Innovation, Trends, And Transformation In Health And Wellness: Join Our LIVE Discussion!

Remember when protein powder was just a bodybuilder thing? Or when no one bothered to wonder what all those hard-to-pronounce ingredients on their food labels were? If the new millennium taught us anything about self-care, it’s that eating right and getting regular exercise aren’t optional if you want to live a long, active life.

Today, the world of wellness is bigger than ever, and encompasses nutrition, fitness, beauty, and even wearable technology. At The Vitamin Shoppe’s Product Education Conference (PEC) on August 14th, we’re sitting down with some of the buzziest names and most innovative brands in the supplement industry—from fitness icon and Kaged Muscle CEO Kris Gethin to plant-based chef and Ora Organic co-founder Ron Chang—to talk about the trends shaping the future of health and wellness.

Join us live on The Vitamin Shoppe’s Facebook page from 3 p.m. EST to 7:30 p.m. EST this Tuesday, August 14th, to get in on the conversation!

Here’s the full lineup:

Learn more about what our guests will be discussing:

Training Like An Elite Athlete on a Plant-Based Diet: Don Saladino—Garden of Life Athlete, Celebrity Trainer

Many people still don’t seem sold that you can work out—and look—like an athlete without a diet that features plenty of milk and chicken breast. Saladino, who uses plant-based supplements with his celebrity clients, knows that’s not the case. He’ll discuss how plant-based foods and supplements can contribute to fitness goals like building muscle, becoming stronger, and shedding fat, and share what a successful plant-based approach to fitness looks like.

Is Bread Really The Enemy?: Yemeni Mesa—KNOW Foods CEO

KNOW Foods was founded with the goal of creating a ‘better bread’ to address the negative impact of conventional bread and similar foods on health in the U.S. Yemeni will walk us through the low-carb revolution, the rise of keto, and how re-thinking high-carb staples like bread and cookies can help us better our health.

Pushing The Limits of Fitness Beyond Bodybuilding: Kris Gethin—Kaged Muscle CEO, Fitness Icon, Endurance Athlete

Not only is Kris Gethin a renowned bodybuilder, but he’s also run an ultramarathon and completed an Iron Man triathlon, proving that his fitness knows no limits. Gethin will discuss how and why he’s pursued such ambitious and varied feats of fitness, and what his training has taught him about discipline, and the capabilities of the human body. He’ll also address how supplementation and nutrition have helped him achieved his goals and how his experiences have shaped Kaged Muscle.

The Importance of Sustainability In Product Innovation: Ronald Chang—Ora Organic Co-Founder, Chef

Ora is all about organic, plant-based ingredients from sustainable sources—and while we’ve heard about organic for years, the importance of sustainability may not fully be on everyone’s radars. Ron will discuss why Ora uses sustainably-sourced ingredients, and why consumers should care about where their supplements come from.

The Rise Of The Keto Trend: Chris MacKenzie—BPI Sports CCO, Competitive Bodybuilder

One of the first sports nutrition brands to really embrace the keto trend, BPI has helped more and more bodybuilders embrace the high-fat, low-carb trend. Chris will discuss why keto has become such a hit with the bodybuilding community, how it’s changing the way competitors think about macros, and what supplements can help make it successful.

How Community Commerce Spreads Health And Wealth Across The Globe: Lanaia Edwards—Shea Moisture Senior Director Of Marketing

Shea Moisture has donated more than two million dollars to community commerce programs, including minority women-owned businesses, clean water initiatives, and more to date. Lanaia will discuss how Shea Moisture’s origins inspired its mission to support women and under-served communities, how this mission has grown with the company, and why you should support brands who give back.

Technology As A Tool for Healthy Living: Matt Hesse—Performix CEO, Founder of the FitOps Foundation

The conversation about technology lately seems to focus a lot on some of the ways it’s negatively impacted our health (such as excessive screen time making us increasingly sedentary). Hesse will discuss the flip-side. After all, his brand Performix is all about utilizing cutting edge technology to enhance supplements. Hesse will explain how technology will continue to revolutionize the supplement industry, and how he uses technology as a health and fitness tool in his own life.

The Evolution of Protein Supplements: Kris Gerulski—Glanbia Marketing Director

Optimum Nutrition, BSN, and Isopure have endured as some of the biggest brands in the world of protein—but protein supplementation has come a long way since the birth of protein powders! Kris will discuss how these brands have remained on the forefront of protein’s transformation, why protein is for everyone, what innovative products they’re buzzing about, and where the future of protein is headed.

How Everyday Athletes Can Train And Fuel Like The Pros: Matthias McKinnon—BodyTech Ultimate Athlete

Since his days playing college football, Matthias McKinnon has continued to pursue his fitness goals with the intensity and rigor of a competitive athlete. BodyTech’s first-ever Ultimate Athlete will talk about how the right attitude, training, and supplementation can help the everyday fitness enthusiast make incredible gains.

How To Train Your Six-Pack: What, Why, And How Often

To ever have a chance of seeing your six-pack, you need to keep a healthy diet and do the right kind of training. What ‘the right training’ actually looks like, however, goes against pretty much everything we’ve ever been told about working our abs. Here’s exactly how—and how often—you should work out in order to make that six-pack pop.

Your Abs vs. Your Core

When you think of the coveted six-pack, you probably picture a group of muscles called the rectus abdominus, which cover the front of your mid-section. However, these six-pack muscles are just one piece of your core. The collection of all of the muscles that surround your trunk, your core also includes the internal and external obliques (which run along your sides), the erector spinea (which covers the length of the back), the transverse abdominus (beneath the obliques), and the quadratus lumborum (beneath the erector spinea in the low back). So, before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight: Though the words ‘core’ and ‘abs’ are used interchangeably all the time, they’re not the same thing.

Abs Workouts vs. Core Workouts

If you really want a ripped middle, you’ve got to train more than just your abs! Not only should you be training all five core muscles together, but you should be doing so in all three planes of motion (forward-and-backward, side-to-side, and rotational), says Brooklyn-based coach Keita Minakawa C.S.C.S., FRCms. And that means doing a variety of exercises—not just a crazy-long plank or a hundred crunches. “Human beings move through three-dimensional space and our muscles need to be able to support the movement,” he adds. Here’s what a proper 360-degree core workout might look like:

  • bear walks (forward-and-backward plane)
  • side planks (side-to-side plane)
  • wood-chops (rotational plane)

When you train all your core muscles in all planes of motion, not only do you develop a more functionally-fit body, but a more visible six-pack, too. The more muscles you train, the more calories you burn and the more muscle mass you can build.

Training For A Six-Pack

Before you even think about doing full-on core workouts, make sure your overall training program focuses on big, compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses. These full-body moves fire up all of your major muscle groups, including your core, and should be considered your core strength foundation.

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

In addition to these foundational moves, Minakawa recommends also doing two or three core-specific exercises three days per week. (Do them before hitting the barbell for your big lifts.)

Like with any other muscle group, give your core muscles at least 24 hours of rest in between workouts that include these core-specific moves, adds Dallas-based trainer and dietitian Tim McComsey C.P.T., R.D.

Also like any other muscle group, you can’t expect your core to grow stronger (or bigger) without following the principle of progressive overload. To continually challenge your muscles, rotate in new core exercises, increase the resistance, and/or churn out more reps as you’re able.

