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:

Have Your Cake And Eat It Too With These 3 Protein Cake Pop Recipes

It’s a universal truth that sweets in mini, bite-sized form are more fun. And that certainly includes cake.

Still, small as they may be, cake pops are still typically just itty-bitty carb bombs. That’s where protein comes to the rescue. Bake a fun-flavored protein into cake pops and you can whip up cute, more macro-friendly treats for the next time cravings strike.

Get your red velvet, chocolate peanut butter, or cookies and cream fix with these recipes from Andréa Marchese of Andréa’s Protein Cakery. You’ll never spend six bucks on a coffee shop pop again.

1. Cookies & Cream Protein Cake Pops

These sandwich cookie-inspired pops are made with BodyTech Whey Tech Pro 24 Cookies and Cream protein, unsweetened almond milk, almond flour, baking powder, stevia powder, and Newman-O sandwich cookies. 

 

2. Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Cake Pops

Satisfy your PB cup cravings with these pops, made with BodyTech Whey Tech Pro 24 Vanilla proteinsmooth peanut buttersemi-sweet chocolate chipsunsweetened almond milk, almond flour, baking powder, and stevia powder.

 

3. Red Velvet Protein Cake Pops

Your sweet tooth will thank you for these velvety treats, made with BodyTech Whey Tech Pro 24 Red Velvet proteinunsweetened almond milk, almond flour, baking powder, and stevia powder.

More Of Our Favorite Proteins

Supplements Worth Trying If You Have Dietary Restrictions

As you strive to eat healthier, you probably add plenty of foods to your plate, like vegetables (especially the green ones), healthy fats, and lean proteins—but there are foods you might pull from your daily grub, too. We’re not just talking cookies, sugary cereals, and cheese doodles here; when many people start eating healthier, they end up leaving anything from dairy and grains to meat and eggs behind.

Whether you’re team plant-based all the way or just can’t stomach dairy, you do you! Just keep in mind that depending on your dietary restrictions, you may wind up missing out on certain important nutrients—even if your eating habits seem stellar. Talk to your doc about testing for any possible nutritional deficiencies and read on to find out what vitamins and minerals you may be missing, and how you can boost your intake.

If You’re A Vegetarian…

When you’re meat-free, your biggest concern is getting enough protein, since animal meat is a common source, says Mandy Enright, R.D.N., creator of Nutrition Nuptials. Protein maintains the structures in your body, like your organs, and helps you build muscle mass and rev your metabolism.

If you don’t eat meat, you can get protein from dairy, eggs, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and soy, says Enright. Fill between a quarter and a third of your cup with protein at every meal and you’ll be in good shape.

Fill Gaps With A Plant-Based Protein

Vegetarians also need to be mindful of vitamin B12, which is another nutrient we typically get from animal flesh. Vitamin B12 helps your red blood cells function and contributes to energy production and digestion. Adults need 2.4 micrograms a day and without enough, you may feel weak and moody and have trouble sleeping.

“Typically, if you’re not eating a lot of animal meat, taking a supplement would be the best way to get vitamin B12,” says Enright. That said, you can also find some in eggs (0.4 micrograms per egg) and milk (one microgram per cup), as well as fortified foods like cereal and non-dairy milks. Nutritional yeast and nori—the seaweed used to wrap sushi—also contain some B12.

If You’re A Vegan…

Like vegetarians, vegans may fall short on protein and vitamin B12. With all animal-based foods off the table (adios, eggs and dairy), vegans may also be low in calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin D.

Though we associate bone-boosting calcium with milk, it’s actually found in lots of other foods. One particularly good source: soy. Adults need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, and at 200 milligrams per cup, a serving of soy gets you a fifth of the way there. You can also find calcium in cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy), nuts, and seeds.

Iron, which our blood needs to transport oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our body, is another mineral we associate with meat. Adult men need about eight milligrams a day while women need 18 (more if pregnant), and deficiency is associated with fatigue, weakness, pale skin, and irregular heartbeat. There are plenty of best plant sources, though, including white beans (eight milligrams per cup), lentils (three grams per half cup), and spinach (three grams per half cup.) Just keep in mind that since plant-based iron (called ‘non-heme’ iron) is less bioavailable than animal-based iron (called ‘heme’ iron), you may need to eat more than those daily recommended amounts to meet your mark.

Another mineral vegans may fall short on is zinc, which helps our immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. While it’s found in oysters, red meat, poultry, and dairy, you can also get it from beans, nuts, whole grains, and fortified cereals. Women need eight milligrams a day, while men need 11. You’ll find about three milligrams of the mineral in half a cup of baked beans, 1.6 milligrams in an ounce of cashews, and 1.3 milligrams in half a cup of chickpeas.

Last but not least is vitamin D, which even non-vegans have a hard time stocking up on from food. “Usually the best food source is egg yolks, which vegans can’t have,” says Enright. Adults need about 600 IU of vitamin D—which helps us absorb calcium and supports our immune system—per day. Vegans can turn to fortified non-dairy milks and orange juice for vitamin D, but it may be easiest to just take a supplement—especially if you don’t spend much time in the sun, she says.

If You’re Dairy-Free…

When you live without milk, yogurt, and cheese, you have to work a little harder to get enough calcium and vitamin D, since most milk is fortified with 400 IU of vitamin D and contains about 300 milligrams of calcium, says Enright.

As you now know, you can find calcium in cruciferous veggies, nuts, and seeds. And if you eat non-dairy animal products, you have a few options for vitamin D, such as fatty fish like salmon (447 IU) or tuna (156 IU), and egg yolks (41 IU).

If You’re Gluten-Free…

Fiber, which is found in a number of gluten-containing whole grains, is the number-one thing you have to keep an eye on when eating a gluten-free diet. Fiber feeds the healthy bacteria (a.k.a. probiotics) in your gut, bolsters your digestive system, and supports healthy blood sugar and cholesterol. If you fall short—and many of us do, gluten-free or not—you may experience major bowel backup. Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber a day; men should aim for 38 grams. Luckily, you can find fiber in tons of other plant-based foods, like chickpeas (six grams per half cup) and chia seeds (10 grams per two tablespoons). Fruits and veggies are also loaded with fiber, so Enright recommends filling half your plate with produce at every meal.

