Everything This Weight Loss Expert Eats In A Day

In my 16-year journey as a weight loss and fitness expert, I’ve tried just about every diet in the book, from bodybuilder-style macro-counting to high-fat keto. Though some experiments have proved more sustainable than others, each has helped me find the eating style that works best for me.

These days, my eating philosophy is to really listen to my body, eat whole foods in their whole forms (as little from packages as possible!), get enough satiating fat, and love what I eat. I keep a list of my five favorite healthy breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, and a binder of all my favorite recipes—like slow cooker chicken chili—to make healthy eating easier when life gets busy. (And, trust me, it does when you have two kids, two dogs, a full-time job, and a hubby who works opposite hours than you do!)

Here’s what a full day of healthy—and delicious—eating usually looks like for me.

On a typical day, my alarm clock goes off at 5:20 in the morning and I enjoy the quiet with a cup of coffee—usually a cappuccino made with lots of whole milk and cinnamon—and my pup, Angus. I feel best following a modified intermittent fasting regimen and delaying my first full meal, so my frothy beverage usually counts as my breakfast.

Then I usually meet with a client in my gym, get my kids ready for school, and do a workout (often kickboxing or a run) of my own. From there, I’m off to work, running from private clients to speaking events to consulting meetings all over the place. I don’t eat my first real meal until around noon, but when I finally stop long enough to sit down and eat, I usually go for breakfast food, my favorite of which is an omelet (or some sort of egg dish).

I stuff two full eggs (the yolks contain all those vitamins, like choline) with vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, and onions—and, of course, cheese. I try to use seasonal veggies and different cheeses (like cheddar and goat cheese) and herbs to keep boredom at bay.

There are some days, however, that I’m crunched for time, so I go for a one-two punch of portable fruit and protein: yogurt parfait plus a banana and packet of nut butter (like Justin’s almond butter).

My yogurt bowls consist of two-percent plain Greek yogurt topped with raspberries, blueberries, two tablespoons of sliced almonds, and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds. I always recommend going for fuller-fat dairy because it’s more satisfying and swapping sugar-laden granola for nuts and seeds, which provide healthy fats, protein, and crunch. The bowl is low in sugar, but high in fiber and protein, so it really holds me over.

With that first meal, I take my supplements: a multivitamin to keep my nutritional bases covered, a probiotic to support a healthy gut, turmeric for an antioxidant boost, and collagen to keep my skin glowing and hair and nails strong.

I’m usually satisfied until late afternoon, when I grab a snack.

My afternoon munch pretty much always includes some dark chocolate, but I do have a few other staples, like apple slices and raw mixed nuts, hummus and sugar snap peas, a clementine and a cheese stick, and apple slices and nut butter. My criteria for a great snack: It must contain a fruit or vegetable for vitamins and fiber, and it should also provide some fat and protein. To make travel and portion control easier, I buy pre-made serving-size packets for nuts, nut butters, and hummus whenever I can.

Once work and after-school activities finish up, my family sits down together for dinner. So much research shows how vital this time can be for families, so we fight for it! We keep the TV off and put our phones away so we can focus on each other and eating mindfully.

Often, we all eat a slight variation of the same theme. My kids might have Italian-seasoned ground turkey over pasta with red sauce, while my husband and I might eat it over spaghetti squash, zucchini, salad, or steamed broccoli.

My goal at dinner is to fill half my plate with produce. Then I add a solid four-ounce serving of a lean protein like chicken or shrimp and some healthy fat like avocado, a drizzle of olive oil, or even a little melted butter. I always use a small plate to keep my portions in check.

During my own weight loss journey (I shed 65 pounds before starting my career in the industry), I realized that I snacked at nighttime just out of habit, and consumed hundreds of extra calories just to keep my hands busy while watching TV. These days, I don’t usually eat after dinner, and make myself a mug of one of my favorite teas—like decaf chai or Earl Grey, or Trader Joe’s Candy Cane green tea—instead.

If I’m truly hungry, though, I’ll go for a snack made of whole, natural foods, which are hard to overeat! My favorites are a sliced apple with a tablespoon or two of almond butter and baby carrots with hummus.

My personal eating style has evolved so much over the years, and right now this way of eating really works for my lifestyle, but I always keep my eyes open for areas where it might need to be tweaked. I truly believe that being willing to try new things and staying inspired are the keys to eating healthy long-term!


Liz Josefsberg is a weight loss and wellness expert with over 15 years in the industry, as well as a member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. A mom, author, fitness enthusiast, and weight loss success story herself (65 pounds lost!), Liz consults all over the world. She loves testing every diet, exercise regimen, device, and piece of gear she can get her hands on. 

How’d These Smoothie Bowls Get So Blue?

Now that matcha has invaded everything from Starbucks frappuccinos to protein shakes, and we’ve become accustomed to seeing its striking green color across the most influential Instagram pages, another superfood is taking over town: spirulina.

Spirulina—a type of blue-green algae—has been made famous by wellness brands like Moon Juice, Sakara, and The End Brooklyn (though its ‘superfood’ status actually dates back to the ancient Aztecs and Mayans). The spiral-shaped organism (it’s technically a bacteria) grows in warm alkaline waters in mild climates, and is found in the largest concentrations in Mexico and Africa’s Great Rift Valley. As it grows, it absorbs a myriad of nutrients from its environment.

“From what we know, spirulina is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin K1, vitamin K2, and vitamin B12, as well as iron, manganese, chromium, and a host of phytonutrients,” says chiropractic physician and certified nutrition specialist Scott Schreiber, M.S., R.D. “Not only is it a powerful antioxidant, but spirulina has also shown promise in protecting the liver, kidney, nerves and brain, helping detox heavy metals, supporting health blood pressure and cholesterol, and boosting energy.”

And did we mention just two tablespoons of spirulina also happens to pack six grams of protein?

Blue Smoothie Bowl goodness @healthsynergy 💦

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It’s not just spirulina’s impressive nutrition stats that have made it so trendy, however, suggests Abbey Sharp, R.D., of Abbey’s Kitchen. The algae’s beautiful blue color is otherwise pretty impossible to find in nature, and, frankly, it just looks lovely in a latte. “Given today’s rainbow and unicorn food trends, spirulina has become a popular additive to smoothies and other Instagram-worthy dishes,” she says. (Seriously, check out this delightful birthday cake latte The End Brooklyn made The Vitamin Shoppe for its 40th birthday…)

Most nutrition experts have been long-time fans of spirulina, and research suggests its health benefits are legit. For example, one small study published in the Journal of Applied Phycology found that five grams of spirulina a day may support the immune response of people with compromised immune systems.

Kiwis and spirulina smoothie bowl via @monacoskitchen

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Just a couple things to keep in mind before turning all of your favorite recipes blue: First, make sure you buy your spirulina from a reputable manufacturer that tests for contaminants, since this water-dwelling organism can absorb potentially-harmful metals, like mercury, from its environment, and produce toxins, warns dietitian and chef Julie Andrews, M.S., R.D.N. This is especially important if a supplement lists ‘blue-green algae’ or ‘AFA’ (which are harvested from the wild, and not commercially, like spirulina) as ingredients.

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Once you’ve got the blue-green light, you can add spirulina—which you’ll typically find in powder form—to pretty much everything. If you want to keep things basic, just mix the powder straight into water or juice. If you’re feeling creative, stir your spirulina into salad dressings, mix it into homemade energy bites, or blend it into smoothies—like this colorful recipe from dietitian Gillean Barkyoumb, M.S., R.D.

Ingredients:
1 scoop of vanilla plant-based protein powder
1/2 avocado
1 cup of almond milk
1 Tbsp almond butter
1 Tbsp cacao nibs
2 Tbsp spirulina powder
Ice, as desired

Don’t worry, if you’re not a fan of spirulina’s flavor (some find it a little too ‘earthy’) you can still reap its benefits by popping a tablet supplement, like The Vitamin Shoppe brand’s California-Grown Spirulina tablets.

Is Plant-Based Protein Just As Effective As Whey Protein?

When it comes to protein, we tend to think of animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs as the best of the best, but a recent study suggests that plant-based protein sources deserve more credit than they usually get.

Published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the study assigned 11 mixed martial artists (MMA) athletes to either a rice or whey protein supplement. They supplemented with three scoops (75 grams) of their designated protein throughout six weeks of high-volume and high-intensity training in preparation for an upcoming fight. They took one of their three scoops of protein before training and followed their usual diets otherwise.

