Did you know you know there's a simple way to help lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol,1 and reduce your risk of dying from all sorts of scary-sounding things—and you don't even have to leave the dinner table to do it?2
Intrigued? Then consider replacing the refined grains in your diet with whole grains. What are whole grains? They are cereals and seeds that have not been milled or processed to remove their hard exterior. This outer layer, called the bran, contains healthy oils, fiber, and protein. This is stripped away when the grain is refined. Whole grains are complex carbohydrates that take the body longer to digest, so their nutrition is released slowly and continuously, leaving you feeling energized and full for much longer, partly because they don't spike your blood sugar. They are an excellent source of dietary fiber, protein, iron, potassium, and manganese.
Misleading food labels have sparked plenty of confusion about what is and isn't made from whole grain. The best way to verify if your packaged baked goods are whole grain is to read the ingredient list on the back or side. If the grains listed are "whole," then you're in good shape. An even better way to know you are eating whole grains is to buy them whole and cook them yourself.
Some of the whole grains you might be familiar with include brown rice, quinoa, and oats, and these are fantastic. But, did you know there are a lot of other whole grains—many of which have been enjoyed around the world for thousands of years—that you can add to your meals for variety? Look for them in the bulk bins or dry goods section of your local market, where many will cost just pennies per serving. Stretch your dollar farther by blending the more exotic varieties with brown rice, buckwheat, and quinoa. Experiment to find your favorite flavor combination!
If you can cook rice or oatmeal, you can easily cook other grains. We've provided measurements and cooking times for you below. Use a heavy pot with a lid (or a rice cooker!) and set the burner of your stove to a medium temperature. All grains should be rinsed well before cooking and inspected for stray twigs or stones that remain from the harvesting process.
Substitute whole grains in place of white rice or pasta, add them to soup and casseroles, toss cooked grains into salads, or serve them for breakfast and enjoy like oatmeal. Cooked grains keep well in the fridge, so we recommend making a large batch and storing the leftovers for quick meals during the week. Store uncooked grains in an airtight container in a cool, dark cabinet for up to 6 months, or in your refrigerator as long as a year.
Here are 7 up-and-coming whole grains to try:
While not technically a grain (it's a seed), gluten-free amaranth has a nutritional profile similar to grain. Originally from Peru, its cultivation spread through Central and South America and played a crucial role in Aztec rituals and their diet. Amaranth contains more protein than most grains, is considered a complete protein, has three times as much calcium as other grains, is rich in iron and magnesium, and is the only grain that contains vitamin C. It has been shown to lower blood cholesterol in patients with coronary disease and hypertension3.
To Cook: Add 1 cup amaranth to 3 cups water, and simmer gently for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cooked amaranth has a consistency similar to Cream of Wheat® (it can become sticky if overcooked). For a dish that is more like rice, combine amaranth with other cooked grains. You could also add a few tablespoons while cooking homemade soup to add thickness and protein.
You may already be familiar with buckwheat—no, not the character from The Little Rascals—the grain. Only, once again, it's not a grain at all or even related to wheat. This heart-shaped seed is a relative of rhubarb, making it gluten-free. Buckwheat has a satisfying, nutty flavor and numerous health benefits. The phytonutrients in buckwheat are powerful antioxidants that protect cells from cancer-causing free radicals. Buckwheat is also a star when it comes to keeping the heart pumping—its fiber has been shown to reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol levels4 and its manganese promotes healthy circulation.
Make it a staple in your pantry, and you'll be glad you did. It cooks quickly for a weeknight dinner, and can be made ahead in bulk and stored in the fridge for easy lunches throughout the week. Buckwheat flour makes delicious pancakes and crepes. Soba noodles made from buckwheat are a great gluten-free alternative to pasta.
To cook: Prepare it like rice on a stovetop or in a rice cooker. Pre-toasting in a dry pan before adding liquid intensifies the nutty flavor and is worth the effort. Bring 1 cup buckwheat and 2 cups water to a boil, reduce heat to low, put a lid on it, and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed and the kernels are tender.
Farro is an ancient relative of wheat that has been eaten for centuries. Want to look like a gladiator (or a goddess)? Then eat farro, the grain that fortified the armies of the Roman Empire. Farro is sometimes called spelt or emmer, but they're not the same. Farro has a firm and chewy texture, and a nutty flavor that is great in grain salad, stuffing, and soup. It is surprisingly filling because it has 11 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber per cup. It is so nutritiously dense, in fact, that you might find a smaller serving than other grains will make you feel full. The fiber supports healthy digestion and satisfies for hours, making it a healthy choice for people trying to lose weight.