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To make your training more effective, watch out for what Minakawa calls ‘abdominal hollowing,’ when you suck your stomach inward while exercising. Not only does this take the emphasis off your core muscles, but it can put undue pressure where you don’t want it, like on your spine. Instead, imagine you’re about to be punched in the stomach and brace your core. “Abdominal bracing engages all of the core muscles at once,” he says.

The Cardio Factor

Of course, showing off visible abs requires whittling down your body fat percentage. In addition to strength and core-specific training, you’ll need to commit to regular cardio to drop body fat and reveal that six-pack, says McComsey. Start out with three or four days of 40 to 60 minutes of steady-state cardio at about 65 percent of your maximum ability. From there, add in 10 to 15 minutes of high-intensity interval training two to three times per week. “If your body fat levels are stuck, HIIT will really turn the burn up a notch,” he says.

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

Matthias McKinnon: Just A Regular Dude With Superhuman Strength

Whatever your fitness goals are, you’ve got to want them bad to turn them into reality. Every workout, every meal, every rep either drives you towards excellence or gets in your way.

Ultimate BodyTech Athlete contest winner Matthias McKinnon pursues every gain ferociously, forever committed to going harder and growing stronger and faster. Watch him train and feel the motivation course through your veins.

 

Matthias trusts BodyTech to power every last rep, fuel his recovery, and keep him on the fast-track to victory. Follow @matthiasmckinnon on Instagram for daily motivation.

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I Tested 10 Different Pump Supps In One Month—Here Are My Top Picks

I’ve been an avid lifter for over 10 years, and in that time I’ve tried just about every pre-workout supplement on the market—from high-stim energy drinks to caffeine-free nitric oxide-boosters.

When I started to lift in the evening after work a few years back, I cut back out caffeinated pre-workouts and fell head-over-heels for stim-free pump supplements. I mean, who doesn’t want jitter-free energy, focus, endurance, and—of course—veins that really pop?

Lately, I’ve just been taking free-form amino acids that have been shown to ramp up the body’s production of nitric oxide (the magical chemical that dilates blood vessels so you look swole and can lift until it’s time to hit the hay). My go-to concoction: three grams of l-arginine, 500 milligrams of agmatine sulfate, and four grams of l-citrulline, mixed with some flavored BCAA powder and water.

To minimize my pre-workout chemistry, I decided to test 10 of the most popular nitric oxide-boosting products, which combine pump-friendly ingredients like the ones I already love.

Post-Pump Verdict

After a long, thorough, and incredibly veiny experiment, I’ve got plenty to say about which products I loved—and which I didn’t. One thing I noticed right off the bat: The pill-form pump supplements just didn’t do it for me. While I noticed instant pump, energy, and endurance after slugging back the powdered supplements (or just chewing on the powders straight), I waited and waited for the pills to kick in.

If you want to crank out those extra reps and watch your muscles literally blow up in the weight room mirror, here are the powdered pump products that now hold a special place in my gym bag.

4th Place: PEScience High Volume

A combo of citrulline, arginine nitrate, and agmatine sulfate (my go-to’s!), High Volume’s formula immediately caught my attention.

I tried the Cotton Candy, which is arguably the most popular flavor (and will blow your mind if you have a sweet tooth). Though it was slightly grainy, the flavor knocked my socks off so much that I didn’t care.

The pump kicked in gradually and peaked about 20 minutes into my workout. Once it kicked in, that sweet nitric oxide boost lasted throughout my entire gym session.

3rd Place: MAN Sports Pump Powder

I have to say, I’m a huge fan of MAN Sports’ Sour Batch-flavored anything, and the Sour Batch Pump Powder did not disappoint. Like High Volume, this one didn’t mix as well some of the other pump supplements out there, but I’d take the ‘meh’ mixability for the taste (and results) any day.

Related: 3 Quick Ways To Level Up Your Pre-Workout

Pump Powder gets its power from agmatine sulfate, glycerol monstearate, and citrulline malate, and contains more of them than any of the other supplements I tested.

That higher dose definitely made a difference, and I felt an insane pump by the last set of my very first exercise. By my third exercise, the veins in my upper chest bulged—something I’m always working for.

At one point, I thought my arms (forearms, biceps, and triceps, all included) were literally going to pop. It was awesome. Seriously, my pump was so strong that I could barely finish some reps because my muscles were getting in the way.

2nd Place: BodyTech Nitrulline Powder

A big fan of BodyTech products (like the liquid Raspberry Carnipure L-Carnitine and Birthday Cake-flavored Whey Tech Pro 24), I had high expectations for their recently-launched Nitrulline Powder.

This pump supp is a muscle-friendly fiesta of l-citrulline, l-arginine HCL, taurine, glycerol, and l-norvaline. I loved that the watermelon flavor was nice and sour—not overly sweet.

My pumps kicked in during the second set of my first exercise (weighted dips). The horseshoe in my tricep was really poppin’, and I loved it. I held onto a solid pump throughout my workout and looked much more vascular than usual. It was like I had road maps of veins all over my arms!

After trying this just once, I was sold. Not only did I look and feel great, but I powered through my workout with intense focus. (I also wanted to pop another scoop in my shaker cup after the gym, just to savor that sweet-sour watermelon goodness.) A new favorite, for sure.

1st Place: iForce Nutrition Hemavol

If I could have only one supplement for the rest of my life, it would be Hemavol. I love the tanginess of the watermelon flavor, how perfectly the powder mixes into water, and the transparency of the ingredients label.

Agmatine sulfate and citrulline malate are the real all-stars here. Hemavol packs 500 milligrams of agmatine and 2,500 milligrams of cittruline malate, which is more than all over the other supps, except MAN Sports’ Pump Powder.

This product is no joke. After just one set of bicep curls, a tight pump filled my arms, and I was incredibly swole throughout every single exercise that followed. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I truly thought my arms were going to pop, and by the time I finished my workout, I could barely move them.

Maybe the mirrors were playing games with me, but I also looked way bigger than usual. The pump was REAL. And guess what? It lasted long after I left the gym.

To me, Hemavol is a 10 out of 10. Sign me up for auto-delivery now!

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

4 Problems Strength Training More Often Can Help Solve

Switching up your workouts is both physically and mentally beneficial. One caveat, though: You don’t want to skimp on strength training. Not only does strength training help us build muscle, but it also revs our metabolism and protects us from injury so we can live freely and be agile for as long as possible.

“Strength training is beneficial in so many ways beyond aesthetics,” says Dan Giordano, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., co-founder of Bespoke Treatments. “It can boost dopamine and endorphin production, improve cardiovascular health, and slow bone loss.”

This makes strength training even more important as we age. “As we get older, the loss of bone and muscle makes necessary daily activities increasingly tricky,” says Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., founder of Le Sweat. And it happens earlier than you think: Around age 30, we all start losing muscle mass, eventually making simple tasks more difficult.

So, yeah, no matter how many candles are on your birthday cake or where you’re at in your health and fitness journey, you’ll do well to rely more heavily on weights—especially if you’re dealing with any of the following four issues.

1. You’re In Pain

Throughout our everyday lives, our body undergoes various types of stress, whether from work, playing with kids and pets, or participating in recreational sports. Often, these stressors leave us in pain. Whether you have joint pain or are constantly plagued by aches, building strength can help you overcome it and move pain-free. “The stronger we are, the more resilient our body is to these stressors and activities,” says Zach Murray, C.S.C.S. “Strength training can improve many factors that may lead to both acute and chronic pain, including poor and repetitive movement patterns, muscle imbalances, and even running efficiency.”

