Best Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss and Well-Being

Combined with a healthy diet rich in amino acids, cardio training benefits your body and mind. The best cardio workouts help you lose weight and reduce the risk of many conditions, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke, and certain types of cancer.

It is easy to want to skimp on the workouts, especially when life gets busy, but cardio exercises are vital to your health. You can easily incorporate a cardio program into your weekly routine, dedicating 30 minutes of your time to a cardio activity 5 days a week or more.

Combined with a healthy diet (rich in amino acids), cardio training benefits your body and mind. Cardio exercises help you lose weight and lower your risk for conditions such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke, and certain types of cancer. Cardiovascular workouts strengthen your heart and keep your arteries clear. In addition to all these great benefits, cardio boosts your mood and keeps your mind sharp. Studies have even shown that regular physical activity may help protect memory and cognitive function.

First, let’s figure out how much cardio you should engage in each week and pick the intensity that’s right for you, and then let’s get you started with some of the best cardio workouts!

How Much Cardio Should I Do?

The oft-cited Department of Health and Human Services exercise guidelines are as follows.

  • Cardio: Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, or a combination of exercise intensities spread throughout the week vs. weekend warrior style all in one go.
  • Strength: In addition to toning your cardiovascular system, it’s important to tone your muscles with strength training at least 2 times a week. Between 12 to 15 repetitions and at least a single set of each exercise to work your lower body and upper body is the goal.

Keep in mind, those are the minimum suggestions, and more cardio exercise can lead to even greater health and fitness gains.

Low Moderate vs. Vigorous Cardio Exercise

Those guidelines are all well and good, but where do we draw the line between low-intensity aerobic exercise, moderate-intensity exercise, and vigorous-intensity exercise? The parameters are guided by your heart rate.

First, determine your maximum heart rate. Subtract your age from 220. For instance, if you’re 40 years old, 220 – 40 = 180, which is your maximum heart rate, or the average maximum number of heart beats per minute.

Then, figure out what you want your heart rate zone to be: low, moderate, or high intensity.

Here are the typical parameters for each:

  • Low exercise intensity: 40% to 50% of your maximum heart rate
  • Moderate exercise intensity: 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate
  • Vigorous exercise intensity: 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate

A heart rate monitor is the easiest way to track your exercise intensity. Intensity, however, is subjective. So, you can also check in with how your body feels during cardiovascular performance.

  • Low-intensity exercise: Activities such as walking, hiking, or taking a gentle yoga or tai chi class are low-intensity cardio activities that can burn a surprising number of calories. If you can talk and sing while exercising, you’re in a low-intensity range.
  • Moderate-intensity exercise: Jogging, cycling, swimming, and other moderate-intensity activities should leave you able to carry on a conversation without being out of breath, but a few words carrying a tune would exhaust the breath during moderate activity. Expect to break out in a light sweat within the first 10 minutes.
  • Vigorous-intensity exercise: High-intensity exercise, such as bicycling 10 mph or faster or doing a Tabata session, gets you sweating fast and breathing deeply and rapidly. You won’t be able to carry on a conversation without pausing every few breaths.

Best Cardio Workouts To Try

What Are the Best Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss?

In order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in each day, and aerobic exercise helps you achieve that goal. That being said, while you burn more calories with cardio, you burn more calories after a strength-training workout, which builds calorie-burning muscle. A cardio plus strength-training workout routine is the gold standard for both weight loss and weight maintenance. To get you started with weight loss, here are our favorite calorie-burning activities.

Walking

Walking is one of the easiest activities to incorporate into your daily routine. If you want to burn calories and lose weight, you need to walk at a brisk, moderately fast pace. According to Mayo Clinic, regular brisk walking can help you maintain a healthy weight, prevent illnesses, strengthen your muscles, and improve your mood. This steady-state cardio activity can help you burn 300 to 400 calories per hour.

Running Stairs

Chances are you walk up and down the stairs every day to get to your office (and if you’re not, ditch the elevator and start climbing!), but did you know that stairs can help you burn up to 1,000 calories per hour? When you have a chance, look for a staircase near you that has more than one flight—consider walking, running, or lunging up a flight of stairs instead of running around your neighborhood to burn more calories.

Kettlebells

The kettlebell is a cannonball-shaped weight that is used to build muscles and burn calories. Kettlebell workouts combine strength training with cardio for a complete, total body workout. According to the American Council on Exercise, kettlebells can provide a higher intensity workout than the usual strength training routine in a shorter amount of time. Kettlebells can help you burn 800 to 900 calories per hour.

Try this 10-minute kettlebell workout from Chris Freytag to have an idea of how it works.

Jumping Rope

Jumping rope is an excellent cardio exercise for weight loss because, in addition to burning 600 calories per hour, it builds bone density, strengthens your legs, and makes your heart stronger. You’d have to run an 8-minute mile to work off the calories you do when you jump rope.

Beginners are best off using a beaded rope because it is easier to control than a lightweight cloth or vinyl rope. You will need a 4-by-6-foot area and about 10 inches of space above your head. The exercise surface is also important—use a wood floor or exercise mat.

HIIT Workouts

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) comes in many forms, but the goal is the same: high-intensity exercises for a short interval, then a brief recovery, and start again. During HIIT sessions, you should aim to work at 90% to 100% of your maximum heart rate. The high-intensity training increases the body’s need for oxygen, causing your system to burn more fat than lower intensity training burns. HIIT can help you burn around 600 calories per hour.

Cycling

Cycling is an excellent way to strengthen your muscles and burn calories. You can bike outside to get fresh air, but you can also start an indoor cycling class. It’s always fun to be in a room full of people who want to be healthy and motivate one another—plus the music will pump you up, and your instructor will help you achieve your goals. You can also buy a stationary bike and do this activity at home while watching your favorite TV show or reading the latest news. Cycling can help you burn 600 calories per hour.

What Are the Best Cardio Machines for Weight Loss?

We’re all for a run, hike, or swim outdoors, but sometimes the easiest way to clock in your cardio is with a cardio machine. You can do 30 minutes of steady-state cardio or make it more high impact and build in a high-intensity interval workout on the elliptical machine. It’s up to you and your fitness level how far and fast you want to push yourself.

Bicycles

As previously mentioned, cycling can be done outdoors or indoors—but indoor biking appears to especially benefit older people. According to the Arthritis Foundation, stationary cycling provides a workout that avoids stressing weight-bearing joints and reduces injury potential. Physical therapist Matthew Goodemote at Gloversville, New York’s Community Physical Therapy and Wellness program advises beginning with a 5-minute session 3 times a day and increasing the time by 5 minutes when the workout becomes comfortable.

Rowing Machines

Rowing is a full-body exercise that works the biceps, triceps, shoulders, back, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core body. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests a 30-minute workout at a level that makes you sweat but still allows you to carry on a normal conversation at a minimum starting point. If rowing is your go-to cardio workout, then 5 days a week of rowing is a good goal. According to Harvard Health Studies, 30 minutes of rowing burns between 250-300 calories.

Treadmill and Steppers

Treadmill and steppers are excellent replacements for walking or running when the weather is bad. Fast walking on the treadmill—approximately 3.5 miles per hour—burns 276 calories for a 160-pound person. Steppers provide aerobic activity and, when used as part of a daily cardio program, help burn approximately 446 calories per hour. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention muscle-strengthening activities like steppers should be incorporated into your regular exercise cardio program.

The Best Strength Training Workouts Share These 5 Core Principles

Cardio training is an excellent way to stay healthy and lose weight, but strength training can give your weight-loss goals an extra kick—and it is more useful for building muscles than cardio workouts are. Check out the best strength training workouts for your back, shoulders, arms, legs, knees, chest, and abdomen.

If you’re new to the concept of strength training, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of strength workouts out there. Some programs prioritize good form over everything else, while others emphasis a high-intensity approach. Program A suggests starting with dumbbell rows and Program B begins with the shoulder press. Program C insists the best results come from training 4 days a week, yet Program D claims you can see even more significant gains by training a mere 2 days weekly. It would be understandable if trying to sift through the vast amounts of sometimes contradictory information about so-called “best strength training workouts” drained the energy you intended to channel into your workout.

So, how can you actually determine which strength training workout will be best? The short answer: the best strength training program for you will depend on your goals, your experience level, and your personal preferences. For the long answer, read on.

Strength Training, Defined

The simplest, most fundamental definition of strength training is any muscle-building activity. To get a bit more precise, strength training describes physical exercise that uses resistance to induce muscular contraction, thereby increasing strength, anaerobic resistance, and the size of skeletal muscles.

That said, it’s a common misconception that lifting weights will make you bulky. In fact, strength training can lead to more significant weight loss results than cardio training. According to Michaela Devries-Aboud, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at McMaster University, when you lift weights, you overload your muscles, which then trains them to adapt to lift more weight. This increases lean muscle mass. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. Having more muscle increases your everyday basal metabolic rate, making it easier to create a calorie deficit, a central component of weight loss.

While it’s common to see the terms “weightlifting,” “resistance training,” and “strength training” used interchangeably, they are not synonymous with one another. Resistance training refers to any exercise that causes your muscles to contract against an external resistance, which can be your own body weight or any other object that activates muscle contraction. The term “strength training,” which is also associated with weight lifting, refers to resistance exercises designed to build strength. And weight lifting functions as a subcategory of strength training.

Curious about what strength training workout routines entail? While there’s plenty of variation, you can expect the following aspects to appear in any strength training approach you try.

  • Heavy lifts: The defining characteristic of strength training is that you increase the amount of weight you lift over time. This is the best way to build strength. As you progress, you will go through periods in which you increase the volume (meaning more sets and more repetitions), but the ultimate goal is to push, pull, and squat increasingly heavy loads.
  • Short sets: Strength training emphasizes sets of lower repetitions (often abbreviated to reps)—typically, between four and six—in order to allow you to lift as much weight as possible. For those who are new to the world of weight lifting, a set is a series of reps completed back-to-back and followed by a brief break before the next set.
  • Rest periods: Taking a rest period that allows for recovery prior to each set allows you to lift more weight, which again, is the number one priority. It also ensures you can maintain proper form throughout all your sets, which improves performance and reduces risk of injury.
  • Compound exercises: These exercises involve tasking multiple joints and muscle groups with moving through a full range of motion, and perfectly facilitate the goal of moving the heaviest weight possible. Some examples of compound exercises include: the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and chin-up/pull-up.

Cardio training is an excellent way to stay healthy and lose weight, but strength-training can give your weight-loss goals an extra kick

Why Choose Strength Training

According to the Mayo Clinic, strength training deserves a place in any fitness program. Even if you’re a serious runner or a yoga devotee, it’s important to make time for strength training exercises.

One reason for this is that as we age, our lean muscle mass naturally decreases. From age 30 to age 70, you can lose more than 25% of the strength muscle fibers in your body. Studies show that strength training can counteract negative aspects of the aging process by ensuring you maintain your muscle mass and motor function as you grow older.

Some other proven ways that strength training can benefit your overall health and well-being include:

  • Encourage weight loss: In addition to the calories you burn while working out, and as touched on previously, strength training increases your basal metabolic rate so your body burns more calories at rest.
  • Increase bone density: Strength training places stress on your bones in a safe, structured way, which increases their density and reduces your risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Improve balance: Research shows that building muscle can lead to better balance. This reduces risk of falls, allowing older individuals to remain more independent. It can also elevate quality of life for individuals of all ages.
  • Alleviate symptoms of chronic conditions: Experts have found that strength training can reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms related to a number of chronic conditions, including heart disease, arthritis, depression, and more.
  • Enhance cognition: It appears that consistent strength training sessions can sharpen cognition and learning skills.

5 Core Principles the Best Strength  Training Workouts Share

There is no single best strength training workout. As we discussed in the introduction, several factors will influence which strength training workout is the best fit for you. Given that a universal goal for all strength training workouts is to build strength, however, there are certain core principles that the best and most effective workout plans share.

1. Practice Progressive Overload

The principle of progressive overload is central to classic strength training plans. Progressive overload describes the practice of overloading your muscles by attempting to lift as much weight as possible. The muscles respond by growing stronger, which allows you to lift heavier weights, which causes your muscles to grow stronger again.

Unless you are an advanced lifter, however, or working under the supervision of an experienced coach, you should not attempt to perform exercises at the absolute limit of your strength—what’s known as a one rep max. It’s possible to make significant strength gains using the principle of progressive overload to fatigue the muscle fibers by lifting sub-maximal weights for more than a single repetition.

To do so, many recommend training to failure, though different experts stake out sometimes contradictory views on the best way to put that into practice. Reaching momentary muscular failure means that the first repetition at a given weight fails due to inadequate muscular strength. Some coaches hold that you should train to failure on all sets, while others state that will result in overtraining and recommend only training to failure on the last set of a given exercise.

It’s possible, too, to build strength in less intense ways. Progressive overload does not require one rep max lifts or training to failure. Instead, you simply need to ensure that you steadily increase the amount of resistance you’re working against. If you’re lifting weights, for instance, that means the amount you load onto the bar should be heavier 3 months from now than it is today.

2. Pay Equal Attention to All the Major Muscle Groups

Most of us tend to have a natural affinity for certain lifts. Say, for example, that the deadlift comes easily to you. It could be tempting to make that a mainstay of your strength training sessions and neglect the overhead press, pull-ups, the bench press, and so on.

