If you want to be successful in your fitness journey, you need to make sure your goals are SMART
. Your fitness goals MUST
- Specific--what exactly is the goal you want to achieve
- Measurable--an example would be to reduce your bodyfat by 2%
- Attainable--the goal must be within your control
- Realistic--know your limitations but keep pushing the boundaries
- Timed--a deadline provides a sense of urgency
Here's an example of a fitness goal that fulfills the aforementioned parameters (the italicized words emphasize each parameter):
- I want to lose bodyfat (specific)
- I want to lose 2% bodyfat (measureable)
- I will be able to lose bodyfat (attainable)
- It is possible to lose 2% bodyfat (realistic)
- I will be able to lose 2% bodyfat in 2 months (timed)
Since muscle tissue contains mostly protein, it stands to reason you need to eat foods that are relatively high in protein. More particularly, you should strive to eat complete protein foods that contain all of the essential amino acids your body needs. Foods such as meats, poultry, eggs, fish, milk, and cheese are excellent complete protein foods and should make up the bulk of your diet for gaining muscle mass. If you want to gain quality muscle mass and/or become a bodybuilder, you need to eat these foods:
Almonds fight food cravings and contain healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, fiber, and magnesium. Walnuts have a higher concentration of antioxidants than any other nuts. Walnuts are also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Soy is the only plant-based protein that contains all essential amino acids and is equal in quality to animal-based proteins. In particular, isolated soy protein and soy protein concentrate found in processed soy foods score as high as eggs, dairy and meat in terms of amino acid profile and protein digestibility. Consuming soy either before or after training helps to improve protein balance and optimizes muscle building after resistance training. Soy also contains isoflavones which are powerful antioxidants that fight oxidative stress during exercise.
This includes soybeans, pinto beans, navy beans, kidney beans, lima beans, edamame, and especially black beans. All of these beans contain fiber, protein, iron, and folate--nutrients essential for building muscle mass.
Spinach (along with broccoli, brussels sprouts and peppers) contains plenty of antioxidants (from vitamin C and beta-carotene) to neutralize harmful free radicals which accelerate the aging process. Spinach also contains vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, calcium, and magnesium--essential ingredients for muscle maintenance and growth.
This includes low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese. These foods contain calcium and vitamin D--essential for strong bones.
This food contains complex carbs which provide the needed fuel for high-intensity workouts. Oatmeal also contains fiber which helps to reduce blood cholesterol and maintain blood sugar levels.
This is the most perfect food because eggs contain the highest biological value of protein to enable quick absorption of amino acids into the body. This means that the protein in eggs is more effective at building muscle mass than any other protein food including milk and beef. Eggs also contain vitamins A and B12--nutrients which support muscle growth.
This includes turkey, extra-lean beef (e.g., sirloin), chicken and fish (e.g., tuna, salmon). These meats contain plenty of protein as well as iron, zinc, creatine (beef), omega-3 fatty acids (fish), and vitamins B6 (chicken and fish) and B12.
The peanut butter should be all-natural and sugar-free. Peanut butter contains protein, monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, niacin, and magnesium--all nutrients which support muscle mass.
Contains monounsaturated fat and vitamin E.
Foods in this category consist of less-processed carbs, including brown rice, whole-grain pasta, whole-wheat pretzels, whole-wheat bagels, etc. These foods contain plenty of fiber as well as protein, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Be sure to look for the words whole-
wheat or whole
-grain as the first ingredient.
Ideal before a workout, whey protein is the quickest-absorbing protein for the body. You can mix it with water, low-fat milk, or add a little to your oatmeal for a bodybuilding meal.
One of the best sources for antioxidants (such as vitamin C), blueberries also contain soluble fiber. The antioxidants enable muscle recovery by reducing inflammation and therefore muscle soreness after hard training.
Sweet potatoes contain vitamins A and C, both antioxidants which help reduce inflammation and muscle damage after a hard workout.
The benefits of caffeine are numerous in regard to your workouts. Taking caffeine prior to a workout can increase endurance, allowing for more reps, sets and longer sessions. This increase in volume can lead to larger muscles in the long run.
Caffeine's effect on the body is via the central nervous system (CNS), causing an increase in your pain threshold. End result: it becomes easier for you to push through those extra reps, extra sets, and extra cardio intervals.
