The 6 Weight-Loss Tips That Science Actually Knows Work

Some of the weight loss articles out there these days are getting a little nutty. New scientific studies that shed light on how metabolism works are wonderful and valuable in their own right, but when findings get morphed into magical new “tips” for losing weight, something’s amiss. Some recent pieces in prestigious journals, which have sought to dispel the myths of weight loss and of the individual diets themselves, suggest that the medical community is also getting tired of the hype and the unfounded assumptions that permeate the public discussion.

When it comes down to it, the things we know to be true about weight loss are relatively simple, and certainly few. They’re also extremely effective when actually carried out. So, from the researchers who have studied this stuff for decades, here’s pretty much everything we know about weight loss today, whittled down to six points about how the body actually gains, loses, and maintains its weight.

1. Dieting trumps exercising

We hear a lot that a little exercise is the key to weight loss – that taking the stairs instead of the elevator will make a difference, for instance. But in fact it’s much more efficient to cut calories, says Samuel Klein, MD at Washington University’s School of Medicine. “Decreasing food intake is much more effective than increasing physical activity to achieve weight loss. If you want to achieve a 300 kcal energy deficit you can run in the park for 3 miles or not eat 2 ounces of potato chips.” It’s as simple as that. Some studies have borne out this dichotomy, pitting exercise against diet and finding that participants tend to lose more weight by dieting alone than by exercise alone. Of course, both together would be even better.

The problem is that when you rely on exercise alone, it often backfires, for a couple of reasons. This is partly because of exercise’s effects on the hunger and appetite hormones, which make you feel noticeably hungrier after exercise. “If you walk briskly for an hour and burn 400 kcal,” says Klein, “and then have a beer and a slice of pizza afterwards because the exercise made you feel hungry…you will eat more calories than you have burned.” It may not always be beer and pizza, but people do tend to naturally compensate for the calories they expend.

“This is an adaptive system,” adds David Allison, PhD. “For every action there’s a reaction; that’s a law of physics, not of biology, but it seems that it also works in biological systems. This is why we often overestimate quite radically an effect of a particular treatment.” He points out that public health campaigns that, for example, urge people to take the stairs instead of the elevator or go on a nightly stroll – or, for that matter, even eat fewer calories – are unlikely to work, since they may fail to take into account the body’s compensatory mechanisms that can totally counteract the effect.

The other problem with exercise-without-dieting is that it’s simply tiring, and again, the body will compensate. “If the exercise made you tired so that you become more sedentary the rest of the day, you might not experience any net negative energy,” says Klein. Some of the calories we burn come from our basic movements throughout the day – so if you’re wiped out after exercise, and more likely to sit on the couch afterwards, you’ve lost the energy deficit you gained from your jog.

2. Exercise can help fix a “broken” metabolism, especially during maintenance

“People used to come into the doctor’s office and say, ‘My metabolism is broken!’” says James Hill, PhD, at the University of Colorado. “We never had any evidence that it actually was, until recently. We were wrong – it was!” While exercise may not be as important for weigh loss as calorie restriction, as Hill says, it’s important in another way: It begins to repair a broken metabolism.

“A lot of what we know in this area comes from NASA, of the bed-rest studies,” he says. “Within a couple of days of non-activity, the metabolism becomes inflexible. You start moving again, and it does start to change.” Your metabolism may not ever go back to “normal” (more on this below), but the evidence indicates that it can indeed pick up again, in large part through moving your body every day.

This is a large part of why exercise is critical in the maintenance phase, which is well known to be more difficult than the weight loss phase. Essentially, it buys us some wiggle room, says Michael Jensen, MD at the Mayo Clinic. “Exercise is very, very important for maintaining lost weight, and people who are not physically active are more likely to gain weight. We think it’s partly because in the extra calories burned from physical activity, you have a bit more flexibility in food intake, so you’re not so much relying on ridged changes in eating habits; it makes it more tolerable.”

3. You’re going to have to work harder than other people – possibly forever

Though exercise can help correct a metabolism that’s been out of whack for a long time, the grisly reality is that it may not ever go back to what it was before you gained weight. So if you’ve been overweight or obese and you lose weight, maintaining that loss means you’re probably going to have to work harder than other people, maybe for good. “The sad thing,” says Hill, “is that once you’ve been obese or not moving for some time, it takes a little more exercise to maintain. It doesn’t come back to normal.” It’s not a pretty reality to face, but coming to grips with it is important, he says, so that you won’t get frustrated when you discover that you have to do more work over the long term than your friend who was never overweight.

Building muscle can help your body burn a few more calories throughout the day, but it’s also likely that you’ll have to work harder aerobically in the long run. “It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is,” adds Hill. “Once you understand it, though, you know it and it’s better. Because you can work with it.”