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

The gluten-free eater’s second concern: vitamin B6, which we typically get from grains. This vitamin helps us metabolize protein, and can be found in a few gluten-free sources, like animal meat (such as chicken, turkey, and salmon) and beans (such as chickpeas). Adults need 1.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 every day. A cup of chickpeas packs 1.1 milligrams of B6, while a serving of tuna offers 0.9 milligrams.

Folate is another B vitamin you can fall short on without gluten in your diet. Since it plays a key role in the synthesis of DNA and RNA, folate is especially important for women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant. These women need 600 micrograms a day, while the average adult needs 400. You can find folate in spinach, asparagus, peas, spinach, and broccoli, says Enright. Half a cup of boiled spinach offers 131 micrograms, and four spears of asparagus offer 89 .

If You’re Paleo…

The popular Paleo diet preaches one guiding principle: Eat only foods that our primal ancestors could’ve eaten back in the day. That means grass-fed meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils (like olive and avocado), but no cereal grains, legumes (like peanuts and beans), dairy, sugar, potatoes, processed foods, or vegetable oils.

Since Paleo eaters stay away from dairy, they should pay special attention to their calcium and vitamin D intake, says Enright. Since they also stay away from grains and beans, they should also keep an eye on fiber. Chia seeds, hemp seeds, and produce are some of your best Paleo-approved fiber sources.

If You’re Keto…

On a ketogenic diet, you eat about 80 percent of your daily calories from fat and limit carbs to just 20 to 30 net grams (total carbs minus fiber) per day, according to certified natural medicine doctor and clinical nutritionist Josh Axe, D.C.

When you keep carbs that low, processed foods, grains, most dairy, and starchy veggies are off limits, and you may miss the mark on fiber, calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins (folate and B6). Since the keto menu is so limited, you may need to turn to supplements to meet your nutritional needs.

Additionally, many keto eaters lose electrolytes (like potassium, and magnesium) as they slash carbs and drop water weight (even if they drink lots of water), says Axe. Adults need 4.7 grams of potassium, and 310 (women) to 400 (men) milligrams of magnesium per day.

Drinking  is a simple, hydrating way to replenish electrolytes, says Axe. Axe likes to drink bone broth for its electrolytes, but you can also find these important minerals in foods like nuts, avocados, mushrooms, salmon, spinach, artichokes, and leafy greens—all of which are a-okay on the keto diet in the right amounts.

If You’re On Whole30…

The super-trendy Whole30 is an elimination diet in which you cut out dairy, grains, legumes, soy, alcohol, and anything highly processed or that contains added sugar for—you guessed it—30 days. The eating style is supposed to help you identify food sensitivities and establish healthier habits.

Following a Whole30 way of eating long-term can be tricky, though, since it blacklists multiple of the nutritious food groups we’ve already discussed. Without dairy, grains, and legumes, you’ll need to be vigilant about getting calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins, and iron from other food sources or supplements, says Enright.

Keep your nutritional needs straight with this infographic: 

8 New Year’s Resolutions Nutritionists Want You To Make

It’s that time again! Before you know it, we’ll be making and breaking (and then re-making!) another round of New Year’s resolutions.

Think about it: How many years have you resolved to lose a bunch of weight, exercise every day, or never touch junk food again? And how many years have these big, life-overhauling plans fallen off-course after a few weeks? (It’s okay—us too).

As a dietitian, I help people reach their health goals every day, and I promise you that reaching yours can be much easier than you think. This year, I want you to try a different approach: Instead of making a grand, Hollywood-style New Year’s resolution about your health, focus on small, actionable changes that will make you feel accomplished on a daily basis, boost your health, and help you both feel and look your best.

Put the following eight mini-resolutions (straight from nutrition pros) to work for you and you’ll have your healthiest year yet!

Don’t look for a ‘new you’ in this New Year. There’s nothing wrong with the current ‘you’! Sure, we could all improve, but I encourage you to celebrate your strengths instead of focusing on your shortcomings. Breaking bad habits and forming healthier ones can be tough, but having the right attitude is half the battle—so I want you to applaud every little victory (like making time to eat a healthy breakfast, bringing lunch to work one day a week, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator). Keep a running list of even your smallest accomplishments to ensure you give yourself credit for every change and see just how much these little wins add up.

A good breakfast sets the tone for the rest of your day and fuels your body for whatever tasks you have coming your way. That’s why incorporating a healthy breakfast into your morning routine is a worth resolution this year, says dietitian Brynn McDowell, R.D. Take it one week at a time and make it easier by keeping your meal simple.

Breakfast-Friendly Protein Supplements

Try plain oatmeal with a spoonful of almond butter stirred in or a slice of whole-grain toast topped with cottage cheese and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. When a healthy breakfast is a part of your routine, you’ll have a fresh start every morning—even if a day ends with a late-night snack and an extra glass of wine.

Not only does protein helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer and less likely to reach for lower-nutrient foods, but protein-rich foods—including dairy, eggs, meat, seafood, legumes, and nuts—are packed with many other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Your task this year: “Try eating enough protein (20 to 30 grams) at every meal and including some in your snacks,” says Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. That’s roughly a three-ounce serving of meat (like chicken, which packs 21 grams of protein). Bump up your protein intake between meals by adding a tablespoon of chia seeds to your smoothie or dipping fruit slices in Greek yogurt.

“There are so many benefits to meal planning, including saving time and money, reducing food waste, and ensuring a healthier, more balanced plate,” says Jessica Levinson, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. Start by planning out one day of meals per week and bump it up to two when you’re ready. As you start to see the benefits of thinking ahead, you’ll naturally want to plan out more, and before you know it you’ll be planning the whole week, she says. (Quick tip: Take stock of what you already have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry so you can plan meals that use what you already have on-hand. This way, you can save money on groceries and prevent food waste.)

No, you don’t need to ring in the New Year with a three-day juice cleanse. As many resolutioners know, fad diets and cleanses may seem to work in the short-term, but inevitably end in weight gain after we call it quits. That’s why dietitian Sharon Palmer, R.D., warns against getting caught up in fads—especially if they eliminate whole food groups. Instead, find a more sustainable way of eating by focusing on upping your intake of whole plant foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

When we want to shed fat—as part of a New Year’s resolution or not—we tend to get caught up in calories in versus calories out. But not this year! “Fixating on the number of calories in food not only makes your overall eating experience less enjoyable, but can also welcome the wrong choices,” says Mandy Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., creator of Nutrition Nuptials. Instead, your food decisions should be based on the foods’ overall nutritional value. When considering what to eat, ask yourself: Does this food contain vitamins and minerals? Does it have fiber? And, does it add to my health? Taking this approach will encourage you to eat more healthy foods like veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, beans, nuts, and seeds, and save the nutritionally ‘less valuable’ treats for special occasions.

