ZMA Review 2018 -Benefits & Side Effects (Updated July 2019)

How and Why of ZMA

What is ZMA?

ZMA is a supplement composed of zinc, magnesium, and aspartate. It also contains some amounts of Vitamin B6. When taken in the correct dosages, ZMA is mainly used as a sleep aid. In addition, it has also been linked to increasing zinc and magnesium levels in deficient peoples.

However, the product is mainly known in the fitness community as increasing testosterone levels in men. This is due to zinc and magnesium’s link to increase testosterone in both men and women in vitro. (However, most studies have only tested men.) However, studies show that ZMA only has a significant impact on testosterone levels that are already low. If your testosterone levels are healthy, chances are ZMA will not help. (source linked here.)

The Main Functions

Primarily, ZMA is used as a sleep aid. This is because of zinc and magnesium’s part in:

  • increased immune function
  • hormone regulation
  • normalizing sleep patterns
  • normalizing protein synthesis
  • reduced fatigue
  • protection from oxidative stress
  • improved exercise recovery

However, women are normally tentative to supplement with this supplement because of its link to increasing testosterone. While ZMA does increase testosterone in unhealthy males, its impact is too insignificant to really impact females.

In fact, everyone should be supplementing with ZMA, especially if they are: heavily active, have trouble sleeping, or are deficient in zinc, magnesium, or Vitamin B6. (However, these minerals and vitamins can also be supplemented individually. Ask your health care provider which is the better option for you!) But if you are heavily active, then ZMA will do more than increase zinc levels. It also helps with protein synthesis by promoting healthy sleep. Over time, this helps to increase muscle growth. It also protects the muscles and organ systems from oxidative stress, which have been linked to decreasing muscle density. Preventing this also helps muscle growth. So basically, supplementing with this supplement is another surefire way to make some gains. (source linked here.)

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How and When to Take ZMA

This supplement is taken as similarly as other supplements. For best results, take ZMA on an empty stomach. This will ensure maximum absorption because the body can immediately digest the ZMA. For even better results, do not supplement ZMA with additional zinc, magnesium, or copper. An overdose of any one of these minerals can be toxic to the body, even when naturally deficient in one or all of them. So stick to either additional supplements or ZMA. Or ask your doctor. Or both.

  • Women and ZMA

There is a stigma among women and increasing testosterone levels. The media has it that women with “too much testosterone” will become “bulky and manly”. This, however, is simply not the case. Women straying away from ZMA, for this reason, is also ludicrous because ZMA is only linked to increase testosterone in males who are deficient; no tests have been run on females. Besides, the benefits of This supplement should outweigh the overrun possibility of slightly increased testosterone levels.

  • Women and Testosterone
image @ www.s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com

Against popular belief, women contain some testosterone in vitro. Men also contain some estrogen (but no one ever really talks about that). However, testosterone is imperative to proper hormonal regulation, bodily processes, and everyday living. It’s simply the ratios of testosterone per gender that vary, not the hormone. For women who are looking to gain significant muscle mass, regulating their testosterone levels is even more important because it’s linked to muscle growth.

Testosterone is a hormone that is naturally produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. For men, it’s naturally produced in the testes and adrenal glands. On average, women only produce about 0.5-2.5 nmol/L. Comparatively, men produce approximately 9-38 nmol/L on average, depending on the man’s size. Physically, women cannot handle much more than 3 nmol/L of testosterone. Even with additional supplementation, the female body will eventually cap out.

In fact, women have to be physically ill to handle significantly high testosterone levels. Most notably, high testosterone levels in women have been linked to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (POS). However, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is also linked to increased hair loss or growth, weight gain, acne, and/or menstrual problems, as well as increased testosterone levels. So, more than likely, you would know if your testosterone levels were becoming a problem.

Testosterone is an important hormone in women. Not only does it support muscle growth, but it also:

  • fuels sex drive
  • increases muscle density
  • increases bone density
  • aids in metabolism regulation
  • has some anti-aging effects

So the hormone you’ve been fearing this whole time can actually be the key component to most Cosmopolitan ads. Testosterone can help women to look younger and boost their metabolism, without deepening their voice or increasing chest hair production. Testosterone is wonderful! (source linked here.)

  • Is ZMA Safe for Women?
image @ www.media1.popsugar-assets.com

The short answer is yes. ZMA should be taken by both men and women, especially if heavily active. As mentioned, ZMA has such beneficial effects that not including it in your daily regimen is more harmful than straying away.

Zinc and magnesium additions to the diet will not spike testosterone levels in healthy women. Or, if they do, it’s not insignificant enough amounts. Instead, adding ZMA will add to the many benefits of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6 I’ve listed above. Why not bask in the benefits of improved sleep quality and hormonal levels? Or improved exercise recovery? Decreased fatigue? How about increased oxidative function?

Who Should Take ZMA?

In short, everyone should take ZMA. The benefits are too numerous to count, and it will definitely help more than it will hurt. So what’re you waiting for?

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Cardio Exercises for Weight Loss (updated July 2019)

The Best Cardio For Weight Loss
Best cardio for weight loss
Best cardio for weight loss

First and foremost, any form of exercise will help you to lose weight. Losing weight is simply calories in versus calories out, or burning more calories during the day than you consume. For example, if you eat 1,700 calories in one day but burn almost 2,000 calories from daily activities, metabolic pathways, and exercise, then you’ve burned 300 calories for that day. Likewise, if the numbers were reversed and you consumed 2,000 calories but only burned 1,700 calories, then you would gain 300 calories that day.