4. There’s no magical combination of foods

We often think that if we can just discover the “right” combination of foods, we’ll magically lose weight or maintain what we’ve lost. There are low-fat diets, low-carb diets, low glycemic diets, Paleo diets, and a lot of iterations of all of these. Jensen points out that in fact there doesn’t seem to be any “right” diet, and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that one particular diet will work better with an individual’s specific metabolism. “The big myth out there,” he says, “is that there’s a magical combination of foods – be it protein, vegetarian, and what have you – that’s going to be unique because of its unique interaction with your metabolism. We know pretty much that any diet will help you lose weight if you follow it. There’s no magic diet. The truth is that ALL Diets will work if you follow them.”

5. A calorie IS a calorie!

And for energy balance, it’s the number of calories that matters. Weight loss on the Twinkie Diet proves this principle: Last year, Mark Haub at Kansas State University lost 27 pounds eating junk food. And this is pretty good proof of concept, says Yale University’s David Katz, MD, who has written extensively on the futility of the “is a calorie a calorie?” debate.

It’s certainly true – at least in theory and sometimes in practice – that all calories are created equal. “From the standpoint of body weight,” adds Marion Nestle, PhD, of NYU, “a calorie is a calorie no matter what it comes from. You can gain weight eating too much healthy food as well as unhealthy. From the standpoint of health, it’s better to eat your veggies…. It’s just a lot easier to overeat calories from junk food than healthy food. But it can be done.”

But the source of calories obviously matters for other reasons. One, says Katz, is that “the quality of calories is a major determinant of the quantity we ingest under real world conditions.” First of all, no one overeats veggies, so on a practical level, that’s a non-issue. “But where the calories come from does matter in that they influence satiety,” he adds, and this is partly psychology and partly biology. In fact, the food industry has carved out a whole new area of food science to study the “bliss point,” in which foods are created to increase the amount it takes to feel satiated and full. On one hand, says Katz, “we have the ‘bliss point’ science to tell us that the food industry can process foods to increase the calories it takes to reach satisfaction. We have the reciprocal body of work, including the Harvard study of the ONQI, showing that ‘more nutritious’ means, among other things, the opportunity to fill up on fewer calories.”

It’s true that types of foods you eat may, over time, affect your metabolic profile, so they may also matter in this way, but when it boils down, sticking to any reduced-calorie diet will create the energy deficit needed to lose weight. So the point is not to question what a calorie is, but rather to understand that we need to “trade up” our foods, says Katz – exchange the very dense, calorie-packed foods for foods that are less calorie-dense and more nutritionally dense: these are the ones that are bulkier, less energetically rich, have more or higher quality protein, are lower on the glycemic index, and more fibrous.

6. It’s all about the brain 

As my colleagues have reported (here and here), when it comes down to it, it’s not the body or the metabolism that are actually creating overweight or obesity – it’s the brain. We all know intuitively that poor decisions are what make you gain weight and better ones are what make you lose it. The problem is that over time, the poor decisions lead to significant changes in how the brain governs – and, amazingly, responds to – the hunger and satiation processes. Years of any kind of behavior pattern lay down neural tracks, and overeating is no exception.

The good news is that there’s increasing evidence that the brain can, in large part, “fix” itself once new behavior patterns emerge (i.e., calorie restriction, healthy food choices, and exercise). While there may be some degree of “damage” to the brain, particularly in how hunger and satiety hormones function, it can correct itself to a large degree over time. The key is that the process does take time, and like any other behavior change, is ultimately a practice. “We want to change behavior here,” says Hill. “Anyone that tells you it’s going to happen in 12 weeks, that’s bogus. We’re trying to rewire the brain. Neurobiology has told us so much about what’s going on in weight gain and weight loss. It takes a long time to develop new habits, rituals, routines. This takes months and years. But it will happen.”

The 6 Weight-Loss Tips That Science Actually Knows Work


Putting the Science behind Exercise – Workout Smarter, Not Harder

Athletes tend to push themselves 120 percent while exercising because their main objective is to jump higher, run faster or become stronger. If your main objective is weight-loss, you do not need to push yourself this hard. What you need to do is find an appropriate intensity that will maximize your body’s ability to burn calories, specifically fat calories.

For some of you, this may be a difficult concept to grasp because you have always had the “no pain, no gain” mindset. The reality of maximizing your weight-loss is to work smarter, not harder. Yes it is true; you do not have to “kill” yourself in order to lose weight. In fact, your body is actually better at burning fat at low to moderate intensities of activity, especially if you are just starting to exercise. Although most athletes tend to be leaner, you will be delighted to know that you do not have to train like an athlete to maximize your body’s ability to burn fat and ultimately become leaner.

