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

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

Whether dairy bothers your stomach, you live the vegan life, or your morning smoothie is itching for an upgrade, plant protein is just waiting to win you over. (And select tubs are 20 percent off until 2/25, if you need a little extra motivation to make the switch.)

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

 

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Plant Protein

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

 

Orgain Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder

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

 

Garden Of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Protein

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

6 Ways Bad Posture Impacts Your Body Long-Term

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

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

1. Headaches

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

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

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

2. Jaw pain

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

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

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

3. Back and neck pain

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

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

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4. Knee, hip, and foot pain

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

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

5. Shoulder pain and impingement

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

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

6. Fatigue and breathing problems.

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

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

How to Improve Your Posture—Today

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

Keep these five tips in mind each day:

1. Walk Tall.

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

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

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

3. Try seated pelic tilts.

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

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

4. Try chin tucks.

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

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

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

Assessing your posture

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

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

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

 

Blind Taste Test: Which Natural Proteins Reigned Supreme?

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

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

Here were their top picks.

 

Garden Of Life Organic Grass-Fed Whey Protein

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

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

 

Optimum Nutrition Naturally-Flavored Gold Standard 100% Whey

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

 

Isopure Natural Whey Protein Isolate

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

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

How To Train And Supplement For Every Fitness Goal

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

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

Goal: Strength

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

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

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

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

Goal: Hypertrophy

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

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

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

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

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

Goal: Endurance

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

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

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

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

Goal: Fat Loss

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

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

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

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

From 5Ks to 50-Milers: How I Became An Ultramarathon Runner In Two Years

In the summer of 2008 I had just finished law school, but I hadn’t started working yet. I was running a bit for exercise, because I had the time, but once my first son was born, running just didn’t stick.

Seven years later, knee deep in parenthood and my career, I weighed around 210 pounds—and wasn’t doing a single thing about it. So I made a few New Year’s resolutions: lose weight, get healthier, and start building better habits. I had to face that I wasn’t 20 years old anymore.

I started and stopped working on my resolutions many times (just like everyone else in the world). I was trying a lot of different things to keep up momentum—my wife and I even bought a water rower, but that got boring fast—and when I started running a couple of miles a few times a week, I learned that there was a 5K race in town. It was sponsored by a local pub, which didn’t hurt, so I signed up (even though I found myself questioning why, considering I still wasn’t very good at running).

I practiced for a few months and by the time the 5K rolled around, I didn’t exactly kill it (I came in around 28:25), but I did enjoy it, especially hanging out with fellow runners afterward.

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As I kept up the running after the race, I noticed I was losing significant weight—about 45 pounds! And by the middle of summer 2016, it stopped being about losing weight. I was really just loving the running. So I began focusing on races and getting fit for different events.

It wasn’t always easy—in fact, it was a real challenge. When I ran my first actual marathon in 2016 in Brooklyn (a nostalgic moment for me because I had lived there from 2009-2015), I completely crashed after the first 16 miles. I sat down, then laid down. The longest I had ever run before was 16 miles, so I was pretty unprepared, and I thought about quitting. What kept me going was that I had told everyone that I was doing the marathon, and I just couldn’t live with quitting. That’s when I got a second wind.

From there, I was totally hooked.

Runner’s High

There’s so much to love about running. You’re alongside elite athletes, you can experience gorgeous scenery, and you get to inspire your kids. My youngest son, Nate, who is five, has done two 5Ks with me and I didn’t even have to carry him! During the first, he was hurting at mile two and a half, but he didn’t want to stop. When he saw the finish line, he bolted!

The social aspect of running kept me coming back for more, too. At the end of 2016, I looked for a running buddies club so I could meet other runners. I found one called Fueled by Doughnuts (our group was just featured in Runner’s World, in a piece called “One Pretty Sweet Club”) so I attended one of their group runs one December night.

The group is founded by the owner of a local doughnut shop who provides doughnuts and coffee after every run. The founder also hosts two insanely popular races in Montclair, NJ—a 5K in December and a half marathon in March. Running with Fueled by Doughnuts is how I met all of my running buddies, some of whom have turned into very good friends.

Full Steam Ahead

In early 2017 I decided that it would be fun to do something a little more adventurous than a road race. I found a cool 50-mile ultramarathon (an ultramarathon is any race longer than 26.2 miles, which is a standard marathon) near Ithaca, New York, called Cayuga Trails 50. The ultramarathon, which took place in June 2017, was a 50-mile trail run with more than 9,000 feet of elevation gain. The scenery was beautiful but the course was tough.

Carlos, on one of his runs.

I made it about 42 miles in 14 hours, but I was so mentally defeated by mile 42 that I just gave up and asked my wife to pick me up where the trail was intersected by a road. That night I ate three dinners and then fell asleep.

As soon as I woke up, I felt regret for not pushing myself to finish those last eight miles. I had been on my feet for 14 hours—what were a few more? Physically I know I could have done it, but it was a failure of mental toughness.

This year, I’m going to run an easier 50-miler called The Dirty German in Philadelphia. Then I’ll try Cayuga Trails 50 again down the road. (I’ve also been toying with the idea of trying a 100-miler instead!)

To amp myself up for these runs, there’s a lot of Lupe Fiasco on my Amazon Prime playlist; his music is upbeat, introspective, and addresses different issues. I listen to him if I’m doing a treadmill run or a hard run outside when I’m not with friends. For easier runs, I like to just catch up with friends and need to make sure I can talk.

But all of that doesn’t make running easy all the time. When I’m lacking motivation, my friends get me out of the house. I’d say about 90 percent of my running habits today are because I’m going to hang out with friends. I actually haven’t had this many friends since high school!

My advice to people who want to start running or working out:

  • Create a habit of laying your clothes out ahead of time, especially early in the morning. After a while you won’t have to think about it, you just do it. Getting your stuff ready for beforehand reduces the need to make that early morning decision: Do I get up and run? The easiest way to build a habit is to make it happen on autopilot, and by knowing you’re all set and ready to go, there’s no more mental struggle about whether or not to hit the snooze button.
  • Give yourself something to look forward to after your workout, like coffee.
  • Consider it a mental workout, too. Your body is capable of a lot more than you think it is. When you’re fatigued and want to slow down, it’s not really a physical limit—it’s an emotion. Your brain makes you feel it, but you can push past it. Once you understand that, it’s motivating.

Share your own victories, both big and small, on Instagram using #VictoryIsMine and tagging @vitaminshoppe. We might feature you on our page!

 

What’s REALLY In Your Pre-Workout?

Using a pre-workout supplement can help you reap the benefits of every rep you put in at the gym—but sometimes it feels like you need a degree in chemistry to figure out which one is best for your goals.

Here’s the full breakdown of the most popular pre-workout ingredients in the game, so you can sprint faster, lift heavier, or cycle further without having to wonder what the heck you’re sipping on.

1. Caffeine

Many fitness enthusiasts have one major demand of their pre-workout: energy. So more often than not, caffeine will be one of a pre-workout’s MVPs. Stimulants like caffeine don’t actually give you extra energy (only food can do that), but they can make you feel more energized and alert by stimulating your central nervous system, boosting your heart rate, opening up your blood vessels, and increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients throughout your body.

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You’ll find anywhere from 100 to 300 milligrams of caffeine in pre-workout supplements. (400 milligrams total of caffeine per day seems to be the safe upper limit.) If you don’t do caffeine or work out at night, look for a pre-workout labeled ‘caffeine-free’ or ‘stim-free.’

2. Creatine

This natural compound, which is made from three amino acids, affects how energy is used, recycled, and stored in your muscles, and helps you use your finite supply efficiently during weight-lifting or high-intensity interval training, according to Tod Cooperman, M.D., President and CEO of ConsumerLab.com, which independently tests health and nutritional products. Creatine also helps jump-start the muscle-building process by drawing in water and stimulating a compound called insulin-like growth factor, or IGF. Research shows creatine can support muscle growth and strength, as well as improve sprint performance.

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

Since creatine takes a few weeks to build up in your system, you have to use it consistently, according to Cooperman. In addition to your pre-workout supp, you can also find it in foods like eggs, beef, and fish. Experts typically recommend about five grams a day.

3. L-Arginine And L-Citrulline

The amino acids arginine and citrulline are used to produce nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes our blood vessels to increase blood flow.  “And since your blood carries oxygen and nutrients to your tissues, this increased flow ups the supply of the good stuff to your muscles.” Research show citrulline to be the more effective of the two, with one study, for example, finding that citrulline helped cyclists feel less fatigued and perform better on time trial tests. Fitness enthusiasts also often find this nitric oxide-induced blood flow boost contributes to a satisfying muscle ‘pump’ and extra ‘vascular’ look.

The amount of arginine and/or citrulline in pre-workouts varies greatly from brand to brand—but experts often recommend up to six grams total before getting sweaty. (If you have any cardiovascular issues, check with your doc before supplementing with these, advises Cooperman.)

4. B Vitamins

B vitamins are often credited for giving us energy, but what they really do is help our body better convert the energy from food into energy it can use. The four you’ll most often see in pre-workout formulas: vitamin B6 (involved in hundreds of functions, including central nervous system activity), folic acid (key for brain function and production of DNA), vitamin B12 (important for nerve health and energy production), and niacin (supports the metabolism of fats, carbs, and protein into energy.)

Different formulas pack different amounts of these B vitamins, but they’re often higher in B12 than the other Bs.

5. BCAAs

Of the 20 amino acids (the building blocks of protein) our body needs, three in particular—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—are especially crucial for our muscles. These three aminos are known as the BCAAs, or ‘branched-chain amino acids.’ Of the three, leucine gets the most glory for its pivotal role in triggering muscle protein synthesis, the process through which our muscles recover and grow. Meanwhile, isoleucine can be converted to energy in our cells, regulate our blood sugar, and enhance our hormonal and immune responses. Valine can also be converted into energy, but also helps keep the ‘feel-good’ hormone serotonin—which can make us a little drowsy—from getting in the way of our performance.

Supplementing with about five grams of BCAAs before a workout can promote muscle-building and ward off soreness afterwards, says Cooperman. A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness confirms this, finding that athletes who supplemented with BCAAs during intense training reported less fatigue and soreness and had lower measures of muscle damage than those who did not.

6. Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine, which is produced in the liver, contributes to our levels of muscle carnosine, another amino acid-like compound that supports performance and endurance by buffering the compounds that cause that burning, fatigued feeling in your muscles. Carnosine is found in type-two muscle fibers, which help you power through high-intensity activities like sprinting or heavy lifting, so beta-alanine offers a boost for circuit- or interval-style workouts that involve bouts of effort lasting one to four minutes, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN).

You can find beta-alanine in protein-rich foods like eggs and meat, but a supplement can best ramp up your muscles’ concentrations of carnosine. According to the ISSN, it takes about four weeks of four to six grams of beta-alanine a day to make the magic happen.

7. Betaine

Though this amino acid-like compound has been understood for a while, betaine has recently gained popularity with fitness enthusiasts for its ability to help the body utilize protein efficiently. One recent study tested betaine’s potential and found that fit men who supplemented with 2.5 grams daily throughout a six-week training period increased muscle size and power, and improved their body composition (amount of body fat compared to lean mass, like muscle), better than those who took a placebo.

Since other studies on less-active individuals did not return such favorable results, researchers believe that betaine is most effective in already-fit people performing high-intensity exercise.

Read pre-workout labels like a pro with this infographic:

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

Protein bars help us reach our daily protein needs, satisfy our appetites, and squash sugar cravings when we don’t have time to sit down for a meal. But like any other routine, at some point your usual bar gets kind of, well, stale.

Switching things up can keep your taste buds entertained and your fitness results on track, and there are tons of fun and portable high-protein eats out there to help you do it. Here are 13 of our favorites—cookies, popcorn, chips, and brownies all included.

 

1. Buff Bake Protein Sandwich Cookies

Whether you bite straight into sandwich cookies or twist to eat the icing first, you’ll be satisfied by Buff Bake’s new cleaned-up version of this sweet classic. Made with ingredients you can recognize, like dry-roasted peanuts, whey protein, gluten-free oat flour, whole eggs, and organic cane sugar, Buff Bake’s sandwich cookies are guilt-free as can be. If PB isn’t your style, try Snickerdoodle or Double Chocolate.

 

2. Quest Protein Cookies

You already love their bars, and you’re going to love their cookies. Quest’s new Oatmeal Raisin, Double Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, and Chocolate Chip protein cookies pack 15 grams of protein and nine grams of fiber but less than one gram of sugar. They’re soft, chewy, and gluten-free.

 

3. Power Crunch Wafer Cookie Protein Bars

These may look like bars on the outside, but take a bite of any one of Power Crunch’s 10 dessert-worthy flavors (including Salted Caramel and Peanut Butter Fudge) and you’ll become a believer in their layers of wafer cookie and creamy filling. With 14 grams of protein and just five grams of sugar per bar, they’re basically a Kit Kat’s older, more ripped sibling.

 

4. Nuts ‘N More High-Protein Cookie Butter Spread

Whether you’re topping rice cakes or apple slices, or just dunking your spoon in the jar, this protein-loaded (12 grams a serving) cookie butter spread will be your new go-to. After all, it contains about six grams of sugar less than your average cookie butter.

 

5. ProSupps MyCookie Protein Cookies

Raw cookie dough lovers will dig the soft, chewy texture of ProSupps’ MyCookies. The cookies’ seven flavors include Carrot Cake and Iced Lemon Pound Cake in addition to the usual crowd-pleasers so you can satisfy every craving under the sun (and muscle up with 18 grams of protein).

 

6. ThinkThin Protein Cakes

No sweet tooth can get in the way of your weight-loss goals with these low-sugar, high-protein cakes from ThinkThin on your side. The two bite-sized, chocolate-covered cakes make for a great afternoon pick-me-up or dessert.

 

7. Bhu Fit Protein Cookies

Plant-based eaters and carnivores alike will appreciate these vegan protein cookies. Made with organic cashews, plant protein, and sweetened with monk fruit and stevia, these cookies are perfectly crumbly and clean as can be—and they’re loaded with nine grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein.

 

8. Lenny & Larry’s Muscle Brownies

Already a fan of Lenny & Larry’s protein cookies? You’re going to want to try their brownies. Whether you go for Triple Chocolate, Peanut Butter, or Cookies and Cream, you’ll load up on 10 grams of protein while enjoying the rich flavor and texture of those homemade box mix brownies.

 

9. Quest Sour Cream And Onion Protein Chips

When you’re craving salt but need to hit your protein goals, swap your usual dessert-inspired bar for something crunchy, savory, and equally macro-friendly: protein chips. Quest’s sour cream and onion chips are just 120 calories and contain a whopping 21 grams of protein, with just five grams of carbs, zero fat, and all the eye-watering sour cream and onion flavor you could ever want.

 

10. MHP Chocolate High-Protein Pudding

Satisfy your inner-child and fuel your fit lifestyle with MHP’s protein pudding. This ready-to-eat treat offers 30 grams of protein (for zero sugar) and is thick and creamy enough to keep you satisfied. It’s a welcome change of pace when you’ve been chomping on bars day in and day out.

 

11. Icon Meals Protein Popcorn

Sweet, salty, and crunchy all at once, you’d swear this protein popcorn belongs in the candy aisle. And while Icon Meals’ extravagantly-flavored popcorns are a little more indulgent (they’re sweetened with real sugar), you can treat yourself knowing you’re also scoring an extra 10 grams of protein. Your taste buds will also go berserk for the Banana Split, Chocolate Mint, and Canadian Maple flavors.

 

12. Optimum Nutrition Protein Cake Bites

ON’s protein cake bites (they pack 20 grams of protein) are the perfect fitness-focused treat when cake pops and coffee shop baked goods are calling your name. Available in flavors like Birthday Cake, Chocolate Frosted Donut, and Red Velvet, these truffle-like bites have a satisfying, chewy texture—and they’re just plain fun to eat.

 

13. Enlightened Marshmallow Treats

Few vending machine temptations even come close to competing with the appeal of sticky, sweet marshmallow treats. With 15 grams of protein, nine grams of fiber, and nine grams of sugar, Enlightened Foods’ take on crispy marshmallow treats offers a more balanced alternative than what’s lurking in your office vending machine.

Don’t Expect To See Results From These Exercise Moves Anytime Soon

If you’re taking the time out of your busy day to get to the gym, you want every moment to really count. But if you’re dedicating any of your precious gym time to less-than-effective exercises, you’re probably cheating yourself out of the results—like building muscle and burning fat—that you’re after.

We asked trainers to share the most eye-roll-worthy moves in the game—and what you should be doing instead—so you can have more efficient workouts and become your fittest, healthiest self.

 1. Smith Machine Squats

The idea of the Smith machine makes a lot of sense: By using a barbell that’s attached to fixed tracks, people who are afraid to do barbell squats can feel more comfortable working on the important movement, says Todd Nief, C.S.C.S., owner and founder of South Loop Strength & Conditioning in Chicago.

The thing is, the way the Smith machine’s bar moves forces you into a movement that’s not really a squat. “Most people end up doing some sort of bizarre knee-folding movement,” says Nief. The direction of the barbell track can force you to shift your weight forward and put extra stress on your knees and back, which not only prevents you from learning proper squat form, but also puts you at risk for injury.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Squat

The Smith machine may be useful for bodybuilders targeting specific muscle groups, but for most people it just forces them into pretty unnatural movement patterns, says Nief. Working on other variations of squats, like goblet squats or jump squats, will do more to improve your technique and your results.

2. Upright Rows

“Upright rows are one of my least favorite moves,” says Katie Dunlop, C.P.T., founder of Love Sweat Fitness in Orange County, California. This exercise puts your shoulders in a compromising position and puts unnecessary stress on your wrists, making it more likely to land you with an injury than the boulder shoulders you’re after.

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For a more effective (and safe) shoulder burn, Dunlop recommends sticking to your standard dumbbell shoulder press. If you want to hone in on your rear delts (the backs of your shoulders), swap in dumbbell reverse flies instead.

3. Basic Crunches And Sit-Ups

There are two major issues with these classic core moves: they only focus on the rectus abdominis (or ‘six-pack’) muscles and they’re often performed incorrectly.

“People typically rely too heavily on pulling themselves up with their hands behind their head rather than with their abs,” says Dunlop. “This not only leads to potential neck or back injuries, but also means you don’t actually strengthen your core.”

Related: 4 Mistakes People Make On The Quest For Abs

Instead, choose moves that light up all 360 degrees of your core (and burn more calories), like forearm planks, mountain climbers, and Russian twists.

4. Machine Leg Extensions

If efficiency is your goal, Dunlop generally recommends avoiding weight machines, since they often allow you to use momentum you wouldn’t have when using your body weight or free weights, and tend to isolate just one muscle group.

“The other problem with exercises like machine leg extensions is that they don’t reflect movements you use in real life,” she says. Your exercises should be functional, meaning they mimic movements you might use outside of the gym—so if you want to hit your quads hard, swap those leg extensions for good ‘ole weighted squats.

5. Weighted Side Bends

It’s rare to go an entire gym session without seeing someone in the gym bending from side to side with a dumbbell or weight plate in-hand. “People think they are targeting their obliques and working their abs, but really all they are doing is putting undo pressure on their spine,” explains Danielle Natoni, C.P.T., founder of Fit and Funky.

If your obliques are top priority, Natoni recommends performing Russian twists with that dumbbell or weight plate to better activate your core without stressing out your spine. (Here are eight more moves worth trying.)

11 Caffeine-Free Ways To Power Your Workouts

There’s no denying it: Caffeine is probably the most well-known and effective workout-boosting ingredient out there. It’s also the most widely researched.

Studies have shown that downing caffeine before a workout can make it feel easier, boost your performance, and help ward off soreness afterwards. Caffeine works its magic by stimulating your central nervous system, which increases your output of hormones like epinephrine and ups your heart rate to prep your body for movement and boost your reaction time.