However, there are better ways to initially lose body fat. High-intensity cardiovascular activity will initially burn more fat because of the energy pathways it requires. If done consistently, you’ll be well on your way to losing inches quickly.

Energy Pathways?

Cardiovascular exercise requires more energy than lifting does. (It’s why you’re more out of breath after a five-mile run than a handful of deadlifts.) This is because cardiovascular activity requires energy from fat stores, not glycogen stores. It also requires the energy pathway of oxidative phosphorylation, or the conversion of oxygen into ATP energy, instead of glycolysis, which converts glucose into stored ATP energy.

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Oxidative phosphorylation requires more energy and more work. Your body has to work harder to convert this type of ATP versus already stored ATP from the muscles, hence a greater percentage of fat loss. So the harder you work, the more your body has to work to keep up with you, and the more fat you burn. Easy, right?

So What Makes it High Intensity?

You should be able to tell when an exercise is intense by how hard you’re breathing. If you can hold a conversation, it’s not that intense. If you can’t speak without wheezing, chances are the exercise is intense enough. Intensity is also calculated through the scale of Rates of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This is a scale from 1-10, where 1 is the easiest (think: lying in bed) and 10 is the hardest (think: about to faint because you’re so minded).

Any cardiovascular exercise you do with the goal of losing significant amounts of body fat should be upwards on the RPE scale. Again, you’re aiming to be sweaty and out of breath in order for your body to continually fight for oxygen and generate ATP. If you can grab energy from your muscles, then the body has no reason to work as hard for its energy. If that happens, your metabolism slows. Don’t let that happen!

Get sweaty! Breathe hard! Make your body work!

Various Cardiovascular Exercises

So now you’re thinking, “Well okay, I need to work hard to lose body fat. What exercises are good for that?”

Any exercise that gets your heart rate up, gets you sweaty and makes you lose your breath is a fantastic form of cardiovascular exercise. However, there are some exercises that are easier to perform than others:

  1. Cardiovascular machines. These machines are commonplace gym equipment, such as the: treadmill, elliptical, Stairmaster, and stationary bike. Your gym may have something more unique than those, but those are the main four cardiovascular machines that, when utilized properly, can help to get your heart rate up. Most newer models even have workout options for an increased heart rate, which is great for beginners!
  2. Running. And yes, actually running. Jogging will not get your heart rate up as much, so spare it when you can. Use it as a cool down method to bring your heart rate back to baseline at the end of your workout.

    HIIT
    HIIT
  3. Sled pushes, tire flips, or battle ropes. For the more skilled athlete training at more rugged-style gyms, sled pushes, battle ropes, and tire flips are a great option. These exercises give a greater resistance during activity, which helps to sustain muscle while still getting your heart rate up.

The King of all Cardio

Although the list above is great, there’s something even better. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a cardiovascular exercise that has interchanging periods of rest and activity. The purpose of HIIT is to get your heart rate up to the highest possible level — or the optimal “fat burning zone” — and then let it come back down again before starting the whole process over again. This is a great tactic because the optimal “fat burning zone” can only be withheld for so long before your body needs to stop. It simply cannot produce oxygen that quickly.

 

 

A great example of HIIT cardio is a treadmill sprint. Generally, a sprint can only be held for about 20-30 seconds before you’re physically out of breath. This is the “activity” portion of the exercise. The “rest” portion lasts for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on your current level of fitness. It gives your heart rate a chance to come back down. However, the key here is to make sure that your heart rate doesn’t return to baseline. Make sure your rest periods are only as long as it takes you to catch your breath. Then you’re off again!

An example of HIIT cardio would be:

20 minutes of full activity –> 90 seconds rest, 30 seconds sprint (activity) / Repeat 10 times.

The General Takeaway

Cardiovascular activity of any intensity is great for heart health. Cardio in of itself gets your blood pumping and your heart beating, which helps to regulate your cardiovascular system. However, when wanting to burn fat, the more intense the exercise the more fat is burned in a shorter period of time.

Exercise intensity is based on how you feel through Ratings of Perceived Exertion. Remember: aim for higher levels, like 7+, in order to really get your heart rate up and increase your body’s demand for oxygen and ATP energy. Without that high demand, the body can use stored energy and the metabolism will not have to work as hard in that moment. That equals less fat loss, which is no good.

In general, the more you sweat the more fat is burned. So get sweating!

The Healthiest Protein Powder (updated July 2019)

Healthiest Protein Powder

What is Protein Powder?

Let’s start with the basics. Protein powder is powdered protein concentrate, which can be mixed with water or milk (for an extra dose of protein). It can also be added into baked goods, such as pancakes, waffles, and cakes, to give your favorite sweet treats a significant boost in pure protein.

