7 Tips For Doing A Plant-Based Diet Right

Researchers, dietitians, and influencers alike are all about plant-based diets, which emphasize eating more plants and less animal products (think meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy). Why? Research shows that plant-based diets are good for us: Consider this study about its connection to lower rates of type 2 diabetes, or this review supporting its ability to support weight loss, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, potentially even lessening the need for certain medications.

And the best part is, you don’t have to go full-on vegan—or even vegetarian—to hop on the plant-based train (though you totally can if you want to)! Plenty of plant-based eaters enjoy eggs, meat, and dairy every once in a while, but the whole notion of ‘plant-based’ is simply that plants are top priority.

Still, skeptics worry that a plant-based diet means missing out on certain nutrients. That could be the case, sure, if your version of a plant-based diet is only bread and bananas and peanut butter. But with these seven nutritionist-backed tips, you can create yourself a plant-based diet that’s nutritionally-balanced and sustainable.

1. Prioritize Protein

You may think of protein as the nutrient that builds and repairs your muscles and bones—but it does a whole lot more than that. “You also need protein to make hair, blood, enzymes, connective tissue, antibodies, and hormones,” says culinary nutrition expert Jessica Levinson, R.D., founder of Small Bites by Jessica. And in a plant-based diet, you’ll have to venture beyond chicken breast to get that precious protein.

Most people need 0.8 to one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, which is about 70 grams for someone who weighs 150 pounds. If you’re an athlete or working to build muscle, you’ll need more like 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight, which is about 82 to 95 grams for someone who weighs 150 pounds.

And, yes, that’s totally doable on a plant-based diet. Center every meal around protein by filling at least a quarter of your plate with a plant-based protein source, like beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, or edamame, says Stephanie Mendez, R.D., a nutritionist with NY Nutrition Group and co-founder of women’s fitness and nutrition program Matriarch. All of these options offer upwards of 12 grams of protein per serving. Nuts and high-protein grains (like quinoa and amaranth) also offer some protein.

Related: 7 Meat-Free Protein Sources

You can even plantify your go-to protein shake by adding a plant-based supplement like soy, pea, rice, or hemp protein powder. Many plant-based proteins include a blend of these in order to provide the best mix of amino acids (the molecules in protein) possible.

When you do incorporate animal-based proteins, limit them to less than half of your total protein intake, suggests Christy Brisette, R.D., of 80 Twenty Nutrition. Try to stick to fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna (which are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids), poultry, and lean meats, all of which are all lower in saturated fats, she says.

2. Keep Carbs In Check

When you cut back on foods like dairy, eggs, and meat, it’s easy to replace them with carbs, says Mendez. And even if you’re eating all healthy foods, a diet too high in carbs and too low in healthy fats and proteins may leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Avoid this mishap by making sure one half of your plate is filled with non-starchy veggies (like spinach, carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower, or broccoli), one quarter with protein, and one quarter with carbs (either from starchy veggies like potatoes, corn, peas, and squash, or whole grains like brown rice, oats, or bulgur), according to Mendez. (Most dietitians recommend about 30 to 45 grams of carbs per meal, which would be about a cup of cooked whole grains or starchy veggies.)

And, like with any healthy diet, you’ll want to limit baked goods, added sugars, white bread, and pasta, and choose less-processed, whole-grain carbs. Refined carbs are stripped of their fiber, protein, and other nutrients (including vitamins E and KB vitamins, selenium, and magnesium), says Levinson. Meanwhile, whole grains, starchy vegetables and more wholesome products like whole-wheat bread contain fiber and nutrients to fill you up and keep your blood sugar stable and healthy, says Mendez. “Just make sure the first ingredient says ‘whole grain’ and there are no added sugars,” says Mendez.

3. Keep An Eye On Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 helps your body form red blood cells and DNA, and plays an important role in brain and nerve function, says Levinson. And because it binds to proteins and is found mostly in non-veggie sources like fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk, plant-based eaters have a harder time eating their fill. (Adults need about 2.4 micrograms a day.)

Incorporating one serving of eggs, dairy, or seafood a day can bump up your B12 intake. Otherwise, you can find it in nutritional yeast, and some fortified cereals, grains, and nut milks.

Related: Is There Such A Thing As Eating Too Much Meat?

If you’re going plant-based long-term, Mendez recommends having your B12 levels checked regularly. Your doctor can let you know if a B12 supplement is necessary with a simple blood test, she says.

4. Eat Your Spinach (And Other Iron Sources)

This is a big one. Iron helps your body transport the oxygen you breathe to all of your tissues. It also supports your metabolism, your hormones, and connective tissue. The average woman needs about 18 milligrams per day, while the average man needs eight.

There are two types of iron: heme iron, which comes from animal proteins, and non-heme iron, which comes from plants. Non-heme iron isn’t absorbed as easily as heme iron, so you need to eat more of it to hit your goals. To do so, make sure your diet contains a variety of sources, like beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fortified grains and cereals, and (of course!) dark, leafy greens like spinach. One cup of beans contains about eight milligrams of iron, while a cup of boiled spinach contains about four.

Women, especially, should try to have a serving of iron-rich plant foods at every meal of the day, Mendez says.

Related: Talk to your doc about whether an iron supplement is right for you.

Levinson also recommends pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods (vitamin C boosts your absorption of iron) and avoiding eating iron foods with calcium-rich foods (calcium limits absorption). For example, try pairing spinach with tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes.

5. Don’t Forget About Omega-3s

Omega-3s (like EPA and DHA) are a type of fatty acid that supports brain, eye, and heart health. Tricky thing is, they’re primarily found in fatty fish and eggs, says Mendez.

Featured Plant-Based Omega Supplements

But fear not! There are plenty of plant foods that help you stock up on these important omegas, like flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. These plant sources contain an essential fatty acid called ALA, which is used to produce EPA and DHA. Feature these foods on your plate regularly so your body can produce enough of the omega-3s it needs, says Mendez.

6. Plan Ahead For Snacking, Travel, And Meals Out

If you’ll be out and about—and potentially without veggie-friendly options—packing snacks and small meals can keep your plant-based eating possible and keep you from making an impulsive, imbalanced food choice. Pizza and pasta are tasty, sure, but they often contain lots of fats and carbs without much protein, so you don’t want to rely on them when you’re out, says Mendez.

Meal planning and prepping on the weekends (breakfast and snacks included) can go a long way in making plant-based dieting easy throughout busy weeks. If you know you’re going to be on the run, stash healthy, portable snacks to tide you over. Choose something that’s about 50 percent protein and 50 percent carbs, like a handful of nuts and an apple.  

7. Don’t Assume Vegetarian Or Vegan Products Are Healthier

Ooh, vegan cookies? Something about ‘em just seems healthier, right? But don’t be fooled.

For one, highly processed vegetarian foods—especially meat replacements like burgers or nuggets—are still highly-processed. “When you look at food labels for things like veggie chicken, they have a lot of other ingredients, including preservatives and chemicals added to get the texture and taste of meat,” says Mendez.  And vegan cookies, though they may not contain dairy, are usually still high in calories, fat, and sugar, she adds.

So limit the premade, processed foods as much as possible. After all, a brownie is still a brownie. Focus your meals and snacks on whole foods, and consider meat-free and vegan packaged foods with the same skepticism you’d consider any other foods.

Pin this infographic to keep these plant-based eating guidelines handy:

5 Plant-Based Holiday Recipes Your Guests Will Devour

‘Tis the season for pies and pumpkins and potlucks—and tons of time spent searching for crowd-pleasing recipes that are as good for you as they are good.

Whether you’re in charge of a side dish or dessert, look no further than these healthy takes on rustic classics, all made with simple, wholesome ingredients. (And did we mention they put nutrient-rich plants front and center?)

Serve up any (or all) of these five dishes this holiday season, and celebrate knowing your body is as well-nourished as your belly is full.

1. Honey Almond Roasted Brussels Sprouts

This shout-worthy sprout side dish is made with Brussels sprouts, plnt raw honey, plnt coconut oil, sliced almonds, sea salt, and pepper. 

2. Sweet And Tangy Quinoa Bowl

This nutrient-packed grain bowl is made with quinoa, butternut squash, green apple, celery, olive oil, lemon juice, plnt raw honey, and plnt chia seeds

3. Apple Pie Crumble Tarts

A classic dessert gets a healthy makeover using just all-purpose flour, plnt raw honey, plnt coconut oil, red apples, lemon juice, and apple pie spice. 

4. Pumpkin Banana Bread

Fall-flavored banana bread is perfect for the holidays, and made with almond milk, apple cider vinegar, bananas, pumpkin puree, oats, vanilla plnt protein powder, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon

5. Cranberry Almond Protein Bark

Satisfy your sweet tooth with this low-sugar, protein-packed treat, made with plnt coconut oil, almond butter, vanilla plnt protein powder, plnt liquid stevia, maple syrup, dried cranberries, and slivered almonds. 

8 Things To Do On An Active Recovery Day

No matter how dedicated you are to crushing it at the gym (or in spin class, the pool, or out on the track), some days you wake up and just need some rest.

Despite sore muscles and stiff limbs, many of us are tempted to skimp on rest and recovery days—but they’re crucial to our progress and to maintaining the mental and physical balance that keeps an active lifestyle fun, says Grayson Wickham P.T., D.T.D., C.S.C.S., D.P.T., founder of Movement Vault.

When you need a day off from the gym, you’ve got two options: active recovery or full-on rest. (You probably need one of each per week if you work out pretty hard most days.)

If you’ve been gritting your teeth through discomfort or general tiredness and can’t remember the last time you fully stopped moving, just take a full rest day so you can sleep in, lounge around, spend time with loved ones, or do nothing at all, says Wickham.

But if you just feel a little more stiff or sore than usual, or don’t feel up to hitting the gym hard, an active recovery day may be more what you need, he says. Instead of couching-it all day, you’ll do specific things to maximize your body’s repair after days of hard work, says David Otey, C.S.C.S., Pn1.  Active recovery days support the muscle-building, fat-blasting work you do in the gym, help balance your hormones and mental state, and reboot your central nervous system.

Sounds pretty great, right? Check a few of these mind and body-boosting activities off your to-do list so you can make the most of your next active recovery day:

1. Light Cardio

Every time you exercise you create micro-tears in your muscles, says Otey. Ample recovery time helps your muscles repair the damage and grow stronger.

Doing some light cardio on an active recovery day will help get your blood pumping, which transports oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, without damaging them further, he says. Whether you head out for a walk or go for a bike ride, stick to about half an hour (or less) of low-intensity exercise (about 30 to 50 percent effort), says Otey.

2. Mobility And Flexibility Work

Active recovery day is the perfect opportunity to restore and work on your range of motion and flexibility by doing yoga, taking a mobility class, or doing some low-intensity dynamic stretches (like crawling, crab walking, or inch-worming) on your own, says Otey. Not only do these practices support blood flow, but they also help reduce your risk of future injury. Yoga, especially, has been shown to improve flexibility and mobility and benefit people with muscular issues, according to research published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

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If you go for yoga, stick to a beginner’s class, which will move and restore your body without taxing it too much, says Otey. (If you have a lot of experience on the mat, you may be able to get away with a more intermediate class.)

Related: I Stretched Every Day With The Goal Of Touching My Toes—See How It Went

No matter what you choose to do, your goal is to move and stretch every muscle—from your feet up to your neck, and to move every joint through its full range of motion, he says.

3. Form Practice

If you’ve been itching to try a tricky move in the gym but don’t feel comfortable trying it out with weight in hand, active recovery day is a good time to practice the movement outside the gym.

If you want to nail the Turkish get-up, for example, you can work on the movement pattern at home pressure-free. Or, you can use a PVC pipe or empty barbell to work on your form for common CrossFit® moves like the squat cleans or power snatches, says Wickham. Not only will you build the muscle memory to maintain proper form when you add weight to the moves, but you’ll also tackle any anxiety about performing the move in the gym, he says.

4. Myofascial Work

‘Myofascial work’ is really just a fancy way of saying self-massage, and you’ve probably heard of the most popular method: foam rolling. By massaging your muscles with a foam roller or a lacrosse ball (which hits hard-to-roll areas like your chest and between your shoulder blades), you help to relieve tightness, knots, and circulate nutrients and waste products in and out of your muscles, says Wickham.

While you may need longer if you’re extremely tight or sore, start by spending a minute or two massaging out each of your limbs as well as your trunk (back and chest), he suggests. When you hit a trigger point or tight spot, pause and keep massaging that spot until it starts to dissipate, Wickham says. Over time this will help decrease overall stiffness and restore the muscle’s length and mobility.

Just don’t haphazardly sit on the foam roller while catching up on Netflix, though. To get the most benefit of self-massage, you have to really apply pressure to your muscles, says Mark Barroso C.P.T.

5. Sauna Time

If you love to drip with sweat, the sauna could become a part of your favorite active recovery day rituals. “I’m a big proponent of saunas because they’re relaxing, help promote better circulation, and can actually be good for the heart,” says Wickham.

Plus, according to one study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics, sitting in the sauna for 30 minutes can increase women’s levels of human growth hormone (HGH), which helps our bodies break down fats and build muscle.

Regular sauna sessions can also help the body cope with heat better, so you can perform at higher temperatures, says Wickham.

If you have any heart issues, check with your doc before sauna-ing, but otherwise these hot boxes are generally safe, says Otey. Just make sure you’re well-hydrated before you sweat and listen to your body when it wants out. If you get super drippy, be sure to drink a big glass of water and restock on electrolytes afterward, adds Barroso. (We love BodyTech’s grape Electrolyte Fizz.)

6. Epsom Salt Bath

Not only are Epsom salt baths incredibly relaxing, but they may also help support your health and fitness goals. These soaking salts contain magnesium, and can help soothe away everyday aches and soreness.

And while your body can’t absorb magnesium through your skin like it does when you eat it (which has been shown to enhance exercise performance, keep blood pressure in check, and regulate blood sugar), there’s certainly no harm in a relaxing bath. “Vegging out in the tub is a great way to relieve muscle tension,” says Barroso.