Caffeine isn’t for everyone, though. Different people metabolize caffeine at different rates, so it can mess with some people’s sleep, upset their stomach, or make them feel nervous or jittery. Luckily, if you’re in the caffeine-free camp—or just like to hit the gym at night—there are plenty of caffeine-free workout supplements out there these days (thank you, science!).

Want to crush your next sweat session ‘stim-free’? Here are 11 expert- and research-backed power-ups worth trying.

1. The Obvious: Food

Working out without any calories in your system is like trying to drive a car that’s out of gas. Exactly what you eat before your workout depends on the type, intensity, and duration of exercise you’re doing, but your fuel should always include protein and carbs, says fitness expert Chris Freytag, C.P.T., C.H.C., founder of Get Healthy U. Carbohydrates provide the energy we need to perform while protein supports the repair and growth of our muscles.

Related: How To Pick The Perfect Pre-Workout Snack

Your go-to pre-workout could be a banana or slice of toast with a serving of peanut or almond butter, a handful of nuts, or a slice of deli meat—it’s as simple as that!

 

2. Creatine

Creatine is a popular performance ingredient both on its own and as part of other pre-workout formulas. This quick energy source is naturally produced from three amino acids and stored in our muscles. Studies show that supplementing with creatine can help you build muscle mass and strength over time by helping them work at a higher intensity, says Joy Dubost Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., founder of Dubost Food and Nutrition Solutions.

One study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, for example, found that men who supplemented with creatine made more strength and muscle mass gains after 12 weeks of strength training than those who did not. What’s more, another study found that those who supplemented with creatine also recovered from strength training significantly faster.

You’ll find anywhere between 250 and 850 milligrams of creatine in a three-ounce serving of meat and fish, but can power up your intake (and benefit) by adding a creatine supplement to your routine, says Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Most popular supplements use ‘creatine monohydrate’ and recommend a dose of around five grams a day.

Our Pick: BodyTech 100% Pure Creatine Monohydrate

 

3. Nitric Oxide Boosters

Nitric oxide (NO), a chemical naturally produced in our body, relaxes our blood vessels to increase blood flow. That circulation boost shuttles more oxygen, protein, and other nutrients to our heart, brain, and muscles—which can help our cells churn out more energy so we perform better.

One way to boost NO: beets. (Yes, beets.) Not only is this bright root vegetable chock-full of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and good-for-you carbohydrates, but it’s also packed with nitrates, which are turned into nitric oxide in our body, says Freytag. Drinking a cup of beet juice before exercise helped people work out for longer and use less oxygen to do so, found a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

You can also ramp up your NO production by upping your amino acid intake, since these protein-building molecules contain the nitrogen our bodies need to produce nitric oxide. Two aminos in particular—arginine and citrulline—are best known for their NO and performance-boosting abilities. For example, cyclists who regularly supplemented with citrulline performed better on a timed test and reported feeling less fatigued afterwards than those who took a placebo, found one study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

You’ll find arginine and citrulline in combination pre-workout formulas and as stand-alone supplements.

Our Picks: Dynamic Health Beetroot Juice, PEScience High Volume Supreme Nitric Oxide Matrix    

4. Tomato Juice

You probably shouldn’t fuel your next HIIT class with a Blood Mary—unless you take your cocktail virgin. One small study published in Food and Nutrition Sciences found that people who drank tomato juice prior to an exercise test reported feeling less fatigued throughout than people who drank water.

Researchers credit the lycopene (a potent antioxidant), essential amino acids, and natural sugars in tomato juice for its fatigue-resistant benefits. While the amino acids and sugars provide the body with energy, the lycopene acts against free radical compounds produced during exercise.

 

5. Electrolytes

In an effort to cut down on sugar, we may have stopped slugging back Glacier Crush-flavored sports drinks—but that doesn’t mean we still can’t benefit from workout-boosting electrolytes. Electrolytes are electrically-charged minerals in our blood and body fluids that help balance the amount of water in our body, our blood pH, and muscle and nerve function. Calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium are all electrolytes. When we sweat a lot or are dehydrated, we lose a lot of these minerals—which research has associated with a decline in performance.

That’s why Freytag (like many athletes) adds an electrolyte tablet to her water bottle to sip on before and throughout her workouts. “It’s simple, inexpensive, and tastes good,” she says. Look for an electrolyte tablet or drink mix with a short ingredients list and less than five grams of sugar.

Our Pick: BodyTech Lemon Lime Electrolyte Fizz

 

6. BCAAs

Of the 22 amino acids we need to build all of the proteins in our body, we have to get nine from food (often animal proteins), since we can’t make them on our own. Of those nine, three aminos, known as the ‘branched-chain amino acids’ or ‘BCAAs,’ are particularly important for exercise.

The BCAAs consist of leucine, isoleucine, and valine—and when our muscles are low on stored energy from carbs called glycogen, they can use these aminos for fuel, says Freytag.

One study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that when glycogen-depleted people consumed 300 milligrams of BCAAs, they were able to exercise for longer and burn more fat while doing so.  Research also shows that supplementing with aminos can help you better handle back-to-back sessions if you’re churning out two-a-days.

Freytag recommends adding a scoop of BCAA mix to your water before strength and interval training—just look for one that’s low in sugar.

Our Pick: BodyTech Fruit Punch Critical Aminos XT

 

7. HMB

HMB (‘beta-hydroxy-beta- methylbutyrate’) first entered the fitness scene decades ago, when high price tags kept it from really taking off. But with today’s lower prices, HMB is back to stay. “In science-speak, HMB is a product of the amino acid leucine,” explains Dubost. While leucine promotes muscle synthesis (building), HMB prevents muscle breakdown from occurring in the first place.

One review published in Nutrition & Metabolism suggests HMB may decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness, along with markers of muscle damage and body fat, while increasing performance. Meanwhile, a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that three grams of HMB per day helped athletes make strength, power, and hypertrophy gains even while training vigorously.

Want to give it a shot? Aim for three grams total a day, suggests Dubost.

Our Pick: BodyTech HMB (1,000mg)

 

8. Ginseng

Ginseng has long been used to support energy and vitality by boosting blood circulation and neurotransmitter activity in our brain. A review published in the Journal of Ginseng Research suggests ginseng may benefit both mental and physical performance—though other research on its impact on athletic performance has been a mixed bag, says Dubost.

You can find ginseng in capsule supplements, but it’s also popular in herbal teas.

Our Pick: plnt American Ginseng (400mg)

 

9. Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine is a modified version of the amino acid alanine that our body uses to form a compound called carnosine, which helps reduce the buildup of hydrogen ions in our muscles and delay fatigue. One review published in Amino Acids found beta-alanine to be particularly helpful during high-intensity exercise (think interval or circuit training with work periods lasting a few minutes).

Because levels of beta-alanine in our body are usually very low, the benefits of supplementing may take a few weeks to notice, says Valdez. Supplements often provide anywhere from 800 to 2,000 milligrams, so Valdez recommends talking with a health professional about the right dosage for you.

Our Pick: BodyTech Beta-Alanine (1,600mg)

 

10. Carnitine

Carnitine is a compound our body makes from amino acids to carry fatty acids into our cells for energy—and up to 99 percent of it is stored in our muscles. Though previous evidence has often been inconclusive, long-term research shows that six months of carnitine supplementation can significantly increase levels of carnitine in muscles and buffer the buildup of lactate, which contributes to performance declines during high-intensity workouts. This research also shows that people who supplement with carnitine use less muscle glycogen during lower-intensity exercise, suggesting it may support fat burning.

You’ll find carnitine supplements ranging in dose from 500 to 2,000 milligrams, says Valdez.

Our Pick: The Vitamin Shoppe Raspberry Carnipure™ L-Carnitine (3,00mg)

 

11. Cordyceps

Mushrooms for health and wellness are trendier than ever—and the cordyceps variety has proved especially helpful for holistic-minded fitness enthusiasts. Traditionally used in Chinese medicine, the mushroom has been shown to support our body’s production of ATP (a.k.a. energy), which can benefit everyone from world-class athletes to elderly people trying to stay active, says Valdez. (An added bonus: These ‘shrooms have also been shown to stimulate our immune response.)

You can load up on cordyceps by taking a tablet or capsule supplement, or using a drink mix, like Four Sigmatic’s Cordyceps Mushroom Elixir Mix. Valdez recommends between three and nine grams twice a day.

Our Pick: The Vitamin Shoppe Cordyceps (1040mg)

I Tried Boxing For 2 Weeks—And It Was No Joke

I’m 20 minutes into boxing class and I’ve already done a ridiculous amount of burpees, pushups, and squats. My face is beet red and my shirt is soaked through with sweat—and I’ve still got another 30 minutes left to go.

I’m pushing my body to its limits—and I love it. I think?

For most of my life I’ve been your average, garden variety gym-goer, never veering too far from holistic mind-body-soul workouts used to straighten out my mental state and give me a good stretch. I tried out boxing on a self-dare. (I’ve got this masochistic voice in the back of my mind that loves a new challenge—even if it’s out of my wheelhouse.) I wasn’t planning on jumping into the ring or transforming my body; I just wanted to try something different.

I’d always had a naturally strong upper body (my muscles don’t flinch when I’m carrying super heavy grocery bags and I’m never concerned about trekking an oversized duffle of dirty clothes to the laundromat), but was never able to properly control that strength and often ended up with pulled muscles. I hoped that boxing would help prevent injury, and also limit the pain I often experience from my Plantar fasciitis (when inflamed tissue spans the bottom of your foot).

Still, I was incredibly intimidated by boxing. I’d seen those people running around the perimeter of city blocks sporting boxing gloves and doing burpees—and it never seemed very inclusive or accommodating to different fitness levels. I knew I’d be a fish out of water.

Related: 6 Really Good Reasons To Add Boxing To Your Workout Routine

I walked into the throes of Church Street Boxing in Lower Manhattan to find myself amongst an array of unique and sweaty humans. Every punch was choreographed as instructors walked around their respective groups to make sure shoulders, forearms, wrists, and torsos were all positioned correctly with each individual swing. I grabbed a matching set of gloves from a side bin and waited for the rest of my class to arrive while I continued to gawk at the action around me.

We began with calisthenics: bear crawls, jumping jacks, pushups, mountain climbers, and a run around the block—which could have easily sufficed as its own workout but was very much not even remotely the end.

Back at the gym, I arrived panting. We talked about the proper way to use your strength without throwing your whole arm out, and then we started jabbing, in a circle, with our instructor. With each combination (a.k.a. different kinds of punches) we did a series of burpees until the entire group had finished multiple rounds of this. Then another run around the block, and running up and down the stairs of the multi-level building. Finally, we finished off with various other combos.

My sweat-drenched body was eager to meet the cold air outside as I limped to the train. I knew I should have spoken up about my foot and its history, but felt embarrassed by being new and needing adjustment during my first class. I found myself at home with a bag of ice on my foot wishing I would have swallowed my pride and simply asked to not run. The next morning I had to wrap my foot just keep it compressed enough to walk.

The next few days were rough. My arms were impossibly difficult to lift above my waist and my foot was still throbbing; I had to roll it out on a tennis ball at work when I wasn’t up walking around.

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The next class I attended had a different instructor and a brand new set of faces, but the same vibe: so much sweat and strength swirling around the room as trainees punched bags and did situps to a loud and guided count. I made it through a similar round of workouts and immediately cornered my instructor after he announced a run around the block. “I have a major foot injury that doesn’t allow for me to put pounding pressure on my foot…May I have a modification?” He allowed it, and prompted to me to do lunges across the length of the gym floor. “Perfect! Yes! I can do that!” I said. The workout was still incredibly hard, but I didn’t end up having to ice my foot for the next week just to recover.

I continued to go to different classes, trying out new clubs and boutique boxing studios, and I did find things I really loved about boxing, like having to be agile while springing my arm forward…all the while protecting my face. And having to use my center of gravity to keep my body grounded on impact.

Boxing also reiterated this: My body responds and reacts differently to each workout, so I have to be mindful of what I need to do in order to keep moving forward in my fitness life. Boxing might not ultimately be my thing, but it sure taught me to acknowledge my injuries and speak up for my body.

 

What I Learned About My Mind When I Stopped Working On My Body

A couple of weeks ago, I lay on a white medical table as a doctor stitched up my lower abdomen. I had a small benign lipoma, which is basically a fatty lump under the skin. It had grown twice its size in six months, and it jutted out right above my pubic bone, making me feel pretty self-conscious.

As the doctor finished up, she warned, “Make sure you’re not wearing anything that can press on the area. No bending. No jeans. And no working out.” And then, she added: “For a whole two weeks.”

I normally try to do some form of cardio or strength training a few times a week—it helps me feel my best and gives me a sense of calm and confidence—so this 14-day no-workout rule was not ideal. However, the last thing I wanted was to pop a stitch or get an infection, so I committed to going gym-free. Off to 14 days of nothingness I went.

Related: Why I Never Hide My Plus-Size Body At The Gym

The first no-workout day was straight aces from start to finish. Instead of picking through my dresser to find a clean sports bra for my morning workout, I lounged in bed much later than I’m accustomed to, and read the news on my phone (something I never have enough time to do). I felt great—still sore, but surprisingly energized by knowing I didn’t have to go to the gym.

Off to 14 days of nothingness I went.

Day two was similar in that I got a little extra sleep, strolled serenely off to work, and kept all my promises to not wear jeans. My joints, however, grew stiff from the lack of mobility. Since every move I made had to be somewhat calculated (as to not bump into anything or stretch in the wrong way), my body was starting to tighten and get tense.

By day three I realized that the extra sleep and downtime weren’t actually good for me. The motivation, the endorphin rush, and the sense of accomplishment I had when I stuck to a regular workout was missing—and this gave way to sadness and insecurity.

A self-conscious voice in the back of my head criticized how the pattern of my dress looked across my belly. The voice commented on my choice to use whole milk instead of soy for my morning coffee. It told me that I would probably embarrass myself if I spoke up in a meeting. And, while yes, my-own-worst-enemy syndrome is a thing I struggle with constantly, it’s never as powerful when I’ve taken the time to do some cardio or lift weights.

The motivation, the endorphin rush, and the sense of accomplishment I had when I stuck to a regular workout was missing—and this gave way to sadness and insecurity.

The voice was there when I ate lunch and boomeranged back again when I was doing my nightly skin-care routine. It exhausted me the way it plucked at my self-esteem when as I a teen. By the weekend, my entire demeanor had changed; I was a sad amoeba that sulked from place to place.

On Monday morning, my colleagues asked if there was anything wrong as I quietly made my way around the office, since lacking expression is not exactly what I’m known for.

The depression hit hard as I recoiled into my bedroom, refusing to see friends or do anything that didn’t include applying Aquaphor to my stitches or feeling a general sense of sadness. (Cue the soundtrack to my teenage self.)

Through week two, the blues continued. I still felt sluggish. My workout-less life was fueling a laissez-faire attitude toward food, and I was more or less eating whatever I wanted to. This was also adding to that self-doubt voice (and draining me of my weekly food budget).

My colleagues asked if there was anything wrong as I quietly made my way around the office.

Despite my snacking and interrupted workouts, my body hadn’t changed in any way during these 14 days. Everything fit as normal. It was my mental health that was affected. I just wasn’t as happy being sedentary. As the great Elle Woods from Legally Blonde once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” She was absolutely right.

When I was younger, working out equaled weight loss and social acceptance. My entire perspective of exercise was wrapped up in a warped understanding of what my body should be—and I very much abused myself in an effort to drastically become that idea. But these days, I’ve gotten much smarter about my body’s limits, and I’ve adopted healthier ways of staying fit. A big part of that, for me, is realizing how using my body can benefit my mind.

When the 14 days were up, I sadly—but not unexpectedly—had to seriously motivate myself to get to the gym. In fact, it took me a few weeks to get back on track. The time off reminded me that the gym is a sanctuary of wellness—not just a body-transforming warehouse—and crucial to my happiness.

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What’s The Best Type Of Protein Supplement For Your Goals?

We all know someone who never travels without a protein shake in hand (hey, maybe you are that someone!). Protein supplements may have gotten their start with gym rats, but getting your fill of the macronutrient is important for everyone. In fact, all sorts of people with all sorts of health goals can benefit from a diet rich in protein.

Protein is key for the growth and repair of many tissues and structures in our bodies, which is why most experts recommend it make up 15 to 25 percent of our daily calories. “Our muscles, bones, tendons, hair, skin, and nails all need protein for both maintenance and growth,” says Linzy Ziegelbaum, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. Plus, protein boosts our satiety, supports balanced blood sugar, and can help us maintain a healthy weight.

Downing protein supplements won’t achieve all your health and fitness goals for you, but it can be a major game-changer. “Whether you’re in a hurry, on the road, don’t eat meat, or just don’t want to buy, eat, cook, and consume a couple of pounds of animal protein a day, a protein supplement can be massively beneficial,” says Coleman Collins, C.S.C.S, running coach and author of The Road Warrior: A Practical Guide to Maintaining Your Health, Productivity, and Sanity While Traveling for Work.

And whether you want to manage your appetite, build muscle, or show your skin some love, there’s a specific protein supplement out there for you. Consider this your complete guide.

Want To Build Muscle?

Looking for a boost in the gym? Your number-one protein is whey. Whey protein, which is made from milk, is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) our bodies can’t make on their own. Whey contains the highest amount of leucine, an amino acid that helps trigger the muscle protein synthesis process, and is especially important for building muscle, explains Becky Kerkenbush, M.S., R.D.-A.P., C.S.G., C.D. Whey also digests and enters your blood stream faster than any other protein, so it’s a rock star at fueling your muscles during exercise and helping them repair afterwards. Chocolate lovers will dig Optimum Nutrition’s Double Rich Chocolate Gold Standard 100% Whey while vanilla heads will savor BodyTech’s French Vanilla Whey Protein.

If you want to build muscle the plant-based way, Kerkenbush recommends soy protein powder, which is made from ground soybeans that have been dehulled and defatted. “It’s a complete protein and considered the most effective plant-derived source for building or maintaining muscle,” she says. Soy protein digests slower than whey protein, but it’s a good option for those with milk issues or who follow a plant-centric diet, she says. We like Jarrow Formulas’ Iso Rich Soy Protein because it’s free of artificial flavors or sweeteners.

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

You can also find a variety of plant proteins that use a variety of sources (like soy, pea, and brown rice proteins) to ramp up their amino acid content, such as the uber-popular Vega Sport Chocolate Performance Protein.

Have A Sensitive Stomach?

If most proteins don’t sit well, Kerkenbush recommends trying pea protein, which is derived from the yellow pea and is the most easily digested of the plant proteins. “It’s a good alternative for anyone with a sensitive stomach or doesn’t want to do dairy or soy,” she says. Just keep in mind that it’s not a complete protein. Pea protein is low in some amino acids, like cysteine (which has antioxidant properties and supports digestion) that you’ll need to get from other foods (like soybeans, beef, lamb, eggs, or legumes) throughout the day. Plnt’s naturally-flavored Vanilla Pea Protein is our go-to.

Want To Manage Your Appetite?

If your goal is to feel full and satisfied—and not ready to sprint to the vending machine when three o’clock strikes—try casein protein, which is made from the other protein in cow’s milk: the ‘curds.’ While casein may not provide the quick rush of amino acids you want after a tough workout, research shows it’s more satiating than whey over a period of six hours, which can help keep you from reaching for extra calories or less-than-healthy snacks between meals, says Kerkenbush. Plus, a study published in Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism found that overweight people following a diet and exercise program lost more body fat when they supplemented with casein than they did with whey. Dymatize’s Rich Chocolate Elite Casein is delicious in shakes, oatmeal, and on its own.

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Another option: egg protein, which is made of dried egg whites. While this one digests faster than casein, it’s still slower-absorbing than whey and makes a good substitute for anyone with a dairy allergy. Jay Robb’s Egg White Protein is a fan favorite.

For a shake that really feels like a meal, try a meal replacement protein powder, which contains protein, some healthy fat, and fiber to keep you satisfied and craving-free for longer. These mixable meals—like Next Step’s Fit N Full Shake—are especially helpful if you’re on a tight schedule or watching your calories.

Want To Nourish Your Skin And Joints?

Collagen, a protein found in our connective tissues (think muscles, ligaments, and bones), has been one of the buzziest protein supplements in the game recently. And rightly so, considering research has shown it can bolster the appearance and healthy aging of skin, and help those with joint issues.

Collagen has a very specific amino acid profile, with 45 percent of its total amino acids coming from proline and glycine, two non-essential aminos that provide its hair, skin, nail, and joint benefits. (Only about a quarter of collagen’s amino acids are essential aminos, while more than 60 percent of whey protein’s aminos are—which is why you’d still choose whey over collagen as your primary, all-purpose protein supplement.)

You can take collagen in capsule form or add collagen powder (like Vital Proteins’ eternally hot Collagen Peptides) to your favorite foods and drinks.

Ready To Go? A Few Rules For The Road

Nailing down the protein that best fits into your goals and lifestyle is key—but only if you’ll actually take the stuff!  “Choosing something that you like and will use is more important than taking the ‘perfect’ protein supplement for your situation,” Collins says. So if building muscle is high-priority but you just love the creamy flavor of casein, don’t sweat it.

From there, just make sure the type of protein you want is the first ingredient listed on the package and look for a short ingredients list (five or less is a good benchmark) and natural sweeteners, suggests Kerkenbush.

Pin this handy infographic for future reference: 

What Does A Health Coach Actually Do?

Whatever your wellness goals—be it to lose weight, get ahead of developing a disease you may be genetically predisposed to, or figure out a game plan for clean eating, you may be interested in taking a more holistic and proactive approach to your health. If this is the case, it’s possible you’ve heard about or even considered hiring a health coach to help you along the way. But how do these health care providers differ from doctors, and what can you expect from working with one?

Health coaches aim to counsel you holistically.

If you’re looking for a practitioner who is focused on getting a bird’s eye view of your overall health, a health coach may be a wise choice. They aim to help their clients find resolution in health issues by sustainable and realistic means.

“Primarily, the intention of a health coach is to be holistic, or to focus on the whole person,” notes Jess Krauss, integrative health coach and owner of The Little Clementine in New York City. “Health coaches view a client’s goals as related to many aspects of one’s life and there is no one-size fits all solution.” In fact, Krauss says, they may focus on not just the client’s physical exercise, but their spirituality, relationships, environment, and nutrition, as well as how each aspect plays into each other.

Health coaches can help you get to the core issue.

“A health coach helps clients discover the root of their discomfort, without the use of Western medicine and with more of a focus on lifestyle improvements,” says Krauss.

For instance, Krauss explains that if she’s approached by a client who wants to lose weight, she works to get a full history of when or how the weight gain began. For instance: “If my client comes home from work late each night, to a dark and empty apartment, that may lead him/her to overeat due to stress from work, being too tired to cook, and feeling lonely. Immediately, I see a need for change in environment and relationships. I would ask, ‘What is losing weight going to help you with?’ The real goal may be to boost confidence or overcome a chronic illness.”

Sam Kelley, national board-certified health and wellness coach and owner of SunKissed Health in Minneapolis, Minnesota, explains, “We also learn behavioral change models and methods, such as motivational interviewing, which is used by counselors and psychologists.”

This motivating factor can be easily missed in the traditional healthcare model, so “if a person is not clear on why they personally want to change, they will be less inclined to implement and sustain these changes,” he says.

Health coaches establish a concrete game plan with their clients.

“A health coach will establish a plan to consistently meet with a client and set up small, realistic goals, with actionable steps,” Krauss explains. They will work with the advice you’ve been given by your medical practitioner. They also aim to work with clients in a supportive, consistent way, enabling them to stay accountable.

“A physician may make lifestyle recommendations and even write up a medication prescription to a patient, but the patient may not follow through with their care plan,” says Kelley. “Perhaps they are confused about their next steps, feel overwhelmed, or don’t understand the long-term benefits.” This is where consistent meetings and checks-in come in handy.

Health coaches may be able to help in areas where other practitioners might fall short.

“If you are a person who has visited many doctors, received many conflicting answers, and still see no resolution, you are someone who should be motivated to meet with a health coach,” Krauss notes.

One of the underlying rules a health coach will follow is this: “What works for one person may not work for another,” Krauss explains. In other words, working with a health coach is a way to get a tailor-made, individualized strategy that is focused on getting to the core of the issue.

The health coach-client relationship also tends to veer towards the collaborative. “There is also an emphasis on learning strategies to empower the client and cultivate a co-creative partnership,” says Kelley. “This philosophy style further enables those beautiful ‘a-ha!’ moments during coaching sessions, which may be quite transformational for the client and help steer their path towards self-efficacy, success, and optimal wellness.”

Health coaches aren’t substitutes for doctors.

“Health coaches are not a replacement for your primary care doctor, your therapist, or your nutritionist, Krauss says. “All of these professions are in place to improve the quality of patients’ lives. Health coaches simply provide a new and alternative perspective to health and wellness, when other methods have not been successful.”

It’s worth noting that there are no standardized requirements to become a health coach. Many health coaches may be certified in related areas, like personal training or nutrition.

6 Quick And Painless Ways To Soothe Sore Muscles

We’ve all experienced can’t-walk soreness that leaves us struggling to get up off the toilet—and most of us think we’re doomed to just tough it out, bottle of ibuprofen in-hand.

But groan not! There are a number of things you can do after that particularly grueling sweat to help your body relax, boost blood flow to your recovering muscles, and kick-start the repair process.

1. Drink Tart Cherry Juice

Montmorency tart cherry juice has long been valued for its antioxidant properties, and new research suggests that it may reduce muscle pain and weakness after intense strength training, explains Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D. Meanwhile, a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, found that runners who drank tart cherry juice for a week leading up to a race reported less pain and quicker recovery time afterward than runners who downed a placebo juice.

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Polyphenolic compounds called flavonoids and anthocyanins are thought to be the antioxidants behind tart cherry juice’s muscle-soothing effect, Rizzo says. So quench your thirst with some tart cherry juice after a challenging workout—eight ounces is all you need!

2. Drink Watermelon Juice

Tart cherries too…tart? Sip on sweet watermelon juice instead. It’s rich in an amino acid called l-citrulline, which has been shown to help with muscle soreness, as it speeds the removal of lactic acid that’s formed during exercise, says Rizzo.

In fact, one study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that drinking 16 ounces of watermelon juice improved muscle soreness and recovery heart rate in participants who completed a high-intensity cycling test.

3. Eat Something High In Potassium

While the jury is out on whether potassium can prevent muscle soreness, this electrolyte does ward off dehydration and related muscle cramping, explains Rizzo. Most Americans don’t reach the recommended 3,500 milligrams of potassium per day, which is especially problematic for your muscles if you don’t hydrate properly and exercise. That’s why Rizzo recommends including potassium-rich foods (like bananas, which provide 400 milligrams) every day—especially after working out.

4. Foam Roll

Instead of bolting out of the gym, do your muscles a favor and foam roll. By using a foam roller or massage ball to apply pressure to your muscles, you essentially give yourself a massage—called ‘self-myofascial release.’ And while you might cringe a bit as you roll, you’ll boost blood flow and help alleviate tightness and soreness, which can both make you feel better and prevent injury, says Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., SoulAnnex and Master SoulCycle Instructor, and creator of Le Stretch. A review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports concluded that it’s particularly helpful after strength training.

“When pressure is applied to the knot, the elastic fibers move from their bundled position back towards their true alignment,” she says. “We are then able to get into lengthening body positions and restore proper movement patterns.” (A.k.a. foam rolling can also improve your flexibility and range of motion.)

Related: The Beginner’s Guide To Foam Rolling

Whether you’re an active athlete or a weekend warrior, Atkins recommends focusing your foam rolling on three common problem areas: your hips, lower back, and shoulders.

5. Apply Heat And Ice

A great way to soothe achy muscles is to alternate between applying hot and cold temperatures. “The idea is that you create an external ‘pumping’ of the blood by cooling your muscles—pushing blood out—and then heating muscles—pulling blood back in,” says Dustin Raymer, M.S., C.E.S., C.H.W.C., Fitness Director at Structure House. “This should bring fresh blood and nutrients into the muscles for quicker recovery.” One Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study found ice and heat therapy effective in relieving some muscle soreness within 24 hours of a workout.

An easy way to do it at home: in the shower. Alternate between 20 to 30 seconds with the water as hot as you can handle and 20 to 30 seconds with it as cold as you can handle, Raymer suggests. Complete 10 rounds, trying to make the water progressively hotter and colder as you go to maximize that ‘pumping effect.’

6. Take An Epsom Salt Bath

Hot baths pretty much always make us feel good—but they can be especially beneficial after a tough workout. “Along with ridding toxins from the body, hot baths soothe aches and pains, boost circulation, and relax the mind and body,” says Rebecca Lee, R.N., founder of Remedies For Me.

Make your steamy tub extra muscle-friendly by adding Epsom salt (a.k.a. magnesium sulfate), which can soothe muscle cramps, aches, and soreness. “Magnesium is a natural relaxer and in salt form it pulls excess water and lactic acid buildup away from the injured tissues,” she explains.

Fill your bathtub with warm water, add two cups of Epsom salt, and soak for at least 15 to 20 minutes, up to three times a week.

5 Exercise Moves That’ll Make You Feel Like A Superhero

We’ve all witnessed some feat of fitness that’s made us want to lace up our sneakers and run up the stairs like we’re Rocky. But even if we’re not flipping tires or walking on our hands, exercise has a wonderful way of making us feel like superheroes—no cape required. If you’re craving the feel-good endorphin rush only a truly epic workout brings, try one of these totally doable moves. We guarantee you’ll torch calories, build strength, and feel like you just took down all the bad guys.

1. Double Kettlebell Front Rack Carry

Want to pretend you’re rescuing innocent bystanders from a super-villain? The double kettlebell front rack carry will help you build the core strength and stability you’d need to carry them off to safety.

Not only does this move develop muscular endurance throughout your torso, but it also fires up your biceps, forearms, and shoulder stabilizers, says Todd Nief, C.S.C.S., owner and founder of Chicago CrossFit® studio South Loop Strength & Conditioning.