While this may initially feel gratifying, over time, it will result in muscle imbalances. The best strength training programs give equal attention to the upper and lower body. That doesn’t mean you need to do a full-body workout every time (although there’s nothing wrong with that approach). You’ll just want to ensure that all the major muscle groups get fatigued so that you build strength evenly throughout your body.

3. Give Your Muscles Time to Recover

As touched on previously, practicing progressive overload helps to build muscle. As you may know, or may be able to intuit, this type of training is quite demanding. That means you should give as much time and attention to recovery as you do to the active part of your training regimen. The stronger you get, the more important recovery becomes.

The best strength programs drill progressive overload for each major muscle group and—crucially—include adequate time for those muscles to rest and repair before they’re trained again.

Just as there’s no single answer to the question of which strength training workout is best, the amount of time required between workouts varies. For those new to strength training, some guidelines you may find helpful are to aim for training each muscle group at least 2 times weekly while including at least a full rest day between training sessions for each muscle group. That means if you tax your arms and chest with the bench press on Monday, you would let those muscle groups rest until Wednesday at the earliest.

4. Include Rest Periods Between Sets

It’s vital not only to include rest periods, but also not to shortchange them. While it can be tempting to stick to short rest periods, which allow you to push through a workout faster and feel more of a burn as you do, cutting your rest periods short undermines the paramount principle of progressive overload.

Short rest periods will steer you toward lighter weights, or fewer sets, both of which will impede your progress. According to a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, individuals who take longer rest periods between sets build more muscle and gain more strength than those who take shorter rests.

So, just how long of a rest period should you use? A review paper published by Menno Henselmans, a peer-reviewed researcher and member of the Legion Athletics Scientific Advisory Board, set out to answer that question.

After closely analyzing all existing research on how different lengths of rest periods impact muscle and strength gains, Henselmans found that the best metrics come from your intuition. The most effective rest period will be as much time as you need in order to feel wholly prepared for your next set.

If you have the kind of temperament that thrives on precise measurements, you can stash these away. Typically, the time it will take you to recover works out to 2 minutes for light to average sets and 3 for your heaviest sets. Depending on the day, you may feel you need to take longer—and you should listen to that feeling.

5. Make Exertion Enjoyable

Don’t discount this principle. Michelle Segar, psychologist and author of “No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness,” explains in her book that the human brain is geared to make decisions that lead to immediate gratification. That means if you want to stick to a strength training program, it’s important to choose one that results in immediate, satisfying results.

No one can change their physique in a single training session, but the approach you choose should consistently yield perceivable changes that make you excited for each session.

Keep in mind, too, that if a particular strength training program isn’t delivering in the way you’d hoped, you can try a different one. That said, hopping from one to the next can impede progress. Unless it makes you entirely miserable, commit to a program for at least 3 months, enough time to accurately gauge what it has to offer.

Cardio training is an excellent way to stay healthy and lose weight, but strength-training can give your weight-loss goals an extra kick

How to Start Strength Training

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), adults should train each major muscle group 2 or 3 days weekly.

Older adults or those who have been previously sedentary should begin with light intensity exercises. One reason for this is that muscles get weaker after age 50 at a rate of approximately 15% per decade. To avoid over-taxing muscles, older adults as well as those unaccustomed to strength training should begin with lighter weights and shorter sessions. The ACSM recommends exercising 2 days per week and doing one set of 10-15 repetitions for each muscle group. Weight can be increased at regular intervals, bringing benefits such as increased bone density and decreased insulin resistance. Older adults should be sure to include core exercises in their training program to improve balance and stability.

According to Shawn Arent, director of the Center for Health and Human Performance at Rutgers University and a Fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine, a 2-day weekly strength training program can yield impressive results for novices. For those who are already fit, strength training (whether done on its own or in addition to another training modality) optimizes your well-being, though you will typically need to devote at least 3 days a week in order to make progress.

Weights and repetitions depend on your age, previous experience, and baseline strength. When in doubt, remember that one set of 12 to 15 repetitions typically suffices for full-body exercises as well as those targeting individual muscle groups.

The ACSM guidelines address recovery time as well, suggesting that you allow each muscle group 48 hours to recover before targeting it again. Muscle soreness is likely to happen as you’re building up your strength, so allowing time for rest and recovery is crucial.

Before starting a strength training workout, begin by running through a quick warm-up. Typically, that looks like 5 to 10 minutes of cardio exercises and/or dynamic stretches.

If you’re new to strength training, your priority should be learning proper technique. Dial down the intensity as low as you need until you’re fully confident in your starting position and progression for an exercise. It can be incredibly valuable to work with a coach who can observe you and communicate where your form may be slipping.

When you design your strength training plan, you should tackle full-body exercises as well as those that work large muscle groups in the upper body or lower body—such as the glutes, quadriceps, back, chest, and hamstrings—before smaller muscle groups like the shoulders, triceps, biceps, and calves. If you fatigue a smaller muscle group first, the larger group will not work at its maximum potential.

Here’s an example of what this looks like in action: for a workout that includes bent-over rows and bicep curls, complete the bent-over rows first. You work your biceps in both exercises, but you also target the larger and stronger back muscles in the rows. If you’ve already fatigued your biceps, then your back muscles will not get an optimal workout.

Choose isolation exercises, which work only one muscle group at a time, to increase the intensity for that muscle group. All bicep and tricep exercises are isolation exercises.

One way to use isolation exercises is to start with a heavy weight that you can do for 10 repetitions, complete the 10 repetitions, rest, and then do another set of repetitions using a lighter weight. Do as many repetitions as you can at that weight, then continue to scale down as you reach your fatigue threshold. Add one set that requires you work to the point of momentary muscular failure for each workout, choosing a different exercise and a different body part each time. Keep a record of how many repetitions you can perform, then challenge yourself on a weekly basis by trying to improve your total.

Building an Effective Strength Training Workout Plan

As touched on previously, a good, effective strength training workout plan will work all the major muscle groups in the body: the back, abdomen, chest, arms, and legs. Each of those muscle groups is comprised of other, smaller muscles and muscle groups, such as the quads and abdominals.

Here’s an outline of which exercises target specific muscle groups. Many of the exercises below are compound exercises, meaning they engage multiple muscle groups. In those instances, they’re listed beneath the largest muscle group they target.

Back and Core

Working the muscles of both your upper and lower back is incredibly important, particularly if you spend your day working in front of a computer.

Some fundamental back exercises include dumbbell rows, deadlifts, and Romanian deadlifts.

Abdomen

Keep in mind that your core muscles wrap around your back. If you suffer from lower back pain, strengthening your core muscles can help address that.

To practice engaging your core muscles, place your hands just above your hips and tighten the muscles beneath your palms—this is called bracing.

Many experts feel that compound, full-body exercises work the muscles of the abdomen more effectively than isolation exercises like crunches.

Planks and side planks are two effective body-weight core exercises that can help you build strength.

Chest

A number of exercises can help you develop a muscular chest. You’re likely familiar with the bench press and push-ups, two challenging choices that certainly produce results.

The chest press, of course, also targets this muscle group. Other exercises include dips and flys.

Arms

Many people hope to develop strong, toned shoulders and arms—often, the focus here is more on the desired appearance than functional goals.

Some of the best exercises to work your shoulders include side lateral raises, overhead press, reverse fly, bicep curls, and tricep extensions and kickbacks.

Legs

You can strengthen your legs and knees using bodyweight exercises or weighted exercises. Building strong quads—the four large muscles that run along the front of the thigh—helps to support and fortify your knees.

Squats, of course, are a classic and highly effective leg exercise. Many regard them as the most challenging leg exercise, especially when heavily weighted. Olympic lifts like the snatch and power clean also work the muscle groups in your legs. The Bulgarian split squat improves balance while building strength, and walking dumbbell lunges can double as cardio exercise.

Cardio training is an excellent way to stay healthy and lose weight, but strength-training can give your weight-loss goals an extra kick

Functional Fitness: Physical Training for Optimizing Your Everyday Life

Functional fitness is a trending catchphrase in the performance training and fitness arenas. And with good reason! Functional fitness can push you closer to your health and fitness goals, and keeps you strong, flexible, and injury-resistant as you move through your daily activities.

While some individuals truly look forward to working out, many others make time for exercise because of the benefits it brings them. The goal, in this case, is to use exercise to maintain or enhance the overall quality of life. If that resonates with you, and you’ve yet to try functional fitness exercises, it’s time to remedy that.

Functional fitness is an approach to physical activity that’s focused on developing the muscles involved in everyday activities. Functional fitness has become a trending catchphrase in the performance training and fitness arenas—and for good reason! This training approach can help you progress toward key health and fitness goals while keeping you strong, flexible, and injury-resistant as you move through your daily activities.

What Is Functional Fitness?

Functional fitness is designed to train your muscles to work together for daily tasks, such as carrying groceries, climbing stairs, bending over to pick up your child, or catching your balance when you accidentally trip. The squat is a classic example of a functional movement since it engages the muscles required to stand up from a chair. By focusing on common movements that work your muscles in the same way everyday activities do, you optimize your body’s ability to perform in real-life scenarios.

Functional fitness exercises require you to use numerous muscles in both the upper body and lower body at the same time, which not only builds overall strength but core strength as well. Typical resistance workouts workouts like weight training or even other types of strength training tend to isolate muscle groups and train them with single linear movements. Bicep curls, for example, strengthen your arms. Likewise, workouts performed on gym machines, like leg presses, can increase your muscular strength but don’t challenge your balance. A functional exercise such as a push-up, on the other hand, uses several muscle groups at once while strengthening your core. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, functional fitness training helps minimize declines in strength, coordination, and balance.

Functional fitness workouts also develop awareness, body control, and balance. Anybody can benefit from this type of training. Functional fitness keeps non-athletes flexible, strong, and ready for the movements life throws at them. Competitive athletes need to do sport-specific training, but they can also benefit by incorporating a variety of functional fitness exercises into their training program.

Why Choose Functional Fitness?

Functional fitness differs from other training programs in that its primary function is as a full-body workout.

Many functional fitness exercises use only your own body weight for resistance. “Comprehensive physical movements found in activities such as tai chi and yoga involve varying combinations of resistance and flexibility training that can help build functional fitness,” states a resource provided by the Mayo Clinic.

Some functional training exercises that use your body weight include:

  1. Push-ups
  2. Pull-ups
  3. Squats
  4. Planks
  5. Lunges

Easy functional fitness movements like multi-directional lunges and core stability exercises can help prepare your body for common activities, such as vacuuming and gardening.

Many functional fitness exercises can be done at home. Even if you choose to incorporate equipment to increase the challenge, many individuals have the space to try, say, a medicine ball workout without having to pay for a gym membership. That said, depending on your current fitness level, it may be beneficial to enroll in a functional fitness class or boot camp so an instructor can teach you the proper form for each type of exercise.

Functional fitness is a trending catchphrase in the performance training and fitness arenas. And with good reason! Functional fitness can push you closer to your health and fitness goals, and keeps you strong, flexible, and injury-resistant as you move through your daily activities.

Elements of a Typical Functional Fitness Workout

Within the general premise of functional fitness, there’s a wealth of variety and adaptability. For some, the top priority might be building muscle strength. For others, particularly older adults or individuals with pre-existing conditions, the main goal might be the decreased risk of injury.

That said, regardless of your specific goals, a well-composed functional fitness workout should work your muscle groups from head to toe. We’ve included detailed progressions for some classic and highly effective functional fitness bodyweight exercises that are suitable for beginners yet challenging for individuals of all fitness levels. Running through the following exercises will provide an effective and, hopefully, enjoyable functional fitness workout.

Caterpillar Walkout

An exercise that Jay Cardiello, a strength coach who trains professional athletes and entertainers, relies on goes by the moniker caterpillar walkout. To perform this movement, use the following progression:

  1. Stand upright with a straight spine.
  2. Bend from the hips, keeping your spine straight.
  3. Place your hands on the floor in front of your feet (depending on your range of motion, you may need to bend your knees).
  4. Walk your hands out until you’re in a plank position with your body in a straight line from the top of your head to your heels.
  5. Walk your hands back to your feet and stand up.
  6. Repeat for the targeted number of repetitions.

The Get-Up

The get-up, a variation of a classic weight-lifting exercise called the Turkish get-up, is another great functional fitness movement that works multiple muscle groups. To try a get-up, use the following progression:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs fully extended in front of you.
  2. Place your hands on the ground behind you, about a foot behind each hip, with your fingers pointed out to the side.
  3. Draw your left leg in so that your heel is near your glute.
  4. Simultaneously punch your left arm into the air while pressing through your bent leg to bring your hips up off the floor.
  5. Lower yourself to the ground and return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat on the opposite side.
  7. Continue alternating sides for the desired number of repetitions.

Chop-Squat

Don’t let the aggressive-sounding chop-squat intimidate you. This functional fitness exercise allows you to work your upper and lower body in tandem while also engaging your core. To perform this movement, use the following progression:

  1. Stand upright with a straight spine and your feet together.
  2. Extend your arms overhead and interlock your fingers.
  3. Brace your core and jump your feet out wide—definitely past shoulder-width but not so far that you lose stability—landing in a high squat position.
  4. Simultaneously swing your arms toward your left hip in a chopping motion, pausing with your interlaced hands just outside your left knee.
  5. Jump your feet back together and return your arms to the starting position.
  6. Repeat on the opposite side.
  7. Continue alternating sides until you complete your set of repetitions.