To cook: Farro also benefits from toasting. Add 1 cup farro to 2-1/2 cups boiling water. Cover and simmer without stirring for 20 minutes, or until tender. Farro can be cooked in a rice cooker and makes great leftovers because it keeps its firm texture for several days and never gets mushy or sticky.
Legend has it that a Montana man discovered several kamut seeds in a tomb near the Nile River. Later, an enterprising farmer trademarked the seeds and gave it the ancient Egyptian name for wheat.
One thing is certain, kamut is an ancient grain. It is an heirloom variety of Khorasan wheat from Iran. Research suggests that ancient grains may have more health benefits than modern strains of wheat, and recently, Canadian scientists compared several ancient grains, including kamut, to modern wheat, and found higher levels of lutein (important for eye health) and beta-carotene in the heirloom grains.5
Kamut is a smart choice for a healthy diet and, as an added bonus, the branded product is always grown organically. It is high in selenium (which supports the immune system), zinc, and manganese. It also has 20 to 40% more protein per serving than regular wheat. A half-cup serving provides 6 grams of protein and only 140 calories.
To cook: Kamut is a Goliath of grains, and takes a long time to cook. Bring 1 cup kamut and 3 cups water to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the grains are plump and chewy. This can take 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Soaking the grains overnight will reduce cooking time.
Though the name sounds similar, don't confuse kañiwa (pronounced "ka-nyi-wa") with its popular cousin, quinoa. (If you're following the Beachbody® nutrition guide that came with your fitness program, you should be well acquainted with quinoa.) Kañiwa, from the Andes Mountains, is being touted as the next superfood. These tiny ruby red seeds are about half the size of quinoa and have a mild, sweet flavor. Because they are made up mostly of outer shell, they stay pleasantly crunchy when cooked.
To cook: Add 1 cup kañiwa and 2 cups water to a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, until the seeds look they have sprouted little halos (like quinoa). Fluff with a fork and serve. Try it as a "breading" for meats.
Some people think millet is for the birds, literally. It is a main ingredient in birdseed mixes, but this gluten-free seed (again, not a grain) is delicious and fluffy when cooked. It is not commonly eaten in the U.S., but it is the sixth most popular grain in the world. Millet may have been the staple grain of Asia before rice, and it's rich in phosphorous, which is important for strong bones, and is also a source of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps reduce stress.
To cook: Toast 1 cup millet in a dry pan then add 3 cups water. Simmer covered for 15 minutes, then set it aside and leave the lid on for 15 minutes more. Fluff with a fork before serving.
For hot cereal or polenta, grind millet in a spice grinder. Bring 5 cups water to a boil, then gradually whisk in 1 cup millet. Cover, lower heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 to 30 minutes until grits are tender. The tiny seeds can even be popped like corn!
Just like how many of these "grains" aren't really grains, wild rice is not really rice. It's the seed of an aquatic grass that was originally cultivated in shallow waters across North America. It has double the protein and fiber of brown rice and 30 times greater cancer-fighting antioxidant activity than white rice.6 Reddish brown to black in color, wild rice commands attention with its toothsome bite and bold nutty flavor. For this reason, and also because it's pricey, it is often blended with other grains.
To cook: Wild rice requires more time to cook than most grains, but it's worthy of the extra patience. There is time to crank out INSANITY's Plyometric Cardio Circuit while you wait. Bring 3 cups water or stock to a boil, stir in 1 cup rice, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 50 minutes, until the kernels burst open, revealing a creamy interior. Uncover, fluff with a fork, and continue cooking over low heat for 5 minutes more if needed. Overcooking causes kernels to curl up and loose their distinct texture.
Let us know which whole grains you love and how you eat them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Most of us want to lose weight, but what about those who want to get bigger? Skinny folks, trainers, and bodybuilders alike all know that, truth be told, getting big is hard. Over the years, some of the most frustrated clients I've ever worked with were those who were trying to put on mass.
Getting big is hard, but it's not impossible. Here's how you do it.
This was one of the first lines I heard a bodybuilder utter about how he got so big. I've heard it repeated time and time again by those looking to gain. For sure, if you want to gain weight, you've got to eat more than you're used to. But, now that we know more about performance eating and nutrient timing, the best way to increase your bulk isn't to spend all afternoon gorging yourself at Arnold's All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. Instead, by centering your diet around healthy, calorically-dense foods, you can get big without putting on the excess fat you see many bodybuilders carrying when they're in the offseason.