Related: 6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

Your stomach is about the size of two of your fists put together—and it probably gets full before your mouth and mind are satisfied. It’s so common for us to eat more than our stomach’s natural capacity—which is easy to do when we’re scrolling through our phones or eating foods loaded with added sugars and fats—that many of us have lost touch with the sensations of hunger and fullness. So, this challenge is two-fold. First: When you eat, just eat—no distractions! And second: Focus on the feeling of fullness as you eat. When your stomach is satisfied, stop eating. The more in-tune you are with your body’s sensations, the more physically and emotionally satisfied you’ll feel after eating—without going overboard.

Related: ‘Mindful Eating’ Is Everywhere—Here’s How To Actually Do It

According to a 2016 Harris poll, 40 percent of Americans gather for family dinner three times a week, or even less often. As busy as we may be with work, after-school activities, doctor’s appointments, and more, finding the time to come together for family meals has major benefits—especially for kids. Family meals are linked to better eating habits, healthier body weights, stronger academic performance, and lower risks of disordered eating and substance abuse, says Liz Weiss, M.S., R.D.N., of Liz’s Healthy Table. Even if it means having breakfast together instead of dinner or focusing on eating together over the weekend, every meal families share together makes a difference, she says. To make meals as enriching as possible, involve the kids in meal planning and prepping and put phones away.

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 HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’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 One Serving Of 7 Popular Healthy Snacks Looks Like

When your stomach grumbles between meals, a healthy snack will keep you sane—and prevent you from downing half a pizza once dinnertime finally rolls around.

Serving sizes still count for even the healthiest of snacks, though, and you can still dig yourself deep into a calorie hole if you overdo it on the good stuff. (Okay, maybe you can’t overdo celery, but…). That’s why nutritionists recommend reaching for snacks that clock in between about 100 and 200 calories—which should be enough to satisfy you without becoming a full-on meal.

We know keeping portions in check can be tricky—so we did the work for you. Below are eight nutritionist-approved snacks, exactly how much of each will land you in that 100 to 200-calorie range, and what that serving actually looks like. Follow this guide and your snacks are guaranteed to fill you up (but not out) the next time hunger strikes.

1. Roasted Edamame

Have a hankering for chips? Reach for edamame instead. “If you are craving something crunchy and salty, this snack is a home run,” says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author The Small Change Diet. “It’s packed with fiber and protein, two necessary nutrients to help keep you full.”

One serving: 1/3 cup roasted edamame

171 calories, 17 g protein, 14 g carbs, 5 g fat, 12 fiber, 3 g sugar

2. Almonds + Apple

Nuts pack a lot of calories, so they’re a real doozy if you eat too many. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid them! Nuts are packed with healthy fats, along with other nutrients. “Almonds are a great source of vitamin E, which protects your body’s cells from damage,” explains Rachel Meltzer Warren, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian.

Healthy Snacking Staples

“Nuts also pack protein, which, especially combined with the fiber in the apple, makes this snack a filling combination,” she says.

One serving: 1/4 cup almonds + one small, fist-sized apple

237 calories, 6 g protein, 28 g carbs, 13 g fat, 7 g fiber, 16 g sugar

3. Cottage Cheese + Berries

Cottage cheese and fruit is a naturally sweet and creamy combo. Plus, cottage cheese is packed with filling protein (more than 20 grams per cup!), calcium, and B vitamins, while antioxidant-rich blueberries add a dose of fiber, says Gans.

One serving: 1 cup two-percent cottage cheese + 1 cup blueberries

253 calories, 23 g protein, 27 g carbs, 6 g fat, 4 fiber, 21 g sugar

4. Crackers + Nut Or Seed Butter + Banana Slices

This crunchy, creamy, sweet, and salty snack is the ultimate trifecta of good-for-you ingredients.

“The combination of fiber from the crackers and banana and protein from the sunflower seed butter makes for a satisfying snack,” says Meltzer Warren. Sunflower seeds are also a good source of magnesium, an important mineral that many of us fall short on.

One serving: 2 high-fiber crackers (like Wasa whole-grain crispbreads) + 1 tablespoon of sunflower seed butter + 1/2 a banana

213 calories, 7 g protein, 31 g carbs, 9 g fat, 8 g fiber, 9 g sugar

5. Yogurt

Yogurt is a great calcium-packed snack—but it’s hard to find a flavored option that’s not jammed with added sugar, says Ansel. That’s why she recommends reaching for skyr, an Icelandic-style yogurt that contains more protein and less sugar, instead.

One serving: 1 cup of low-fat skyr, like Siggi’s Non-Fat Vanilla Icelandic Skyr

110 calories, 15 g protein, 12 g carbs, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, 9 g sugar

6. Air-Popped Popcorn

Popcorn is a whole grain, so when you eat it you’re not just scratching that snack itch, but you’re also giving your body fiber and valuable nutrients, says Meltzer Warren. Thing is, though, many packaged varieties are cooked in tons of oil and topped with a hefty dose of salt, so you may end up eating a lot more calories than you expect.

The solution: Make your own! “I love air-popped popcorn drizzled with a little olive oil and some spices,” says Meltzer Warren. Just as satisfying as pretzels or chips—but much more health and waistline-friendly.

One serving: 3 cups of air-popped popcorn + 1 tablespoon olive oil + pinch of sea salt

249 calories, 2 g protein, 13 g carbs, 22 g fat, 2 g fiber, 0 g sugar

7. Veggies + Guacamole

For a savory crunch, munch on vegetables and creamy guacamole, suggests Keri Glassman, M.S., R.D., founder of Nutritious Life. Avocados are a great source of heart-healthy fats that can help tame your hunger.

Glassman likes to dunk brightly-colored veggies—like carrots and red pepper slices, which are great sources of beta-carotene—into guac. This plant pigment converts into vitamin A, which is great for your vision, immune system, and skin. These veggies are also super low in calories, making this an ideal snack if you’re looking to lose weight, according to Glassman.