Uni-Plank Lift

This variation of a plank, the uni-plank lift, can be quite challenging, but celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson recommends it as an effective way to target your upper back, chest, sides, glutes, and core—phew! To perform this movement, use the following progression:

  1. Begin on your hands and knees.
  2. Move into a push-up position, but with your feet slightly separated.
  3. Raise your left leg and right arm out to the side on a diagonal.
  4. Pause at the top of the movement, then return to the plank position slowly and with control.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.
  6. Continue to alternate sides until you finish your set.

Step-Up

Last but certainly not least, it’s time to tackle the humble yet oh-so-mighty step-up, which will improve your balance while exerting your legs, glutes, and core. This move does require some equipment, specifically, an elevated surface such as a stable box, step, or bench. If you’re new to step-ups, be sure to choose a box, step, or bench that’s lower than you think you can manage. To perform this movement, use the following progression:

  1. Place your left foot on the elevated surface in front of you.
  2. Drive through your left heel, lift your right foot, and place it next to your left.
  3. Keep your core tight and do not allow your left hip or knee to skew out to the side.
  4. Return your right foot to the floor.
  5. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.
  6. Switch to the opposite leg.

A Beginner’s Guide to Amino Acids and Growth Hormone

Growth hormone sparks growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration in humans and other animals. It has many beneficial properties, including lowering fat mass and increasing muscle mass and strength. Results in humans, however, are inconsistent. A greater understanding of amino acids and growth hormone may be the key to advancing growth hormone therapy.

Public interest in growth hormone seems to be constantly increasing. And based on recent studies, it seems that an improved understanding of the relationship between amino acids and growth hormone may be the key to unlocking the benefits of increased growth hormone production.

In technical terms, growth hormone (GH), also called human growth hormone (hGH) in reference to human use, can be categorized as a peptide hormone that sparks growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration. As you may already know, or be able to guess from that definition, studies link growth hormone to a plethora of desirable effects, especially when it comes to athletic performance and aging.

It appears that growth hormone could be the key to remaining strong and healthy as we grow older. But how exactly does growth hormone work? And why has supplemental growth hormone been banned for all off-label use? And last but not least, what role could amino acids play in safely and naturally increasing your growth hormone levels?

Read on to find out.

How Growth Hormone Works

Growth hormone is, as the name tells you, a hormone. The pituitary gland controls growth hormone production (as well as most hormone production) and also regulates growth hormone release. GH release occurs in short bursts every 3 to 5 hours, then dissipates rapidly. Testing indicates that serum growth hormone levels peak about an hour after you fall asleep.

Growth hormone regulates your growth and development during your early years. When you enter puberty, your GH levels hit their highest point and stimulate increases in muscle mass and bone density. Over the course of your lifetime, growth hormone influences your body temperature, sugar and fat metabolism, and heart function.

Researchers have found that growth hormone increases the amount of protein allocated to your muscles, which spurs muscle growth. It also pulls fat from your body’s stores and transports it into your bloodstream where it can be burned for energy. Recent studies have also linked higher levels of serum growth hormone to better sleep quality, more resilient bones, and increased libido. And there’s evidence indicating that increased hGH levels (in conjunction with a good supply of collagen) help keep your skin taut and glowing.

Top Uses for Growth Hormone Replacement Therapy

As we’ve discussed, human growth hormone is a naturally occurring substance. However, scientists have found ways to produce synthetic hGH.

Doctors use synthetic hGH primarily to treat delayed or stunted growth in both children and adults. Some medical causes of growth issues include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Turner syndrome
  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Impaired hGH production
  • Pituitary tumors
  • Muscle wasting disease

Other legitimate medical uses for synthetic hGH include the treatment of short bowel syndrome and muscle wasting caused by HIV or AIDS.

Receiving hGH injections can elevate growth hormone levels, resulting in benefits such as:

  • Increased capacity for physical exertion
  • Better bone density
  • Greater muscle mass
  • Decreased body fat

Understandably, those benefits appeal to many people with normal production of hGH too.

In fact, growth hormone is one of the most popular performance-enhancing drugs. Athletes dope with hGH, sometimes in combination with anabolic steroids, in order to rapidly and dramatically build muscle mass and boost their endurance and performance.

The simple fact that the use of growth hormone as a performance enhancer is banned by all anti-doping governing bodies indicates it can induce some beneficial gains. Scientific studies have shown this to be particularly true when it comes to amplifying the effects of weight training.

Growth hormone replacement therapy is also a sought-after anti-aging treatment. Research tells us that growth hormone secretion declines as you age. And as you age, your overall muscle mass decreases and body fat percentage increases. Although there is no proof that decreased growth hormone concentrations cause these changes in body composition, proponents believe that growth hormone replacement therapy can reverse these age-related changes.

The Search for the Best Growth Hormone Booster Is On

Even if you aren’t in a position to have to worry about the rules set in place by governing bodies, it’s a good idea to steer clear of off-label use of synthetic hGH. Even when prescribed and injected by a doctor who’s also monitoring your overall health, growth hormone replacement therapy can have side effects like:

  • Nerve, muscle, and joint pain
  • Fluid retention
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Low blood sugar
  • Liver damage
  • Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Growth of cancerous tumors
  • Acromegaly (unusual growth of hands, feet, and facial features)
  • Dependency and withdrawal

Taking illicit hGH is especially risky, since there’s no way to be absolutely sure of the composition of those products. And beware of any growth hormone supplements designed to be taken orally, since your body cannot utilize an oral dose of growth hormone.

Since it can be expensive and risky to utilize growth hormone replacement therapy for performance boosting and anti-aging purposes, much effort has been made to identify a nutritional approach to stimulating growth hormone release. Nutritional stimulation of growth hormone secretion would achieve the benefits of growth hormone replacement therapy within the regulations of drug enforcement agencies and without any concerning side effects.

What Science Tells Us About Amino Acids and Growth Hormone

Amino acids have been the primary focus of efforts to identify nutritional approaches to stimulating growth hormone release.

Based on a wealth of anecdotal evidence, many athletes and other individuals interested in remaining vibrant as they age have already used amino acid supplementation to boost their hGH levels. There’s also mounting data from scientific studies indicating that amino acid supplements function as growth hormone secretagogues, meaning they induce GH release.

It’s quite clear that the intravenous administration of certain amino acids results in significant growth hormone release. For example, doctors routinely use an intravenous arginine infusion test to check the pituitary gland’s GH response. In healthy individuals, the injection of arginine (L-arginine) leads to a 52% increase in concentrations of arginine in the bloodstream, which in turn results in significantly increased GH concentrations.

Intravenous injections of ornithine (L-ornithine) also spur growth hormone release. Studies show it can result in a 5-fold increase in serum growth hormone concentrations within just 45 minutes.

However, the intravenous arginine infusion test results in much higher arginine concentrations in the blood than can be achieved with oral consumption. This is because orally ingested arginine is rapidly cleared by the liver, which blunts the increase in arginine concentration in the blood.

Coupled with the fact that oral consumption of a large amount of arginine causes diarrhea and other symptoms of GI distress, the doses of oral arginine that have been tested as potential growth hormone boosters don’t measure up to intravenous infusions of arginine.

Oral consumption results in much lower concentrations of arginine in the blood than those achieved during the intravenous arginine test. Consequently, an oral dose of arginine only stimulates growth hormone production in certain circumstances.

Oral supplementation with arginine has been tested both alone and in combination with other amino acids. Trials looking at the use of amino acids to stimulate the release of growth hormone have been run with combinations of arginine and ornithine, and arginine and lysine. Lysine has been tested alone as well. In addition, glutamine and glycine have each been tested as growth hormone stimulants.

The results of recent studies have been inconsistent. It appears that regardless of the amino acid combination, some studies report positive results while others fail to find a significant effect.

Some findings appear to indicate that the time of day when a person takes the amino acids may determine whether, and to what extent, they impact GH concentrations.

For example, some scientists have hypothesized that arginine may only act as a growth hormone secretagogue at night. During one study, researchers gave participants 250 mg/kg/day of oral arginine aspartate for a week. Then they measured growth hormone and prolactin secretion over 24 hours by using methods such as radioimmunoassay analysis of blood samples taken every 30 minutes. Those results were compared to data obtained from the same subjects under identical conditions after a week of placebo supplementation. All subjects had growth hormone levels during slow wave sleep that were about 60% higher after a week of arginine supplementation than after a week of taking the placebo.

Using a combination of arginine and ornithine in conjunction with resistance training seems to deliver fairly consistent results as well. It’s not yet entirely clear, however, if those benefits have do do with growth hormone release.

For a double-blind study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, participants completed a 5-week progressive strength-training program. Half the participants took an amino acid supplement that combined 2 grams of L-arginine and 1 gram of L-ornithine, while the others took a placebo.

The subjects who took the amino acid blend scored far higher for total strength as well as lean body mass than those who took the placebo. The authors concluded that both arginine and ornithine can, in conjunction with a high-intensity strength-training program, substantially increase strength, muscle growth, and fat loss in a short period of time. It also seems that the amino acids supported muscle recovery and prevented inflammation related to tissue breakdown.

However, that study did not specifically measure growth hormone production, so there’s no way to know for sure whether that was, indeed, the driving force behind the reported benefits. Plus, other studies have been unable to duplicate those results for individuals with lower activity levels as well as for older individuals.

To date, no combination of amino acids has proved to be universally beneficial in terms of increasing growth hormone concentrations. In all the scientific studies, there have been people who responded and people who didn’t. Furthermore, there is very limited data indicating that stimulation of growth hormone release by one or two individual amino acids translates to an increased rate of protein synthesis in muscle.

A Different Angle on the Benefits of Growth Hormone

The reason stimulation of growth hormone release with one or two individual amino acids doesn’t lead to significant muscle growth is that all the essential amino acids are required to produce a complete muscle protein.

Furthermore, it is not growth hormone, per se, that stimulates muscle protein synthesis. Although growth hormone may have some direct metabolic effects, its main action is to encourage the expression of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is a potent stimulator of muscle protein synthesis if expressed inside the muscle cell. It is not clear whether individual amino acids increase the expression of IGF-1 in muscle, but studies indicate that essential amino acids can work synergistically to increase IGF-1 function inside muscle cells.

An important study in which older individuals were given either a balanced formulation of all the essential amino acids or a placebo for 3 months showed clearly that both muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis increased for the amino acid group compared to the placebo group. Participants supplementing with a complete essential amino acid formula expressed more IGF-1 inside their muscle cells, which resulted in favorable changes to their lean body mass. Muscle protein synthesis not only increased when essential amino acid levels in the blood shot up after consumption, but also in the basal state between meals. This means that IGF-1 is released continuously into the muscle, where it increases the capacity to make new muscle protein, both day and night.

Activating Growth Hormone with Essential Amino Acids

What we’ve seen thus far is that for some people, growth hormone release can be stimulated by consumption of a variety of amino acids—arginine, lysine, ornithine, glutamine, glycine—either alone or in combination. But it’s clear that many factors influence the effect amino acids have on hGH production. Responses in sedentary individuals, including older individuals, are much less consistent.

The inability of individual amino acids to stimulate muscle protein synthesis in every circumstance and in every human is likely due to the fact that all essential amino acids are required to make new muscle protein. Dietary supplementation with a balanced mixture of essential amino acids has the advantage over individual amino acids because muscle protein synthesis is directly stimulated by essential aminos, and the increase in IGF-1 in muscle stimulates the synthesis of new muscle protein 24 hours a day.

Growth hormone sparks growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration in humans and other animals.

Amino Acids: The Fatal Flaw in the Alkaline Diet

The alkaline diet is based on the premise that acidic blood causes all sorts of health problems that can be countered by eating more alkaline foods. Is it all it’s cracked up to be? Eating too many alkaline foods and not enough acidic foods may lead to amino acid nutritional deficiencies that can have disastrous consequences on your health.

The alkaline diet—which is also known as the alkaline ash diet, alkaline acid diet, acid ash diet, acid alkaline diet, and even pH diet—is based on the premise that acidic blood causes all sorts of health problems that can be countered by eating more alkaline foods.

Proponents of the alkaline diet claim it can help with weight loss and chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease and even cure conditions like arthritis and cancer.

But is the alkaline diet all it’s cracked up to be?

While the alkaline diet includes many healthy suggestions—such as fruits, vegetables, and water galore—and cautions against the consumption of admittedly unhealthy substances such as alcohol, sugar, and processed foods, nothing you eat is going to have a dramatic effect on the pH of your blood.

But if the alkaline diet is all about creating the optimal conditions for health through the consumption of alkaline foods, how can this be the case?

The reason is that our bodies have mechanisms in place that keep the blood pH tightly regulated.

What’s more, eating too many alkaline foods and too few acidic foods may actually lead to amino acid nutritional deficiencies. And this can have disastrous consequences for everything from bone health to muscle mass to blood pressure.