How Your Body Burns Calories for Fuel

First, let me describe how your body uses fuel for activity and movement. Throughout the day, your body uses calories obtained through food for its fuel. Most of you understand that if you consume more food than your body uses as fuel, you will ultimately gain weight, and if you consume less food than your body burns, you should ultimately lose weight. What you may not know is exactly what kind of food the body uses as fuel.

There are three different fuel sources, and your body generally uses two of them: fat and carbohydrates. Consider these two as your primary fuel sources. The third fuel source is protein. Protein is not an efficient fuel source. Protein’s main purpose is to build and repair tissue, not to provide fuel or energy. Although, eating protein is important for people trying to lose weight because they need to preserve their lean muscle through the weight-loss phase.

The idea is to prevent the body from tapping into lean muscle mass for fuel during the caloric restriction phase of any diet. This is essential because lean muscle helps stoke the metabolism because it takes more energy to sustain lean muscle versus fat mass.

Fat and Carbohydrates: Your Body’s Two Main Fuel Sources

Okay, enough about protein. What about fat and carbohydrates? I mentioned that these are the fuels we need to burn in order to go about our daily lives. Let’s start with fat, since it is really what most people are concerned with. Fat is utilized both at rest and during activity. How you metabolize or burn fat at rest is most directly related to what you eat; your body will burn what you feed it.

The analogy of your body being like a car should help explain this concept. If you put premium unleaded fuel in your car, that is what it is going to burn. By the same token, if you put regular unleaded fuel in your car, it has no choice but to burn the regular unleaded fuel. Your body works in a similar fashion. If you eat a diet rich in fat, it will burn a majority of its calories at rest from fat. Similarly, if you eat breads, pastas, fruits and vegetables, your body will burn a majority of carbohydrates at rest.

Genetics and a Healthy Diet Play a Part

Now, it does not always work out exactly this way because our bodies consist of tiny components called genes. I am sure you realize that part of the reason you may be the way you are is because of your genetic makeup, or heredity. In other words, some of us were simply born fat burners.

Yes, we have all met these people. You know, the ones that can sit around the office and munch on donuts in the morning, eat out for lunch every day, enjoy a candy bar in the afternoon, and never gain a pound. You probably “hate” these people. And then, others are just good carbohydrate (carb) burners. Their bodies “want” to burn carbohydrates and they hardly burn an ounce of fat at rest. You can “thank” your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles for these traits; however, if you are not a born fat burner, do not dismay because you can do a lot to combat some of those non-fat burning traits you inherited.

One of the fastest ways to burn more fat at rest is to eat a well-balanced diet. If you eat a diet consisting of the right amount of carbohydrates, fats and protein, your body will burn about 60 percent of your calories from fat and about 40 percent from carbohydrates in a resting state. That is not a bad ratio of fat burn, simply from eating sensibly.

Diets that are high in protein and low in carbohydrate will significantly help create an even better fat-burning body. These diets essentially force your body to burn fat because you are not consuming the easily digested carbohydrate and the body does not like to use protein for fuel. Thus, the body turns to the stored fat and begins to break it down for fuel. This process is called ketosis. The body breaks down fat to produce glucose and a byproduct, called ketones, to use for fuel.

The Body Burns Fuel Differently at Different Times

You may be wondering what “at rest means.” It refers to a resting state, as opposed to a physically active state. When you are exercising, your body burns fuel a bit differently. What type of calories you burn at rest has everything to do with your diet and genetics, whereas what type you burn while exercising has everything to do with your fitness level. Generally speaking, your body will burn fat or carbohydrate for fuel during exercise just as it does in a resting state, but your body will burn fat better at low to moderate workout intensities. The more intense your exercise, the more carbohydrates your body will burn. The reason for this is because it takes a lot longer to break down and metabolize or burn fat.

The bottom line is, you will burn a greater percentage of fat exercising at lower intensities. This is especially the case for those of you that are just starting an exercise regimen. Great news for anyone trying to lose weight – you do not have to “kill” yourself in order to lose fat pounds.

Keep in mind that the body must utilize oxygen in order to burn fat. Aerobic exercise basically means exercise involving the intake of oxygen. When you exercise aerobically, you are utilizing a large amount of oxygen to burn calories. Conversely, anaerobic exercise means exercising at a level at which oxygen debt occurs because the need for oxygen exceeds the capacity of the circulation to supply it. This generally occurs with short bursts of high-intensity exercise such as a 100-meter dash, vertical jumps, power lifts, or the explosiveness of a defensive lineman at the snap of a football.

When the body is in an anaerobic state, it is only capable of burning carbohydrates. The best thing about this whole process is that you can actually make your body more efficient at burning fat at higher intensities and longer durations through training, specifically heart rate training. This should ultimately be everyone’s goal. If you are disciplined in training specifically to create the best fat-burning body possible, you will inevitably have an easier time losing weight and ultimately be able to maintain a healthy weight once you achieved your target weight. This helps explain why fit people tend to be leaner. They have created a body that is very good at burning fat; therefore, it is easier for them to manage their weight.