Protein itself is composed of amino acids, which are essential for building muscle because amino acids are the building blocks of the body’s muscle fibers. When exercising at a high intensity — i.e weight training or strength training — your muscle fibers are physically tearing under the pressure of exercise. The formation of larger muscles, then, comes from the body’s repairing of these muscle fibers. The muscle fibers will interlace over one another to mend the tear, and what are those muscle fibers made out of? Proteins. So without a constant supply of protein shuttled toward the muscles throughout the day, the muscles cannot repair or grow.

image @ www.legionathletics.com

Protein powder is the quickest and easiest way to get protein directly to the muscles

 

after training. While it’s not wholly necessary and whole food sources such as lean meats, poultry, white fishes, and egg whites can be a great alternative to protein powders, these other foods also need to be broken down into the three macronutrients by the body. This breakdown slows the delivery of protein to the muscles. Alternative protein sources may also not be complete protein sources, or contain the full amount of amino acids the body needs to repair and grow muscle tissue. So while they will provide some benefit, they may not provide all of it. This can hinder muscle growth, even when you’re technically eating a good amount of protein per day.

Are There Better Protein Powders?

While there are no inherently bad protein powders, there are some that are better than others. Whey protein powders are milk-based proteins and have the quickest absorption rate of any type of protein, period. (This includes whole food sources and other forms of protein powders, such as pea and soy proteins.) The body absorbs 100% of whey proteins because it is a whole protein source or, again, it contains all the essential amino acids needed to repair and grow muscles.

When choosing a whey protein, always go for the isolate or concentrate. Whey

image @ www.legionathletics.com

Protein Isolates and Concentrates are specifically isolated whey proteins that are fast digesting and can be quickly broken down by the body.

Alternatively, whey protein blends, such as casein, are slow-digesting proteins that can take the body up to eight hours to completely break down. Casein proteins are better for bedtime, so that your body does not go into a catabolic state while you’re resting, but are awful directly after a workout. However, because casein proteins are still whey-based, they have the same high absorption rate by the body but at a much slower rate.

Other Components of Protein Powder

So what makes protein powder “healthy”?

Simply, it’s a clean protein source. Whey protein powders contain roughly 24g of protein per serving, which is more than a decent piece of chicken. It also has less than four grams of carbs per serving — although the typical serving has about 1-2g — and less than or equal to two grams of fat. This is also why whey proteins have such a great absorption rate: not only is it pure protein, but the body has no other components to break down. Instead, it can quickly be sent to the muscles that are in desperate need of growth and repair.

However, you shouldn’t ingest straight protein powder. The consistency ranges from grainy to pillowy soft powder, depending on the variety you purchase. (Imagine trying to swallow a mouthful of cinnamon.) Instead, protein powders can be mixed with water — the healthiest option! — or with milk for a quick, easy, and efficient post-workout shake. It’s claimed that protein should be consumed within thirty minutes to an hour of training, because that’s when the muscles are in highest need of a protein source for tissue repair.

image @ www.dailyburn.com

Alternatively, protein powders can be baked into goods by mixing into wet batters, such as pancakes, waffles, and cakes. However, this move is a bit riskier. Even though whey protein does have a high absorption rate, mixing the protein powder with other whole food sources, sugars, and liquids can delay when the body breaks the protein down. Remember, the body breaks down foods in the order of: fats, proteins, fiber, and then carbohydrates. If you’re mixing your proteins with your fats, the proteins will have to wait their turn.

The Absolute Healthiest Option

image @ www.ebayimg.com

For the most efficient and healthiest dose of protein, buy a tub of Whey Protein Isolate

or Concentrate from your local supplement store or online. Take one to two scoops — the maximum amount of protein the body can absorb at one time is still unknown, but men typically need more per day than women — and mix with water. Consume within an hour after training for maximum efficiency. And for taste? Your safest bet is always chocolate flavored whey.

How to Improve Your Big Lifts (updated July 2019)

What Are the “Big Lifts”?

The Big Four

image @ www.birthorderplus.com

The “big four lifts” refer to compound movements. These exercises are generally accepted to be the deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press (OHP) because they recruit the most muscle groups. While other lifts are also considered compound movements, they do not recruit as many muscle groups as the big four. Other forms of compound movements include exercises such as: lateral pulldowns, barbell rows, push-ups, etc.

Typically, weight lifters will utilize these four main lifts the most. They can improve multiple muscle groups at one time while also improving the lift overall. In addition, working one main four exercise can help to improve some others. For example, training your deadlift helps to improve your squat. This occurs because the hamstrings are recruited in both scenarios. Likewise, perfecting your bench improves your overhead press because both develop the anterior deltoid.

How do I Pick Which to Do?

Really, anyone can train the big four lifts. In fact, performing a compound movement is actually more beneficial for fat burn than isolation movements. This is because the metabolism speeds up with greater muscle density; muscle burns more calories per day than fat does. Compound movements activate more muscle groups, which, in turn, increases muscle density. You’ll become a fat burning machine!

However, a word of caution before embarking on the big four lifts. These lifts are compound and powerful for a reason. It is imperative to nail the form for each one before increasing weight. Having improper form for any exercise can result in serious injury. This warning increases tenfold with compound lifts, however, because of how much more demanding they are. Ask a friend or colleague to demonstrate the proper form for you before beginning! After that, you’re home free.

How to Increase the Big Four Lifts

image @ www.images.shape.mdpcdn.com

So you wanna train hard and lift heavy, huh? Good for you! Big lifting is not only more beneficial to the metabolism and the body’s muscle density, but they’re also lots of fun. Who doesn’t like throwing around some heavy weights in the gym every now and again?