The pH Balance Diet: Weighing the Scales Between Acidic and Alkaline

The pH is a measurement of how acidic or alkaline something is and is based on a scale of 0 to 14, where 0 is considered extremely acidic, 7 neutral, and 14 extremely alkaline.

The body’s pH actually varies considerably from one area to another. For instance, the normal pH of the blood is around 7.4, but the pH of the stomach remains between 1.5 and 3.5 to maintain the acidic environment necessary to break down the foods we eat.

Based on the premise that maintaining a blood pH above 7.4 helps improve overall health, the alkaline diet involves avoiding foods that may act to lower blood pH levels by increasing dietary acid load.

Therefore, in the alkaline diet, dietary proteins and amino acids—particularly those obtained from animal protein—are especially to be avoided.

Instead, proponents of the alkaline diet advocate creating an alkaline environment in the body by eating mainly non-acid-forming foods, and even bicarbonate (HCO3–), which is a base that can neutralize acidic blood.

However, a high-protein diet, with its increased acid load, actually results in very little change in blood chemistry and pH, though the same diet does have a profound effect on urinary chemistry and pH.

The reason for this is that the body maintains tight control over blood pH, but urinary pH has the ability to move from an acid to alkaline state to help the pH of the blood stay in balance.

The alkaline diet is thus built on the notion that alkaline foods increase the pH of urine, thereby making urine less acidic and, by extension, blood less acidic.

But there are two problems with basing a dietary theory on urinary pH. First, urinary pH does not necessarily reflect blood pH. Second, aside from its role in contributing to kidney stones and gout, clinical trials supporting the claim that acidic urine results in adverse health outcomes are lacking.

Amino Acids and Blood pH

Our bodies absorb all the essential amino acids—the amino acids that must be obtained through dietary sources—needed for survival from the proteins we eat. And as you might guess from the name, amino acids are indeed acidic. This is reflected by the drop in urinary pH that occurs after consuming protein-rich foods.

The sulfur-containing amino acids, such as methionine and cysteine, are considered particularly problematic by proponents of the alkaline diet, as increased sulfur intake can result in the formation of sulfuric acid and present a significant acid load to the body.

And, as animal proteins are a good source of sulfur-containing amino acids, advocates of the alkaline diet caution against the consumption of these proteins.

However, there’s an innate fallacy in the assumption that sulfur has a negative effect on health. This is because sulfur plays many important roles in the body, and a sulfur deficiency can have many adverse effects.

In addition, dietary amino acids, including sulfur-containing amino acids, have only a transient effect on blood pH. As we alluded to earlier, this is a result of the body’s highly effective system for regulating blood pH.

How the Body Regulates Blood pH

The kidneys play an important role in maintaining a constant pH in the blood. For example, when the blood becomes acidic after ingesting amino acids, the kidneys excrete ammonia in the urine, which works to balance the acidic load in the blood.

So, while urine becomes more acidic after eating amino acids, this acidity is not reflected in the blood. Rather, urine becomes acidic to help prevent the blood from becoming acidic and to keep blood pH constant.

This is, in fact, a natural function of the kidneys, and there’s no evidence that high protein or amino acid intake has any detrimental effect on kidney function.

Alkaline Diet Fact:
Consuming animal protein and/or amino acids does not acidify the blood significantly, so there’s no physiological basis for the alkaline diet.

But the excretion of ammonia in the urine plays only a minor part in keeping blood pH in the normal range. The major mechanism for maintaining the proper balance of blood pH is actually the carbon dioxide (CO2)–HCO3– system.

While the kidneys play a significant role in helping to maintain blood pH, it’s actually the lungs that play the predominant part in maintaining the pH balance of the blood.

You see, the lungs excrete protons derived from dietary metabolism in the breath as CO2. And CO2 is acidic, while HCO3–, as we’ve discovered, is basic, or alkaline.

To keep the levels of CO2 and HCO3– in balance, the lungs and kidneys work together so that as HCO3– neutralizes excess acid and is thus lost from the body, more CO2 is produced and excreted in the breath. And the HCO3– lost to acid neutralization is then regenerated in the kidneys.

As this process demonstrates, the human body has a very efficient procedure for keeping blood pH tightly regulated—even after the consumption of a large amount of protein and/or amino acids.

The Flaw in the Alkaline Diet

As we’ve seen, the alkaline diet doesn’t account for the efficient regulation of blood pH by both the CO2-HCO3– system and urinary excretion of ammonia. And following the recommendation of proponents of the alkaline diet to avoid all animal proteins and thus all sulfur-containing amino acids will result in an inadequate intake of essential amino acids.

However, essential amino acids perform a wide range of important metabolic functions and contribute to a multitude of health benefits, so they must be present in the diet in adequate amounts for optimal health to occur.

The alkaline diet is based on the premise that acidic blood causes all sorts of health problems that can be countered by eating more alkaline foods

What’s with Wearable Fitness Technology?

Wearable fitness devices have become popular in recent years. You have probably seen people wearing fancy watches that can track heart rate and fitness activities, but just what exactly is wearable fitness technology and what are your best options?

Wearable fitness devices have become all the rage. Just scope out all the gym rats glancing down at their wrists between sets! You’ve probably seen people wearing fancy watches that can track heart rate and fitness activities, but just what exactly is wearable fitness technology?

The craze began with basic wearables like pedometers, heart rate monitors, and calorie counters, and has morphed into more sophisticated devices that can track all your fitness data. Wearable fitness devices track your heart rate, the distance you travel, how many calories you burn, and how much exercise you do each day. Set your fitness and health goals, and your fitness tracker will alert you when you’ve reached them. Some of these devices can connect to apps on your smartphone to measure your long-term progress and share your data with fitness groups.

Best Fitness Trackers

Wearable fitness devices have become popular in recent years. You have probably seen people wearing fancy watches that can track heart rate and fitness activities, but just what exactly is wearable fitness technology?

Fitbit

With the promise of multi-day battery life, Fitbit has a variety of activity trackers to suit your needs and budget. No matter which model you choose, you’re covered with distance, calorie burn, and step counting, while more sophisticated models also offer heart and sleep monitoring.

An upgrade from the Fitbit Charge 2, the Fitbit Charge 3 features a streamlined design and the smartwatch features you depend on. Lightweight with a grayscale touchscreen display, the Charge 3 monitors heart rate and daily steps, and jumps on board automatically to track workouts and even menstrual cycles for women if you wish. You can also take texts and calls and check your social media accounts on this handy wearable device.

Or you can get fit with the more top-of-the-line Fitbit Ionic or Fitbit Versa fitness trackers. They’ve got more app compatibility, better visuals on the screen, and built-in GPS. If you’re willing to splurge, then the Ionic or Versa are sweet upgrades.

Garmin

A smart option for runners and outdoorsy types, the Garmin Vivosport is lightweight with an integrated GPS and heart rate monitor. This water-resistant tracker does everything from sleep tracking to workout tracking. It helps you measure your fitness goals with personal records and a virtual pacer, and you can sync up with the Garmin Connect app to track your metrics over time.

Want a slimmer, sleeker, slightly cheaper Garmin option? You could opt for the Vivosmart 4, which is a lighterweight choice that also comes equipped with a Body Battery Energy Monitor so you know when to go hard and when to back off, as well as a function that measures your oxygen saturation levels. Still, you won’t get the GPS integration function with the Garmin Vivosmart and may miss the better lit display of the Vivosport.

And then there’s the least expensive option, the Garmin Vivofit, which is a slim-fitting fitness tracker that tracks the basics—steps, distance, calories, sleep—but doesn’t have all the smart functions you may desire.

Apple Watch Series 4

Leave it to Apple to make its mark on the fitness industry. The Apple Watch is for iOS users looking for the best of the best in fitness trackers. It’s compatible with most third-party fitness apps, boasts GPS tracking, changes in altitude, onboard heart rate monitoring, and even an electrocardiogram app certified by the FDA. Your Apple Watch comes complete with Bluetooth and Siri, all in typical Apple style.

Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro

Android users can get onboard the fitness tracker train with the Samsung Gear Fit2Pro, complete with GPS technology and smartwatch bells and whistles. It has an ultra-detailed display, it monitors your heart rate, and it tracks your fitness data. Samsung has designed a fitness tracker with a minimalist look that stores and streams music, tracks typical fitness metrics, is water resistant, and features a top-notch display. And yes, you can still get social and take phone calls and texts.

Withings Steel HR Sport

Withings emerged onto the wearable tech market in 2015 with its Activité Pop smartwatch, and it’s holding strong among the best wearable fitness tech companies in 2019 with its newly released Steel HR Sport. This hybrid watch is stylish, with a traditional analog face and integrated smartwatch features, GPS connectivity, and activity tracking. It measures your steps in percentages, monitors your sleep, and tracks your heart rate and VO2 max so you know how much oxygen you’re using when exercising. If you’re looking for subtlety with all the digital dressings, the Steel HR Sport might be your favorite.

Moov Now

Perhaps the best wearable fitness tracker for those on the budget, the Moov Now is noted for its outstanding 6-month battery life, and while it doesn’t have the fancy trappings of many of the other fitness trackers on this list, it will keep track of your steps, your boxing and rep-based activities, and even monitor your swimming and running goals as well as your sleep.

Polar Loop

An “activity band with smart guidance” this wearable fitness tracker offers the same functions as the others, tracking sleep, calories, and steps. Sync it up with your smartphone to account for goal setting and reminders, and enjoy the personalized guidance and motivation throughout your day. Rest easy knowing its waterproof and durable.

Smartwatch

Skagen created the Signatur Connected Hybrid Smartwatch, a classier option compared to a standard smartwatch. The company specializes in elegant, smart devices that do not look like wearable tech. This watch tracks activities, and it synchronizes with your smartphone. This is an excellent choice if you are looking for a more sophisticated wearable.

Smart Shoes

This option is considered “invisible” wearable tech. Under Armour, for example, has integrated a fitness tracker right into the soles of the shoes, so you do not need to wear a smartwatch to record your fitness data. These smart shoes have an accelerometer that records running metrics, as well as Bluetooth, and keeps all metrics logged in an app.

Science and Benefits

The National Institutes of Health says that if you walk fewer than 5,000 steps per day, you have a sedentary lifestyle—if you take more than 10,000 steps per day you are considered “active.”

With reminders and accountability tools, wearable fitness trackers can help people get more active. Using a smartwatch can also reduce the strain of upper vertebrae, known as “text neck” and cervicalgia, because wearers raise their arms to look at wrist-worn displays instead of lowering their heads to look at the phone.

Another benefit of wearable technology is that it helps you engage with your surroundings. “What we’re really trying to achieve is the idea of freedom from your phone,” says David Ng, a wearable product manager for Samsung. Trackers that monitor your heart rate are also great because they can keep track of your resting heart rate—a key value when it comes to hypertension and heart disease.

Science, however, has not been so in awe of wearable fitness technology.

Research published by the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that activity trackers had no effect on health and fitness. The results of another study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that subjects who didn’t use fitness trackers lost more weight than the group that used wearable fitness technologies.

When considering the less-than-stellar findings, it’s important to note that most existing studies, including the two mentioned above, used devices that are several years old—outside experts agree that fitness tech is improving.

“There are two things, specifically, that apps and devices are actually getting better at,” said Mitesh Patel, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. In his opinion, the first is leveraging social networks to foster competition and support. A study, conducted by Liza Rovniak, a Penn State psychologist, showed that support networks are effective at increasing physical activity in unmotivated adults. The second factor devices are improving, according to Patel, is goal setting. He sustains that the problem with early fitness trackers was that they all used the same goal (step count) and they all set the bar way too high. Today’s fitness wearables tailor their feedback to users’ individual habits, instead of telling you to take 10,000 steps.

Of course, there will always be people who prefer to track their own progress and go to the doctor to measure heart rate. But wearable tech is an excellent option to consider if you want to develop a new relationship with your fitness routine, but you can also decide to keep on working out the traditional way, without any wearable fitness technologies—the important thing is that you find time to exercise!

Eating for Brain Health: Learn How Amino Acids and Other Macronutrients Shape the Way You Think, Feel and Age

A well-fed brain is able to process information, remember, learn, focus, and maintain an active mind. The food we eat can greatly enhance the health and capabilities of our brains, especially as we age. Optimal eating for brain health depends on protein-rich foods full of brain-boosting nutrients called amino acids.

When you evaluate your diet, chances are you consider the ways it will affect your body. If we’re being honest, many of us are focused primarily on how the foods we eat impact our physical appearance. However, food not only affects your appearance, but also directly shapes the way you think, feel, and age. By choosing the best food for brain health, you can both protect and enhance your mental capacity. Researchers, including Lisa Mosconi, neuroscientist and author of Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Powerhave proven that well-fed brains show increased abilities to process information, recall memories, learn new things, focus on complex tasks, and more. Read on to learn more about optimal eating for brain health and the particular importance of a balanced supply of amino acids.

Understanding the Brain’s Unique Nutritional Needs

“What the brain needs to eat differs from what the rest of the body needs to eat,” explained Mosconi, who also serves as associate director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, in an interview. The foods we eat, in combination with our lifestyles as a whole, have a profound impact on our brains, making it crucial to cultivate healthy habits.