2. You’re Not Seeing The Results You Want

If you never miss an early morning spin class or after-dinner run, you deserve a high-five for living an active lifestyle. But if you’re sticking to a healthy diet and exercising regularly, and you’re still not seeing the physique results you’re after (especially if you want a defined, lean look), it’s a red flag. “If your current workout isn’t giving you the results you want, specifically concerning muscle definition, it’s time to strength train more, or lift heavier weights,” says Atkins.

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If you’re doing only cardio or bodyweight moves, or lifting the same old weight as always, your muscles don’t get the stimulus they need to keep adapting and growing. If you want to truly change your physique, you have to continue overloading your muscles with more weight.

3. You’re Feeling Down

While it not may not be a silver bullet for mood disorders, resistance training is associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms, according to a paper published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. “Resistance training has repeatedly been proven to be an effective intervention for decreasing symptoms of mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and addiction,” says Murray. “Not only do the physiological by-products of strength training—such as increased release of endorphins—help to improve mood, but the very act of getting stronger and achieving physical goals not previously possible can improve confidence and self-image.”

Related: Can Your Diet Make You Depressed?

4. Your Metabolism Is Sloth-Like

Feel like no matter what you do, your sluggish metabolism is holding you back from reaching your weight-loss or fitness goal? Research shows that a regular weightlifting routine can help. You see, for a number of hours after a typical strength-training session, your body continues to use more energy than usual in order to recover. (The process is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC, but you’ve probably heard it referred to as the ‘after-burn’ effect.)

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

One research study showed that after strength training for 100 minutes, women’s metabolic rates stayed elevated (by about 4.2 percent) for the next 16 hours, resulting in an average of 60 extra calories burned. Sixty extra calories burned multiple times every week can certainly add up over time, increasing the average total number of calories you torch and upping your metabolism.

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

I Did 100 Squats Every Day For A Month

I have always hated working out at the gym. The machines are confusing and I get bored quickly. I much prefer the pool or hiking, for example—something active that provides a full-body workout in one go. Exercise is important to me, but it’s got to be on my terms.

One day, at the pool, I was talking to a friend who mentioned her legs were a bit tired during our swim. “I’ve been doing 100-200 squats a day for a month,” she said proudly. “It’s sort of a challenge for myself.”

My interest was piqued. As a swimmer and someone who cycles under water, my legs are pretty strong, but I liked the idea of a new challenge. Could I do 100 squats every day, too? I didn’t see why not! People do squat challenges all the time, and I would prove that I could also be a squat master, a pro squatter, a squat queen.

Let the Squatting Commence!

Squats are great for you: They work some of the biggest muscles in your body (your glutes, quads, hamstrings, abs, and back). I read up on how to do a squat perfectly so that I could maximize my results and then I got right to it—100 squats a day for an entire month.

Week 1

I’ll be honest—it’s hard to squat perfectly. There’s a lot to keep in mind: firmly planting your feet, not rounding your back, being aware of your core and hips, sitting back far enough to get a real squat in.

As I got into the swing of things my muscle memory sort of kicked in. It would take about 10 reps before I could kick my body into “proper form” gear, but I eventually got it. Pro-tip: Do your squats with a chair behind you so that you lower yourself into it (without actually touching it). I squeezed my glutes on the way up, too.

Finding the time to do 100 squats isn’t as hard as you might think, but finding the gusto to do 100 in a row is a challenge, I learned. Part of what pumped me up was the pride I felt for embarking on a physical challenge. I’m already pretty into working out, but because I took that extra step, pushing myself to do something every single day without stopping, I felt even more empowered. 

Related: The 4 Best Moves For Your Inner Thighs

Week 2

By this point, I had my form on point. It felt natural to do a deep and hearty squat, and I could even go without the chair behind me. I mostly tried to hit 100 squats in one fell swoop—which took about 10 minutes max.

I noticed something interesting into the second week: It was less about the actual workout and more about the mind-body connection. I felt good about doing what I’d set out to do, and I liked how strong and capable it made me feel. I wasn’t really thinking about results all that much; I was focused on the empowering aspect of having a goal and sticking to it.

Week 3

By week three I started feeling the squats in my knees (thanks, arthritis), but I could push through it—especially if I split up the sets into two sets of 50. By this time, I was adding a few extra moves into my squats, like squat pulses (which involve pulsing a few times in squat position) or holding small (two-three pound) weights in my hands. 

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My squat workout also became integrated into my ordinary living situation. Instead of making specific time for the squats and ritualizing it with music, I just decided to do them while watching TV or in the middle of cleaning or folding laundry. I’d pop a few in here or there, so there were probably a few days when I actually exceeded 100 squats. 

True story: My boyfriend, who’d been watching me take on this challenge each and every day, said that my butt looked perkier and my legs looked very firm. I was ecstatic. It was working! I also physically felt stronger whenever I’d go up and down the stairs. During my swim class, my legs felt more controlled, steadier. I even think it had an effect on my hip strength.

Week 4

By week four I could actually see results, although they’re hard to capture on camera. You feel them more than you see them.

My butt did seem firmer and definitely more lifted, and my quads and inner thighs saw results. My legs looked super-strong and a little thicker. 

What I learned throughout is that sticking to a workout regimen does good things for both your body AND your mind. If you’ve had a bad day, squat. A good day? Squat. It’s a constant. A reliable way to focus on yourself. I’ve got a new spring in my step, literally. 

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

Pre-Workout Or Post-Workout: What’s The Better Time To Take Creatine?

Creatine is one of the most popular supplements in sports nutrition. A fan favorite since Olympic athletes started using it in the early 1990s, creatine is a naturally-occurring compound in the body that’s found primarily in our muscles (though smaller amounts are also stored in the brain, kidneys, and liver), and helps our cells produce energy.

How Creatine Works

Our cells store a form of creatine called creatine phosphate, which helps those cells churn out chemical energy called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). It keeps ATP levels high during quick, high-intensity exercise like powerlifting or sprints. It also helps replenish our cells’ ATP stores during rest periods and after workouts.

Creatine’s long history in the supplement world also makes it one of the most studied supplements out there. According to The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), creatine is highly effective for improving athletic performance and recovery, and safe for long-term use. In fact, supplementing with creatine—specifically a popular form called creatine monohydrate—can lead to an eight percent increase in strength and 14 percent improvement in muscle endurance on average, says Marie Spano, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., C.S.S.D., sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks, Braves, and Falcons.

Related: 11 Sports Nutrition Supps That Taste Like Candy

Creatine doesn’t just benefit athletes and gymgoers, though. It also acts as an antioxidant, supports healthy cholesterol, and boosts brain function. “It’s recommended that everyone consume a diet with at least two to three grams of creatine per day, just for the general health benefits,” says Richard Kreider, Ph.D., author of the ISSN’s position paper on creatine and executive director of the Human Clinical Research Facility at Texas A&M University.

Creatine Timing

When creatine first hit the performance supplement scene, many athletes used it as a part of their pre-workout regimen. Just drop a scoop in a protein shake or pre-workout supp, hit the gym, and let the magic happen. Recent insights, however, suggest creatine may be more effective when taken post-workout.

Though the research on creatine timing is still developing, one 2013 study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition found that recreational bodybuilders who took creatine after their workouts experienced superior gains in lean body mass and strength than those who took it before.