After the six weeks, the study found the rice and whey proteins had ‘statistically similar’ abilities to help the athletes hang onto their muscle mass while undergoing the stress of intense training. That’s right, rice protein benefited their muscles just as much as good ol’ whey.  

The main takeaway: Upping our overall protein intake has a major impact on our ability to maintain fat-free mass and a healthy body composition, regardless of the source of that protein. “The whole point was increasing protein intake, period,” says one of the study’s authors, Alison Escalante, R.D, L.D.N., C.I.S.S.N., of ALLYFIT. “Though we were working with dieters that were cutting weight and in strict preparation for a fight, they were still able to both maintain their lean body mass and their performance by increasing overall protein intake.”

“We wanted to explore this because there’s a lot of hype about plant-based dieting and that’s something that we found intriguing,” she explains. So whether you have a dairy allergy, are vegan, or just need a change of pace, consider this study confirmation that plant-based proteins do in fact hold their weight, and that it is possible to nourish your muscles without relying on animal proteins.

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

We know many of you whey loyalists still aren’t sold—after all, whey protein has long been considered top dog when it comes to building muscle, as it  contains all nine of the essential amino acids, including high amounts of the branched-chain amino acids (leucine, valine, and isoleucine), which are key to muscle protein synthesis (the process through which our muscles recover and grow). It’s also digested more quickly than plant-based proteins. For those reasons, past research concluded that whey better stimulates muscle protein synthesis than other popular protein options, such as casein and soy.

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Ultimately, though, you can still maintain or build muscle using a plant-based protein supplement. “The body can combine an amino acid from one food source with the amino acids from another food source to make the proteins it needs, including what it needs to grow and maintain muscle,” says Isabel Maples, R.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Plus, many plant-based proteins out there these days combine a number of protein sources—like rice, pea, and hemp—to pack more of amino acids into every scoop. So if you’re really concerned about coming as close to whey as possible, go for one of these combo plant proteins. Look for about 20 to 30 grams of protein—and two to five grams of the BCAA leucine, the most crucial for muscle protein synthesis—per serving.

How To Build Muscle And Shed Fat At The Same Time

Building muscle or losing body fat can be a daunting enough process on its own—so, understandably, achieving both at the same time can seem downright impossible.

After all, the strategy for building muscle is typically the opposite of the strategy for losing fat. Muscle gain—or any sort of weight gain, for that matter—occurs when your body has more building materials (a.k.a. calories and nutrients) than it needs for basic upkeep, and adds to your body’s structures (like muscles and fat stores), explains Craig Primack, M.D., president-elect of the Obesity Medicine Association. Weight loss, though, happens when your body is short on materials and starts demo-ing your body’s structures for scrap parts to use.

That’s why, when we lose weight, we never lose 100 percent fat, but a mix of fat, water, and muscle, explains Denver-based dietitian Jessica Crandall, R.D., C.D.E., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In fact, up to 20 percent of that weight loss can come from muscle, as our body repurposes those proteins for other things. On the flip side, it’s also impossible to gain 100 percent muscle; usually some fat comes along with it, too. “You can’t eat a chicken breast and tell your body to store all of it in your biceps,” she says.

While it’s way easier to make major muscle gains if you’re okay with putting on a bit of fat in the process—and to lose a significant amount of weight when you’re just trying to preserve muscle—the two-for-one combo is possible! “You can gain some muscle and lose quite a bit fat at the same time,” says Sarah Walls, C.S.C.S., owner of SAPT Strength & Performance Training in Virginia.

You just need a very specific strategy: One McMaster University study, for example, found that guys were able to gain about 2.64 pounds of muscle and lose 10.56 pounds of fat in four weeks given the right training and nutrition plan (which turned out to be workouts focused on strength training and HIIT, and a high-protein, calorie-restricted diet).

Below, the experts break down the dos and don’ts of gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time.

DON’T: Focus On Cardio

Cardiovascular exercise, especially steady-state cardio, doesn’t stress your muscles enough to stimulate much of an increase in muscle size (called ‘hypertrophy’), says Walls. Over time, doing cardio alone will just increase how much of the weight you lose comes from muscle mass.

To build muscle, which boosts your metabolism and makes fat loss easier, “your training plan should be biased toward free-weight, full-body compound movements like squats and pullups,” says Walls. Since these moves engage large muscle groups, not only do they support muscle gains, but also blast a ton of calories in the process.

For maximal hypertrophy, try to work each major muscle group at least twice a week and include squats, hip-hinges (like deadlifts), pushing exercises (like pushups or chest presses), and pulling exercises (like bent-over rows and pullups) in your workouts.

Just in case you’re not sold: One Harvard School of Public Health study found that guys who performed 20 minutes of resistance training per day gained less abdominal fat over the course of a decade than to those who did the same amount of cardio.

DO: Integrate HIIT

If you are going to do cardio, make it high-intensity interval training, which alternates between bouts of all-out effort and low-intensity recovery, and has been shown to support both muscle gain and fat loss. How? HIIT burns major calories, improves your insulin sensitivity, and boosts your muscles’ abilities to use both sugar and fat as fuel, according to one Journal of Obesity review. In fact, one Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study found that just one month of HIIT training helped rowers decrease their body fat percentage, while traditional rowing had no effect.

DON’T: Drastically Cut Calories

The greater your caloric deficit, the more likely your body is to start catabolizing (breaking down) muscle for energy and other biological necessities, says Crandall. As a general rule, experts say a 500-calorie deficit—achieved through diet, exercise, or a combination of the two—is best for moderate weight loss.

That said, if you’re really vying for muscle gains, that 500-calorie deficit may be too much—especially if you want to go hard in the gym. In this case, Crandall recommends sticking to a caloric deficit as small as 300 (or even fewer) calories per day. Regularly measuring your body fat percentage can help you determine how much of a caloric deficit you need to reach your goals. (The scale can’t tell you how much of your weight comes from lean versus fat mass.)

One word of warning: Consuming the right number of calories is important, but focusing on calories alone doesn’t guarantee your body gets the carbs it needs to lift heavy weights, the protein it needs to recover from those lifts, or the fat it needs to maintain healthy hormone function, Crandall says.

DO: Balance Your Macros

The real key to simultaneous building and shredding is protein, which supports muscle mass even when calories run short. Though the current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of your body weight per day, that recommendation is the absolute minimum, not the ideal—especially when it comes to muscle-building, explains Crandall. One American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that men who ate 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for four weeks lost about three more pounds of fat—and gained two more pounds of muscle—than men who ate 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends between 1.6 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day for optimal muscle growth. That’s between 131 and 180 grams per day for a 180-pound adult.

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When it comes to carbs and fats, Crandall recommends a relatively balanced approach. Most adults need a baseline of roughly 130 grams of carbs—which not only fuel exercise, but also help shuttle protein into your muscles—per day, plus another 40 to 60 grams for every hour of intense exercise (like heavy strength training) they do. Fats can make up anywhere between 15 and 30 percent of your total daily calories, depending on how much you need to feel satiated.

DON’T: Eat Your Protein All At Once

Hitting your daily protein goals is important, but, if like most Americans you get the vast majority of your protein at dinner, you’re essentially depriving your muscles of the building blocks they need all day long only to then give them more than they can handle in a single sitting, says Crandall. The result: Your muscles waste—or at least don’t grow optimally—throughout most of day, and the excess protein you eat at dinner gets stored as fat.

A 2018 review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests that people should consume 0.4 to 0.55 grams of protein per kilogram of their body weight at each and every meal (it recommends four per day) for optimal muscle growth. That’s 33 to 45 grams of protein four times per day for that same 180-pound adult.

Related: 8 Breakfasts That Pack Between 20 And 30 Grams Of Protein

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

Sure, if you’re committed to living a healthy lifestyle, you probably don’t skip out on your workouts—but what about your post-workout refueling routine? After all, proper nutrition after training has a huge impact on the results you see—whether you’re training for a marathon or building a more muscular body.

Plain and simple, exercise stresses your body. As your working muscles contract to power you through whatever movement you’re doing, you churn through your energy stores and create tiny tears in your muscle tissue. That’s why post-workout nutrition—which provides your body with the nutrients it needs to restock its energy stores, rebuild damaged muscle tissue, and grow bigger and stronger—is so important.