There are a few key ways to improving your big four lifts, whether you’re primarily training the lower or upper body exercises. They include:

1. Proper Programming

It goes without saying, but having a solid program in place is the most beneficial way to increase your big four lifts. Proper programming refers to something either you or a paid coach has written (or a fitness friend, who knows?). This program generally lasts over the span of about six to eight weeks. This time frame gives the trainee (i.e, you) ample amount of time to work upon and improve his lifts.

Your programming should also reflect future strength gains. If your program only has you increasing your big lifts by five pounds every few weeks, then it’s not a solid program. With proper guidance, you should be increasing by either one repetition or five pounds every time you perform the exercise.

Now, there can be outside factors that affect these numbers. But generally speaking, you should be increasing by either five pounds or one rep each week. You should also not perform the exercise for strength — or high weight with a rep scheme of 4-6 repetitions — more than once a week. The same holds true for power training, or repetition sets of 1-3 reps.

2. Proper Recovery

Whether in-between sets or in-between days, you need to give your body the recovery it deserves. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • foam rolling / myofascial release
  • trigger therapy
  • massages (regular or deep tissue)
  • sleep
  • stretching
  • yoga
  • ice baths, hot tubs, and/or saunas
image @ www.rocktape.com

Any one of these recovery practices emphasize releasing the tension from the muscle. This reduces the stress placed on it and allows it to fully heal. And since muscle growth is the healing of muscle tissue, recovery becomes just as important as exercising.

In addition, program your training days well enough so that there are no conflicts with muscle groups. For example, do not train lower body two days in a row, or even over the course of three days. While performing heavy lifts, the muscles are under greater stress than isolation movements. Therefore, they need greater time for recovery in between training days. Aim for three or more days in between big lifts. This time frame gives your muscles ample time to recover before being fired again.

3. Accessory / Isolation Work

What good is an underdeveloped muscle group? If the muscle is underdeveloped, it cannot function properly. Likewise, if one muscle group is lagging another will compensate for it. This puts unnecessary pressure on the developed muscle, while the underdeveloped muscle does no work. In the end, both are injured and your lifts suffer.

The answer to this dilemma is accessory work. Accessory and/or isolation work is directly targeting the muscle. This forces that one particular muscle under constant stress, instead of being integrated with other muscles in a compound lift. For lagging muscles, this tunes them up without overdeveloping surrounding muscles. You can also directly target supporting muscles to the big four lifts, which will help increase them in the long run.

4. Hypertrophy Days

Hypertrophy refers to increasing the size of the muscle tissue. Hypertrophy lifts follow a repetition scheme of 8-10 reps per set. This repetition range adds just enough stress to tear the muscle while also making sure the weight can be heavier than lighter load days.

Hypertrophy days should be very similar to strength days in terms of exercise choice. However, the weight and repetitions change to support muscle growth instead of strength growth. This will not only help you to practice your form, but will also help develop all the working muscles of that exercise.

Hypertrophy days should be about three days or more apart from strength days. Or, they should change week by week: one week train for strength, one for hypertrophy. This latter tactic will take longer for strength development, but can still help to improve the lift.

image @ www.52bpijddwt-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com

So if the big four compound lifts are in your future, remember these key points. Nothing will increase your strength better than proper programming, isolation work, hypertrophy work, and proper rest and recovery!

Best Workouts for Abs To Get A Six Pack (Updated July 2019)

Best Workout for Abs

Abs are Shown in the Kitchen but Made in the Gym

Abdominals are shown in the kitchen but made in the gym. Against popular belief, the abdominals are like any other muscle group. Therefore, they need to be trained, rested and recovered like any other muscle. Training your abdominals every day will not get you abs — in fact, it may hinder them!

image @ www.doctorshealthpress.com

However, your abdominals are a collection of smaller muscles. These muscles can, therefore, be isolated and trained separately, and the recovery time for any one group is significantly less than your major muscles. Abdominals can be trained directly up to three times a week, every other day. They’re also indirectly trained through big lifts, such as the deadlift and squat. This is how abdominals are “made in the gym.”

To actually see your hard-earned six-pack, though, is where “shown in the kitchen” comes in. Typically, abdominals can only be seen at a strikingly low body fat percentage. For most people, this level of body fat is neither healthy nor maintainable year-round. But eating a balanced diet of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, good fats, and whole grains can help to make those little abdominal nuggets pop from time to time.

The Best Tactics — TUT

Okay, so you’re eating well. Now, how do you train your abdominals?

As I’ve said, abs are like any other muscle group. Training them requires more than hundreds of body weight crunches and thirty-second planks. Instead, your abdominal muscles require weighted tension — the same you’d apply to your legs or chest.

image @ www.seannal.com

The best tactic for building your abdominals is “time under tension.” Simply, Time Under Tension (TUT) is how long the muscle is underweighted strain during a set. The longer the TUT, the longer the muscle is active and contracting. And the longer the muscle is active, the more it can tear.

There are plenty of ways to increase TUT during a workout. The most effective way is to decrease your rest periods in between sets. This ensures that the muscle is generating enough energy to perform the next set, but not so much that it loses its contraction. Another way is to go until “failure”, or when your body physically cannot perform another repetition with good form. Both tactics are excellent ways for increasing TUT.

And since the abdominals are such a small muscle group, they can recuperate fairly quickly. This allows for shorter rest periods, enabling longer TUT.

