Why Is A Rest Day Important for Exercise?

Why Is A Rest Day Important for Exercise?

Positively changing your body composition requires increasing Lean Body Mass. And in order to do that, you need to prioritize rest days during the week as much as you do working out. 

When you’re in the gym, your muscles are working hard and breaking down, preparing to rebuild and get stronger. That rebuilding phase is key, and it primarily happens in recovery. 

No, we’re not talking about just completing a shorter workout, we mean taking a rest day. Taking a full day off, or two, or three to let your muscles recover, recharge, and rebuild. Not only will your workouts improve, but your body composition will too.

A lot of people take training seriously—always giving it their all during intense workouts day after day—but fail to have the same sentiment towards recovery days. What they don’t realize is that muscle recovery is just as, if not more important than a sweat session alone. Why? Let’s dive in.

Means and Why it Matters

When you work out, you cause microscopic damage to your muscle cells. Because of the stress and fatigue your body is under during exercise, hormone and enzyme levels fluctuate, and inflammation increases. 

Those things might sound bad, but they’re not. In fact, they can lead to fat loss, an increased metabolism, increased strength, and muscle growth—but only if you properly recover. 

There are a few different types of recovery: immediate, short-term, and training recovery. Think of immediate recovery as the snippets of time between movements. For instance, when you’re on a jog, immediate recovery is the time between each stride. 

Short-term recovery can be thought of as the time between sets of exercises. For example, the rest periods between sprint intervals. 

Training recovery is the type you should care about most, and it’s the period of time between when one workout ends and the next begins. But, suggestions on how much time that should entail is widely varied.

Research has shown that rest time isn’t one size fits all—everyone’s body is different, and you should experiment with what feels right to you. For some people, 24 hours is the sweet spot. For others, it might take 48 or even 72 hours to feel fully recovered. It depends on your age, fitness level, exercise intensity, diet, sleep, and much more.

What happens during recovery?

In simplest terms, your body goes back to normal. But it’s a little more complicated than that. 

Think of homeostasis as your body’s resting rate or “normal”. Your body is always trying to return to homeostasis—keeping your core temperature regulated, blood pressure stable, and muscles nice and refreshed. During exercise, homeostasis is disturbed, meaning your body requires a period of rest to return to normal.

The process of homeostasis uses up a lot of energy, resulting in loads of calories burned. So not only is your body getting back to normal while you rest up, it’s catapulting you closer to your body composition goals. 

After exercise, there is an increase in “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” or EPOC. Essentially, our body uses up more oxygen during recovery than it does before or during exercise in an effort to replace all the oxygen used up while working out. This increase in oxygen use results in torched calories and happy muscles.

The most important part of recovery, and the one you’ll hear talked about most often, is the rebuilding of muscle. When you workout, and especially when you resistance train, tiny tears are made in your muscle fibers. In order for those tiny tears to turn into big gains, they need to repair themselves—growing even larger. This happens during—you guessed it—rest.

Beyond the basic physiological benefits, it can also help prevent injury resulting from overuse and assist in healing when injuries do happen. 

And let’s not forget what some time off can do for your mental health. Taking a few days or even a week to rest can help you find the motivation you need to reach your goals and give you back that surge of energy needed to lean out, get stronger, and keep getting better.

Let’s quickly summarize what rest and recovery can do for your body:

Torch caloriesBuild muscleRe-fuel musclesHelp prevent injuryImprove mental clarity and motivation

What Happens When You Don’t Rest?

So what happens when you don’t listen to your body and give it the time off it craves? 

Maybe you’re really close to your goals and are scared a rest day will set you back. Or maybe you don’t feel tired or sore and think that resting would be pointless. Whatever the reason, not taking time to recover (overtraining) can have some pretty serious consequences. 

Remember that inflammation we talked about earlier? When you don’t rest up, that inflammation never has time to heal, leading to potential injuries, a weakened immune system, and the potential for muscle mass loss.

Studies show that during periods of intense stress, like a really tough workout, the body’s immune system isn’t able to function fully. This means that your body will have a tougher time fighting off germs and viruses, and you might end up under a pile of tissues and cold medicines. The same studies have found that one of the best ways to prevent this is to—you guessed it—prioritize rest.

Another side effect of overtraining is burnout. Burnout is that feeling that anything (watching grass grow, cleaning out the closet) would be better than going to the gym. And it happens when you forget to take time for life outside of fitness. It happens when you don’t rest. 

Not to mention how moody overtraining can make you. Constantly being on the go and under intense physical stress can really take a toll on your mood. And nobody likes being around someone who’s worn out, sore, and grumpy. Take your rest days. 

Focus On Recovery: Here’s How

Everyone has different recovery needs. Some people find that going for a light cardio helps speed up their recovery, some prefer a massage, and others might opt for ice baths. There are lots of ways to exercise, and an equal amount of ways to recover.

But are all recovery techniques created equal? Let’s take a look.

Passive rest s simply taking time off and relaxing. With passive rest, you don’t actively try to recover—you simply let your body do its thing. Research shows that this type of recovery may be the best option for most people. Active recovery can be thought of as an easier workout than usual. If you’re an avid long-distance runner, active recovery may consist of a shorter run at a more leisurely pace. If you prefer to lift weights, you might opt for a 30-minute yoga session. Active recovery has been shown to be especially effective for runners, clearing out blood lactate faster than passive recovery. But like previously mentioned, this depends on personal factors and intensity. Hydration is important before, during, and after exercise. Water is recovery’s best friend because it helps flush toxins from the body and prevent dehydration, which can make soreness even worse. While there’s no official consensus on how much water you should drink daily, a good place to start is ½ your body weight in ounces. Ice baths and cold-water immersion therapy use the therapeutic effect of ice or cold water to help soothe sore muscles. Research has shown that cold-water immersion may reduce soreness and DOMS more effectively than passive rest. If you don’t have a cold-water immersion tank readily available, you may get similar relief by targeting sore areas with ice packs. Supplements such as amino acid drinks and protein shakes are garnering more and more popularity. Most people drink these intra- or post-workout, but new research has shown that consuming a high-quality protein shake pre-workout creates the largest increase of protein synthesis rates in recovery. In layman’s terms: drinking high-quality protein before a workout increases the amount of protein building (muscle repairing) that happens after a workout. If you’re considering trying other supplements, we suggest starting with the basics and then giving some of these a try.  Sleep is the ultimate recovery tool—blasting fat, building muscle, and improving your body composition. When you snooze, your body goes to work making major repairs and preparing you for another day of crushing your goals. If you’re trying to change your body composition, you need to get your sleep. 

Recovery Foods

Proper nutrition plays a vital role in helping you reach your body composition goals and it also helps recovery. If you want to speed up recovery and feel better faster, snack on these foods:

Chocolate milkTart cherry juiceHigh-Quality Whey protein (containing 6 grams of essential amino acids)

Focus On Recovery: Here’s How

Improving your body composition, by increasing Lean Body Mass and decreasing Body Fat Mass, requires more than just a few hours in the gym and sticking to a diet. If you want to look better, feel better, and perform better, you need to take rest days!

Incorporating rest days into your exercise program ensures your muscles have time to rebuild, your body can find its “normal,” injuries will be few and far between, and your body remains a fat-burning machine. 

Sweat a lot, move a lot, and rest a lot—you will be able to reach your fitness goals faster and your body will thank you.


Kaili Meyer is a health and travel writer based in the Midwest. If she’s not writing, you can find her cuddled up with a good book, in the gym, or on a plane headed somewhere warm. 

Clean Eating vs. If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM): What You Need to Know

Clean Eating vs. If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM):
What You Need to Know

There has been a lot of discussions both in the media and in doctors’ offices about the obesity epidemic this country is facing. While everyone has heard that diet and exercise is the way to fix this, there is an overwhelming number of diets to choose from. Is a meat based high protein diet better than plant-based? Do you need to go dairy-free or gluten-free? With the sheer number of options, people often jump from diet to diet when they don’t see continuous weight loss. The result? People to become frustrated over time as they don’t reach their health goals or struggle to stick to their program. 

One school of thought you may be familiar with touts that counting “calories in versus calories out” is the answer; indicating that it is energy balance and not the type of calorie that matters. However, it can be argued that not all calories are created equal. Every diet requires you to consume a balance of nutrients like protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, but there are different types of carbohydrates, fats, and even proteins that can make “the right” decision difficult. 

Two diets that bring the age-old question of quantity versus quality into the light are “Clean Eating” and “If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM).” Even though many people have been frustrated by past failures with diets, it is important not to give up! In this article, we are going to explain a bit more on what these two diets are, how they’re different from other diets, and how these diets impact body composition.

Body Composition: What Is It?

Body composition is more descriptive than overall weight because it reports what is really making up that body weight. Weight is comprised of lots of different components including protein, water, minerals, and fat. Combining all these components determines someone’s body composition.

When dividing the body into different components, usually the most focused upon is body fat. Clearly, there is cause to be concerned about fat mass, which is why fat loss is the selling point for many diets; however understanding the balance between lean mass, fat mass, and water is just as important when it comes to maintaining a healthy body composition. 

Diet is a crucial factor in maintaining a healthy, balanced body composition.

The Clean Eating Diet

Clean eating is less of a diet and more of a lifestyle. There are a few important points when it comes to clean eating, such as:

Eating more nutrient-dense whole foods and fewer processed foods or “refined” foodsFocusing on eating full, balanced meals and fewer snacks Eating more at home where people can control what goes into their meals Sleeping more at night and exercising regularly.

These points show that focusing on healthy eating habits and getting the right food groups places fewer restrictions on your diet, giving you some freedom; plus, there are also scientific studies to back up the claims. 

