What Does It Mean to “Boost Your Metabolism”?

If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve probably come across foods and supplements that claim to “boost your metabolism.” But what does this actually mean, and is it even possible?

Simply put, “metabolism” refers to the process of converting food or drink into energy for your body to use. Meanwhile, the speed at which your body utilizes energy (i.e., calories) is known as your metabolic rate.

Your body utilizes energy in a few different ways. At a very basic level, your body needs energy for all the unseen processes that keep you alive and functioning. This is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR), and it accounts for a whopping 60–75% of your total daily caloric burn, according to a review in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Your BMR is influenced by several different variables, including age, sex, body composition and even organ weight. One study found organ weight accounts for as much as 43% of the differences between individual BMR’s. Your body also uses roughly 10% of your daily calories to digest your food, as well as 15–30% to fuel physical activity.

“Your body is always burning calories,” says Lyssie Lakatos, RDN and co-founder of Nutrition Twins. Anything that increases this burn can be considered a metabolism booster.

While your metabolism is constantly humming along, there are a number of ways you can manipulate your diet and exercise to speed things up a bit. Just keep in mind that none of these tactics are quick fixes or major dial-movers. That said, you might see small effects. And if you employ these strategies consistently, you’ll see even greater effects. “It’s small amounts, but it all adds up,” Lakatos says.

One of the best ways to boost your metabolism is to add strength training to your routine. Granted, you probably won’t burn as many calories during a strength training session as you might going for a run or a bike ride, but the benefits for your metabolism last well beyond your workout. How? Through the muscle you build.

“Muscle mass burns more calories, even while you sleep,” says nutritionist Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, the other half of Nutrition Twins.

If you’re new to strength training, start with two days per week and work every muscle group. This is the minimum recommended to stay healthy by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

If you don’t mind sweating, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be a great way to speed up your metabolism, Lakatos says.

Similar to strength training, the metabolism-boosting effects of HIIT may not be immediately apparent. In fact, you’ll likely burn more calories during longer, steady-state cardio, though that may depend on how long your HIIT session lasts. However, you’ll continue burning more calories up to 48 hours after performing HIIT than you will after your steady-state cardio workout.

The reason: It takes more time and energy for your body to cool down after higher-intensity exercise than following moderate- or lower-intensity exercise. As a result, your body will use more energy (read: calories) while it returns to a resting state. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the “afterburn effect.”

If you needed one more reason to get some shut-eye, consider this: Skimping on sleep prompts your body to store fat and slow your metabolism, Lakatos Shames says. More specifically, sleep deprivation throws your hormones out of whack, causing ghrelin (aka the hunger hormone) levels to go up and leptin (the satiety hormone) levels to go down.

In addition to messing with your hormones, sleep deprivation will likely make you less motivated to exercise or make other healthy choices, which can slow your metabolism. So aim to get 7–9 hours of sleep per night to maintain health and keep your metabolism humming along.

Ask the Dietitian: How Do You Combat a Slowing Metabolism?

Metabolism is what influences your body’s basic resting rate energy needs. But when it comes to weight loss, the main factors for success include how many calories you consume and your physical activity levels. Even at rest, your body burns energy to maintain internal functions (i.e., blood circulation, muscle repair, cell generation and repair, balancing hormones, etc.) The number of calories your body needs to carry out these internal basic functions is your metabolism, also called your basal metabolic rate — and it’s not something you can control.

Here, a look at how the body burns energy, how metabolism changes as you age and what you can do to prevent weight gain later in life:

There are three main ways the body burns energy:

Basal metabolism (see above)
Thermic Effect of Food (energy used to break down food)
Energy used in physical activity
Basal metabolism accounts for about 60–80% of our ability to burn calories in a day. Energy used to breakdown food accounts for about 10%, and physical activity accounts for anywhere from 10–30% (30% being limited to extreme athletes).

While basal metabolism doesn’t slow down with age, many people become less physically active. It’s also common to lose lean muscle mass and correspondingly replace it with fat as you age. The lean muscle mass of a typical young adult makes up about 50% of total body weight, which drops to about 25% of total body weight between 75–80 years old. It takes more energy (meaning more calorie burn) to maintain muscle than it does fat. That’s because less muscle corresponds to slower metabolism.