7. Meditation

Meditation can help you relax, repair, and rejuvenate—three things we all want to achieve on active recovery day. “Athletes tend to go rough on their bodies, and meditation can help them understand the relationship between physical exertion and mental awareness,” says meditation expert and founder of Break The Norms Chandresh Bhardwaj.

Beyond what we eat and how often we train, our fitness is also defined by how mindful we are with our bodies, he says. Athletes who meditate regularly can see benefits such as increased focus, reduced anxiety, better sleep, increased ability to cope with injury, decreased mind-chatter associated with failure, and increased humbleness after physical accomplishments and wins, says Bhardwaj.

If you’re new to meditation, Bhardwaj recommends starting with 24 minutes of the practice a day—one minute for every hour. It doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be a huge effort. Instead, it should be a time in which you can allow yourself to let go, relax, and be in the present moment, he says. Downloading a meditation app—like Headspace or Break the Norms—can be a good way to start.

8. Proper Refuel

We need more calories and carbs when we spend an hour in the gym strength training or hitting intervals hard than we do when we go for a casual walk or bike ride on an active recovery day—but we still need to fuel our body and muscles for our goals, according to Jonathan Valdez, M.B.A., R.D.N., C.D.N.

That means one of our goals on active recovery day—like on our training days—is to eat ample protein. Since you don’t need as many carbs to power you through a workout, Valdez recommends focusing more on eating 25 to 30 grams of protein at eat meal, along with 10 to 15 grams at snack-time.

Related: Grab a bar or protein supplement and bring nutrition with you wherever you go.

One of Valdez’s go-to nutritional powerhouses for athletes on recovery day: a fruit smoothie. The fruit will provide an array of vitamins and nutrients—strawberries and kiwi provide vitamin C, B vitamins, and antioxidants, for example—and using Greek yogurt as a base will pump up the protein and help muscles recover and rebuild after tough workouts, he says.

Along with protein, water is also top priority. “Your body uses water in countless ways, including flushing out waste, fueling the metabolism, and regulating pH and body temperature,” he says. So hydration, hydration, hydration is nonnegotiable.

Pin this infographic and make the most of your next active recovery day:

How Legit Is The Anabolic Window?

If you’re in the practice of slurping down a protein shake the second you finish your workout, you’ve probably heard of an intense-sounding concept called the ‘anabolic window’ and wondered just how much refueling post-workout can make or break your results.

The anabolic window (also called the ‘metabolic window’) is a window of time right after a workout when your body is able to restock energy (called glycogen, which we get from carbs) and repair and build the proteins in our muscles at a faster rate than usual, according to a review written by all-star exercise scientists Alan Aragon, M.S. and Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., and published in the Journal of the Society of International Sports Medicine.

Studies show that without proper fuel, that glycogen restocking slows down and protein breakdown kicks up a few hours after working out.  To combat this—and rev your recovery and results over time—you’d eat carbs and protein immediately after you sweat.

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“Our body is like a gas tank, and carbs are the gas,” says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. Our body breaks down carbs into glucose (a.k.a. sugar), which is sent to our brains, and stored in our muscles and liver as glycogen so that we’re stocked on energy for when we need it. Meanwhile, protein—which our body breaks down into amino acids—is used to build our muscles and other structures, he says.

Related: Keep your essential amino acids stocked with a supplement.

So while the anabolic window is real, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to slug a shake or eat as soon as you put down that last dumbbell.

Lots of research supports timing protein and carbs around your workouts—not just after. For example, one study published in Science and Medicine in Sports and Exercise followed guys through 10 weeks of a structured strength training program. Half took a protein, glucose (sugar), and creatine supplement before and after working out, while the rest took it in the morning and at night. The guys who timed their supplements around their gym sessions gained more muscle and strength, and improved their body composition and glycogen storage more than the guys who didn’t.

Studies suggest 20 to 40 grams of protein both before and after exercise offers the most benefit (though the jury’s still out on carbs).

How To Make The Anabolic Window Work For You

So what does that mean for you? Well, it depends on a bunch of things—especially when you last ate.

If you down a protein shake or eat a snack an hour or so before hitting the gym, that fuel pretty much covers you through that post-workout anabolic window. In fact, protein or amino acids consumed before exercise can keep the supply available in our blood high for even two or more hours after the workout, according to the review.

So if you have time to fuel up and plan on training for an hour or so, do it with about 200 calories split between carbs and protein (that’s about 25 grams of each), says Pamela Nisevich-Bede, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., owner of Swim, Bike, Run, Eat! Nutrition. (Nix the carbs if you’re going light or keeping it shorter than 30 minutes.)

Related: 7 Protein Bars Top Trainers Swear By

If your most recent meal is three or more hours before your workout, though, restocking your glycogen and protein during that anabolic window becomes more important—especially if maintaining or building muscle is your main goal. Go for a snack that’s a two-to-one ratio of carbs-to-protein (like 50 grams of carbs and 25 grams of protein, for example), suggests White.

But if you’re working out first thing in the morning and haven’t eaten since the night before, that’s when your post-workout nutrition is the most important, say Aragon and Schoenfeld. When you’re depleting glycogen and breaking down the proteins in your muscles with nothing in the tank, refuel with something that contains at least 25 grams of protein as soon as you can to prevent muscle breakdown. Keep a protein supplement handy or make sure your breakfast offers enough of the stuff by blending up a protein and fruit smoothie or even mixing protein into yogurt, White suggests.

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What Eating, Drinking, And Working Out In ‘Moderation’ Actually Looks Like

The idea of moderation is something we either love or hate. When we’ve diligently eaten healthy salads all week long, ‘moderation’ in the form of a delicious Friday night cookie can really keep us sane. But if that moderation totally backfires, and that one cookie turns in to three or four, it just leaves us feeling frustrated with ourselves.

The reason the term ‘moderation’ is so tricky: “There’s no real definition of the word,” explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club and owner of Nutrition Starring You.

And aside from it not having a clear definition, the word can mean something different to each of us, and even our own personal definition can change pretty frequently. “What someone considers moderate is highly influenced by what’s around them and what seems normal,” explains Ryan D. Andrews, M.S., M.A., R.D., author of A Guide to Plant-Based Eating.

Based on research published in the journal Appetite, nearly 70 percent of us are generous with our idea of moderation. We might identify two chocolate chip cookies as one serving, but still consider eating three pretty ‘moderate.’ And, unsurprisingly, we’re more likely to be liberal with our definition of moderation for types of junk food we really enjoy, the study suggests.

So how do you practice moderation in a way that keeps you feeling balanced while still prioritizing your health and well-being? We asked the pros for their best advice—not only for eating in moderation, but for drinking and exercising as well. Keep their guidelines in mind next time yet another cookie, cocktail, or CrossFit® class calls your name.

Eating In Moderation

Having guilt-free moments to indulge is important, says Andrews. After all, our relationship with food is pretty nuanced: There’s more to it than the bad-good binary (i.e. that eating for pure nutrition will always lead to positive outcomes and treating ourselves will always lead to negative outcomes). “When we view our meals or food choices as restrictive in any way, we get into a scarcity mindset, which can lead to food obsession and potential overcompensation later on,” Andrews explains.

But how often you treat yourself depends on a whole slew of factors, like your overall health, your personal fitness goals, and your schedule, says Harris-Pincus. As a general guideline, she recommends following the 80/20 rule, meaning 80 percent of your calories should come from nutritious foods that fuel your body and are packed with protein, healthy fats and carbs, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. (Think fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean poultry, and fish.) The other 20 percent of your daily calories are saved for guilt-free treats. So if you eat roughly 2,000 calories per day, for example, 400 of those calories can be more indulgent.

Go Ahead, Treat Yourself

If you’re trying to lose weight, Harris-Pincus recommends adjusting your ratio to 90/10, so you can reach your goals while still having some wiggle room to enjoy yourself on special occasions.

Beyond your general eating habits, ‘moderation’ is especially important for a few specific foods and ingredients, says Andrews. At the top of the list: added sugar, which has been linked to various health issues, like heart disease. “The average American adult eats 23 teaspoons of added sugar per day, but from a health perspective ‘moderation’ would be more like six to nine teaspoons per day,” he says.

Meat is another food we may need to adjust our definition of ‘moderation’ for. “The average American adult eats eight ounces of meat per day, but ‘moderation’ would be more like three ounces per day,” says Andrews. (Andrews recommends limiting red meat, like beef, to two ounces a day, and getting the rest from other sources, like poultry.) Why? Red meat consumption has been linked to cancer risk in some research, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified it as ‘possibly carcinogenic’ to humans.

On top of moderating meat intake for health’s sake, there are plenty of other good reasons—like environmental sustainability. Get this: Livestock production accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.)

Boozing In Moderation

Moderation may be nuanced when it comes to food, but it’s pretty cut and dry when it comes to alcohol. According to the CDC, moderate alcohol intake is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink means 12 ounces of beer, eight ounces of malt liquor, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor, says Harris-Pincus. More often than not, though, we pour ourselves more than this.

Alcohol has been linked to serious health risks, like high blood pressure and various cancers, so consider the CDC’s daily drink recommendation an acceptable upper limit of moderation, not the ideal, she says. Drinking less than that—or not at all—will better benefit your health.

We get it—sometimes you want to unwind after a long day with a glass of vino or a cocktail. When you do drink, avoid as many excess calories as possible by using unsweetened flavored seltzer or club soda as mixers instead of sodas or syrups, she says. Acknowledge that drinking doesn’t fuel or nourish your body, and sip slowly so you really enjoy the treat, she recommends.

Sweating In Moderation

You know exercise is important: It can help you maintain a healthy weight, keep your energy levels up, and even boost your mood—but moderation applies here, too! Striking a balance between couch potato and gym junkie will help you get the most mind-body benefit from exercise.

When it comes to the type of workouts you’re doing, moderation means balancing strength training and cardio, says Baltimore-based strength coach Erica Suter, C.S.C.S. They’re both great for fat loss, but strength training will help you build muscle, so you can eventually burn more calories at rest. Ideally, you’d strength train around three days per week, she says, and opt for cardio two to three days per week.

Moderation applies to your intensity, too. Three of your weekly workouts should be high-intensity, meaning they keep your heart pumping and involve little rest, says California-based trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., C.P.T. For strength training that means lifting heavy enough that your last few reps are very challenging. For cardio, that means doing sprints or another form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Schedule two or three ‘moderate’ days in between your two or three high-intensity days, in which you’ll lift lighter loads for more reps or do some steady-state cardio, says Suter. Play around with how many all-out and moderate workouts you do to find your personal sweet spot. Ideally, you’ll exercise four to six days a week.

There is a such thing as too much exercise. “If you notice your energy levels starting to wane, that you’re not sleeping well, or that you’re just not looking forward to your workouts, you’re not practicing exercise in moderation and might be going a little too hard,” says Suter. Listening to your body and not going overboard is crucial.

Related: 5 Signs You Need A Day Off From The Gym

That’s where rest days come in. If you’re just beginning an exercise routine, start with two full rest days per week. As you get more comfortable, you may be able to bump it down to one. Rest helps you come back stronger, motivated to work out, and ready to take on new challenges, says Donavanik.

That rest day shouldn’t be an all-day Netflix binge, though: Both Suter and Donavanik believe in active recovery, meaning you still move on your day off. Going for a walk or a hike, taking a yoga class, or even spending some time stretching can help keep your blood flowing and help your body recover from previous workouts, Donavanik says.

Ultimately, when you find your ideal ‘moderation’ for exercise, you’ll enjoy working out and get excited about your routine, he says. You may need to try a few different things to get there, whether it’s spin classes, running, weight lifting, or even an intramural sport—but the best thing you can do for yourself is to get up and move your body, however works best for you, he says.

6 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Calories

When we want to shed pounds, we usually think in terms of calories. After all, the many calorie-counting apps out there would have us believe that slashing our intake is the only way to make weight loss happen. But cutting too many calories can actually have some dire consequences—and going overboard is easier to do than you might think.

Eating too few calories can make you feel sluggish, shaky, and anxious—and it can actually make you gain weight in the long run, says Megan Casper, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Megan Casper Nutrition.

If you’re eating too few calories for your body and lifestyle, though, your body will send you some major signals that you need more fuel, says sports dietitian Kimberly Feeney M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D., C.S.C.S. The following six signs indicate your body is undernourished and begging for more calories.

1. You Feel Like A Sloth

If you notice a slip in your overall energy level and declining performance during your workouts, it could mean your metabolism is slowing down because you’re not eating enough calories, says Jenny Mahoney, R.D., L.D., of Nutriformance. We all have a baseline number of calories our body needs in order to maintain basic functions like making our heart beat, brain work, and lungs pump oxygen. (This is known as our ‘basal metabolic rate.’)

To do anything beyond just staying alive—like move or work out—our body needs additional calories. So when we cut calories too close to that baseline, our metabolism slows down so we can survive off the little energy we do get, Mahoney explains. “Even if cutting calories is a choice we make in an effort to lose weight, our body still treats it as a famine and begins slowing down metabolic processes to preserve fuel,” she says. And so we feel tired and slow.

2. You Can’t Focus

If you find yourself zoning out even outside of boring meetings, insufficient calories may be to blame. That’s because your brain demands a constant supply of fuel—particularly glucose (a.k.a. sugar), says Casper. In fact, up to 20 percent of our daily calories and half our available sugar goes to our brains, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you don’t take in enough calories, your blood sugar drops, impacting your brain function and messing with your memory and ability to pay attention, according to Casper. A surefire way to tell if your brain fog is because of low blood sugar: Drink a small glass of orange juice, which contains easily-digestible sugars, and note whether your brain power perks up. Feel more awake and productive? You’re likely not eating often enough, not eating enough overall, or both.

3. You’re Sore ALL The Time

In addition to feeling sluggish during your workouts, you may also find it harder to recover from exercise if your calorie consumption is too low. While some soreness is normal after a tough workout, consider it a red flag if it persists for close to a week, says Feeney. Same goes if you’re a regular exerciser and feel sore when you normally wouldn’t.