Here’s what four fitness and nutrition experts recommend you load up on after your next sweat.

1. Carbs

When you work out, your body first uses whatever sugar you have in your blood for energy. Once that’s used up, it typically relies on the glycogen—a form of sugar stored in your muscles and liver—for fuel. So if you want to work out again at some point, you need to refill the tank! “Your post-workout nutrition is all about replenishing the glycogen you depleted during exercise, which you can do by eating carbs,” explains dietitian and exercise physiologist, Jim White R.D.N., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. Research shows that your body is extra-efficient at using carbs for glycogen after exercise—and that glycogen helps offset muscle breakdown.

Both fast-digesting simple carbs and slow-digesting complex carbs will do the trick. If you’re on-the-go and need something quick, fruit (like a banana or an apple) is an easy simple carb option. Bars (like Bonk Breaker’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Brownie) also come in handy in a pinch. If you have time for more of a meal, go for a complex carb like quinoa, whole-wheat bread, or brown rice, suggests Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

2. Protein

If your workout involved strength training, which can create micro-tears in your muscle tissue, you also need to eat ample protein post-workout. “After your workout, your body repairs those micro-tears so your muscles grow bigger and stronger than before, but it needs protein to do it,” says White. Why? Protein is made up of molecules called amino acids, which are the ‘building blocks of muscle.’

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

White recommends eating a post-workout meal that contains a two-to-one ratio of carbs to protein. That’s about 30 to 50 grams of carbs and 15 to 25 grams of protein. Some easy combos include brown rice and beans, chicken and sweet potatoes, and smoothies made with protein powder and fruit.

3. BCAAs

While a good source of protein, like chicken breast or whey protein powder, provides a wide variety of amino acids, three—called the ‘branched-chain amino acids’ (BCAAs)—are particularly important post-workout. The BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) play a number of roles in the muscle recovery and building process: Leucine signals our muscles to begin muscle protein synthesis (the process through which they rebuild and grow), while isoleucine and valine can be used as energy sources.

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If you’re not noshing on animal proteins like steak or eggs (which are rich in BCAAs) after hitting the gym, Valdez recommends adding a scoop (usually about five grams) of a BCAA supplement to your water after strength training. (Two scoops of BodyTech’s Strawberry Lemonade Critical Aminos XT is our go-to.)

4. L-Glutamine

The most abundant amino acid in our bloodstream, l-glutamine plays a major role in recovery after a hard workout by bolstering our immune system, promoting glycogen storage, and warding off muscle breakdown. In fact, one small study published in the Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness reported that supplementing with glutamine for four days after strength-training significantly reduced muscle soreness.

You’ll find l-glutamine in most protein powders, but it can also be taken in stand-alone powder, pill, or liquid supplements. (BodyTech makes both unflavored powder and capsule options.) It’s also found in foods like meat, dairy, tofu, beans, eggs, and spinach, says White. Take up to five grams per day to support recovery.

5. Water

We know you’ve heard this one before, and that’s because it’s important. In fact, replenishing the fluids you lost during exercise is just as important as re-fueling with carbs and protein, says Valdez. Water is a necessary ‘ingredient’ for muscle protein synthesis, and one study published in the Journal of Athletic Training even suggests that failing to hydrate properly after a workout can exacerbate soreness.

Monitor the color of your urine to gauge your overall hydration status—the paler the yellow, the better. Or, weigh yourself before and after your workouts, and drink 16 ounces of fluid for every pound lost during exercise, says Valdez.

6. Antioxidants

Antioxidants do a body good in so many ways—and exercise recovery is one of them.

Let’s start with ginger: “Research has shown that adding ginger to your meals can help decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness by up to 25 percent,” says Marie Spano M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., C.S.C.S. How? Potent antioxidants in the root called gingerol, shogaol, and zingerone. (Gingerols in particular have been shown to modulate post-workout inflammation.) Spano recommends adding a teaspoon or two of ginger into a meal (it’s great in stir-fries), tea, or a smoothie within two hours of exercising.

Another antioxidant to try: tart cherry. Research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that marathoners who consumed 11 ounces of tart cherry juice leading up to, on the day of, and following their races experienced less muscle soreness. Researchers believe antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins found in cherries work their magic on post-exercise inflammation. Try stirring a cup of tart cherries into your Greek yogurt or oatmeal, or adding eight ounces of unsweetened tart cherry juice—like Dynamic Health’s Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate—to your post-workout smoothie.

Pin this infographic to keep your post-workout nutrition game strong: 

8 Nutrition Myths That Hurt Dietitians’ Feelings

With every Instagrammer in your feed dishing out nutrition advice these days, it’s never been trickier to decipher fact from fiction. Not only is this social media misinformation confusing, but it can keep you from being your healthiest self.

To set the record straight, I asked some of my expert pals to bust the most frustrating food-related falsities out there. Keep these myths in mind the next time you’re scrolling through the social media static.

Myth #1: You Should Only Shop The Perimeter Of The Grocery Store

Food shopping can be so tricky that I wrote an entire book on it! The perimeter of the grocery store may house many of the whole foods we’re told to fill our diets with—like produce (my favorite section), animal proteins (like poultry and meat), and refrigerated dairy—but that doesn’t mean the middle aisles don’t have healthy foods to offer! Soda, cookies, and chips aside, those center aisles contain plant foods like beans, whole grains, and nuts, which are nutritious, versatile, affordable, and easy to store. These ingredients can help you create an endless number of delicious, nutritious meals and snacks, like bean-filled soups and salads, homemade trail mix, and more.

Myth #2: Foods With More Than Five Ingredients Aren’t Healthy

While long ingredient lists that include sugar and its aliases, preservatives, and artificial flavors and colors should be questioned and perhaps avoided, not all multi-ingredient foods are unhealthy.  It’s the quality of a food’s ingredients—not the quantity—that matters most. If a product’s ingredients are whole foods you’d already stock your kitchen with—like whole grains, fruits, veggies, and spices—then it’s probably an okay choice. (Consider this: My favorite bread, Dave’s Killer Bread, contains 32 organic ingredients, 21 of which are whole grains and seeds.)

Myth #3: Avoid Nuts; They’re High In Fat

It’s true, nuts are mostly fat and fat is more calorie-dense than carbs or protein—but the majority of the fat in nuts is healthy unsaturated fat, which keeps us feeling full, and supports healthy blood sugar and a healthy heart. Plus, nuts are naturally packed with protein, fiber, and many other nutrients (like minerals!), says Patricia Bannan, M.S., R.D.N., author of Eat Right When Time is Tight. A serving of nuts (about a handful or two) is a great snack choice and can actually support weight loss by keeping you satisfied and making you less likely to munch on less valuable foods.

Myth #4: Gluten-Free Foods Are Better For You

Newsflash: Donuts are donuts! Plenty of the gluten-free foods out there are highly-processed and low in nutritional value. That ‘gluten-free’ label doesn’t say anything about how much protein, fat, fiber, sugar, or calories the product contains, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., author of The Superfood Swap. And unless you have a condition like celiac disease, your health doesn’t depend on avoiding gluten, anyway. So if you’re reaching for those gluten-free donuts because you think they’re somehow better, think again.

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

Myth #5: Carbs Make You Fat

Along with protein and fat, carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient, which means they’re essential for our bodies’ proper function. In fact, they’re broken down into glucose, which is our primary source of fuel! Because our bodies prefer to use carbs for energy, we actually resist storing them as body fat, says Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., R.Y.T., Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. When we don’t eat enough carbs, our bodies become desperate for glucose, and may even start to break down the protein found in our muscles to turn into glucose, which is bad news for our muscles, metabolism, and fitness.

Sure, regularly chow down on big portions of refined carbs (think bagels, sub sandwiches, and pasta) and you’re likely going to pack on the pounds. However, stick to whole grains, starchy vegetables, and fruit—and eat your carbs alongside fat and protein—and you’ve got yourself a balanced, waistline-friendly diet.

Myth #6: Coffee Is A Bad Habit, Not A Health Food

We often assume that if something feels good, it must be bad for us—and while that may be true with highly-processed, addictive foods, it’s not the case with coffee. While some people who are caffeine-sensitive may experience shakiness, upset stomach, or sleeplessness after drinking coffee, studies have suggested that it can protect against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, and gout, so go ahead and enjoy that morning (or early afternoon) brew.