One serving: ½ cup sliced carrots + ½ cup sliced red peppers + 4 tablespoons guacamole

119 calories, 2 g protein, 17 g carbs, 8 g fat, 7 g fiber, 7 g sugar

7 Protein Pancake Recipes That Justify Eating Pancakes Every Single Day

Even the nuttiest of health nuts can’t deny the appeal of a giant, warm stack of pancakes topped with a generous pat of butter and absolutely soaked with syrup. That stack, though, easily puts you almost 1,000 calories in the hole (especially if you really love your syrup), so it’s typically reserved for special occasions, like when you can afford to lie on the couch in a sugar coma for the rest of the day.

Given that, what we’re about to tell you may be a little shocking (in the good way): You can actually eat pancakes every single day. No sugar crash, no all-day stomach ache, no guilt.

If you swap your average pancake batter for one made with healthy, whole ingredients, and balance it out with a little protein powder, you can cook yourself up a well-rounded breakfast that still tastes like a treat morning after morning.

Not convinced? See for yourself. We’ve rounded up a full week’s-worth of the most delightful protein pancake recipes the internet has to offer—so grab your go-to tub of protein and fire up the griddle.

photo: Protein Treats By Nicolette     

1. Vanilla Blueberry Cake Protein Pancakes

With 38 grams of protein (woah) and just 13 grams of sugar in the entire batch, these pancakes from Protein Treats By Nicolette are a far-cry from IHOP’s sugar bombs. Six simple ingredients (vanilla protein powder, oat flour, egg whites, almond milk, cashew butter, and blueberries) transform into thick, fluffy cakes that taste like blueberry clouds. Make your meal feel extra-fancy by whipping up her homemade blueberry jam topping and vanilla protein glaze.

Quest’s Vanilla Milkshake protein powder bakes beautifully and adds just the little something-something these pancakes need.

photo: Friday Love Song

2. Confetti Cake Protein Pancakes

Birthday cake everything is on fire right now—so why not turn your breakfast into a celebration? Friday Love Song’s recipe is loaded with fiber, protein, and (of course) sprinkles to satisfy your belly and your taste buds.

To make these truly birthday-worthy, try using Body Tech’s Birthday Cake Whey Tech Pro 24 whey protein.

photo: Peanut Butter and Fitness

3. Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Pancakes

These pancakes by Peanut Butter And Fitness are just about as luscious as a peanut butter fudge mousse cake from your favorite bakery. The entire stack (peanut butter fluff topping, included) packs over 40 grams of protein from ingredients like whey protein powder, egg whites, Greek yogurt, and peanut butter.

Level up the chocolatey goodness of the pancakes by using Optimum Nutrition’s Double Rich Chocolate Gold Standard 100% Whey protein powder.

photo: Dashing Dish

4. Pumpkin Spice Protein Pancakes

Whether Thanksgiving is a week or six months away, we’ll never say ‘no’ to a little more pumpkin spice in our lives. At just 100 calories, one gram of sugar, and 14 grams of protein per serving, this stack from Dashing Dish is an especially calorie and macro-friendly breakfast.

We like BPI Sports’ Snickerdoodle Whey HD protein powder for these—plus a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar on top, of course!

photo: Jennifer Meyering

5. Carrot Cake Protein Pancakes

Do these count as veggies for breakfast? (We vote YES.) Jennifer Meyering’s carrot cake protein pancakes incorporate good-for-you ingredients like ginger, cinnamon, and, yes, carrots, for a colorful stack of pancakes complete with cream cheese frosting—because you can never skip cream cheese frosting.

Make these pancakes with Garden of Life Sport’s Vanilla Grass-Fed Whey protein powder for a little extra vanilla flavor from a quality source.

photo: Sprinkled With Health

6. Cookies And Cream Protein Pancakes

Eating cookies for breakfast might seem like a no-no, but this cookies and cream protein pancake recipe from Sprinkled With Health is your ‘go-ahead’ to go ahead and do it! You won’t feel a shred of guilt knowing this breakfast is loaded with wholesome ingredients like oat flour, coconut flour, plain Greek yogurt, and egg whites.

PES Cookies ‘N Cream Select Protein powder really takes these dessert-inspired pancakes to the next level.

photo: The Big Man’s World

7. Cinnamon Bun Protein Pancakes

You can go to Cinnabon and tear through almost 900 calories and 60 grams of sugar as you lick icing off your fingers, or you can whip up this stack of cinnamon bun protein pancakes from The Big Man’s World. These sticky-sweet pancakes are high in protein and low in sugar, so you can feel like you’re indulging without actually indulging.

Make these with Dymatize’s Cinnamon Bun Iso-100 whey protein powder for the most cinnamony cinnamon bun cakes you ever did taste.

Our Favorite Flavorful Proteins

5 Mistakes People Make When They Go Keto

There are lots of misconceptions about the ketogenic diet swirling around out there—you know, like the idea that eating tons of bacon is totally okay, or that you can slather absolutely everything in oil. Or that keto’s just about cutting out bread. But this increasingly trendy diet is a tad more complicated than that.

Here are the basics: Keto requires eating close to 80 percent of your calories from fat, about 15 percent from protein, and just five percent from carbs. This shifts the body into a state called ‘ketosis,’ in which the body burns fat (in the form of ‘ketones’) for fuel instead of sugar. (You can learn more about the keto process here.)

First developed to treat epilepsy and now used as part of treatment plans for health conditions like PCOS, infertility, diabetes, epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, the ketogenic diet has been said to improve energy, mental clarity, and focus. It’s also become a popular means of maintaining a healthy weight for some people.

Eating keto means cutting out processed foods, sugars, and starches—including bread, potatoes, and most fruit—and eating way more healthy fats than you’re probably used to. Foods like meat, fish, eggs, non-starchy veggies, and all sorts of fats are game—in the right amounts.

With so many foods off the table and such a high fat quota to hit, it’s no wonder so many keto newbies have trouble making the diet sustainable. It is doable, though! Make your keto lifestyle more balanced and successful by avoiding these common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Approaching It As A Temporary Fad Diet

Once you’ve nailed down your reason for going on the keto diet—whether you’re managing an illness, want to fuel your distance running differently, or want to lose weight—you have to seriously consider how realistic keto is for your lifestyle.