The Best Exercises

I’m going to let you in on a secret: crunches don’t do much. They’re publicized everywhere because they’re easy and convenient. However, they also don’t supply much tension to the abdominals. There are better exercises that can increase TUT and decrease training time so that you’re not performing hundreds of crunches just to feel the burn.

Cable Crunches

I know what you’re thinking. I literally just said crunches don’t do jack squat, and now I’m saying do crunches. However, these crunches are performed with a cable and can add tens to hundreds of pounds of tension directly to the abdominals. They also target both the upper and lower abdominal regions, making them far superior to conventional crunches.

Perform the exercise by:

  1. Set a cable machine up with a rope attachment, and pin the appropriate weight.
  2. Grab the rope handles in both hands and place it behind your neck.
  3. Pull the rope down as you kneel about eight inches away from the cable. Keep your gaze pointed down and your back straight.
  4. Bring your elbows down to your thighs while keeping your back straight and core tight.
    1. Do not sink into your heels! This takes the pressure off the abs.
    2. Make sure to bring your elbows in so you can crunch your abdominals. Don’t just hinge at the hips!
  5. Slowly bring the rope back up to the kneeling position and repeat.
  6. Perform four sets of 8-10 repetitions.

Leg Raises

Leg raises are a great exercise to target the lower abdominals. The trick is to pull from the core, not the feet. Pulling your body up from the feet takes the pressure of the core entirely. Instead, you’re using the momentum of the feet to complete the movement. Make sure your core is tight as you pull your legs up — you’ll feel the burn for sure!

These can also be performed with ankle weights for an added boost.

Perform this exercise by:

  1. Lay flat on a mat or bench while holding onto a rail behind your head.
  2. Brace your core and pull your legs up until they’re perpendicular to the floor.
    1. Your feet should remain on your chest and not your head! Bringing your feet too far back will relocate the pressure to the upper back and not the core.
  3. Hold the upward position for a beat, then slowly lower your legs back down.
  4. Keep your feet an inch from the ground to ensure TUT, then repeat.
  5. Perform four sets of 10 repetitions.

Russian Twists

image @ www.fit-on.ru

Russian Twists are a great exercise for targeting the obliques, or the side abdominals. They can also be modified to fit multiple fitness levels. This adjustment can be made by raising or lowering the feet, which adds tension to the core. Work on your stability to progress to the harder levels! You can also hold a dumbbell for added tension.

Perform this exercise by:

  1. Sit on a mat with your legs bent at forty-five degrees, heels on the floor.
    1. To make it harder, take your heels off the floor until your shins are parallel to the mat.
  2. Lean back so that your body is at a forty-five-degree angle. Keep your back straight and your core tight!
  3. Either hold a dumbbell or clasp your hands into a ball in line with your mid-chest.
  4. Focus on an object in front of you so that your upper body doesn’t move. Then rotate your hands (or the dumbbell) from side to side. Try to bring your elbow to your hip.
  5. Hold the ending position for a beat, then slowly reverse back to the starting position and repeat on the other side. This is one repetition.
  6. Perform four sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Bicycle Crunches

image @ www.hiitacademy.com

I know, another crunch. And I also know that you’ve heard of these before. You’ve probably done them, too. But I can bet that you’ve also been doing them incorrectly.

The key with bicycle crunches is to perform the exercise slowly. You’re not Lance Armstrong riding a marathon, you’re trying to keep tension on your core. Performing the exercise too quickly takes that pressure off because form fails. Instead, move through each repetition slowly and feel the burn!

These can also be performed with ankle weights for an added boost.

Perform this exercise by:

  1. Lay flat on your back, hands laced behind your head.
    1. Don’t lace your fingers behind your neck! This causes it to strain upwards and put tension on your spine, not core.
  2. Draw your legs up until they’re at ninety degrees. Lift your chest and shoulder blades off of the floor.
  3. Slowly bring one elbow to the opposite knee without moving your upper back off of the floor.
    1. Pro tip: Make eye contact with something in front of you. This helps to prevent too much movement in the upper body!
  4. Slowly release back to the starting position, then repeat on the other side. This is one repetition.
  5. Perform four sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Hanging Leg Raise

Hanging leg raises are a bit more advanced than floor work because they require more core strength. It combines stability work with crunches, which definitely increases TUT.

These can be performed either on a pull-up bar for maximum stability or on an assisted hanging leg raise machine. You can also throw on ankle weights for an added boost.

Perform this exercise by:

  1. Place your arms on the machine pads and your back flat against the machine. Hold the handles to make sure you don’t move!
  2. Brace your core and bring your knees up to your chest.
    1. You can also perform an L-sit, where your legs remain parallel to the floor and ninety degrees to your body (see above photo).
  3. Hold the top of the movement for a beat, then release back down.
  4. For a full-on hanging leg raise, hold the handles of the pull-up bar. Perform the exercise in the same way but keep your upper body locked. Then release the feet back down to the starting position.
  5. Perform four sets of 10 repetitions.

 

Now, these are just some basic core exercises. The trick to training core is to make sure that you’re hitting all regions — upper, lower, middle, and the obliques. Training abs up to three times a week can help ensure this, as well as incorporating one movement for each muscle group.

A strong core is imperative. In fact, it’s your number one stabilizer. Big lifts — such as deadlifts and squats — can be hindered if you don’t have a strong core. So take the time to really focus on growing that foundation for not only that six-pack, for overall performance improvement!