One of the easiest ways to get your body used to eating more than you're comfortable with is to take advantage of the times of the day when it's easier for your body to digest and utilize nutrients. I've broken your day into five basic periods of time. If your day doesn't fit this exact model, focus on the concepts and adjust as necessary.
1. Pre-Preworkout. Don't confuse this with the "preworkout" supplements you take right before training. In this context, I'm referring to all the hours of the day before you work out. To give you energy for your training session, focus on eating carbs (for energy) and protein (to maximize amino acid availability). Keep the amount of fat you ingest relatively low, as excess dietary fat will sit in your digestive tract and hinder your workout.
2. Intraworkout. These are supplements you take immediately before or during your workout that help you train harder. I'm not including food here because you should be eating plenty during the rest of the day, so you shouldn't worry about running out of blood sugar and muscle glycogen during your training sessions unless they are longer than 90 minutes.
The exception is simple carbs (or sugars) which are the foundation of most preworkout supplements because they absorb quickly, transporting the targeted nutrients I'm about to discuss.
What those targeted nutrients should be is a matter of debate and personal preference. Many people like caffeine and other stimulants prior to training. While the science around them is mainly solid, the effects vary, so start slow to see what works for you.
Nitric oxide, or NO, boosters are also popular. The science validating them is decent—and getting better—but keep in mind their role is to help you train harder. They won't make you big. Your tests should be straightforward. If they improve your workouts then they are good. If not, you're wasting money. Pretty simple.
Then there's creatine, still one of the best supplements around for training. Generally, I recommend it postworkout, but you may prefer to take it during your workout as well. That's fine. A personal trial is always recommended but this supplement's been on the market for 30 years, under great scrutiny, and is still shining bright. Current research still shows that good old creatine monohydrate is the form that's still the most effective.
B vitamins, amino acids, beta alanine, carnitine, et. al. are all popular preworkout ingredients with varying amounts of science showing effectiveness. Again, you need to make the call but keep in mind, as is the case with nitric oxide, these things are only working if your workouts are better. They are therefore very easy to test.
3. Postworkout. Here things start to get cool, as strategic recovery is where you can easily put away a lot of calories. First, you'll want to drink a low-calorie post-exercise drink within 30 minutes of training. It should contain at least two parts carbs to one part protein and not exceed 250 calories. Your body can only process around 200 to 300 calories in a given hour, and excess calories will slow down the process of restoring your muscle glycogen, an absolute no-no if you want to see muscle growth and recover quickly.
This is also a great time to take more creatine and other targeted supplements because your insulin is spiking and you will utilize those nutrients very efficiently.
One hour after your workout you should eat again. Now is a great time for a high-protein, high-fat smoothie that contains an insane number of calories and tons of nutrients. If you trained hard—and you'd better—your muscles will still be starving for nutrients and these calories should go down easy. This "starvation window" is something you'll learn to greatly appreciate.
4. Evening Meal. This should be the inverse of breakfast (and possibly lunch if you didn't train until later in the day). It should contain fewer carbs, mostly in the form of veggies, and much more fat and protein. Don't eschew carbs altogether, just scale the meal, keeping in mind that you eat carbs for energy and you're not going to be very active until the next day.
5. Before Bed. Recent studies have confirmed that the classic bodybuilder routine of consuming protein prior to bed can raise amino acid activity during sleep. If you're a big guy (190 pounds or more), 40 grams of protein, preferably a slow protein (like casein), right before bed can help you recover faster than normal.
Even with a perfect strategy, eating more than your body wants is hard work. That was the hardest challenge for all of our Body Beast® test group participants. But you really only have to do it once. Once your body is big, and used to being big, your caloric needs will level off to more manageable numbers.
When getting big is your ultimate goal, time under tension should be the focus of every workout that's not recovery oriented. Time under tension is the amount of time your muscles are contracted during the workout. You want that amount of time to be as long as possible. This means slowing down your reps and focusing on form and muscle contraction. Time, not reps, is the key to training to get big. We only use reps for convenience. So the number of reps you target should be based on the speed you do them (for example, 5 slow reps might take just as long as 20 fast reps). For hypertrophy, or muscle growth, you want each set to include ideally around 1 minute of contraction.
Failure is essential. Time under tension only works if you are pushing yourself to the limit. You must add weight as you get stronger. If you never fail on a set then your workout was too easy. Add as much weight as you can safely handle. Every rep. Every set. Every workout.