A study published in the British Medical Journal followed over 10,000 people and collected their dietary information. This list included more than 3,000 different foods and they were categorized by their degree of processing. 

What the researchers found was that ultra-processed foods were associated with dramatically higher cancer risk, specifically breast cancer. The researchers also attempted to adjust the results to account for sodium, lipid, and carbohydrates. However, no matter how they interpreted the data, processed foods led to higher chances of developing cancer.

Another research study looked at the impact of processed foods in pregnant women on the gestational weight gain and size of the baby. The research data was collected from St. Louis, MO and analyzed the links between the mother’s diet and the body composition of the baby. The researchers found that:

On average, more than 50 percent of the daily calories in these women came from processed foodsA 1 percent increase in the percentage of processed foods resulted in an additional 1.33 kg (close to 3 pounds) of weight gain during pregnancyThis same percentage increase led to a 0.62 percent increase in the body adiposity of the baby

This is important because excess gestational weight gain can lead to maternal hypertension, gestational diabetes, and possible pre-eclampsia. 

By eating clean and avoiding processed foods, people can improve their body composition and overall health. Many people have trouble eating clean because of the “convenience” factor. It is important to remember that foods can be both convenient and healthy. Just reach for foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and nuts before you succumb to junk food.

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition echoed this sentiment. Researchers studied a few dozen adults who increased their intake of fruits or vegetables. The researchers found that not only did this lead to decreased food intake (measured in energy) but it also led to a reduced waist circumference and weight loss. 

The Takeaways: Clean Eating

Clearly, clean eating not only leads to weight loss but improves body composition as well. By improving body composition, individuals can improve their overall health and reduce their chances of developing dangerous complications of obesity down the road. 

For people who embrace “clean eating,” they focus on a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and protein without getting caught up in counting the number of calories. This diet might be right for people who get frustrated by counting calories and would like an overall “big picture” to which they can adhere.

“If It Fits Your Macros”

Another diet that people may have heard about is the “If It Fits Your Macros” diet, also called IIFYM. For those who have trouble counting calories, the IIFYM diet could provide more structure. The macronutrients or “macros” include:


All of these components impact overall health and body composition in a different way. The diet isn’t “low carb”. Nor does it make specific recommendations like eating lots of healthy fats or whole grains. Instead of focusing on a “one-size fits all approach,” you calculate your macros to tailor the diet to your specific metabolic demands. Then, people are allowed to eat whatever foods they would like as long as it fits their individual macronutrients. 

An interesting research study included hundreds of thousands of people and, over a period of several years, swapped the percentages of their dietary macros. Then, they tracked their weight at follow-up visits. 

Some of their results showed that swapping fat for protein led to weight gain, swapping carbohydrates for protein led to weight gain, and diets with 14 percent protein were associated with less weight gain than diets with 20-25 percent protein.

While these individuals may have been building lean muscle mass with this increased protein intake, the results still show that diets with excess protein can cause someone to become overweight and obese. Too much of a good thing is possible. Everyone needs to ingest all macros in the right amounts, which can be different from person to person. Some people need more healthy fats or whole grains depending on their lifestyle. Swapping the amount of each macro that you eat on a regular basis impacts both lean muscle mass and fat mass.

Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition took a similar approach. In the study, participants around the age of 45 were randomly placed into two different energy-restricted diets which were either moderate in protein or high in carbohydrates. The individuals had their body composition measured at four months and then again at 12 months.

At the four month mark, the protein group had lost 22 percent more fat mass than the carbohydrate group, but the overall weight loss did not differ. At 12 months, the protein group had higher adherence to the study with a greater improvement in body composition, but weight loss still did not differ much. Finally, the protein diet provided an overall greater improvement in body composition along with a greater reduction in triglyceride levels and a more significant increase in HDL.

This study shows that, while either diet can help someone lose weight, each macro impacts body composition differently. Diets that have a significant amount of protein in them might not help someone lose more weight than a high carbohydrate diet, but it can help someone build more lean body mass. Importantly, it can also help someone lose fat mass and might be easier to adhere to.

Furthermore, strict one-size fits all diets often do not work because people cannot stick to them. In fact, for some people, indulging a little bit can actually help them stick to a diet while still remaining within their macros. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology highlighted that:

On occasion, indulging while on a diet can help someone regain their ability to self-regulatory their intakeIndulging can also help people maintain their motivation to stick to their dietThis also has a positive impact on their mood, which helps them stick to their goals

With this in mind, if people can indulge while still adhering to their macronutrients, it could help them stick to their diet. If they are able to adhere to their diet, they are more likely to attain their goals. The point of this is that the “right” diet for someone ultimately needs to be one with which they can stick to.

The goal of the IIFYM diet is to provide everyone with an individualized dietary structure that allows for more to hit the plate than just chicken and veggies. However, the IIFYM diet goes beyond basic calorie reduction or counting and acknowledges that every macro impacts body composition in a different way. 

With this in mind, the IIFYM diet provides everyone with a plan that is tailored for them and their goals. The IIFYM still asks people to count calories and to calculate and track their macros, but it provides comfort to those who like to have structure and also allows them to eat foods that they like.

Adhering to a Diet

There are many different diets that people have heard about and everyone talks about finding the “right” one. Ultimately, many people become frustrated because they have trouble sticking to a diet or feel like they aren’t seeing results. For this reason, the “right” diet is the one that you can stick to.

Clean eating and IIFYM diets each have their merits and can be successful for different people. But remember, a diet can be successful even if people aren’t losing weight. The goal isn’t just to lose weight but to reach a healthy balance of fat mass and lean body mass. It is vital to focus on body composition as a marker of overall health instead of just the number on the scale. If the weight stays the same but there is body fat loss and lean body mass gain, this should still be viewed as progress. 

A diet will not work if people are not fully invested and if the individual does not feel like they can stick to the eating plan. In the end, remember that diet is a slow but proven process and the approach to improving body composition needs to be well-rounded and easy to maintain. Aim to discuss your dietary plans with a nutrition professional to ensure that you are losing weight in a healthy manner and choosing the diet that works best for you.


David Randolph graduated from medical school at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He is currently completing his Residency in Pediatrics at the University of South Carolina.


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5 Ways Sitting All Day Wrecks Your Body Composition

5 Ways Sitting All Day Wrecks Your Body Composition

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on October 14, 2018, for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on August 5, 2016.

Think about how long you sit in a day. It’s probably something you have never tracked, but on average Americans spend more than half their waking hours sitting! Between sitting in traffic, attending class or work, or relaxing on the sofa the number of hours you spend sitting can add up quickly. Even if you exercise three times a week, you may still suffer from a sedentary lifestyle because its hard to counteract the total number of hours that you sit in a week. Why does this matter? How much harm can sitting most of the day actually do to your health? Quite a lot actually. According to recent studies, your inactive, sedentary lifestyle may be shortening your lifespan!

You May Want to Stand Up for This

Headlines like “Sitting is the new smoking” might seem like the type of clickbait health article you can dismiss because everyone else is sitting all day too so … how can it harm you right?

Not so fast. In 2009, over 17,000 Canadians participated in a study that sought to find a connection between sitting and mortality. Participants ranged in age, body type, and activity level. At the end of the study, researchers found an association between sitting time and mortality from all causes and concluded extended periods of sitting should be discouraged. A sedentary lifestyle where you sit all day harms your health by encouraging muscle loss and fat gain and increasing your risk factor for multiple diseases.

In this article, we will cover the five ways your body composition is negatively affected by too much sitting. But don’t worry, it’s not all doom-and-gloom: we have tips on how you can break up long periods of sitting, even if you work a desk job.

#1: Insulin Resistance

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death among Americans. Those who sit for extended periods of time, don’t exercise, and don’t take care of their nutrition can experience insulin resistance, which happens when insulin isn’t able to transport excess blood sugar out of your blood and into your muscles. When insulin resistance because significant, that’s type-2 diabetes.

One study of 3,757 women found that women who sat for eight hours a day had a 56 percent higher chance of developing diabetes. Diabetics tend to have more fat within their bodies, particularly visceral fat, which can further encourage insulin resistance and keep them from being healthy.

In addition, diabetics experience quicker loss of muscle mass as they age compared to healthy individuals. The loss of muscle intensifies symptoms further deteriorates body composition.

#2: Risk for Heart Disease

Enzymes that burn body fat decrease by 90% when sitting for an hour or longer. The enzyme involved with body fat burning is called lipoprotein lipase, or LPL. LPL’s role is to produce good cholesterol, or HDL, which helps with triglyceride levels and protects against heart disease by keeping bad cholesterol from building up in the arteries. A sedentary lifestyle has been shown to decrease HDL Levels. A low HDL level is a common metabolic syndrome risk factor and is associated with increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressures) and cardiovascular disease.

In a 2003 animal study, rodents were forced to stay lying down for most of the day – to simulate a sedentary lifestyle – and the researchers found that the LPL levels in their leg muscles decreased immensely. When they stood up, the enzyme was ten times more active! Although these studies with humans are still underway, its still a convincing reason to take short breaks with moderate physical activity.

#3: Muscles become weaker

When you sit, your gluteal muscles, abdominal muscles, and legs lay dormant. If you sit for extended periods of time day after day, these muscles can degenerate. Because the size of your metabolism is linked with your body composition – more muscle increases metabolism and helps your burn more calories – any muscle loss, especially from the lower body which is your largest muscle group, can lead to consistent fat gain if the diet is not changed.

In the future, gradual muscle loss from your lower body can hurt your functional strength and as you become older increase your fall risk and affect your ability to live independently.