The Science of “Cheat Meals” (updated July 2019)

Science of “Cheat Meals

What is a “Cheat Meal”?

image @ www.cdn.totalsororitymove.com

We have all had those dinner parties where we are the odd man out. While everyone else is ordering their favorite cheeseburger and french fries or a classy ribeye steak with a side of potatoes, you went for the grilled chicken breast with steamed vegetables, but please not cooked in oil and with the sauce on the side. Or you forced yourself to eat a salad with no croutons or cheese and a side cup of your favorite dressing because your diet didn’t reach those parameters. But hey, you got a Diet Coke to “treat yourself”.

But what if there was a way to eat your favorite meal once, maybe even twice, a week and still lose weight? That is where the “cheat meal” comes into play.

A “cheat meal” is a saucier term for a diet break. It indicates that you’re “cheating” on your diet by having foods that you normally wouldn’t. Each person has their preference: some prefer a burger and fries, some a huge bowl of pasta, and others indulge in their favorite dessert. The possibilities are endless!

Treat Yo’Self, but Don’t Pig Out

image @ www.cdn.muscleandstrength.com

The purpose of a cheat meal is for it to be one meal, and one meal only. Having an entire day of indulging in foods you normally wouldn’t can have the opposite effect. The purpose of a singular meal that is higher in fat, carbohydrates, and overall total calories is to jumpstart your metabolism. However, if you are piling down pillars of food the entire day or eating that one meal until you cannot physically move, the body cannot metabolize it. Instead, it becomes sluggish and slows down. It simply cannot process that much food at once.

This is where “cheat meal” turns into fat gain, which is what most people think of when they imagine eating their favorite foods on a diet. The trick here is to indulge until you are pleasantly full and then stop. There’s no need to eat to excess because that food will still be there next week. It’s not the be all end all of meals. It’s a small diet break, a chance for your body to recharge for the upcoming week.

Tips and Tricks

Here are a few key things to remember before going out for a “cheat meal”:

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  1. Eat breakfast! Like any other day, breakfast is still the most important meal. Starving yourself from the get-go to “save calories” for your “cheat meal” reverses the purpose of the meal overall. Instead, make sure your metabolism is revving by eating a good, healthy breakfast within an hour of waking. Skipping breakfast will also make you hungrier later on in the day, which may cause you to binge on your “cheat meal”. Avoid the issue by having regularly scheduled meals throughout the day!
  2. Drink water! Drinking plenty of water throughout the day ensures that all the toxins are being flushed out and that your organs are well hydrated. Don’t skimp on water! Save the Diet Coke for dinner.
  3. Exercise before you eat! While you can have cheat meals on your rest days, the body better utilizes the increase in calories after an intense workout. The best plan of attack is to train heavy by targeting a large muscle group — such as legs, back, or chest — and then indulging in your “cheat meal” as your post-workout meal. After exercise your body is most ready to break down food for energy and amino acids, so the meal will be most beneficial.
  4. Train heavy the next day! After a long week of dieting, your glycogen stores will finally be full enough for a long, intense workout. Train the opposite muscle group from the day before — upper body V. lower body — and get to work.

The Science Behind the “Cheat Meal”

Believe it not, there actually are benefits to a “cheat meal”. Aside from the mental break of dieting, the body needs a break from the diet, too. The human body is very smart and adapts to its environment. If an individual is consuming less calories per day over an extended period of time, the body recognizes this. And with less food comes less energy, so the body’s processes must slow down in order to accommodate these new energy levels.

For the Body

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“Cheat meals” are often used to break fat loss plateaus. When the body adapts to its new energy environment and its functions slow down, so does the metabolism. When the metabolism slows, the body becomes less efficient at breaking down foodstuffs into ATP energy, which slows the metabolism more. The whole process becomes a vicious cycle of nonstop slowing until the metabolism reaches its bottom line. From there, the body has adapted pretty well to the amount of food that it is currently consuming.

So what happens when an individual consumes a cheat meal? Suddenly, the body gets an influx of energy. It has more capabilities than its had in a week or so and its processes can increase strength. Among those affected processes is the metabolism. With newly found energy, the body can break through fat loss plateaus as the metabolism revs back to life.

Imagine your body as a car. When it is low on gas, it’s sluggish. But as soon as you put gas in the tank, it can travel far and wide. That is what a cheat meal does to your body. So fill up that fuel tank and get to work!

For the Mind

Let’s not forget about the mental toll of dieting, however. Because your body processes are slowing down and you have less energy, you generally feel and have:

  • less energy
  • increased moodiness
  • depression
  • lower interest levels
  • shorter attention span
  • are quick to anger
  • generally exhausted

Among others. Not to mention, eating becomes a chore. It also becomes all you can think about because you are constantly hungry. This constant hunger is the body begging for more energy because it can feel its internal processes slowing down. But that hunger also just puts you in a worse mood, and the cycle continues.

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“Cheat meals” are that brilliant mental break that your brain needs. Not only are you firing up your internal processes, but your brain finally has more energy to think clearly again. Your mood lifts and your hunger is satiated. What’s more, “cheat meals” are also great for your social life. While events with friends and family should never be put on hold for a diet, they can sometimes take the back-burner without realizing. “Cheat meals” give you a great excuse to get dinner with friends and catch up, or finally go to happy hour with your coworkers after work one day. So use them wisely!