How to do it: Grab a pair of kettlebells and hold them at chest height with your palms facing each other. Tuck your elbows down into your sides so the bells rest on the outsides of your forearms. (It’s not a comfortable position, but you shouldn’t feel pain in your wrists or forearms.)

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Like you would with a farmer’s carry, hold this position and walk around. Keep your core tight and your posture upright to avoid putting extra pressure on your low back.

To focus on strength, use heavy kettlebells and walk for 50 to 100 feet—pacing back and forth if you need to, Nief suggests. To incorporate this move into a circuit-style workout, just use more moderate weight.

2. Dumbbell Snatch

The dumbbell snatch is one of the most effective conditioning moves around, and ends with you standing with one arm extended overhead as if you’re about to fly through the air like Superman. In this move, you’ll fire up your glutes and hamstrings while using your back, abs, and shoulders to maintain stability, says Nief.

How to do it: Stand with a dumbbell between your feet and drop your hips down to grab it with one hand. Keep your chest up and spine neutral. Then, push through your legs to lift the dumbbell off the floor. As you pull the dumbbell upward, extend your hips and let your elbow bend so you can press the dumbbell straight up overhead when it reaches shoulder-height. Finish in a stable standing position with the dumbbell extended up over your head. Lower it back down and repeat on the other side.

To maximize the dumbbell snatch’s cardio and muscular endurance benefits, use a moderate weight dumbbell and moderate-to-high repetitions (between 15 and 25).

Related: 6 Dumbbell Moves That Build Muscle AND Burn Calories

3. D-Ball Over-Shoulder Throw

Chucking a big, heavy ball up and over your shoulder fires up most of your major muscle groups while making you feel like you’re rescuing people trapped in a rock slide. Nief likes performing these with a D-ball, which is filled with sand and a bit softer than a medicine ball.

Like the dumbbell snatch, this move fires up your lower body and core as you pull the ball off the ground, and challenges your core and upper body as you throw it up over your shoulder, says Nief.

How to do it: Place the ball between your feet and drop down so you can get your hands under it. Keep your hips low, your chest up, and your back flat. Push through your hips and legs to lift the ball off the floor, keeping your elbows down and close to your sides.

If needed, drop your hips back down into a squat to get under the ball so you can push it up over your shoulder. Otherwise, the ball should have enough momentum to roll up your chest and back over your shoulder. Repeat, but chuck the ball over your other shoulder this time.

Get some cardio in by performing these HIIT-style, like in the following quickie from Nief:

 

4. Turkish Get-Up

The Turkish get-up is a complicated but worthwhile exercise that requires full-body stabilization and coordination as you move through a number of positions to go from lying down to standing up while holding a weight.

If you thought the ending position of a dumbbell snatch was satisfying, just wait ‘til you make it through the slow, grueling Turkish get-up.

How to do it: Lie on the floor on your back with a kettlebell pressed up in the air in your right hand. Lock your elbow out and let the bell rest flat against the back of your forearm. Bend your right knee to plant your foot firmly on the floor. Leave your left leg extended on the ground. This is your starting position.

From here, keep your right arm locked out over your shoulder and roll up to rest on your left forearm. Then press up onto your left hand so you’re in a tall seated position. Then press through your right foot to lift your hips off the ground so your torso forms a straight line (like a modified side plank). Swoop your left foot back under your hips and plant your knee in line with your left hand. From here, push up into a half-kneeling position with your left arm at your side. Push through your left foot to stand up, still keeping your right arm locked out above your shoulder. Pause in this flying Superman position, then slowly reverse the movement to return the bell to the floor. That’s one rep. Repeat on the opposite side.

To build strength, perform five sets of just a few reps (five tops) per side using heavy weight, Nief suggests. For a conditioning challenge that leaves you sweating and gasping for air, perform a few sets of two-minute Turkish get-up AMRAPs (shoot for about 20 reps) on each side using a moderate weight.

5. Sorensen Hold

This move quite literally makes you feel like a superhero as you hold a position that looks a whole lot like flying.

In a Sorensen hold, you hold your torso in a solid horizontal position by engaging your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, explains Nief. By building endurance in these muscles, you can maintain proper posture in and out of the gym.

How to do it: Set up a hyperextension bench so that your hips rest right at the edge of the pad. Hold your torso straight out and level, engaging your muscles to maintain a neutral spine, without arching or rounding in your lower back.

Build up to the deal of a two-minute hold be performing three to five sets of 30 to 60-second holds, giving yourself enough rest in between to make it through the next set.

Which Sports Supplements Should You Be Cycling?

If you can’t remember the last time you went a day without caffeine, or have ever wondered if you should take a break from creatine, you’re certainly not the only one.

While there are plenty of sports nutrition supplements that you can take every day, all year-round, others require a little more strategy. ‘Cycling’ these supplements—taking them for specific periods of time and then not taking them for specific periods—can benefit your health and actually help you reach your fitness goals more effectively.

So which supps are we talking about—and how do you cycle them, exactly? Read on for expert tips.

1. Creatine

Creatine, a natural chemical that our kidneys and liver make from amino acids, helps our muscles produce energy. It also supports muscle protein synthesis by drawing water into our muscles and stimulating a compound called insulin-like growth factor (IGF). One of the most widely-researched sports supplements out there, creatine is used to support strength, power, and muscle growth, says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios.

You want to use creatine when your training and goals are focused on building strength and muscle (think lots of weight lifting and plyometrics). To keep your body from getting too used to the supplement, White recommends cycling as follows: Take three to five grams of creatine per day for 12 weeks, and then go creatine-free for four weeks. Since creatine makes you retain some water, make sure to drink at least 64 to 96 ounces a day when you take it, he adds.

Our muscles produce a type of creatine called creatine phosphate, but there are a few different types of creatine you’ll find in supplements, like creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL, says Brian St. Pierre, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition. Creatine monohydrate is the OG and most researched.

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When you’re focused on getting as shredded as possible or training for an endurance event, though, it’s time to cycle off creatine.

2. HMB

HMB, or hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate, is a component of the branched-chain amino acid leucine. HMB works to prevent protein breakdown in our muscles associated with intense exercise. A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that three grams of HMB per day helped athletes make strength, power, and hypertrophy gains even while training vigorously.

Like with creatine, White recommends HMB (it’s usually found in capsule supplements) for exercisers looking to build muscle and strength. Since long-term HMB supplementation hasn’t been thoroughly studied, he suggests cycling between eight weeks of three grams of HMB a day (split into one-gram doses) followed by four weeks of nada. He also suggests cycling off of HMB when your goals are all about endurance or getting shredded.

3. Caffeine

Caffeine, sometimes identified as ‘trimethylxanthine’ in supplements, stimulates our central nervous system, increasing our heart rate, blood flow, and release of hormones like feel-good endorphins to boost our energy and mental alertness. One of the most widely-used performance supps out there, caffeine has been shown to boost endurance and ward off fatigue.

The issue is, caffeine can be addictive and come along with downsides like anxiousness and trouble sleeping. It’s generally safe to consume 400 milligrams of caffeine per day (that’s about four cups of coffee), but White recommends cycling the stimulant by alternating between one-month periods on and off. Instead of going cold turkey in your ‘off’ months, though, just cut your usual dose in half to avoid withdrawal symptoms like headaches and irritability. You should also slowly lower your dosage during less-demanding training periods.

4. Thermogenics

Thermogenics are supplements designed to boost fat-burning by increasing our body’s production of energy and heat by using stimulants to speed up various processes in our body (like our heart rate). They’re typically found in pill and powder form.

Thermogenics typically contain a mix of metabolism-supporting ingredients like yohimbe, caffeine, green tea extract, and cayenne pepper extract. (Learn more about these popular supplements and their ingredients here.)

Since thermogenics contain a solid dose of caffeine, make sure you factor them into your total daily intake. These supps also affect different people differently, so White urges caution when trying them out. “If someone is taking thermogenics, I always suggest starting at half a dose to gauge how they react,” he says. From there, cycle between months on and off of thermogenics, as you would with other caffeine-containing supplements.

When You Can Skip The Cycle

Protein, branched-chain amino acids, and glutamine can (and should!) all remain a steady part of your routine.

Protein helps us build muscle and keep cells and organs functioning properly, so consistency is key. White recommends including 20 to 30 grams of protein in each meal and snack. For powder supplements, he likes whey protein because it’s quick and easy for our body to digest, and contains amino acids in amounts that closely reflect our body’s needs for recovery and growth.

Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, can be found in protein supplements—but many training junkies supplement them separately, too. These three amino acids, which include leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are particularly important for preserving and building muscle mass. (Most supps contain a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine and valine.) Experts often recommend between five and 10 grams both before and after exercise.

Related: 5 Amino Acids All Gym Lovers Should Know About

Glutamine, the most abundant essential amino acid in our bodies, supports muscle protein synthesis (the process through which muscles repair and grow). Since glutamine also supports the immune system, it’s especially helpful if you train hard and often, says White. You’ll find some glutamine in your whey protein supplement, but you can also take it in powder or capsule form. White recommends up to 20 grams throughout the day.

Reference this guide to keep your supplement cycling game on-point:

How To Stay Fit And Flexible When You Work An Office 9-To-5

When you have one of those 9-to-5 (or 9-to-6, 9-to-7…) jobs that has you chained to a desk all day, it’s easy to fall into a stiff pose that leaves you feeling mangled and sore. It’s also pretty easy to fall out of shape—after all, no one ever broke a sweat at the copy machine.

The pitfalls of a sedentary lifestyle and the havoc sitting for long periods of time can wreak on your health have been the subject of many scientific studies, with each conclusion seemingly scarier than the next. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Lifestyle Medicine looked at the adverse effects of prolonged sitting on the general health of 447 office workers who spent an average of 6.29 hours sitting out of an eight-hour workday. The findings? “Our results indicated that long sitting times were associated with exhaustion during the working day, decreased job satisfaction, hypertension, and musculoskeletal disorder symptoms in the shoulders, lower back, thighs, and knees of office workers,” concluded the study’s authors.

Considering that precisely nothing about that conclusion sounds appealing, we asked experts how best to combat the adverse effects of a desk job—particularly if a standing desk isn’t an option in your workspace environment.

Flex in Five

When a lunchtime yoga session isn’t in the cards (and, really, is it for most of us?), Sherrell Moore-Tucker, a natural health and wellness professional who specializes in yoga and meditation, has a quick fix. She recommends incorporating the following few movements into your day, five times a day:

“Enjoy a nice mid-day inversion by bending forward holding onto your chair for support, or place your hands on your shins or touch your toes while releasing the head and neck (hold for 30 seconds),” she instructs. “Reversing gravity, begin to shake the head side to side and up and down as if you’re gesturing yes and no (for another 30 seconds).”

Related: Shop for joint health supporting supplements.

Moore-Tucker then suggests standing while rolling your shoulders slowly forward and back a few times, adding your arms by circling forward and back for one minute. Next, while holding onto your desk for support, step one leg back into a lunge to stretch your legs (for 30 seconds on each side).

“Bring the legs back together and stand tall with the arms overhead,” she says. “Lean the body to the right and then to the left a few times (for 1 minute).  Place the hands on the low back and stretch and lift the chest up and slightly back for a gentle back bend like the ones that we do early in the morning.”

For your final move, Moore-Tucker advises to finish with a seated twist by twisting your chest, shoulders, neck and head to the right and then the left (for 30 seconds on each side).

Energize Early

If you aren’t a morning person, the idea of setting your alarm even earlier than usual might seem like a punishment, but Tiffany Cruikshank, L.A.C., MAOM, RYT, founder of Yoga Medicine, recommends giving yourself a burst of exercise before you head to the office.

“So many of my patients and students are usually a bit burnt out and stressed out,” she says. “I prefer to try to get them to do something quick in the morning—when you want your cortisol higher. This helps support the natural circadian rhythm, which is helpful for so many things from fatigue to insomnia, and really helpful for supporting the adrenals, which tend to take the brunt of long-term stress.”

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There are a plethora of apps that provide short, simple morning-jumpstart workouts you can do from home. Cruikshankl recommends the meditation and yoga app and site YogaGlo.com, which is “a great resource since you can choose from a variety of classes to suit your needs.” She also likes 8fit for people who want to build a habit of doing simple, exercise-based movements in the morning or during a break.

Skip the Shortcuts

Yes, that meeting is starting in a few minutes and, sure, it might seem more practical to take the elevator—but don’t. Embrace those moments when you’re moving through your office to the bathroom, to a meeting, or on the way to a lunch.

“Don’t take shortcuts or use labor-saving devices such as elevators (unless you need to!),” says Marshall Weber, fitness coach at Jack City Fitness. “Walk a few blocks for an errand rather than starting the car.”

Weber also recommends extending this into your life outside of work to combat the sitting you’re doing all day Monday through Friday.

“If you’re parking in a mall or grocery lot, park further from the door rather than circling the lot for a closer spot,” he says. “You’ll get more exercise and save gas. When you’re cleaning the house, put some music on and do some dance moves while doing your cleaning routine. It’s a small amount of expended calories, but every little bit helps. Do a yard project with the children such as plant a garden or a tree.”

Of course, when you’re working all week, it may be hard to hit the gym—but everyone should aim to do some form of cardio about four times per week, along with strength training about two times per week. HIIT workouts are helpful for people who want to make the most out of their time, since they’re short but explosive.

Posture Plus

As Michelle Golla, a personal trainer at Boost 180 Fitness in Denver, CO points out, the body was not designed to sit still.

“A good rule of thumb is for every 50 minutes you sit, walk for the next 10,” she says. “Not only does this help get your blood flowing to your muscles, but also to your brain, increasing productivity.”

Golla also notes that if you have to sit, it’s important to make sure the way you’re sitting is good for you: “A focus on good posture will also help combat the effects of sitting at a desk all day,” she says. “If you have the option not to use a standard desk chair, exercise balls are a great alternative for keeping your core engaged throughout the day. Furthermore, if you have the option for a flexible desk option that converts to a standing desk, that’s another great way to change the dynamics of your physicality during the work day.”

Related: Bad Posture Can Lead To Big Problems—Here’s How To Fix It

The Post-Workout Stretch Routine You’ll Never Want To Skip

It’s tempting to bolt to the locker room or the car, still sweaty and out of breath, as soon as you finish your workout. After all, you’re busy and stretching after a workout isn’t nearly as important as the workout itself, right? We’ve all done it—but skipping our cool-down is one bad fitness habit we need to break.

Taking a few minutes to slow down ensures you walk out of the gym with a settled heart rate and central nervous system after pushing your body during your workout, says Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of Movement Vault.

Good ol’ static stretching helps your body shift back into ‘rest’ mode and gives you a chance to work on your range of motion, so you can keep moving to your fullest potential day after day. Plus, stretching helps ward off delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and decrease your risk for injury, according to a review published in the Journal of Athletic Training.

Sold yet? Tack this trainer-tested, full-body stretch onto the end of your next workout to show your hard-working body some TLC. We promise you’ll be out the door in less than 10 minutes.


1. Cat-Cow

The cat-cow movement, which is driven by your core and pelvis, is a great full-body stretch to do after a workout. It can also counteract bad posture by increasing your awareness of your spine position, says Wickham.

How to do it: Start on all fours, looking at the floor a few inches in front of your fingers and lengthening from your head to your tailbone.

Begin the ‘cat’ phase by using your abs to curl your spine up towards the ceiling while tucking your tailbone as you exhale. (You’ll look like a Halloween cat.)  Allow your chin to reach down and in toward your chest so your ears are between your biceps.

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Begin the ‘cow’ phase by allowing your belly to drop down to the floor and your back to arch as you inhale. Broaden across your shoulder blades, draw your shoulders back away from your ears, and lift your chin and chest to gaze up toward the ceiling.

Slowly cycle through eight to 10 rounds of cat-cow, keeping stress and pressure out of your head and neck.

2. Thoracic Spine Rotation

This move stretches your thoracic spine (middle and upper back) while reducing stiffness in your lower back by taking the muscles around your spine through their full ranges of motion, Wickham says.

How to do it: Start on all fours with your fingers spread slightly. Sit back on your heels and allow your forearms to drop to the ground. Keeping your right arm planted, place your left hand behind your head. Exhale and rotate your left elbow up to the sky, stretching the front of your torso. Hold for one deep breath in and out. Return to the starting position and repeat for five to 10 breaths. Switch arms and repeat.

3. Standing Side Bend

This simple position stretches your side-body muscles like your obliques, lats, even hip flexors, says Wickham. You’ll also engage the muscles you’re stretching (called an ‘isometric hold’), which research shows can boost flexibility and mobility even more than typical static stretching.

How to do it: Stand with your feet hips-width apart and lift your right arm straight up above your head. Bend to your torso to the left so your left hand extends down your left leg and you feel a stretch in your right oblique. Actively punch down with your left hand and up with your right hand and hold this position for three to five breaths before returning to a standing position. Perform five rounds per side.

4. Wall Stretch

Whether you just bench pressed, finished a vigorous Vinyasa class, or spent the day hunched over your desk before hitting the gym, chances are your pecs (chest muscles) could benefit from an extra stretch. That’s where the wall stretch comes in. It’ll also help loosen up your shoulders and triceps, Wickham says.

Related: Bad Posture Leads To Big Problems—Here’s How To Fix It

How to do it: Stand facing a wall (or pole) and place your right palm and forearm on the wall at shoulder-height. Slowly twist your feet to the left, pulling your body away from your outstretched right arm. Stop when you feel the stretch in your right pec. Exhale, pull your lower abs into your spine, and relax your shoulder blades back away from your ears. Then, walk a little further  to the left left. Here, contract your chest muscles for 10 seconds, and then relax them for 10 seconds. If possible, take another step forward and repeat one more time. Release the stretch and repeat on the opposite side.

5. Hamstring Stretch

If you run, bike, or work a desk job, chances are your hamstrings need some extra attention. Hamstring flexibility doesn’t just help you touch your toes; it’s also hugely important for the health of your hips, knees, and back, according to research published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

How to do it: Find a bench, box, or railing that’s a little lower than hip-height. Stand facing your platform and prop your right foot up so your heel is planted on the platform. Flex your foot and bend forward by creasing at your hips. Then, flex the hamstring and quads of your elevated foot for 10 seconds. Think about driving your heel down into the box. Relax your muscles and try to stretch a little deeper, then contract for another 10 seconds. Repeat for one minute, and then switch sides. Aim for three one-minute sets per side.

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

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

If you find yourself dealing with back pain on the regular, you’re in the majority, says the U.S. National Library of Medicine. In fact, 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain at least once in their lives. But why?

The most common causes of lower back pain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, include sprains and strains, intervertebral disc degeneration, herniated discs, sciatica, spondylolisthesis, traumatic injuries, spinal stenosis, and skeletal irregularities (think scoliosis).

Dr. Raj Gupta, a chiropractor and founder of Soul Focus Wellness Center, says that pain often results from being sedentary, too-heavy and improper lifting, and just from getting older.

“Since every segment of your spine is freely movable (enabling us to have full range of motion), pain can arise as a result of trauma like a sports injury, car accidents or slip-and-fall accidents that knock a joint out of place,” Gupta says. “Should a vertebrae become misaligned and stay that way, degenerative changes (arthritis) begin and cause pain too.”

Dr. Gupta explains that with each step we take, our pelvis rotates back and forth and the iliac crest (which is on the top of each hip) oscillates within a track on our sacrum (a bone between the hipbones and pelvis). This track, called the sacroiliac joint (or, SI Joint, for short) is where most people get back pain.

According to Dr. Gupta, there are some more natural ways that may help ease (or even potentially prevent) pain:

1. Proper Posture

Did your mother ever tell you to sit up straight? Of course she did! And she was right. In one study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, people with a slouching habit reported the highest levels of lower back pain. How to stop slouching? You’ll want to be mindful of how you hold your body, says Dr. Gupta—that goes for when you’re standing, sitting, or doing anything else.