#4: Circulation Becomes

Not only does blood flow to your brain slow down when you sit for too long, but the blood flow to your legs also becomes sluggish. Sitting for an excessive period of time without standing can increase the risk of developing blood clots. Most of the time blood clots are harmless and will dissolve on its own. But there is the possibility that the blood clot breaks off and cause blockage in the lungs, which can be fatal.

One study showed a profound reduction in the vascular flow after sitting for just three hours. But the researchers found that those who took breaks and got up to walk around for two minutes, every hour, increased their lifespan by 33 percent.

#5: Bones Become Brittle

Long-term sitting and inactivity can lead to weakened bones. The Mayo Clinic has stated that “People who spend a lot of time sitting have a higher risk of osteoporosis than do those who are more active.” The reason is that bone is live tissue that is constantly in a state of forming new bone material and absorbing the old bone material. As we age the rate that bone is reabsorbed is faster than new bone that is formed. One of the factors that lead to rapid bone loss is a lack of physical activity.

Like muscles, bones become stronger when they are used. Engaging in walking and movement which includes weight-bearing can increase the durability of bones.

Tips to Get Moving!

How can you increase your physical activity, even if you work all day? You have to get creative. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Transportation – Do you drive to work? If so, park as far away as possible to get in extra steps throughout the day. If you can, bike or walk to the office. Take the steps up to your office if you are not on the first floor. If you can work from home, work from your home office. When at home, get up, do some walking, and even walk to the library to do more work. Think about your day before it starts to get those extra steps in each and every day. Layout makeover –  Have you taken a look at your office? Sometimes moving your office objects may make it easier for you to get your steps in. Take a look, is your printer close to your computer? Try to move it across the room to make yourself get up and move. Most of us live with our cell phones very close to us. Move your cell phone’s charger by the printer; it will help you get up to move and keep you less distracted. Make coffee in your break room, come back and do some work, and get up again to get your coffee. Anything to get yourself moving counts towards your health. Change up the way you sit –  If you are allowed, sit on an exercise ball at your desk for short periods, or take it a step further and try a standing desk. There are unique ways of moving at work nowadays with standing desks, treadmill desks, and even bicycle desks. Imagine getting through one of your long meetings with an hour-long bike ride, instead of a large latte. If none of these are viable options, or if an exercise ball isn’t your thing, there are exercises you can do in your desk chair that engage the muscles of your core. Trade out your comfy chair – If you are not allowed to use a ball or cool new desk, try just an old fashioned wooden, uncomfortable chair. It will make you sit up straight if you must remain sitting, attempt good posture. Alarm clock – Set a timer every hour for two minutes of constant movement. Try to keep moving with different exercises, sometimes called deskercises, stretches, or take a lap or two around the building. Step Tracker – Motivate yourself by purchasing a step tracker. It is an eye opener to many individuals to see how much you are sitting around. Many trackers you can wear as a bracelet and challenge friends to different goals.

Now It’s Your Turn: Be a Role

If you work an office job or you have a full course load, it can be easy to become inactive and lead a sedentary lifestyle. The good news is that recent studies found that just one hour of physical activity can potentially offsetthe 8-hour sitting marathon many people perform in their offices. That doesn’t mean that getting all your activity for the day in your one-hour gym session is enough because you can’t forget the time you spend driving and relaxing at home! The idea is to find opportunities to get moving.

Now that you’re at the end of the article, stand up and start moving! Your body will thank you for it.


Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB is a Registered Nurse certified in Obstetrics. She has been practicing in labor and delivery for over a decade. She developed her writing career in 2012, specializing in health topics. She, her husband, Adam, and two children Zachary and James reside in Cleveland, OH


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How Does Sleep Impact Body Composition in Children?

How Does Sleep Impact Body Composition in Children?

Sleep deprivation is a serious problem in this country, impacting people of all ages. With the advent of cell phones and laptop computers, children are glued to screens almost at all times. This merging of the school and home environment makes it hard for children to stick to a regular bedtime routine. Some kids may even find it hard to fall asleep once they are actually in bed with the blue light that screens put off keeping them awake.

With children taking home large amounts of homework, being kept up by their phones, and having an unprecedented number of extracurricular activities, many children are not getting the proper amount of sleep. When children do not get the right amount of sleep, this can have a negative impact on their growth, development, and overall health.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics released an updated statement discussing the proper amounts of sleep for children by age.

Their guidelines indicate that:

  • Babies under 1 year of age should sleep between 12 and 16 hours per day, including naps

  • Infants between 1 and 2 years of age should sleep between 11 and 14 hours per day, including naps

  • Toddlers between the ages of 3 and 5 years need to sleep between 10 and 13 hours per day, including naps

  • Children between the ages of 6 and 12 years should sleep at least 9 hours per night

  • Teenagers need to be getting at least 8 hours of sleep


Even though parents have decent control of when their children go to sleep, their alarms are frequently determined by their school’s starting time. This, plus all of the many distractions in the world today, can lead to children failing to get the recommended amount of sleep. This can cause problems in their school performance but also their physical health.

What is Body Composition?

Body composition is a description of how the different substances in the body are divided. A few examples of the different components that come together to make a human body include:

  • Water

  • Protein

  • Minerals

  • Fat

While some people think of fat as a “negative,” all of these components play an important role in someone’s overall health. Therefore, instead of focusing on pounds gained or lost, focus should be shifted to where change is occurring in terms of body composition, specifically muscle gain or fat loss.

While most people assume that their body composition will only change based on their diet and exercise habits, sleep is a key contributor to maintaining a healthy body composition. The body’s metabolic processes do not stop just because someone is asleep. Therefore, it is important for people of all ages to understand the impact of sleep.

Sleep and Growth Hormone: Important in Children

Growth, in all ages, is primarily controlled by growth hormone. This hormone is regulated by the relationship between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, in which sleep plays an important role.

A review article that was published in Comprehensive Physiology showed that:

  • Growth hormone levels peak during the onset of deep sleep

  • Multiple smaller peaks were observed during other stages of sleep

  • who have a delay in the onset of deep sleep have delayed peaks in their growth hormone levels

It has long been known that growth hormone levels peak during sleep. For children to grow, they need to have proper levels of growth hormone. This means that children need to have the proper amounts of sleep.

Even in preschool-aged children, sleep is vital for proper body composition. A research study that was published in Obesity measured the body composition of preschool-aged children at the onset of the study and at follow-up one year later. The researchers found that increased levels of sleep resulted in less overall fat mass and therefore a reduced percentage of body fat.

Even though some people associate sleep with laziness and increased adiposity, sleep in children is necessary for a healthy body composition. Children need to make sure that they are getting the proper amounts of sleep to allow their bodies to grow.

Sleep and Muscle Strength in Children

Sleep also plays an important role in muscle building in children. Even though children will build muscle as they run and play, most overlook the importance that sleep plays on muscle hypertrophy and strength.

A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research performed a cross-sectional study examining the sleep habits of close to 1,000 adolescents through a questionnaire. The researchers found that sleep was inversely related to markers of obesity, such as waist circumference, and positively related to skeletal muscle mass in boys.

Interestingly, the adolescents that had the most sleep were affected similarly to those with the least sleep. Both groups showed that waist circumference significantly increased, indicating that both too little and too much sleep can negatively impact body composition.

These results were echoed by another study that was published investigating the sleep habits of college students. While some university students view pulling the “all-nighter” as a rite of passage, researchers found that it can impact their muscle strength significantly.

This study looked at over 10,000 university students and found that males with a short sleep duration (defined as under 6 hours), when compared to those who had a good night’s sleep (more than 7 hours), had reduced muscle strength.

There are lots of reasons why this decrease in muscular strength occurs. For one, as people sleep, protein synthesis increases, allowing people to rebuild the muscle that is broken down over the course of the day. Therefore, it is vital for everyone to get enough sleep to help rebuild their muscle fibers.

Sleep Plays a Direct Role

There are more children in the United States who are overweight or obese than ever before. This excess fat tissue leads to the development of numerous health problems including high blood pressure and diabetes. While proper diet and exercise are critical for maintaining a healthy body composition, sleep plays a vital role in the management of obesity as well.

The importance of sleep begins even in the toddler years, based on a study that was published in BMC Public Health. The researchers combined data from close to 70 research articles, totaling close to 150,000 people from almost two dozen different countries. The researchers assessed the sleep of children via parental report or measured the sleep habits directly.

The researchers found that shorter sleep duration led to higher rates of body adiposity in addition to impaired growth, increased screen time, and poor emotional regulation. This means that children who sleep more, even during the toddler years, are more likely to have a favorable body composition, marked by a lower body fat percentage.

These results were backed up by a similar study carried out on children between the ages of 7 and 9, which was published in the American Journal of Human Biology. The researchers performed a cross-sectional study on more than 4,500 children. The height, weight, and skin folds of the children were measured and sleep data were collected via a parent survey. The researchers found that:

  • Children who slept fewer than 9 hours per night was more than three times as likely to be overweight or obese when compared to children who slept greater than 9 hours per night

  • Children who slept more than 11 hours had a body fat percentage of 20.9 when compared to children who slept less than 9 hours, who had a body fat percentage of 23.4 (p < 0.001)

Even though parents might associate more sleep with more sedentary activity, sleep is actually important for children to maintain a healthy body composition. The body needs time to rest and recharge as it gets ready for the next day. Furthermore, the body needs sleep to carry out the growth and development that is critically important to young children.

So, what do all of these studies mean? An article published in Obesity Reviews sought to tie a lot of these results together. The researchers indicated that regular lack of sleep can lead to:

  • Higher levels of insulin resistance, leading to higher cortisol levels, that may eventually lead to the development of diabetes

  • Higher blood pressures and salt retention, linked to cardiac problems

  • The development of diabetes can increase appetite and alter metabolism, leading to changes in body composition and the development of obesity

All of this demonstrates that proper amounts of sleep are vital in the treatment of obesity and excess adiposity. Therefore, any obesity treatment plan should address sleep as a cornerstone to the intervention.