Still, metabolism is different for every individual, and science cannot exactly explain why your best friend can eat larger portions and not gain weight while you track your meals more closely and work out daily.

While everyone is different, there are still universal tips that can help prevent weight gain and a declining metabolism as you age:

Be more physically active. Try to work in more activity daily, whether it’s taking the stairs, getting up every hour to go for a brief walk or trying a new workout class.
Focus on building muscle with strength-training workouts. Muscle tissue burns more energy than fat tissue when the body is at rest. People who have built up more lean muscle tissue have higher resting metabolic rates than those with more fat tissue.
Don’t follow fad diets. Dieting and extreme weight loss (and the yo-yoing that often occurs) actually causes a downregulation in metabolic rates. That’s because when you lose weight, you not only decrease your fat mass, but also your muscle mass. While cutting calories is OK — especially if weight loss is the goal — keep in mind it’s also important to continue to build muscle mass and maintain physical activity.
Find healthy lifestyle habits you can keep up over long periods of time. For example, track what you eat and regularly record what you weigh. Research from the National Weight Control Registry found people who are most successful in losing weight and keeping it off weigh themselves regularly, count calories and exercise regularly.
Know what motivates you. Set SMART goals and surround yourself with people who are like-minded and supportive.
Listen to your hunger signals. Practice mindful eating so you don’t consume excess calories when you might be bored or stressed.

Add These Metabolism-Boosting Foods to Your Diet

If you want to lose weight, gain weight or even just maintain weight, you probably know calories in versus calories out is the key to success. However, the total amount of calories you burn comes less from exercise and more from your metabolism — the process of converting calories into energy — that occurs naturally throughout the day.

The calories you use when breathing, digesting and generally being alive are known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Increase your BMR, and you’ll increase your daily calorie burn.

That brings us to thermogenesis, which is just a big word for the metabolic process in which your body produces heat (or energy) by burning calories. Think of thermogenesis like your internal furnace. You crank up that furnace during exercise, digestion and due to environmental factors, like shivering when it’s cold outside.

According to the Nutrition & Metabolism journal, diet-induced thermogenesis accounts for 5–15% of your daily calorie burn. So, can you increase your metabolism by eating certain foods? Good question. To find out, we asked Amy Goodson, MS, RDN.

“No food boosts your metabolism long term,” says Goodson, “but some foods can help give you a little pep in your step after eating.” To see how eating and drinking can affect your metabolism, she recommends adding these four foods to your diet.


“Protein takes more energy to breakdown, so consuming adequate protein at all meals and snacks can help increase the metabolic burn or thermic effect of food after a meal,” says Goodson. “Basically, it takes more energy to digest high-protein foods,” she adds. To take advantage of this effect, be sure to consume plenty of protein, whether from animal or plant sources. Good options include chicken, lean beef, eggs, legumes and pulses.

If you like heat, your metabolism is in luck. “Capsaicin is a chemical found in peppers that may play a slight role in boosting metabolism,” says Goodson. She points to research suggesting that consuming 135–150 milligrams of capsaicin might result in burning an extra 50 calories each day. That might not sound like much, but do a little math, and that accounts for about 5 pounds per year.

“Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and thus can help you burn more calories and possibly burn more fat,” says Goodson. One study showed coffee can increase your metabolic rate by up to 11%, while another study found people who consume 270 milligrams of caffeine daily can burn an extra 100 calories.

Goodson stresses caffeine affects every person differently, and caffeine-sensitive people should be careful not to overdo it. The 270 grams mentioned above is equivalent to about three cups of coffee, which may be too much for some people.

“The caffeine in tea has also been shown to help boost metabolism a small amount,” says Goodson. Studies show oolong tea may increase your body’s energy expenditure by as much as 10% over a 2-hour period, and that tea may also be effective in increasing fat oxidation.

Eating specific foods isn’t the only way to ignite your internal furnace. Goodson mentions that high-intensity exercise is also an effective metabolism booster.

“We know that metabolism is significantly increased after interval-type training, and [that it] stays elevated a little bit longer than after steady-state activity,” she says. So, to keep your metabolism burning hot, supplement your healthy diet with plenty of vigorous exercise.