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“When we consume too few calories below our total daily needs, our body prioritizes what it uses that energy for,” Feeney says. And healing is one of the first things to get the boot. Long-term, exercising regularly while falling short on fuel puts you at greater risk for injury—particularly for stress fractures.

4. You’re Not Making Muscle Gains

If you notice your muscle tone stall or even start to decline, consider it yet another sign that you may not be eating enough calories to fuel your workouts and build muscle—even if you’re strength training, says dietitian and personal trainer Lauren Manganiello M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., C.P.T. “When we don’t get enough calories, muscle begins to break down because our body is looking for sources of energy,” Manganiello explains. Our body stores carbs as glycogen in our muscles to use as energy later—but when we don’t have enough glycogen stored, our body may break down the protein in our muscles for fuel. So if you’re not getting stronger, struggling through your strength training, or even feeling a little flabbier than usual, there’s a chance you’re not eating the calories your body needs to make progress.

5. You’re Eternally Grouchy

It’s probably no shock that eating too few calories can leave you ‘hangry.’ In fact, mood swings are one of the top signs you’re not taking in enough calories, says Manganiello. Mood swings—like brain fog—are caused by dips in blood sugar. Get this: research out of Florida State University found that our self-control literally requires energy, and that we’re more likely to snap or lash our when our blood sugar is low.

Plus, even just monitoring our calories spikes how stressed we feel, while restricting them boosts our production of the stress hormone cortisol, according to research published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

6. You Can’t Sleep

A whacked-out sleep schedule is another major red flag that you’re not eating enough calories. If you feel hungry enough at bedtime or overnight that you have trouble sleeping, your calories are too low, says Manganiello. “Hunger is our body’s way of telling us that we need energy,” she says.

Related: Try adding a casein supplement to your routine to fuel muscle gains in your sleep.

How To Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Calories

If any (or all) of these struggles hits close to home, it’s time to up how many calories you’re eating each day. Your caloric needs depend on your height, weight, activity level, and body composition (how much of your weight is lean mass, like muscle, versus fat), so meeting with a dietitian is one of the most accurate ways to figure out your daily calorie target. But you can also use a reputable online tool, like the USDA’s MyPlate Super Tracker, or do some quick math to estimate how many calories you need. Try this simple formula: Multiply your weight in kilograms (one kilogram is 2.2 pounds) by 20 to estimate the low end of your calorie range and by 25 to estimate the high end, says Casper.

How many calories you can cut healthily depends on how many calories total you’re starting with, but the average person can safely lose about a pound a week by cutting 500 calories per day, says Feeney.  And as a general rule, women should never eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day, while men should never eat fewer than 1,800.

If you’re too deep in the calorie-cutting trenches, you’ll need to gradually up your calorie intake until you’re meeting your calorie needs. If you need to up your intake by hundreds of calories, add about 100 calories to your total intake every few days to ease your body into consuming more energy, Mahoney recommends. If you only need to add about 200 calories or so, though, just go for it. Just remember that the quality of the calories you’re adding matters, and focus on eating more produce and whole-grain carbs instead of processed foods, Mahoney says.

Casper also recommends adding light snacks in between meals, or eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar and energy stable. And make sure to include protein, fiber, and some healthy fats in every meal or snack to keep your belly satisfied, which can help you maintain or lose weight over time.

Related: 6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

3 Healthified Halloween Treats You Can DIY

Halloween is a sweets-lover’s best friend and biggest enemy. All the chocolate, peanut butter, caramel, and sugar-coated sourness you could ever want—and more calories, plastic wrappers, and sugar comas than you could ever need.

Don’t get us wrong: We’ll definitely be digging into the trick-or-treater candy stash and polishing off our fair share of mini Milky Ways. But we’ll also never pass up an opportunity to find healthier ways to satisfy our biggest cravings.

With these three guilt-free candy recipes, developed exclusively for The Vitamin Shoppe by The Coconut Diaries, you can eat your fill of creamy chocolate-peanut butter, chewy fruit gummies, and sweet and salty snack mix well past October 31st.

Have at it!


Satisfy Your Cravings

The Healthiest Lunches To Order At 6 Popular Restaurant Chains

On days when we just don’t have time to pack lunch (okay, maybe that’s every day), our midday meal is often at the mercy of whatever food chain we can find nearby. And whether we’re running to Starbucks, Panera, or Chipotle, it’s often tough to tell if what we’re eating is really healthy.

It is possible to snag yourself a quick, healthy lunch, though! How? Look for a meal with the following criteria: about 400 total calories, plus high-fiber carbs, healthy fats, and at least 10 grams of protein. This balance will help you feel satisfied all afternoon long, says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. Protein is a particularly important player because it helps us build strong bones, healthy red blood cells, and muscle—and keeps us satiated so we’re not running back out for a cookie, cake pop, or an order of chips and guac just a few hours after lunch, she says.

To make your lunch run as easy and healthy as possible, check out two nutritionists’ go-to orders at some of the most popular spots around.

At Panera

Panera is often called the ‘healthy’ fast food chain, but many of their options are actually too high in calories for your everyday lunch, says Gans. So, she sticks to a ‘half’ sandwich or salad to keep her eats in that 400-calorie range. Her top pick: the half Roasted Turkey and Avocado BLT sandwich. At 320 calories, the sammie provides 14 grams of protein along with healthy fats from the avocado.

Another nutritionist-approved option: the Ancient Grain and Arugula Salad with Chicken, which comes in at 400 calories and offers 25 grams of protein, says Jackie Newgent, R.D.N. In addition to its ample protein, the salad also includes red grapes and apples, which can help you up your fruit intake, she says.

At Starbucks

With so many grab-and-go snack and meal options, Starbucks has become so much more than our go-to coffee spot. If you’re ordering lunch with a side of caffeine, Gans recommends the Chicken and Quinoa Protein Bowl with Black Beans and Greens, which comes in at 420 calories and 27 grams of protein. A lot of the calories in this meal come from the dressing (a chile vinaigrette), though, so use a light touch when topping your lunch, she says.

Related: 7 Ways Extra Calories Are Sneaking Into Your Diet

For a plant-based plate, Newgent likes the Lentil and Vegetable Protein Bowl with Brown Rice. While higher in calories (650, to be exact), the bowl offers 23 grams of protein, a whopping 21 grams of fiber, and lots of antioxidants, she says. As with that first bowl, you can save yourself some calories by going easy on the dressing.

At Cosi

At this popular café, Newgent suggests the Turkey Avocado Sandwich. This lunch is 446 calories and packs 30 grams of protein, along with some healthy fats and other nutrients from the avocado. Newgent suggests ordering it on whole-grain bread to get some extra plant-based nutrients (like fiber) onto your plate.

Another tasty option: the Hummus and Veggie sandwich, which provides 17 grams of protein for 417 calories. Hummus sandwiches often fall short on protein, so Cosi’s sandwich is a real win, says Gans.

At Chipotle

While building a high-protein meal at Chipotle is pretty easy, so is building a meal that’s an absolute calorie bomb, says Gans. To get your protein fix and keep your pants comfortably buttoned, Gans recommends building your own salad or burrito bowl. (The burrito tortillas are just extra calories.)

Start your bowl off with lettuce and brown rice (if desired). If you go for meat, the chicken or steak will provide about 23 grams of protein per serving, Gans says. If you go for the tofu, though, also add black beans to your bowl to bump the total protein up to 17 grams. From there, choose your add-ins wisely—this is where those calories really add up! Gans suggests skipping sour cream and guacamole for lighter options like salsa and vegetables. You can also ask for half-servings of toppings, like the vinaigrette dressing that comes with the salad bowl.

High-Protein Eats From The Vitamin Shoppe

Newgent suggests starting off a salad bowl off with romaine lettuce and brown rice, and then adds chicken, fajita veggies, and black beans for an easy lunch that’s about 545 calories and 45 grams of protein. Those black beans may be a few extra calories, but they also provide fiber (7.5 grams of fiber per half cup) to keep you feeling full all afternoon, Newgent says. To save on calories, Newgent skips the cheese. Play around with Chipotle’s online nutrition calculator for the full details on your go-to order.

At Subway

No matter what you order, there are two rules you should always follow at Subway, Gans says: Stick to the six-inch sub and pick whole-grain bread. This way you’ll prevent calorie overload and make sure your lunch provides some fiber.

From there, Gans’ pick is the Autumn Carved Turkey sandwich. A six-inch sandwich is 430 calories and offers 30 grams of protein. To shave off a few calories, skip the cheese, says Gans.

At Dunkin’ Donuts

When you’re short on options, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got! (No, a box of munchkins isn’t lunch.) To snag a high-protein meal at Dunkin’, stick with the breakfast menu. The sandwiches on the lunch menu are all too high in calories to be healthy options, says Gans.

Your best options: the Veggie Egg White Flatbread (330 calories and 18 grams of protein) or the Egg and Cheese on an English (300 calories and 13 grams of protein). The Turkey Sausage Flatbread is a few more calories (480), but offers more protein (26 grams).

Related: When you don’t have time to run out for lunch, grab a protein bar or meal replacement shake.

Pin this infographic to have these high-protein options on-hand at all times:

4 Drool-Worthy Superfood Desserts Featuring Maca

Even if you haven’t been sprinkling maca powder into your smoothie every morning, you’ve probably heard of the trendy superfood. Health nuts are all over maca root because it supports energy, vitality, and our ability to adapt to stress.

You can use the powder—which can be found in standard yellow, red, and black varieties—to give all sorts of recipes an extra nutritional punch. (In addition to its vitality-boosting benefits, maca also provides some vitamin C, amino acids, essential fatty acids, magnesium, and zinc.)

Get some more maca in your life and satisfy your sweet tooth with these indulgent (and nutritious!) desserts, developed for What’s Good by The Coconut Diaries.

Related: 4 Reasons Why Black Maca Is So Popular Right Now

1. Maca Mocha Brownies

*makes eight brownies

Calories:  163 • Carbohydrate: 15g • Fat: 12g • Protein: 4g • Sugar: 5g • Fiber: 4g

½ cup oat flour
½ cup almond flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ Tbsp plnt gelatinized maca powder
2 tsp instant espresso powder
3 Tbsp maple syrup
¼ cup + 2 Tbsp almond milk
¼ cup coconut oil, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix the oat flour, almond flour, cocoa powder, maca powder, and espresso powder in a bowl. Then stir in the maple syrup and almond milk, followed by the melted coconut oil. Evenly spread the batter into a nine-by-four inch baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake for 27 to 30 minutes, or until the top of the brownies crisps. Let cool for 10 minutes. Cut into eight pieces and enjoy!


2. Red Maca Cinnamon Oat Muffins

*makes three muffins

Calories: 203 • Carbohydrate: 39g • Fat: 3g • Protein: 7g • Sugar: 11g • Fiber: 6g

1 ½ cups oats (1 cup of ground oats, ½ cup of whole oats)
1 ½ Tbsp Sunfood Superfoods raw organic red maca powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup almond milk
1 Tbsp maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the ground oats, whole oats, red maca powder, baking powder, and cinnamon in a bowl. Then fold in the applesauce, almond milk, and maple syrup and mix until well combined. Pour the batter into a muffin or cupcake tray to make three muffins. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes and enjoy!

Related: Shops all sorts of superfoods to support your health.


3. Black Maca Coconut Bites

*makes 18 bites

Calories: 79 • Carbohydrate: 8g • Fat: 5g • Protein: 2g • Sugar: 4g • Fiber: 2g

1 cup cashews
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
½ cup pitted dates (80 g)
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ Tbsp Sunfood Superfoods raw organic black maca powder
2 Tbsp coconut water (or other liquid)

Combine the cashews, coconut, and dates in the food processor and pulse until the mixture is coarsely ground. Add the cocoa powder, black maca powder, and coconut water. Blend on low for one to two minutes until the texture becomes more fine and uniform. Scrape down the sides with a spatula or spoon and blend on high for  another one to two minutes until you have a thick, creamy texture. Spoon out tablespoon-sized portions of the mixture to roll into 18 individual balls. If desired, coat the balls in more shredded coconut. Enjoy!


4. Mini Maca Superfood Cheesecakes

*makes seven mini cheesecakes

Calories: 331 • Carbohydrate: 28g • Fat: 23g • Protein: 5g • Sugar: 19g • Fiber: 3g


For the crust:
½ cup pitted dates (80 g)
½ cup pecans
1 Tbsp plnt gelatinized maca powder
2 Tbsp ground flax seeds

For the cheesecake filling:
1 cup cashews, soaked in water for 4 hours or more
1 cup canned coconut milk, chilled
1/3 cup maple syrup
3 Tbsp coconut oil, melted

For topping:
¼ cup mixed berries

In a food processor, blend together the crust ingredients (dates, pecans, maca, flax seeds) on high until a fine, sticky mixture is formed. Line a cupcake tray with seven cupcake liners and press the crust mixture into the liners. Strain the cashews and add them to the food processor. Remove the canned coconut milk from the fridge and scoop out only the thick, top portion. Add the coconut milk and maple syrup to the food processor and blend for two to three minutes until the mixture is smooth. Add the melted coconut oil and blend again another one or two minutes, until creamy. Pour the cheesecake cream on top of the crusts in the cupcake liners. Stash in the fridge for one to two hours so the cheesecakes can set and thicken. Top each with berries and enjoy! (Keep these stored in the fridge so they stay firm.)

6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

Contrary to what late-night infomercials and #sponsored Instagram pics would have you believe, there is no magic bullet for losing weight. Ask any health and fitness expert and they’ll tell you that losing weight requires watching what you eat.

But that doesn’t mean you need to log every bite you take and count every calorie. “Counting calories is more of a starting point for weight loss,” says functional medicine nutritionist Katie Morra, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. “Everyone should know about how many calories they need per day to maintain or to lose weight and what that looks like in terms of food. But counting calories is tiring and unrealistic for most people.” Not to mention, that sort of detailed tracking may lead to stress or even disordered eating.