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Myth #7: White Foods Aren’t Nutritious

When we talk about the importance of ‘eating the rainbow,’ white tends to get left out—even though there are plenty of white-colored foods out there that deserve a place on your plate. Cauliflower, potatoes, white beans, some mushrooms, and garlic are all white in color and packed with healthy nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, B vitamins, and fiber, says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. Meanwhile, dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese provide calcium and protein. Instead of judging a food by its color, check the Nutrition Facts to see whether it provides nutritional value, like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The white foods that won’t make the cut: processed foods like white bread, white rice, and pastries.

Myth #8: Organic Is The Only Way To Go

There are plenty of reasons people choose to switch to organic foods, like the fact that they don’t contain certain man-made pesticides or fertilizers and are non-GMO. But that doesn’t mean your conventionally-grown produce doesn’t offer nutritional value. In fact, research has found that, nutritionally speaking, organic foods have little extra to offer than conventionally-grown foods, says Alissa Rumsey M,S., R.D., founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. (The exceptions: Animal products like chicken, milk, beef, and eggs, whose organic versions have been shown to contain more omega-3 fats.) Since going green can cost more green, stick to produce that’s in-season, keep an eye on sales, and shop the store brand when you want to buy organic. Otherwise, just make sure to wash your conventional fruits and veggies before eating them; no excuse to pass on produce!

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.

I Thought I Was Healthy—And Then I Did Whole30

As a self-proclaimed health nut and the resident super-healthy black sheep of my family and friends, I’ve been known to squeeze in workouts on vacations and pass on pizza for salad. I love high-intensity workouts like CrossFit and if I’m going to do yoga, it’s going to be hot. I’ve been reading nutrition labels since high school, and though I’ve had plenty of slack moments (like all of college…), I’ve found a healthy balance by living without strict rules and eating a variety of carbs, fats, and proteins to feel good.

That’s why, when I first heard that my parents (ironically) were following Whole30—a 30-day eating plan that forces you to get back to healthy basics by eliminating sugar, alcohol, dairy, grains, legumes, preservatives, and processed foods and snacks—I didn’t think it was for me. I didn’t need a hard reset or rules. My diet was already healthy!

But when I visited home for the holidays, my attitude shifted. Having just completed their 30 days, my parents buzzed with enthusiasm and filled our meals with ‘compliant’ (a ubiquitous term for things you actually can eat on Whole30) foods. I was intrigued—and after my own 10-day stretch of indulging on holiday treats, I felt compelled to give it a shot.

Along with a small crew of friends and co-workers, I decided to go for it—and to say the next 30 days surprised me would be an understatement. Here are the five lessons I learned:

1. I hadn’t been eating as many whole foods as I thought I was…

As a self-proclaimed kale enthusiast (seriously, my boyfriend sometimes calls me ‘KALEsy’), I thought my vegetable and fruit consumption was in pretty good shape. When I started Whole30, though, I realized that I often sacrificed roughage in favor of protein. And I’m not just talking about swapping out greens for lean meat, but for a sugary protein bar or shake.

✌🏻❤️🌿

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Before Whole30, I’d typically start the day with a bowl of oatmeal with protein powder stirred in, eat last night’s dinner leftovers for lunch, snack on a protein bar, yogurt, or protein shake, and then have a serving of meat with a grain and a veggie for dinner. All-in-all not unhealthy, but without grains, dairy, and packaged protein products, I had a lot of gaps to fill once I started Whole30.

Throughout those 30 days, I’d have eggs scrambled with kale, peppers, and onions for breakfast, a large salad with a serving of meat for lunch, nuts, fruit, or a ‘compliant’ bar (like an RXBAR or an Epic Bar) for snacks, and a serving of meat with a double helping of veggies for dinner.

With fruits and veggies now front and center, I was forced to try a wider variety of produce and different ways of making them, just to keep things interesting. I found a lot of new go-to’s, including a sweet potato soup (I used butternut squash instead) from The Whole30 Cookbook, which has become one of my all-time favorite sides. It added a nice sweet element to my mostly-savory meals and kept well in the fridge, so I could spoon it out all week long.

2. Sugar is in EVERYTHING.

This is another lesson that falls into the ‘what I thought I knew’ category. I knew sugar was hidden in most foods—I’d even written articles about it myself! But Whole30 taught me that knowing added sugar exists and living added sugar-free are two totally different monsters.

Once I started really combing through the nutrition labels on everything I bought at the grocery store, I realized just how sneaky added sugar could be. After all, it goes by more than 50 names other than just ‘sugar’! At first, determining whether a food contained sugar and finding Whole30-compliant alternatives took a long time—but it fortunately grew much easier with practice. Thirty days later, I’m basically a sugar-molecule sharp shooter.

Related: 10 Foods That Pack More Added Sugar Than You Should Have All Day

Eliminating these secretly-sugary foods was a lot of work. At first I found myself reaching for RXBARs or Lara Bars to satisfy my sugar cravings, but the point of Whole30 is to break the habit itself, so I dug my heels in and tried to avoid using these ‘compliant’ foods as a crutch. Cutting out sugar was by far the hardest part of Whole30, but the farther in I got, the more I noticed and appreciated the natural sugars in fruits and vegetables. I couldn’t believe how sweet a cherry tomato tasted by the end of it!

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3. My social life revolves around food.

It’s reality: A lot of socializing happens over food and drink. But on Whole30, birthday parties, date night dinners, and even happy hours became impossible trap-filled nightmares. And while some people are able to make it work—passing up on cake and cocktails, ordering very, very carefully at restaurants, and bringing their own food to get-togethers—I found it much easier to just avoid going out.

#bulletproof and muscle books… #happytuesday

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If that sounds lame, well, that’s because it was! To avoid completely dropping off the face of the earth, I scheduled workout classes or coffee dates with friends who weren’t on the Whole30 train. But after spending a lot of time (and money) traveling to see friends and family in the months before my Whole30, I was more than happy to take a few weekends off and just rest.

4. It takes a village to be healthy.

It may have been for lack of better things to talk about (see above about my rather nonexistent social life), but I talked about Whole30 to anyone who would listen. I even dreamed about it sometimes.

My boyfriend and I got truly excited to plan which cool new recipe to make over the weekend, and our indulgence became finding more elaborate dishes, like Chicken Cacciatore or that homemade butternut squash soup I mentioned earlier.

My coworkers and I traded tips for fighting cravings, and I chatted with friends about new compliant packaged foods we found (I totally blew my boss’ mind when I told her about RXBARs). Our lives were consumed by making Whole30 work, and since we were all in it together, it was easier to face the occasional office birthday party. I even hosted a few ‘compliant’ get-togethers at home!

Looking back, I don’t know if I would have survived alone. Being able to talk to fellow Whole30-ers really helped me stay on track, and it was nice to share my success with others who know how hard I’d worked once I was done.

5. There’s ALWAYS room to grow.

Even though it took a lot of planning, work, and will power, I really felt the benefits of Whole30, and they kept me motivated whenever I started to wane. Around the end of week two, my clothes felt a little looser, I slept better, and I had more energy throughout the day. The strange thing: I didn’t even realize that I could feel better. Since I already ate healthy, drank lots of water, exercised, and got eight hours of sleep a night before Whole30, I didn’t expect that there would be room to improve until it happened.

Despite how difficult Whole30 was, I totally recommend it—even if you’re already a self-proclaimed health and fitness fanatic. The experience helped me redefine ‘healthy food’ (read: low- to no-sugar) and pull myself out of a major boredom rut with my meals. Not to mention, it taught me a lot about my own eating habits—especially my reliance on protein bars. Now if I itch for a protein-heavy snack, I’ll pick up an Epic Bar, which tastes more like food and less like candy.

I’m not going to continue eating in a totally-compliant manner all the time (even the founders recommend you only do it for 30 days), but everything I learned—especially about avoiding sneaky sugar and preservatives—definitely stuck.

I Put On 12 Pounds Just So I Could Try Keto

I was raised on low-fat diets, Weight Watchers, and the idea that eating fat makes you fat. Despite the decades of experience I have as a weight loss professional, some of these ideas from my own weight loss journey (I lost 65 pounds before making health and fitness my career) have been hard to kick.