Though the brain is one of the most studied parts of the body, it remains one of the most mysterious. The brain, which serves as the coordinating center of sensations as well as intellectual and nervous activity, performs countless functions that are essential to our survival.

To coordinate these essential functions, the brain must rely on a constant stream of signals. These take the form of tiny electrochemical currents, and the brain uses a variety of substances called neurotransmitters to convey them from one region to another.

Three of the most important neurotransmitters—dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine—belong to a class of chemicals called monoamines, which regulate our mood states and experiences of fear and pleasure. They also play key roles in many cognitive functions.

A lack of balance among these neurotransmitters contributes to the development of many psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease.

To generate neurotransmitters and carry out the rest of its duties, the brain commandeers approximately 20% of the calories you eat in a day. Without a consistent supply of calories, your brain power drops.

Where the calories come from matters too, if you’re invested in having a healthy brain. For instance, salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, necessary ingredients for the creation and maintenance of brain cells. And one of the many benefits of increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods is a reduction in cellular stress, which a wealth of research has shown contributes to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

The Basics of Eating for Brain Health

Mosconi and other scientists have used cutting-edge medical imaging and genomic-sequencing studies to further their comprehension of how diet influences brain health. “Nutrition plays a vital role in brain function and aging,” said Mosconi.

Some foods have neuroprotective qualities, meaning they help protect brain health and prevent cognitive impairment. Others, however, can actually cause harm to the brain and even raise a person’s risk of dementia. A poor diet has a more damaging effect on the brain than any other organ in the body, according to Mosconi.

How the Blood-Brain Barrier Works

Once our digestive system has broken down the food we eat into its constituent nutrient parts, those nutrients can enter the bloodstream and travel through it to reach the brain. Because of the brain’s vulnerability, it’s protected by a specialized defense system known as the blood-brain barrier. This barrier controls which nutrients can access the brain and which cannot.

“There are also gates in the brain that open and close depending on whether the brain is “hungry.” No other organs in the body have the same strict rules,” Mosconi said.

Which Foods Are Best for Brain Health?

Many of the nutrients the brain requires—Mosconi puts the total number of nutrients needed for optimal function at 45—it makes itself. However, there are some indispensable nutrients that must be provided from your diet. Furthermore, during times of illness or stress, it can be quite helpful to bolster the brain’s stores of self-produced nutrients.

An Overview of Brain-Essential Nutrients

Here are 10 of the best foods for brain health, all with impressive, research-validated benefits.

1. Caviar

Though it does not often appear on lists of superfoods, caviar may just be the most brain-healthy food in existence. The term caviar traditionally refers only to roe (eggs) from wild sturgeon caught in the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, but in some places today, you may see it applied to roe of other species of sturgeon or other fish altogether such as salmon, steelhead, trout, lumpfish, whitefish, or carp.

Though traditional caviar (Beluga, Ossetra, and Sevruga) remains the most sought-after, and the most expensive, other varieties contain the same special mix of nutrients: omega-3s, several B vitamins (choline as well as B6 and B12), magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, selenium, and plenty of amino acids.

2. ColdWater Fatty Fish

Given that caviar’s price-point exceeds many households’ budgets—even relatively affordable picks like wild salmon roe clock in at $19.99 for 3.5 ounces—it’s fortunate coldwater fatty fish offer many of the same valuable nutrients at a significantly lower cost.

Fish like Alaskan salmon, mackerel, bluefish, tuna, herring, sardines, and anchovies all contain high quantities of brain health-boosting omega-3s.

According to a 2017 study, individuals with high levels of omega-3s showed correspondingly higher cerebral perfusion (blood flow in the brain). High cerebral blood flow is associated with a decreased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Per the study cited above, it appears that there may also be a connection between omega-3 levels and improved cognition.

3. Nuts and Seeds

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you can still find a plethora of food sources for the omega-3 fatty acids your brain craves.

Chia seeds are a fantastic source of plant-based omega-3s that also provides tons of fiber and protein in each serving. A single ounce of chia seeds not only meets, but exceeds, your daily recommended intake for omega-3s, netting you 4,915 milligrams.

Hemp seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts are also loaded with omega-3s and other healthy fats.

Many nuts and seeds contain troves of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that can help keep cells safe from the ravages of free radical-induced oxidative stress. The effects of this form of oxidative stress can become even more pernicious as we age, leading researchers to hypothesize that vitamin E-rich foods may offer protection against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

According to a 2014 review published in Nutrients, research consistently shows a clear association between higher blood levels of vitamin E and improved cognitive function.

Sunflower seeds, almonds, and hazelnuts have some of the highest concentrations of vitamin E.

4. Berries

As discussed above, foods replete with antioxidants can ward off signs of cognitive decline such as memory loss. Many types of berries contain an array of valuable flavonoid antioxidants.

By reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, the antioxidants found in berries produce a range of benefits, including a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A review published in Neural Regeneration Research stated that new research shows that antioxidant compounds found in berries, including anthocyanin, caffeic acid, catechin, and quercetin, “can prevent age-related neurodegenerative diseases and improve motor and cognitive functions.”

Some of the brain-health benefits noted in the review are:

  • Enhanced communication between brain cells
  • Lower inflammation levels throughout the body
  • Increased plasticity, which encourages the formation of new connections between brain cells, thereby improving learning and memory
  • Decreased risk or delayed onset of dementia and cognitive decline

Berries known for their impressive antioxidant content include blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, blackcurrants, and goji berries.

5. Dark, Leafy Greens

These well-known power players of the health food world have highly desirable benefits for the health of your brain, thanks to the wealth of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they contain.

Here, as in other realms, kale takes a place of pride in the superfoods royal court. Kale (and other cruciferous vegetables) provide your body with compounds called glucosinolates, which your body then breaks down into isothiocyanates.

Research indicates that isothiocyanates show formidable neuroprotective effects. According to a 2015 study, isothiocyanates “could be regarded as a promising source of alternative medicine for the prevention and/or treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.”

6. High-Glucose, Fiber-Rich Foods

Your brain requires a vast supply of energy (20% of the body’s total burn, remember?), and its preferred form of energy is a simple sugar called glucose. It loves glucose so much that the blood-brain barrier allows it to pass directly through to your brain cells.

The downside of our brain’s reliance on glucose is that when our blood sugar levels dip too low, that can have a rapid and adverse impact on brain function. Think brain fog, headaches, and other unpleasant and inconvenient symptoms. High blood sugar can also interfere with brain function.

Your brain works best when blood sugar levels remain stable. While simple carbohydrates provide quick energy, using these for brain food leaves you vulnerable to dips and spikes. Complex carbohydrates, however, serve as a more stable energy source.

Foods that pair a high-glucose content with a high-fiber content are ideal for brain health, as they have a more moderate effect on blood sugar levels while still offering your brain the glucose it needs.

Some wonderful options for high-glucose, fiber-rich foods include sweet potatoes, whole grains, beets, and kiwis.

7. Eggs

Not only are eggs a great source of amino-acid laden protein, but they also provide plenty of B vitamins, specifically, vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid.

Those three B vitamins can lower blood levels of homocysteine, a biological compound scientists have identified as a risk factor for brain atrophy, cognitive impairment, and dementia.

According to a randomized, controlled trial published in PLOS One, a preeminent peer-reviewed scientific journal, supplementing with vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid can slow the rate of brain atrophy for individuals with mild cognitive impairment.

8. Soy

Soybeans, as well as foods made from soy beans like tofu, provide tons of polyphenols,—specifically, isoflavones like daidzein and genistein—antioxidants linked to a decreased risk of dementia and increased cognitive abilities across age groups.

Soy also contains tyrosine. Though tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid (the body can synthesize it from phenylalanine), research, including this article published by a Belgian scientist, indicates that when you increase your dietary intake of tyrosine, you also increase the ratio of tyrosine to other amino acids like leucine, isoleucine, valine, and tryptophan.

As the article cited above notes, animal studies reveal that a supplemental intake of tyrosine can offset the negative impact of acute stress on cognitive performance, while human studies show it can counterbalance the ill effects of sleep deprivation and chronic stress on cognitive function.

We’ll talk more about tyrosine in the section below.

9. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

When it comes to healthy fats, extra-virgin olive oil ranks unquestionably high on the list.

Extra-virgin olive oil is loaded with beneficial monounsaturated fat as well as potent nutrients proven to keep your brain healthy as you age, like omega-3s and vitamin E. It’s also a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, an eating approach associated with numerous health benefits, including a lowered risk of dementia.

A research team from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University found that extra-virgin olive oil safeguards memory and learning ability while reducing the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, two abnormal developments in the brain that signal the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

10. Dark Chocolate

The higher the cocoa, or cacao, content of a particular chocolate bar, the better it is for you. Cacao is a rich source of flavonoids—and the flavonoids found in cacao seem to be especially beneficial for the brain.

Findings published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology indicate that the flavonoids found in cacao, most abundantly, epicatechin, induce widespread stimulation of cerebral blood flow, as well as “angiogenesis, neurogenesis and changes in neuron morphology, mainly in regions involved in learning and memory.” The flavonoids in chocolate can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as your risk of stroke.

As many of us know from lived experience, chocolate can also have a positive effect on mood.

The results of a 2018 study with human participants indicates that dark chocolate with cacao concentrations of 70% and up generate changes in brain activity that correlate to “enhancement of neuroplasticity, neural synchrony, cognitive processing, learning, memory, recall, and mindfulness meditation.”

10 of the Best Foods for Brain Health

Why Amino Acids Are Particularly Important for Brain Function

Amino acids are the precursors of neurotransmitters, a technical way of saying that amino acids make the neurotransmitters our brains depend on for balance and function. Changes in the production of neurotransmitters can occur when we fail to provide our brain with an adequate supply of amino acids from protein-dense foods. Alterations in the production of these transmitters can, in turn, directly influence the brain’s health.

Three amino acids—tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine—function as precursors to the production of three key neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Other amino acids also make significant contributions to brain health, like acetyl l-carnitine (a form of the amino acid carnitine), l-glutamine (a form of the amino acid glutamine), and the branched-chain amino acids.

Tryptophan is the rarest of the essential amino acids found in food and is the precursor of serotonin, one of the body’s natural antidepressants. Tryptophan can enhance positive mood and lower obsessive thinking, which is often related to eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.

However, a careful balance is needed, because serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and an increase can induce a sensation of fatigue and ultimately hasten sleep. The long-standing tradition of dozing off after a big turkey dinner can be attributed (at least in part!) to the relatively high abundance of tryptophan in turkey.

Tyrosine is the precursor of three neurotransmitters: norepinephrine, dopamine, and epinephrine. Tyrosine is not typically considered an essential amino acid because it can be synthesized by humans from phenylalanine; however, studies have shown that in certain instances the brain may not be able to synthesize sufficient tyrosine from phenylalanine to meet its needs. For example, delirium is associated with a low conversion rate of phenylalanine to tyrosine.

As touched on above, while tryptophan and tyrosine are the two primary amino acids connected to brain health, they’re not the only amino acids that play a role in brain function.

Carnitine converts fats in the body into fuel that can be used by the brain. This amino acid also removes toxins that interfere with brain activities.

Glutamine improves the uptake of serotonin and dopamine, and stimulates the production of neurotransmitters that assist with brain function and focus. Glutamine can also be converted to the amino acid glutamate, another neurotransmitter.

The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)—leucine, valine and isoleucine—make indirect contributions to the production of natural neurotransmitters. The BCAAs, along with phenylalanine, tyrosine, and serotonin, are all transported into the brain by the same transport system. An increase in BCAAs can inhibit the uptake of tryptophan, phenylalanine, and tyrosine by occupying the transporters.

4 Amino Acids Essential to a Well-Fed Brain

Key Sources of Tryptophan, Tyrosine, and Other Amino Acids

As we’ve seen, amino acids can be found in protein-dense foods. Some foods contain more of specific amino acids than others, however. Animal protein is the most efficient means of meeting your body’s amino acid needs. It is possible to get all the essential amino acids exclusively from plants, but it will require more intentionality. We’ve included options for vegans and vegetarians on each of the lists below.

6 of the Best Sources of Tryptophan

While poultry and fish provide the most tryptophan per ounce, there are good options for vegetarians and vegans too. Red meats also contain this amino acid, but they should be eaten in moderation because they have more saturated fat.

1. Turkey and Chicken

The best dietary sources of tryptophan are turkey and chicken. A 4-ounce portion of turkey or chicken breast provides 350 to 390 milligrams of tryptophan.

2. Shrimp

Shrimp is also a good source of tryptophan. A 4-ounce serving contains 330 milligrams.

3. Other Types of Seafood

Fish, such as tuna, halibut, salmon, sardines, cod, and scallops, contains between 250 and 400 milligrams of tryptophan per serving.

4. Pumpkin Seeds

Among nuts, pumpkin seeds are the best sources because they provide 110 milligrams of tryptophan per one-fourth cup.

5. Beans

Legumes, such as kidney beans and black beans, contain 180 milligrams of tryptophan per cup.

6. Milk

Dairy contains less tryptophan per serving compared to meat and fish. A 1-cup serving of milk provides 100 milligrams of this amino acid.

5 of the Best Sources of Tyrosine

Low tyrosine levels are rare, but you may need a higher dose during stressful times. Tyrosine is found in a variety of foods, such as meats and cheese. Legumes are the best option for vegans.