Caffeine may also increase muscle strength due to those extra reps performed. Another benefit of caffeine is its characteristic of increasing lipolysis, or fat breakdown. The fat can serve as a much needed fuel source during hard training, allowing for more calories to be burned.
Caffeine taken post-workout can increase glucose uptake from the blood into your muscles. This means your muscles can recover faster and glycogen recovery in enhanced. An increase of glycogen into your muscles enhances muscle size due to its hydrophilic (water-pulling) effect.
More is not better when it comes to caffeine intake. Overindulging in caffeine can cause insomnia, overexcitabilty, restlessness, muscle twitching, etc. If you experience any of these symptoms, level off the amount consumed. In this case, less can actually be more--smaller amounts may be more effective in promoting increased endurance, strength and muscle mass. You need to consume an amount relative to your bodyweight (i.e., 3-6 mg per kg bodyweight) at the right times (i.e., pre-workout, post-workout). The full effect of caffeine can last 2-3 hours and diminishes within 12 hours. Caffeine in liquid form (e.g., coffee, energy drinks) will be absorbed within the body faster than in pill form.
There are commonly-held beliefs regarding caffeine that are myths:
MYTH: CAFFEINE CAN SOBER YOU UP
Caffeine does not sober you up but rather makes you become an alert drunk.
MYTH: CAFFEINE MAKES YOU DEHYDRATED
The reality is that caffeine does have a mild dehydrating effect within the kidneys but the increased urination is mostly caused by increased fluid intake.
MYTH: CAFFEINE IS ADDICTIVE
Caffeine is not addictive in and of itself--rather it's the morning ritual of drinking coffee that makes it seem addictive. Nevertheless, caffeine is a drug which, when taken in large amounts and then stopped, can cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and irritability.
Hormones are the body's chemicals in regulating many of its functions (i.e., muscle repair, growth, recovery). If you decide to try one of the latest extreme diets hyped by the media, your hormones will pay the price. For example, many of the growth-supporting hormones will plummet, causing a loss of muscle mass. This is the insidious part of dieting: you'll lose body weight but most of the weight will most likely be from muscle loss rather than bodyfat. In essence, you'll become a smaller but fatter person! Dieting is generally not a healthy way to lose weight as, in most cases, bodyweight is dropped too quickly, resulting in muscle loss (not fat loss). In addition, thyroid function decreases, testosterone levels drop, the immune system becomes compromised, and leptin levels become reduced. All of these hormonal effects have a negative impact on the body.
The thyroid hormone helps to regulate the amount of calories your body burns daily. It also impacts muscle growth by either speeding up or slowing down protein synthesis. Dieting will cause your thyroid hormone levels to decrease which slows down the calorie-burning process. In essence, your body will become less efficient at burning bodyfat as your metabolic rate decreases due to the reduction in caloric intake.
Testosterone declines when caloric intake decreases. Muscle growth is negatively affected when testosterone levels drop. If you want to hold on to your muscle mass, this is the worst situation to be in. In addition, the fat burning process is also reduced when testosterone levels decrease.
The immune system becomes impaired when over-dieting occurs. A weakened immune system will negatively affect your body's ability to hold on to muscle mass. Cortisol levels will increase due to the stress of a weakened immune system, causing catabolization or the tearing down of muscle tissue. Insulin resistance increases under these circumstances, increasing the likelihood that bodyfat will be stored rather than burned.
Leptin, a hormone which helps to regulate your body weight, declines when dieting occurs. The result: a craving for more food and therefore increased caloric intake and a decrease in metabolic rate, making it more difficult to shed bodyfat.
Instead of extreme dieting, consider the following instead:
- Reduce carbs gradually by no more than 30% of your caloric intake
- Continue to eat simple sugars to help regulate insulin levels
- Eat less carbs on non-training days
- Restrict cardio as too much can negatively affect hormone levels
- Have a cheat meal once per week
Bottom line: Moderate dieting over a longer period of time is a much better approach to losing bodyfat rather than severe dieting over a shorter period of time. Consistency and moderation is the key!
High protein intake is harmful to your kidneys.
There is no conclusive evidence that this is the case. The usual recommendation is to eat your target body weight in grams of protein daily. For example, if you're 180-lbs but want to be 200-lbs, eat 200 grams of protein daily.