“Ketogenic dieting is not a halfway pursuit; it’s all or nothing,” says Kristen Mancinelli, M.S., R.D.N., who specializes in low-carb diets. Especially considering the fact that it takes more than cutting out bread and sugar for a week to shift your body to ketosis. It can actually take up to a few weeks to shift into using fat for fuel (during which you may feel tired and moody)—and because your body’s instinct is to use sugar for fuel, all that hard work can be undone with just one higher-carb meal. So keto really isn’t one of those diets you can follow Monday through Friday and ditch on the weekends.

Plus, if you use keto for weight loss and end up restricting your calories, you’re even more likely to regain lost weight (and then some) when you go off keto, according to Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. This is even more likely if you’re using keto to keep yourself from going overboard on foods you consider weaknesses (like pizza or slice-and-bake cookies), because you’ll likely dive face first into these foods the minute you’re ‘done’ with keto.

If thinking of keto as a long-term lifestyle doesn’t seem sustainable for you—or enjoyable, for that matter—it may not be right for you.

Mistake #2: Eating Too Many Carbs

Even if you think you’re slashing carbs, they can often creep into your diet and throw you out of ketosis. This can happen if you don’t measure your portions, eat something without knowing its exact ingredients, or don’t track your carb intake closely, says Sarah Jadin, M.S., R.D., C.S.P., C.D., C.N.S.C, of Keto Diet Consulting. (The experts aptly call this issue ‘carb creep.’) Even medications and supplements, which commonly use carbs as fillers, can push your intake over the edge.

Keto done right means just about 20 to 50 grams of carbs total per day. To stay in that range, your carbs would have to come from non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower, according to Mancinelli. (A cup of broccoli, for example, contains four grams of carbs.) Even these a-okay veggies can push you over your carb limit if you’re not careful, though. While a cup of kale contains just about five-ish grams of net carbs (total carbs minus fiber), a typical kale salad packs three or four cups of kale and clocks in at close to 20 grams.

As little as just a quarter cup of sweet potatoes (20 grams of carbs) or a medium apple (23 grams of carbs) could max out your carbs—or push you overboard—for the day.

Keto-Friendly Supps

Mistake #3: Mismanaging Your Veggies

Given the carb issue, maintaining a balanced intake of veggies on the ketogenic diet can be tricky. With many nutritious, higher-carb foods like sweet potatoes, lentils, beans, and quinoa more or less off the table, you’ll have to work a little harder to build a balanced diet with the foods that are a-okay. If you ditch all veggies in favor of fat, you’ll just leave yourself wanting for a number of important vitamins and minerals, says Megan Ware, R.D.N., L.D., owner of Nutrition Awareness.

To keep your eats as nutritious as possible, look up the net carb content for the 10 vegetables you eat most often, so you can see how they’ll fit into your keto lifestyle, recommends Mancinelli. On top of that, try to incorporate nutrient-rich greens, like baby kale and spinach, into every meal, adds Ware. As always, use a food tracker to monitor your carb intake, and keep portion sizes in mind. To fill any remaining nutritional gaps, people living the high-fat life may also want to consider a multivitamin.

In the first few weeks of keto, when you lose water weight from slashing carbs, your electrolyte levels may drop a bit and you may be hit with what the community calls the ‘keto flu.’ If you experience any fatigue or muscle issues, Mancinelli recommends supplementing with electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, and potassium. Spinach, baby kale, and avocado also provide potassium, while hemp seeds, spinach, and oysters offer magnesium.

Mistake #4: Eating Too Much (And The Wrong Types Of) Protein

Many healthy eaters and fitness enthusiasts tout the benefits of high-protein diets—but too much protein is a major (and overlooked) no-no on the ketogenic diet. Your body can actually turn protein into glucose, so eating too much of the stuff can pull you out of ketosis and back into sugar-burning mode, says Mancinelli.

Keto allows for moderate protein intake, which would be about 0.5 to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight a day for an active dieter (between 75 and 112 grams for someone who weighs 150 pounds). For reference, a small piece of chicken or three eggs provides about 20 grams of protein.

Though you’re trying to load up on fat, you still need to take care of your heart health, so your protein should come from sources like chicken, turkey, and fish, instead of processed foods like bacon, says Clark.

Mistake #5: Not Eating The Right Fats

When fat needs to make up about 80 percent of your total calories, it’s all too easy to add coconut oil to everything or eat nothing but nut butter—but maintaining a balance and eating the right types of fats is key to a healthful keto diet.

It’s crucial to get plenty of unsaturated fats, says Jadin. Nuts (like peanuts, walnuts, and pecans), seeds (like flax, chia, and hemp), avocados, fatty fish (like salmon, trout and sardines), are all great sources of unsaturated fats. Plant oils like avocado, flax, grapeseed, and hemp oil, all also provide unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats have been shown to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke.

Related: Why Is Everyone Talking About MCTs?

What about saturated fats, which you’ll find in your beloved coconut oil? There’s been a lot of back-and-forth here recently, with some research questioning just how they impact our health long-term. As much as we love our coconut oil, the Harvard School of Public Health still stands by the advice that emphasizing unsaturated fats over saturated fats in your diet better supports your heart health long-term. For now, spoon out your coconut oil in moderation and keep your saturated fat intake to about 10 percent of your total calories (that’s 22 grams in a 2,000-calorie diet).

Snacking Stuffers For Everyone In Your Life

Flowers and concert tickets are always welcome, but the true way to anyone’s heart is by way of delicious snacks. This year, skip the snowman-shaped mugs, corny key-chains, and patterned socks, and stuff everyone’s stockings with eats and treats, instead.

Everyone from your gym-junkie brother to your eco-conscious sister-in-law will be overjoyed as they sink their teeth into these out-of-the-box snacks. Our top 12 snacking stuffers will satisfy every sweet, salty, and crunchy craving—all without compromising waistlines.

1. Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Kettle Corn, $3.99

Cuddle up with a classic movie or get the party started with this sweet and salty holiday snack. Since Angie’s popcorn is made with simple, real ingredients like cane sugar and cocoa powder, you can feel good about licking every last bit of that chocolate-marshmallow drizzle off your fingers.

2. Kettle Bran Moscow Mule Potato Chips, $3.39

We know what you’re thinking, but trust us when we say that one of these crunchy, thick-cut chips will make you a believer that cocktail-flavored snacks can be a good idea. Every bite is such a perfect explosion of salt, lime, and ginger that you won’t even miss the vodka.