The amount of tyrosine you need each day is linked to the essential amino acid precursor phenylalanine—for adults, that is 14 milligrams per kilogram per day.

1. Red Meat

Roast beef, a decadent meal, is undoubtedly one of the best sources of tyrosine. It provides 1,178 milligrams per 3-ounce serving. Pork contains slightly less, typically, around 1044 milligrams in a 3-ounce serving of lean pork chops.

2. Poultry and Fish

Protein options such as salmon, turkey, and chicken contain between 900 to 1,000 milligrams per 3-ounce cooked portion.

3. Cheese

Parmesan cheese contains 559 milligrams per ounce.

4. Eggs

One egg has 250 milligrams.

5. Beans

A cup of cooked white beans has 450 milligrams of tyrosine.

Bonus: Top Sources of Carnitine and Glutamine

Most animal-based foods contain carnitine. Beef is one of the richest natural sources of carnitine. Lean cuts have 95 milligrams or less of cholesterol and fewer than 10 grams of total fat in every 3-ounce serving. Chicken breast is high in protein, low in fat and cholesterol, and a good source of vitamins and minerals. It also contains 3 to 5 milligrams of carnitine in every 4-ounce serving. All fish and shellfish have some carnitine (cod has the highest concentration of any seafood).

It can be challenging to obtain meaningful levels of supplemental carnitine from a plant-based diet, but it is possible. Dairy is a valuable resource, and some grains and vegetables, like asparagus, also provide carnitine.

While your body normally makes all the glutamine it needs, a severe injury or illness may require you to increase your dietary intake. Meat and seafood top the list when it comes to best sources of glutamine.

Eggs are also rich in glutamine, as are many dairy products. Whey protein, a byproduct of cheese production, is a top source of glutamine. Dried lentils, peas, beans, and cabbage are excellent options for vegetarians and vegans. Many whole grains, including oats and products made from whole wheat, quinoa, millet, and brown rice, are also abundant in glutamine.

What You Should Know About Strength Training for Women

In this article, we’ll dispel one of the most frustrating myths about strength training for women, give a clear definition of what strength training is (and isn’t), delve into the top benefits of strength training, and finally, share expert advice on how to safely commence a strength training program.

If you’re one of the many Americans committed to improving your overall health, increasing your physical fitness, losing weight, or all the above, adopting a consistent strength training workout routine can be one of the most efficient ways to pursue your goals. However, those without previous weight training experience—particularly women—often prioritize aerobic exercise over lifting weights. In this article, we’ll dispel one of the most frustrating myths about strength training for women, give a clear definition of what strength training is (and isn’t), delve into the top benefits of strength training, and finally, share expert advice on how to safely commence a strength training program.

Disproving a Persistent Myth About Strength Training for Women

Strength training has numerous benefits for women. But for many, the phrase “strength training” calls up images of massively muscular men sweating and grunting as they heave heavy barbells around at the gym. Unsurprisingly, this can make the weight room seem like an intimidating, off-limits place.

This barrier is fortified by the fact that women often worry strength training will cause them to develop bulging muscles. Please don’t let the fear of big muscles deter you. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, high levels of estrogen make it hard for women to become overly muscular. Typically, when women lift weights, they develop stronger, more toned muscles while increasing their endurance. For a woman to use strength training to produce significant muscle growth, she would likely need to actively pursue that goal.

The truth is, following a strength training workout plan can help you build lean muscle while facilitating fat loss, among other benefits. The consensus among experts is that strength training should be a core component of everyone’s workout program—women and men alike!

What Is Strength Training, Really?

Now that we’ve uprooted some tenacious misconceptions about strength training for women, let’s go over what the phrase “strength training” really means. Strength training refers to any kind of physical exercise that uses resistance to induce muscular contraction, thereby building strength and enhancing anaerobic endurance. By placing a demand on your muscles, central nervous system, or both, strength training provokes beneficial adaptations related to muscle function as well as neural efficiency. In other words, it looks for ways to make it easier to perform the task you just carried out.

While many visualize high-intensity training sessions featuring heavy weights, that’s not a requirement for strength training. It’s completely possible to carry out a highly effective resistance-training workout using only the weight of your own body. In fact, certified personal trainers and other fitness professionals tend to recommend that those new to weight training master proper form for basic movements with their own body weight before increasing the  resistance they’re working against by adding an external load.

8 Top Benefits of Strength Training for Women

Strength training offers a wealth of benefits for everyone, including enhancing muscle mass, building bone strength, and supporting weight loss.

According to Girls Gone Strong, an organization committed to providing “a common voice of body-positive, evidence-based information” about strength training, nutrition, and women’s health, these are eight of the top benefits of strength training for women.

1. Build Lean Muscle Mass

Strength training exercises stimulate muscle protein synthesis, otherwise known as anabolism, and as long as your body has an adequate supply of amino acids (more on this later), the result will be the growth of new muscle tissues.

As discussed in a previous section, however, lifting weights is more likely to help you tone up, rather than bulk up. That said, strength training does build lean muscle mass. Since it often results in the loss of body fat, however, you may even look smaller after a few months of regular strength training sessions than you did when you began.

2. Improve Overall Strength

Your body responds to strength training by breaking down muscle tissue and rebuilding it to be stronger than it was before. This process, the inverse of muscle protein synthesis, is called muscle protein breakdown or catabolism. While it may seem counterintuitive at first, it’s key to making you stronger.

During exercise, the resistance your muscles work against leaves them with micro tears. Your body breaks down these older, damaged fibers to clear the way for the growth of new, stronger ones. The more rapidly this process progresses, the less muscle soreness you’ll experience after a workout. More rapid muscle protein turnover also allows you to make greater strength gains in shorter periods of time.

3. Increase Bone Density

All of us face a higher risk of decreased bone density as we age, but women (Caucasian and Asian women, especially) tend to lose more bone mass. Estimates indicate that 35% of postmenopausal women develop osteoporosis, a bone disease that indicates a progression of bone weakness that can lead to severe bone fractures and other health problems. Rates of osteopenia, a condition characterized by lower-than-normal bone density that’s a precursor to osteoporosis, are even higher.

Studies show that engaging in weight-bearing exercises can help to preserve bone mass. Those who have already started to experience the loss of bone mass should consult with a doctor before undertaking a new exercise plan. In most cases, light-to-moderate intensity options, such as training with resistance bands or a stability ball, will be best for those who have already developed osteopenia or osteoporosis.

4. Maximize Metabolic Rate

Common wisdom holds that as we age, our metabolism slows. This doesn’t have to be the case, though.

The effect of aging on your metabolism largely results from decreased muscle mass as well as decreased physical activity. Since strength training increases both your muscle mass and your activity level, it’s the perfect antidote to age-related changes to your metabolism.

Researchers have found that building muscle mass is one of the most effective ways to increase metabolic rate for individuals of all ages. A significant percentage of the energy our bodies expend goes into protein turnover, so the more muscle you have and the more rapidly your muscle tissues turn over, the faster your metabolism will be.

5. Corrects Posture and Alignment

Having good posture means that your body parts—muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments—are all aligned symmetrically. This brings benefits like decreased joint stress, improved self-esteem and self-confidence, and even lower anxiety levels.

Strength training builds up your muscle, supporting tissues, and even bones, making it easier for you to hold your body in proper alignment. Building core strength can be key. Weak abdominal muscles can result in habitual anterior pelvic tilt, a position in which your hips tilt forward, putting undue stress on your neck and lower back. Strengthening your core brings your pelvis back into alignment.

The improvements to posture and alignment brought about by strength training can be especially beneficial for those suffering from chronic, treatment-resistant neck pain and back pain.

6. Strengthen Pelvic Floor

Did you know that on average, one in three women in the United States experience incontinence. Though it used to be considered an issue that affected older women, it’s now clear that pelvic floor weakness and incontinence issues impact women of all ages.

Stress urinary incontinence is the most noticeable, and for many, the most undesirable way that pelvic floor dysfunction presents, but there are other potential indicators, too, such as:

  • Lower back pain
  • Hip pain
  • Soreness in the buttocks
  • Pain in the pubic symphysis (the place where the pelvis joins at the front midline of the body)

When done safely and with proper form, strength training can significantly improve pelvic floor function. Here, again, exercises that engage the muscles of the core—abdominals, obliques, diaphragm, deep back muscles, glutes, and other muscle groups—prove especially useful.

7. Heighten Insulin Sensitivity

Research has shown that regular strength training can improve insulin sensitivity. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined how resistance training affected insulin levels and glucose tolerance for individuals whose baseline values indicated they were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Participants engaged in supervised resistance-training sessions consisting of an eight-exercise full body workout 3 days a week for 4 months. At the study’s conclusion, testing revealed lower levels of 2-hour glucose, fasting C-peptide, and insulin resistance.

The study authors determined that these findings indicate resistance exercise can enhance insulin sensitivity, mainly due to the increase it produces in the amount of glucose taken up by the muscles.

8. Balance Blood Pressure

Lifting weights can help you keep your blood pressure at low, healthy levels. According to a study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension, participating in 3 days of weight training weekly can decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. After 12 weeks, the group average of participants’ blood pressure numbers dropped from the range for stage 1 hypertension (150/93) to pre-hypertension (134/81). The average reduction for systolic blood pressure was 16 mm Hg. To put that in context, a 20 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure doubles your risk of developing heart disease, meaning weight training can decrease your risk by nearly 50%.

That said, weight training can produce short-term increases to blood pressure, so those with high blood pressure (160/100 mm Hg and above, according to an expert from the Mayo Clinic) should check with a doctor before lifting weights.

Top 8 Ways Strength Training Benefits Women

Building a Safe, Effective Strength Training Routine

If you are planning to exercise at home, the easiest thing you can do is to use your own body weight for resistance. Popular bodyweight exercises include push-ups, pull-ups, and abdominal crunches.

You can also use resistance bands (essentially, large rubber bands) to make bodyweight exercises more challenging. Some doctors and sports medicine clinics provide resistance bands to patients free of charge. You can also buy resistance bands in sports stores or from online retailers.

Another option is to use free weights such as dumbbells, weight bars, and barbells. Again, you can purchase these inexpensive tools in sports stores or online. Or, get a gym membership. This could give you access to coaches who can help guide you through the correct form for different weightlifting exercises, as well as group classes to offer variation and support.

If you go to the gym, you may also want to use weight machines. Many fitness centers have circuit-style weight machines that target different muscle groups. If you are a beginner, it’s best to ask for assistance before using these machines.

A Word About Injury Prevention

Unfortunately, it’s all too common for people to fail to consider injury prevention until they’re concerned that they may have injured themselves. Nothing will stymie or set back your progress faster than an injury. Though there’s no foolproof method for preventing injuries 100% of the time, there are certainly safe training guidelines you can use to lower your risk.

One of the most important elements of injury prevention is to ensure you have a good, solid foundation for a weightlifting movement before you increase the amount of weight you’re lifting. “The body works together as a team, and each teammate has a specific job or set of jobs,” explained Girls Gone Strong Advisory Board Member and Physical Therapist Ann Wendel. “If one teammate (body part) isn’t doing its ‘job,’ then another teammate has to make up for it.”

Wendel discourages an exclusive focus on perfect form, which she feels distracts from the steps you can and should be taking in the moment to prevent injury. “Posture is not a static position, posture is dynamic, and we must constantly adapt to the situation at hand,” Wendel said. No matter what movement you’re carrying, she emphasizes the importance of deep core stability and breath coordination. When the lumbar spine is stable, that allows you to safely work against resistance with your arms and legs. Without that stability, you face an increased risk of problems such as:

  • Excessive muscle soreness
  • Muscle strains
  • Overuse injuries

If you’re new to strength training, in addition to keeping Wendel’s advice at the front of your mind, you should consider working with an experienced professional who can help you master basic movements that will allow you to carry out total body strength training workouts on your own.

4 Essential Weightlifting Movements

While there is no single “best” weightlifting workout—for women, men, or nonbinary individuals—the following four movements will deliver an effective workout that’s accessible for novices but, with increased resistance, challenging for experienced lifters too.

  1. The goblet squat: Squats engage and strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes turned slightly outward. Hold the end of a dumbbell or base of a kettlebell at chest level, keeping your hands in contact with your chest. Stand tall with your spine straight and shoulders rolled back, then bend your knees and lower your hips until the top of your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keeping your spine straight and your weight on your heels, stand back up.
  2. The deadlift: This exercise strengthens practically every muscle you use for your daily movements. Begin with your heels shoulder-width apart and your toes turned slightly outward. Stand tall with your spine straight and shoulders rolled back. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing inward. Bend forward, pushing your hips back as you do, until the weights touch the ground. Keeping your spine straight, stand back up, and squeeze those glutes.
  3. The chest press: This exercise strengthens not only the muscles in your chest, but also those throughout your upper body. Begin lying on your back on an exercise bench or on the floor with your knees bent and your feet planted firmly. Hold the dumbbells directly over your chest with the ends touching. Keep your shoulders pulled down away from your ears. Bend your arms until your forearms are perpendicular to the floor, then return to the starting position.
  4. The overhead press: This exercise strengthens a number of muscles in the upper body, including the deltoids, which often get neglected. Stand with your feet beneath your hips and your spine straight and elongated. Hold the dumbbells in front of your shoulders, then press them straight up. Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position, keeping your elbows centered beneath your hands.