Sweet potatoes are better for you than white potatoes.
The reality is that both types of potatoes have complimentary nutritional differences but one is not necessarily better than the other. For instance, sweet potatoes have more fiber and vitamin A, but white potatoes are higher in iron, magnesium and potassium.
Red meat causes cancer.
No study has shown a direct cause-and-effect relationship between red-meat consumption and cancer. How the meat is cooked is really what is at issue here: overcooking meat under high heat tends to increase the release of carcinogenic compounds which increases cancer risk.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is more fattening than regular sugar.
Both HFCS and sucrose, or table sugar, contain comparable amounts of fructose. At issue here is not necessarily HFCS but fructose in general. Consuming either HFCS or sucrose will cause weight gain, in the form of fat, when consumed in excess.
Salt causes high blood pressure and should be avoided.
If you have a healthy blood pressure of less than 120/80, there is no need to restrict salt intake. On the other hand, if your blood pressure exceeds the aforementioned amount, it may be wise to cut down on your salt intake and increase your potassium intake. The reality here is not so much how much salt or potassium you eat, but rather the balance between the two minerals that matters most. Hence, if you eat a high-salt diet but very little in the way of potassium, then you should lessen the imbalance between the two minerals by either eating less salt or taking in more potassium. Good potassium sources include spinach, broccoli, bananas, white potatoes, and beans.
If you want to get the most bang for your buck, stick with mostly free weight, compound (multi-joint) movements in order to efficiently gain muscle mass.
Here are the best exercises you can do (in no particular order) for your muscles in the gym to develop and gain quality mass on your frame:
- Barbell Curls (biceps)
- Dumbbell Bench Press (pecs)
- Dumbbell Overhead Press (delts)
- Dips (triceps)
- Barbell Front Squats (quads)
- Stiff-Leg Barbell Deadlifts (hams)
- Standing Calf Raises (gastrocs)
- Wide-Grip Long Bar Pulldowns (lats)
- Crunches (abs)
- Lunges (glutes)
- Forearms (wrist roller)
The best overall muscle-building and fat-burning exercise ever:
- Barbell Back Squats (innervates the most muscles of the body and stimulates the most growth hormone release)
The answer is simple although the people who use these machines probably are not aware of why they use them. The reason people tend to opt for the elliptical machine rather than most other machines is because it's very easy on the joints and does not require much resistance to move the body. In other words, the elliptical machine is the easiest cardio activity to do. Because it is easy, people naturally want to use it rather than to try a machine that might take them out of their comfort zone.
The elliptical machine can be very useful for older adults or those with arthritis, but for most people it's not a very efficient tool to burn calories. The winner in the caloric expenditure department goes to the treadmill, followed by (from highest to lowest caloric expenditure) the stairstepper (stepmill), the rowing machine, the upright bike, and finally the recombinant bike.
The reality is that, in general, the elliptical machine does not elevate the heart rate nor does it burn bodyfat adequately. This is due to the fact that movement on these machines relies primarily on momentum rather than resistance. Momentum is simply the product of a body's mass and its velocity. Just as in weight training, if you move the joints quickly (increasing velocity), momentum increases while resistance decreases. The net result is essentially less real work being done since less force (resistance) is exerted. Now you know why people like to move quickly on the elliptical machines: it makes the exercise easier!
No matter which machine you choose, be sure not to lean most of your bodyweight on the hand rails for support. These railings are designed for your balance, not for support. By leaning predominantly on these railings, you'll reduce your caloric expenditure because your lower body will not be working as hard as it should. Straighten your posture by pulling your shoulders back and looking straight ahead. Rest your hands lightly on the rails to get an optimum workout. If you still cannot resist leaning heavily on the rails, you need to reduce the intensity on the machine--you're pushing way too hard. On the other hand, if you can read a book or comfortably breathe through your nose while doing cardio, your intensity level is way too low. Step up the intensity!
Bottom line: if you want to burn serious calories, you have to work hard to do it--sorry, working out on the elliptical machine does not qualify, in most cases, as hard work. Get out of your comfort zone and hit the treadmill, stairstepper or rower instead.
The benefits of massage far outweigh any risks involved. One should not think of massage as merely an indulgence. Getting regular massages is a smart complement to weight training as it facilitates the recovery process and helps to maintain joint and muscle flexibility.