Proper Amounts of Sleep are Crucial to Overall Health

It can be hard for children to get the proper amount of sleep at night. Because of how connected children are today, it is difficult for kids to separate the school environment from home. This leads to challenges in establishing a consistent bedtime routine.

For children, it is vital to make sure that they get to bed at night. Sleep plays a critical role in school performance, social development, growth, and overall health. Even though homework and sports can make it hard for children to get to bed on time, it is important for parents to work hard to keep the bedtime consistent. This means avoiding electronics and exercise prior to bed and staying away from caffeinated drinks such as soda, to keep the body in a regular rhythm. Teaching good sleep habits early can help children to develop properly and maintain health (and a good body composition) into adulthood.


David Randolph graduated from medical school at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He is currently completing his Residency in Pediatrics at the University of South Carolina.

Is It Possible to Boost Your Metabolism? The Truth About Metabolic Flexibility

Is It Possible to Boost Your Metabolism? The Truth About Metabolic Flexibility


Eat carbs before you work out. It will improve your performance. No, don’t – eat fats like peanut butter or avocados. No, actually, don’t eat at all and your body will burn more calories. Refuel with carbs. No, recover with protein to build muscle.

Is your head spinning yet?

You’re not alone if you ever feel like every health article you see contradicts the one you saw the day before.

If you stay up-to-date on health news and research, the very word “metabolism” may seem antiquated and overused. But it’s everywhere because it really IS that important. Your metabolism is the process (or series of processes, rather) that dictate how your body functions.

Even though the word appears ubiquitously, most of us misunderstand what metabolism really is and what it does. Yes, your metabolism determines how much and how often you need to eat, but most people overlook the fact that metabolic reactions take place in every single cell in your body.

“Metabolism” refers to the series of chemical processes in each cell that turn your food into energy to keep you alive. And because your metabolism is so complex, it’s able to use different sorts of fuel to your body’s advantage.

This is where the perpetual carbs-versus-fats debate comes into play. Everyone’s quick to tell you about their success with the Keto diet or how more balanced macros improved their performance in the gym.

In reality, there’s no perfect diet. Everyone’s preferred macronutrient ratio and calorie intake depend on their unique resting metabolic rate, activity level, food sensitivities, and more. But there is one thing everyone can count on: Your body will – or should – use what you give it.

What Is Metabolic Flexibility?

If you eat a lot of fats, fat will be your body’s primary source of fuel. If you eat a lot of carbohydrates, glucose will be your body’s primary source of fuel. If you eat more protein than anything else – you guessed it – your body will burn more protein for energy.

Metabolic flexibility is your body’s ability to adapt to metabolic demands. When things change – such as changing what time you eat breakfast or what you eat for breakfast – your body is forced to change the way it metabolizes your food.

When you eat, your food is either burned for energy or stored if what you ate was in excess of your energy needs. Any excess carbohydrates are stored as glycogen(which serves as quick energy reserves) or fat tissue if glycogen stores are full. Any extra fat is also put away for later use, as fat tissue.

How flexible your metabolism refers to how efficiently your body can switch between using carbs or fats for fuel – or, more importantly – how efficiently it can use what is already available.

Someone with great metabolic flexibility can burn carbs when they eat them. They can also burn fat when they eat it, or when they don’t eat at all. People with flexible metabolisms can “flex” between carbohydrate metabolism and fat oxidation relatively easily.

For example, a person with great metabolic flexibility does cardio in the morning on an empty stomach. Because their metabolism is highly flexible, their body powers through the workout on fat tissue that already exists. The same person, however, could eat oatmeal and a banana an hour or two before their workout and instead use those carbs as fuel (instead of storing them for later use).


A flexible metabolism gives your body more leeway when determining what fuel source to use. Take the example of the person doing fasted cardio in the previous section. If that person was metabolically inflexible and exercised on an empty stomach, he or she would first burn through the glycogen (stored carbohydrates) in their body – leaving the fat untouched.

This is why it’s so hard for many people to burn fat: They are metabolically inflexible.

If you’re very metabolically flexible, eating calorie-dense, sugar-laden, or very fatty foods from time to time won’t always be an issue for your body. Your body can convert those calories into energy without much negative aftermath.  

Those who are metabolically flexible carry more mitochondria in their muscles, which allows them to produce energy more efficiently. Having too few mitochondria, or having dysfunctional mitochondria, limits the amount of energy a person can produce. It makes switching between fuels difficult, which makes utilizing any stored body fat between meals almost impossible. This is why metabolically inflexible people tend to snack often.

So we know now that the benefits of metabolic flexibility are vast. But what’s the big deal if we aren’t so good at flexing our metabolism muscle?

In simple terms, metabolically inflexible people generally feel pretty poor.

Side effects of metabolic inflexibility include fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, poor sleep, low mood or depression, poor cognitive function (poor ability to focus), and shortness of breath. If you find it hard to finish tasks at hand, taking frequent coffee breaks for caffeine-induced energy, getting frustrated easily, or having trouble sleeping, you may have an inflexible metabolism.

Additionally, metabolically inflexible people tend to be excessively hungry or have an unusually strong appetite. This is because their bodies aren’t good at burning what’s already there.

How to Train Your Metabolism to Be More Flexible

The key to understanding metabolic flexibility is understanding how insulin regulates our energy. A healthy person with normal insulin action can effectively switch between fats and carbs as fuel. An insulin-resistant person cannot do this as effectively.

Insulin is the hormone that regulates your blood sugar by taking glucose into your bloodstream. There are two primary states of being as it relates to a person’s metabolism: fed and fasting.

During fed conditions (e.g., having just eaten), your insulin levels will be high due to incoming food. During fasting conditions, someone who is very metabolically flexible will easily be able to tap into stored body fat. The workings of insulin are vast, and you can learn more here, but these points are essential to understanding metabolic flexibility:

All food you eat, regardless of macronutrient composition, sparks the release of insulin.Insulin is a factor in deciding which fuel source your body uses.When insulin levels are low, your body primarily burns fat.When insulin levels are high, your body primarily burns carbs and stores fat.

One of the best – and easiest – ways to improve your metabolic flexibility is to exercise. If you’re generally sedentary, adding exercise to your days is a surefire way to kick your body into a fat-burning mode it’s never experienced before. If you already exercise regularly, add more variety to your workouts.

Varying the type of training you do (strength training, intervals, and some sort of aerobic or endurance activity) might just give your body the nudge it needs to tap into your fat reserves. Different types of exercise use different mixes of fuel and eventually may train your body to use different fuel sources during day-to-day activities.

Fasted cardio is one type of exercise intended to tap heavily into your body’s fat reserves. Doing high-intensity cardiovascular exercise with little to no glycogen stored can train your metabolism to be more flexible.

Another way to improve your metabolic flexibility is intermittent fasting (IF). Remember the person who used body fat as fuel during their morning fasted cardio? That worked because his or her body was trained to use the available energy in the absence of food.

Metabolically inflexible people would just feel atrocious in the same scenario because their bodies don’t know how to function without incoming energy (food). If you can’t make it more than two-to-three hours without food, you’re impairing your body’s ability to utilize your body fat. Work slowly to increase your spacing between meals.

Timing your nutrient intake can help your body use fat more efficiently, and the longer the fasting period, the more your body has to tap into its fat reserves, which may be one way to combat obesity.

You should also test out different macronutrient ratios. The fewer carbohydrates you consume, the more your body will have to rely on fat sources for fuel. This is the premise behind the ketogenic diet. Try cutting out added sugars and overly processed grains first. Then you can try reducing your carb intake even further by cutting out starches like potatoes. If keto’s not for you, try out the paleo diet, which is also low in carbs and higher in fat and protein.

While it’s encouraged to consume fats, avoid trans fats and too many saturated fats. Try to get your fats from nutrient-dense sources like olive and coconut oils, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.

Also, consume more antioxidant-rich foods: Antioxidant consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome, as well as an increase in insulin sensitivity.

A Flexible Metabolism Means More Energy, a Better Body Composition, and Improved Health

To sum up, metabolic flexibility is the ability to switch from one fuel source to the next: from fats to carbs and vice versa. Metabolic inflexibility is the opposite: the inability (or limited ability) to switch from one fuel source to the other. For those concerned with body composition, inflexibility can be a real downer because it’s impossible to lose body fat if your body can’t burn it.

A flexible metabolism is efficient at using excess adipose tissue (fat) for energy, which over time decreases the ratio of fat mass to lean mass, resulting in a better body composition and decreased heatlh risk.

It’s hypothesized that metabolic inflexibility also plays a role in various diseases processes such as metabolic syndrome; so along with better body composition, being metabolically flexible can improve overall health and wellness by boosting insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of disease, and training your body to adapt to metabolic demands.

Though this may all seem too complex to try, it’s not really that complicated: Think about your ancestors, what they ate, how much, and how often. It’s no secret that whole-food nutrition (fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, and seeds) and exercise are the keys to a lean, healthy body.

Training your body to endure longer periods of time without food is also key to mastering fat-burning mode. Our hunter-gatherer predecessors didn’t have access to the abundance of food we do. They were forced to go long periods of time without eating, and thus their metabolisms kept them alive by burning what fat they had stored on their bodies.

If you’re interested in improving your body composition or general wellness, it’s worth experimenting with exercise, fasting, and macronutrients to train your metabolism to be flexible.