Let me explain how your body uses carbohydrates for fuel. Carbs are the preferred fuel source to some degree. The reason for this is because carbs are usually abundant in our bodies and most people ingest a large number of carbs daily. In fact, the body even stores carbs in the liver and muscles. These stored carbs are called glycogen. As you begin to move, your muscles can easily use this glycogen for energy. This also explains why your body will resort to burning more carbs when you exercise at higher intensities. More intense exercise requires quick energy, so the body resorts to burning carbs because it can get to them faster and break them down more quickly than the other two macronutrients (fat and protein).

This is great news, right? You are probably thinking, “Yeah, yeah… but how do I do it? How do I exercise to create the most efficient fat-burning system? Do I just start moving, and if so, for how long, how frequently, and how strenuously? Should I walk, bike, swim or lift weights?” These are all great questions.

Benefits of Heart Rate Monitoring and Metabolic Testing

Aside from proper diet, cardiovascular exercise is the main support on which to lean for weight-loss, specifically fat-loss. The key is to know the point (exercise intensity) at which your body is most effective at burning fat. This is where heart-rate monitoring comes into play. Most of us have heard of people using a heart rate monitor while exercising. The reason you would want to do this is to ensure that you are training at the optimal intensity level to burn fat most efficiently.

The point at which you are most effective at burning fat is considered to be your target heart rate, or aerobic base. It is the level of intensity, measured in beats per-minute, at which your body can burn the most number of fat calories per-minute. This is important to know if your main objective is fat-loss.

Now, everyone is different as to the point or exercise intensity that they are most efficient at burning fat. Generally speaking, you will burn fat better at those low to moderate intensities, but if you really want to be specific and put the science behind your workouts, you should get assessed through metabolic testing. This is the most effective method of measuring one’s aerobic base or maximum fat burning capacity. Check your local health clubs to see if any of them offer this testing, also known as indirect calorimetry, maximum oxygen update, or O2 testing.

Summing it All up

You might say, “Yes, but this goes against everything I have ever known or been told. I always thought you had to be huffing and puffing, or you were not really doing any good.” It is important to point out that there is a fine line here. The harder you work, the more total calories your body will burn; however, several problems come into play.

Most of you will not able to sustain this level of intensity, and it is fairly hard on your joints if you have not exercised consistently for some time. The other important consideration (and possible problem) is that you will be burning a greater percentage of carbs. You might be thinking, “Well, a calorie is a calorie, is a calorie, right?” Well, not exactly.

Keep in mind that if you are combining your new exercise with a sensible diet that is generally low in carbs and high in lean protein (a very popular and effective diet for those trying to reduce their weight), you are really not consuming many carbs. So if you are not eating many carbs and you have a whole lot of body fat to tap into, why would you want to burn more carbs through exercise? This would make it that much more difficult to stay on your diet after your workout.

If you burn a bunch of carbs during exercise, your body will tend to crave carbs post-workout, especially because you have been restricting them – not to mention that the fat you were trying to burn off during exercise is still hanging on, literally. This is not what you want to accomplish. You can get yourself into a vicious and frustrating cycle by trying to exercise like this. The idea is to force your body to burn fat both through exercise and diet. If you are working hard in the gym, be sure you are burning and wasting away fat, not time.

the Science behind Exercise


HOW TO GET MOTIVATED when you don't feel like WORKING OUT

HOW TO GET MOTIVATED when you don't feel like WORKING OUT

7 Habits of Highly Effective Exercisers

Despite what you may think, the trick to exercising regularly isn't finding your inner enforcer. Rather, "it's getting creative and tapping your natural motivations," says Kelly McGonigal, PhD, a health psychologist and fitness instructor at Stanford. We asked women who work up a sweat almost every day for their stick-with-it solutions. Check out our seven fail-proof favorites.

1. Don't put away your gear.

From the moment she rises, Kristina Monét Cox, 26, has exercise on the brain. That's because the first things she sees are her sneakers and workout clothes. "I've got them next to the bed in plain sight," says Kristina, the CEO of a communications firm in Houston. "I've also got dumbbells right where I can see them in the bathroom, and a balance ball, a yoga mat, and a jump rope strategically placed throughout the house." Forgetting to exercise is never her problem.

Why it works: Visual cues are a wake-up call to your brain. "We all have competing priorities like work, family, chores. Sometimes we need a reminder to keep exercise at the forefront," McGonigal says.