3. Barnana Organic Chocolate Chewy Banana Bites, $53.99 for 12 bags

This potassium-packed snack is a great sweet tooth-satisfier for candy lovers and health nuts alike. Okay, these bites may not count as a serving of fruit, but they sure are a high-quality alternative to our usual chocolatey sweet treats.

4. Quest Cheddar And Sour Cream Protein Chips, $19.99 for 8 bags

For a salty, cheesy snack that doesn’t totally wreck the day’s macros, fit-focused eaters need look no further than Quest’s iconic protein chips. For 120 calories, a bag contains a whopping 21 grams of protein, with just two grams of fat and five grams of carbs. Good luck finding anything in the snack aisle that even comes close!

5. No Cow Vanilla Maple Frosting Almond Fluffbutter, $12.79

No Cow’s fluffbutter makes the perfect addition to any nut butter enthusiast’s collection. Two tablespoons offer 11 grams of protein thanks to a little boost from pea protein, and the vanilla maple frosting flavor is every bit as decadent as it sounds—all for just one gram of sugar!

6. Ostrim Beef Elk Habanero Sticks, $18.99 for 10

When high-protein is high-priority, supplements aren’t your only on-the-go option. Ostrim’s beef and elk sticks are hearty, flavorful, and tender—and easy to stash in your backpack, briefcase, or gym bag. Plus, each 90-calorie stick packs 14 grams of protein.

7. Endangered Species Chocolate Company Extreme Dark Chocolate, $29.99 for 12 bars

This 88-percent cocoa bar is the ultimate pick for dark chocolate lovers—and comes with a purpose. Endangered Species Chocolate Co. uses ethically-traded cacao and donates 10 percent of profits to support endangered animals and their habitats. It’s a do-good, taste-good power combo.

8. Nuts ‘N More Birthday Cake High-Protein Peanut Butter, $11.99

Have your cake and eat it, too, with this sprinkle-filled nut butter. At 14 grams of protein per serving (but the same number of calories as your average PB), Nuts ‘N More’s birthday cake spread is a fun addition to any smoothie or slice of toast—but we usually eat ours straight out of the jar with a spoon.

9. Enlightened Sweet Cinnamon Bean Crisps, $2.99

Add crunch, protein, and sweetness to oatmeal, yogurt, or homemade trail mix with Enlightened’s bean crisps. Made from roasted fava beans, these bad boys are coated in just enough cocoa, cane sugar, and sea salt, and offer seven grams of protein and a solid six grams of fiber per serving. Crunch on that!

10. FlapJacked Double Chocolate Mighty Muffin, $3.19

Baking is hard—unless you’re stirring water into a FlapJacked Mighty Muffin cup, popping it in the microwave, and enjoying a warm, gooey muffin just minutes later. Every 220-calorie muffin comes with 20 grams of protein, six grams of fiber, and a dose of probiotics—so go ahead and spread the joy of baked goods this season!

11. Icon Meals Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Protein Popcorn, $9.99

Chocolate-covered popcorn is one of the most beautiful sweet-and-salty combos out there. Icon Meals’ protein popcorns make this treat a little more balanced by adding 10 grams of protein to every sticky, candy-coated serving. Set this stuff out in the party bowl and it’ll disappear in five minutes flat.

12. Buff Bake Snickerdoodle Almond Butter, $12.99

If our favorite cinnamon-y cookie and go-to nut butter had a baby, it’d be Buff Bake’s Snickerdoodle spread. The high-protein nut butta’ (13 grams per serving) is made with just a few simple ingredients: roasted almonds, whey protein, coconut palm sugar, cinnamon, coconut oil, chia seeds, and flax seeds. We’re so obsessed, we spread it on everything—even snickerdoodle cookies themselves.

Shop stockings-worth of yummy snacks. 

Gifts For The Hipsters In Your Life

We all have that friend—the one with the trendy but laid-back wardrobe, who listens to the cool new bands and bakes vegan chocolate cookies. Whoever this person is—your brother, sister, co-worker—they deserve a thoughtful, unique gift that reflects their creative, independent spirit. Here’s your very own hipster-approved, totally hand-curated gift list. It’s, like, super bespoke, you guys.

1. SheaMoisture Beard Softener & Skin Protector, 10.99


This one’s for the coolest guy you know, with his flowing facial hair and a serious dedication to keeping it looking effortlessly good. A small price to pay for the envy he’ll draw.

2. Badger’s Beard Grooming Kit, $29.99


Let’s say your hipster buddy wants to crank his facial hair maintenance up a notch. This grooming kit is for the gent who also wants to keep those stray hairs in check. First he’ll apply the leave-in oil to his beard, followed by the balm (about a pea-sized dollop) in order to give it shape and hold. Bonus: Its pocket size means it’s travel friendly!

3. Evolution Salt Co.’s Himalayan Salt Lamp, $13.79


For the hipster who likes to work or play in a relaxing, inspired environment, a salt lamp is key. Enthusiasts of these decorative lamps say they also offer health-boosting perks, like cleansing the air and providing a respite from the damaging blue light of our phones and computers. Mostly, though, they’re just really pretty.

4. The Dirt’s Oil Pulling Mouthwash, $18.99


Why only brush your teeth when you can also promote extra mouth cleanliness with oil pulling? If you’ve not heard of this oral health trend, rest assured your hipster friend has. It keeps your breath fresh, your lips soft, and it may reduce germs, too. And, it’s full of wonderfully-scented essential oils, like pepperminttea tree, and rose.

5. Green Foods Organic Matcha Green Tea, $14.99


Perfect for the hipster who gave up coffee or who simply wants to dial up their intake of health-boosting antioxidants, this soy-, dairy-, gluten- and GMO-free green tea is the perfect mixture of tasty and rejuvenating. Just mix with six-eight ounces of cold or hot water—and voila! You’ve got a super-delicious treat. P.S. It can be used to make smoothies, cookies, and puddings, too.

6. SpaRoom’s Aromaharmony Diffuser, $59.99

Prepare to give your best gift ever. This brilliant machine blends music and fragrance (yep, you heard that correctly) for an ultra-sensory, totally relaxing experience. The AromaHarmony speaker works alongside a diffuser so you can chill out to instrumental guitar while surrounded by calming scents. Folk rock and lavender, anyone?