Amanda Capritto is a certified personal trainer and health coach who writes about nutrition, fitness and healthcare. A journalism alumna of Louisiana State University, Amanda spends her free time adventuring outdoors, hitting the gym, and encouraging people to live balanced, healthy lifestyles.

What’s Better for Dehydration: Water vs Sport Drinks

What's Better for Dehydration: Water vs Sport Drinks

Water makes up about 60% of your bodyweight and is the most important chemical in your body. It’s involved in everything, from regulating your internal temperature to protecting sensitive tissues and cushioning joints. Every single cell, tissue, and organ depends on proper hydration to function optimally.

When your body lacks enough water to function properly, it’s known as dehydration, which can lead to fatigue, confusion, and irritability. Hydration depends not only on your water intake, but on the amount of water exiting your body through: • Sweat • Urination • Breathing When you exercise, you sweat. And when you sweat, you deplete your body of water. In fact, during challenging athletic events, you can lose 6% to 10% of your body weight from sweating. Which means prioritizing hydration before, during, and after exercise is extremely important. Not only does hydration improve performance, it helps you achieve body composition goals and maintain a healthy weight. All the more reason to bring your water bottle to work and keep sipping!

But what should you be drinking? Is water enough to hydrate your body or are sports drinks like Gatorade more beneficial? Let’s dive into how hydration works and see for yourself when you should be drinking water and when you should drink sports drinks.

Hydration and fitness: What’s the link?

To get the most out of your workouts, you’ll need to put hydration at the top of your priority list.

Not only do your muscle cells depend on water to function properly, research shows that without proper hydration, endurance, strength, and power are all limited. Meaning when you exercise without enough water, you’re not getting the best results.

Staying hydrated and drinking water also assists in weight loss. Research shows this could be due to a natural decrease in eating (a natural compensation from drinking more water) and an increase in lipolysis (the breakdown of fat).

We know you need water to perform your best, but how do you know how much you need? 

How to assess hydration levels

Like previously mentioned, you lose water through sweat and urine, which make them the perfect measurement tools for assessing your hydration levels.

The color of your urine tells you a lot about your health, including how hydrated you are. The lighter-yellow it is, the more hydrated you are. If your urine begins to turn dark yellow or honey colored, it’s time to drink some water!

If you’re heading out for a run or about to take on a cycling class, you can hit the bathroom first to make sure you’ve got enough water in you! If not—bring water with you and drink plenty through your workout to get hydrated.

You can also assess the amount of water lost via sweating through a simple formula provided by the CDC:

pre-exercise bodyweight – post-exercise body weight + fluid intake – urine volume/exercise time in hours

Or to make it even easier, weigh yourself before exercise and after. Make sure that you take the post-workout measurement after you remove those heavy, sweaty clothes. If you’ve lost weight, you need to hydrate more next time.

Signs of dehydration

There are lots of theories on how much water you should drink each day, but it boils down to your individual needs and activity levels. However, there are a few signs you should grab a glass (or 2!) of water:

Thirst Early-onset fatigue Increased perception of effort Decreased exercise capacity Increased body temperature Faster breathing and heart rate Dizziness

Hydrating: water vs. sports drinks

Many people prefer drinking sports drinks during and after exercise as opposed to water because of the taste and added electrolytes. However, many sports drinks have additional ingredients and added sugars—making them a less appealing choice for those trying sweat off the calories. But is that enough reason to forget about them altogether?

Let’s take a look at some of those additional ingredients:

Electrolytes: Minerals, like potassium, sodium, and magnesium, have an electric charge and help maintain your body’s ionic balance. You lose electrolytes when you sweat and sports drinks claim to help replace what’s lost during exercise.

Carbohydrates: Most of the carbohydrates in sports drinks come from sugars. Carbs are one of your body’s energy sources and sports drinks are designed to re-fuel you after a hard workout.    

Amino acids: These are the building blocks of protein, and it’s believed that when we drink them after a tough workout, we help our bodies recover faster and better.

As you can see, some of the additional ingredients in sports drinks offer hydration benefits that water on its own cannot.

When to reach for a sports drink: what the science says

Though water should always be your first drink of choice, there may be certain scenarios where a sports drink is exactly what your body needs.

If you’re participating in high-intensity workouts lasting more than 45 minutes to an hour, sports drinks may help replenish your body’s electrolyte stores better than water. Recommendations also show that people whose sweat contains high levels of sodium (you may notice sweat stains or rings on your skin or clothing) may also benefit from re-hydrating with sports drinks.

Endurance athletes, like marathon runners or long-distance cyclers, may also benefit from drinking sports drinks because of the increased fluid loss from such intense exercise.

In both of these scenarios, athletes should make sure their sports drinks contain both carbohydrates and electrolytes.

Most of the time, good ole’ water will do the trick.

If your main goal is body composition related, you’re better off sticking with water and avoiding added sugars and calories.

You should also stick with water when:

You’re looking to hydrate before exercising    During a lower intensity workout or with workouts that don’t last 45 minutes or longer    You’re thirsty throughout the day

Other hydration methods

Water and sports drinks aren’t the only ways you can hydrate. Fluids like tea, juice, coconut water, and milk also provide plenty of water, as do many fruits and vegetables.

In fact, research shows coconut water hydrates just as well as a carbohydrate sports drinks or plain water, and may be easier to drink in large quantities than sweeter sports drinks.

Milk is also a great hydrator, earning a slightly higher rehydration score than plain water. Just another reason to enjoy an ice-cold glass of chocolate milk after a tough workout.

If you’d rather up your daily hydration through food, you’re in luck! Fruits and vegetables are great sources of water and also contain vital vitamins, minerals, and carbs—making them an ideal snack anytime.


Staying hydrated is important to all aspects of health and fitness. Without enough water, you simply can’t perform your best or maintain a healthy body composition.

Though there are many ways to stay hydrated, drinking plain water is the best choice for most people—unless you’re an endurance athlete or participating in high-intensity workouts.

However, if you’re tired of plain H20, coconut water, milk, fruits, and vegetables are all delicious choices.

Happy hydrating!


Kaili Meyer is a health and travel writer based in the Midwest. If she’s not writing, you can find her cuddled up with a good book, in the gym, or on a plane headed somewhere warm. Visit her site: SideOfKail.com for all things health, fitness, and food.

How to Stick to a Meal Plan that Works

How to Stick to a Meal Plan that Works

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on November 23, 2018, for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on May 3, 2017.

Eat less, move more.

Anyone who has been successful in achieving their body composition goals will have followed a general formula. However, they would also be quick to point out that it’s not that simple.

If you’re serious about changing your body composition, it’s important to realize that you have to go beyond making unhealthy nutrition decisions like severely restricting food intake or entire food groups and exercising frequently. While both are helpful for transforming body composition, making a plan that is way too broad and lacking in actionable elements will make it more difficult to achieve sustainable outcomes. Sure, you might get the results you’re after, but you might be making it much more difficult to reach. If you do reach your goals, be mindful that it may be unsustainable to maintain that level.

The formula to accomplishing long-term success is to take steps that are specific and actionable. If you want to eat less and change the way you eat, change up your approach. Meal prepping is a healthy habit that many individuals have had success with because it helps you achieve sustainable outcomes in your weight loss or body re-composition efforts.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how meal prepping can play a crucial role in achieving your body composition goals. Plus, you’ll learn how to stick to a healthy meal plan for the long haul. After all, it all boils down to consistency.

Why Meal Planning Can Be Beneficial In Changing Your Body Composition

When people think about fat loss or leaning out, diet and exercise are both important parts of the formula. Yet if you have to choose one weight loss method over the other, study after study has shown that being mindful of your diet— both in quality and quantity— outweighs exercise when it comes to achieving or even maintaining body composition changes.

For instance, a meta-analysis evaluating the effects of diet, exercise, or a combination of both revealed that although long-term success was greatest in the combined programs, diet-only interventions, as opposed to exercise-only interventions, achieved similar results in the short-term.  Another systematic review showed that diet is moderately superior to exercise for creating changes in body composition.

In a nutshell, you can exercise like crazy, but if you have unhealthy eating habits or you have trouble sticking to a diet, you are only setting up yourself for failure.

Coming up with a workable meal planning system deserves the same (or even more) amount of time and attention that you devote to planning your exercise routine. The problem is many underestimate the effects of their eating habits on their overall results. Having the mindset of  “I’ll burn these three slices of pizza at the gym tomorrow” is way too common. What if you can be more mindful? Instead of eating pizza, what if you plan your meals ahead so you aren’t tempted by unhealthy choices?

The point is not to disregard exercise altogether (as it has other body composition and health benefits), but to take meal planning seriously, too.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that meal preppers tend to be healthier. When you plan for your meals and go buy groceries, you are more likely to prep and cook them yourself. In a 2014 study on home cooking frequency and diet quality,  the researchers concluded that people who frequently bought groceries and cooked their meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less, regardless of whether they are trying to lose weight.

Now that we’ve talked about some of the benefits of meal planning, let’s take a look at creating a meal plan that’s right for you.

How to Stick to Your Meal Plan For the Long Haul

Of course, meal plans will vary from one individual to another. First, people have different health goals. Second, some folks will have a different approach in their diet choices.  For instance, you might want to go low-carb and choose the ketogenic route, but not everyone can do this diet. Some folks are comfortable planning a week in advance and freezing neatly-labeled plastic containers every Sunday night. 

Others wing it every two or three days by grocery shopping for produce in the middle of the week beside their weekend market trips.

Regardless of goals and dietary or fitness preferences in improving body composition, a workable meal plan system is a must. The ultimate goal is to avoid feeling frazzled the next time you have to think about your next meal and having to resort to a goal-busting junk meal (here’s looking at you, freezer pizza).