According to the Mayo Clinic, you can do a wall test to help assess your posture: First, you’ll want to stand against a wall so your head, shoulder blades, and butt touches it. Your heels should be two-four inches from the wall. Slide your hand between the small of your back and the wall. If there’s too much space (there shouldn’t be), draw your belly in toward your spine. If there’s too little space, arch your back just a bit so you can place your hand between the wall and your back. Walk away, but retain that posture.

2. Weight and Workouts

“I also suggest that patients lose weight and add resistance training exercises to their routine,” says Dr. Gupta. Participants in the aforementioned study who did not exercise regularly were found to have higher pain levels compared to those in participants who exercised regularly. Also, extra weight can put pressure on your joints and bones—leaving you feeling achy.

According to the study, after the eight-week exercise program for posture correction, the participants’ pain levels decreased after the exercise program—specifically in the middle and lower back.

It’s important to strength train at least two to three times per week. You can pair strength training with cardio and other fitness routines, like yoga or pilates, during the rest of the week. And if you’re only doing strength training a few times a week, be sure to do full-body workouts that feature large, compound movements (like squats and push-ups).

3. Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Glucosamine and chondroitin—supplements taken together and used to support joint health—are naturally-occurring structural components of cartilage (the tissue that cushions your joints).

According to a review in the International Journal of Rheumatology, the supplement can help promote cartilage regeneration. And, the National Institutes of Health says the supplement can interfere with certain anticoagulant drugs, like Coumadin—so be sure to speak with your doctor before taking it.

4. Appropriate Footwear

If you have a job that keeps you on your feet all day, consider choosing shoes with supportive insoles. A study in the European Spine Journal on the effect of insoles (on people on their feet all day) showed that insoles could promote improvement of low back pain.

5. arnica montana

Arnica montana (which comes from a flowering plant in the sunflower family) is used as a homeopathic remedy for analgesic and anti-inflammatory purposes. Many people use arnica montana pellets (as well as cream and oil made from arnica) for everyday muscle stiffness and strain-related aches and pains—and, according to an abstract in the American Journal of Therapeutics, it’s also able to promote relief in cases of post-operative and post-traumatic pain.

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6. Sleeping Positions

Postural health isn’t just about sitting or standing—how you sleep can also cause major back pain. The Mayo Clinic suggests that side-sleepers should draw their legs up slightly toward the chest and put a pillow between the legs (to keep the spine aligned) while those who sleep on their backs should place a pillow under the knees to help maintain the normal curve of the lower back.

Related: Should You Be Using Melatonin For Better Sleep?

7. Turmeric

Turmeric, one of the trendiest (and healthiest!) spices out there, has been used as a healing remedy for centuries, particularly around joint health support. Its power-player ingredient, Curcumin, has been known to help promote relief from exercise-induced joint pain.

8. Omega 3s

Omega 3, found in fish like salmon and mackerel (as well as in fish oil supplements, if you’re not keen on eating fish) is a polyunsaturated fatty acid. The body produces some, but you need more through your diet—and that’s because they’re good for your cell membranes and receptors, and they also help to regulate artery function Just a reminder: “Of course, if back pain comes on suddenly (acute pain) and is severe, it is important to see a medical professional immediately as pain may be indicative of a more serious condition,” concludes Dr. Gupta.

9 Possible Reasons Why Your Fat Loss Has Plateaued

Anyone in the history of the world who’s ever tried to lose weight knows the struggle that is hitting a plateau. At first, the pounds practically fall off and you feel great (like motivational speaker-level great)—but then your progress starts to slow and suddenly you find yourself completely stalled. It’s the worst.

Plateaus are a total bummer, but before you swear off the veggies and running sneakers, know this: What you’re experiencing is completely normal—if not expected. Why? The leaner you get, the fewer calories your body needs, explains certified weight management specialist Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. Fail to adjust accordingly (and most of us do), and your fat loss peters out. Plus, as our bodies get fitter and adapt to our go-to workouts, the same routine won’t continue to do the trick.

Fire up your fat-burning engines and bust straight through that plateau by addressing these weight-loss saboteurs.

1. You Hit The Gym Without A Plan

When you walk aimlessly into the gym, you pretty much set yourself up for a ‘meh’ workout. “It’s hard to stay motivated when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be focusing on,” says Lisa Niren C.P.T., head trainer of CITYROW in New York City. “Having a plan ensures that you will be spending your workout time in the most strategic way.”

To get started, plan your workouts by the week. Aim for two to three days of strength training and two days of aerobic training (cardio) like a HIIT or kickboxing class, run through town, or interval workout on the rowing machine or stair-stepper. From there, use a notebook or an app to track the specifics, like how much weight you used for strength-training exercises or how fast you sprinted on the rower, she suggests. Tracking your progress will help you continue to push yourself—and know when it’s time to mix things up.

2. You Focus Too Much On Cardio

If you’re forcing yourself through endless miles on the treadmill or flights of stairs on the stair-master, chances are you’re sabotaging both your results and your sanity. While traditional cardio (in conjunction with a healthy diet) can help create the daily calorie deficit that’s essential to weight loss, it won’t keep you seeing progress long-term, says Danielle Bogarty, C.P.T.

The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories your body burns at rest—and the only way to build significant muscle is strength training. If weight loss is priority number-one, those two to three strength-training sessions a week are essential, she says.

3. You Don’t Do HIIT

As nice as it is to zone out on the elliptical and watch TV for an hour, it’s not the most fat-loss-friendly cardio approach. To rev your results, switch out that steady-state cardio for high-intensity interval training (HIIT). By alternating between intervals of all-out effort and recovery, you push your body to its metabolic limits, meaning you burn more calories in less time and keep on burning for up to 24 hours afterward as your body repairs, Niren explains. For maximum plateau-busting effect, limit your rest periods as much as possible: “They should be just enough time for you to recover so you can go all-out in your next work interval,” she explains.

You can still have elliptical dates with your favorite Netflix show, just save them for recovery day. Speaking of which…

4. You’re Not Recovering Properly

As much as you may think that losing weight means never missing a workout, more exercise isn’t necessarily what you need when you hit a plateau. In fact, the muscle recovery that occurs between workouts is when the magic really happens. Without ample time to repair and grow back stronger, your muscles continue to break down and over time your total muscle mass may decrease. That’s bad news for both your performance and your baseline calorie-burning potential. Remember: Recovery means more muscle and more muscle means more fat loss.

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That’s why Barry’s Bootcamp trainer Ashley Rutkowski, C.P.T, recommends her clients incorporate two active recovery days into their weekly routines.

Related: 8 Things To Do On An Active Recovery Day

If you’re stuck in Plateau City and feeling extra burnt out, consider taking a full recovery week to catch up on sleep, try a yoga class, or just relax, Rutkowski says. That week off will also slightly decondition your body, so you’ll burn more calories when you get back on your workout grind.

5. You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep and weight are so closely tied that research suggests missing out on just 30 minutes can increase your risk of obesity and diabetes and that just one night of severe sleep deprivation can reduce your insulin sensitivity by as much as 25 percent, making it harder for your body to process sugar.

Plus, missing out on sleep has also been shown to increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which promotes belly fat storage.

To power through your workouts, resist avoid cravings, and keep your hormones as balanced as possible, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night, suggests Taub-Dix.

6. Your Portions Are Generous

Even when you eat healthy, disregarding portion sizes can push you into calorie overload and undercut your fat-burning potential—especially when you’re trying to lose those last few pounds. For example: Topping your pre-workout toast with jumbo spoonfuls of PB alone can add 700 extra calories to your diet per week.

For optimal weight loss, make sure you’re following proper portion sizes to a ‘T.’ Three big ones to remember: a serving of protein (like chicken or steak) is three ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards; a serving of cooked carbs like pasta or quinoa is half a cup, or about the size of a tennis ball; and a serving of fats like nuts is just one ounce, or about a palm-full, Cording explains. If necessary, measure out and weigh your food until you’ve got your portion sizes down enough to eyeball them.

7. You’re Not Eating Enough Calories

When we want to lose weight, calories often become the enemy. The thing is, our bodies need the energy they get from calories, so when we deprive ourselves, we often feel sluggish and cranky—making everything from sitting through meetings to hitting the gym more difficult and less enjoyable, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N, author of Read It Before You Eat It.

The fat-loss sabotage doesn’t end there: According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, women who followed a 1,200 (or less) calorie diet produced more of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to issues like trouble sleeping and fat storage around the middle.

Not to mention, your body reacts to calorie deprivation by slowing your metabolism, so you can function off the few calories you do consume, meaning you burn fewer throughout the day, Taub-Dix adds.

If your weight won’t budge and you feel sloth-like or just plain hangry all the time, it’s probably a sign of too few calories, says Taub-Dix. Instead of focusing on calories, just concentrate on eating more quality foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

8. You’ve Been Drinking A Lot

Alcohol’s ‘empty calories’ provide zero nutrition or health benefits, so it’s no surprise that it’s not a worthy part of a weight-loss plan. Your average bottle of beer packs close to 150 calories, a glass of wine comes in around 120, and a small rum and coke contains a whopping 155. Those liquid calories add up—and mess with your fat-loss efforts—real quick.

“If you’re going to drink, drink what you’ll be satisfied with the least of,” recommends Cording. For example, if you want a margarita, but opt for a vodka soda because it has fewer calories, you’re more likely to drink four of them to quash your cravings and end up consuming far more calories than you would have with a single marg.

9. You Eat Well 90% Of The Time… But Completely Lose Control The Other 10%

Indulging is part of life—and there’s nothing wrong with it! If you rarely allow yourself to indulge, you eventually hit a breaking point and spiral into a cookie binge instead of savoring one or two.

While one out-of-control eating fest won’t automatically derail your progress, it can damage your relationship with food and make living a consistently healthy, balanced lifestyle more difficult, says Taub-Dix.

Related: Cheat Meals Get A Lot Of Hate—Here’s How To Make Them Work For You

To manage cravings productively, keep track of what you crave long-term by keeping a food journal, suggests Cording. If you notice you’ve been craving bacon, make yourself a serving of bacon instead of continuing to feel deprived or going overboard on turkey bacon, or whatever ‘healthier’ food you eat instead. Stick to proper portion sizes and these treats will keep you sane without derailing your progress.