7. Takeya’s Cold Brew Iced Coffee Maker, $23.79


Cold brew is the newest (and coolest) coffee craze, no matter the season. Most people like their coffee hot or cold—as long as it’s strong. And cold brew leaves behind a potent, clean coffee without the bitter, acidic flavors you tend to get when brewing normally.

8. Nutribiotic Rice Protein, $33.59


Not everyone eats meat or drinks dairy, so it can be hard to get all the protein necessary to feel strong, mentally alert, and ready for the day. With this vegan and gluten-free rice protein, you can gift someone a supplement that keeps them healthy and happy—while tasting delicious, thanks to its vanilla flavoring.

9. Orgain’s Smooth Chocolate, $37.99 for 12 drinks


We’ve got the chocolate lovers out there covered, too. With Orgain’s high-protein vegan nutritional shake, you’ll gift someone plant protein (16 grams per drink) galore. It’s made with organic brown rice, hemp, chia, and pea protein, ingredients sure to get any hipster excited. Yum!

10. D’s Naturals No Cow Bars, $29.99 for 12 bars


Everyone—not just hipsters—loves healthy food that also tastes great. After all, you shouldn’t have to skimp on flavor in order to eat well. With this yummy lemon meringue bar, you’ll get 22 grams of plant protein with only one gram of sugar. It’s also got probiotics in there, so your gut can feel good, too. Perfect as a post-run snack or during a concert in the park.

Shop the full selection of gifts for hipsters at VitaminShoppe.com.

6 Of The Healthiest Grains You Can Eat

If your go-to grub includes oatmeal for breakfast and sushi rolls for dinner, you’re certainly not alone. Carbs are a beloved (and important!) part of our daily meals, but if we don’t eat the right carbs, we can load up on calories without getting the filling fiber and nutrients our bodies need to thrive.

That’s why it’s so important that our carbs come from whole grains, which contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial phytochemicals that are stripped from refined grains during processing. Oats and brown rice aren’t your only whole-grain options, though.

There are so many types of grains out there that it can be hard to pick which to put on your plate—so we asked nutritionists to expand your whole-grain horizons by sharing their favorites. Add these six healthy grains to your shopping list and not only will you have a more nourishing love affair with carbs, but you’ll also discover a few new flavors and textures to get your taste buds buzzing!

1. Barley

One of the larger grains you’ll find, barley has a chewy texture and nutty flavor. A serving of barley (a third of a cup) is 60 calories and contains 13 grams of carbs, two grams of fiber, and a gram of protein, says Tanya Zuckerbrot M.S., R.D., bestselling author, and founder of The F-Factor Diet. This grain is also a great source of manganese (important for the metabolism, bone health, and antioxidant activity), selenium (important for antioxidant activity and thyroid function), and thiamine (important for energy metabolism).

At the supermarket, look for hulled barley, which contains the whole grain, Zuckerbrot says. Pearl barley is refined and stripped of the fiber and nutrients in the outer layer of the grain.

This grain makes for a great brown rice substitute. Zuckerbrot likes using barley to make a higher-fiber mushroom risotto.

2. Black Rice

Move over brown rice, there’s a new variety in town. “Known as forbidden rice or emperor’s rice in ancient China, black rice is sort of sweet and nutty in flavor with a beautiful dark purple color,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. Sounds alluring, right?

A quarter cup of cooked black rice contains 50 calories, 11 grams of carbs, 1.5 grams of protein, and a little less than a gram of fiber. “It’s packed with antioxidants and vitamin E,” she says. In fact, one serving contains about as much antioxidants as a serving of blueberries. Anthocyanins, the antioxidants that give black rice and berries their dark, purple-y color, can’t be found in other varieties of this grain!

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

Harris-Pincus likes using black rice in Thai and Asian-style dishes and veggie bowls. Because of its slightly sweet flavor, black rice also works well in desserts, like this cranberry coconut black rice pudding.

3. Sorghum

Sorghum is a gluten-free grain grown in the U.S. that looks similar to Israeli couscous. It’s got a mild flavor and a gentle texture reminiscent of wheat berry.

A quarter cup of cooked sorghum clocks in at 57 calories, with 14 grams of carbs and two grams of protein (not much fiber here, though). It’s also a source of phosphorus, vitamin B6, magnesium, niacin (vitamin B3), iron, potassium, and selenium, all of which can keep energy up and the body balanced, says Harris-Pincus.

Because sorghum is so mild, it pairs with almost anything and easily swaps in for rice in soup, stew, chili, paella, salad, and Buddha bowls, she says. You can also pop it, just like you would with popcorn! Harris-Pincus likes to add popped sorghum into a parfait with Greek yogurt and fruit. (And since sorghum doesn’t have a hull like popcorn does, it won’t get stuck in your teeth).

4. Amaranth

Small, round amaranth is technically more like a seed—but has a similar nutritional profile to many whole grains. It’s very nutty and earthy in flavor.

A quarter cup of cooked amaranth (which is gluten-free) is 62.5 calories, and contains 11.5 grams of carbs, 2.5 grams of protein, and 2.5 grams of fiber. It’s high in calcium, magnesium, and iron, which can prevent muscle soreness and fight fatigue, says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T.

Amaranth also contains B vitamins, which help our body turn food into energy, adds Zuckerbrot.

Cooked amaranth can be used like cooked quinoa (we’ll get to that soon!) and makes a great base for nourishing Buddha bowls. Like sorghum, amaranth can also be popped or puffed, and adds texture to parfaits, oatmeal, salads, and soups.

5. Quinoa

You probably already know that quinoa is a rock star—but did you know that it’s technically a seed?! This small, delicate, and fluffy ancient staple is gluten-free and has an earthy, nutty, almost sweet flavor.

A quarter cup of cooked quinoa is 56 calories, with 10 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of protein, says Zuckerbrot. Unlike many plant foods, quinoa contains all nine of the essential amino acids our bodies need, so it’s also considered a complete protein. It’s also high in phosphorus and iron. “Phosphorus is needed to maintain strong bones, and iron is important to sustain energy and oxygen transport,” she says.

Try adding quinoa to chilis and stews, or sprinkling it into salads.

6. Bulgur

Bulgur is a quick-cooking form of whole wheat that has a somewhat nutty taste and chewy texture.

A quarter cup of cooked bulgar comes in at 38 calories, 8.45 grams of carbs, two grams of fiber, and 1.4 grams of protein. It’s also a good source of the minerals manganese, magnesium, and iron, says Zuckerbrot.

Bulgar is a great way to add bulk to just about anything—especially salads and beans. Zuckerbrot also likes using it to make high-fiber stuffing.

Are You Getting Enough Fiber?

Gifts For The Fitness Fanatics In Your Life

The good feeling a solid sweat leaves you with is a gift in itself, but if you spend your free time pounding the pavement, tearing it up in spin class, or loading up a barbell, chances are your wish list is chock-full of gear, supplements, and goodies to make your workouts feel even better. After all, living a fit lifestyle is about much more than just the time we spend moving.

Here are the products we trust to help us work hard, restore our bodies, and feel fitter and stronger than ever. Treat your gym buddy—or yourself!—to a routine upgrade or two, and power into the New Year on your a-game!

1. Cellucor Cherry Limeade C4 Ripped, $39.99 for 30 servings

You probably know that your workout routine starts before you even step foot into the weight room—about a half-hour before, to be exact. Cellucor’s C4 Ripped preworkout formula boosts your workouts and your efforts to get shredded with ingredients to support energy and weight management, like caffeine (150 milligrams), B vitamins, green coffee bean extract, and cayenne extract. Consider it classic C4’s shredded twin.

2. Optimum Nutrition Fruit Punch Gold Standard Pre-Workout, $29.99 for 30 servings

This tried-and-true preworkout is perfect for the gym-goer looking to build muscle. Optimum Nutrition’s formula packs 175 milligrams of caffeine, three grams of creatine, and 1.5 grams of beta alanine. A scoop also offers a slew of B vitamins, plus citrulline for a little extra pump. Your workouts—and muscle gains—will thank you.

3. Classic Black 28 Oz Blender Bottle, $9.99

If you’re still using a smelly shaker cup from three years ago or trying to pour your supplements into plastic water bottle without making a mess, consider this your invitation to cut that out. Treat yourself to a new Blender Bottle for easier shakes than ever, wherever you are. C’mon, a 28-ounce bottle is BPA-free and fits in your cup holder.

4. Optimum Nutrition Vanilla Ice Cream Gold Standard 100% Whey, $29.99 for 32 servings

Whether you mix it up plain with water, blend it into a smoothie, or stir it into your oatmeal, whey protein is practically its own food group for fitness lovers. With 24 grams of protein, 5.5 grams of branched-chain amino acids, and just three grams of carbs, Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard whey is an absolute staple. A 32-serving tub ($29.99) helps keep your stomach satisfied and your muscles growing—and the vanilla ice cream flavor is as versatile as it gets.

5. BodyTech Rich Chocolate WheyTech Pro 24, $49.99 for 74 servings

If chocolate protein is more your speed (who doesn’t love chocolate milk, after all?), BodyTech’s WheyTech Pro 24 is a fan favorite. The rich, chocolate-y whey packs 24 grams of protein, just three grams of carbs, and costs only 67 cents a serving! We love baking it into protein cookies, rolling it into truffles, or mixing it into fudge.

6. Quest Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Protein Bar, $24.99 for 12

Ultra-portable and available in flavors that taste like dessert, protein bars come in handy when you’re on the go, at work, in the car, or just don’t feel like whipping up a snack. Quest’s chocolate chip cookie dough bar is low-carb (just four grams of net carbs), low-sugar (less than a gram), and high protein (21 grams). Plus, with 14 grams of fiber, it’ll keep you feeling satisfied until your next chow-down. We stash them everywhere from the office to our gym bag.

8. Lenny & Larry’s Double Chocolate Complete Cookie, $19.99 for 12

Treat yourself and load up on protein at the same time with one of Lenny & Larry’s best. These vegan cookies contain nothing artificial and pack eight grams of protein and three grams of fiber per serving, so you can satisfy your sweet tooth guilt-free. So why not make your desserts do double duty? These will make all your chocolatey dreams come true.

8. Scivation Strawberry Kiwi Xtend BCAAs, $23.99 for 30 servings

If you down your preworkout before the gym and shake up your protein after but don’t give much thought to what you’re sipping during your workout, you might be missing an opportunity to level up your fitness. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) support your muscles and boost recovery. Scivation’s Xtend BCAAs contain seven grams of the good stuff per serving, at the ideal muscle-building ratio of 2:1:1, leucine to isoleucine to valine. And, as a bonus, this supp also includes an electrolyte blend for hydration and performance, along with citrulline for pump.

9. True Athlete ZMA With Theanine, $29.99 for 180 capsules

Sure, your workouts are huge for growing stronger and fitter and seeing your body change—but in order to see those results, your body has to recover. True Athlete’s ZMA supplement combines zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, and theanine to support rest and recovery—all while you snooze.

10. Universal Animal Pak, $31.99 for 44 packets

When you’re hardcore about the gym, you need a hardcore supplement regimen to support your training. Universal’s Animal Pak is basically your supplemental foundation, and covers all of your bases—from key vitamins and minerals to important amino acids to adaptogenic herbs to antioxidants to digestive enzymes. This training supplement is the go-to of heavy-lifters and bodybuilders alike.

11. 6 Pack Fitness Innovator 300 Stealth Meal Bag, $79.99

Solid nutrition ensures all your hard work in the gym pays off—but keeping your eats consistent and tune into your goals can be tricky, especially when you’re busy or traveling. That’s where this cooler-than-a-lunchbox meal bag comes in. Stash a full day’s-worth of meals, snacks, and supplements in this bag and you’ll have quick access to healthy meals no matter where you are.

12. Accufitness MyoTape, $6.92

Whether your goal is to bulk up or slim down, taking body measurements is a reliable way to track your progress over time. Accufitness’ looped measuring tape adjusts to fit around any body part you want to measure—whether your waist, biceps, chest, or thighs—for accurate measurements. At $6.92, it’s much cheaper—and more helpful—than a scale!

Shop the full selection of fitness-friendly gifts at VitaminShoppe.com. 

7 Tips For Doing A Plant-Based Diet Right

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

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

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

1. Prioritize Protein

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

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

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

Related: 7 Meat-Free Protein Sources

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

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

2. Keep Carbs In Check

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

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

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

3. Keep An Eye On Vitamin B12

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

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

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

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

4. Eat Your Spinach (And Other Iron Sources)

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

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

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

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

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

5. Don’t Forget About Omega-3s

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

Featured Plant-Based Omega Supplements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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