To help you steer clear from unhealthy food choices and achieve healthy body composition goals, let’s get the ball rolling with these actionable, real-world tips in creating and sticking to a meal plan for the long haul.

1. Identify what drives you to stick to a meal plan besides improving your body composition.

Sticking to your meal plan if you’re not seeing any progress. Cutting a few pounds of fat doesn’t happen overnight and progress may not be noticeable early on.

In order to keep motivation high, you need to identify other tangible reasons behind your goal, other than positive changes to your body composition. How about saving extra dollars from your weekly food budget? Maybe you enjoy the time you spend together with your loved ones preparing a recipe? These are just examples of reasons that can motivate you in an instant to stick to your healthy choices, even when signs of progress are not yet evident.

2. Have a well-stocked pantry.

Sticking to a meal plan for the long haul can be made easier with a well-stocked pantry.

Run out of lemon to whip up a quick dressing? Don’t have any herbs on hand to boost flavors? All of these will likely lead to frustration, and likely cause you to give up planning for your meals. Make sure you keep a list of essential groceries whenever you go to the supermarket, to make sure you never run out.

This list of staples may include eggs, your favorite protein, whole grains, yogurt, healthy oils, herbs and spices, butter, leafy greens, and a can of black beans. Having these ingredients on hand means you can quickly whip up a simple well-balanced meal when you’re short on time.

3. Pick a day to cook up a batch or prep certain meal components.

For many meal preppers, the weekend is when the action happens. Mornings are for grocery shopping while afternoons are dedicated to prepping and/or batch cooking.

When it comes to batch cooking, you can prep and batch cook some components.  For example, your roasted chicken on Sunday can be cut up and used for sandwiches on Monday and pasta on Tuesday. As you cook up batches (or double batches if you like), the freezer will be your new best friend. There’s no use calling it a meal plan if you have to start a recipe from scratch every night.

4. Be realistic and make room for wildcard days.

There are seven days in a week but you don’t have to come up with a seven-day weekly meal plan. Nor should you shop for ingredients for 21 meals. There might be days or certain meals that you can skip. Perhaps you’re supposed to go out with coworkers for lunch on Wednesdays. How about that Friday date night with your partner? Remember to change up your routine so you don’t get bored.

Before you plan and prep for a week’s worth of meals, double-check your social calendar. If nothing’s set in stone, give yourself some slack (say one or two lunches or dinners in a week) just in case something comes up at the last minute. If you’re into batch cooking, you can even schedule days for leftovers for that little extra bit of flexibility.

5. Embrace meal formulas rather than recipes.

Recipes are undoubtedly rad. However, finding new recipes every time you have to make a meal plan can wear you out and eventually turn you off.

Starch+protein+fat+vegetables is a good example of a meal plan formula (Feel free to cross out a component depending on your dietary needs and preferences, but remember not to cut out those healthy fats). By embracing meal formulas instead of sticking stubbornly to pre-made recipes, you don’t have to scroll through Pinterest for hours if you’re feeling uninspired when creating a meal plan. The key is to be mindful that whatever formula you use, there are different food groups that fit your needs (plenty of protein and healthy fats are essential for workout recovery). It’s important to change up your food choices for both nutritional reasons and to prevent boredom. Just because you are meal prepping, doesn’t mean you need to cut out variety.

Once you’ve figured out the number of meals you’re prepping for, coming up with meals will be an effortless system. It also makes for smooth-sailing ingredient shopping because you’re shopping by food group and not by food items for a specific recipe.

6. Reassess and tweak your meal plan as needed.

It’s common for nutritional needs or dietary preferences to change. Also, your local grocery might run out of your favorite ingredients as some produce are highly seasonal. That said, your meal planning system should be a dynamic process. Stop feeling disappointed if not everything is going as planned. Refocus instead by making changes as needed.

7. Stop obsessing about the perfect meal plan system.

There’s no such thing as the perfect method in creating meal plans. Some prefer the old-fashioned way with their trusty Moleskine journal while others swear by their favorite meal plan app. Meanwhile, there are individuals who enjoy DIY meal plans, but there are also folks who would rather have someone else do it for them.

Spending too much time jumping from one system to another and going back to square one every single week will only stall your body recomposition progress. Before you get burned out with your constant shuffle between meal planning systems, pick one method and stick to it for a least a month or two and tweak as you go.

Wrap Up

If you find yourself stuck in your eat less, move more philosophy but don’t see the results you want, sticking to a sustainable meal plan may be what’s missing. Apart from helping you accomplish your body composition goals more quickly, it can help you tackle other priorities in your life by not having to constantly worry about what to eat.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing worse than coming home late from work and ordering pizza for the fourth time in a week. You know you should be eating something more nutrient-dense, but you console yourself by saying that you didn’t have a choice. The truth is you do have a choice if you intentionally take time to create a meal plan system that truly works for you. Once you make this change – who knows? – you just might be pleasantly surprised the next time you check your body composition progress.


Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher.  After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food. 

Why “No Pain, No Gain” is No Longer The Standard

Why ‘No Pain, No Gain’ is No Longer the Standard

As you near closer to the end of a tough workout, you might try telling yourself “no pain, no gain” to help motivate you to make it through. Many pride themselves on muscle soreness after a workout. Pain means muscle is building, right? The short answer is – not always.   

Pain can come in different forms and tell you different things about your body.  It can help you to know when to keep pushing, when to stop, or even when to seek outside help, but how do you know what your pain is telling you?

What is Pain?

‘Pain’ can be good or bad.  There is ‘good pain’, like getting a great deep tissue massage.  There is ‘bad pain’ that you might feel if you wake up with that ‘crick’ in your neck.  There is also an ‘in-between pain’ that lets you know your body is working towards its upper limits.  

Pain is often discussed by healthcare professionals in terms of: context, frequency, intensity, location, and quality of pain. Frequency and location of pain are pretty straightforward, but a few key features of the others will help you to get started with the mind/body connection 

that you need in order to better understand pain.


Context is one of the most important aspects – you want to understand when and how your pain comes on.  Is it painful all the time, or maybe only when you do a certain movement? The pattern of your pain is important.  If you can understand the pattern, you can often make changes to prevent that pain from coming on.


Try to get an idea for how intense the pain is. You will want to learn how to scale your pain so that you have an idea of how it feels if a 3/10 pain hikes up to a 6-7/10. If you get a decent idea of how to measure pain, it often makes understanding it that much easier.  


How do you describe the pain? Words like achey, dull, sharp, shooting, soreness,  stabbing or radiating help to give you an idea of the quality of your pain, and identifying these symptoms helps you to distinguish one type of pain from another.  

What are the types of pains you could experience?

Pain can be grouped into three categories:

Early warning pain is most recognizable if you have just touched a pan and your hand jerks away before you even realize how hot that pan is (aka the withdrawal reflex). This is a protective mechanism that helps you and your body avoid danger and can be very important for survival.

Inflammatory pain happens after an injury or surgery while the body is healing and recovering.  Inflammation prevents you from doing movements that the body might consider too fast or too hard and could cause re-injury. This type of pain is important during the weeks of healing, but you want to avoid it continuing after your injury has healed.

Pathological pain can happen after your body has healed but the nervous system has been damaged. This is often the case with people who get injured and end up saying, ‘it was never the same after that’. If the rehab does not properly heal the nervous system, your protective pain measures may create a ‘false alarm’ and become counterproductive to your goals.

This article will mostly discuss the second type of pain from muscle soreness, as it is the most commonly experienced type among athletes. You may be thinking ‘I’ve never been injured, so this doesn’t apply to me’, however, if you have ever worked out really hard, then you are familiar with inflammatory pain.  It is more commonly known as ‘DOMS’ or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, and it is something to pay close attention to if it happens to you.    

What Happens After a Hard Workout?

DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, is one way your body lets you know you have pushed yourself during a workout. Muscles get ‘microtears’ in the muscle fibers that are perfectly normal when working out and help to build muscle when we exercise. But sometimes, a combination of these muscle tears, fatigue, and other mechanisms causes soreness, indicating that the body needs adequate time to heal and recover before your next workout (this varies depending on the intensity of your workout, but 1-2 days rest is typical).

‘Pushing through the pain’ while you are in a DOMS state can lead to injury. This can occur because your joints and muscles may be less able to absorb impact or tend to use other muscles to compensate for the fatigued muscle. Additionally, muscle soreness changes your perceived intensity, meaning that you could push your muscles too far and they may actually tear, which would really set you back.

DOMS can be tricky since it onsets after a workout has finished, and you typically do not feel really sore for another day or two after.  So, what do you do if it happens to you? These are your best strategies to decrease those DOMS ASAP:


Ice is known to help numb pain, acting as more of a temporary fix to help keep the pain from DOM down, much like taking a Tylenol or Ibuprofen which have anti-inflammatory properties. However, ice is also able to reduce stiffness if applied regularly after strenuous exercise.


Massage can help to push away some of the inflammation and work to break up the muscle tension and soreness that may build up with DOMS. Promoting circulation to the area is thought to improve the healing process.

Light Exercise

A bit counter-intuitive, but your best bet is actually light exercise! This is largely the most agreed-upon option to help assist with moving through DOMS faster. You want to be sure to keep it light, meaning yoga or a gentle walk or bike ride for 20-30 minutes should be enough to help.

DOMS will happen if you increase the intensity of your work out or try a new exercise. Once you move through the healing process, you will typically be able to go right back training at your previous intensity. However, if you are repetitively working out too hard (and not allowing yourself to rest) or doing too much of the same activity, that can result in an overuse injury.

What Happens After Working Out Too Much?