Researchers and experts agree that creatine gets to the muscle stores more efficiently when taken with carbohydrates as a part of a post-workout meal, when our body is primed to shuttle nutrients to our recovering muscles, says Spano. A spike in blood glucose (the sugar our body turns carbs into) signals our body to produce insulin, the hormone that then shuttles that glucose to our cells. As the glucose gets shuttled into our cells, so does the creatine.

Adding protein to the equation only increases this effect: “Simple sugars ingested with protein increase glucose and insulin to a greater degree,” says Kreider. This carb-protein combo also replenishes muscle glycogen (stored energy from sugar) and stimulates protein synthesis (the process through which muscles repair and grow).

Yep, this means creatine may be most effective when taken alongside a carb- and protein-filled snack or meal after you work out instead of alongside your pre-workout on your way into the gym.

How Much Creatine You Need

Kreider recommends eating one to 1.5 grams of carbohydrates and 0.25 to half a gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight to promote recovery after exercising. (That’s something like a chicken breast, a large banana, and a cup of brown rice for a 170-pound man, and half a chicken breast, a large banana, and half a cup of brown rice for a 130-pound woman.)

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

Then, pair that post-workout fuel with between three and five grams of creatine.

To Load Or Not To Load?

The OG information on creatine suggests beginning supplementation with a ‘loading period,’ during which you take a higher dose to quickly build up the levels in your muscles. A typical loading period looks something like five grams four times a day for five to seven days.

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Recently, though. the importance of creatine loading has become a point of contention among experts.

When supplementing to boost your performance, a loading phase can help you start seeing positive effects sooner. “If you only take three to five grams a day, it will take you four to six weeks to increase muscle levels and see significant effects on training,” says Kreider.

When supplementing to reap creatine’s general health benefits, though, a loading phase won’t be the end-all-be-all. “According to some of the top creatine researchers, you don’t have to load,” says Spano. “It will build up the creatine stores in your body faster, but it isn’t necessary.”

Ultimately, whether you load or not depends on how quickly you want to see results.

The Creatine-Dehydration Myth

Let’s clear up one more thing while we’re at it: Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to drink more water when supplementing with creatine. “Creatine does not dehydrate you,” says Spano. It’s a total myth! In fact, peer-reviewed literature shows that creatine supplementation does not cause dehydration-related kidney issues, affect muscle or liver enzyme function, or increase muscle cramping or gastrointestinal distress. In fact, creatine actually promotes fluid retention, Kreider says.

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

7 Workouts That Can Burn More Calories Than Running

If you want to burn the most calories in the least amount of time, you should go for a run—right? For the average person, after all, running at a 10-minute-mile pace burns about 740 to 872 calories per hour.

That’s a lot of calories, but believe it or not, there are plenty of other workouts that can be equally—if not more—effective.

“The amount of calories burned in a given type of exercise depends on the amount of muscle mass engaged,” explains Nick Clayton, C.S.C.S., a spokesperson for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). “The more muscles working, the more calories burned.”

Do them correctly and these seven workouts will get you to sizzle city.

1. Outdoor Bicycling

755 to 890 calories burned per hour

You’d think you’d expend less energy using equipment than you would using just your body, but biking actually requires more energy than running. “In running, your muscles—which are elastic—have a lot of recoil,” explains Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “When you hit the ground, the tissue lengthens and then recoils, which helps propel you.” (Think of a stretched rubber band snapping back into place.)

Without the ground to ‘snap’ your muscles back every time your foot hits the ground, though, cycling requires a lot more constant effort. Plus, “cycling engages the entire lower body, as well as the core and upper body, which provide stability and assist with harder efforts, such as out-of-the-saddle sprints and climbs,” says Clayton. This also increases your calorie burn.

Pro tip: To burn maximum calories, you need to maintain a speedy clip—between 14 and 15.9 miles per hour (a fast, vigorous effort), according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Don’t worry if you’re not able to quite maintain that pace, though. “It’s all about how hard you’re working based on your current health and fitness level,” says Clayton.

2. Swimming

755 to 890 calories per hour

If you’ve ever swam laps, you know that just four can feel harder than running four miles. “When you’re running, there’s not much resistance working against you,” says McCall. “When you’re swimming, though, you have to break the surface tension of the water with every stroke and propel your body forward through the water.”

Not only does this make swimming more taxing, but moving through the water is way better for your joints that pounding the ground or repetitively spinning on a bike, adds Clayton. Not to mention, swimming fires up just about every muscle in your body.

Related: It’s Super-Trendy To Strength Train Under Water—Should You Try It?

Pro tip: You need to be consistent and efficient to earn your burn in the water (no pausing each time you hit the wall!). “It’s okay to use flippers to help you move if you need to,” says McCall.

3. Kickboxing

777 to 916 calories per hour

Certain types of martial arts—including kickboxing, judo, jujitsu, karate, tae kwon do, tai-bo, and Muay Thai—can burn tons of calories, especially when you’re sparring.

“When you’re sparring, there’s a reactive element that you don’t get in other sports like running, swimming, and cycling,” explains McCall. “You’re at a higher state of awareness and a higher state of readiness because you don’t know what your opponent’s going to do. Your entire body is engaged.”

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Pro tip: The key here is to spar at a solid pace. “Performing drills versus hitting gloves versus actual ‘combat’ all have different effects on intensity and adrenaline,” explains Clayton. Imagine the difference between practicing your kick form and fighting someone—it’s a big one.

4. Stationary Bicycling

 830 to 979 calories per hour

Unlike outdoor biking, you’re never coasting down a hill—or being pushed by the wind at your back—when riding a stationary bike or taking a spin class. Because of that, a vigorous effort (around 161 to 200 watts, or 15 to 20 miles per hour) works you harder than biking outdoors, says McCall.

Pro tip: In a spin class, resistance matters most. “If you’re not really hiking up that resistance, you’re not really doing that much extra work,” McCall says. Instructors typically coach you to spin at a fast pace—like 130 beats per minute—to keep up with the music, but that can be very difficult to sustain. As long as you’ve got the resistance cranked up, you don’t have to be going much faster than 70 to 90 revolutions per minute, he explains.

5. Jumping Rope

 890 to 1050 calories per hour

Jumping rope is basically running in place that uses your entire body. “Just adding in your arms adds a lot of extra work,” explains McCall. “It’s also easier to maintain a faster pace than running while jumping rope.”

According to the ACSM, maintaining a moderate pace of 100 to 120 skips per minute (with a plain, two-foot bounce) burns about 14 to 17 calories per minute. If you can up your pace to 120 to 160 skips per minute, you’ll burn an additional calorie or two per minute.

Pro-tip: McCall recommends jumping rope in intervals—like 90 seconds of high-intensity jumping followed by 30 seconds of rest. This will spike your heart rate and help your body burn even more calories.

6. Rowing

 906 to 1068 calories per hour

Rowing is such a huge calorie-burner because it engages your entire body. “If you’re doing it right, your legs, core, and upper body have to work hard,” says McCall. The more muscles you use, the more oxygen you consume—and any time you can increase oxygen consumption by using more muscles, you increase your overall energy expenditure, he says.

Related: 4 Rowing Workouts That’ll Make You Feel Like A Beast

Pro-tip: To maximize your calorie burn on the rowing machine, you need to row at a power of about 200 watts, according to the ACSM. “But, again, it depends on fitness level and efficiency,” says Clayton. As long as you’re working at a level that feels intense to you, your effort will pay off.

7. Boxing

 966 to 1139 calories per hour

Like martial arts, sparring in a boxing ring has that reactive element that puts your body on high alert. Plus, you’re doing a ton of lateral, forward, and backward movement.