We recommend that you switch your lifting routine every 4 to 6 weeks to force your body to adapt to a new training program. Strength training focused on growth hormone release helps women because it plays a key role in muscle recovery, cell reproduction, and regeneration.

Here is an example of an effective routine, based on the exercises described above, and focused on growth hormone release:

  • Alternate upper and lower body workouts over 4 training days each week for this routine.
  • Hit the upper body on Monday, for example, doing chest or overhead presses, with 8 to 12 repetitions.
  • On Tuesday, train your lower body with squats. Take Wednesday off for recovery.
  • On Thursday, focus on the upper body again.
  • On Friday, back to the lower body.

As touched on in our discussion of muscle protein synthesis and breakdown, amino acids play a crucial role in maximizing the benefits associated with strength training. Amino acids build the protein that develops muscle strength and tone, so that you get fitter faster. You can read more about amino acids and fitness here.

4 Essential Weight Lifting Moves for Women

How to Optimize Essential Amino Acid Intake While Eating a Vegan Diet

Even if you’ve looked into the best sources of vegan protein, you may not be taking in all the essential amino acids that your body needs. Read on to ensure you get a steady supply of essential amino acids in the proper ratios for optimal health.

Once the sole province of hippies, the vegan diet has become increasingly popular and increasingly mainstream over the last decade or so. No wonder, given the increased exposure it has received, such as the high-profile documentary What the Health, which claimed going vegan can help you lose weight, improve your heart health, and even decrease your risk of developing cancer.

In addition to hoping to improve health by following a vegan diet, many people decided to abstain from consuming animal products for ethical or environmental reasons.

Whatever your reason for choosing to follow a vegan diet, it’s important to be aware that eating exclusively plant food can put you at increased risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Even if you’ve looked into the best sources of vegan protein, you may not be taking in all the essential amino acids that your body needs. To ensure you get a steady supply of essential amino acids in the proper ratios for optimal health, you’ll need to eat a variety of vegan protein sources or round out your intake with a high-quality supplement.

Read on to learn the basic tenets of veganism, seven health benefits associated with the vegan diet, and how to avoid nutrient deficiencies while abstaining from all types of animal proteins and other animal-derived foods.

Veganism 101

According to search data from Google Trends, worldwide interest in veganism has increased dramatically between 2004 and 2019. It seems that interest may be far from peaking, too. In 2014, a mere 1% of Americans identified themselves as vegans, but by 2017, that number had shot up to 6%, per a report from GlobalData.

While a number of different dietary approaches have been collected under the umbrella of veganism, a simple definition provided by the Vegan Society, one of the most established organizations devoted to this lifestyle, goes as follows: “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

A central component of veganism is eating a diet devoid of all animal foods as well as foods derived from animals. This includes not only meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy, but also honey and other products made by bees as well as products made using animal-based ingredients such as gelatin.

How to Optimize Essential Amino Acid Intake While Eating a Vegan Diet

7 Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet

Proponents of a vegan diet often reference the many health benefits associated with this eating approach. And, indeed, studies have shown that eating a vegan diet can be an effective way to lose weight, balance blood sugar levels, safeguard the health of your heart, and even lower your risk of cancer, among other compelling benefits.

It’s important to note, however, that the majority of the studies demonstrating these benefits are observational. Because so many factors influence our health, that makes it challenging to ascertain whether the observed benefits stem from the vegan diet alone or in conjunction with other elements of a person’s overall lifestyle.

In order for researchers to make more definitive statements about the health benefits of a vegan diet, they will need to conduct randomized, controlled studies. That said, existing evidence indicates that if you go vegan, you may experience the following seven health benefits.

1. Facilitation of Healthy Weight Loss

According to an observational study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegans tend to be thinner than both vegetarians and omnivores. One proposed reason for this is that vegans eat less saturated fat as well as more dietary fiber. It’s also possible that the correlation between vegan meals and a lower body mass index (BMI) can be explained (at least in part) by healthier lifestyle choices like more physical activity.

Encouragingly, data from several randomized, controlled studies indicates that eating a vegan diet does facilitate weight loss more effectively than a variety of other diets. These studies controlled for the kind of external factors, like physical activity, mentioned above.

A  6-month, 5-arm, randomized controlled trial looked at the effects of different types of low-fat, low-glycemic index diets: “vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, or omnivorous.” None of the five diets emphasized caloric restriction. The authors concluded that “vegan diets may result in greater weight loss” than the other four.

When compared to a conventional low-fat diet, a low-fat vegan diet also showed more significant weight loss, according to a study published in Preventative Medicine. Yet another study evaluated the weight-loss benefits of a plant-based vegan diet, a no-added-fat diet, and the American Heart Association (AHA) diet and found that following a plant-based diet led to beneficial changes to body mass index, mid-arm circumference, and waist circumference.

And findings published in Obesity, a peer-reviewed journal, assessed how a vegan diet compared to the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) diet on weight loss as well as weight-loss maintenance. Individuals in the vegan group lost more weight than those in the NCEP group at both the 1-year and 2-year mark.

Even when compared to a low-calorie diet, a vegan diet was discovered to result in significantly more weight loss, per the results of a randomized study published in Nutrition Research. One possibility for why that might be is that a vegan diet leads to a higher dietary fiber intake, which can help you feel naturally fuller and unconsciously eat fewer calories.

2. Stabilized Blood Sugar Levels

A growing pile of research indicates that following a vegan diet can help stabilize blood sugar levels. This can be particularly crucial for those with an elevated risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

According to a study published in Diabetes Care, the journal of the American Diabetic Association, “Prevalence of type 2 diabetes increased from 2.9% in vegans to 7.6% in nonvegetarians.”

A separate study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that vegans have higher insulin sensitivity and lower rates of diseases associated with insulin resistance than omnivores do. The authors of the study matched participants with control subjects based on race, age, sex, body mass index, physical activity, and energy intake. They found that vegans had “significantly higher glucose disposal” than control subjects did.

Based on the results of a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, following a vegan diet can lead to significant changes to Hb A1c, a measurement of the glycosylation of hemoglobin which can be used to give an average of blood sugar levels over the last 3 months. Participants adhering to a vegan diet saw average changes to Hb A1c of about -0.40 compared to 0.01 for the conventional diet.

3. Decreased Risk of High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease

Solid evidence shows that individuals who eat a vegan diet have significantly lower risks of developing both high blood pressure and heart disease—75% and 42% respectively, according to observational studies published in Nutrients and the Permanente Journal

These findings are bolstered by those of randomized, controlled studies showing significant reductions to both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol as well as total cholesterol.

According to a multicenter, randomized, controlled study conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, following a vegan diet can lead to beneficial changes in terms of mean body weight, Hb A1c, and both LDL and total cholesterol. Total and LDL cholesterol fell by 13.7 and 13.0 mg/dl for participants who ate a vegan diet compared to a mere 1.3 and 1.7 mg/dl for participants in the control group.

Furthermore, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association examined the effect of a vegan diet on blood lipid concentrations, meaning total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglycerides. The meta-analysis showed that vegan diets produce significantly lowered blood concentrations of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. The authors concluded that a vegan diet could be “a useful nonpharmaceutical means of managing dyslipidemia, especially hypercholesterolemia.”

4. Reduced Symptoms of Arthritis

Compelling evidence indicates that eating a vegan diet can result in meaningful reductions to distressing arthritis symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Researchers from the Department of Internal Medicine at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine set out to evaluate the effectiveness of a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet on symptoms of osteoarthritis. The results of the  randomized study showed that eating a vegan diet can result in significant improvements to energy levels and physical functioning.

Plus, a study published in the British Journal of Rheumatology found that eating a vegan diet (specifically, a raw vegan diet) produced impressive results on rheumatic symptoms both on subjective measures as well as disease activity measures.

5. Improved Kidney Function

Some research points to replacing animal proteins with plant-based proteins as a means of improving kidney function.

A study published in the Journal of Renal Nutrition looked at how plant-based protein consumption influences kidney-related biomarkers. The authors found eating plant-based protein lead to significant reductions to urinary urea nitrogen, proteinuria, blood sodium, and serum phosphorus compared with eating animal protein. A separate study published in Diabetes Care yielded similar results.

This may be, according to researchers at the University of Kentucky, because substituting plant-based protein for animal protein “results in less hyperfiltration and glomerular hypertension with resulting protection from diabetic nephropathy.” Research so far has concentrated on soy protein, which contains specific peptides, amino acids, and isoflavones thought to be beneficial for kidney function.

6. Lower Odds of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

Though no randomized, controlled trials have been conducted to date, observational studies have revealed the possibility that eating a vegan diet may lower a person’s odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the first studies to look for a connection between animal product consumption and dementia was published in Neuroepidemiology in 1993. The authors matched participants based on age, sex, and zip code. They found that matched subjects who ate meat (including poultry and fish) were more than twice as likely to develop dementia as their vegetarian counterparts.

A more recent article published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2016 pulled from relevant journal literature as well as the results of a ecological study using Alzheimer’s disease prevalence from 10 countries (Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Egypt, India, Mongolia, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, and the United States) along with dietary supply data from 5, 10, and 15 years before the prevalence data. The authors found that animal products received 5 years before had the strongest correlations with increased prevalence of Alzheimer’s. They concluded: “Reducing meat consumption could significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”

7. Lessened Chance of Developing or Dying from Cancer

Though more research must be done before firm conclusions can be drawn, a 2017 systematic review with meta-analysis of nearly 100 studies examining how following a vegan diet influences a person’s overall risk of several potentially fatal diseases, including cancer, turned up highly encouraging results.

The analysis showed “a significant reduced risk of incidence” for all kinds of cancer— a 15% lower risk.

How to Optimize Essential Amino Acid Intake While Eating a Vegan Diet

Avoiding Nutrient Deficiencies on a Vegan Diet

Those who choose to follow a vegan diet often face questions about potential nutrient deficiencies, many of which center on the assumption that there are few good sources of protein available to vegans. The truth is, whether or not you eat animal products, your health will suffer if you over-consume processed foods and under-consume nutritious whole foods. And anyone who cuts entire food groups out of their diet does have an elevated risk of nutrient deficiencies.

Researchers have found that vegans are most likely to have inadequate blood levels of the following seven nutrients:

  1. Vitamin B12
  2. Vitamin D
  3. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids
  4. Iodine
  5. Iron
  6. Calcium
  7. Zinc

While it’s certainly possible to eat enough protein purely in the form of plant protein, vegans do need to put some thought into the amino acid balance of the proteins they consume (more on that in a later section).

How to Optimize Essential Amino Acid Intake While Eating a Vegan Diet

In order to avoid developing a nutrient deficiency, those trying a vegan diet should take care to eat processed vegan foods, including meat substitutes, in moderation and to prioritize nutrient-rich plant foods.

There are also certain tactics you can take to increase your body’s absorption of key nutrients. For example, eating iron-rich foods in combination with foods high in vitamin C can boost your body’s iron absorption, as can cooking with cast iron pans and not drinking tea or coffee with meals. Plus, fermenting and sprouting foods enhances absorption of both iron and zinc.

An adequate intake of longer-chain omega-3s like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be particularly challenging. Some evidence indicates that consuming foods high in a different type of omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can help the body produce EPA and DHA. It’s unclear, however, whether that conversion will always suffice to meet your body’s needs. For that reason, it can be advisable to take a vegan algae oil supplement containing EPA and DHA.

How to Optimize Essential Amino Acid Intake While Eating a Vegan Diet

The Truth About Vegan Protein Sources

When discussing vegan protein sources, it’s crucial to delve into the question of complete protein sources. A protein source described as complete contains all nine essential amino acids in properly balanced ratios. All animal proteins are complete proteins, but the same can’t be said of all plant proteins. Here are five excellent vegan protein options loaded with amino acids.

1. Soy

There’s a reason so many researchers chose soy when investigating the benefits of plant-based protein. Soy provides all the essential amino acids in a reasonably good profile. A cup of soybeans contains 28 grams of protein while a 3-ounce serving of tofu has 6.2 grams of proteins.

2. Quinoa

Another wonderful source of plant-based protein, this ancient pseudocereal has a comparable amino acid profile to soy. A cup of quinoa provides 8.3 grams of protein.

3. Legumes

While lentils are debatably a complete protein, the same can’t be said for black beans and other types of legumes. They are high-quality protein sources, however. A cup of beans contains, on average, between 15 and 17 grams of protein.

4. Nuts

Nuts also fall short on essential amino acids while providing plenty of protein. An ounce of nuts delivers an average of 4 to 9 grams of protein.

5. Fruits and Vegetables

Fruit and vegetables occupy a central part of a vegan diet, so it’s important to know that some of them can provide more vegan amino acids than others. Plums, raspberries, papaya, grapes, pineapples, apples, oranges, melons, and pomegranates are the best protein-rich fruits you can eat. Among vegetables you have cucumbers, radishes, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, turnips, and spinach. While these foods contain proteins, the proportion of the food source as protein is low.