Do it yourself: If you don't have the space to display your gear (or if it'll mess with your decor), choose just one or two prime locations that you'll never miss. Better yet, "pick places where you spend a lot of time and can use the equipment, like by the TV or the phone," says Amanda Visek, PhD, assistant professor of sport and exercise psychology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

2. Turn your commute into a workout.

On days that Monica Vazquez, 27, a master trainer for New York Sports Clubs in New York City, can't do her usual run, she stuffs her essentials — keys, cash, credit card, phone and ID — into a fanny pack and jogs home from work instead. "Running is a great workout, but it's also great transportation," she says. "Sometimes I get home even earlier than I normally do taking the subway."

Why it works: Running, walking, or biking somewhere you have to go anyway makes exercise feel time-efficient. "And you don't have to carve out another part of your day for it," says Michelle Fortier, PhD, professor of health sciences at the University of Ottawa. "It's an effective strategy for people who are busy from morning to night."

Do it yourself: Your logistics may be a bit more complex if you drive to work or don't have good public transportation at your disposal. Maybe you can carpool in the morning or park your car a mile from the office and speed walk the distance to and from your job. If you don't have a safe place at work to stash your stuff, invest in a lightweight backpack with waist and chest straps (we like Patagonia's Pocket Pack; $69, or swap your purse for a fanny pack on days that you plan to run home.

3. Invest in more workout clothes.

For years, Gina Cancellaro, 36, a paralegal in Bronxville, New York, owned only one sports bra. "I didn't want to spend the money," she admits. Then one day she realized that this was a barrier to her working out: "My usual excuse was that it wasn't clean." So she went to the mall and loaded up on bras — and cute tops and shorts. Now she exercises five days a week.

Why it works: "Having the right clothing doesn't just remove a hurdle; it reinforces your identity as an exerciser," McGonigal says. "And when exercising is an integral part of your identity, it isn't optional anymore. It's just part of your life." Plus, you've got to wear those adorable new workout clothes somewhere.

Do it yourself: Stock up on at least a week's worth of gym outfits to eliminate any last-minute hand washing in the sink. Think of it as spending now to save yourself grief later. To truly simplify your life, you may want to get several of the same tops and bottoms. "There's no time-consuming decision making that way," says Patricia Moreno, a FITNESS advisory board member and body and mind coach for the Web site SatiLife. "Look for basics that are comfy and show off your assets — whether that's your shoulders or your abs — so you feel good just suiting up."

4. Log your workouts online.

A surprising thing happened when Michelle Busack, 38, started to post her exercise routines on Facebook: Old friends from high school whom she hadn't seen in years began writing comments. "At first they just congratulated me," says Michelle, a nurse in Columbus, Indiana. "But now we've bonded over this and they're my biggest cheerleaders." In fact, if she doesn't post a workout update for a few days, they'll demand to know what's going on.

Why it works: Social networking sites like Facebook and DailyMile offer an extra layer of social support. "You've got potentially all of your online contacts holding you accountable," says Michele Olson, PhD, a FITNESS advisory board member and professor of exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama.

Do it yourself: Choose a social platform or online fitness tool. Then get in the habit of chronicling your progress after your workout every day so that your friends know when you usually exercise — and when you've slacked off. Post your minutes, your miles, or whatever motivates you most.

5. Involve your causes.

A political junkie, Rachel Simpson, 31, decided to use her partisan loyalties to help herself lose weight. She vowed to exercise four times a week; for each week she failed to do so, she agreed on Stickk (a Web site that helps people stay committed to their goals) to donate $25 to the library of a former president she didn't like. "Suddenly, working out was mandatory!" says the recent law school graduate in Minneapolis. Three months later she was down 16 pounds — and hadn't betrayed her party.

Why it works: Strong feelings, especially antipathies, have a multiplier effect. "Losing $10 to an enemy feels like $20 or even $30, so you push yourself harder," says Dean Karlan, PhD, professor of economics at Yale and a founder of Stickk.

Do it yourself: On Stickk, you can pledge to give a minimum of $5 to a charity or an individual (you provide the name and address) you like if you meet your goal or to one you dislike if you fall short. (Your credit card is charged.) Or sign up to raise money for a charity on the Web site Plus 3 Network: You pick from a list of goals that have prearranged corporate sponsors; if you meet yours, they'll pay the charity.

6. Make friends with class regulars.

The thought of spending time with her Spinning buddies pushes Marie Bruce, 24, a coach and events director in Austin, Texas, to her morning class three times a week. "We're a tight-knit group," she says. "If I'm grumpy when I walk in, they don't let me stay that way for long." During the past six years, she's grown close to her extended gym family; in fact, they're invited to her upcoming wedding.

Why it works: It's smart time management. "You get your social fix while doing physical activity," Fortier says. Both boost health, and the better you feel, the likelier you are to want to exercise.