Pro-tip:  “You generate more muscle force when you hit something than if you’re shadowboxing,” says McCall. Spar with a coach or trainer to bring more of your upper body into the workout.

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Should You Replace Your BCAAs With EAAs?

Branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements have long held a special place in the hearts of bodybuilders and endurance athletes alike. But recently, essential amino acid (EAA) supplements have started cropping up everywhere, threatening to edge out BCAAs as fitness enthusiasts’ go-to sports supplement.

Is one really better than the other? Which supplement is right for you? Here’s everything you need to know about the two popular sports supplements.

Amino Acid Basics

The proteins that make up our muscles are in a constant state of turnover; as old proteins degrade, we produce new proteins to take their place. When the number of proteins being created exceeds the number of proteins breaking down, your body ‘grows,’ and you build muscle mass (this is called an anabolic state). When the number of proteins breaking down exceeds the number of proteins being created, though, the entire body enters a state of breakdown and you may lose muscle mass (this is called a catabolic state).

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

If you’re working out to build muscle and perform at your absolute best, you want your body to spend as much time as possible in ‘grow’ mode. Thing is, exercise typically shifts it into ‘breakdown’ mode. That’s where amino acids come in. To repair proteins and produce new ones—and ultimately boost your ability to pack on muscle—after exercising, your body needs an adequate amount of protein building blocks, molecules called amino acids.

There are 20 different amino acids total. Nine of them are considered ‘essential,’ which means our bodies can’t produce enough of them on its own and we have to get them via food and/or supplements. These essential amino acids (EAAs) include isoleucine, leucine, valine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, histidine, and tryptophan.

Of those nine EAAs, three are known as the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and play unique roles in muscle protein synthesis (the process of repairing and building muscle). The three BCAAs are isoleucine, leucine, and valine.

In addition to supporting the muscle-building process, two of these amino acids (isoleucine and valine) can also be used as energy sources during endurance exercise, when muscle glycogen (one of our bodies’ main sources of fuel) gets used up, says Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.S.D., assistant professor of sports nutrition at Central Washington University and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

BCAAs vs. EAAs

According to the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 4th ed., our muscles are especially receptive to amino acids for up to 48 hours after we exercise—hence why amino acid supplements have become intra- and post-workout staples of so many fitness enthusiasts.

A recent study published in Frontiers in Physiology found that ingesting 5.6 grams of BCAAs after a strength-training session lead to 22 percent greater muscle protein synthesis. However, a review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition purports that you need an abundant supply of all the EAAs—not just BCAAs—to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

A number of research studies, in fact, support the idea that all of the EAAs play key roles in repairing and building muscle, and that supplementing with EAAs may stimulate muscle protein  just as much as supplementing with a whole protein source that contains the same amount of those EAAs (like whey protein or chicken breast).

So, Which Supplement Should You Take?

EAAs and BCAAs both impact your ability to be strong and fit. In a perfect world, you’d get all your EAAs and BCAAs from whole foods. (Animal-based proteins like meat and dairy are the richest sources, while plant proteins—with a few exceptions—may be lacking in one or more EAA, making it critical for herbivores to mix up their protein sources.) That said, many of us struggle with eating enough healthy, whole foods to meet our amino acid needs—and it’s even more difficult if we exercise a lot. “If we are talking about people who train at a high level, meeting your requirement for protein and EAAs on a daily basis may be challenging,” says Brian Tanzer, M.S., C.N.S., Manager of Scientific Affairs at The Vitamin Shoppe. That’s where a BCAA or EAA supplement comes in.

Related: 7 Protein-Packed Breakfasts Trainers Love

According to Tanzer, both BCAA and EAA supplements can support muscle growth and recovery from training. However, BCAAs are better suited for people who meet their total daily protein needs, while EAAs are best for those who typically fall short.

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The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends active adults aim for 1.4 to two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (your weight in pounds divided by 2.2) per day. That’s between about 95 and 136 grams of protein per day for someone who weighs 150 pounds. If you get the proper amount of protein but want to support your muscles after working out, go for a BCAA supplement. If you eat less than 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight, try EAAs.

Pin this handy infographic to keep your amino acid facts straight:

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Should You Add Vitamin D To Your Sports Nutrition Stack?

This article was written by Vera Tweed and originally published in Amazing Wellness magazine. It has been edited for What’s Good. 

Sometimes called the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ vitamin D is produced in your skin when it’s exposed to sunlight’s UVB rays. Technically a family of compounds that includes vitamins D1, D2, and D3, this fat-soluble vitamin is known for several important functions. Its main claims to fame: regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and facilitating normal immune system function. Getting ample D is crucial for the normal growth and development of bones and teeth, and to improve resistance against certain diseases.

However, D’s story doesn’t end with bones and immunity! According to a review published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, vitamin D supplementation may help boost performance and muscle strength, and reduce injury in athletes.

Research suggests the vitamin plays a role in protein synthesis, muscle function, and the regulation of our skeletal muscle. (Specifically, it seems to help increase the size and amount of type-II muscle fibers, which are responsible for strength and power.) In one study, athletes who took vitamin D supplements increased upper and lower body strength more than those who took a placebo.

Related: 7 Signs You Have A Vitamin D Deficiency

What’s more, a study of vitamin D-deficient athletes found that those who took 5,000 IU per day increased their vertical jump height more than those who didn’t. Plus, U.K. Royal Marine recruits with the lowest D levels had a 60 percent higher incidence of stress fractures than those with the highest levels. “With higher serum levels of vitamin D playing a role in muscle strength, injury prevention, and sports performance, it’s essential for individuals to ensure they’re getting an adequate amount of vitamin D,” said lead study author and orthopedic surgeon Geoffrey D. Abrams, M.D., of Stanford University.

Considering about 77 percent of Americans are estimated to be vitamin D-deficient, this information matters for any of us trying to live an active, healthy life. The U.S. government recommends adults get 600 IU of vitamin D every single day, though some people may need more based on their current levels and where they live. Aside from sunlight exposure, you can also find it in certain foods, including fatty fish, eggs, and UV-treated mushrooms. If you’re concerned about your D levels, talk to your doctor about checking your levels with a blood test and consider adding a supplement to your routine.

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Why Personal Training Is So Worth The Expense To Me

The summer before I started college, one of my closest friends and I got student memberships at a fancy new fitness center in town. Like most gym memberships, ours came with a complimentary personal training session, which we were told would be the speediest, most efficient way to hit our goals. Our goal, at the time, was plain and simple: lose weight. Both of us had been overweight since we were kids and tried all manner of dicey diet techniques. As young adults, we were ready to go the pragmatic route: regular fitness and counting calories!

But there’s only so much you’re going to get out of a one-hour, introductory pow-wow. The gym’s management obviously hoped we’d be so convinced of our need to work with our trainers that we would end up buying a full package. As penny-pinching 18-year-olds, though, there was simply no way we were dropping even a few hundred bucks on personal training—no matter how much weight we wanted to lose that summer. 

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We thanked the trainers and considered their suggestions, which mostly revolved around adding strength training to our routines. In the end, though, we opted to be one another’s workout buddy, holding each other accountable by heading to the gym together at least three times a week and hopping on side-by-side ellipticals.

I remember dialing the resistance on the machine to seven. Every. Single. Time. And we did 30 minutes. Every. Single. Time. Who needed weights? Who needed a trainer? We were getting to the gym! Three times a week! Better yet, according to the digital screens on our elliptical machines, we were burning 300 calories in 30 minutes. 