So you can imagine my surprise (and slight anxiety) to see how popular the high-fat ketogenic diet has become throughout the past few years. Super low in carbs (we’re talking like 25 net grams a day), this trendy diet requires eating between 65 and 85 percent of your daily calories from fat in order to shift your body from burning glucose from carbs to producing and burning ketones from fats (a state called ‘ketosis’). That means saying goodbye to carbs like grains, starchy veggies, and most fruit—and loading up on fats like nuts, avocados, olive oil, and butter. The exact opposite of what the mainstream diet world has been telling us for the past three decades!

But with so many people boasting the energy and weight-loss benefits of the keto diet, I had to say: I was intrigued. I wanted to try it!

So, I did what any curious health and fitness expert would do: put my fears aside, purposely gained 12 pounds (yes, really!), and gave keto a shot.

Getting Started

I pored through the internet (relying heavily on Mark’s Daily Apple, Dr. Axe, and even keto Reddit boards) to gather information and plan out some easy meals for my first week.

My everyday diet embraced healthy carbs like yogurt, fruit, and potatoes, but shied away from too many fats, so I knew I’d have to do some meal prepping to make this massive change stick. I decided to make egg cups (eggs, cheese, bacon, and spinach baked in a muffin tin) for easy grab-and-go breakfasts, spinach salads topped with avocado, bacon bits, cheese, and ranch dressing for lunches, and cheese- and bacon-wrapped chicken for dinners. Lots. Of. Cheese. I snacked on macadamia nuts, enjoyed small pieces of dark chocolate, and even made ‘fat bombs’ (frozen balls of coconut oil, nut butter, and cocoa mixed together) to keep me satisfied and ward off cravings.

I loved the food (I mean, who doesn’t like smothering things in ranch and butter?), but I still worried I would gain a lot of weight.

To my surprise, though, my weight dropped those first few days. I learned that these quickly-lost pounds came from water (which is stored alongside carbs in our bodies), not body fat, but I wasn’t complaining. Plus, all the newfound fat in my diet was so satiating that I simply stopped feeling hungry. Within three days, my cravings disappeared and I felt balanced and energized.

Attack Of The Keto Flu

And then, around the end of week one…the ‘Keto Flu’ hit! A common experience for new keto eaters, the keto flu occurs your magnesium, sodium, and potassium stores become depleted as your body shifts from using carbs to fat as its main source of energy. (These vital electrolytes regulate your heart beat, balance fluid levels in your body, and perform many other important functions—and losing too much of them can be dangerous.) I couldn’t believe how quickly it came on. I felt extremely lethargic and thirsty, needed naps in the middle of the day, and couldn’t even get through a workout.

Related: 5 Mistakes People Make When They Go Keto

Following the guidance of my online gurus, I picked up a magnesium and potassium supplement (like Country Life’s Magnesium Potassium Aspartate), and started drinking chicken Boullion cubes (which contain more than a gram of sodium a pop) to replenish my electrolytes.

The struggle lasted on and off for about two weeks—and it seriously knocked me out.

Smooth Sailing

Once my body got used to being in ketosis and I nailed my electrolyte intake, the ‘keto flu’ passed and all of the perks I’d read about finally started raining down. I had incredible amounts of energy, zero cravings, and slept beautifully. My workouts got back to normal, too.

As the weeks passed, I experimented more and more with my meals. Eggs continued to be my go-to breakfast, but I tried out all sorts of recipes for lunches and dinners, including ‘meattza’ (pizza using a layer of ground beef as the crust) and Hasselback chicken (chicken breasts stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach). I enjoyed my broccoli with melted cheddar cheese on top, ate a lot of cauliflower (it’s relatively low in carbs), and loaded up on spinach (which provided much-needed potassium).

It's like Where's Waldo… can you find Gertie in the photo? 🐶🐾

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I lost weight steadily throughout those two months. By the end, I’d lost 15 pounds total, and my body fat percentage had dropped from 36 percent to 29 percent, meaning I shed fat but kept my precious muscle. (The only other time I’d seen such a significant body fat drop was during my high-protein bodybuilding days!) My results confirmed everything I’d read online: Once your body adapts to burning fat, it will turn to your fat stores for energy.

As impressed as I was with how keto changed my body, though, I don’t think it’s something I could maintain long-term. Since the diet is so restrictive and takes such an immense amount of work and attention to follow, I found it difficult to fully live life while on it. Knowing just one misstep could throw me out of ketosis and back into burning sugar, I stressed about social situations and eating out. Plus, I really missed fruit and wine.

I’m glad I did it, though! Keto taught me that fats are awesome—and I’m truly sorry I avoided them for so many years. Since my experiment, I’ve continued to eat a lot of healthy fats—and even though I’m not all-out keto anymore, my meals are more satisfying and my weight has been easier to maintain. It’s amazing how far a little whole milk goes in a cup of coffee!

 

Liz Josefsberg is a weight loss and wellness expert with over 15 years in the industry. A mom, author, fitness enthusiast, and weight loss success story herself (65 pounds lost!), Liz consults all over the world. She loves testing every diet, exercise regimen, device, and piece of gear she can get her hands on. 

5 Healthy Eating Commandments Everyone Should Follow

Healthy eating looks a little different to all of us—and considering we all have different bodies and lifestyles, that’s totally okay. But regardless of your personal preferences, dietary restrictions, or health concerns, are there some across-the-board nutrition rules you should follow? Absolutely.

Trends and gimmicks aside, here are the five laws of healthy eating top dietitians agree will help you stay true to your health and wellness goals long-term.

1. Enjoy Food Without Guilt

Any long-term healthy lifestyle depends on your ability to enjoy the foods you love in a balanced way that never leaves you feeling deprived. “Food should be savored, not feared,” says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. “No one is saying you can’t eat fries, pizza, and burgers—but maybe sometimes you bake the fries, top the pizza with lots of veggies, or take your burger bun-less.”

Related: What A Day Of 80:20 Eating Actually Looks Like

To find this balance, most dietitians recommend following the 80:20 rule: 80 percent of the time, you go for the better-for-you foods, and 20 percent of the time you choose whatever your heart desires most.

2. Keep Healthy Food Around At All Times

That said, sticking to healthy eating 80 percent of the time is a lot easier when you have the good stuff on-hand. Think about it: When is it that we find ourselves noshing on greasy drive-thru food or inhaling a Dunkin’ muffin? When we’re starving and desperate for grub, but don’t have any quality options handy.

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The solution: Always (always!) have healthy snacks on you. “I keep what I like to call ‘emergency snacks’ everywhere,” says Kelly Jones, M.S., RD., C.S.S.D., L.D.N. “Whole-food bars (like RXBARs) and roasted beans (like edamame or broad beans) are my go-to’s because they provide fiber and protein to hold me over; I have them in my purse, my car, my gym bag, and my work bag.”

3. Fiber, Fiber, Fiber

The more we learn about fiber, the more we realize how crucial it is to our health. A diet rich in fiber helps control blood sugar, decrease cholesterol levels, and improve digestion, says Gans—research has connected higher intake with weight loss and a lower risk of all-cause mortality. The National Institutes of Health recommends women eat 25 grams of fiber a day and men eat 38—but most Americans only reach a measly 15.

Every single snack and meal you eat should offer some fiber, says Gans. Some of the highest-fiber foods out there include lentils, avocados, chickpeas, chia seeds, nuts, and berries—but you’ll score some fiber from all sorts of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. 

4. Focus On Protein At Breakfast

Starting the morning with protein helps ensure you last until lunchtime without falling victim to the munchies and makes healthy eating easier throughout the rest of the day. In fact, high-protein breakfasts have been associated with slowed digestion and reduced levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin.

“Many people turn to oatmeal or cereal at breakfast, which can be carb-heavy and lacking in protein,” says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., who recommends incorporating at least 15 to 20 grams of protein into your morning meal.

Rizzo’s go-to’s include smoothies made with Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs with toast, veggie omelets, or even protein bars. “For a quick protein-rich breakfast option on-the-go, I love the new Chobani ‘hint of flavor’ yogurts, which provide 12 grams of protein for just nine grams of sugar,” she says.

5. Don’t Fear Fat

Fat gets a bad rap because it has more calories per gram than carbohydrates and protein (nine calories for fat versus just four for carbs and protein), but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it.