Do it yourself: Some classes foster friendships more than others, so you'll have to do some sleuthing. "Arrive early and observe," suggests Moreno, who teaches IntenSati, a mix of aerobics, dance, yoga, and kickboxing. "Are people staking out their places in silence, or are they chatting and laughing and flitting around the room?" Another good sign: The instructor seems to know everyone's name.

7. Create an exercise contest.

Taking a page from The Biggest Loser, Elizabeth Kirat, 35, and her friends are embroiled in a sweaty battle to see who can diet and exercise off the most weight. Every six weeks, they call the winner. "There's money at stake, but it's really the bragging rights that keep you returning to the treadmill," says Elizabeth, a photographer in Denville, New Jersey. So far she's dropped 10 pounds.

Why it works: Competition turns a solitary pursuit into a fun group one. "By trying to beat each other, you're actually pulling each other along," Visek says. "Even playful heckling validates that you're working toward a similar goal."

Do it yourself: The contest can be for anything: most steps walked, most hours logged at the gym, highest percentage of body weight lost. Aim for anywhere from four to 10 participants. "Fewer than that, and one person who's not really trying can hobble the group. More than that, and it's hard for everyone to interact," Visek explains. To keep group members engaged, limit the competition to six-week rounds and have weekly check-ins, when people put money in the jar. "Your incentive is regularly refreshed in your mind that way," Visek says. Once everyone has agreed to the rules, let the games begin!

7 Habits of Highly Effective Exercisers


5 Ways to Get Motivated

Athlete's Performance, a facility in Phoenix, Arizona, has been training NFL prospects since 2001, with many of the top overall picks working out of their weight room. Nick Winkelman, Director of Training Systems and Education for AP, spoke to MF about the process of getting these guys ready for the league. Here are his five tips to help get yourself motivated for your own workouts.

Use a Line of Questioning

You'd think that every NFL prospect is intrinsically (or internally) motivated. But that's just not the case. The guys at AP are talented, but even the best of the best need to be pushed every now and then. Even though prospects know that they're supposed to take a plunge in a cold tub and grab a post-workout shake after sessions, some are reluctant. "Every single year," says Winkelman, "we struggle with certain guys who don't want to get in the pool." And often, the guys who skip the extra work are the guys out of the NFL in 2-3 years.

Everyone needs a little extrinsic (or external) motivation now and then. "When I look at extrinsic motivation, it's trying to shove a concept in their head from your viewpoint," says Winkelman. "That's not what I try to do. I try to create a concept from their viewpoint." Winkelman will walk guys through a specific line of questioning, using pointed statements to help them see how choices can benefit them.

For you, think about your physique goal. Then break it down into smaller goals, like getting to the gym 3 days a week for a certain number of weeks. When you can't find the drive on a particular day, ask yourself questions like, "will skipping this workout help me or hurt me?" You know the answer already, but having to admit it will help you refocus on the smaller goal you need to achieve on your way to the larger goal.

Be Positive

The type of training the prospects do at AP is very different from on-field football work. They're trained as sprinters to get faster times in tests that they'll take at the combine. Some guys get bogged down by the logistics of the program, but overall the staff at AP doesn't have to do too much to keep them motivated. "I'm not a big fan of hooting and hollering," says Winkelman. "I will let them know when they've done something great, but I will not come down on them hard when they've done something wrong." That positive reinforcement helps the athletes focus on things they can change, rather than waste time and energy being upset.

In your own training, reframe the way you think about success and failure. Instead of beating yourself up about missing a lift, think about the things you've done well ­ like, at least, getting into the gym that night ­ and build on those things. Simply thinking in a different way will help you realize how effective positive reinforcement can be.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Winkelman mentioned former Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones as one of the most athletically gifted players he's ever been around. In one test, the prospects will run three sprints. "As we train them over the time, their best sprint should be #1, #2 should be the same or 5% slower, #3 should be 5-10% slower, if they're giving 100% effort," says Winkelman. That means it's normal to expect your production to drop off, slightly, when you're giving maximum effort for a certain amount of time. Jones didn't, because he's a rare athlete with outstanding genetics.

When you fall a little short, think about how you could have done something different. If you don't know your own potential, you'll never reach it. You won't even come close. But pushing yourself each and every day will help you figure out how good you can be.

Work on Your Work Ethic

For Winkelman, who has been with AP for five years, there's one single characteristic that he sees in all the guys who train at his facility that go on to have successful NFL careers. "Work ethic, 100%," he says. "The ones who will work without being told, the ones who you have to tell to stop doing extra work, they're going to be the ones that historically have the best careers." That may seem cliché, but it's true.