Muscle soreness is one thing. Overuse injury is another. An overuse injury happens after repeating the same activity too often, too hard, or too long.  Typical overuse injuries are known more commonly as runner’s or jumper’s knee(s), golfer’s or tennis elbow, Achilles tendinitis, and others. If your body does not get the required rest time for recovery, it can lead to too much-repeated stress and can cause muscle strains or even stress fractures over time. 

One study found that over 60% of running injuries, which are often overuse injuries, could be attributed to training errors. Over time, training errors can lead to muscle imbalances, weakness, inflexibility, or instability. Form is all too important, especially if you are repeating that action many times over, multiple times a week.

To stave off an overuse injury, try varying your workouts throughout the week, aka cross-training.  If you are a runner, you could strength train 2-3 times/week. The opposite is true if you are a lifter, you could try aerobic activity 2-3 times/week to disrupt the repetitive stresses you are applying to your muscles and joints. Yoga, Pilates, spin, and group classes are good ways to mix up your routine while keeping your body fit!

So you know what the common injuries are when ‘pushing through pain’, but what are some of the factors that play into those injuries?

Common Mistakes That Result in Muscle Damage

Here are some common mistakes that can result in injury while you workout:

Adding too much

Over time, you want to use intervals to progress a workout.  For runners, that might mean running 1-2 miles, walking 1 mile, and repeat.  For lifting, you may add a couple of pounds with each lifting session or you may try changing up the pace to lifting less weight over a longer period of time. The key is not to jump up what you are doing too much or too quickly.

Inflexible rest periods

This has been discussed often in weightlifting but applies to everyone – if your body needs to rest, let it! Do not feel tied to one number because it will vary based on how intensely you are working. 20-60 seconds (oftentimes up to 2-5 minutes with higher-intensity) of rest will benefit your body more than trying to push through.

Ignoring pains

If you are feeling continued pain that does not feel like your typical muscle burn, then do not ignore it. It may benefit you to understand the context, frequency, intensity, location, and quality of your pain, as this will help you come up with a game plan on ways to decrease or avoid it. However, if your pain continues, a physical therapist or physician can help to diagnose and treat your injury before it progresses.

So what should you feel during a hard workout?

A true muscle burn will feel like just that – you will feel an increase in heat, and you will feel your muscles start to get ‘heavy’. Once you cannot complete a movement without any changes to your form (or ‘compensation’), then you know your muscles are fatigued, and they will need some rest before performing that activity again.

Putting it All Together

Pain is complex, multi-faceted, and can mean different things to different people.  It is important to listen and distinguish what your body and pain might be telling you.  If you are having pain, stop for a moment and try to discern what type of pain you are feeling.  

Don’t consider a lighter workout as a defeat, be flexible! You can still perform high-intensity workouts and progress them without injury, so long as you are mindful of what your body is saying to you. Remember to warm up and cool-down before post-exercise.

For a regular or intense workout, try using intervals to progress your routine, rather than large jumps in weight or time.  Know that progress will be slow (your body has to heal – it is a process!), but do not think that sacrificing your rest will increase your gains – it could do just the opposite.  


Casey Jordan Mazzotti is a Doctor of Physical Therapy with the majority of her clinical experience in the outpatient orthopedics setting, rehabilitating patients across a spectrum of musculoskeletal disorders.  Additionally, she works as a freelance writer, educating people about fitness and health, by breaking down well-researched and evidence-based articles to make them accessible, easy-to-understand, and explaining how to implement these concepts into everyday life.

How Does Sugar Affect Your Brain?

How Does Sugar Affect Your Brain?

Most of us are aware of the negative effects of eating too much sugar: tooth decay, weight gain, and diabetes all ensure processed sugar has a reputation for being bad for your health.

But, what happens to your brain when you consume processed sugar? Why is sugar considered bad when your brain uses glucose for energy?

In this article, we delve into the topic of processed sugar and how eating too much of this sweet substance can affect your brain’s functions.

Let’s dive in.

The difference between processed sugar and ‘good’ sugar

You may be familiar with different types of sugar. Naturally occurring sugar is found in fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and beans. Essentially, all sugar is broken down into glucose. However, foods that contain naturally occurring sugar also tend to be rich in nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein – all substances which your body requires for optimal health. As naturally occurring sugar does not generally lead to excess sugar intake, the focus of our discussion is on processed sugar.

Processed sugar, which is extracted from sugarcane or sugar beet, and is normally found as sucrose (a combination of fructose and glucose), which is present in cakes, cookies, cereal, and beverages. Processed sugar is also hidden in foods that you may not consider “sweet” like microwave meals, spaghetti sauce, low-fat yogurt, ketchup, and sports drinks.

While foods containing processed sugar are an energy

source, they contain little to no nutrients and can cause your blood sugar levels to spike too high.

Eating too much sugar has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, accelerated signs of aging, and weight gain – added sugar contributes to an average of 17% of the total calorie intake for adults, while the recommended daily amount of calories from added sugar is 10%.

Why your body needs sugar

Every living cell in your body requires sugar for energy. Sugar is a carbohydrate which can exist in varying forms, including glucose and fructose.

Carbohydrates are your body’s main energy source, broken down in your stomach by enzymes and acids, releasing glucose into your intestines where it’s absorbed. From here, it travels into your bloodstream, moving to cells via the hormone, insulin.

Once glucose reaches your cells, it is either used for energy or stored. When a cell receives glucose, oxygen is used to burn it into heat energy: a process called aerobic metabolism. Depending on what the cell requires, this energy is either released or stored.

The level of blood glucose in your body aims to remain at a consistent level, monitored by beta cells in your pancreas. Levels of glucose in the blood naturally rise after you have eaten, resulting in beta cells releasing insulin to ensure this glucose can reach different cells in your body.

Once your body has used all the energy it requires, any remaining glucose is stored as small amounts called glycogen. Excess glycogen gets stored as fat, which is why consuming large amounts of sugar is associated with fat gain.

What happens when you stop eating?

When you don’t eat for a few hours, the levels of glucose in the blood plummet and insulin release stops. Alpha cells found in the pancreas produce a hormone called glucagon which causes the liver to break down your stored glycogen, converting it back into glucose. Additionally, your liver can produce glucose by using fats, amino acids, and waste.

Your blood sugar levels can drop too low: a condition called hypoglycemia. This occurs a few hours after eating when there is too much insulin in the blood, or due to certain medications. This is why you might feel dizzy, shaky, anxious or irritable when you haven’t eaten for several hours. Eating at least 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrates will reverse your symptoms.

Important functions of the brain

Your brain consists of a significant mass of nerve tissue that is involved in most functions of each organ within your body. The brain processes information; releases hormones; and regulates your breathing, body temperature, sleep cycle, and other functions.

Your brain contains around 100 billion neurons which send and receive information to and from the nervous system. These neurons process information relating to your bodily functions, including taste, touch, sight, hearing, and more.

Why your brain needs sugar

Your brain needs half of all your energy supply due to its complex system of neurons (nerve cells).

The brain requires glucose for brain cell energy. As neurons can’t store energy, they need a continuous supply of fuel from the bloodstream to function correctly. Your ability to think, learn and recall information is closely associated with your glucose levels.

When your blood glucose levels are low, your ability to think clearly is inhibited as the production of chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, is reduced and communication between neurons is disrupted.

Unlike processed sugar, naturally occurring sugar can boost brain health due to it requiring glucose for functioning. When you consume naturally occurring sugar from sources like apples and bananas, sugar is released slowly into the bloodstream so your energy levels are steadier and you don’t crave more sugar.

What happens to the brain when you consume process

We’ve already established that foods containing processed sugar have little to no nutritional value, so does consuming processed sugar have a negative effect on the brain?

Let’s discuss this issue further.

There are many clinical trials studying the effects of sugar on the brain.

A study of around 70,000 women, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that those with a diet higher in added sugar had an increased risk of suffering from depression. A diet high in natural sugar was not found to correlate with a higher risk of depression.

A 2011 study examining two groups of people, one group eating a Western diet of high fats and sugar and the other group eating a diet low in saturated fat and sugar, found that the group consuming a Western diet displayed poorer mental performance in relation to hippocampal sensitive memory tasks.

Consuming sugar may also prevent you from feeling full, enabling you to eat more and gain weight. In a systematic review, a 2006 study found an association between sugar sweetened-beverages and weight gain. When you consume food, your body releases hormones signaling to it that it can stop eating.

Is sugar as addictive as drugs like cocaine?

Both animal and human studies have suggested that sugar addiction has similarities to drug addiction. Sugar provides feelings of pleasure, stemming from an area in the brain called nucleus accumbens – the same part of the brain which drugs like cocaine and morphine activate.

A 2013 study found that rats responded to Oreo cookies in the same way they responded to cocaine. Interestingly, the rats ate the cream center first – just like lots of human consumers do!

What happens to your body when you quit sugar?

As hard as it is, quitting sugar has tremendously positive effects on the body.

One study found that eating sugar has an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. The 15-year research study demonstrated that those who consume 17 to 21% of daily calories from added sugars have a 38% greater risk of suffering from heart disease. Therefore, cutting sugar out of your diet significantly reduces your risk of heart disease.

Quitting sugar also improves your energy levels. However, initially, research has shown that ditching sugar can give a similar bodily reaction to quitting drugs due to plummeting dopamine levels and rising acetylcholine levels.

What about sugar replacements?

Sugar replacements are additives which add a sweet taste to your food without the calories of sugar. Some sugar substitutes are synthetically manufactured while others are natural.

There are several sugar replacements. The main types include:

Sucralose -this artificial sweetener is derived from sucrose and contains no calories. It’s 650 times sweeter than sugar and can be commonly purchased by brands, such as Splenda.