A recent study has found that post-exercise massage decreases inflammation and could enhance muscle growth. The decrease in muscle soreness that occurs after a massage is indicative of massage having an effect in reducing inflammation. There is also evidence that massage may boost mitochondrial activity within muscle cells. The mitochondria are the energy factories within cells. Healthy muscle cells contain more mitochondria in order to allow more oxygen to be utilized for needed energy. Thus, massage is beneficial for muscle recovery (by reducing inflammation) and muscle growth (via increased mitochondrial activity).
Here are more of the benefits of massage therapy:
- Improves sport performance
- Reduces muscle stiffness and increases flexibility by loosening bound fascia (i.e., adhesions caused by scar tissue)
- Improves relaxation
- Reduces blood pressure
- Increases joint range of motion
- Improves blood flow
- Reduces heart rate
- Reduces cortisol levels (a hormone which responds to increased stress)
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves mood
- Increases blood circulation which enhances muscle nourishment and waste produce removal into the lymphatic system
- Reduces muscle ache
- Strengthens the immune system by flushing toxins into the lymphatic system
- Improves skin health by increasing suppleness and regulating oil production
- Speeds healing from surgery and reduces scar tissue appearance
What's not to like about massages. My advice: seriously consider getting yourself regular massages for better health!
Because yoga incorporates stretches it has been found to be quite healthy for the body and for the back in particular. For instance, yoga can reduce back pain symptoms and improve functionality. The benefits of yoga are largely attributed to the physical benefits of stretching and strengthening muscles.
Here are just some of the possible benefits of yoga:
- Promotes relaxation
- Reduces stress
- Improves balance
- Improves posture
- improves muscle tone
- Improves coordination
- Builds strength
- Improves body awareness
- Burns calories (esp. power yoga)
- Reduces body weight
- Improves breathing pattern
- Reduces blood pressure
- Reduces blood glucose levels
- Reduces cholesterol levels
- Boosts endorphin release (endorphins are chemicals which make you feel good)
- Relieves depression
- Improves sex life (e.g., cobra pose increases blood flow to the pelvis, potentially enhancing sexual function)
- Enhances sleep quality
- Boosts energy levels
- Improves concentration and ability to focus
- Increases endurance
- Increases flexibility
- Raises testosterone levels which raises libido (and yes, once again helping to improve one's sex life)
- Decreases cortisol (a stress hormone)
The following are some recommendations that you should follow if your fitness goal entails decreasing your bodyfat level:
- Perform your cardio workout in the morning before breakfast
- Perform cardio intervals for 20 minutes at an intensity level between 60 and 75% of your heart rate reserve (HRR)
- Perform high intensity interval training (HIIT) for 10 minutes at an intensity level between 75 and 85% of your HRR
- Perform weight training movements at a relatively slow pace, particularly the eccentric movement when the muscle is stretched
- Listen to uptempo music to keep you motivated
- Perform cardio immediately after your weight training
- Eat breakfast
- Eat a light snack before bedtime
- Reduce your alcohol consumption if you drink
- Eat more frequently daily (e.g., six or more meals)
- Eat less than 600 kcals per meal
- Walk more often
- Bike to work
- Squat heavy
- Eat less sugar
- Jump rope for 10 mins
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Perform push-ups every morning
- Perform pull-ups
- Keep junk food out of your house
- Avoid processed foods
- Chew s-l-o-w-l-y
- Shorten your rest periods between sets while lifting
- Eat a cheat meal at least once per week
- Eat fish more often and/or take fish oil capsules
- Avoid staying up late at night
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night
- Lift heavy weights for less repetitions (e.g., 6 to 12 reps)
- Decrease your rest period duration between sets (e.g., less than 90s)
- Drink less fruit juice and eat more fruits instead
- Drink more water
- Eat more protein
- Eat less pasta and rice
- Drink green tea and/or coffee
- Eat more than 1200 kcals daily
- When dieting, don't reduce your caloric intake by more than 250 kcals daily
- Eat almonds, yogurt, grapefruit, avocados, whole grains, and spicy foods
- Reduce your soda intake
- Increase healthy unsaturated fats to your diet (e.g., nuts, seeds, avocados. olive oil)
- Eat whole grains for breakfast (e.g., oatmeal, cereals) as well as some protein (e.g., yogurt)
- Eat plenty of beans