8 Bad Habits That Kill Your Metabolism

You may already suspect your metabolism slows as you age. According to research published in the Public Health Nutrition journal, you’re right. In a review of data on energy expenditure, researchers found simply getting older is associated with progressive declines in basal metabolic rate. On top of that, there are many daily habits that can drain your metabolism even further.

But you don’t have to go down without a fight. Cut out the below habits and watch your metabolism and energy levels improve.

Eating a nutritious breakfast is always a good way to start your morning. Because your metabolism slows down during sleep, eating can fire it up and help you burn more calories throughout the day. According to Rush University Medical Center, “When you eat breakfast, you’re telling your body that there are plenty of calories to be had for the day. When you skip breakfast, the message your body gets is that it needs to conserve rather than burn any incoming calories.”

OK, so it’s about more than just eating something in the morning. If you grab a sugary donut or eat a muffin in the car, you’re setting yourself up to crash later. Instead, choose something with filling protein and fiber like eggs, yogurt and berries or whole-wheat toast topped with peanut butter.

Going from your office chair to your car to your couch can lead to a very sedentary routine. And sitting for extended periods puts your body into energy-conservation mode, which means your metabolism can suffer. According to the UK’s National Health Service, “Sitting for long periods is thought to slow metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat.”

Cardio is great, and it can quickly burn calories, but once you’re done running or cycling, your calorie burn quickly returns to normal. When you do HIIT and resistance-based workouts, however, your calorie burn stays elevated for longer as your muscles repair themselves. Per the American Council on Exercise (ACE): “Strength training is a key component of metabolism because it is directly linked to muscle mass. The more active muscle tissue you have, the higher your metabolic rate.” And, according to ACE, a pound of muscle burns an additional 4–6 calories each day compared to a pound of fat.

Protein feeds your muscles, promotes satiety and is an important component to sustaining a healthy weight. Eat too little, and you may have trouble building or maintaining muscle mass — and per the above, we know muscle’s importance to metabolism. Also, protein requires more energy to break down than carbs or fat, so you’ll actually burn more calories during digestion.

One bad night’s sleep is enough to leave you feeling sluggish and impair your cognitive processing. String together several nights in a row — or a lifetime of inadequate sleep — and science shows decreased metabolism and hormonal imbalances may follow.

In a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers found drinking 500 milliliters of water (about 2 cups) increases metabolic rate by 30%, and that spike lasts for more than an hour. So, drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated, and you’ll get the added benefit of a boosted metabolism.

When stress levels increase, your body produces a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol leads to increased appetite, makes us crave comfort foods, decreases our desire to exercise and reduces sleep quality — all things that negatively impact metabolism. So, while you can’t always control your stress levels, managing stress can go a long way toward protecting your body’s internal fire.

Doctors Give Advice on Working Out While Sick

When your nose begins to run, your throat hurts and coughing starts, you immediately move into “get healthy” mode. Maybe you drink tea or orange juice, keep tissues nearby, get extra sleep and perhaps pop a couple of pills. But feeling sick doesn’t necessarily mean you should forego all physical activity.

Below medical doctors provide tips on working out when you don’t feel your best and offer precautionary measures you can take to stave off illness.

You can still work out when you have a cold. In fact, movement can actually benefit your body. If your symptoms are above-the-neck (e.g., runny nose, headache, sneezing, etc.) it’s OK to train as long as you stay hydrated and listen to your body. According to Dr. Cedrina L. Calder, “Exercise can help open up your airways and help with congestion.” She notes that you need to decrease the intensity of your workouts until you feel better, as strenuous exercise can worsen your symptoms.

“It’s generally fine for a person to work out if it’s a viral upper respiratory infection,” says Dr. John Cheng of South Coast Medical Group. Remember to listen to your body: You should always stop if your symptoms worsen in any way.

Dr. Cheng says when a person has a fever that cannot reduce to normal temperatures, you are at risk of dehydration and overheating.

If you’ haven’t kept liquids or food down for the past 24 hours, “that’s a pretty good sign athletic performance should wait,” says Dr. Kevin Tolliver of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Although athletes like to work out through the pain, according to Dr. Calder, you should stop exercising and wait to get better if you experience any of the following:

Trouble breathing
Muscle aches
Stomach pain
Dr. Chirag Shah, co-founder of Accesa Labs, says to take a day when you have a cold to focus on neglected aspects of your workout, such as stretching and foam rolling, which can build a foundation for long-term gains when you get back to feeling well.