Lots of top prospects were better than their opponents in high school and college because of their natural ability, or because they were just bigger or stronger than the guys on the other team. But in the NFL, everyone is natural gifted. It's the same for you at the gym. You might have good genetics, and maybe you can still see your abs despite a few weekends of drive-thru and too many beers. But it won't stay like that forever, and the way you can make sure you succeed at staying fit is continuing to work hard in the gym, and in the kitchen.

Know Your Goals

Plenty of MF guys love training, but we suspect some of you guys like to go through the motions and call it a day. And that's fine, if you don't really want to get results. If you want to lose weight, focus on that. If you want to gain muscle, focus on that. You can do both, but it's harder to make progress when you divide your attention that way.

For the guys at AP, their nutrition is tailored to meet their needs. Those looking to lose weight will get most of their calories in breakfast and lunch, and they may not be supplementing with creatine. There's a specific percentage of carbs to protein to fat that the guys eat at each meal. "They'll usually just drop calories more than changing the percentages," says Winkelman. For those looking to gain weight, safely, without adding a ton of body fat, they'll take in more calories around their workouts.

For you, decide what you want to achieve before you get to the gym and start warming up, and make sure you're eating the right way at all your meals. Otherwise, you'll have a hard time seeing changes in your body.

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7 Cheap Ways to Get More Protein in Your Diet

7 Cheap Ways to Get More Protein in Your Diet

Meeting Protein Needs Simply by Eating

Imagine running into a friend at the gym who was just finishing her aerobic workout. Sweaty and flushed, she downs a bottle of water and remarks, “Got to get my hydrogen!” While we may instinctively sense that there is something odd about that statement, in Western countries, and particularly the U.S., people make very similar comments on a regular basis. “Just getting my protein in!” someone will cheerfully report as they dig into General Tso’s chicken or crack open a hard-boiled egg. “I just make sure to eat lots of legumes,” a vegan will say in response to the question of how they get enough protein without eating animal products.

Protein is vital for human consumption, but in no way can its importance be separated from the context of the whole food it came from. What we need to be consuming is food – whole, plant-based food – because it provides the range of nutrients (protein included) that humans need to function in health.

That being said, I know you’re asking anyway, “How much protein do I really need?” For an individual adult, this is a minimum of about 4-5% of total calories per day on average, or 0.6g/kg body weight. How did we get this number? Scientists have measured people’s protein consumption and nitrogen balance and determined how much protein (as nitrogen) must be consumed to balance how much is routinely lost (the body is always replacing old protein). This estimate is considered the minimum daily requirement. Researchers will also take into consideration any symptoms that may arise with the different amounts of protein that people are consuming.

Because half of us need more protein than that average minimum, a safe number to shoot for is around 8-10% of total calories. At that point, almost everyone will be getting more than what what they need. Any more than 10% will likely be excessive and there is evidence that chronic disease rates increase at such high amounts, especially when including animal foods.

Conveniently, eating a varied whole-food, plant-based diet will naturally provide approximately 10% of protein from total calories without any special effort. In developed countries we have the privilege of access to fresh, good quality plant foods at all times of year, and the variety available provides more than enough protein in the diet.

Want to test it out on yourself? You can use one of various tools like SuperTracker to track the nutrient profile of your daily diet. If you are consuming varied, whole plant foods, you will easily meet the protein requirement.

Consider what I ate in one day: oatmeal with banana and 1 TB of maple syrup for breakfast, an apple, carrot, and crackers and hummus for snacks, whole wheat noodles with kale, tomato sauce and white beans for lunch, a big salad (4 cups) with carrots, tomato, avocado and balsamic vinegar, a stuffed pepper, and broccoli for dinner, and a baked apple for dessert. I ate a total of 1950 calories, 11% of which were from protein. More than enough! And not too hard either. I did all this without thinking about anything except making sure I remembered to bring my lunch to work.

Meeting Protein Needs Simply by Eating


High-Protein Diet for Weight Loss

Going on a high-protein diet may help you tame your hunger, which could help you lose weight.

You can try it by adding some extra protein to your meals. Give yourself a week, boosting protein gradually.

Remember, calories still count. You'll want to make good choices when you pick your protein.

If you plan to add a lot of protein to your diet, or if you have liver or kidney disease, check with your doctor first.

The Best Protein Sources

Choose protein sources that are nutrient-rich and lower in saturated fat and calories, such as:

  • Lean meats
  • Seafood
  • Beans
  • Soy
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds

It's a good idea to change up your protein foods. For instance, you could have salmon or other fish that's rich in omega-3s, beans or lentils that give you fiber as well as protein, walnuts on your salad, or almonds on your oatmeal.