As a matter of fact, research shows that eating healthy fats—think nuts, fatty fish, olive oil, and chia seeds—decreases our production of the hunger hormone ghrelin and prevents blood sugar spikes, so we don’t overeat and feel satisfied for longer after snacks and meals, Rizzo explains. In addition to supporting a healthy weight, fats also help us absorb nutrients, build cell structures, and manage inflammation.

Rizzo loves snacking on guacamole or subbing smashed avocado in for mayo. According to a recent study, adding half an avocado to lunch can increase satiety by 40 percent in the following hours, without affecting blood sugar.

Pin this helpful infographic to keep healthy eating top-of-mind:

Which Type Of Collagen Supplement Is Right For You?

With a slew of health gurus touting its benefits and adding it to their coffee and smoothies, collagen is the supplement right now. Why all the sudden buzz? Well, up until recently, researchers hadn’t really investigated the benefits of upping our intake of this protein (which happens to be the most abundant protein in our bodies). Now, studies are showing that collagen supplementation can boost our joint and skin health, and promote healthy aging, explains Marc S. Schneider, M.D., director at Schneider Centre for Plastic Surgery.

Bone broth, another big trend in the wellness world, is a major natural source of collagen—but since there’s only so much meaty broth one can swallow down on a daily basis, many different types of collagen supplements are currently taking over store shelves.

Most popular in powdered form, collagen supps are made from cow, chicken, fish, or egg sources. There are actually more than two dozen different types of collagen, all of which have slightly different functions—so which you choose depends on your goals, says Schneider. Here’s your guide to the most popular options out there.

Type I Collagen

If collagen’s skin-related benefits are your top priority, type I collagen is your go-to, as it makes up 90 percent of your hair, skin, and nails (organs, bones, and ligaments, too), according to Ryan Neinstein, M.D., plastic surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates. Type I collagen can help ward off the hallmarks of skin aging, like the stretching out or thinning of the skin.

Related: I Drank Collagen For 30 Days—Here’s How It Turned Out

“Collagen has been shown in preclinical studies to improve skin thickness, function, moisture content, and appearance,” says Neinstein, who credits type I collagen—particularly marine-sourced type I collagen—with these beauty benefits. “Collagen peptides from fish are considered superior in raising overall body collagen [which is predominantly type I] and improving skin, hair, nail, and bone quality,” he says. How? Research suggests marine collagen is up to one-and-a-half times more bioavailable than chicken or bovine collagen. (That’s why it’s the type of collagen most often used in topical cosmetic products.) Want to give it a try? We love Vital Proteins’ Wild-Caught Marine Collagen.

Type II Collagen

Chicken soup is good for the soul, but there’s another reason it’s so great when we’re sick: Type II collagen, which is mainly sourced from chickens and plentiful in chicken broth, is known for its immune-boosting and joint-supporting properties. “Type II collagen is by far the most important,” believes Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of DrAxe.com. This type of collagen is a major part of our gut lining and helps it act as a barrier between the substances we consume and our bloodstream, which helps our digestive system run smoothly and also benefits our immune system, Axe says. It’s also a major building block of cartilage, which is why it’s so crucial for joint health. Two of our go-to’s are NeoCell Collagen Joint Complex and Sports Research Bone Broth Protein.

Type III Collagen

Type III collagen helps form arterial walls, which is key for cardiovascular health. It’s often found alongside type I collagen in the body (think bone, cartilage, dentin, tendons, skin, and other connective tissues)—though in smaller amounts—and thus offers similar skin- and bone-related benefits, Axe says. For that reason, types I and III make perfect supplement sidekicks, packing a one-two punch.

Type III collagen supplements are often made from bovine (cow) sources. Try adding Vital Proteins Beef Gelatin to soups or hot beverages.

Type V And X Collagen

Though the first three types of collagen are the most abundant in the body and the most commonly found in supplements, some of the lesser-seen types—notably types V and X—are also important for key body functions. Type V collagen helps form cell membranes and the tissue in women’s placentas, while type X plays a crucial role in bone formation. Type V collagen is usually sourced from the membranes of eggshells, type X is made from chicken and bovine sources. Supplements that contain just types V and X are tough to find, but Dr. Axe’s Multi Collagen Protein contains types I, II, III, V, and X, and is a good option for anyone seeking the overall benefits of collagen protein.

What To Know When You Shop

Many of the collagen supplements out there today include collagen types I and III—but if you’re looking for the most comprehensive benefit possible, Axe recommends choosing a collagen supplement that contains a variety of types (like his!). “It’s like taking a multivitamin,” he says. “It’s a good idea because most people have multiple deficiencies.”

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You’ll notice that many collagen supps are labeled as ‘hydrolyzed,’ which simply means they’ve been broken down into their smaller form—called ‘peptides’—which is easier for the body to absorb, says Schneider.

Lastly, since vitamin C supports collagen synthesis, it may be included in collagen supplement formulas (like Reserveage Collagen Replenish), but you can also just take your collagen alongside a vitamin C supplement or C-containing food (like citrus fruit) to reap the benefits.

Keep your collagen straight with this helpful infographic:

7 Things You Should Never Do After A Workout

Churn out tough workouts all you want, but if you really want to see results from your efforts, you’ll also need to pay close attention to what you do after those gym sessions.

Poor post-workout practices can steal your success—but they’re pretty easy to avoid if you know what to look for. Read on to arm yourself against any unintended backtrack.

Immediate No-No’s


You Rush Out Of The Gym

We get it, you have places to be, and after tossing around heavy weights or ramping up your heart rate on the tread, the last thing you want to do is more work. But sticking around for a few extra minutes of mobility drills can really pay off in the long run, according to Sean De Wispelaere, master trainer at MBSC Thrive and owner of Sean D. Thrive.

When you push, pull, squat, and hinge, you put a high demand on your joints and the muscles that surround them, says De Wispelaere. Mobility work—like sitting in a deep squat or moving your arms through Y-, T-, and W-shaped patterns—helps you maintain your full range of motion and avoid injury when it counts.

By increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to your muscles and connective tissues, they’ll also prevent that stiff, locked-up feeling that sometimes follows a tough workout, says De Wispelaere.

You Stay Jacked Up

Not only does working out tax your muscles, but it also taxes your nervous system. During exercise, your sympathetic (‘fight-or-flight’) nervous system kicks in to power you through—but to recover, you need your parasympathetic (‘rest and relax’) nervous system to take over, says Joe Dowdell, strength coach and owner of Dowdell Fitness Systems.

To shift gears from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic state, Dowdell recommends doing some light stretching and diaphragmatic breathing after training. As you hold each stretch, take a few slow and controlled deep belly breaths. This tells your system to calm down and sets you up for muscle-building recovery. If you regularly struggle to cool down and recover after exercise, try a supplement like True Athlete’s ZMA With Theanine, which contains zinc and magnesium to promote muscle recovery and the amino acid l-theanine to support relaxation.

You Don’t Eat

Some people feel ravenous after an intense workout, while others can’t even stomach the thought of eating—but food fuels your recovery and progress, says Mike Roussell, Ph.D.

What to eat? Roussell recommends carbs. “Protein is typically the post-workout go-to, but exercise sensitizes your muscles to carbohydrates, so you need those as well,” he says. In the few hours after your workout, your body will use carbs for good (a.k.a. energy storage in your muscles) instead of evil (a.k.a. storage as fat). Replenishing the carbs you store in your muscles (called ‘glycogen’) helps you recover and feel ready for your next session faster.

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Eat something that contains both protein and carbs after your workouts, whether it’s chicken and rice or a smoothie (made with protein powder, fruit, and yogurt or oats), or a protein bar.

You Try To Annihilate All Inflammation

We usually think of inflammation as the enemy, and in many cases it can be a sign that something is wrong—“but when exercise produces an inflammatory state in the body, it’s actually is a good thing,” says Roussell.

You see, exercise is stress, and your high heart rate and muscle fatigue signal to your body that something is up, which triggers an inflammatory state. “However, one of the ways your body gets bigger and stronger is by dealing with that inflammation,” says Roussell. So while you might be tempted to down antioxidant supplements right after hitting it hard, these substances can potentially hinder your muscle gains.

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

Instead of focusing on blasting your body with antioxidants, focus on replenishing your body with carbs and protein, recommends Roussell.

Same-Day Mistakes


You Stew in Your Sweaty Clothes

Sweat can feel like a badge of honor, but please get out of your gear ASAP. Otherwise you’re more prone to skin issues like rashes and staph infections, not to mention B.O.