Dr. Arun R. Kaushik says starting your day with a morning workout can help make your body strong and agile as you battle sickness.

You clearly will not set any PRs during this time, so relax. Dr. Calder says you need to decrease the intensity of your workouts until you feel better, as strenuous exercise can exacerbate symptoms.

If weather permits, Dr. Calder advises exercising outdoors instead of the gym. The fresh air can also help with your congested airways. If you feel even a little sick, you should extend exercise courtesy and avoid working out in areas with lots of people. Definitely follow normal gym etiquette and wipe down machines and mats after use. When at the gym, “even if you are using gloves, remember to always wash your hands,” says Dr. Michele C. Reed.

During cold weather, people tend to not drink as much. This can lead to “dizziness, fatigue or dehydration,” says Dr. Reed. Proper hydration helps performance and has been known to aid the immune system.

Dr. Reed says to dress in layers that you can peel off at the gym as you warm up. Also, if you’re taking your workout outdoors, “don’t forget to cover your head because we lose a lot of heat from that part of the body,” she says.

4 Things to Know About Buying Canned Tuna

Canned tuna is a convenient and budget-friendly protein source, and having a stash in your pantry can be helpful when you want something quick or forgot to meal prep. However, not all cans of tuna are created equal. Some are packed in water, others in oil. Some are more sustainable. And of course, the flavor profile can vary, too. If you’ve ever been confused by what to look for on a canned tuna label, here’s what you need to know:

Albacore, or white tuna, is low-fat and has a mild flavor. Skipjack, on the other hand, is higher in fat and has a fishier flavor. While albacore is more popular, it has nearly three times more mercury compared to skipjack, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). This isn’t really a concern for adults who eat canned tuna only a few times a month, but anyone who eats it regularly is better off choosing skipjack.

Wild-caught tuna is caught in its natural habitat, whereas farm-raised tuna is raised and caught in a controlled environment, like a tank. According to research, there’s not a black-and-white answer as to which is healthier. Farmed tuna tends to be higher in heart-healthy omega-3’s because it’s fed fortified food, whereas wild tuna tends to be lower in saturated fat. However, wild-caught tuna is more sustainable for the planet. This is because smaller fish need to be wild-caught to feed the farmed tuna, so overfishing still happens and is usually more damaging.

Simply put, pole-catching tuna means using a single fishing pole to hook a single fish. It’s the most ocean-friendly option because it’s the least invasive. Many large fishing companies use fish aggregating devices (FADs) to attract all kinds of fish to a boat, then use nets to pull all of these species out of the water. This is disruptive to the ecosystem, especially because any non-tuna generally won’t make it back into the ocean unharmed. While pole-catching takes more time and effort, it’s significantly less harmful to the environment.

Water-packed tuna means the tuna is stored in water, so it’s a lower fat, lower calorie option. A 1/2-cup (75g) serving of tuna in water contains 66 calories and less than 1 gram of fat. Water-packed tuna tends to be drier if you eat it on its own, which is why it can be a good option if you’re planning to dress your tuna with heart-healthy olive oil or protein-rich Greek yogurt.

A 1/2-cup (75g) serving of oil-packed tuna contains 145 calories and 6 grams of fat. The oil helps lock in the flavor so you get a heartier taste and more moist fish compared to water-packed tuna. It’s a good idea to look for olive-oil packed tuna rather than soybean or vegetable oil, since it’s higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. It’s a good option for salads — just be mindful of extra dressing — or eating on its own as a snack with whole-wheat crackers.

In both cases, if you’re watching your sodium intake, make sure to look for “no-salt added” or “low-sodium” options.

If you’re concerned about sustainability, opt for pole-caught tuna. While albacore (white tuna) has slightly higher mercury levels than skipjack (chunk light tuna), it also has a milder, less fishy flavor many people prefer, so just be mindful about how often you consume canned tuna. Finally, when it comes to olive oil-packed or water-packed, both can be healthy choices, provided you keep sodium content in mind.

Meditation Helps Fight Colds and Flu, According to Science

No one likes being sick. Washing your hands, getting enough sleep, exercising and taking vitamin C can help prevent the common cold, flu and pneumonia. Meditation may also boost your immunity and keep you from getting sick.