Plus, if you’re just taking wild guesses about your portion sizes, chances are the calories you’re tracking aren’t even accurate anyway, says Alexia Lewis, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., C.H.C., of N.E.W Motivation Coaching.

So instead of painstakingly logging every handful of pretzels you grab when you walk through the kitchen, get started with these simple, no-math-involved ways to lose weight, straight from dietitians themselves.

1. Cut Out Processed Foods

Not all calories are created equal—especially if the calories you’re eating are pumped full of additives. Some of the chemicals added to foods are even referred to as “obesogens,” which have been shown to disrupt the metabolism and contribute to weight gain. (Research published in Nature has found that emulsifies, a super common food additive, can impact gut health and cause obesity in animals.)

But scary-sounding chemicals aside, if you eat a lot of packaged foods, you probably take in more sugar, sodium, and preservatives than you realize. “Processed foods are often empty calories, meaning they have a high calorie content but minimal nutrient benefit,” says Morra. Since these choices are often bereft of fiber and protein, which keep you full, you’re more likely to keep running back for more.

Plus, eating a lot of foods that are high in sugar or artificial sweeteners alters your brain chemistry and taste threshold for sweetness, making you crave even more sugar, she says. And that’s a recipe for weight gain.

Avoid processed foods like white pasta and bread, and added sugar, as much as possible. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to nine teaspoons (about 37 grams) a day for men and six teaspoons (25 grams) a day for women. Even swapping store-bought granola for a homemade blend of plain Cheerios, sliced almonds, and unsweetened coconut can go a long way.

As you cut back on prepackaged foods, shift your focus to eating five to seven servings of non-starchy vegetables, along with healthy fats and proteins throughout the day, Morra says. (More on that next.)

2. Eat Your Veggies

So, why eat those five to seven servings of non-starchy veggies a day? Vegetables like broccoli, eggplant, and cauliflower are low in calories and packed with nutrients, so you can eat more without overloading on calories. When you make food choices that nourish your body, the pounds fall off much more easily, Morra says.

For example: A cup of cauliflower is just 20 calories, while a cup of while pasta is about 200 calories, and a cup of nuts is a whopping 800, says Lewis. So the more veggies in your diet, the more you can eat without racking up major calories.

That doesn’t mean you have to choke down Brussels sprouts if you hate them, though. Start by finding small ways to add more veggies to your day. One easy move: Instead of eating chips or bleached crackers as a snack, choose carrot chips, cucumber slices, green beans, or grape tomatoes with hummus, Lewis recommends.

3. Build Your Plate Properly

Just how many calories you need depends on your age, weight, activity level, and overall health—but your plate should still reflect that spread of veggies, healthy fats, and proteins, Morra says. Start by filling half your plate with at least two non-starchy vegetables, like leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, peppers, or mushrooms. Then add three ounces of a protein (about the size of your palm) like fish, turkey, chicken, lean ground beef, or two to three eggs. Then, one serving of a healthy fat (about a tablespoon) like olive oil, olives, avocado oil, coconut oil, or coconut. Finally, add a serving of whole-grain carbohydrates like cooked quinoa (half a cup) or brown rice (a third of a cup).

This balance of protein, fiber, and healthy fats will help keep you feeling satiated for longer—and keep overeating and random snacking at bay. Plus, eating this variety will also help you balance your blood sugar, which is associated with having a healthier body weight, says Morra.

4. Follow Hunger Cues

One of the biggest issues with calorie-counting: It shifts your focus away from the biological reasons you eat, says Lewis. If you’re just eating based on the numbers, you may fall pretty out of touch with how hungry or full you feel, which should determine when and how much you eat.

Set yourself up for mindful eating by rating your hunger on a scale of one to 10, with one being starving, five being neutral, and 10 being stuffed. If you are on the hungry side (four or less) eat. Just be careful to not overdo it, because you’ll likely want more than your body needs, Lewis says. So serve yourself half of what you’d want and check in with your hunger 15 minutes after eating. If you’re still hungry, go back for more.

Then, when you hit a comfortable level of fullness (seven or eight on the scale), stop eating—even if there’s still food on your plate. You shouldn’t feel overly full (nine or 10 on the scale) after your meals, Lewis adds. “It’s a difficult habit to build but it does help you learn to eat the right amount of food for your body,” she says.

5. Identify Food Sensitivities

Another major but unexpected way to jump-start weight loss is to identify and address any food sensitivities you may have, says Morra. Why? Eating foods our bodies are sensitive to can trigger a cascade of inflammation, and research has long linked inflammation with being overweight or obese. So if you have a food sensitivity (egg, gluten, dairy, soy, peanut, and corn sensitivities are common), but eat that food every day, you promote chronic inflammation and may have more trouble losing weight.

Related: What Going Gluten-Free Can And Can’t Do For Your Health

The best way to confirm if you have a food sensitivity: Meet with a dietitian who can put you on an elimination diet that cuts out possible offenders and reintroduces them after a month or so to gauge how your body reacts. Once any triggers are removed, many people start to lose weight more quickly, Morra says.

6. Get More Sleep

Can you sleep the pounds away? Well, it’s not quite that simple, but not getting enough sleep can have an intense impact on the scale. Lack of sleep (coupled with stress, which often crops up when we don’t sleep enough) can increase your levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), which is associated with higher levels of visceral fat—fat around the organs in your midsection. This can all be dangerous for your health, Morra says. In fact, research recently published in PLOS One linked visceral fat with cardiometabolic risk factors, like high blood pressure, triglycerides, and blood sugar.

Skimping on shut eye can also lead you to reach for less-than-healthy food choices during the day. When you’re overloading on caffeine, sugar, and calories to get through, you catapult yourself toward inflammation, sugar cravings, a crummy diet, and weight gain, says Morra. Research published in Sleep shows that lack of sleep alters the chemical signals that regulate our appetite and energy levels, driving us to reach for unhealthy foods and snack more.

Related: Find a supplement to help get your shut-eye on track.

The Best Way To Keep Your Fitness Results From Stalling

Ah, the dreaded plateau—when our once-effective workouts suddenly stop working and our results totally stall. But why do plateaus happen to good people? Usually it’s because you’re just not challenging your body enough. And while that probably means you’ve gotten better at your routine (cool!), it’s still incredibly frustrating.

“If you do the same thing over and over, your body adapts and isn’t stimulated to grow or get better,” says Nick Clayton, C.S.C.S., personal training program manager for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). “You need to do a little more every time to create stress so your body has a better recovery response and you get stronger or fitter,” he explains. The experts call this whole ‘do a little more’ thing ‘progressive overload,’ and it’s this idea that will help you move past the plateau.

What Is Progressive Overload?

When you work out as hard as you possibly can, you force your muscles to adapt in multiple ways. For one, you push them to metabolic fatigue, which means you use up all of the glycogen (energy from carbs) stored in your muscles. This trains your muscles, making them able to store more carbs and grow, explains Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., host of the All About Fitness Podcast and adjunct professor of exercise science at San Diego State University. Two, you break down your muscle fibers, which signals your body to form new muscle cells to repair them. And, three, you challenge your muscles’ efficiency at using oxygen and carbs for energy, which tells them to adapt so you can go faster and harder in the future.

To give your body the constant push it needs to get stronger, you need to gradually increase the difficulty of your workouts and hit new personal maxes. If you’re doing cardio, that means either increasing your speed or your distance. If you’re strength training, that means increasing the weight you lift or the number of sets or reps you lift for.

Want to ramp up your workouts? Here’s how:

Apply Progressive Overload To Strength Training

When it comes to using progressive overload to build muscle, you have two options: increase your weight or the number of sets or reps you do. So if you’re doing three sets of 10 reps of a move, try to hit 11 or 12 reps with that same weight the next time you work out, says Clayton. The next time? Go for 13 or 14. Once you can hit 15 reps, it’s time to increase your weight and start back down at 10 reps a set.

You can use the same approach if you’re lifting for lower rep ranges to focus on strength. McCall recommends working your way up from four to eight reps. Once you can perform more than eight reps, up your weight.

Another way to switch up the stress you put on your muscles: Mix up your exercises and the types of weights you use. Every couple months, change up your go-to moves (like swapping squats for lunges) and equipment (like swapping barbells for dumbbells)to keep your body guessing, McCall says.

Related: How To Lift Heavy For Maximum Muscle Results

Keep a journal or a note in your phone to track your progress throughout the month. “Ask yourself: Within the past month, have I gotten better at what I want to do? If not, it’s time to make these tweaks,” Clayton says.

Apply Progressive Overload To Cardio

When it comes to cardio, you’ve got two ways to embrace progressive overload power: increase your volume (miles) or increase your intensity (the speed at which you run your miles). Overachievers be warned, though, you should only increase your distance or your speed—never both at once, according to Clayton. So don’t try to add half a mile to your five-mile run and try to shave 30 seconds off each mile. (More on the reasons why below).

If you want to attack volume, increase your distance by 10 percent—but not more—each week, Clayton recommends. So if you run 10 miles one week, you’d run 11 the next.

Once you’ve built up a solid base distance-wise, you can start to push your pace. The most effective way to do so? Sprints, says Clayton. Here’s how to adjust if you usually run, say, three miles three times a week. On one of your running days, run a shorter distance and break that distance up into sprints. So instead of running three miles, you’ll run two miles total, broken up into four quarter-mile sprints. If your normal running pace is a nine-minute mile, you’ll try to hold an eight-minute mile pace for each sprint and rest for a few minutes between each. And since progressive overload is the gift that keeps on giving, you can continue to up your sprint pace as you get better.

You can work on distance and speed in the same week, but make sure to slow your pace on the days you run slightly longer distances.

How To Do Progressive Overload Right

Ready to start going harder, better, faster, stronger? Progressive overload has the power to take your performance (and body) to the next level—but it’s all too easy to turn overload into overboard.

As pumped as you may be to step up your workouts, it’s important to stick to the experts’ guidelines for adding incremental challenges. “All too often people end up crushing their bodies so much they burn out, which can lead to injury and a lack of motivation,” says Clayton. If you constantly feel tired, achy, sore, or irritable, you might be overdoing it, he says. And though these signs start to pop up after a few days, it might take two weeks for them to really knock you on your butt.

To avoid burnout, keep these tips in mind as you progressively overload:

1. Give yourself time to recover.

Obviously your workouts are key, but it’s in the 24 to 48 hours after you work out that you actually become stronger, says Clayton. So stick to three or four high-intensity ‘overload’ workouts per week and either rest or do low-intensity exercise—like walking or jogging—in between, says McCall. And every two or three months, take a full week off to rest and recover. You’ll come back to your workouts with the restored glycogen and revitalized energy you need to crush your workouts, he says.

2. Be patient with your progress.

Progress isn’t always linear, so don’t hold your gains to too tight a timeline. “It’s not like you’ll get better every time you work out,” says Clayton. “There’s always variability based on your stress levels, recovery, diet, and other factors.” You might be able to hit 15 reps in one workout and barely make it to 10 the next. Focus on the long-term, and don’t beat yourself up for having a bad day or week. Clayton recommends looking at your progress in six to eight-week periods.

3. Eat enough.

Don’t drastically cut your calories while pushing your body to its limit during your workouts. While exactly how many calories you need depends on your current weight and fitness level, the experts agree you shouldn’t have more than a 500-calorie deficit per day. When you demand more of your body, your body needs more calories, Clayton explains. Which brings us to our next point…

4. Pack in the protein.

Whether you’re aiming to improve your cardio or build muscle, down about 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (about 70 grams of protein for a 130-pound person, says Clayton. Your muscles are built out of amino acids, the molecules in protein—so not eating enough of this nutrient will hold back your progress. Protein is your number-one priority, but carbs are important, too, since they’re your muscles’ primary source of energy. Eating a protein and carb-rich snack after your workouts—especially if you’re training for more than an hour five days a week—can also help ensure you’re well-fueled. Clayton recommends a snack that contains one gram of protein for every four grams of carbs, like chocolate milk.

Related: Shop ready-to-drink protein shakes to refuel after a good workout.

7 Ways To Burn More Fat

Thanks to years of fad diets, intense workout plans ‘guaranteed’ to deliver the best results, and social media scams, losing fat can seem like a complicated task.

We’re not going to sugar-coat it: Fat loss takes dedication. But that doesn’t mean it has to be confusing. In fact, finally freeing yourself from the yo-yo diet roller-coaster is all about getting back to the basics. Start with these seven expert and science-backed lifestyle changes you’ll shed the pounds for good. Just make sure you’re consistent about your effort.

1. Adjust Your Grub To Create A Caloric Deficit

If you want to lose fat, you need to have a solid foundation—and that means starting with food. “Nutrition should be the first barrier to attack,” says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., owner of CORE in Boston.

To lose one pound of fat, you typically need a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories. (This can vary a bit, but 3,500 is a good ballpark number.) So to lose a pound of fat in a week, you’d need a caloric deficit of 500 calories each day. “I always ask people: How long would it take you to burn 500 calories with just exercise? If you go for a jog, do some interval training, or lift weights, you’re looking at up to 75 minutes to burn 500 calories,” Gentilcore says. But you can easily cut out that many calories by just not eating that bowl of cereal or ice cream right before you go to bed.

Some of Gentilcore’s biggest advice: Take the time to make your own lunches for work. You’ll know exactly what’s in your food and you can control your portion sizes, he says—which is not always possible at the office cafe!). Making lunch may not sound that effective, but research backs it up: According to one study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, people who ate more than five home-cooked meals per week were 28 percent less likely to be overweight and 24 percent less likely to have excess body fat than people who ate less than three home-cooked meals per week.

Related: 10 Protein-Packed Meals In Mason Jars

From there, simple strategies like limiting junk foods and taking a few minutes to think about whether you still feel hungry before going back for seconds can fire up your fat-loss efforts before you even think about adjusting your workouts or anything else.

2. Cut Back On Certain Carbs

Carbs aren’t all evil—but certain carbs aren’t good. And despite what many fad diets would tell you, you don’t need to completely cut carbs to lose weight, explains Marie Spano, R.D., a sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks.

Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of fuel, and if you don’t eat enough of them your energy will tank and your workouts will suffer, she says. For this reason, healthy carbs—like whole-wheat bread, oats, quinoa, fruits, and vegetables—should make up 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories, according to The Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These healthy carbs tend to contain lots of filling fiber and likely fewer calories overall, explains Spano. That’s two points for fat loss right there!

It’s eating the wrong kind of carbs—like soda, white bread, and pastries—too often that can actually sabotage your fat loss. Your body converts all carbs into glucose (sugar), but these simple, fiber-less carbs are basically already sugars, so if you eat more of them than your body needs for energy in that point in time, they’re stored as fat, she explains. Plus, research suggests we tend to overdo it on calories more often when eating processed foods (like white bread or pasta) compared to whole foods (like quinoa or potatoes).

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

Your task: Stick to less-processed carbs that are as close to their natural state as possible and find healthier alternatives to your favorite carb-y treats. For example, if you’re craving something candy-sweet, fruit will often satisfy your taste buds while also providing vitamins and plant compounds that are important for good health, Spano says. If you’re really dying for ice cream though, just serve it in a small kids’ cup.

3. Load Up On Protein

When in doubt, go for protein. The macronutrient both helps you build muscle (more on that soon) and keeps you feeling satiated for longer, which is important when you’re in a caloric deficit, explains Gentilcore. Protein also has a greater thermic effect than carbs and fat, meaning it requires more calories to digest and process, he says.

Plus, if you don’t eat enough protein while cutting back the amount of food you’re eating overall, you might actually end up breaking down muscle tissue—which is important for your body’s daily function in and out of the gym—for energy, says Spano. And since muscle supports your metabolism and gives your body shape, this is quite the opposite of what you want. (Muscle is metabolically active, so the more you have, the more calories you burn even at rest, Gentilcore explains.)

Case in point: When researchers from McMaster University studied 40 men who cut calories and ramped up their exercise for a month, the guys who ate more protein not only saw greater muscle gains, but also lost more body fat compared to those who ate less protein.

Ideally, if you’re trying to keep your body in fat-burning mode, you should get about one gram of protein per pound of body weight throughout the day, says Gentilcore. Aim for at least 30 grams of protein or more per meal, Spano adds.

4. Start Lifting Weights

Once you get your nutrition in order, pairing it with the right workouts will maximize your fat loss.

One of the keys to successful fat loss is to keep (or build muscle)—and to do that while in a caloric deficit, you need to strength train, says Gentilcore. In case you’re not sold, one review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports found that just 10 weeks of resistance training can reduce body fat by up to four pounds and increase resting metabolic rate by up to seven percent.

If you’re a beginner, Gentilcore recommends starting with three days of full-body resistance training a week. Focus on performing compounds movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses (which engage multiple muscle groups and burn more calories) and perform three to four sets of five to eight reps each.

5. Supplement Your Routine With HIIT Or Circuit Training

While strength training is key, getting your dose of cardio is still important, says Gentilcore. That’s why he recommends finishing your workouts with circuit or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

The goal of high-intensity interval training is to exhaust all your energy by performing short bursts of work for a set amount of time—like sprinting as hard as you can for 30 seconds, walking to rest, and then repeating. In circuit training, on the other hand, you perform a set number of exercises as hard as you can, then rest and repeat.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

Both spike your heart rate, which forces you to use more oxygen and ultimately burn more calories, says Gentilcore. Think of HIIT and circuit training as supplements to your strength-training routine and perform 10 to 15 minutes of either after you lift. You can perform HIIT on an elliptical, a stationary bike, out on the track, or even in the pool.

If you’re new to HIIT, start with intervals of 15 to 30 seconds of work followed by 45 to 60 seconds of active recovery, says Gentilcore. As you get the hang of it, reduce your active recovery time by five to 10 seconds per week, until you’re working and resting for the same amount of time.

If you want to go the circuit-training route, just pick four to six moves and perform them back-to-back, resting as little as possible until you’ve completed all the moves. Then you’ll rest and repeat the circuit three to five times. Here’s an example from Gentilcore:

  • 5 goblet squats
  • 5 pushups
  • 5 TRX inverted rows
  • 5 bodyweight reverse lunges (per leg)
  • 60 seconds rest

Since these training styles require tons of energy, they’re sure to exhaust your system and end your workout on a strong note. (For that reason, don’t do HIIT or circuit training before your lifts!)

6. Get Moving Outside Of The Gym

When it comes to burning fat, the more you move, the better (within reason, of course). “We’re at a point in society where many people’s only form of movement or activity is in the gym,” says Gentilcore. And while it’s better than nothing, if you hit the gym three days a week for an hour and half, that’s only four and a half hours of dedicated movement a week.

When you get serious about hitting the gym, you might fall into the trap of what’s called ‘compensatory inactivity,’ when you end up moving less overall because you’re working out more often. You know, when you justify a full weekend of Netflix binging because you had a really solid Saturday morning workout. As tempting as compensatory inactivity might be, it can really hold you back from shedding fat.

So don’t miss out on all of the opportunities you have to be active throughout your day, says Gentilcore. After all, any additional movement is additional calories burned.

His suggestion? Get in 45 to 60 minutes of moderate-paced walking every day. Split it up throughout the day if you need to. Get out with your dog, your spouse, or take the time alone to unwind. And make small changes like parking farther away from the office or even just taking the long way to the bathroom to keep you moving.

7. Prioritize Sleep

Skimping on sleep messes with your energy and concentration—and it plays a big role in how your body deals with fat, too.

In one study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers followed 10 overweight, but healthy, people who were all following calorie-restricted diets. For two weeks, the participants slept an average of seven hours and 25 minutes per night. Then, for another two weeks, they clocked in at about just five hours and 14 minutes. During those two weeks of seven-hour sleeps, people lost an average of 3.1 pounds from fat, compared to just 1.3 pounds during the five-hour sleep weeks.

What’s more, when they slept less, the participants’ levels of ghrelin—a hormone that makes you feel hungry, promotes fat retention, and even reduces the amount of calories you burn—spiked. In fact, another study published in Nature, found that when people slept for five and a half hours or less, they downed an extra 385 calories the next day (mainly from foods packed with empty calories) compared to those slept for seven hours or more.

So, to keep your hunger hormones at bay—and help your body recover so you can bring you’re A-game in the gym, of course—prioritize seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

Related: Shop supplements to support a healthy night’s sleep.

4 Satisfying Snacks That Taste Like Cheating

The perfect snack is quick, healthy, satisfying enough to get you through to your next meal, and delicious enough to keep you from sneaking off to the vending machine.

So when baby carrots and unsalted nuts just aren’t doing it for you, these four treats—waffles and donuts included—most certainly will. (You read that right: waffles and donuts.) They’re all packed with good-for-you ingredients, protein, and fiber to keep you full and happy as a clam.

Consider your cravings crushed.

Nutty Coconut Chocolate Donuts


Ingredients: oats, unsweetened cocoa powder, Next Step Swiss Chocolate Fit N’ Full shake mix, stevia, baking powder, coconut oil, and water. 

Berry Chia Pudding Parfait


Ingredients: chia seeds, almond milk, Next Step AppeFIT mixed berry powder, Greek yogurt, mixed berries, granola, and stevia

Sweet ‘N’ Vanilla Waffle


Ingredients: oats, egg whites, Next Step French Vanilla Fit ‘N Full powder, baking powder, sliced strawberries and blueberries, and water. 

No-Bake Apple Pie Protein Bars


Ingredients: oats, Next Step French Vanilla Fit ‘N Full powder, Next Step AppeFIT apple punch powder, almond butter, maple syrup, and apple pie spice (or cinnamon).

The Best Ways To Get Back In The Zone After Slacking On Diet And Exercise

We’ve all had a few days—whether over a long weekend or on a vacation—where we’ve spent time doing a whole lot of nothing. Maybe our only workouts were walks to the kitchen or to get the mail—and our only meals came from the pizzeria around the corner.

And while there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from the world for a little while—in fact, we’d even argue it’s good for us—getting back into the swing of a healthy routine afterward can be daunting.

Should you go balls-to-the-wall, hit a crazy-hard workout, and stick to super-clean eats? Or ease into your routine slowly, maybe with some restorative yoga and healthy-ish grub?

You don’t need a detox or an all-green diet to feel better—but there is a way to strategize your day so you don’t slip into a slump. From the gym to the kitchen, here’s how the experts suggest you bounce back.

At The Gym

Getting back to the gym after a few days off is tough—especially if you were on a nice lazy vacation—because it’s basically like a smack in the face that you are, in fact, back to reality. But don’t delay! “All you really need to do is restart and convince yourself—and your body—to get back in the groove,” says personal trainer Michael Blauner. C.P.T. “There’s no right or wrong way or amount of time necessary to start feeling great again.

Walk it out. Hitting the gym or cranking out a HIIT workout probably sounds terrible right now—so don’t push yourself through anything torturous. Keep it simple and head out for a walk, suggests Blauner. “That gets all the cylinders firing and quickly reminds you of how great you feel from exercise,” he says. Just set a timer or use an app to track your pace and try to hit a mile in 15 minutes or less. And put a little extra pep in your step after that first mile, if you can.

Start with what you love. If you’re feeling up to a little more than a stroll, give your body extra incentive to get back into action with your favorite workout. If you love dance, sign up for a shake-your-thang session with your favorite instructor. If you prefer strength training, hit the weight room. Focus on fun, not on burning calories.

Don’t worry about time. Your workouts shouldn’t feel like punishment for treating yourself and you don’t need to exercise for hours on end to make up for days you’ve missed. “Go with your instincts regarding how long your workout should be,” says Blauner. If 20 minutes is all you’ve got in the tank, then 20 minutes is all you’ve got in the tank. Do what you can, and as the week progresses, gradually tack on more time until you’re back to business as usual.

Follow a structured workout. When you don’t have the energy or willpower to decide what workout to do, having someone else tell you what to do might be just what you need to get your sweat on instead of crashing back onto the couch. This post-vacation workout from Blauner hits most of your major muscle groups and will jump-start your metabolism.

Need instructions for the moves? We’ve got you covered:

Move #1: Jump Squats
Start standing with feet hips-width distance apart. Lower into a squat. From the squat position, swing your arms back for momentum and push through your feet to explosively jump up into the air. Land softly and immediately lower into another squat for your second rep.

Move #2: Pushups
Start in a plank position with your hands planted on the ground beneath your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from head to toe. Keeping your core tight and body straight, bend at the elbows to lower your chest toward the ground. Then slowly push through your hands to push back up to the starting position.

Move #3: Seated Rows
Hold a moderately heavy dumbbell in each hand. Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor and your abs engaged. Lift your arms to hold the dumbbells out straight in front of you with palms facing in. Squeezing your shoulder blades as if holding a tennis ball between them, row the dumbbells back until your elbows are behind you. Then extend your arms back to their original straight position.

Move #4: Bicep Curls
Stand with feet hips-width distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down by your sides and palms facing up. Keeping them close to your sides, bend at the elbows to curl the dumbbells up toward your biceps. Slowly lower down to return to start.

Move #5: Low Plank
Adjust the regular plank position by lowering down so that your elbows are planted on the ground beneath your shoulders, and your hands are flat on the floor in front of you. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your toes. Engage your core and shift your weight forward slightly. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.

Move #6: Mountain-Climbers
Start in a plank position. Engage your abs and quickly drive your left knee in towards your chest. Return your right leg to the starting position as you quickly drive your right knee in toward your chest. Continue quickly alternating for 15 reps on each side.

Move #7: Sit-Ups
Start lying on your back, with your feet flat on the floor and your arms crossed over your chest. (Locking your hands behind your head can strain your neck.) Engage your abs and drive your chest forward to sit all the way up. With control, lower back to the starting position.

In The Kitchen

As much as we enjoy our favorite treats, eating them for days straight can leave us feeling bloated, puffy, and tired afterward. And, when we eat way outside our norm for more than a few days (like we would on a long trip), then it’s common to come home with a not-so-happy digestive system, says clinical nutrition coach Ariane Hundt, M.S.

Related: 5 Foods That Could Be Messing With Your Gut

If you just want to feel like your best self again stat, that’s reasonable—but you’ll need to be patient. “One full day of indulgences—like lots of starches, sugar, and alcohol—may take two to three days to undo, so be patient and focus on re-balancing your diet.” Here’s your plan of action:

Increase your water intake. Your body tends to hold onto water after indulgent meals, so drinking a lot of water can help re-balance the electrolytes in your system (like sodium) and nix the bloat, says Hundt. Keep an eye on your urine and make sure it’s always pretty close to clear, she says.

Load up on fibrous veggies. In addition to avoiding sugar, noshing on fiber-filled veggies can help free you from sugar spikes and get your blood sugar back into balance, says Hundt. Fiber helps keep your digestive system moving and can help you get that leftover junk out of your system, she explains. Broccoli, asparagus, cucumbers, and mixed greens are especially good choices.

Related: Shop a selection of foods and drinks to support healthy eating.

Eat protein regularly. “Protein is the most satiating nutrient and the most helpful in preventing an appetite surge,” says Hundt. Try to eat lean proteins, such as chicken, lean grass-fed beef, and pasteurized eggs consistently throughout the day. Eat a serving of protein about every four hours to keep your energy and appetite balance, Hundt recommends.

Step away from the sugar. Sugar can create blood sugar imbalances that translate to major energy highs and lows, says Hundt. Post-sugar energy crashes can just make you—you guessed it—reach for more sugar, which is the last thing you need when trying to get back into your routine. Limit the sugar (and refined carbs) you eat and drink and reach for protein, instead. “Grab a few turkey slices, eat an extra side of chicken breast with lunch, or drink a protein shake,” she suggests.

Hundt designed the following one-day meal plan with these tips in mind, to help you feel like your usual self as soon as possible.

5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Workouts

Few things are more frustrating than seeing little progress after starting a workout routine—and sticking to it, no matter the amount of gym sessions or sweaty laundry loads you’ve done. It’s so frustrating, in fact, that it might even tempt you to quit.

