If you just started an exercise plan or are getting your butt in gear by working out more consistently, you may need to change how you fuel your body to get the most out of it. Common nutrition mistakes such as drinking your calories or eating too much postworkout may be the reason why you can't lose weight (or inches) even though you're giving it your all. Although getting fit isn't just about the scale, it's still an important factor, so we'll break down 5 common problems—and how to fix them—to get you back on the path to results.
It's common to think more exercise = more calories. But if you're trying to lose weight, you may be adding on as many calories as you're burning—or more. "Think about the food that you're eating to fuel your workouts and ask yourself how it fits into your total calorie allotment for the day," advises Felicia Stoler, MS, RD, a nutritionist and exercise physiologist. Just because you hit the cardio hard today doesn't automatically mean you can supersize dinner. "Most people have no idea how much they're really eating." To get honest with yourself about your calorie needs, write down everything you eat for a day (yes, even that handful of nuts you're holding right now) or use a site like MyFitnessPal®. You'll probably be surprised by your final number.
If you're doing a hard, prolonged workout, then hydrating with a sports drink can be a good thing, but for your standard, at-home program, you're usually better off with water. Sports drinks contain about 50 calories per 8 oz., and 14 grams of sugar (about 3.5 teaspoons). Your body will probably burn though that in an hour-long workout, but then you won't be mobilizing fat stores as much. As for the electrolytes, yes, an hour-long program depletes them, but it's nothing a good recovery drink can't fix.
As long as they're getting enough balanced calories in their diet, the average person should have all the glycogen stores they need to get through an hour-long workout, even first thing in the morning. Eating something beforehand might give your performance a little boost, but if you skip it you're better off—teaching your body how to mobilize fat stores for energy (just like in Problem 2). The exception to this is if you "bonk" or run out of glycogen and blood sugar partway through your workout. When this happens, you don't just feel a little pooped; you feel as though you've just run into a brick wall. If this happens, 50–100 calories of simple carbs, 10 minutes before you start, should fix it. Half a banana would be ideal. If you're looking for a boost with minimal calories, Beachbody's E&E Energy and Endurance® Formula or a strong cup of coffee are two great ergogenic aids.
So many exercisers try to eliminate starchy carbs—including whole grains and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn—when they're trying to lose weight. But it's water weight you're losing, not fat. Not only that, the strategy can backfire. Depleting carbs from your diet means that you have to tap into your lean protein stores for energy, which ultimately can decrease your lean muscle mass. Muscle is critical for upping your metabolism—and burning more calories even while you sit around—so you may see your weight plateau. The lesson? Don't be afraid to incorporate some whole grains and starchy veggies into your daily diet.
If you notice you come home from a run only to find that you're noticeably hungrier, consider upping the intensity of that run. A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity looked at sedentary, overweight men who either worked out at a moderate pace for 30 minutes or completed a high-intensity interval workout for the same amount of time.1 Those who did the intense interval exercise ate less at a subsequent meal, as well as the next day. Not every workout should be an intense interval session, but fitting in one or two a week can help turn the dial down on your appetite.
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What's to love about spices? Everything! Spices add flavor and aroma to your healthy meals without increasing salt, sugar, fat, or calories. They can be used whole, crushed, or dried and ground into powder, and each adds a distinctive spicy, sweet, or earthy flavor. Some, like turmeric, even add vibrant color!
What's the difference between herbs and spices? Generally speaking, herbs are the tender leaves of plants that don't have woody stems (think parsley and cilantro). Spices include just about any other plant part, including seeds, pods, flowers, buds, stems, roots, and bark.
The flavor and most of the health benefits of spices come from the oils and phytochemicals they contain. These are extremely volatile when exposed to air, and their potency begins to fade as soon as they're ground. It is best to buy whole spices when possible, and use a coffee grinder dedicated to spices (you don't want coffee flavor in your soup!) to grind them just before use. Clean your grinder between uses by placing a piece of bread or some dry rice in the machine and giving it a spin. Or, use a mortar and pestle to do it the old-school way.
Buy spices in small quantities to ensure that you'll use them while they're still potent. A two-pound tub of cinnamon from Costco® is a good deal, but unless you are a professional baker, you're never going to finish it.
When you're trying to get food on the table in a hurry, pre-ground spices are convenient. They have less zing and a shorter shelf life than whole spices, but they get the job done in a pinch. Store spices in tightly sealed containers in a cupboard away from exposure to heat and light. That spice rack next to the stove may look cute, but the contents of those little jars will quickly lose their flavor. Smell spices before adding them to your recipes. If they have a weak or dusty smell, it is time to replace them.
Not sure where to start? Here are seven basic spices you should add to your pantry that can improve almost any recipe, plus a few recipes that use them.
Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known to man. Used for centuries as a traditional herbal remedy for cold and flu symptoms, its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory powers have been backed up by modern science.2 It helps balance blood sugar and cholesterol,3 and research suggests that it may inhibit the onset of Alzheimer's disease.4
The smell of cinnamon always makes me think of baking cookies with my grandmother. Even though it's most often thought of as an ingredient in desserts, cinnamon is just as tasty in savory recipes. It gives a distinctive aroma and flavor to Mexican sauces, lamb dishes, and North African stews. Try it sprinkled in oatmeal, applesauce, rice, and yogurt, or use it whole as a stir stick for your coffee or tea.
Turmeric is the golden spice that gives most curry mixes their intense hue. The powder is also used to add natural color to mustards, cheese, and butter. Turmeric has a mild flavor, so add it to lentils, grains, meats, fish, soups, Middle Eastern dishes, and Indian curries. It is delicious in scrambled eggs. Just watch out, this spice leaves a stubborn stain on anything that comes in contact with it.
Turmeric has been used medicinally for 4,000 years and is prescribed in ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat inflammation and bellyaches, and as a salve for wounds. It contains a powerful antioxidant called curcumin that has been shown to prevent and treat several types of cancer.5 Pair it with black pepper to increase its bioavailability up to 2,000%.6
If you really want to crank up the heat, reach for cayenne pepper. Your body will thank you. It is an excellent source of immune-boosting vitamin A, and improves heart health by reducing cholesterol and improving circulation.7
Originally cultivated in Central and South America, chili peppers were not introduced to the rest of the world until Christopher Columbus brought them to Europe. They have since worked their way seamlessly into cuisines all over the world, especially in regions with hot climates like Asia and Africa. Lovers of spicy food can add cayenne pepper to just about anything, including poultry, meats, fish, vegetables, canned beans, grains, and sauces. Feeling adventurous? Try it in baked goods and recipes that call for dark chocolate.
You only have to taste a little bit of ginger root to know that it is good at relieving sinus congestion. But its potency doesn't stop there. This spicy rhizome alleviates all sorts of everyday complaints, including nausea, indigestion, headaches, arthritis, and colds. It is a loaded with compounds called gingerols that can prevent chronic diseases associated with inflammation, like cancer and heart disease.8,9
Choose fresh ginger when possible, as it contains a more powerful concentration of anti-inflammatory agents—and flavor—than powdered. Both are readily available in most grocery stores. Add it liberally to stir-frys, marinades, and vegetarian dishes. Sprinkle the powdered version into baked goods and oatmeal. For a warming cup of tea that will soothe what ails you, steep fresh ginger in hot water with a teaspoon of honey.
These are small, squarish seeds that smell and taste like maple syrup when heated, so much so that they're an ingredient in fake maple syrup! When raw, it is incredibly bitter, but when toasted lightly and blended with other spices into dishes like curries and chutneys, it imparts a complex sweetness. It is a common spice in Indian, Ethiopian, and Middle Eastern dishes, and in ethnic markets it's often called methi. Use it in small amounts in meat stews, vegetable dishes, sauces, and soups to complement other herbs and spices. When sprouted, the seeds are a delicious addition to salads.
In ayurvedic medicine, fenugreek is used to aid digestion, and it is said that swallowing a few of the seeds before a meal helps prevent acid reflux and belching.
It is a common herbal remedy used by both men and women for reproductive health. It helps lower bad cholesterol and regulates blood sugar.10
Cumin is second only to black pepper as the most popular spice in the world. In fact, the ancient Greeks kept it at the dinner table in place of pepper, which was then very expensive and hard to come by. Once you are familiar with the warm, earthy flavor of cumin, it is easy to recognize it in all sorts of different cuisines, from Indian curries to Tex-Mex tacos. It complements poultry, meats, fish, vegetables, soups, chickpeas, lentils, and grains. Try something surprising and add it to scrambled eggs or sprinkle it on air-popped popcorn. Cumin has been shown to be antimicrobial, antioxidant, and effective at lowering cholesterol.11 It is an excellent source of iron and has long been used as an aid to digestion. If beans give you gas, add cumin to reduce that musical side effect.
Have you ever heard of people eating whole raw garlic cloves to protect against illness? Well, besides being 100% effective at preventing vampire attacks, there might be something to this stinky remedy. A University of California Irvine study showed that garlic juice is effective at fighting even very resistant strains of bacteria.12 The study showed garlic to be effective even in very diluted amounts. One or two cloves in your favorite sauce or marinade is enough to reap the germ-fighting benefits. Use garlic to season meats, vegetables, and legumes. It is very pungent and spicy when raw, but mellows and sweetens as it cooks. Roasting garlic makes it especially sweet. Be careful not to burn garlic, or it will become bitter and ruin the flavor of your dish.