Overall, “cheat meals” are a great tool when used properly. They can boost the metabolism, boost one’s mood, and help individuals engage in social situations. And the possibilities are endless, so pick your favorite food and get snacking!

 

Creatine Supplements: The Hows and Whys (Updated July 2019)

Creatine Supplements

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a chemical that is naturally produced by the body. For short bursts of bodily stresses, such as exercise, the ATP-PCr Pathway is recruited. In this case, “PCr” stands for phosphocreatine (creatine phosphate). More specifically, the ingredient is released to help aid cellular function. The more creatine available to the muscles, the more can be released to adapt to stressors.

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How to Take Creatine

Food and Supplements

The ingredient can be found in some foods, such as eggs, meat, and fish. However, the amount in these foods is not normally enough to make significant differences in our energy pathways. Instead, ingredient can be supplemented into the diet in either powder or pill form.

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There are also several different types of it available, but the cheapest and most abundant is creatine monohydrate. Creatine Monohydrate is normally sold in powder form and is mixed with water.

 

The body already makes enough for the average person, so quickly doubling that amount can lead to bloating, diarrhea, or nausea. Instead, a loading phase is necessary. When first adding a creatine supplement to your diet, start with 0.3g/kg of body weight for 5-7 days. Then, slowly increase by 0.03g/kg per day for about three weeks. The prescribed amount is typically 5-10g per day, depending on your size.

The only difference for the amount of creatine to take depends on your gender. Because males typically hold more muscle mass than females, they can ingest closer to 10g per day. Women, on the other hand, stay closer to 5g per day.

But be Warned!

It should also be taken with ample amounts of water. Creatine monohydrate is generally ingested by dissolving in water (don’t straight shoot it), but drinking enough water throughout the day is also imperative. Without, stomach cramping and bloating can occur.

If you take too much at one time, then diarrhea and nausea may occur. If this happens, spread out your 5-10g over the course of the whole day. The benefits will still occur, just without the nasty side effects.

Creatine Benefits

There are plenty of benefits to taking creatine daily. These benefits also apply to both men and women and can happen while taking 5g, 10g, or any amount in between per day.

  1. Increase Muscle Creatine Content — This one is self-explanatory. As you take in more creatine, your muscles are capable of holding more creatine.
  2. Increase Power Output — Because the ATP-PCR Pathway is recruited for power movements, increasing the muscle’s creatine load will also increase its power output. This is most handy for “fight or flight” movements initiated by the sympathetic nervous system, or for intense exercise (sprinting, powerlifting, etc.)
  3. Increase Weight — This is mainly from water retention. However, overall weight can increase as muscle density and strength increase. It is also linked to an increase in lean body mass. However, more studies show a weight gain due to water retention than lean mass.

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  4. Increase Hydration — When you start to ingest more creatine monohydrate, you need to drink more water. By doing this, your daily water consumption will increase, and you will become more hydrated. Huzzah!
  5. Increase Anaerobic Capacity & VO2 Max — Daily ingestion has been linked to minor increases in anaerobic capacity. The ATP-PCr Pathway is utilized without the aid of oxygen, so strengthening this system will help increase anaerobic capacity in most athletes. Increased creatine will also lead to more oxygen that can be taken up by the muscle. This leads to increased muscular capacity, which is beneficial for intense exercise.
  6. Decrease Fatigue / Increase Muscular Endurance — It is linked to increased energy production in muscle cells. With an increase in creatine phosphate in the body, the muscles will have an increased energy store. Thus, the muscles are capable of completing more work and the time to fatigue increases.
  7. Decrease Muscular Damage — As the muscles increase anaerobic capacity, they also become more capable of doing work. They become more efficient, thus decreasing their chances of injury.
  8. Increase Testosterone — Muscles require testosterone to grow and function. An increase in muscular capacity will increase serum testosterone in the body.
  9.  Increase Glycogen Resynthesis — Glycogen Resynthesis is the time required by the muscles to replenish glycogen stores. By increasing your daily intake, your muscles become more efficient at replenishing their glycogen stores. This makes them fatigue more slowly and increases their capacity for work.

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In all, it is a powerful and highly beneficial supplement to add to your daily regimen. Creatine monohydrate is one of the most cost-effective supplements available to date and has more than enough benefits to make up the price. However, remember to slowly increase your intake and to drink plenty of fluids while supplementing with it . Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing!

Best Supplements for Fat Loss (Updated July 2019)

Best Supplements for Fat Loss

Best Supplements for Fat Loss

When trying to lose weight, there is always the debate of supplements. Mostly, are they needed, how much, and what types are best. However, supplements are not the king of fat loss. This notion goes against a lot of popular opinions. In fact, supplements are never wholly needed. They are there to supplement the diet, not the other way around.

 

Fat loss is the simple equation of calories in versus calories out. Or, in other words, how many calories you burn in one day versus how many you consume. So let’s say that your daily intake is around 1,700 calories. This is how much it takes to maintain your current physique. If you eat less than 1,700kcal. that day, say 1,500, you are in a 200kcal. deficit. Over a period of time, that can add up to 1,000kcal. in a week, and 4,000kcal. in a month. Overall, you’d lose approximately 1lbs. of body fat per month, since one pound of body fat is 3,500kcal.