But before you start slacking, know the simple mistakes that could be sabotaging your results—so that you can fix them!

Below are six of the most common workout mistakes people make—and the expert advice you need to get your motivation and progress back on track.

1. Your Goals Are Unrealistic

Set the bar too high and you’re sure to fail. Whether it’s scoring a six-pack in a month or vowing to hit the gym every single day of the week, setting unrealistic goals is probably the number-one way people sabotage themselves, says trainer, yoga teacher, and nutrition coach Kendra Coppey Fitzgerald, C.P.T. When you can’t achieve these unrealistic goals, you’re bound to feel discouraged, which might lead you to give up on your exercise routine altogether.

The Fix: Check in with yourself to make sure your goals are realistic, and adjust if and as needed. Choose a goal you think you can accomplish and then commit to reaching it. So while scoring a six-pack in a month may not be feasible, goals like sticking to a regular workout routine or losing half a pound or so per week are attainable, says trainer and author Jeremy Scott, C.P.T., C.N.S.

Step one is creating a workout schedule that fits your lifestyle. You’re more likely to stay motivated when you have a schedule in place you can really commit to—even if that means squeezing in a quick 15-minute HIIT workout instead of spending an hour at the gym some days.

Then, adding mini fitness goals to your daily routine— such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work—can be really motivating, says Fitzgerald. This way, you’ll be more active—and feel more accomplished—throughout every single day.

2. Your Pre-Workout Snack Game Is Off

What you eat (or don’t eat) before you get your sweat on can make the difference between having a killer workout and feeling like a sloth. Most people make one of two opposite mistakes: either eating too much too close to a workout or not eating enough.

Eat too much and your body doesn’t have time to digest and absorb the nutrients in your food, and you might feel sick to your stomach during your workout, says Fitzgerald. If you don’t eat enough, though, you could feel lightheaded and tired, and be more prone to muscle cramps, adds McCall. Your body relies heavily on glycogen (carbs stored in your muscles) during harder workouts, so if you don’t have enough available your body will turn to other less-ideal energy sources—like protein—and your performance will take a hit.

Another overlooked fuel issue: Not drinking enough water in the hours before a workout. Water comprises the majority of our muscle tissue, so you want to be well-hydrated before you exercise, says Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., master trainer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Dehydration can make your body temperature and heart rate rise, which both put extra stress on your body during exercise—so much so that poor pre-workout hydration can actually cut your ability to do high intensity exercise almost in half, according to Sport Nutrition, Second Addition.

The Fix: If you work out first thing in the morning, don’t worry about eating much (if anything) beforehand, since your body still has fuel stashed away from your food you ate the night before, says Fitzgerald. If you’re saving your gym session for later in the day, though, and haven’t had a meal in a few hours, eat something that contains some protein and carbs about an hour beforehand, so you have time to digest. Some of our favorites are toast or a banana with nut butter, a serving of edamame, or Greek yogurt with berries. The carbs will cover your energy needs while the protein will keep your body stocked on the amino acids it needs to support your muscles, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Related: How To Pick The Perfect Pre-Workout Snack (That Won’t Wreck Your Stomach)

As for hydration, McCall recommends drinking 16 ounces of water an hour before working out.

And don’t forget to refuel after you work out, too! Nosh on something high in protein and carbs within an hour after you exercise, Fitzgerald recommends. The carbs will restock those energy stores while the protein will help your muscles repair and grow stronger. Fitzgerald’s go-to post-workout snack? Chocolate milk—because it provides protein, carbs and fats.

3. Your Workouts Are Too Repetitive

Yep, there is a such thing as too much routine. Mindlessly run through the same workouts day after day—whether it’s a spin class, weight-lifting session, or any old cardio—and your body will adapt and, eventually, you’ll stop seeing results, according to Fitzgerald. “If your body isn’t being stressed enough, or you’re not putting enough intensity into a workout, your body gets used to it,” Fitzgerald says.

Think of it this way: If a runner jogs at the same pace all the time, they’re not going to get any faster, she says. Bottom line: No matter how much you love a particular workout, it can’t be the only thing you do. And you definitely shouldn’t do it at the same speed or intensity every time.

Plus, doing only cardio—or only strength training—prevents you from developing well-rounded fitness. Cardio helps your heart pump blood (and oxygen and nutrients) throughout your body more efficiently, and helps you ward off cardiovascular issues and chronic conditions like diabetes, according to The Mayo Clinic. Strength training, on the other hand, helps your muscle fibers work more efficiently and grow, boosts your metabolism, supports strong bones, and improves your balance.

Women especially may get stuck in a rut of repetitive cardio-only workouts and miss out on the benefits of strength training because they’re afraid of bulking up, says Scott. But without a balance of cardio and strength training, you’ll likely sabotage your metabolism and even gain fat.

The Fix: Switch up your routine throughout the week to include a balance of cardio, strength training, and stretching (such as yoga), so that you challenge your body in multiple ways, says Fitzgerald.

To keep your cardio and resistance training effective, try alternating between high and low-intensity workouts. This will stimulate your muscles in different ways and give your body time to recover between tough workouts, says McCall. Think track or treadmill sprints versus a nice steady jog, or lifting heavy for just a few reps versus lifting moderate weight for a dozen reps.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

From there, switch up the tempo, intensity, or order of your strength-training exercises to keep your workouts challenging, adds Fitzgerald. For example, if you usually do squats before lunges, try swapping them, adding more weight to your squats, or turning bodyweight squats into jump squats. You can also mix up your cardio workouts by cross-training and swapping a run for a spin class or a swim. This will help keep your muscles from plateauing and prevent overuse injuries from doing the same repetitive movements all the time, Fitzgerald says.

4. You Skimp On Warmups And Cooldowns

Your workouts are key to making continuous fitness gains—but what you do before and after them matters, too. Let’s start with warming up: If you jump right into a high-intensity workout without prepping your body, you put yourself at greater risk for injuries like pulled and strained muscles, according to Scott. And the same goes if you run out of the gym before properly cooling down, says McCall. During a hard workout, your muscles produce waste your body needs to clear out of its system—and your cooldown and post-workout stretch give it the opportunity to do so, he says. Skimping on that cooldown can delay your recovery process and leave you sore.

The Fix: Spend at least 10 minutes warming up before a workout, Scott recommends. Perform simple moves like lunges, arm circles, toe touches, and hip swings, which get your whole body moving and start to boost your heartrate.

Then, spend about 10 minutes stretching and foam rolling after nailing your sweat session. Stretch all of your major muscle groups for 30 seconds each, and pay special attention to your hip flexors, calves, and hamstrings, McCall recommends. Using a foam roller to massage out your muscles can also help relieve tension and boost recovery, says Fitzgerald. In fact, a review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports found that foam rolling after strength training decreased participants’ soreness later on.

5. You Don’t Take Rest Days

This one might come as a bit of a surprise, but to see results from your workouts you have to rest. Remember that glycogen we talked about earlier? Your body needs time to replenish the stores it used up during your workout, says McCall. If you continue to push yourself on an empty tank, you’ll just feel fatigued and under-perform.

Without solid glycogen stores, your body may turn to protein for fuel—and that’s the opposite of what you want! Your body needs protein to repair damaged muscle tissue and help your muscles continue to grow, so running off protein leaves you more prone to soreness and injury, he says. If necessary, your body will even pull that protein from your muscle tissue and your workouts can actually break down some muscle instead of build it up. And because muscle supports your strength and burns a lot of calories, this is bad news for your overall fitness and your metabolism.

The Fix: Fitzgerald suggests taking a rest day after two or three workout days—especially if any of those workouts were high-intensity (which puts extra stress on your body). Make the most of rest days by foam rolling and stretching to help sore muscles recover, she says.

It’s normal for soreness from a workout to last a day or so, but if you’re still feeling it after a few days, consider it a sign that you’re overdoing it on exercise and putting yourself at risk for injury, McCall says.

Related: Turn your living room into your gym with training equipment and accessories.

7 Things You Should Always Check On A Nutrition Label—Other Than Calories

If you look at the nutritional label before you buy or eat something, chances are your eyes first dart to the calories section. Sure, that’s a good start—but there’s so much more to your food than its calories.

We know what you’re thinking: Food labels can be super-confusing. How much does the amount of fat (and the type of fat) really matter? How much sugar is too much? What else should you be looking at?

You’re not the only one wondering. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration is rolling out updates to food labels to make them easier to digest as we speak. (You’ll see the new and improved labels in 2018.)

But even with easier-to-read food labels, you have to know what you’re looking for! This annotated nutrition label will walk you through everything worth checking on the back of that jar, bag, or box of food. Then, read on for more details about why these parts of the label are important.

1. Serving Size

Even if you’re super diligent about checking your labels for calories, you need to make sure you’re always looking at the serving size on the package, too, says Natalie Rizzo, M.S. R.D., founder of Nutrition à la Natalie.

For example—that granola you add to your Greek yogurt. Say the serving size is a third-cup at 120 calories. If you’re not careful with your pour, you can easily use double that amount and spoon down close to 250 calories of granola. Not a big deal once in a while, but consistently overlooking this small detail can quickly become a problem and lead to weight gain.

Plus, not only do you double up on calories when you ignore serving sizes, but you also double up on everything else in that granola—like its sugar. (We’ll address that one soon.)

Most current food labels just list a single serving size, but as labels sync up to the FDA’s new requirements, they should also list the number of servings in the entire container or package. What to do? Take a look at what that serving size really is, and if you need to measure it out, do it!

2. Ingredients

The ingredients list may be at the very bottom of your food label, but it’s one of the first things you should look at, says Rizzo.

Sometimes the ingredients list can be super intimidating, though—especially if it’s really long and full of words you don’t recognize. Put simply, a labyrinth of hard-to-say ingredients is a major red flag, since it signals that a food is heavily processed, says Rizzo.

You want a food’s ingredient list to be relatively short and made up of real whole foods you can easily identify and pronounce, she says. Keep in mind that the first few ingredients are the most important, since they’re the biggest components of that food. “If you choose a cheese, and the first ingredient is not milk, but water or some weird-sounding chemical, then you know it’s heavily processed,” Rizzo explains.

That means if you want a healthier strawberry jam that’s not loaded with added sugar, the first ingredient should be strawberries, not high-fructose corn syrup. Look for foods that list all whole foods as their ingredients. If you see one sketchy ingredient at the end of the list it’s probably okay, though, says Rizzo. If an ingredient list includes three or four (or more) processed-sounding ingredients—or any of the first few ingredients are sketchy—leave that food on the shelf.

3. Sugar

Many of us eat more sugar than we realize, which can lead to weight gain and contribute to poor cardiovascular health, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Not all sugar is created equal, though. “There’s sugar that is added to foods, which is essentially empty calories, and sugar that naturally occurs in nutritious foods, like milk and fruit,” says Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D. author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer.

If your banana had a food label, the amount of sugar would probably freak you out for a second, but that’s all natural sugar, says Rizzo. That banana is a whole food and full of other nutritional perks, like potassium, fiber, and vitamin C. That oatmeal crème pie, though, is a different story. So 20 grams of sugar from a pastry isn’t nearly as worth your while as that much sugar from fruit.

Health experts will typically recommend that no more than 10 percent of your total calories come from sugar, but most people eat roughly 13 percent, according to Ansel. Men should consume a max of 36 grams of added sugar a day, while women should cap the sweet stuff at 25 grams, according to the AHA. So keep those daily maxes in mind when food shopping. You wouldn’t want to knock them all out in one sitting, right?

Though food labels don’t currently distinguish between natural and added sugars, they will have to call out added sugar when the FDA’s new label requirements fully kick in.

For now, your best bet is scanning the ingredients list for words like sucrose, maltose, and dextrose, along with more natural-sounding sweeteners like corn syrup, honey, and agave, says Ansel. You’d be surprised how many ‘healthy’ foods, like granola and yogurt, pack a ton of added sweeteners.

It’s just not realistic to obsess over added sugar in small amounts, so start by rolling back on sugary foods that contain little nutritional value, like soda, iced tea, lattes, desserts, candy, ice cream, and some refined cereals, suggests Ansel. That will leave more wiggle room for sugar in other picks that contain some added sugar but also provide nutrition, like a lightly-sweetened whole-grain cereal. “You may get a few grams of sugar, but you also get a serving of antioxidant and fiber-rich whole grains,” she says.

4. Fat

Fat gets a really bad rap, but if you’re still riding the low-fat bandwagon, please get off. Not eating enough fat can tank your energy levels and increase your risk for diabetes and heart disease. “Fat isn’t nearly as detrimental to our health as we once thought it was,” says Ansel. Some types of fat are more desirable than others, though. You’ll see four types of fat listed on your nutrition label: saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated.

First up, the big bad fat to look out for: trans fat. Since identifying that trans fats (also known as ‘partially hydrogenated oils’) increases your bad cholesterol levels, which can spike your risk of heart disease, the FDA has been working to have them removed from packaged foods. They’re most often found in foods like cookies, pizza dough, and crackers, so you want to avoid them as much as possible. Ideally, your label should list zero grams of trans fat.

From there, look for foods that contain more unsaturated fats than saturated fats. According to the AHA, unsaturated fats are beneficial for your health and can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Walnuts, for example, are full of good-for-you polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3s, which can benefit your heart health, triglyceride levels, and even your mood, says Rizzo.

Related: 7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For Your Health

Meanwhile, research suggests that higher intake of saturated fat increases your risk for heart disease, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. A good rule of thumb: Look for foods that contain a maximum of 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat, says Ansel.

5. Protein

This macronutrient gets hyped up for a reason: “We need protein to build muscle, manufacture antibodies and hormones, and repair tissues,” says Ansel. It also takes a long time to digest, so it keeps us feeling full and can help us eat less, she says.

Though many Americans get most of their protein at dinner, our bodies can make better use of it when we eat it consistently throughout the day. (Ansel recommends about 20 grams of protein per meal.) So check food labels for protein to make sure you’re incorporating it into your breakfast, lunch, and snacks, too.

If two cereals have a similar amount of calories and sugar, but one has significantly more protein, choose the protein-packed option, says Rizzo.

6. Sodium

People have feared salt for decades, but we actually need to eat at least 500 milligrams a day to help our bodies hold on to fluid so we don’t dehydrate, Ansel explains. The issue? Most of us chow down on much more than that—about 3,400 milligrams per day, which is actually a third more than the maximum recommendation of 2,300 milligrams, she says. (The AHA recommends ideally limiting salt to 1,500 milligrams a day.) Over time, this can make you retain too much fluid and spike your blood pressure, which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Since roughly 75 percent of the salt in our diets comes from packaged foods and foods from restaurants, checking your nutrition labels for sodium content can be helpful if you’re worried about overdoing it. Stay away from packaged foods that pack more than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving, says Ansel. “Foods to be on the lookout for are ramen noodles, canned soup, hot dogs, sausages, and some frozen dinners,” she says.

While salt isn’t typically an issue for the average healthy person, anyone with high blood pressure or who takes cholesterol meds should be especially careful about their salt intake and talk to their doc to make sure they’re in a healthy range.

7. Carbohydrates

 Everyone loves carbs—but as with fats, the types of carbs you eat can make a big difference in your health.

So rather than obsessing about the amount of carbs a food packs, look at the source of those carbs instead. Check to see how many of a food’s total carbs come from its fiber content, Ansel recommends. Why? Fiber slows down your digestion, stabilizes your blood sugar levels, and can help you maintain a healthy weight. Pick packaged foods with two or three grams of fiber, minimum, says Ansel.

You also want to eat complex carbs, like whole grains and potatoes, which break down more slowly and give you energy for longer, instead of simple carbs, like cookies, soda, and crackers, which basically break down like sugar and tend to make you crash faster.

Look for packaged foods that have as much fiber (and as little sugar) as possible. And steer clear of brands that list enriched flour or the added sugars in the ingredients. Instead, look for terms like ‘whole-wheat’ and ‘whole-grain’ and other wholesome ingredients like oats, quinoa, amaranth, and barley, Rizzo adds.

Related: Make sure you’re reaching your daily fiber needs with a supplement.

So You’ve Lost The Weight—Now What?

If you’ve been watching what you eat and getting your sweat on to tone up and slim down, you deserve some major kudos when you hit your goal—whether that’s fitting into your favorite pair of jeans, setting a new personal best in the gym, or just feeling more confident in your own skin. But once you cross that major goal off your to-do list, you may wonder: Now what?

Hustling to get those strong, toned legs or slim midsection was hard—and now that you’ve got ‘em, you want to keep ‘em! At this point, you’re entering what’s called the ‘maintenance phase.’ That means staying smart about eating healthy choices and working out so you can hold onto your hard-earned progress forever and ever.

Here, experts share the next-steps that will help you eat and train to make your recent health accomplishments sustainable.

The Food: Fuel Yourself Right

When it comes to your grub, take a flexible but focused approach. Turning down ice cream, a glass of vino, or an extra-cheesy slice of pizza 24/7 is just exhausting. Besides, you can maintain your weight and enjoy the good stuff as long as you indulge with a strategy. Take an 80:20 approach to your eats: Focus on nutrition and eating for your goals 80 percent of the time, and on enjoying your favorite indulgences the other 20 percent. That might mean having a piece of dark chocolate after dinner every night, or saving treats for a special meal on the weekends, Trattner explains. Go with whichever approach keeps you sane and satisfied.

And whether you’re eating for your goals or for the pure bliss of your go-to comfort meal, keep an intuitive attitude. Any successful weight management nutrition plan should focus on hunger cues over calories, says dietitian Ilyse Schapiro M.S., R.D., C.D.N. Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you’re about 80 percent full so you don’t get stuffed or end up overeating. Also, keep proper portions in mind, she says. This way you can eat in moderation, indulge occasionally, and stay healthy and trim.

During that 80 percent of your eating (when you’re focused on clean eats and fueling your body right), be sure to eat a balance of lean protein, healthy fats, complex carbs, fiber, and drink plenty of water. Schapiro recommends eating 30 to 50 percent of your calories from carbs, 25 to 35 percent from protein, and 25 to 35 from fat for weight maintenance.

A food-tracking app, like MyFitnessPal, can help you understand how much of your total calories come from which macronutrient (carbs, protein, and fat), but the following guidelines should land you in that healthy balance.

Protein: Eat at least three servings of protein a day, recommends weight-loss specialist Elizabeth Trattner A.P., L.Ac., N.C.C.A.O.M. Healthy options include four to six ounces of fish or lean chicken, three to four ounces of red meat, a cup of unsweetened plain Greek yogurt, an ounce of nuts, and two tablespoons of nut butter. Eating ample protein is huge for weight management because it’ll keep you feeling full and help prevent mindless munching throughout the day, she explains.

Produce: Shoot for seven to 11 servings of produce—about eight servings of veggies and three of fruit—per day, Trattner says. And the more green veggies the better. Eat a variety of veggies, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, kale, and carrots, and enjoy fruits like apples, berries, pears, kiwi, and bananas. The great thing about fruits and veggies? They add lots of volume—but not a lot of calories—to your meals.

Fruits and veggies are packed with fiber, which slows your digestion and keeps you satiated, and helps keep your bathroom time regular, Trattner says. She recommends shooting for up to 40 or 50 grams of fiber per day.

Related: Add a supplement to your routine to get your daily fiber fill.  

Healthy Fats: Aim for three to four servings of healthy fat per day, she recommends. (Think half an avocado, ten olives, or one ounce of walnuts). Like protein and fiber, healthy fats also help us feel satiated—plus, unsaturated fats (like those in olive oil and nuts) are heart-healthy, according to Harvard Medical School.

Carbs: We may think of carbs as lean physique enemy number one, but that’s not necessarily the case. Our muscles store carbs for energy so we can power through workouts (as well as recover from them!) and move throughout the day, Trattner explains.

Related: Are You Eating Too Few Carbs?

To get the most fiber—and other nutrients—possible, eat your carbs from complex, whole-food sources, like quinoa, whole-wheat bread, black beans, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, and squash, says Trattner. Start with a quarter to a half a cup at each meal and gauge how you feel. If you trudge through your workouts and feel fatigued often, you may need to add more.

Water: Drinking enough water helps keep you regular, prevents you from eating when you’re not really hungry, and can ward off swelling and bloating, Trattner says, She recommends drinking at least 64 ounces of plain water, oolong, green, white, or herbal tea, or seltzer water per day.

The Workouts: Sweat With A Purpose

Nutrition is super important for weight management, but it needs a trusty sidekick. Enter exercise.

Chances are, regular dates with the gym were a big part of your get-fit journey—and you will need to keep up with them to maintain your fitness long-term. But if you hate working out every day, don’t worry, you should be able to hold onto your results with three or four solid workouts a week, says Andrea Fornarola, C.P.T. and founder of Elements Fitness Studio in NYC.

To make sure those three or four workouts get the job done, though, you’ll need to mix them up and give them your all. “Mixing interval training, cardio, and strength training and toning is your best bet,” says Fornarola. You might go for a run or do intervals on the treadmill in one workout, lift weights in the next, and take a Pilates class in the last, she suggests. Not only will this variety keep you motivated and excited for your workouts, but it will also challenge your body in different ways so you’ll continue to adapt, get fitter, and continue to see results.

Strength training with moderate-to-heavy weights can help you build muscle, which boosts your metabolism and helps ward off fat-gain, says Fornarola. And the muscle you build gives your body more shape and definition. Focus on compound movements, like squats, that work multiple muscle groups at once, to get the most benefit. The bodyweight resistance you use in Pilates and yoga—and in exercises like pushups and bodyweight squats—can also help you build strength and endurance.

When it comes to cardio, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is a particularly effective way to reap major benefits without spending hours in the gym, she adds. By alternating between quick bursts of all-out effort and rest, you push your aerobic and muscle capacity to the limit, and burn a ton of calories in a short amount of time—and throughout the rest of the day. HIIT workouts offer more metabolic benefit for your time than steady-state cardio, which is a huge plus if you’re trying to maintain your weight.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

Just limit HIIT to a few sessions a week, because the max effort required to charge through it (and recover) can lead to fatigue and muscle exhaustion if you hit it too often, she warns. But that doesn’t mean you need to give up steady cardio cold-turkey. Steady-state cardio still challenges your aerobic capacity (how efficiently your body can get oxygen to your working muscles) and puts less stress on your system than HIIT does, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Finding a balance of different types of training that you enjoy—and that fits your lifestyle—is key to staying active long-term.

Should You Try These Instagram-Famous Workouts?

Instagram-famous trainers are taking over the fitness scene. But are their get-fit programs really all they’re cracked up to be? Short answer: It depends.

“It’s only natural for us to see other people following a plan, having success, and want the same for ourselves,” says Ava Fitzgerald, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., sports performance coach at the Professional Athletic Performance Center in New York. In other words, it’s hard to scroll through transformation photos and abs selfies and not want to hop on board.

There are a few things you should keep in mind before double-tapping, though: Some people promoting fitness programs online don’t have the necessary qualifications to do so safely and effectively, says certified health and fitness specialist Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. So before you start any trendy online workout program, make sure the creator is certified by an accredited organization. (A few to look for include ACE, NASM, and NSCA.) And beware any nutrition program that doesn’t come from a registered dietitian.

Before you dive into a program, also remember that many of those “before” and “after” pics in your feed represent the best possible results, not necessarily the average ones. (Some of the images may even be digitally manipulated.) After all, fitness and nutrition programs aren’t one-size-fits-all.

If you’re itching to get in on the Instagram fitness community, we dug into its most popular workout plans with the help of top trainers and dietitians, to help you find the plan that’s best for you.

1. @Kayla_Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide

Certified personal trainer Kayla Itsines’ #BBG (Bikini Body Guide) is a fat-loss program for women that’s focused on 30-minute strength circuits—combining bodyweight exercises, gym equipment like medicine balls, and free weights. Some of the program’s staple moves include med ball squat-to-presses, pushups, lunges, and jump squats.

Related: 6 Exercises That Double As Cardio AND Strength Training

Itsines sells her 12-week workout plan (complete with photos of the moves) and a clean eating plan she developed with dietitians. You can follow up your first 12 weeks with a second 12-week workout plan, or try Itsines’ recently launched Sweat With Kayla app, which transforms her plans into a phone-friendly format and includes exercise demonstration videos.

Pros: Continued Results And Community

Itsines’ workout plans are designed to continually build you up through weeks one to 12 and 13 to 24, ramping things up by including more challenging moves and heavier weights as you go. The goal: to prevent plateaus by progressively challenging your body. (Lifting heavier and heavier helps women build more muscle and burn more fat.)

However, perhaps the biggest benefit of #BBG is the enormous community behind it. Seriously, just check out the six million Instagram posts tagged #BBG. There are even closed Facebook groups in most major U.S. cities (and many abroad!) for members to offer support, swap ideas, and plan in-person meet-ups.

Cons: Little Customization For The Cost

Whether you buy the workout and eating plans together or apart, it will cost you around 100 bucks. However, the workouts are not easily customizable and the nutrition plan offers only regular and vegetarian versions.

Fitzgerald recommends building up a base of strength before starting the program, since many of the moves aren’t quite as beginner-friendly as they may seem and the program doesn’t provide modification options. Jackknives (an ab move), for example, are hard to nail if you don’t have the core strength to properly perform a hollow-body hold first. Plus, moves like burpees-to-bench-jumps and double bench jumps can be disasters waiting to happen if you have cranky knees or balance issues.

The meal plan is a similar story—the recipes offered are balanced, but may not fit your unique calorie and macronutrient (carbs, fat, protein) needs, says White. You may need to adjust portion sizes and swap out ingredients—like dairy products—if you have any dietary restrictions.

Your Move: Try The App First

For a #BBG experience that’s a little more interactive and customizable, go for the Sweat With Kayla app. “It includes workouts, recipes, and challenges to keep you motivated, along with recipes for a regular diet, vegetarians, pescatarians, lacto-vegetarians, and vegans,” White says.

You can also store progress photos, connect with other women doing the plan, and read additional content about fitness and nutrition. Download a seven-day free trial of the app to make sure the workouts and eating plans fit your individual needs before handing over your credit card—the app costs 20 bucks a month.

2. @ToneItUp

Best friends and trainers Katrina Scott and Karena Dawn share workouts, full exercise plans, recipes, and nutrition plans online as Tone It Up. (Katrina has a B.S. in health science and Karena has ‘studied kinesiology.’) In addition to loads of free workout videos, recipes, and more, they also sell premium workout programs (called “Beach Babe”) for about 40 dollars, along with a nutrition plan—created by dietitian Lori Zanini, R.D.— that includes veg, gluten-free, and other options for 150 dollars. Tone It Up also has a large Instagram community, with almost two million posts tagged #tiu.

Pros: Great For Beginners

The Tone It Up program packs beginner-level, at-home-friendly resistance training, as well as short cardio and stretching workouts, into roughly 30 minutes per day. “Overall, the movements are simple, and include squats, lunge variations, bicep curls, triceps extensions, upright rows, conventional rows, and a plethora of dumbbell work,” says Baltimore-based strength coach Erica Suter, C.S.C.S. Since the exercises all use just your bodyweight or very light weights, Tone It Up is a good program for women looking to ease into a lifting program, she says. And since Tone It Up offers so many free workouts and videos, you can get a feel for their style (and your results) risk-free.

Cons: Not Ideal For Advanced Exercisers Or Major Transformations

While using body weight and light dumbbells makes strength training accessible to beginners, it’s not as effective for more experienced exercisers or women looking to transform their body in a big way. “While going light may be beneficial at the start of the program, it might not be enough for women to see drastic physique changes,” Suter says. That’s because we need to continually increase the stress (a.k.a. weight) put on our bodies in order to continue burning calories and building muscle.