How to Optimize Essential Amino Acid Intake While Eating a Vegan Diet

How to Combine Plant-Based Proteins for Optimal Nutrition

Combining proteins is a good way to nourish your body with essential amino acids, but there are specific rules to follow.

In order to take in all nine essential amino acids in the appropriate profile to fully stimulate protein synthesis, the complementary proteins must be eaten at the same time so that levels of all amino acids rise simultaneously.

The proteins must also have truly complementary profiles of essential amino acids to be effective. Unfortunately, most plant-based proteins are limited by the availability of lysine, and finding combinations that truly allow for a complete spectrum of essential amino acids to be ingested at the same time can be challenging. Luckily, there are alternatives to make sure you don’t miss those essential amino acids that are so important for virtually every biological process in your body.

How Essential Amino Acids Support Optimal Vegan Health

Many vegans can benefit from incorporating an essential amino acid supplement (vegan, of course) into their diet. Adding an essential amino acid supplement to a vegan diet will significantly improve the ratio of essential amino acids to nonessential amino acids.

The best amino acid supplement maintains an optimal balance of essential amino acids in the blood to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle protein breakdown. To maximize the the physiological effectiveness of the dietary protein intake, be sure to take your essential amino acid supplement with your meals. Dosages will depend on how far short your diet falls of the goal intake of high-quality protein.

Amino Acids and Gaining “Good” Weight After Serious Illness, Surgery or Injury

Recovery almost inevitably involves regaining the weight that was lost. It is important that the regained weight is largely muscle, and that you don’t replace the muscle you lost with new fat. The key to gaining good weight is optimal amino acid nutrition.

Obesity has become such a pervasive problem in the United States that few people think about gaining weight on purpose. That is, until they lose a drastic amount of weight due to serious illness, surgery, or injury. The weight lost in these circumstances includes a significant amount of muscle. Recovery almost inevitably involves regaining the weight that was lost. It is important that the regained weight is largely muscle, and that you don’t replace the muscle you lost with new fat. The key to gaining good weight is optimal amino acid nutrition.

Why Illness, Surgery, or Injury Often Results in Weight Loss

When you become seriously ill, undergo the physical stress associated with major surgery, or suffer a severe injury, your body may enter what’s known as a catabolic state.

The catabolic state refers to the rapid loss of weight, especially muscle, accompanying physiological stress. Some events that might cause a catabolic state include major surgery or trauma, serious chronic diseases like cancer and heart failure, or acute illnesses such as pneumonia. Even a serious case of the flu can create a catabolic state. There are two components of the catabolic state:

  1. Changes in muscle metabolism that are part of the stress response
  2. Decreased appetite

Many catabolic states involve hospitalization during the most severe stage, perhaps even in the intensive care unit. Receiving an adequate intake of nutrients in a severe catabolic state becomes challenging for several reasons. First, the normal anabolic (muscle building) response to protein intake diminishes, a condition called anabolic resistance. Second, glucose metabolism is altered significantly—insulin resistance kicks in and fat accumulates in the liver. And third, fatty acid levels in the blood drastically increase. During the acutely severe stage, the debilitative effects of bedrest are often superimposed onto those fundamental elements of the body’s stress response.

The primary nutritional focus for helping individuals weather a catabolic state with the most minimal damage possible should be the consumption of essential amino acids (EAAs). Providing your body with a steady supply of essential amino acids can effectively slow down the loss of muscle that accompanies anabolic resistance. Even EAAs have a limited effectiveness in the catabolic state, however, and some degree of muscle loss is inevitable.

Full Recovery Involves Gaining Good Weight

Once the initial health issue has passed and you’ve entered the recovery phase, you may actually be happy to have lost some weight. The problem with this perspective is that the stress response specifically targets muscle loss. Although some fat is lost as well, a significant portion of weight loss that occurs in a catabolic state comes directly from your muscle mass.

Further, it’s important to make peace with the fact that you will almost inevitably regain the weight that you lost in one way or another. The key is to restore your lost muscle mass, and avoid unfavorably affecting your body composition by regaining the weight you shed as fat.

Making a Healthy Weight-Gain Meal Plan

Making the decision to gain weight should not be interpreted as a license to binge on high-calorie, sugary, salt-laden junk food. While that could very well provide you with the extra calories required to gain weight, you’ll be undermining your overall health in the process.

The point of gaining good weight is to restore your lost muscle mass and subcutaneous fat, not to build up deposits of belly fat that have been linked to adverse health outcomes including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The best healthy weight-gain strategy for you will depend on your individual circumstances and goals; however, there are certain strategies for devising a healthy weight-gain meal plan and exercise protocol that can be universally beneficial.

The Importance of Protein

Protein should be the macronutrient that dominates your meal plan for gaining good weight. As you may be aware, your muscles are formed from protein. Making protein the base of your diet, therefore, makes it far more likely that the extra calories you take in will be transformed into muscles, not excess body fat.

Initially, anabolic resistance lingers after recovery, which will limit the efficacy of the protein you consume. As your physical condition improves, your body will become more efficient at putting the dietary protein you consume to work promoting muscle growth.

Research has consistently demonstrated that getting your extra calories from protein results in more lean muscle mass gains and less fat mass gains.

A study published in JAMA compared the effects of low-, normal-, and high-protein diets on weight gain and body composition. All participants ate diets designed to provide approximately 40% more calories than needed to maintain their current weights. The authors found that participants on the high-protein diet gained significantly more lean body mass—in other words, muscle mass—than those on the normal- and low-protein diets.

Aim to consume between 25% and 30% of your daily calories in the form of high-quality protein. Another way to conceptualize the amount of protein needed to gain weight is to shoot for between 0.7 and 1 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Depending on your calorie intake, you may find you have room to increase that.

One thing to keep in mind: protein is highly filling. You may find that increasing the number of grams of protein you eat each day substantially reduces your appetite. That’s why increasing your protein intake is also a helpful strategy for meeting weight-loss goals (albeit, without the overall strategy of eating more than enough calories to meet your body’s energetic needs). While this could make it challenging for you to eat the extra calories needed for weight gain, I’ll provide helpful tips on how to overcome this hurdle later on in the article.

Structuring your diet around protein will involve incorporating a variety of high-quality protein sources, such as:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Many dairy products
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

Unless you have dietary restrictions that rule out animal proteins, I recommend making those the focal point of your healthy weight-gain meal plan. Animal-based proteins, including many dairy products, not only contain all the essential amino acids your body needs to build muscle, but also have a higher ratio of overall calories from protein. On average, about 50% of the calories in animal protein food sources come from protein. In contrast, around 70% or more of the calories in many plant-based protein food sources may come from carbohydrates.

How to Handle Fats and Carbohydrates

Since your primary—and quite likely, unfamiliar—goal is to gain weight, you may need to adjust the way you typically think about food. If you’re accustomed to restricting your carbohydrate or fat intake, this is the moment to let go of that. Placing limits on how much fat or how many carbs you eat will only make it harder for you to eat the calorie-dense foods required for healthy weight gain.

Yet another reason to prioritize animal protein as a mainstay of your meal plan for gaining good weight is that the majority of the non-protein calories in these foods come from fat. While many of us have been conditioned to think eating fat is harmful, that is certainly not the case—especially if you are recovering from a catabolic state. Adding more healthy fats to your diet is a wonderful way to increase your total caloric intake and support your body as it re-builds lost muscle.

If you’re going to worry about eating too much of any of the three macronutrients (and as long as you’re eating healthy, whole foods, there’s little cause for any concern at all), direct your attention to carbohydrate consumption. The metabolism of dietary carbohydrate requires the effective action of insulin, and the catabolic state induces a resistance to the normal action of insulin that may persist for months. Insulin resistance makes carbohydrate metabolism less effective as an energy substrate. In simpler terms, this makes it more likely that the carbohydrates you consume will be converted to fat and stored in the liver.

Because of this potentiality, I find it reasonable to limit carbohydrate consumption to between 20% and 30% of your overall caloric intake. That said, you will likely see the greatest weight-gain results if you include plenty of protein, fat, and carbohydrates at each meal.

Strive to eat at least three macronutrient-optimized meals per day. If you have a good appetite (and the physical activity routine I describe below will help to stimulate that), you should also feel free to add in energy-dense healthy snacks whenever possible.

As you regain your muscle mass and approach complete recovery, your basic diet should evolve towards one of the diet options that suits your individual needs and preferences. Maintaining a high-protein intake (about 25% of your daily calories) will help to maintain the muscle you have regained during recovery.

24 of the Best Foods to Help You Gain Weight in a Healthy Way

Whole, single-ingredient, healthy foods should form the basis of your healthy weight-gain meal plan. However, as I mentioned in reference to high-protein foods, these foods do tend to be more filling than the quick-and-easy processed foods that can be so tempting to rely on. This can make it challenging to create the calorie surplus necessary to gain weight.

To encourage yourself to eat enough of these foods to gain the weight you lost, get creative with your use of spices, sauces, and condiments. Make your meals so irresistibly delicious that you simply have to clean your plate.

Another helpful tip for getting the amount of calories needed to gain weight fast is to emphasize energy-dense foods. These foods contain a high number of calories relative to their weight. Here are seven types of energy-dense foods to add to your grocery list:

  1. High-fat dairy: There are a plethora of good options in this category. Think whole milk, full-fat yogurt, organic cheese, and so on. If you’re vegan, full-fat coconut milk is your best option.
  2. Meat: Let your tastes, and the usual best practices for buying meat, guide you. Choose pasture-raised or free-range options whenever possible. And the fattier the cut, the better.
  3. Nuts: Go nuts for nuts! Avoid overly processed options—you can always add your own flavor enhancers if you like. Almonds, walnuts, and macadamia nuts are particularly nutrient-rich. Nut butters can be a fabulous, calorie-dense treat, but steer clear of varieties with added sugar.
  4. Fats and oils: It’s hard to get more energy-dense than fats and oils! Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter all have many desirable characteristics. And don’t forget avocados, that beautifully fatty fruit!
  5. Root vegetables: These starchy veggies are the perfect way to add healthy carbohydrates to your plate. Load up on sweet potatoes, yams, rutabaga, turnips, and even plain old potatoes.
  6. Grains: Whole grains can be another solid option when it comes to healthy carbohydrates. Try making oats for breakfast or serving brown rice with your dinner.
  7. Healthy snacks: This is the broadest category, and your personal tastes will, of course, come into play here. Some of my personal favorites include dark chocolate and dried fruit as well as homemade granola and trail mixes.

You may have noticed that few fruits and vegetables appear on the list above. I’m certainly not suggesting that you stop eating fruits and vegetables, however, those foods are unlikely to contribute significantly to the caloric excess you are attempting to create.

Exercising to Rebuild Lost Muscle Mass

Exercise is always important in relation to muscle mass and function, and never more so than when you are recovering from a catabolic state. Exercise is the best way to reverse muscle loss and regain normal function. Prioritizing exercise—and strength training in particular—during your recovery period encourages your body to store the extra calories you eat as muscle, not fat.

However, depending on your particular situation, it may be difficult to follow the general guidelines of the American College of Sports Medicine for the amount and intensity of exercise. It may be necessary to go to a physical therapist initially, followed by an experienced trainer, to formulate the best plan for recovery exercises.

The general guideline of resistance exercise 2 times per week and aerobic exercise 5 times per week is appropriate, with the understanding that the level of intensity can be quite limited at first. Try to increase the weight you lift as well as the number of repetitions and sets you do over time. When it comes to cardio, there’s no need to deprive yourself of the fitness benefits associated with this type of exercise, but be sure to adjust your caloric intake to account for the calories you burn off. Remember, your goal at the moment is to consume an excess of calories.

The key to successful recovery is understanding that your exercise capacity will eventually return if you stick with it. This may be easier said than done in the depleted state after recovery from a catabolic state, but there is no substitute for persistence.

Using Essential Amino Acid Supplements to Maximize Your Recovery

As I explained earlier, essential amino acids play a key role in helping your body recover from catabolic stress. That’s part of the reason why it’s so vital that you increase your protein intake.

You may also find it helpful to add on an essential amino acid supplement specifically formulated to target an increase in muscle mass and function.

Ideally, you will want to take your essential amino acid supplement between meals to avoid the muscle loss that normally occurs in the absence of the absorption of dietary protein. As you regain strength, you will want to start coordinating the timing of your supplement intake with your exercise routine. It is optimal to take essential amino acids about 30 minutes before exercise and then again after exercise. Regardless of how light the exercise is, it is, in fact, activating the muscle to begin the process of restoration to full strength. Essential amino acids should be taken in conjunction with whatever physical activity you perform.

You’ll want to choose an amino acid supplement formulated with essential amino acids in a relatively pure form. That means avoiding blends that include other ingredients that simply add non-protein, non-amino acid calories.

The dosage of essential amino acids that gives the greatest stimulation of muscle protein synthesis is 15 grams—more than 15 grams at one time won’t provide much additional benefit. On a gram-for-gram basis, smaller doses may be more effective. A dose as low as 3.6 grams has been shown to be a potent stimulator of muscle protein synthesis. Therefore, there is quite a bit of flexibility in dosing.

Nonetheless, the larger the dose (up to 15 grams), the greater the muscle gain with each dosage. For optimal restoration of lost muscle, 15 grams twice per day between meals will give you the fastest results.