Surprise, surprise: Neither of us hit our goals that summer. Sure, we lost a couple of pounds. We felt a bit more energetic. We were also proud of ourselves. After all, getting regular physical activity was better than—well, nothing. That said, any fitness professional will tell you that the body adapts fairly rapidly to an exercise routine. Cross-training throughout the week and constantly challenging yourself is a must if you don’t want to plateau.

Back then, the idea of plateauing wasn’t something I understood—or even wanted to understand. I was juggling schoolwork and a social life while trying to eat healthfully and get enough sleep. I felt like it was enough that I was getting a 30-minute elliptical or treadmill workout in regularly—until it became clear that it wasn’t enough. Not even close. 

My weight loss had stalled and I wasn’t really feeling those other benefits, like extra energy or confidence, anymore. That’s when I decided to apply for a desk job at a fancy fitness center. The job came with a free gym membership and discounted personal training sessions, and I immediately put those perks to use. 

My trainer at that gym would be the first of a few personal trainers I’ve worked with over the past 14 years. Each relationship began with a slightly different goal in mind. In college, I wanted someone to teach me about strength training and hold me accountable for doing it. And that’s exactly what she did. She kept me laughing and smiling through even the toughest sessions. 

Later on, after I moved to a different state, I wanted a workout buddy who I could learn from and have fun with, but also would be my rock—a sense of stability and familiarity—in a new city. My second trainer became exactly that, as well as a lifelong friend who opened my eyes to the connections between my mental, emotional, and physical wellness. 

Later, when I was preparing to walk down the aisle (and again in a new city), I wanted a trainer to challenge me in a way that delivered concrete, noticeable results. (Unconsciously, I also needed someone to talk to about my anxieties, stress, and fears.) My third trainer became much more like an older sister who would push me through sprints, guide me through corrective exercises when my discomfort flared, and offer a shoulder when I opened up about my at-times thrilling and other times heartbreaking personal life.  

When I moved yet again, as part of the separation from my spouse, I hoped a trainer could help me shed the weight and sadness that had piled on from several years of heavy emotional labor. I wanted her to tell me what to do so I could return to feeling strong, empowered, and comfortable in my own skin—a process that’s just as emotional as it is physical. In the past year that I’ve known and worked with this trainer, she’s managed to fulfill that need and become my role model, coach, and dear friend.

Every time I started working with a personal trainer, I would cite my desire to amp up my fitness level, maximize my gains, and be held accountable. Personal training definitely met those goals—and more. Ultimately, I’ve received so much more than inches off, sizes down, or pounds benched. 

By working out with these trainers, I’ve also received priceless guidance and friendship (this is probably because I tend to make my workout routine into a holistic experience involving my mind, body, and heart—and they were always along for the ride).

Though it can be pricey, having a personal trainer has always felt like I’ve had someone in my corner, cheering me on, making me feel supported in my endeavors in and outside of the gym. And I’ll never end up bored and plateauing on the elliptical ever again. That’s a win-win. 

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What Happened When I Swapped My Usual Pre-Workout For Beets

As a personal trainer, I’ve experimented with all sorts of sports nutrition supplements—from pre-workouts, to amino acids, to protein powders, to creatine—in order to my support my progress in the weight room. But it wasn’t until I started training for endurance running and obstacle course racing that a new and surprising performance-booster came onto my radar: beets.

I got absolutely hooked on racing after college (I finished more than 40 road and obstacle course events in four years), so when I saw elite athletes like Ryan Atkins and Amelia Boone touting the benefits of beets for race performance all over social media, I had to give them a try.

The Beet Backstory 

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Beets? As in, the vegetable? Well, hear me out.

Beets may not seem like the ultimate workout-booster, but in addition to potassium and fiber, they’re packed with a compound called nitrate. While, yes, nitrate is found in processed meats like bacon that can produce carcinogens when smoked or fried, we don’t do that to beets. Instead, when we eat beets—whether chopped on a salad, blended in a smoothie, or as a supplement—our body converts those nitrates into nitric oxide (N.O.), which dilates our blood vessels and increases blood flow (and the transportation of oxygen and nutrients) throughout our bodies.

What does that mean for your workouts? A notable performance and endurance boost. One Journal of Applied Physiology study, for example, found that people who regularly drank beetroot juice before exercising were able to improve their maximum cardio output (called VO2 max) and endurance significantly more than those who took a placebo. The researchers found that the beet drinkers’ muscles used ATP (chemical energy) more efficiently, so the beet juice-drinkers needed less oxygen to perform, which is why they were able to go harder and longer.

Additonally, that nitric oxide-induced increase in blood flow can contribute to ‘muscle pump,’ the appearance of larger, more defined muscles that often comes with an intense strength-training session—a look treasured by many a fitness enthusiast.

Trying Beets For The First Time

When I first started using beets for endurance racing, I would mix about a scoop of beetroot powder with water before training runs and races (which varied from three to 15 miles). The supplement helped my runs feel all-around smoother. In other words, I was more alert (better circulation means more oxygen to the brain, too, after all), could breathe more easily, and didn’t notice the distance as much. Who knew a little extra blood flow could make such a difference?

Before obstacle course races, I took either some beet powder, NAC (a precursor to the antioxidant glutathione), BCAAs (often Cellucor Alpha Aminos), or a combination of all three, for a boost of the endurance, strength, and focus I’d need to run through rocky terrain, jump over logs, and swing from bars.

Taking Beets Into The Gym

After a couple of years of racing constantly, a few injuries forced me to dial back on the endurance training, so my current routine consists mostly of strength training, group fitness classes, and a little hot yoga. As racing took a back seat, so did my beet-y pre-workout routine.

I started using caffeinated pre-workouts—like BPI Sports 1MR or Cellucor C4 Ultimate—to pump me up before hitting the weights or a class, and downing a coffee or energy drink later in the day as I powered through personal training sessions. It was a recipe for a caffeine dependency—and after one day without coffee left me with a splitting headache, I started to wonder if beets could help me kick the habit without sacrificing my performance in the gym and energy throughout the workday.

Related: 5 Of The Most Hardcore Pre-Workouts Out There

To wean myself off the caffeine, I mixed a scoop of Nu Therapy Power Beets beet powder into a little bit of Berry Splash BPI Sports 1MR (which actually contains 500 milligrams of beets per serving itself). The beets didn’t affect the color or flavor, and I still had enough caffeine to feel alert and power through a cardio- and core-heavy Daily Burn 365 workout.

A few days later, I attended a coaching workshop about barbell lifting technique. Knowing I’d be lifting some heavy weights, I again mixed a scoop of beetroot powder into some 1MR and sipped my concoction between every set. Though I was tired from a long night out and a morning of training clients, I felt pretty alert. I even hit 245 pounds on the bench press and 115 pounds on the overhead press, and held solid form throughout all of my sets.

A few days after that, I finally took the powdered beets on their own before heading to a hot yoga class. Though I usually found myself breathing heavily during these extra-hot flows, I felt in control and at ease.

The True Test

After knocking my caffeine dependence down a few notches and seeing initial results from the beets, I was ready to power a lifting session with beets and beets alone. I mixed myself up a cocktail of two scoops of beetroot powder, half a cup of Dynamic Health Beetroot Juice, and four ounces of water.

I downed my brightly-colored drink before hitting a high-volume chest and arms day—and hit a personal record on the dumbbell bench press! The beets totally mimicked a typical pre-workout, complete with ‘tunnel vision,’ ‘intense pumps,’ and ‘vascular’ veins. And I didn’t even need caffeine! I couldn’t believe it. I was so focused on my workout, it was like I was the only one in the gym. As my music bumped through my ears, I found myself in a total flow state, and banged out my sets and reps like they were nothing. It was a feeling I associated with being pumped up on regular pre-workout, but now courtesy of a simple, purple-y root vegetable.

Outside of my own workouts, I even started drinking beet juice before long days of training clients. It helped me keep my energy levels high all day long (which really says something considering I go pretty much rep-for-rep with my clients), as long as I’d gotten a decent night of sleep. On sleepy days, I either doubled up on beets with one of those beetroot cocktails or added some caffeine back into the mix for an extra bump. Still, I felt good about finding a new, all-natural way to up my energy.

The Verdict

Though I knew beets could help me get through long runs, I didn’t expect them to work such magic in the weight room, leave me with such a strong, satisfying pump, or help me stay energized throughout the day without worshiping caffeine.

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Now that beets are back in my life, I’ll continue to take them before group fitness classes and bodybuilding workouts. Of course, should I hop back into any endurance racing, I’ll turn to these ruby roots then, too. Even if I do take caffeine when I really need it, I feel good knowing that I’m still boosting circulation and loading up on antioxidants by incorporating beets into my routine. As long as I’m taking supplements to support my fitness (which will probably be forever), beets will hold a spot at the top of my list.

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Why I NEVER Miss A Workout—No Matter How Busy I Get

I work as a writer, professor, model, fortune teller, dancer, and yoga teacher (yep—seriously!), so as you can probably imagine, my schedule is chaotic. It can be hard to pin down a solid fitness routine, never mind a time to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

On top of that, I’m super-fussy about where I exercise (no gyms or groups—I’d rather sweat alone!), when I work out (no early mornings), and how I work out (no high-impact moves—I have fibromyalgia).

All of my quirks, needs, and preferences considered, you would think I’d never work out. However, in the spirit of my contrary nature, I actually prioritize it. My one-hour daily workout, no matter what it is or when it is, is a crucial part of my wellness routine these days.

When I was younger, I was very active as a gymnast. I felt strong, energetic, and light. But when injuries prevented me from going further with my gymnastics practice, I fell off the exercise wagon and quickly succumbed to fatigue, depression, and weight gain that didn’t feel right for my frame.

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Years later, when I started exercising again, I began to shake off that fog of exhaustion, and felt my muscles and energy returning. The benefits of movement were just too good to ignore, and because I wanted to feel better (and manage my fibromyalgia), I really needed to make sure I was taking care of myself. I wanted to feel strong and capable in my everyday life.

To start prioritizing exercise again, it came down to figuring out what worked for me (while using some creative problem-solving to satisfy my complications and demands). I decided to go for things I liked that didn’t aggravate my nerve pain. My go-to workouts became pretty adventurous and eclectic: I now practice yoga, go biking and walking, dance (pole or barre), and do Pilates. I also sometimes utilize small weights and resistance bands to build strength and tone, and I try to balance my workouts between flexibility and strength. I use my arms as much as my legs so that I’m getting a full-body workout, and I always engage my core as much as possible.

And then there’s the rebounder trampoline I recently bought, which was truly one of the best decisions I have ever made. It provides a source of fun, low-impact cardio that improves (rather than aggravates) my health conditions.

For me, this diversity is key, because it keeps me from getting bored (since I am often working out at home and distractions do abound). Regularity is also important. Once I began carving out one single hour for myself—every single day, no matter the time—it became second nature. I started looking forward to that hour that’s just for me—no emails or social media or work. Deciding to create time for yourself is a powerful move.

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

To combat boredom—and to prevent myself from feeling like my workouts are a chore—I came up with a simple (and helpful!) rule: If I haven’t gotten my workout in and I want to binge on Netflix or listen to a podcast, then I need to be doing something—anything!—while I enjoy it. I might bounce on the trampoline or do some yoga while I watch a documentary, or do some jumping jacks while watching Star Trek (which ends up feeling like I’m flying through space). When I’m watching or listening to something funny, juicy, or riveting, I’m more likely to work out for an even longer period of time—without noticing! Plus, doing this is like a double-whammy of awesome endorphins.

In the end, I’ve found that it’s not so much about having a specific routine, but knowing what will work for me and my schedule—even if it’s not entirely ideal—and making it happen. The most important thing is that I’m trying every day, and feeling stronger, lighter, and more determined to care for my body.

7 Things You Should Never Do Before A Workout

Your gym time is precious. Every minute of exercise counts towards achieving your goals—but what you do before you get there is actually just as important, if not more so.

How you prep for a workout can make the difference between it being a success or a struggle—and if you’re going to put in the effort to schedule regular sweat sessions, you don’t want to sabotage yourself before even lacing up your sneakers. Here are some of the pre-workout faux pas that could throw a wrench in your fitness plan, plus how to create new habits that will serve your body better.

1. Forgetting To Eat

Ever rolled out of bed to hit the gym before breakfast, or pushed dinner back to nine o’clock to squeeze in that spin class? It’s tempting to prioritize gym time over meal time, especially when your schedule is nuts—but passing up food before working out is a mistake. You don’t have to sit down for a full meal, but you should at least have a protein-rich snack before getting after it. “Part of the benefit of working out is building muscle,” explains Amy Gorin, R.D.N., owner of Gorin Nutrition.

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“Eating a small amount of protein before doing a hard workout session will help support muscle growth by making amino acids available to your body so that it utilizes the protein in what you eat instead of breaking down protein in your muscles.” Gorin’s go-to snacks: a smoothie made with one cup of low-fat milk and three quarters of a cup of frozen fruit, or an English muffin topped with two tablespoons of hummus.

2. Skipping The Warm-Up

When you’re crunched for time, it’s easy to write off your warm-up and jump straight into the meat of your workout. You’ll warm up as you move anyway, right? Well, not quite. “You must warm up before a workout,” says celebrity trainer and Flywheel instructor Lacey Stone. Otherwise, you risk putting too much stress on your muscles too quickly. “There’s a reason why professional athletes take 10 or more minutes to warm up before a sporting event: If they didn’t they would most definitely get injured,” she says. “The same holds true for the average gym-goer.”

In fact, warming up is probably even more important for the average gym-goer, considering most of us spend so much of our time sitting, which causes tightness and stiffness. A good warm-up loosens up your joints and increases blood flow to your muscles, so your body is prepared to take on the stress of exercise.

Your goal: Spend at least five to 10 minutes warming up before jumping into your workouts. “Jump rope, walk, or jog on the treadmill—you want to get blood flowing to the working muscles in the body,” says Joe Holder, celebrity trainer, Nike coach, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. “Then go joint by joint, rotating through your complete range of motion with control to get some ‘air’ into the area. Then, finish with dynamic moves like walking leg swings, squats, and lunges, to get your body used to what it will be doing during the workout.”

3. OD-ing On Fatty Foods

Take note, keto dieters! “Fat takes longer than the other macronutrients to digest, so consuming a high-fat meal right before a workout could lead to GI distress and feelings of excess fullness, which can be uncomfortable while exercising,” says Alyssa Cohen, R.D., founder of Fuel My Fit. That’s not to say healthy fats aren’t an important part of your diet (they help reduce inflammation and fight belly fat and cravings!)—they’re just not ideal before exercise. Stick to easily digestible carbohydrates paired with some protein and small amounts of fat—like a banana, oatmeal, or a slice of toast with a tablespoon or two of nut butter—before getting your sweat on.

4. Running On Empty

Sleep is important for your health for so many reasons, and the way that it affects your workouts is a big one. “Working out when you’re tired leads to a higher risk of injury, especially during high-intensity workouts,” says Christi Marraccini, C.P.T., head coach at Tone House in New York City. It’s during sleep that your muscles actually recover, so if you’re not getting enough of it, they’ll never quite get back to 100 percent between workouts. And if you continue to put physical stress on your body without giving it that chance to recover, eventually you’re going to crash.

Related: 8 Things To Do On An Active Recovery Day

“Resting can sometimes be more beneficial than working out, so don’t be afraid to skip the gym or opt for something lower-intensity,” she says. Most experts recommend one to two rest days (which can include light activity, like walking or yoga) a week, anyway. And, of course, make sure you’re banking enough hours in bed. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, but every body is different. “If you find yourself feeling tired most mornings, consider when you go to sleep each night and try to make small, manageable adjustments to increase your sleeping hours,” says Cohen.

5. Not Hydrating Enough

Water helps regulate your body temp and lubricates your joints so you can move with ease. It also helps transport nutrients to your muscles, which can maximize your performance. So if you’re dehydrated before you even start sweating, you’re already at a disadvantage. “Even if you’re doing a low-to-moderate-intensity workout that’s less than an hour long, you’ll want to drink water before exercising,” says Gorin.

If you’re going harder or longer than that, you may also want to consider adding electrolytes—or at least sodium—to your drink. These minerals, which include sodium, potassium, and magnesium, “are important nutrients that help balance the amount of water in your body and ensure that your heart and muscles are working properly,” says Gorin. The harder you work out (and the more you sweat), the more electrolytes you lose—so it’s important to keep those levels up if you want to perform and feel your best.

6. Not Mentally Prepping Yourself

Some days, exercise can feel like just another thing to cross off your endless to-do list—and just getting out the door or to the gym is a feat on its own. But “you need to ground yourself before your workout and mentally prepare yourself for what you’re going to do,” says Holder. “We often rush through our days without being present—but when you have to do something physically intensive, not being present not only means you won’t get the most out of your exertion, but it can also increase your chances of injury.”

Mentally preparing yourself might mean taking five minutes for some meditation or breath work, setting an intention for your workout, or blasting your favorite workout song to pump yourself up. “Take the time to become immersed in the workout before you actually begin it,” says Holder. The more in-the-moment you are while you sweat, the better your gains.

7. Going Overboard On Caffeine

Everyone’s seen that person at the gym pounding away on the treadmill with venti Starbucks stashed in the cup-holder. Don’t be that person. “While caffeine can give a helpful boost to your workout, overdoing it can trigger abdominal discomfort and even diarrhea,” says Cohen. “People react to caffeine differently, and increasing your intake too quickly or consuming more than usual could be detrimental if you’re unsure of how you’ll react.”

If you can’t imagine hitting the gym without your caffeine fix, you do you! Just make sure you increase your intake slowly. Cohen recommends upping your amount by 25 to 50 milligrams at a time to assess your tolerance before grabbing the heavy dumbbells.

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How To Actually Stay Fit While Traveling

This article was written by Vera Tweed and originally published in Amazing Wellness magazine.

Do you ever feel like you need a vacation after coming home from one? Too much eating, drinking, and sitting around, combined with long hours in a plane, car, or train—it’s no wonder you feel sluggish and can’t squeeze into your skinny jeans.

But there’s hope! Instead of wreaking havoc on a fitness routine, travel can be an opportunity to make physical activity more interesting and fun, leaving you mentally and physically refreshed. Here are a few ways to make your next trip an active one.

Beat Deadly Sitting

Sitting for long periods isn’t just uncomfortable; it increases risk for blood clots in your legs and lungs, risk of chest pain or heart attack, and even risk of death. But a simple fix can produce surprising results.

A study out of Western State Colorado University found that regularly standing up for five minutes, once every hour, or 10 minutes every two hours, dramatically improved health. Good cholesterol rose by 21 percent, triglycerides dropped by 24 percent, and blood sugar dropped by 6 percent. The key is consistent, short breaks to stand, walk around, or do virtually anything out of your seat. More intense exercise, less often, doesn’t produce the same results.

If you’re sitting on a plane or in a car, these simple exercises help get blood flowing and keep muscles more toned.

For core muscles: Sit up straight and while breathing out, pull your belly button toward the spine. Hold for about 20 seconds, while breathing normally, and then relax. Repeat two or three times.

For legs and glutes: With a straight but relaxed back, march while sitting, picking up one knee and then the other, as high as you can. Alternate knees
for 20 to 30 reps.

For arms: Keeping elbows close to your sides, do 20 slow biceps curls, imagining resistance. Or, hold a laptop or bag for resistance.

Plan for Action

Although many tourist attractions deluge visitors with food and drink and demand little, if any, physical exertion, there are plenty of fun ways to put your body to work. Hiking in nature, walking or biking to explore a city, running on a beach, sailing, kayaking, paddle-boarding, snorkeling, horseback riding, or playing a sport (stay out of the golf cart) can be an invigorating experience.

Take Advantage of Hotel Facilities

This may be a no-brainer, but given that the classic poolside activity is sitting around, drink in hand, hotel gyms are rarely crowded. It’s perfectly fine to stand out from the crowd and swim a few laps or explore the gym. You might discover novel equipment, or a class or trainer that brings a fresh perspective to your usual routine.

Consider Companions

Not everyone wants to be active on vacation, and others may have physical limitations that prevent them from doing so.

If you’re the lone fitness fan in your circle, plan for time alone to walk, run, or do an exercise routine each day. Pack resistance bands, a jump rope, or other light equipment, such as collapsible weights you can fill with water to help you make it happen.

You may even inspire your sedentary companions to get more active by suggesting easy hiking or walking trails or historical sites with some stairs to climb for a fun group experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: 11 Caffeine-Free Ways To Power Your Workouts

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

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

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

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

8 Upgrades Your Sports Nutrition Stack Is Calling For

This article was originally published by Muscle & Performance.

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

1. Vitamin D

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

Upgrade: Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) in softgel form

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

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

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

2. Whey Protein

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

Upgrade: Casein protein

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

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

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

3. Whey Protein Concentrate

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

Upgrade: Whey hydrolysate

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

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

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

4. Multivitamin And Multi-Mineral

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

Upgrade : ZMA (zinc magnesium aspartate)

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

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

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

5. Fish oil

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

Upgrade: Krill oil

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

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

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

6. Creatine Monohydrate

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

Upgrade: Beta-alanine

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

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

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

7. Arginine

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

Upgrade: Citrulline

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

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

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

8. Caffeine

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

Upgrade: Green tea extract

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

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

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

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

We Asked, You Answered: Your Favorite Workouts

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

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

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

6 Ways To Kick Your Own Butt Back Into Gear

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

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

1. Upgrade Your Mornings

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

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

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

2. Drink More Water

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

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

3. Focus On Balanced Plates

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

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

Related: 7 Protein-Packed Breakfasts Trainers Love

4. Write Down Your Goals

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

5. Find A Cause Worth Sweating For

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

6. Call Your Workout Buddy

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

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

3 Advanced Abs Moves Worth Adding To Your Routine

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

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

 

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

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