“Women may think they can look as toned and lean as the girls in the workout videos from just their workouts, but this is far from the truth,” she says. Sticking with four-pound dumbbells will only land you in Plateau Central in the long run.

Your Move: Increase The Intensity On Your Own

While many of Tone It Up’s workout videos include progressions and modifications to help match the moves to your fitness level, at a certain point you’re going to need to increase your workouts’ intensity in order to continue seeing results. That means lifting heavier weights, adding in extra reps or sets, or shortening your rest intervals, Suter says. If you have anything left it the tank at the end of your workouts, that’s your cue to take things to the next level—so grab heavier dumbbells or pump out an extra set of each move.

3. @AnnaVictoria’s Fit Body Guide

NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)-certified personal trainer Anna Victoria’s FBG (Fit Body Guide) is a fat-loss and toning program that’s broken up into three 30-minute strength workouts and three cardio workouts per week. Each workout plan—she has multiple—takes you through 12 weeks of workouts and can be combined with a 12-week meal plan for roughly 80 bucks. At first you’ll build strength using your bodyweight and perform lower-intensity cardio—but as the weeks and months progress, you’ll add weights to your strength training and build up to high-intensity intervals for your cardio.

Pros: Highly Customizable Nutrition Plan

The FBG meal plan focuses on whole foods, has vegan and vegetarian-friendly options, is highly customizable, and provides macro guidelines for flexible eating. While it does contain recipes, it also offers information about healthy foods and proper portion sizes so you can create your own meals. Victoria, who isn’t certified in nutrition, created the nutrition plan and had it approved by a nutritionist, says White.

Cons: Less Exercise Instruction Than Most Beginners Need

Expect to find everything from biceps curls to box jumps to single-leg Romanian deadlifts in Victoria’s workouts. Instructional images give you a rough idea of how to perform the moves, but don’t come with the full descriptions really needed to master form. So while an experienced exerciser who is familiar with the moves may be able to follow right along, the plan may be more difficult for a beginner, who won’t be able to perform single-leg glute bridges or Bulgarian split squats with proper form in the first week of a new program, White says.

If you’re more experienced in the gym, though, these are totally effective moves. They use multiple muscle groups at once to build muscle and trigger significant metabolic changes.

Your Move: Download The Program Preview

Not sure if you’re ready for Anna Victoria’s workouts? The Fit Body Guide offers previews, so you can check out before diving in. “Before purchasing a meal plan guide or workout guide, I would recommend downloading the previews and trying them out first to see if the plans are for you,” White says. If the moves are outside your comfort zone, build your squat, deadlift, lunge, pushup, and row strength before you get started.

4. @EmilySkyeFit’s Fitness Inspiration Transformation

Certified personal trainer Emily Skye’s FIT or Fitness Inspiration Transformation is a program designed to build muscle and burn fat. Each phase lasts four weeks and includes 30-minute daily workouts (consisting of strength training and HIIT circuits) and various nutritionist-developed meal plans and nutritional guidelines.

Pros: Highly Effective Exercises

Large, compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and swings make up the bulk of the training program. By working large groups of muscles with every rep, these moves help women get the most benefit in the least time possible, explains Canada-based kinesiologist and certified exercise physiologist Gavin McHale, C.S.E.P., C.E.P. Skye provides instructional videos, which makes nailing these technical exercises easier. Since these moves require some base strength, though, Emily Skye’s program is probably best for those with some strength-training experience.

Cons: Structure Not Ideal For Getting The Most From Those Exercises

Skye’s offers three four-week workout phases: Phase 1 is a full-body plan, Phase 2 is a legs and butt plan, and Phase 3 is an abs and core plan. But this approach just doesn’t make sense, says McHale. After all, as soon as you stop training your legs, you start losing your hard-earned leg gains—and miss out on a significant calorie burn. In an ideal world, each phase of the program should focus on your full body and build on what you accomplished in the last one.

Related: Should You Lift Full-Body Or Bodybuilder-Style?

Plus, newbies who don’t have a particular move down pat may struggle to perform the number of reps in the workouts (around 12) with proper form. Remember: the more reps you do, the greater your chances of breaking form and using muscles other than the ones intended.

Your Move: Combine The Three Phases Into One

Instead of focusing on each phase separately, McHale recommends merging all of Emily Skye’s programs. That way you’ll train upper and lower body multiple times a week, and benefit from HIIT and additional core work throughout the full 12 weeks. This will keep your strength balanced and progress steady.

Meanwhile, when performing large, compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, rows, bench presses, and kettlebell swings, feel free to dial down the number of reps and focus on quality over quantity. You can up the number of reps—or the amount of weight you use—as you get more comfortable.

Related: Shop training accessories for effective workouts from home.


8 Tips For Picking The Healthiest Packaged Foods Possible

We’ve all been told to eat lots of whole foods—like fruits, veggies, meat, poultry, and dairy—and to watch our intake of processed foods. But let’s be serious: Most of us aren’t about to blend up our own mayo. Avoiding supermarket aisles stocked with jars, bag, cans, and boxes just isn’t always doable.

When we buy food from a bag, box, or jar, it can be tricky to tell just how healthy (or unhealthy) it really is. After all, plenty of packaged foods contain terrifyingly long lists of ingredients, which often include preservatives and additives we don’t recognize and can’t pronounce. (What the heck is ‘dextrin,’ anyway?) Not to mention, many packaged foods come with a boatload of extra calories—on top of added sugars, fats, and sodium, says Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D.N.

To save you from spending 20 minutes trying to pick between two jars of tomato sauce or boxes of crackers, we asked dietitians for their supermarket navigation tips.

1. Check the sugar content.

Natural sugars that are found in whole foods like fruit and dairy have a place in a healthy diet, but sugars added to many packaged foods and drinks can lead to weight gain and health concerns, , says Amidor. So how much sugar a food contains—and whether it’s naturally-occurring or added—is something you’ll want to look at.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting added sugars to just five percent of our total daily calories, which is 100 calories or 25 grams. So if a food contains more than 10 grams (or 40 calories) of added sugar per serving, it should probably be a no-go, Amidor says.

And don’t expect that added sugar to reveal itself willingly in the ingredient list: “Added sugars can show up on food and drink labels under names like anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, sugar, syrup and white sugar,” says Amidor. Yikes.

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

That said, you don’t necessarily have to nix a food because it contains a little added sugar. If the other ingredients are simple and offer health benefits like fiber or other nutrients, you can cut yourself some slack.

2. Feel out the fat.

One of the reasons packaged snacks can be so dang addicting: They contain added fat for enhanced flavor, says Amidor.

And while fat can be healthy (think of the unsaturated fats in avocados, nuts, and olive oil), many packaged foods are higher in saturated fats and contain trans fats.

Trans, or ‘hydrogenated’ fats have been linked to heart disease and should be avoided as much as possible, says Amidor. Meanwhile, the USDA 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to 10 percent or less of your daily calories, since excess consumption can affect cholesterol, she says.

So when you’re deciding between two packaged foods, compare the amounts of saturated fat per serving and go with the product that has less. Stay away from anything that contains 15 percent of your total daily allotment of saturated fat, Amidor suggests.

3. Beware insane amounts of salt.

The recommended daily max for sodium is 2,300 milligrams, or about one teaspoon of salt, but many packaged foods are bursting with the stuff, sometimes packing half your daily allowance in one serving.

Ideally, though, you want somewhere around 200 milligrams of sodium max per serving, says Benjamin White, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N. So look for foods labeled ‘low-sodium’ or ‘no salt added’ and add flavor with herbs and spices at home.

4. Count the ingredients.

To keep your eats as clean as possible, pick packaged foods that contain as few ingredients as possible, says White. A food with few ingredients is less processed, and often healthier, than one with a long laundry list, he says.

And, since ingredients are listed in order of the amount contained in the food (high to low), looking at the first three can tell you a lot about what you’re eating, White adds. If one of the food’s first three ingredients is a sweetener, non-whole-grain flour, or oil, it’s probably not a great choice.

5. Do some quick nutrient math.

To make our snacks and meals as filling and waistline-friendly as possible, make sure they pack two things: fiber and protein. (You generally want at least three grams of fiber and seven grams of protein, White says.)

To figure out if a packaged food has enough of this good stuff to outweigh the bad stuff that may also be lurking, add up the grams of protein and fiber on the Nutrition Facts. Then add up the grams of total fat and sugar. If the total grams of protein and fiber are higher than the total grams of fat and sugar, you’re good to go, White says.

6. Look for added nutrients.

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, there are four nutrients in particular that Americans fall short on: vitamin D, calcium, fiber, and potassium. (Vitamin D, calcium, and potassium are found in milk and many dairy products, while potassium and fiber can be found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, according to Amidor.)

Related: 9 Nutrients You May Be Short On If You Don’t Eat Dairy

But since so many of us miss out on these four nutrients, they’re often added to packaged foods (like breakfast cereal) to help us get our fill. So if a food packs a boatload of these important nutrients despite having some rather unappealing qualities—like some added sugar—it might still be worth eating, she says. Just make sure the food provides at least 10 to 19 percent of your daily value of one or more of these nutrients per serving.

7. Cut out artificial colors and flavors.

You’ll want to avoid as much artificial anything as possible, and nixing artificial colors and flavors is a good place to start. “Color additives are used for aesthetic purposes, and do not provide any nutritional value to the food,” says Amidor. The same goes for artificial flavors. So go ahead and leave that cupcake icing colored with ‘blue number whatever’ or artificially-flavored nacho chips on the shelf.

8. When in doubt, use an app.

If you just can’t decide whether to put a product in your cart or leave it on the shelf, let your phone do the thinking for you. An app like the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores, gives you quick feedback on the overall quality of a food, says White. “The app gives a rating for thousands of foods based on their nutritional value, ingredients of concern (like additives), and the extent to which they’re processed,” he says. The closer to a rating of ‘1,’ the more worthy the food.

Related: Check out a selection of packaged staples and snacks that keep your health in mind.

Weight-Loss Efforts Failing? You Might Not Be Eating Enough

You’ve heard it a million times before: Weight loss comes down to the simple equation of ‘calories in versus calories out.’ Burn more calories than you take in—usually by eating less and working out more—and watch the pounds melt off, right?

“In theory, if you consume fewer calories than you expend, you should lose weight; and if you do the opposite, you should gain weight” says David Greuner M.D., of NYC Surgical Associates. Many people, though, make a calorie-cutting mistake that actually sabotages their weight loss—and that’s restricting calories too much.

Why Eating Fewer Calories Doesn’t Mean Shedding More Pounds

We all have a unique metabolic rate (the number of calories our bodies need throughout the day), which is influenced by factors like gender, age, activity level, and muscle mass.

“The higher your metabolic rate, the more calories you’re burning,” says Leah Kaufman, M.S., R.D.N., dietitian for NYU Langone Health’s weight management program. (Even when you’re doing nothing!) When you restrict calories consistently, though, your metabolic rate drops—and the more drastic the calorie restriction, the more drastic the metabolic spiral, she says.

This incredibly frustrating cause-and-effect actually stems from our caveman days, says Deepa Iyengar, M.D., associate professor at the McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Basically, when you don’t eat enough, your brain thinks you’re starving, and your body holds onto every calorie it’s given, she says. (This came in handy when our cavemen ancestors couldn’t hunt or gather enough food.) Your metabolism slows down to a sluggish rate, and even though you’re trying to lose weight, your results screech to a halt. You may even start to break down muscle for fuel.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

And if your extreme calorie-cutting is also paired with lots of intense exercise, you put yourself at risk for a scary condition called rhabdomyolysis, in which your muscle breaks down so rapidly that you’re left with severe muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and confusion, and potential kidney failure, says Greuner.

How to Tell if You’re Cutting Too Many Calories

As great as losing a few pounds sounds, going in to ‘starvation mode’ or risking your health isn’t so hot. If you’re going too far with calorie-slashing, the first signs you’ll notice are low energy, headaches, and fatigue, says Kaufman. Your mood may also take a hit, so you may feel irritable or depressed, or have trouble concentrating, adds Greuner.

And, of course, you’ll probably feel hungry all the dang time, because your calorie shortage causes your body to release hormones like ghrelin, which signal to the brain that you need some nourishment, pronto.

You can start to experience these symptoms as soon as you cut anything more than 500 calories per day, Iyengar says. But if your caloric intake dips below 1,000 calories a day, you enter into a real danger zone and risk damaging organs like your heart and kidneys, she adds.

Get Your Calories Back in the Safe Zone

Understanding the base number of calories your body needs to function (even if you lie in bed all day) can help you quit your extreme calorie-cutting ways. A qualified health professional can help you calculate your exact minimum needs with a machine that measures your oxygen consumption, which indicates your metabolic rate, says Kaufman.

Otherwise, you can use an online calculator from a medical or health organization (MyFitnessPal has an easy and free one) to estimate your daily calorie needs. Just keep in mind that this is the base number of calories your body needs to stay alive and do nothing else—not how many you should eat to lose weight. You’ll need additional calories to fuel daily activities and exercise. (A dietitian or doc can help you figure out the exact number.)

Men generally need more calories than women because they have more muscle mass, and therefore higher metabolisms, says Iyengar. Active men under age 55 who exercise for about 45 minutes four times a week should start with a baseline of 2,500 calories per day, while active women under 55 should start out at 2,000, she recommends. From there, if you want to lose weight (at about one pound per week) you can reduce your daily consumption by up to 500 calories, but not more than that, says Kaufman. Keep a food journal or use a food-tracking app to make sure you’re getting what you need, she suggests.

Taking this more moderate approach will help you lose weight safely—and sustain it. “You cannot survive on 800 calories a day for the rest of your life. It’s just not possible.” Getting enough calories will keep your body nourished so that you feel strong (instead of totally drained) when you exercise—which is a key piece of any sustainable weight-loss plan, says Greuner.

And one final tip for the road: When you’re in a (healthy) calorie deficit, it’s also important to consume enough protein to support your muscles and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure you’re getting all of the vitamins and minerals you need, says Kaufman.

Related: Shop multivitamins and minerals to make sure your nutritional bases are covered.