Research published in PLOS One followed 413 participants to determine whether meditation could help reduce the chance of being diagnosed with the flu. Those who participated in an eight-week, mindfulness-based, stress-reduction program reduced the incidence of getting the flu (and the frequency and severity of symptoms among those who were diagnosed with influenza) up to 25% compared to the control group. Exercisers experienced similar benefits.

While the impact of meditation on immunity is clear — research has linked it to lower concentrations of C-reactive protein that triggers inflammation and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol — researcher Dr. Bruce Barrett, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison admits how it works is unclear.

“Meditation doesn’t seem to reduce the production of antibodies [that cause the flu] but it might change the stress-based inflammatory response,” Barrett says. “Reducing your stress levels enhances your general health and increases your ability to not get sick if you are exposed to viruses.”

A 2018 study suggests yoga and meditation help decrease levels of dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), a hormone that helps enhance the immune system; additional research found mindfulness meditation reduced the production of cytokines, molecules that regulate the immune system, which helped the body cope with stressors, including viruses.

Meditation might even be more effective than the flu shot. During the 2018-19 flu season, vaccine effectiveness was estimated to be 46%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Barrett notes that the vaccine has no impact on other illnesses, including the common cold, making meditation an even more appealing option to ward off sickness.

“Meditation might be more effective than the flu shot but it’s also a lot more work,” he says. “You don’t just roll up your sleeve and get a shot, you have to make time to practice [meditation].”

A regular meditation practice could pay off.

One study found a positive mood could make the flu vaccine more effective. Researcher Kieran Ayling, PhD, senior research fellow at the University of Notthingham, looked at studies measuring the effectiveness of participating in mindfulness meditation, expressive writing and cognitive behavioral therapy and found modest evidence that all helped enhance the response to vaccines.

“One explanation is that those people who report being in a more positive mood are also more likely to have healthier lifestyles and better health more generally, both of which, in turn, are related to better responses to vaccination,” he says. “Another explanation is that the biological effects of experiencing positive mood could impact the immune environment in such a way that improves how robustly the body responds to the vaccine … but this continues to be an active area of research.”

While Ayling believes the research is too new to make recommendations about meditating before receiving a vaccine, he admits the practice has no adverse effects and, if it makes you happy, you should consider it.

Vaccine effects aside, Barrett believes both meditation and exercise are important for health, and says, “Both improve health and prevent acute illnesses; there are associations with viruses like colds and the flu, depression, anxiety, insomnia, heart disease and chronic pain and we should consider them part of a healthy lifestyle.”

The Problem with Cheat Days

As a registered dietitian, I shudder when I hear the term “cheat day.” Not because I’m thinking of people shoving donuts and cheeseburgers in their mouths left and right, but because it’s a term rooted in diet culture that firmly places food in “good” or “bad” camps.

Here’s why associating morality with our food choices can trigger unhealthy eating behaviors and how to ditch the cheat day and focus on more helpful, positive eating strategies.

Categorizing foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, sets us up for moral highs and lows that should never be associated with eating. Whenever I have a client who confesses to being “bad” or “cheating” on their diet, often associated with a feeling of guilt, one of the first things we work on is food neutrality. Putting all foods on a neutral playing field — that’s right, cookies and kale in the same category — can help free up a lot of the brain space used worrying about eating or not eating certain foods. It also helps take away the all-or-nothing thinking that often causes people to overeat or binge when having a meal or day deemed as “cheating.”

Overeating or bingeing on a cheat day or meal not only results in excess calorie intake, but is often followed by feelings of guilt and shame that typically lead to another period of rigid dietary restriction. A recent study looking at common factors in those engaging in cheat meals and those with eating disorders, such as binge eating, found precipitating factors of both behaviors to be consistent — psychological and physical food cravings.

These two factors often occur after periods of strict dietary restriction, which is a symptom of binge eating disorder and normative behavior in diet culture that is so prevalent today. Although dietary restricting and cheat days are socially acceptable behaviors in today’s society, the study associated symptomology to that of eating disorders. I can back this up with my own clinical experience over the years and confidently surmise that if disordered eating is not already present in those with regular cheat days, it is often a gateway to more disordered eating behaviors.

