had while lying in bed. It was nice to re-connect face to face by disconnecting from everything else.

Day 23: I parked in the farthest parking spot while hitting up the marketplace. I did this on purpose, while being hangry. Now that felt victorious.

Related: 6 Life-Changing Things I Learned When I Started Working Out Regularly

Day 24: Victory, to me, isn’t only working on the relationship I have with own body—but helping the people I care about take care of theirs. Today I went for a walk with one of my fit friends; a recent foot injury had been tough for her to come back from, but we were able to get in a few-mile walk while catching up. I got in over 15,000 steps, which is a lot for me!

Day 25: Today was Self-Care Sunday! I love the weekends, because I go makeup-free (and sometimes shower-free too). It allows my skin to breathe while also not drying out my skin and hair.

Day 26: I had a nice glass of red wine and danced around my apartment for a good half hour. There’s nothing like good tunes, good company, and a good drink. I didn’t even feel bad about not going to the gym, because dancing is my favorite form of cardio!

Day 27: I worked on decluttering. I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning lately, whether it’s the drawers in my house or piles of paper at work. It feels so good to straighten up and only hold on to the things that really matter. Clearing the clutter definitely helps clear the mind.

Day 28: I wore my Vitamin Angels (a non-profit organization that provides life-saving vitamins to mothers and children) t-shirt to the gym and someone asked me what it meant. It felt great talking about The Vitamin Shoppe’s partnership with Vitamin Angels, along with my plans to continuously help the organization.

When my month of daily victories ended, I learned to be more mindful and intentional. I also realized how focused I could become when I had a goal. I felt happier, healthier, and really accomplished, all from just doing one small thing every day. It was incredible.

As the writer Robert Brault once said, “Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were big things.” Victory is yours!

Join the conversation! Snap a picture of whatever makes you feel victorious, and share it on Instagram. Be sure to tag #VictoryIsMine and @vitaminshoppe!

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

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

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

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

Me, before a month of cycling carbs.

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

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

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

Here’s what he recommended for me:

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

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

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

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

Getting Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Protein Shakes

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

Tweaking My Approach

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

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

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

Related: Are You Eating Too Few Carbs?

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

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

Final Thoughts…and Results

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

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

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

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

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.

Featured Proteins

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.

Featured Supplements

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.

Featured Products

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.

Featured Products

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: