Why Cardio Is NOT The Best Way To Lose Weight

Want to lose fat? Then you need to get your butt on the treadmill. At least, that’s what most people assume—and why most weight-loss warriors aren’t getting the results they want from their workouts.

Consider this: When obese participants followed a diet and either a strength-training or cardio program for eight weeks, the two groups lost a similar amount of weight—but the strength trainers lost less fat-free mass (a.k.a. muscle) than the cardio-doers, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Meanwhile, when Harvard researchers followed 10,500 men over the course of 12 years, they found that strength training was better than cardio at warding off belly fat. (Cue the collective sigh of relief from cardio haters everywhere.)

We’re not saying you should cut cardio out of your life, but if strength training isn’t already a major part of your weight-loss plan—well, it needs to be.

Cardio vs. Strength Training

“People think to lose fat mass they need aerobic exercise and to forget about resistance training,” says Rania Mekary, Ph.D., a researcher with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead author of the 12-year study.

On the surface, that assumption makes sense. After all, when you perform moderate-intensity cardio like running, biking, or swimming, the vast majority of your calories burned come from fat, she explains. (Hence why, when you’re cruising along at an easy pace on a cardio machine, it rewards you by telling you that you’re in the “fat-burning” zone.) Meanwhile, during resistance training, the bulk of your calories burned come from glycogen, stored carbs housed in your muscles and liver.

The first option seems far more advantageous for those trying to shed fat. That is, until you consider the fact that your muscle mass —which, when left to its own devices, decreases after age 30—is a key driver of your metabolism. And rather than building muscle, cardiovascular exercise can actually burn up some of it.

“Fat is the major energy source during aerobic training, but many people don’t realize that protein also contributes. And that protein comes from muscle,” Mekary says. “So if you are running, running, running, it can make you lose even more muscle than you would otherwise.”

The result: a slower and slower metabolism. That partially explains why, after many people lose weight, they tend to put it right back on. In fact, research from Columbia University shows that losing just 10 percent of your body weight significantly lowers your basal metabolic rate, the number of calories you burn just to stay alive.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

Meanwhile, strength training increases your metabolic rate in a big way. Over the short term, it causes just enough microscopic damage to your muscles that they have to work hard to recover—a process that requires a lot of energy (a.k.a. calories). Known as ‘excess post-exercise oxygen consumption’(or EPOC), your metabolism can stay elevated for up to 72 hours after your strength training session, according to research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. You just don’t get that lasting boost with cardio, especially when it’s steady-state, Mekary says. Over the long term, by building the amount of muscle mass you have with strength training, you can increase your metabolism even further.

What’s more, strength training helps to dull the spikes in hunger-stimulating hormones that often come with weight loss, explains Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., a board-certified family and bariatric physician, diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, and author of The Fat Loss Prescription. That makes losing weight—and keeping it off—that much easier.

Better Together: How to Combine Cardio and Strength for Optimal Fat Loss

Still, for the best fat-loss results, you don’t want to ignore cardio altogether. “By combining anaerobic and aerobic exercise, you maintain muscle, burn more calories, and are able to burn both fat and glycogen,” says Mekary, noting that, according to her research, combination training is even better for fat loss compared to strength training alone. “It’s a win-win situation.”

While the best way to divide your workout routine depends in part on what you actually like to do (what does your schedule matter if you won’t stick to it?), Mekary recommends devoting about 70 percent of your workout time to strength training and 30 percent to cardio. If you hit the gym five days per week, that works out to roughly three strength days and two (slightly shorter) cardio days per week.

“Ideally, you would schedule strength and cardio workouts on different days,” says Nadolsky, noting that performing cardio right before a strength workout can slightly inhibit muscle-building results. (Another study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that men made comparable strength gains after 24 weeks regardless of whether they hit cardio or strength training first. But the guys who did cardio first initially had lower levels of testosterone—a marker of recovery and muscle-building potential—than those who hit the weights first.) It’s not a huge difference, but if you’re focusing on building muscle and can schedule your workouts like that, by all means, go for it.

Making the most of both your strength training and cardio sessions just takes some simple strategizing. During your strength workouts, focus on hitting as many muscle groups as possible by performing compound moves such as squats, deadlifts, thrusters, pull-ups, and bench presses. Spend the bulk of your cardio time on high-intensity intervals (HIIT) such as sprints on the treadmill, bike, or rowing machine. However, some moderate-intensity, steady-state can be good from time to time, too—especially when you feel like you need a little extra recovery from your lifting sessions and don’t want to go too hard with HIIT.

Related: Find a supplement that supports muscle-building.

Consider This Weight-Loss Study Your Green Light To Sleep In On Weekends

When it feels like there just are not enough hours in the work week, getting to bed on time is one of the first things to go out the window—which can worsen the negative health effects of stress, such as that pesky weight gain.

Good news, though: You can escape the downward spiral of drowsy mornings, extra-large coffees, and mid-afternoon sugar binges. According to a new study published in Sleep, it may be as simple as sleeping in for a few extra hours on the weekend.

In a study of more than 2,000 Koreans, researchers found that those who had poor sleep during the work week but slept in on the weekend had lower BMIs (a.k.a. ‘body mass indexes’) than those who slept poorly during the week but did not sleep in on weekends, says lead study author Hee-Jin Im, M.D., Ph.D., of Korea University’s Department of Neurology.

The researchers surveyed and interviewed thousands of participants—who ranged from 19 to 82 years old—about their sleep habits, occupations, and other components (like mood and stress levels) that may influence BMI, Im says. While age, physical activity level, and occupation all played roles in each participant’s BMI, the total number of hours of sleep they got per week—and how they slept on the weekend—turned out to be key for those who had lower BMIs, she says. (Im calls the practice of sleeping in on the weekends “catch-up sleep.”)

The participants got an average of seven hours of sleep per night, with those who slept for longer on the weekends banking an extra 90 minutes to three hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Those who caught up on sleep over the weekend had an average BMI of 22.8, while those who did not had an average BMI of 23.1. (BMIs in the range of 18.5 to 24.9 are considered ‘healthy,’ according to the National Institutes of Health.) The change seems minor—but that difference of just 0.3 is statistically significant, making it clear that poor sleep can impact other aspects of your health, the researchers said.

How does missing out on sleep mess with your BMI? Those who don’t get enough sleep tend to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol (which can increase blood pressure and promote fat storage), and often crave high-fat, calorie-dense foods, Im says.

Related: The Truth About Belly Fat

When you sleep well throughout the week, or catch up on sleep over the weekend, you not only help your body function at its best throughout the day, but you also reduce your risk of weight gain and long-term health concerns like heart problems, she says.

Sounds like a plan, right? Just remember that since we all have individual sleep needs, there’s no one ‘dose’ of Zzz’s that will keep your waistline in check, Im says. To put things in perspective, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night—and in 2014, just 35 percent of Americans reported having ‘good’ sleep quality.

For the other 65 percent of us, making up for lost sleep on the weekends may be our best bet at getting out of sleep debt and keeping our weight—and health—in check. Getting a few extra hours on the weekend isn’t the ideal strategy (getting a full, quality sleep every night is the ideal, of course), but it can clearly make a difference, Im says. Just don’t try to re-stock on sleep by way of napping. “A nap is a fragmentation of sleep,” she says, meaning you can never fall into the deep sleep your body needs to recover from sleep loss.

Related: Check out a number of supplements to support a good snooze.

Your Hour-By-Hour Plan For De-Bloating In Under A Day

We’ve all been there—you’re a day out from a trip to the beach and you feel completely bloated. WHY, WHY, WHY? (Answer: Life is unfair.)

The good news? One day is enough to get your belly back to its usual state. By nixing certain foods, noshing on others, and taking a few other smart steps, it is possible to de-bloat fast—zero water pills required. Just use caution: You don’t want to be in de-bloat mode all of the time. Otherwise you may dehydrate yourself and put yourself at risk of fainting or of dealing with kidney stones down the line, says naturopathic doctor JoAnn Yanez, N.D., Executive Director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges.

If you’re looking for a longer-term water-weight fix, Yanez suggests seeing a naturopathic doc or allergy specialist, since food allergies can often lead to inflammation, indigestion, and bloating. In the meantime, here’s a step-by-step, 24-hour guide to de-bloating.

7 A.M.—Down A Big Glass Of Cucumber Water

While it might seem a bit counter-intuitive, drinking more water can make you less bloated. “The more water you drink, the more you’re flushing out stored water and stored salt, which are causing you to feel bloated,” says nutritionist Christy Brissette, R.D., of 80 Twenty Nutrition. “And it helps to get rid of waste in your digestive tract and keeps you regular, so you’ll end up with flatter stomach.”

If you don’t drink enough you’ll actually end up feeling even more bloated, because your body holds onto the little bit you do drink, explains Revée (Ray) Barbour, N.D., a naturopathic doctor in Sacramento, CA.

Yanez and Barbour both recommend sipping on cucumber-lemon water, since both ingredients encourage your body to release water. Bonus: Cucumber can be soothing for your gut, says Barbour. Add your cucumber and lemon slices to a pitcher of water the night before, so the flavors can diffuse.

What not to drink: carbonated beverages. (The bubbles can add to that bloated belly feeling.) And avoid sipping through a straw, which can make you take in extra gas, Brisette says. Simply aim for 12 cups of water throughout the day before your event. The good news? Coffee and tea count!

7:30 A.M.—Hit The Treadmill Or A Hot Yoga Class

Barbour suggest avoiding eating immediately upon waking up. “If you go an extra hour or two before you eat, you increase your fasting time, which increases your levels of leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full,” she says. As long as you’re used to working out without food in your stomach, a quick sweat session gets your heart pumping, revs your metabolism, and allows you to perspire out excess water and sodium before you start your day.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism

Barbour recommends going for a quick run, brisk walk, or doing your favorite form of cardio. If you’re already a yogi, a hot yoga session can get your heart rate up and bring on the sweat—plus specific yoga poses (especially twists) can help keep things moving along through your digestive system, she says. Whatever morning workout you choose, make sure to bring a big bottle full of water with you and sip frequently so you don’t end up retaining water or feeling faint after sweating it up.

The workout you don’t want to do: weight-lifting, which—because it can build up lactic acid and cause you to draw water into your muscles—might leave you looking even puffier.

8:30 A.M.—Have A Smoothie For Breakfast

Our gut is made up of billions of bacteria, both good and bad, says Yanez. Having healthy good bacteria helps keep the bad ones—which can cause gas, constipation, and stomach upset—in check. So eating foods that contain probiotics (which are filled with good bacteria) can promote a healthy gut and help keep gas at bay, she says.

Add plain Greek yogurt to a morning smoothie to reap the probiotic benefits, suggests Brisette. Just stay away from brands with added or artificial sugars, which can cause stomach issues and contribute to bloating.

To get even more de-puff bang for your buck, add fresh-cut fruit, like pineapple or papaya, to your blend. These two fruits contain natural digestive enzymes called bromelain and papain, which help you break down protein for easier digestion, Brisette says. Plus, they also provide potassium, an electrolyte that helps maintain the fluid balance in your body and flushes out excess water and sodium, she explains.

10:30 A.M.—Snack On Watermelon

Giant meals can be hard on your digestive system, so opt for five to six smaller meals throughout your de-bloat day. “We’ve all seen what happens after Thanksgiving, when a food baby appears,” Brisette says.

Switch up your snack game and make sure to avoid energy, fiber, or protein bars that contain any ingredients ending in “-ol” (like sugar alcohols sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol). “They’re designed so our bodies can’t digest all the calories,” says Brisette. And since we can’t fully digest them, they hang out in our gut and lead to gas.

Instead, snack on fresh fruit, which contains water to hydrate you, along with more de-bloating potassium and fiber to keep things moving through your digestive tract. Chomp on some juicy watermelon, a high-water, low-calorie, low-carb fruit that also contains citrulline, an amino acid that may help your body tackle swelling, says Barbour.

12:30 P.M.—Eat Grilled Chicken With A Side Of Tabbouleh Salad For Lunch

All day, you’ll be banning salty, processed, and greasy foods like burgers, chips and fries, which can upset your stomach and make you hold onto extra water (mostly because of their sodium content, according to Yanez). By making your meals at home today, you can replace salt with other herbs and spices for flavor, adds Brisette.

Grilled chicken is a lean and filling source of protein that’ll keep you nourished and satisfied. Pair it with a tabbouleh salad—a favorite of Yanez’s—for some extra de-puffing action. Tabbouleh salad usually includes tomatoes, parsley, mint, bulgur, and onion. Parsley, in particular, contains potassium and encourages your body to release water, says Yanez.

1:00 P.M.—Gargle With Mouthwash

If you normally chew gum and want that fresh feeling on the run, rinse with mouthwash instead today. Sugar-free gum contains those bloat-causing sugar alcohols, and the act of chewing makes you swallow extra air, adding even more bloat, says Brisette.

2:00 P.M.—Sip On A Glass Of Dandelion Tea

Swap your afternoon coffee for a tea that contains dandelion, hibiscus, burdock root, and/or lemon, recommends Barbour. Not only do you avoid caffeine that might keep you awake later, but these other herbal ingredients can help your body get rid of excess water.

3:00 P.M.—Cut Cravings With Celery And Peanut Butter

When those mid-afternoon munchies hit, stay away from packaged snacks and opt for a simple, wholesome alternative. Pair celery—another one of those high-water foods—with a tablespoon of nut butter, suggests Yanez. The fat and protein in the PB will hold you over until your next meal.

5:00 P.M.—Skip The After-Work Happy Hour

They don’t call it a “beer belly” for no reason! All alcohol tends to cause bloat, but drinks with bubbles do extra damage, Yanez says. Also, alcohol makes you all-the-more likely to reach for salty, high-calorie, puff-inducing foods. Not to mention, it totally wrecks your sleep.

6:00 P.M.—Take A Bath With Epsom Salt

Epsom salt is great for detoxifying the body and soothing joints,” says Barbour. While it’s not necessarily de-bloating, an Epsom salt bath can support the body’s response to inflammation and help it manage swelling, she says. Choose a bath salt that contains magnesium chloride (the mineral at work here) and pour three to four cups into a warm bath. Barbour recommends soaking for 20 to 40 minutes.

If you have any chronic conditions or health concerns (like low blood pressure), talk to your doctor before bathing in Epsom salts, says Barbour. And make sure to drink a big glass of water after your soak to stay hydrated.

7:30 P.M.—Fill Up On Salmon, Mesclun Salad, And Asparagus For Dinner

For every gram of glycogen (energy from carbs) your body stores, you retain up to three or four grams of water, says Brisette. This is why people on low-carb diets tend to lose a couple pounds of water weight in the first few days—and why all of our experts suggested scaling back on carbs in their de-bloating efforts

Like your lunch, your de-puff dinner focuses on protein and veggies. Breads, pastas, and white rice won’t help you in your mission. (Note: Many people feel exhausted on long-term low-carb diets, so Brisette doesn’t recommend them.)

You’ll also want to avoid gas-promoting cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower, which are tougher to digest. Beans can also lead to some extra gas, especially if you don’t eat them regularly, Brisette says.

Related: 7 Foods That Can Make You Gassy

Instead, fill up on a big mesclun greens salad topped with high-water produce like tomatoes and cucumbers. Toss your salad in a quick combo of lemon juice and olive oil and serve with baked salmon, or your favorite protein source. You can also include a side of asparagus, which contains an amino acid, asparagine, that (you guessed it) supports the body’s release of water, says Barbour.

8:30 P.M.—Relax With A Cup Of Ginger Tea

Ginger is an anti-spasmodic, meaning it helps to soothe your digestive system, which is good news for eliminating gas, says Brisette. Sipping on ginger tea, especially after a meal, can support smooth digestion. Then, hit the hay so you’re well-rested!

Related: Find an herbal tea for every need.

Pin this infographic to put this de-bloat plan to use in a pinch: 

 

4 Whey Protein Myths—Debunked

Whether you’re a devout protein lover or a sometimes-post-workout protein shake drinker, you’ve probably wondered whether that whey protein you’re using is the be-all-end-all of protein. You might also wonder whether or not your whey supplement is even working.