How much protein are you getting? Here's how many grams of protein are in these foods:

  • 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese: 14
  • 3 ounces tofu, firm: 13
  • 1/2 cup cooked lentils: 9
  • 2 tablespoons natural-style peanut butter or almond butter: 8
  • 1 ounce cooked lean meat, fish, skinless poultry: 7
  • 1 ounce cheese: 7
  • 1/2 cup cooked kidney beans: 7
  • 1 ounce nuts: 4-7
  • 1 large egg: 6
  • 4 ounces low-fat plain yogurt: 6
  • 4 ounces soy milk: 5
  • 4 ounces low-fat milk: 4

Carbs and Fats

While you're adding protein to your diet, you should also stock up on "smart carbs" such as:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Beans and legumes (both also have protein)
  • Low-fat milk and yogurt (both have protein)

 Also try healthy fats such as:

  • Nuts and natural-style nut butters
  • Seeds
  • Olives
  • Extra virgin olive oil and canola oil
  • Fish
  • Avocados

To help manage your appetite, it also helps to split your daily calories into four or five smaller meals or snacks.

High-Protein Diet for Weight Loss


7-Minute Workout

7-Minute Workout

We Tried It: The 7-Minute Workout

What We Tried: The seven-minute workout, as made popular by a New York Times article covering a recent circuit workout published in the American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) Health & Fitness Journal.

Where: In the comfort of my own living room.

What We Did: The seven-minute workout involves a series of 12 bodyweight exercises that require only a chair and a wall, performed at about an eight on an intensity scale of one to 10. Each move -- think squats, pushups, etc. -- is performed for 30 seconds with 10 seconds of rest in between. Follow along with this nifty timer, which ticks off each interval and notes which move is coming up next (h/t Lifehacker).

For How Long: Seven minutes! Although, (there's always a catch, right?) the ACSM authors suggest (and many critics point out) that repeating the whole circuit two or three times for a total of closer to 20 minutes will likely benefit you even more.

How'd It Feel: Hard. The NYT article appropriately warns: "Those seven minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant." Of course, if results required only seven minutes of minimal effort, I wouldn't still be yearning for Michelle Obama arms.

My heart rate was elevated after completing just three of the moves, and I was visibly sweaty (why do I still think I can wear gray?) after about six of them. Thirty seconds of triceps dips on a chair (the seventh exercise out of 12) would have been more aptly named triceps dips to exhaustion, and I think I just barely cranked out six reps of move number 11, pushups with rotation.

What It Helps With: High intensity circuit training (HICT) isn't a new concept. HICT, along with high intensity interval training (HIIT) and Tabata workouts have all been shown to have long-lasting benefits despite their abbreviated durations. A budding crop of research suggests that short, intense exercise can boost metabolism, fight weight gain and even add years to your life.

Critics, however, say that the potential results are overstated by the ACSM authors. While some exercise is always better than none, seven minutes is not likely to make a huge difference.

Still, this particular seven-minute workout is only one example of a HICT routine, and can certainly still boost heart rate and tax the muscles. Could it be made even more intense and effective with different moves and added resistance, as fitness expert Adam Bornstein posits on his blog, Born Fitness? Certainly. Could it still be a beneficial addition to an otherwise varied exercise routine? Certainly.

What Fitness Level Is Required: Some understanding of proper form and technique is key in a workout like this, write the authors, not to mention a certain understanding of what you're getting yourself into. "Proper execution requires a willing and able participant who can handle a great degree of discomfort for a relatively short duration," they write. However, if you're game, anyone can give it a go (although the authors do provide a caution for people with hypertension or heart disease).

What It Costs: Zip!

Would We Do It Again: Definitely. In fact, I tried it on Monday, and immediately challenged my boyfriend to do the circuit at least once through every day for an entire week. We'll see if he can handle it.

We Tried It: The 7-Minute Workout


The Scientific 7-Minute Workout

The Scientific 7-Minute Workout

Exercise science is a fine and intellectually fascinating thing. But sometimes you just want someone to lay out guidelines for how to put the newest fitness research into practice.

An article in the May-June issue of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal does just that. In 12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.

“There’s very good evidence” that high-intensity interval training provides “many of the fitness benefits of prolonged endurance training but in much less time,” says Chris Jordan, the director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla., and co-author of the new article.

Work by scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and other institutions shows, for instance, that even a few minutes of training at an intensity approaching your maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of running or bike riding.

Interval training, though, requires intervals; the extremely intense activity must be intermingled with brief periods of recovery. In the program outlined by Mr. Jordan and his colleagues, this recovery is provided in part by a 10-second rest between exercises. But even more, he says, it’s accomplished by alternating an exercise that emphasizes the large muscles in the upper body with those in the lower body. During the intermezzo, the unexercised muscles have a moment to, metaphorically, catch their breath, which makes the order of the exercises important.

The exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10, Mr. Jordan says. Those seven minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant. The upside is, after seven minutes, you’re done.