As a dietitian who often works with clients on healing their relationships with food and their bodies, a common step is to eschew the cheat day. Not only can this help you start to have a more food-neutral mindset, but it can help take away the guilt often associated with cheat days or meals and the yo-yo diet cycle that might follow.

Instead of cheat meals or a cheat day, try these three strategies, which can help foster a positive relationship with food:

1. Eat your favorite treat when it makes sense.

Make it a point to enjoy a food you’d typically have only on a “cheat day” on any random day. Since many people plan cheat days on a weekend, this could be having a cupcake or a burger and fries on a Tuesday, for example. By easing into the mindset these foods are available to you at all times, and that it’s more than OK to eat them when you choose, the power they have over you can greatly decrease. This often results in less overeating, less guilt and a naturally balanced diet.

2. Honor your cravings.

Instead of feeling like you’re “giving in” to food cravings and ruining an arbitrary diet (remember, this can cause guilt, shame and bingeing), honor them. Our bodies have a unique and specialized way of telling us what we need, we just have to be better listeners. For example, if you’re out at a restaurant and are really craving a burger, but order a salad instead, chances are it’s not going to be the most satisfying. Cue persistent thoughts about food, low-level hunger and crankiness until you eat something else. Honoring the burger craving and taking the time to eat mindfully and really savor it, can lead to much greater satisfaction after the meal and free up a good amount of brain space to think about more important things than food.

3. Think nourishment.

Nourishment is one of my favorite words to use with clients because it encompasses how we take care of ourselves both physically and emotionally. When it comes to food, this means that sometimes, the most nourishing choice we can make is to add another serving of vegetables to our plate. Other times, we just really need a cookie. Both are OK and nourishing to the body, soul or both when we need them. What is going to be nourishing to you one day may be different the next, so being mindful and open to what you need to best take care of yourself is an invaluable tool.

It’s important to cultivate a positive relationship with food that doesn’t involve guilt, and ditching cheat days is a helpful first step. If you’re struggling to get out of a restrictive diet culture mindset, consider working with a registered dietitian who takes a “non-diet” approach and believes no food or food group should be off-limits.

Why Is it so Hard to Lose Weight?

A new study found dieters who reported wanting to lose weight saw the needle on the scale move in the wrong direction, leading researchers to ask the question: Why are dieters struggling to shed pounds and maintain weight loss? Here, a look at the research, why weight loss wasn’t achieved and how to make shedding pounds easy and sustainable.

Research published in JAMA: Diabetes and Endocrinology followed 48,026 participants for almost two decades and found that despite an increase in the percentage of adults attempting to lose weight (from 32.3 to 42.2%), the mean weight increased from 176 pounds to 184 pounds during the same time period. Translation: Weight-loss efforts are failing.
“The data suggests current weight-loss attempts and strategies may not actually promote weight loss,” explains study co-author Dr. Lu Qi, MD, PhD, director of the Tulane University Obesity Research Center.
The most common strategies participants reported for losing weight included consuming fewer calories, drinking more water and engaging in more exercise, which are all tried-and-true strategies for shedding pounds. The problem, Qi believes, is less about specific weight-loss strategies and more about sticking with them.
“[The data provided] no information about whether people strictly follow the reported attempts and strategies or for how long,” says Qi. “In addition to addressing the benefits of weight loss and the risks of obesity, it is also essential to emphasize the importance of adherence.”
In other words, successful weight loss requires a long-term commitment. “Weight loss is so challenging because people want quick fixes and aren’t ready to stick to something long enough to see results,” says Chelsea Cross, RD. Instead, aiming for consistency over perfection can help you stay motivated. “If you find that you didn’t hit your calorie goal one day or were too busy to work out, instead of getting frustrated and giving up, just get back on track the next day,” says Cross. This mindset sets you up for long-term success.
“Oftentimes, people lose sight of the simplicity of weight loss and get lost in all of the new fad diets … and that can be a roadblock to weight loss because they end up trying something that’s not sustainable, fall away from it and then regain weight and get frustrated,” says Cross.

Rather than going on a restrictive diet, Cross suggests setting realistic goals and eating balanced meals that incorporate all of the food groups, including carbohydrates, fat and fiber, to help reduce cravings and make weight loss sustainable long-term. Think of it as a lifestyle change, not a diet.