To help raise your WQ (Whey Quotient), we’ve asked the experts to debunk four of the most common myths about whey protein.

1. Myth: Supplementing with whey protein alone can help you lose weight.

Fact: Anyone looking to lose weight quickly might find themselves turning to whey protein-based shakes or smoothies. Unfortunately, the supplement by itself—unsupported by a balanced diet and exercise program—probably won’t help you shed much weight.

According to The Mayo Clinic, research supports whey’s ability to increase feelings of fullness, in addition to its ability to boost energy and promote recovery—but it’s not a weight-loss quick fix. As with all weight-loss plans, there’s no magic bullet.

2. Myth: If you’re supplementing with whey protein, you can build muscle Without Going To the gym.

Fact: Whey protein is packed with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which the body needs to build muscle but cannot produce on its own. “Whey has the most potent and ideal amino acid profile for driving muscle growth, and an abundant amino acid pool is a requisite for muscle growth, but by itself, [whey] won’t give the same benefit,” says Brandon Mentore, a Precision Nutrition Coach and board-certified holistic health coach in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In other words, whey protein and workouts need to go hand-in-hand in order for you to bulk up. A study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism concluded that taking whey protein while doing a resistance training program “offers some benefit compared to resistance training alone.” In fact, the study shows that when supplementing with whey, there is a “greater relative gain in lean tissue mass.”

3. Myth: All whey protein products are basically the same.

Fact: The way whey is processed can vary greatly by company and manufacturer. “There are different grades of purity and processing with whey,” Mentore notes. Looking for a clean line? Try the NSF Certified True Athlete brand.

You can also try native whey (which contains leucine and important immune-boosting proteins) or grass-fed whey (which may be higher in antioxidants, and is considered more ethical and sustainable).

4. Myth: Plant-based or other protein powders won’t give you the same results as whey.

Fact: While whey definitely has its benefits, plant-based protein sources are also good choices for vegans, vegetarians, or anyone with a dairy allergy. There are plenty of plant-based protein powders out there, too. And research published in Nutrition Journal found that both whey protein and rice protein, taken after resistance training, improved body composition and exercise performance.

Thinking of switching to a plant-based protein? Plnt’s chocolate protein powder packs 18 grams of protein in one serving, while Garden of Life’s organic vanilla protein kicks it up to 30 grams in a single serving.

8 Eating Habits That Could Be Messing With Your Weight

Sure, we know eating fast food all the time probably isn’t the best move for our waistline—but there are some less obvious, often overlooked eating habits that could be affecting the scale without you even realizing it.

You may be eating all of the right foods for your body, but have you ever thought about the way you are consuming these foods? Perhaps you’re skipping breakfast, inhaling your lunch, or just saving all of your calories for dinner.

Any of the following bad habits sound like you? In the end, your eating habits probably make more of a difference than you think. Time to reevaluate your routine and get that scale moving in the right direction!

Bad Habit #1: Eating At Your Desk

If your keyboard is basically your place mat, it’s time to change up your lunch game. First of all, sitting all day without so much as a lunchtime walk can wreak havoc on your long-term health. In fact, research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a relationship between time spent sitting and all-cause mortality (including cardiovascular issues and cancer)—even in people who exercise. Plus, eating while hunched over your desk and focusing on your next deadline can lead to some major indigestion.

Use your lunchtime as an opportunity to get up out of that chair, walk around, and get your blood flowing after you eat—you’ll not only burn calories, but you’ll beat bloat, too, since exercise helps gas pass through the digestive tract more quickly.

Bad Habit #2: Multitasking While You Eat

Whether you’re staring at your phone, computer, or TV screen, munching while doing something else can lead to mindless eating and a lack of appreciation for the food that is in front of you. How many of us have accidentally blown through an entire bag of popcorn or finished our dinner without even realizing it because we were fixated on Netflix?

Next time you catch yourself snacking while staring at the screen, step away and focus on the flavor, temperature, texture, and sound of your food. You’ll eat more slowly, feel much more satisfied, and your stomach, taste buds, and waistline will thank you later.