Now, let’s say that you ate an extra 200kcal. per day instead. Over time, you would be in a surplus of 1,000kcal. per day and 4,000kcal. per month. So overall, you’d gain approximately 1lbs. of body fat per month.

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Fat loss or gain can be done without the aid of supplements. Can supplements help? Of course. There are certain supplements that aid in metabolism and fat store utilization. They are not, however, essential to losing overall body fat. That simply comes from a negative caloric intake over a long period of time.

Disclaimer!

Let’s not be rash about this caloric deficit, though. Cutting your calories by 500kcal. or more per day takes a huge toll on the body. Every day the body is dependent on the amount of food you eat. If your body maintains around a certain number of calories, then drastically cutting this energy intake slows your essential bodily systems.

The body, after a few days or weeks of this deficit, will go into Starvation Mode. This attitude is the shutting down of any bodily system that does not have the direct purpose of keeping you alive. Some processes that are affected are:

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  1. Blood circulation slows
  2. Body temperature decreases
  3. Sex drive decreases
  4. Sex hormone production stalls
  5. The decrease in bone growth and density
  6. Slowed digestion/metabolism
  7. Drying skin
  8. Hair thinning
  9. Disrupted sleep

Make sure that when utilizing a caloric deficit that you do so with the help of a professional. Bodybuilding and/or strength coaches, a nutritionist or dietician, or your doctor can help to set the right deficit for you if losing weight is a priority! (source linked here.)

The Best Fat Burning Supplements

There are a few key players that can aid in fat loss. While a strong diet is key, there are some supplements that will aid metabolism or help the body utilize fat storages for energy.

L-Carnitine

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L-Carnitine aids the mitochondria in improved energy production. During normal energy synthesis, the mitochondria are the powerhouse of the body, providing energy to the cells. L-Carnitine helps to decrease the effects of aging on mitochondria. It also increases the mitochondria’s fat-burning potential. Lastly, it’s also used as a stimulant, similar to caffeine.

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L-Carnitine can be found in many forms, including:

  • Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR), which is used for cognitive enhancement
  • L-Carnitine L-Tartrate (LCLT), which is used for power output during physical activity
  • Glycine Propionyl L-Carnitine (GPLC), which is used for blood circulation

This increase in mitochondrial energy also helps to boost brain power in some subjects, while giving others elongated energy. In fact, L-Carnitine’s main calling card is increased energy. (source linked here.) L-Carnitine gets this increased energy from the body’s fat stores. After being freed, the fatty acids are shuffled along to the mitochondria by L-Carnitine and utilized as oxidative energy.

L-Carnitine can be supplemented daily in doses ranging from 500-2,000mg. The dosage varies depending on the individual. In addition, all of L-Carnitine’s counterparts follow the same dosage guidelines and can also be taken daily, depending on your goals. (source linked here.)

Forskolin

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Forskolin normally works alongside L-Carnitine for fat utilization. The latter works to bring the fatty acids to the mitochondria. Forskolin works to release the fatty acids from the body’s fat stores.

Forskolin releases fatty acids by activating the enzyme adenylate cyclase, which then activates hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL). Like any other lipase, HSL breaks down fat for energy by enacting lipolysis. Lipolysis is the complete breakdown of glycerides into fatty acids, which can be used as energy by the mitochondria. These fatty acids are released into the bloodstream, where they meet up with their powerhouse counterparts and give the body elongated energy.

In unscientific terms, Forskolin releases your fat from their body stores. When paired with L-Carnitine, these fatty acids are efficiently utilized as fuel. Studies even show that prolonged use improves fat burning during both training and rest. And, of course, helps to increase total fat loss over time.

Typically, Forskolin can be found with L-Carnitine as a single supplement. If not, take approximately 20-50mg daily. (source linked here.)

Caffeine

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Yes, your morning coffee can help promote fat loss. Who knew?!

Caffeine has been linked to increased energy production and fat oxidation, which increase it’s ability to metabolize fat. This has been linked to its stimulation of the Central Nervous System (CNS) through that coffee-jolt we all know and love. Stimulating the CNS helps to release fatty acids from fat stores. It also promotes calcium absorption from the body’s calcium stores, which aids in muscle contraction. Both are extremely helpful when exercising for long periods of time.

Caffeine is also one of the most cost-effective fat loss supplements to date. As little as one cup of coffee before your morning workout can promote these benefits! Or, if you’re not a cup-of-joe fan, try pre-workouts. They normally contain roughly 120mg of caffeine per serving and aid in fat loss.

However, be warned: taking more than 400mg per day can start to have negative side effects. Imagine how you feel after a couple of large coffees during a rough morning. Eventually, you crash and your head hurts, and the same thing happens to your body. So stick to one to two servings every couple of hours. (source linked here.)

Green Tea Extract

Another cost-effective fat loss supplement is green tea extract. Like caffeine, green tea extract helps to utilize the body’s fat stores for energy. However, it also encourages brown adipose tissue thermogenesis, which is another form of fat utilization. This is due to the phytochemicals found in green tea; the main phytochemical, epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC), can increase fat oxidation by up to 33%!

There is one setback, though. Green tea extract has to be taken in a pretty pure form in order to have any real effect. Drinking green tea is great because it supplies some phytochemicals and antioxidants, but the proportions are not enough for fat loss. (source linked here.)

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