Essential Guide to Protein

Protein is necessary for many things. Whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, recover from a tough workout, feel more satiated at mealtime or simply maintain good health, it’s important to get adequate amounts of healthy protein.

Protein is a crucial component of every cell in our bodies. It’s used to build and repair tissues (like skeletal muscle, bone, hair, fingernails, cartilage, skin and blood), as well as make enzymes and hormones that help regulate metabolism, growth and many other things. Like carbohydrates and fat, protein also provides energy, but because it has so many other important functions and can’t be stored, the body relies first on carbohydrates and fat for energy.

But just like carbs and fat, excess protein gets converted and stored as fat.

Protein gets digested into amino acids that are absorbed by the small intestine and distributed throughout the body. Cells take what they need and rearrange amino acids to make new proteins or repair older ones. Because the body doesn’t store protein, any excess amino acids are either converted into glucose and subsequently glycogen to use as energy if the body is short on carbohydrates, or converted into fatty acids and stored as fat. Getting enough protein is important so the body can perform these functions on a daily basis. But just like carbs and fat, excess protein gets converted into fat and stored as fat.

Protein is found in a variety of foods: most notably meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and even grains. From a dietary perspective, meats, poultry, fish, eggs and soybeans are complete proteins — that is, they provide all of the amino acids required by our body. Other protein sources like legumes, some nuts and seeds, grains and leafy greens, don’t provide adequate amounts of the essential amino acids by themselves but can when eaten in combination with other foods and as part of a balanced diet.

Our body changes every day as cells grow, divide and die — these processes depend on protein to supply vital building blocks to our cells. Because of this, you need to eat enough protein to maintain lean muscle mass and support other important body functions.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) predicts how much protein you should eat on a daily basis to guard against lean muscle loss. The RDA for protein is 0.8 gram/kilogram of body weight, but this is a minimum for the average sedentary adult, aka the “weekend warrior.” MyFitnessPal calculates protein intake to be 20% of your daily calories, which is likely more than enough to maintain muscle mass.

Here’s how to calculate the minimum amount of protein you should be eating:

If you exercise regularly — particularly if you log 1 hour or more of moderate to vigorous exercise several days per week.

Most people can easily use real food, rather than protein powders and other supplements, to meet their protein needs. A sedentary woman weighing 127 pounds only needs a daily dose of about 46 grams of protein, which she can meet by eating 3 ounces of chicken breast, one large egg, a handful of almonds and a stick of string cheese.

Here’s a quick list of protein-rich foods, or check out our Definitive Guide to High-Protein Foods:

No matter how you meet your protein goals, these seven tips help you get the most out of protein:


Protein-rich foods don’t come cheap, but you can maximize your body’s ability to digest, absorb and use protein by distributing it evenly throughout meals and snacks. Just take the total grams of protein you need daily and divide it into the total number of meals and snacks you eat daily.


Having a high-protein snack soon after exercise (ideally before the one-hour mark) is best because this is when muscles are sensitive to nutrients they can use to repair and grow.


This is especially important when you’re refueling after aerobic exercise (like running) since protein is needed for muscle repair and carbs are needed to restock energy stores. Remember: Macros (carbs, fat and protein) like to work together.


Vegetarian or not, we can all benefit from eating more plant-based protein. In addition to being great sources of protein, foods like beans, peas, quinoa and lentils are rich in other nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals.


Meat eaters, look for lean cuts like pork and beef tenderloin. A general rule of thumb when shopping: Cuts that have round, chuck or loin in the name are usually lean.

Some cuts may take a bit longer to prepare (try marinating or braising), but if prepared right, they’re equally as delicious as fattier cuts. Since ground meats are typically high in fat, look for the leaner options, like 90/10 ground beef, which contains 90% lean meat and only 10% fat. If you’re a steak or burger-lover, limit red meat to once or twice per week since it’s high in saturated fat.


Skin aside, poultry is generally lean — but beware when buying ground chicken or turkey. Unless it says 100% ground turkey breast or chicken breast on the package, the meat has likely been ground up with the skin and fat, which means that turkey burger may not be any healthier than one made from ground beef.


If you enjoy fish, aim to eat 3–4 ounces of it twice a week. Frozen or fresh, fish can be a great source of protein. Some — like salmon — are rich in omega-3’s, a healthy, unsaturated fat.