Fructose – this can be found as crystalline or high-fructose corn syrup which can be used for baking. Fructose is much sweeter than sugar and has been linked to early diabetes.

Stevia – extracted from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana species of plant, stevia is calorie free and may help to manage cholesterol levels.

Aspartame – known as E952 in Europe, this artificial sweetener is 200 times sweeter than sugar and consists of two amino acids called aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It contains 4 calories per gram. However, only a small amount is required to sweeten food.

While sugar substitutes can aid weight control and diabetes by allowing a person to eat something sweet with minimal increase in blood sugar levels, some health concerns exist.


Aspartame has been associated with cancer, dementia, and depression. However, research suggests no direct correlation has been found and current recommended levels in Europe at 40mg/kg are safe to consume.

Is sugar really so bad?

As the brain uses half of your body’s energy resources, it’s essential to nourish it with nutrients. Not all sugar is bad, but as processed sugar has no nutritional value, it has little benefit to your body. Research studies have found that sugar can increase weight and negatively affect your memory.

While quitting sugar has positive benefits on your health, including reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, consuming a moderate amount of sugar (or sugar substitute) as part of a healthy, balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals, is ideal if you want to enjoy a sugary treat now or again.

FitnessInBody Blog Free Weights vs Bodyweight: Which is Better?

Bodyweight: Which is Better?


So you’ve got your diet and cardio routines down, or you have a plan, and you’ve been researching strength training. You know that it’s something every well-rounded exercise program includes, so you know you should have it in yours, too.

But in your research, you’ve found that there’s a debate — one between which training modality is best for the resistance training portion of your efforts to lose weight and improve body composition: free weights or bodyweight exercises.

Review of Strength Training

As a quick review, here’s the “science” definition of strength training (also referred to as “resistance training”) courtesy of Mosby’s Medical Dictionary:

“a method of improving muscular strength by gradually increasing the ability to resist force through the use of free weights, machines, or the person’s own body weight.”

This means you get stronger and more capable of performing the activities of your regular- or sport-life: carrying groceries or children, moving furniture, running, jumping, and any other physical activities you engage in.

Beyond this base-level, strength training has numerous benefits, including but not limited to:

  1. Improved metabolism
  2. Increased lean mass
  3. Reduced fat mass
  4. Improved bone strength and density
  5. Greater physical performance
  6. Improved cognitive abilities and self-esteem
  7. Prevention and management of type 2 diabetes
  8. Reduced resting blood pressure
  9. Lower “bad” cholesterol and higher “good” cholesterol
  10. Reduction of pains associated with chronic conditions
  11. And ladies, if you’re worried about getting massive muscles from hoisting weights (or your body) around — don’t.

Does strength training mean big and bulky?

The myth of women becoming “big and bulky” is just that — a myth. Scientists disproved this all the way back in the ‘70s, and numerous studies have supported it since.

In that study, scientists took 7 track-and-field athletes and took “strength, body composition, and anthropometric measurements” before and after 3 and 6 months of strength training. Using large, compound (many-joints used) exercises like the bench press and half-squat with dumbbells, barbells, and leg press machines, 5 of the subjects trained 3 times per week.

After 6 months, the 5 weight-trained women had improved their bench press strength by 15-44% and half-squat strength by 16-53%. While upper-body girth increased across the board (including in the 2 non-weight-training subjects), thigh girth did not, and lean body weight increased only in the largest weight-trained woman.

These results led to the study’s organizers concluding that “women are capable of responding to strength training with considerable increases in strength and only minimal evidence of muscular hypertrophy [emphasis added].”

Different reps for different goals — but it’s all strength

With strength training, different repetition ranges are traditionally used for different goals as supported by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (see image below).

Source: Breakingmuscle

To have well-rounded muscular-strength, it’s good practice to include reps in all ranges. With a review of strength training done, you can move onto the comparison of free weights vs. bodyweight.

Strength Training with Free Weights

Using free weights for your resistance training involves lifting weights that are external to your body — i.e., adding resistance to a barbell with weighted plates and lifting it, or using dumbbells.

Many traditional strength training programs rely on barbells and dumbbells — programs like Starting Strength, for example.  

The reasoning behind using free weights is simple: to continue to get stronger, you have to increase weight or repetitions. Increasing the weight of a barbell or dumbbell is simple — just add plates (commonly by as little as 5 pounds, or with special “microplates” that go down to fractional amounts, like 0.5 lbs). This allows for ease-of-progression — it’s a matter of math.

Many of the benefits of free weights line up with resistance training in general:

Greater strength (leading to greater physical performance)

Improved muscle mass

Greater bone density and strength


Using free weights also allows you to target very specific muscle groups to correct muscle imbalances. For example, if one bicep is larger or stronger than the other, you can easily target the weaker one by doing a bicep curl for just that side. You are not restricted to using both hands and perpetuating the imbalance.

Similarly, if one side of your chest or back is weaker than the other, you can target just that side with a variety of exercises. Which leads to the next point: variety.

There are almost limitless variations of exercises that can be performed with free weights. Even in the basic movements of pushing, pulling, squatting, and deadlifting, you can change the position of the weight — from across the back of your shoulders to the front — , your hands — wide grip, shoulder-width, narrow, one-handed — , your stance — wide, shoulder-width, narrow, one-legged, staggered — , etc.

Further, lifting weights has been proven to stimulate the production of anabolic (muscle-building) hormones like Human Growth Hormone (HGH) — which is directly in line with the goal of losing weight and improving your body composition.

On the opposite side of things, however, there are some drawbacks to free weights.

To get the most out of an exercise, you need to know how to perform it with the proper technique for your goals. For example, more complex exercises like barbell back squats or deadlifts — or the “Olympic” lifts of clean and press and snatches — can be difficult to learn if you’re training alone.

And while there are great resources out there like how-to videos and articles, unless you have someone watching you during your workout, you can’t get real-time feedback on your technique.

Without that feedback, you risk injury — either from chronically poor movement patterns, or — if you use too much weight — sudden, acute trauma to your muscle, joints, or other structures.

That being said, don’t run just yet — this study and the study above concluded that most injuries suffered by free-weight lifters were chronic in nature. If you train “smart” by avoiding weights heavier than you can safely handle and using proper technique, you should be able to avoid acute injury.

Strength Training with Bodyweight

Bodyweight strength training involves movements that use your body as the resistance. This probably conjures up images from grade and intermediate school of pushups, situps, rope climbing, and chin ups.

Which is accurate, because those are all bodyweight strength exercises. But bodyweight exercises can be more than that, too, allowing you to climb to incredible levels of strength.

Just take a look at a competitive gymnast, like this one:

She trains with her bodyweight daily, and no one would say she’s weak or out of shape.

Returning to our review of “strength training,” remember that the definition included,

“a method of improving muscular strength by gradually increasing the ability to resist force through the use of… the person’s own body weight” [emphasis added].

By this definition, there should be no real difference between training modalities, but bodyweight training does come with a few differences from free weights.  

First of all, if you’re just starting out with resistance training, the free weight area at your gym can be intimidating — but bodyweight exercises can often be performed at home, where you might feel more comfortable if strength training is new to you.

Technique is often less complicated than free weights, and since you aren’t hoisting a heavy barbell or dumbbell, you can take your time learning without a coach, and without risking dropping the weight on your foot. Bodyweight training — think yoga — also incorporates a lot of balance and functional movement to help with stability and activating smaller muscles.

Similar to weights, you can scale exercises from beginner-level upward, or regress them backward as necessary. For example, if you’re unable to do a full push up on your hands and toes, you can lower your body so your knees are touching the ground instead. Or, place your hands on a higher object, like a wall, sturdy table, or chair.

Once you get stronger, you can play with different hand (or foot) positions — wide, narrow, staggered, feet elevated, one-armed, etc to activate different muscles and change the dynamics of he exercise.

Not to mention, you move your body every day — pushing yourself up from the floor, standing up from a chair, playing with your kids, or participating in “extracurricular activity.” Building strength through these movements means greater ease-of-movement doing so.

However, just like with free weights, there are failures to bodyweight-only training.

With bodyweight strength training, you can’t isolate muscles as effectively — or easily — as with free weights. Trying to isolate that weak left bicep will require a lot of creativity.

And knowing how to make the exercises harder (or easier) often requires a bit of imagination and dedication. After all, progressing by adjusting the angle of your body just an inch at a time — although you’re getting stronger — can be discouraging.

Further, although there are many hard lower-body exercises that require no extra equipment (like one-legged “pistol” squats) there’s only so far you can strengthen your lower body before you need to add weight. And even if you’re able to do 100 pistols with each leg, eventually to keep progressing, you need to increase the resistance.

So… what’s the Verdict?

Laid out to the unbiased eye, the debate between free weights and bodyweight strength training looks pretty even. But everyone is biased.

What’s best for you depends on your goals and situation. If you’re impatient to see progress in the amount that you can lift, bodyweight training might not be the best choice for you — free weights, with their tracking-friendly poundages, might be better.

Likewise, if you’re deathly worried about wandering into the free weights section of the gym, being able to start out at home could make bodyweight training a good place to start for your strength work.

Yet in regards to improving your body composition, either method will work: both are training your muscles against resistance, which improves muscle, strength and metabolism — and ultimately fat loss.

Bodyweight exercises can be convenient, easy to start with, and potentially build and protect your joints, but the limitations of lower-body strength on a bodyweight-only workout regimen make lifting weights — at least for your lower body — still worthwhile.

So if combining the two modalities gives you the best of both worlds — why restrict yourself to just one?


Matthew Seiltz is a writer and lifelong strength and fitness enthusiast. When not writing or working out, he can be found with a book or spending time with his wife and sons outdoors.


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