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When you drop a kettlebell on your foot or Mummy Kick the coffee table, there's no mystery as to why you're injured. It's when there isn't an obvious cause and you find yourself limping to the sideline that leaves you scratching your head (and rubbing your achy muscles or tendons) in search of clues as to what went wrong. These five reasons could very well be the culprits that are keeping you from injury-free exercise.
Relax, we're not name-calling. Hypohydration is the egghead term for dehydration, which can lead to loss of focus and coordination. The less focus you have, the more prone you are to making avoidable mistakes.
"Dehydration produces a lower level of performance," says Andy Hennebelle, NASM-CPT, CSCS, USAW, a strength and conditioning coach at the UFC Gym in Corona, California. "And you're more than likely going to put yourself at a greater risk of injury because in most cases . . . the muscle doesn't have the capacity to do its full range of motion."
There's no hard-and-fast rule for how much water you should consume on a daily basis. The "drink eight glasses per day" advice you were taught in phys ed has largely been dismissed. So instead of going by thirst, check your urine. If it's dark in color, like iced tea, chug a glass of water. If it's pale yellow to nearly clear, you're in the clear. And if it's sparkling neon green, you're undoubtedly a space mutant.
Symptoms of dehydration include headaches, fatigue, and light-headedness. What's more, according to a small study published in the Journal of Nutrition,1 even moderate dips in hydration levels can turn someone into a grouch—a hypohydrated grouch at that.2
Do you know the difference between good sore and bad sore? It's, ahem, good info to possess for a couple of reasons—1) it's the type of question that might pop up in the Cash Cab; 2) knowing can enable you to detect an injury, or prevent one from worsening. "Bad soreness typically has a radiating sensation. Or it's a localized, continual disruption or irritation," Hennebelle reveals. "Good soreness isn't sharp, shooting, stinging, or radiating. It just feels like it's within the movement pattern . . . [or] muscle tissue."
Where the soreness occurs can also tip you off. "I have not heard of a good sore in the joints," he adds. "Joint pain can typically be a result of some type of injury, or a lack of hydration, recovery, or lubrication." If that's the case, drinking more water may be able to help you hyperhydrate.
Whether you feel a radiating sensation or discomfort in the joints, a wise idea would be to reassess your approach to training and recovery, and revisit your body alignment during exercises that utilize those body parts. You should also ice down the injury to reduce inflammation.
A proper warm-up does more than prime the body for a workout; it helps improve your performance.3 While Shaun T and Tony Horton remind you how important warm-ups are before each Beachbody® workout, you need a warm-up game plan if you're working out solo.
A general warm-up elevates the heart rate, while a specific warm-up uses similar biomechanics and movements that target muscles that will be used in forthcoming exercises. So which of those is right for you? "There's no right or wrong way to warm up, so an improper warm-up is subjective. It depends on the athlete," Hennebelle says. "And the interval for each individual's warm-up is nonspecific as well."
That means it's on you to decide when your body feels it's ready to rumble. But if you dog your warm-up or fail to loosen up synergistic (or supporting) muscles, joints, etc., that oversight can come back to bite your shoulders, ankles, back, knees . . .
"For example, a progression or level up from a squat and a lunge would be a jump squat and a jump lunge," Hennebelle explains. "And if you're not [physically] prepared for those movements, your muscles will think, 'Well, my quads are warmed up because I did squats and lunges.' But did you warm up your ankles? Your knees? Your calves? Because those things are the things that will probably go wrong."
You probably feel like a chump doing so, but sitting out a set when you're too gassed to continue or subbing in an easier exercise for one that's too advanced is sometimes necessary to prevent injury. Your ego may get bruised in the process, but that'll heal much quicker than a muscle tear.
When you're on the fence about turning on the afterburners or participating in a progressive movement in INSANITY® or ASYLUM®, slow things down. Double-check your technique and body alignment during the movement to reassure yourself that what you're doing isn't demanding too much of your body.
"When you use 'speed strength,' the muscles must fire at a more rapid movement, which means there's a greater chance of pulls to occur," adds Hennebelle. "Going slow and steady enables enough time to recruit other muscle fibers to help support and handle the workload."
According to Hennebelle, you should be stretching multiple times per day. That doesn't mean you should drop into a downward-facing dog in the middle of a meeting with your boss. But, specifically, stretching before and after workouts. Yep, that's right—before a workout.
"A preworkout stretch can identify which muscles have tension within them," he says. "You'll be more likely to protect your muscles, having been aware of which seem tight, than if you go into a movement pattern having not stretched. Add warm-up time if you detect muscles that aren't ready."
Stretching increases flexibility and encourages your joints to move through their full range of motion. However, before you train, opt for dynamic/ballistic stretching.
"The negatives to [longstanding static stretches] preworkout are that you can inhibit . . . the ability for muscles to fire, and performance output can decrease," Hennebelle says. "Use static stretches after you work out. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds, and take it out as far as two minutes."
(Makes 4 servings)
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.
Please consult with a physician before beginning any exercise program.
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