Bad Habit #3: Not Balancing Your Plate

Ever feel like you need a nap after scarfing down a plate of pasta for lunch? When you go hard on carbs, without any protein or fat, your blood sugar—and energy levels—pay the price. That’s because when your body breaks down carbs your blood sugar soars and then it plummets, so you feel a rush of energy followed by a crash. Protein and fat help to slow down the digestion of carbs, so they keep blood sugar levels more stable, which is good for your satiety and waistline.

Still not a believer? Check this out: A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that overweight participants who ate a diet of about 45-percent carbs (30 percent fat and 25 percent protein) lost more weight over the course of six months than those who ate a diet of 58 percent carbs (30 percent fat and 12 percent protein).

Set yourself up for a satisfying, stable, blood sugar-supporting, and weight-loss friendly meal by including each of the following in every meal or snack: healthy fats (like salmon, avocado, or seeds), complex carbs (like starchy veggies, oats, or brown rice), and quality proteins (like chicken, tuna, or lentils).

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

Bad Habit #4: Eating While Standing At The Fridge

When we stand there gazing into the refrigerator looking for just the right snack, we often end up picking bits from here and there (hello random cheese slices and cold leftovers) until we’re suddenly full from our nibble rampage.

Decide what you’re really in the mood for or what snack best fits your healthy eating or weight-loss goals before you go anywhere near the fridge. When you plan out your snacks ahead of time, you won’t be left with hands wandering around the fridge in a pinch. Instead, you can focus on really savoring your snack.

Bad Habit #5: Skipping Meals

If you’re trying to lose weight and think skipping breakfast is a good idea because it means you’ll eat fewer calories, think again. Regardless of the intention, a skipped meal welcomes wonky blood sugar, low energy levels, hunger pangs, headaches, and even a sluggish metabolism. (When you don’t consume enough calories, your body essentially thinks you’re starving and slows down your calorie-burn to conserve energy.) A missed meal can also impact your mood and make you “hangry” and irritable, possibly because of your plummeting blood sugar levels.

Your body depends on food for fuel; skipping meals pushes us into an anxiety-driven starvation mode, in which our body thinks there’s no sustenance to be found. To avoid this situation, try to eat breakfast within an hour or two of waking up.

As a general rule, try never to go more than five hours without eating a meal or snack, and make sure that when you do snack, it contains a balance of protein, fat, and carbs.

Related: 11 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Metabolism

Bad Habit #6: Eating For The Wrong Reasons

Stressed, bored, or blue? We’ve all been there—and while these emotions often make us want to eat, they don’t mean we’re actually hungry. Reaching for our favorite foods seems like a comforting idea, but when we eat with this sort of motivation, we often overdo it and end up feeling even worse. This can lead to a vicious cycle of emotional eating and guilt.

Next time you feel down, try writing down how you’re feeling or give yourself 20 minutes before diving into your comfort foods. You may realize that you’re not actually hungry, on top of starting the process of working through whatever is on your mind.

Bad Habit #7: Eating Too Fast

Crazy-busy days often lead us to eat on-the-run instead of at the table. But unless you’re planning on entering a hot dog eating contest (not recommended), it’s worth taking the time to slow down and just eat. When we rush through a meal, we often end up eating more than our body needs to feel satisfied.

Fun fact: It often takes about 20 minutes after you start eating for your brain to realize that your stomach is adequately full. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology found that the faster people reported eating, the higher their body mass indexes (BMIs) tended to be.

So sloooooow down! Take a few deep breaths before you begin your meal and put your fork down in between bites. It sounds silly, but you can even try closing your eyes as you chew to really tune into the textures and flavors of your food. These simple little tactics will not only help you enjoy your meal more, they’ll also keep you from overeating—good news for your pant size.

Bad Habit #8: Eating Because There’s Food In Front Of You

Whether it’s bagels at an early office meeting or dessert that comes with a fixed-price dinner—we often end up eating just because the food is there. And this extra, unplanned eating can be a problem when it means taking in more calories than our body needs.

Stay hydrated throughout the day so that you don’t confuse thirst for hunger in these random moments, and ask yourself, “Do I really feel hungry?” before grabbing that leftover meeting muffin. Just because it’s in front of you, doesn’t mean you need it!

Related: Shop a variety of health-conscious snacks for in-between meals.