There are too many strategies for targeting time under tension to go into here but you can tweak any weight-training workout to achieve it. This will be much easier to do if you are following a traditional weight-training program, like P90X® or ChaLEAN Extreme®. In the Beachbody lineup, Body Beast is, by far, the best training program for gaining mass since it's designed specifically for that purpose.
It's also vital to note that your body only has so much energy to expend and you need to strategize how it should be engaged. Adding a lot of cardio training or outside activity hurts your ability to get big because you are, essentially, wasting energy that could be used to add more weight to your time under tension goals. Every supporting workout that you do during a mass-gaining phase should be to aid recovery or reduce chances of injury. Anything else is taking your eye off of the prize.
Finally, don't forget about sleep. It's the best recovery aid there is. The perfect bulking scenario would have you sleeping whenever you weren't training and eating. While impractical, you should consider this the ideal and try to get as much shut-eye as you can handle. Can't sleep? Try these tips to get some rest.
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If you, like George Costanza, are ready to take a nap under your desk after lunch, you're not alone. Millions of Americans experience the mid-afternoon slump. But, instead of reaching for another cup of coffee or an energy drink, a few changes to your routine can make all the difference between staying sharp and wanting to nap on your keyboard.
"Certain types of foods make you sleepier than other types of foods," said Bill Tulin, coauthor of Travel Fitness. That burger and fries—or plate of pasta—will almost certainly send you in search of a pillow.
Dr. Michael A. Grandner of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology explains why what you eat makes a difference. "During digestion, especially in the case of heavy meals, there is activation of the parasympathetic system (the 'rest and digest' or 'feed and breed' system), which shifts balance away from the sympathetic system (the 'fight or flight' system)."
Why does this matter? Grandner says, "Increased parasympathetic activity is associated with decreased alertness, and the urge to rest and the sudden intake of glucose and resultant spikes in insulin may also play a role in reduced energy after long meals." Tulin adds, "The blood is going to the stomach to process and digest all that food."
So, what do you do? Tulin suggests eating a lighter meal of lean protein and vegetables to stave off the feeling of being tired. And, instead of eating 3 big meals a day, split your meals into 3 lighter meals and two healthy snacks.
Don Draper might have a way with the ladies, but there's a good reason he's often discovered napping. That glass of wine—or three martinis—at lunch, definitely won't help you do your best work, and that's not just because of the buzz.
The Mayo Clinic noted that alcoholic beverages can cause blood vessels to expand, leading to headaches, but can also make drinkers sleepy and even affect their quality of sleep, which in turn may leave them feeling groggy and fatigued.1 It's a vicious cycle bound to leave you tired, so leave the cocktails until the bell rings.
Around here, we're often championing the importance of getting 7 to 8 hours of quality rest each night. Sleep helps your muscles rebuild, lowers your stress level, and as Grandner says, "If you don't get enough quality sleep at night, you're less able to do many important things during the day. You're more likely to have trouble staying awake, especially during the natural dip in the afternoon, and you're less able to exercise efficiently, eat healthy, and think clearly."
It's all a cycle. Consider the 2008 study published in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine that found that people with sleep disorders ate a diet higher in cholesterol, protein, total fat, and total saturated fat.2 Or the 2006 Institute of Medicine report that found that the less people slept under seven hours each night, the more obese they tended to be.3 Why? Lack of quality sleep appears to tip hunger hormones out of whack. Leptin, which suppresses appetite, is lowered; while ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, gets a boost.
Working out might also be a good way to get the energy to help you work through the afternoon. Lona Sandon, an assistant clinical nutrition professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, recently told the Wall Street Journal that moderate workouts and getting to bed earlier can help fight the midday fatigue.4 So, if you're finding that your energy is flagging, try going for a short run or walk to get your blood pumping.
If you've tried all the above solutions and you're still groggy, get a light. According to new research by Elsevier's Physiology & Behavior, the right type of light can have an acute effect on neuroendocrine responses, performance, and alertness.5 White lights or UVB therapy lamps can stimulate your body to be more alert. Want to invest in a therapy lamp? Go outside! "Sunlight or just some bright light by the desk could help those "in more of a dark environment," says Grandner. "Getting up and moving around may also help stimulate alertness."
How do you fight midday fatigue? Tell us at mailbag@Beachbody.com. and we might run your tips in an upcoming newsletter!
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(Makes 3 servings, 1 cup each)
Nutritional Information (per serving):
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†Results may vary. Exercise and proper diet are necessary to achieve and maintain weight loss and muscle definition.
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