Plus, washing up can also benefit your freshly-worked muscles, says Dowdell. Soaking in an Epsom salt bath (which is rich in magnesium sulfate) can promote relaxation and help reduce muscle soreness, he says. Mix about a cup in with your bath water and soak for up to a half hour. You don’t need to hop in the tub right after you’re done sweating; a long soak will still do you good later in the evening.

You Don’t Catch Enough Zzz’s

The hard work you put in at the gym doesn’t transform into results right then and there, but in the hours and days after you finish—and sleep is a key component of that process. “Sleep is crucial to recovery and often overlooked,” says De Wispelaere. Since fitness-boosting hormones like growth hormone are released while you’re dreaming, whether or not you get to bed early can really affect your results.

To score high-quality sleep, De Wispelaere recommends the following steps:

  • Four hours before bed: Stop consuming caffeine.
  • One hour before bed: Limit how much you drink. (You don’t want to have to pee in the middle of your muscle-building sleep!)
  • 45 minutes before bed: Ditch the screens. The blue light that emanates from phones and laptops sends the wrong signals to your brain about what time of day it is, potentially keeping you up.

Next-Day Mistake

If an intense workout left you delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), jumping right into another tough session will not only hurt, but it can also backfire on your results. Remember what Dowdell said about those sympathetic and parasympathetic states? If you go hard day after day, your body can’t fully shift out of that sympathetic state, and you don’t recover properly.

“On the day after an intense session, stick to 20 to 30 minute low-to-moderate intensity exercise,” he recommends. (That’s about 65 to 70 percent of your max heart rate.) Jogging or biking, for example, boosts blood flow to your muscles and help remove waste products associated with DOMS. For extra points, tack on 10 to 15 minutes of mobility work after your cardio.

Blind Taste Test: Which Natural Proteins Reigned Supreme?

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

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

Here were their top picks.

 

Garden Of Life Organic Grass-Fed Whey Protein

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

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

 

Optimum Nutrition Naturally-Flavored Gold Standard 100% Whey

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

 

Isopure Natural Whey Protein Isolate

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

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

6 Foods That’ll Put You To Sleep

From work to hyper kids to newly-released shows on Netflix, there are a million reasons why many of us (one in three, to be exact) fail to get the Zzz’s we need. And in addition to our already-late bedtimes, many of our sleep cycles are also sabotaged by our late-night eats (like ice cream, cookies, and even wine) or four o’clock cappuccinos.

One way to ensure you drift off to dreamland as soon as your head hits the pillow? Switch out your usual nighttime snack for one that works with your body to help you sleep. Below are six foods that’ll wind you down; if they could talk, they’d practically sing you a lullaby.

1. Cheese

This protein-packed snack is also chock-full of calcium, magnesium, and tryptophan, all of which support sleep.

Tryptophan (which so many of us associate with turkey) is an amino acid that produces the ‘feel-good hormone’ serotonin, which stimulates the production of melatonin, the hormone our body releases when it’s time to slow down and sleep. Calcium helps our brain use that tryptophan, while magnesium also activates sleep-related neurotransmitters and regulates melatonin.

Just choose a lower-fat cheese and stick to one serving, since eating more calories—especially from fat—before bed can leave you counting sheep.

2. Chamomile Tea

A relaxing mug of chamomile tea should be a bedtime staple—especially if you’re frequently kept up by digestive issues. Chamomile has long been used in traditional medicine for its calming, relaxing effect—both on our mood and bellies—plus, the tea’s warmth has the power to soothe.

Related: How To Find The Best Herbal Tea For Your Needs

3. Tart Cherries

Tart cherries are magical in that they actually contain that sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. In fact, research shows that drinking tart cherry juice can even help troubled sleepers score a whopping 85 extra minutes of shut-eye. What’s more, the cherries are jam-packed with antioxidants, and their sweet-tart flavor may squelch late-night cravings.

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If you’re going for dried tart cherries, stick to a quarter cup to avoid calorie and sugar overload—but you can also drink tart cherry juice or munch on the fruit fresh in the summertime when they’re in season.

 4. Bananas

Bananas are a natural source of melatonin, and take literally zero work to prepare. As an added bonus, research published in Sports Health suggests that the potassium in bananas may prevent you from waking up during the night with muscle cramps after tough workouts. When you’re craving ice cream, mash up a frozen banana for a healthy, sleep-supporting substitute.

5. Kiwi

The fuzzy brown fruit makes a great vitamin C and serotonin-filled bedtime snack. In fact, research published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate two kiwis one hour before hitting the hay slept almost an hour longer than those who didn’t.

6. Nuts

Different nuts provide different nutrients, but many varieties can help promote a quality snooze.

Let’s start with almonds: These popular snack-time nuts contain tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, and protein, so they can both satisfy cravings and promote rest. Next: walnuts, which have been shown to increase our production of melatonin. And last but not least: pistachios, which are basically the bedtime jackpot because they contain protein, magnesium, and vitamin B6, which plays a role in our production of certain neurotransmitters and processes related to sleep.

Pin this infographic for the perfect sleepytime snack in a pinch:

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.

What To Know If You’re New To Plant Proteins

If you want to up your fitness game, taking a protein supplement is an easy way to get more of the tissue-repairing, muscle-building nutrient your body needs. Milk-derived whey protein has long been the go-to for people interested in showing their muscles a little extra love, but plant-based proteins are now more popular (and delicious) than ever.

Whether you follow a plant-based diet, can’t stomach dairy, or just want to try something new, plant protein supplements are definitely worth a try.

What’s Actually In Plant Proteins?

Most plant-based protein powders out there today contain about as much total protein per serving as whey protein, but different types of plant proteins contain different levels of different amino acids (there are 20 total). Most—like the popular pea and hemp proteins—don’t contain adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids (which our body can’t make) to fulfill our daily needs, with one exception: soy protein.

Considered the OG plant protein, soy is the subject of a lot of controversy because it contains compounds called isoflavones, which mimic estrogen.

That said, the research on soy is all over the place, and most people can try soy protein without worry, says Alix Turoff, R.D. (She does recommend, though, that vegetarians—who may rely more on soy foods and products—chat with an R.D. about their total intake.)

Featured Plant Proteins

Most of the plant-based protein supplements out there today combine multiple types of plant protein in order to fill and balance out their amino acid content so that it’s more similar to that of whey. Check out a tub or two in your local The Vitamin Shoppe, and you’ll see blends of proteins from peas, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, alfalfa, hemp seeds, brown rice, chia seeds, sacha inchi nuts, and more!

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

If you’re still hung up on plant protein containing every single milligram of every single amino acid that whey contains, consider this: “You don’t have to get all nine essential amino acids in one sitting,” says dietitian Andy Yurechko, R.D. So if you find a pea protein powder you like or a combo plant protein that doesn’t quite match the amino acid content of whey, that’s okay. As long as you eat a varied, healthy diet, you should be able to get enough of the essential amino acids you need throughout the course of the day.

Find The Right Plant Protein Powder For You

Ready to play for Team Plant-Based? When you shop, make sure your protein powder lists its plant protein source as the first ingredient (and the next few, if it’s a combo protein), says Yurechko.

From there, pick a powder that’s unsweetened or naturally sweetened (like with stevia) and contains less than five grams of carbs. This way, you keep your supp au-naturale and your sugar intake low.

Today’s plant proteins are tasty enough to mix into water or almond milk and drink straight—though recent whey converts may want to add a touch of honey at first, since plant proteins aren’t quite as creamy as milk-based proteins.

If you’re blending your plant protein in a shake, Turoff likes the following balanced blend: four to eight ounces of unsweetened vanilla almond milk, a scoop of protein powder, a tablespoon each of chia seeds (for fiber) and flaxseeds (for omega-3s), and one cup of fruit.

Spread the plant protein love with this quick infographic!

What’s REALLY In Your Pre-Workout?