Fats, Carbs and Proteins

The Right Macronutrient Ratios For Your Goals

If you’ve heard someone talking about their macros (a.k.a. macronutrients), you probably understand that it has something to do with carbs, protein, and fat—but what exactly does it all mean?

A lot, actually. Developing a daily macros ratio can help you achieve your personal fitness and health goals.

What Are Macros?

Macronutrients are molecules our bodies use to create energy. In simpler terms, they are the types of foods (carbs, fats, and protein) we need to eat each day in large amounts, according to the National Institutes of Health. (Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals, and amino acids).

But what macronutrient ratios should you follow? The experts weigh in below.

The Right Macronutrient Ratio for Weight Loss

There are plenty of weight-loss plans, and most involve creating a calorie deficit. It’s pretty simple: To shed the pounds, you need to burn more calories than you take in each day. Counting macros is no different, but before you start adjusting your ratio, you’ll need to determine your ideal calorie intake based on your goals.

You can calculate how many calories you should consume each day using the Mifflin – St Jeor equation, which takes your weight, height, age, activity level, and desired weight loss or gain into consideration before spitting out a daily calorie number. Once you have that number, you will also need to adjust each macronutrient. Just know that there’s no magic, one-size-fits-all ratio for any goal, since it’s so individual.

Related: What Is The “If It Fits Your Macros” Diet—And Should You Try It?

So, how does counting macros differ from simply counting calories? Your macronutrient goal focuses on the type of calories you eat, not just the total amount. If your goal is to drop weight, cutting back on your carbohydrate intake should be your main focus, according to registered nutritionist Amy Shapiro of Real Nutrition NYC.

“It’s mostly scaling back on those simple carbohydrates and sugar,” says Shapiro. “We want to bring down the carbohydrates to lose weight and increase the fat and protein to help keep you full and keep your muscles supported.”

FYI: This ratio doesn’t mean you can just eat red meat all day. Shapiro urges the importance of paying attention to portion sizes, eating a balanced meal that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and staying within your set calorie limit for the day.

In general, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that 45 to 65 percent of our total daily calorie intake come from carbohydrates (while 10-35 percent come from protein and 20-35 percent from fat).

Related: 5 Fitness Apps That Helped Me Drop—And Keep Off—75 Pounds

By dropping that percentage closer to the lower end or below 45 percent and making sure that the carbohydrates consumed are complex carbohydrates like veggies and whole grains (rather than processed carbs), you can expedite your weight loss. Lean proteins (like turkey, eggs, or beans) and heart-healthy fats (like olive oil and avocado) are also excellent for weight loss.

Some people up the ante on their fat intake by ascribing to the ketogenic diet, which plays with the ratio to focus on a very high-fat, low-carb diet. Basically, its goal is to get you into ketosis, a specific metabolic state which forces our bodies to begin running on ketones, which burns fat. How do you achieve this state? By getting less than 10 percent of your calories from carbs. On a ketogenic diet, you’ll get about 75 percent of your calories from fat and about 20 percent from protein for several weeks.

The Right Macronutrient Ratio for Building Muscle

If you’re looking to gain muscle, your macronutrient ratio will differ pretty drastically from someone trying to lose weight.

“In order to put on muscle, what we focus on is protein,” Shapiro says. “Protein breaks down into amino acids, [which are] the building blocks of muscle.”

Related: Shop protein powder to help you pack on the muscle.

Again, you’ll stay on target with your daily calorie goal, but you’ll increase your protein intake to between one and 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight (so, 1.5 grams per every pound for a 180-pound person amounts to about 270 grams of protein daily). Protein is the name of the game here, but it’s definitely not a free-for-all!

“When you eat too much of anything that you’re not using, you store it as fat,” Shapiro says. “It’s starts to tax your body when you have to break down and eliminate the byproducts of protein. The research isn’t behind it that more than 1.5 grams is going to actually help you to put on significant muscle.” So it’s key that you stay on target.

In order to build muscle, we need to burn energy, and—you know it—energy comes from carbs. So once you’ve established your protein intake, fill out your macro ratio with roughly 40 percent of your calories coming from healthy carbohydrates. The rest will come from heart-healthy fats.