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

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

1. Caffeine

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

Featured Pre-Workout Supps

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

2. Creatine

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

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

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

3. L-Arginine And L-Citrulline

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

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

4. B Vitamins

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

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

5. BCAAs

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

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

6. Beta-Alanine

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

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

7. Betaine

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1. Buff Bake Protein Sandwich Cookies

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

 

2. Quest Protein Cookies

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

 

3. Power Crunch Wafer Cookie Protein Bars

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

 

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

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

 

5. ProSupps MyCookie Protein Cookies

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

 

6. ThinkThin Protein Cakes

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

 

7. Bhu Fit Protein Cookies

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

 

8. Lenny & Larry’s Muscle Brownies

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

 

9. Quest Sour Cream And Onion Protein Chips

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

 

10. MHP Chocolate High-Protein Pudding

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

 

11. Icon Meals Protein Popcorn

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

 

12. Optimum Nutrition Protein Cake Bites

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

 

13. Enlightened Marshmallow Treats

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want To Build Muscle?

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

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

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

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

Have A Sensitive Stomach?

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

Want To Manage Your Appetite?

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

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

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

Want To Nourish Your Skin And Joints?

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

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

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

Ready To Go? A Few Rules For The Road

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

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

Pin this handy infographic for future reference: 

Which Sports Supplements Should You Be Cycling?

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

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

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

1. Creatine

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

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

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

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

2. HMB

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

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

3. Caffeine

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

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

4. Thermogenics

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

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

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

When You Can Skip The Cycle

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

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

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

Related: 5 Amino Acids All Gym Lovers Should Know About

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

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

What Exactly Is Nutritional Yeast—And How Do You Eat It?

If we suggested you sprinkle yeast into your soup or pasta, you’d probably be pretty perplexed. After all, isn’t yeast something used to bake bread or make beer?

Well, yes. Yeasts, which are technically fungi, are live organisms. The types of yeast you’re thinking of are called ‘baker’s yeast’ and ‘brewer’s yeast.’ These live yeasts make bread rise and beer ferment by feeding on their sugars—but there’s another type of yeast out there that may claim a spot on your plate.

Nutritional yeast, a type of deactivated yeast used as a seasoning, has become a staple for vegans and vegetarians looking to add savory flavor and nutrients to their food. Unlike the yeasts used to make bread and beer, this yeast is pasteurized (heated) so it no longer grows and packaged into seasoning-style bottles. The yellow, crumbly yeast tastes nutty, cheesy, and creamy, and is easy to shake or spoon onto your grub like you would with Parmesan cheese.

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Yeast Is Good For You!

Aside from adding flavor to food, nutritional yeast offers a number of nutritional benefits. A one-tablespoon serving contains 18 amino acids, beta-glucan (a type of fiber that supports cholesterol and heart health), and glutathione (an antioxidant made of amino acids), along with two grams of protein and a gram of fiber. Win!

While the exact nutritional profile of nutritional yeast varies by brand, many are fortified with B vitamins. This is great for vegetarians and vegans, explains Boston-based dietitian Kate Scarlata, R.D. That’s because most people get their B vitamins from animal-based foods like meat and poultry. Vitamin B12 is key for our nervous system, energy production, and food digestion and absorption—and people who fall short on the nutrient may experience fatigue, mood changes, and sleep issues.

Related: 7 Tips For Doing A Plant-Based Diet Right

For example, Bragg nutritional yeast seasoning provides a powerful dose of three key B vitamins: thiamine (B1), vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. In one tablespoon, you’ll get two milligrams of thiamine (180 percent of the daily value), 1.8 milligrams of B6 (140 percent of the daily value), and just shy of one microgram of B12 (40 percent of the daily value).

Yeast Up Your Grub

You can find nutritional yeast in the seasoning or health foods aisle of most supermarkets, and can keep it stashed in your pantry for a couple of years.

Just check the ingredient label before dropping the yeast into your cart. If you have any issues tolerating synthetic ingredients, look for a brand that doesn’t contain added B vitamins. From there, just make sure ‘inactive dry yeast’ and any added vitamins are the only ingredients listed.

Some people worry about nutritional yeast containing the controversial food additive MSG (monosodium glutamate) because it contains an amino acid called glutamic acid. Fear not, though: While the two sound similar, they’re not the same thing. As long as MSG isn’t listed on the ingredient list, you’re good to go.

Nutritional yeast’s cheesy flavor makes it a popular dairy-free option for sprinkling and seasoning on whatever snacks and meals you’d typically add cheese to. Walsh suggests sprinkling it on popcorn and kale chips and adding it to soups, salads, and pasta dishes (mac and cheese, included).

Related: 11 Meat-Free Meals That Still Pack Plenty Of Protein

Have to taste it to believe it? Try the following vegan mac and cheese recipe from vegan dietitian Andy Bellati, R.D.

While your favorite mac pasta cooks, you’ll make a vegan cheese sauce using the following ingredients:

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
1/3 tsp salt
¾ – 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
2 Tbsp oat flour
4 – 6 Tbsp nutritional yeast
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Heat olive oil in a sauce pan, add garlic, and cook until golden. Add onion powder, garlic powder, salt, cayenne pepper, oat flour, soy milk, and nutritional yeast. Cook at high heat until sauce thickens to desired consistency. Combine with cooked pasta in a large pot and stir over medium heat until well combined.

Is A Higher-Fat Diet Right For You?

From Paleo to keto to Whole30, there are lots of trendy diets out there these days—and one thing many of them have in common is that they slash many carbs in favor of healthy fats. At the forefront of the trend is the ketogenic diet—which requires eating more than 75 percent of your daily calories from fat, a little protein, and as few carbs as possible.

Not ready (or just don’t want to) go full-blown keto? You can still reap the benefits of those healthy fats by upping your healthy fat intake to 40 percent or more of your daily calories and cutting down on carbs. Here’s everything you need to know about the ups and downs of eating more fat—and what it looks like in practice.

How Higher-Fat Looks On The Plate

To start making the shift to a higher-fat, lower-carb diet, first nix processed foods with added sugar, like cookies, cake, and soda, says Jeff Stanley, M.D., a physician with Virta Health. Then, you’ll cut out other highly-processed carbs, like bread, pasta, and rice, and sub in low-carb alternatives like zucchini noodles and cauliflower rice.

As you do so, you’ll also up your fat intake by incorporating whole-food sources, like eggs, nuts and seeds, seafood, olive oil, avocado, and coconut oil (even butter!) into your meals.

Related: 7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For Your Health

You might start the day with scrambled eggs, build a salad topped with chicken, sunflower seeds, and an olive oil-based dressing for lunch, and cook some salmon with a side of cheesy or buttery broccoli for dinner. For snacks, you might pick on some nuts or dip veggie sticks in guac.

The Benefits Of Eating More Fat (And Fewer Carbs)

Boosting fat and slashing carbs like this can support weight loss and help regulate blood sugar levels and triglycerides (a type of fat stored in your blood that can up your risk of heart disease), says Amy Gorin, R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition.

Though keto has just recently been blowing up our news-feeds, low-carb, higher-fat diets have been popular for weight loss for years. The Atkins Diet, for example, slashes carbs to ketogenic levels—just 20 grams a day at first—and emphasizes fat and protein. This approach leads to better weight-loss outcomes in obese individuals over time than higher-carb weight-loss diets, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Much of the high-fat research out there looks at purely ketogenic diets, and supports its potential for boosting weight loss, regulating blood sugar and metabolism, and improving cholesterol. On keto, your body enters a state called ‘ketosis,’ in which it uses fat for energy instead of glucose (sugar) from carbs, which primes your body to utilize your body fat, says Stanley, who follows keto himself and often utilizes it for patients with type 2 diabetes or weight-related issues.

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You’ll still benefit from a diet that’s in the more doable ‘40 percent calories from fat’ realm, though. “Fat tends to be more satiating,” says Stanley. That means you’ll feel less hungry and may eat fewer calories without even trying. You’ll also likely reap the benefits of more balanced blood sugar and stable energy throughout the day, he says.

When To Pass On A High-Fat Diet

Going low-carb, high-fat offers some pretty appealing benefits, but it’s not necessarily right for everyone. People with type 1 diabetes, for example, should probably steer clear, because high levels of ketones are a risk factor for a life-threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis in which ketones build up in the blood, says Gorin.

Those with kidney issues should also be wary of high-fat diets, since they often tend to be high in protein, she says. Since protein needs to be processed by the kidneys, eating a lot of it may be a burden to already-compromised kidneys.

High-fat diets may also be tricky territory for people with genetically high cholesterol, so Stanley recommends talking to your doc if you fall into this category and want to up your fat intake.

Whip out some knowledge on higher-fat diets with this infographic: