How To Get A Six-Pack

April 24, 2017

Among the multitude of topics that populate the health and fitness world, volumes have been written about one particular subject: the six-pack.

And, as summer quickly approaches, interest in this mythic feature is steadily rising. So, then, how can you actually achieve such a feat? What does it take to get a six-pack? Fortunately, it's actually much more straightforward than you might think.

Two-Pronged Approach

At it's most basic level, cultivating a six-pack is about reducing your body fat percentage down to a point at which your muscles become visible. For men, this means getting below about 10 percent. Women's abs will generally start to show below 19 percent.

Why does this matter? Because fat rests on top of your muscle, hiding it's shape. And the famous shape of the six-pack is made by the rectus abdominis – a muscle that is split up by a network of tendons. Although, to be fair, many more muscles contribute to a respectable set of abs. But more on that later.

To build six-pack abs, therefore, you need to first have those muscles and then make them visible. And, in order to reach that lofty goal, you have to adjust both your diet and your workouts.

Part One: Diet

Generally speaking, the diet you would adopt in order to drop body fat is roughly the same as any other weight loss approach. Your caloric intake needs to by about 500 calories less than your caloric expenditure each day, forcing your body to burn up fat reserves for fuel.

In order to speed this process and minimize the amount of water weight that you're carrying (which can also hide your muscles), a low-carb, high-protein diet consisting of whole, minimally processed foods is best. Not only will this help you burn fat, but the increased protein intake will also keep you feeling full even though you're eating less food.

Part Two: Workout

Honestly, a proper diet is much more important than your workouts when it comes to sculpting your abs. Unfortunately, even if you lose the weight, you will only have a six-pack if there are actual muscles to show off. Otherwise, you'll just be skinny. Which is totally cool if that's what you're going for. If you want abs, though, some extra work is required.

Of course, you need to build your rectus abdominis. And, despite all of the claims out there, the classic crunch is still one of the best ways to work that particular muscle group. As mentioned, though, other muscles are also involved. Namely, your obliques, transverse abdominis and even your pecs all play a role here. Unfortunately, no one exercise can work all of those different muscles which all move in a variety of directions.

In order to burn enough fat to really show off your abs, though, you have to work your biggest, hungriest muscles. To do that, compound exercises like the squat and deadlift are some of your best choices. Yes, squats give you abs. Think about it. In order to pull off a proper squat, your back, abs, hips and legs are all working. And it takes a lot of calories to fuel all of that movement. When you do a crunch, though, one small muscle group moves.

Bonus Third-Prong: Supplements

While proper a well-designed diet and workout program is absolutely vital to losing fat and revealing your glorious abs, supplements can help support your efforts and give you a powerful boost.

By combining both LeanMode and Trans4orm, you can ensure that your body has all of the necessary micronutrients to support a healthy metabolism. These supplements are also packed with natural ingredients that will increase your energy and improve your mood, allowing you to bring your absolute best effort to the gym.

Within the fitness realm, there is a handful of enduring and guiding principles that everyone just seems to automatically know shortly after stepping into the gym for the first time. Some of these are time-tested, proven and trustworthy.

Most of these axioms, however, are completely false and need to just die already. One of the most persistent and pervasive of all of these concepts is this: To lose fat, use light weights with high reps. This is often recited in conjunction with the other half of the false equation: To bulk, lift heavy weights for a few reps.

As you may have gathered from the tone of this article, that is entirely wrong. In fact, if you're struggling to lose fat by swinging around the lightest weights you can find, you're actually doing yourself a huge disservice. The reality is that heavy lifting is a much better way to shred fat.

Why?

To really understand the advantage that heavy lifting has over it's lighter counterpart, we need to compare both the immediate and long-term impacts of both forms of training.

Just To Be Clear

But what are we talking about when we say “heavy” or “light” weights? After all, these are completely relative terms, representing different numbers for everybody.

So, here are some guidelines. For our purposes, we'll say that a “heavy” weight is one that limits you to about 8 reps. Typically, this works out to about 70 percent of your 1RM. Granted, you could go heavier. But this rep range is that one that is best suited toward building defined muscle. Which is what you're looking for when trying to shred extra fat.

If your reps approach – and pass – the 15 count, you've now entered the realm of “light” weights. This workout style isn't useless, it's just not what you need when your goal is fat loss. But more on that later.

Immediate Benefits

Actually, we lied. Let's talked about why light weights don't work in this situation right now.

Once your reps get into the 15-or-more range, your muscles are no long working as hard as they  had been in the lower ranges. And that's really the major difference. Essentially, these workouts turn into endurance training. Which most definitely has it's place.

And, generally, these high-rep workouts will actually burn more calories than the low-rep alternatives in the same way that cardio will typically burn more workouts than lifting.

If you're looking to get rid of body fat, though, you need to do more than just burn calories. You need to develop muscle fibers. Otherwise, as you lose weight, you will simply become skinny rather than the cut, defined, toned look that you're actually working for.

Plus, the more muscle fibers that you activate during your workout, the more calories you will burn. And, in order to activate those muscles, you have to challenge them with heavy, exhausting weights.

Long-term Benefits

The real reason why heavy lifting is a better fat-burning tool, though, takes place over the long period of time and – as such – often gets ignored. Put simply, muscle burns more calories than fat, even when you're sleeping. As you build more muscle, then, your metabolism will steadily increase.

Heavy workouts in particular, though, bring with them the added perk of Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption, loving known as EPOC. This effect means that, for up to 48 hours after your workouts ends, your body will continue to burn more calories than it would otherwise.

So, while light-weight workouts have their place, the ability to build more muscle fiber and burn more calories in less time makes heavy lifting a much better tool for shredding fat.

-Jonathan Thompson
Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist with over a decade of experience writing about all things health and fitness. In addition to plenty of articles and blog posts, Thompson is also the author of the book Weighted Vest Workouts.

What Is Carb Cycling?

Any time the topic of weight loss comes up, carbs inevitably get mentioned. It's just going to happen. And, put simply, this is because your carb intake could have a pretty powerful impact on the success – or failure – of your efforts to shed a few pounds. Along with the traditional and straightforward low-carb diet, though, there are a few options.

Carb cycling is among the most common and useful carb-manipulation system out there. What is carb cycling? Does it work? What do you need to know about it?

Defining The Practice

As the oh-so-descriptive name suggests, carb cycling requires you to cycle your carbs. Generally, however, protein and fat intake remain roughly unchanged. Since each gram of the oft-maligned macro contains about four calories, it's pretty typical for carb cycles to also become calorie cycles. Essentially, in their effort to adjust your carbohydrate intake, these diets will also tend to limit your total calories at the same time.

And that's really about it. But, as you might imagine, there are plenty of different ways in which you can alter your carbohydrate intake from one day to the next.

But...Why?

The big question, though, is this: Why would someone do this? Because it works.

The traditional low-carb diet also works but comes with several limitations. First, and most famously, it's a challenge to maintain for long stretches. It's also important to realize that much of the initial rapid weight loss associated with low-card diets is actually water weight, not fat.

Once that water is gone, then, weight loss can slow to a full, irritating, grinding stop. And then what?

The idea behind carb-cycling is to continually restrict and then reintroduce carbohydrates – and calories – in a strategic way that takes advantage of the effects of both low-carb and low calorie diets while limiting the side effects. Anyone who's ever attempted a full-on low-carb diet knows all too well about the mood swings, low energy and fatigue that can accompany this already difficult nutritional strategy.

In theory, though, the occasional high-carb day should help to offset these side effects, allowing you to continue your normal routine – both in and outside of the gym.

Which brings up an interesting point: Carb cycling could also offer some benefits for those looking to build muscle mass. By manipulating your body's response to anabolic hormones like insulin, while still allowing you to perform your best in the gym, carb cycles could keep you building muscle during your cut.

Does It Work?

Sadly, solid science is a little limited here. Granted, there are decades worth of anecdotal evidence in the bodybuilding and physique athlete world to testify to the effectiveness of carb cycling. And research has shown that calorie-restriction – like that seen in carb cycling – can cut back on feelings of hunger, speed up your metabolism and even encourage muscle growth.

In 2013, however, one study did look specifically at carb cycling, with promising results. This study did find that women who followed a simple carb cycling routine for three months lost more weight and saw a greater improvement in their insulin resistance than those who didn't cycle.

Just Remember...

So while carb cycling is a tested method for both losing weight and generally improving your physique, it's vital to remember one thing: Carb cycling is very hard.

And this is a lot more important than it sounds. The issue isn't simply that it might be a challenge for you to follow this routine; if you do it wrong or for too long, you could both sabotage your weight loss efforts and even damage your health.

For the most part, carb cycling should only be done by physique athletes with significant experience sticking to restricted diets or those under the supervision of a qualified professional.

-Jonathan Thompson
Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist with over a decade of experience writing about all things health and fitness. In addition to plenty of articles and blog posts, Thompson is also the author of the book Weighted Vest Workouts.

HIIT Versus LISS Cardio

April 05, 2017

As you design your workout program, you are going to come to a crossroad at some point and wonder which cardio method you should be doing for maximum results.

Chances are, you’ve heard of the two main types:

  • High Intensity Interval Training
  • Low Intensity Steady State Training

Which of these is best for you? And when is the best time of day to perform each? Let’s go over a few of the key facts you need to know.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT is constantly being talked about in the mainstream fitness world as the best cardio method to lose fat. For this cardio, you’ll alternate between very intense bouts of exercise with active rest periods, repeating this 5-10 times to make up a 15-20 minute sprint session.

It’s true – this form of cardio, when done properly, can work great for burning fat. It burns a high number of calories while you do it and also revs your metabolic rate so you burn calories far after the workout is finished.

On top of that, because it is so intense, it’s also going to increase your overall fitness level more than that of a lower intensity cardio session.

Finally, it tends to help preserve lean muscle mass better than endurance type of training because more of the fast twitch powerful muscle fibers are being used to carry out the sprint.

The drawbacks?

It’s intense. For someone on a very low calorie, low carb diet, performing this type of cardio may be challenging. It will utilize only glucose as a fuel source so you’ll need carbs present in order to complete it properly. For this reason, it is not a cardio method to do on an empty stomach.

Furthermore, if you try and stack too many sessions of HIIT with too many intense weight lifting workouts, performance will be compromised on one of the workout types.

HIIT tends to be best done by those who have a good level of fitness already, by those who are eating sufficient carbohydrates in their diet plan, and by those who have good recovery abilities and are balancing it with their strength workouts.

Do this form of cardio either after your weight lifting workouts or in a separate session altogether after eating at least one meal in the hours prior.  Be sure to consider using our BCAA Lean Energy product to help you get through these sessions. With 110 mg of natural energizes, it’ll help you give your best performance.

Low Intensity Steady State Training (LISS)

Next we have low intensity steady state training, also referred to as LISS. This is the more commonly thought of form of cardio and the one that most people dread: 30 minutes on a treadmill, bike or elliptical at one pace. You’ll work at around 50-70% of your maximum heart rate for this variation of cardio, so won’t be pushing yourself too incredibly hard. For this reason, the body can also utilize stored fat as a fuel source so it is one variation that you can do on an empty stomach. It’s the form of cardio most often done before eating breakfast first thing in the day, however it can be done at just about any time of the day. The only exception right before lifting. Avoid it at this time.

The benefits of this cardio variety? First, it isn’t overly taxing on your body. It’s something you can do most days of the week without too much worry about overtraining.

Second, it’s good for beginners. As you can go at a more moderate pace, this is great for those who are building up their fitness level.

Finally, it doesn’t interfere with your weight lifting performance all that much. Unless you are doing hours and hours per week or doing it before you are lifting, you shouldn’t see much of a decline in how much you can lift.

This said, note that if you do too much of this type of cardio, muscle mass loss may occur. Take a look at a marathon runner for instance. This is the epitome of low intensity steady state training and most marathoners do not have much lean muscle mass to show. This is a big reason why. For extra assurance against this, try adding our BCAA Lean Energy product before you do your session. With 5 grams of high quality branched chain amino acids, this will help preserve your lean muscle tissue. 

Second, you can be more prone to overuse injuries when doing this form of cardio as well if you aren’t careful. It’s important to change up your mode of cardio every so often to avoid this.

Finally, while you will burn a good number of calories while you do the cardio session, the calorie burning stops when you do. So you won’t get much of a metabolic ‘boost’ so to speak like you will with HIIT.

So there you have the two types of cardio methods along with the pros and cons of each. Both types of cardio can find a place in your overall workout routine so don’t think it has to be one or the other. Decide for yourself what is best for you based on your goals, your lifting schedule, and your nutrition protocol.

-Shannon Clark

Shannon Clark holds a degree in Exercise Science, is a certified personal trainer, and has been working in the fitness and nutrition field for the last 15 years. She's written for countless online websites and print magazines including Oxygen Magazine, Muscle & Fitness Hers, Bodybuilding.com and T-Nation.com. When she's not in the gym, she loves trying out new healthy recipes (and desserts!) in the kitchen as well as reading up on the latest trends in the fitness industry.

The Benefits Of Protein

March 28, 2017

From a steak fresh off the grill, to a baked piece of tilapia, to a steaming hot bowl of rice and beans, protein is one of the most important things we have in our diet. It is a vital component of all the cells in our bodies and is used for a variety of essential functions such as building and repairing of tissues, enzyme and hormone production and makes up the important building blocks of bones, muscle, cartilage, skin and blood.

Ever since the ancient Greeks, protein has been recognized as vital for life, stemming from its origin from the word ‘protos’, meaning “first position or rank”. By now, you have heard of protein being a crucial component not only for physique improvement, but a healthy, functioning body and from a young age, we are programmed to know that “protein makes you grow big and strong”.

Each protein is made up of amino acids which are smaller molecules, often known as the building blocks of protein due to their ability to be assembled into different various forms of protein. Sure, they may be lumped all together when food is consumed as the sum total ‘protein’ but it is important to realize that not all proteins are the same. For example, the sequence of amino acids that creates your morning egg whites has a much different arrangement than your sirloin steak. Each different protein source has its own sequence of amino acids and once they are broken down in the body via digestion, they can be absorbed and utilized in the body.

Once protein has been ingested and undergoes digestion, your body goes to work breaking them down into their individual amino acids which are then used to create the specific proteins that are needed throughout the body. Once the amino acids are in the blood stream, there’s no way to tell whether they are from egg whites or a steak originally, but rather they are all part of the overall amino acid supply.

As long as there are enough of the amino acid building blocks for your body to use, it can manufacture its own unique proteins as needed. These individual proteins include enzymes for chemical reactions, the chemical messengers known as hormones, immune function and of course the building blocks to the structures of your body such as muscle, bones, skin, etc.

Animal sources for proteins tend to be the most complete in terms of providing all of the essential amino acids that the body needs, therefore are referred to what we call a ‘complete protein’. Vegetable and other plant based proteins which include things like nuts, beans, lentils, grains, etc. are lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids and are therefore considered ‘incomplete proteins’.

For those seeking to go the plant route and get all the essential amino acids, this can be accomplished by combining different plant based protein sources to utilize what is called ‘complimentary proteins’. It is important to note that the sources don't necessarily have to be eaten in the same meal to be considered complimentary, but rather that they are consumed at some point throughout the course of the day.

So, how should you consume your protein? It is best to get your protein from a variety of assorted sources throughout the day, and it can consist of multiple sources such as red meat, white meat, fish, dairy, vegan sources or even a premium protein supplement such as EVL Stacked Protein. The key is that you’re getting in at least 1g per lb of bodyweight, divided up among all of your meals.

7 Keys to Fat Loss

March 28, 2017

Losing fat is an extremely common fitness goal, although there are lots of reasons why people might undertake it. Whether you're looking to change your appearance, enhance your athletic performance or improve your overall health, you are not alone.

Unfortunately, people are generally pretty confused about exactly how to go about shedding body fat. So, to help clarify things and give you a boost toward your goal, here are 7 keys to fat loss.

Eat Less – At the most basic level, losing weight is all about the numbers. If you take in more calories than you burn, you'll gain weight. When the numbers are flipped, though, your weight will drop. So, although it seems pretty obvious, the most powerful step you can take toward losing weight is simply to eat fewer calories. Specifically, you'll want to eat about 500 calories per day below your maintenance intake – the amount of energy you need to stay the same weight. Certain supplements, like Trans4orm, can be used to suppress your appetite and make it easier to cut back.

    Choose Wisely – But, again, that's the most basic depiction of weight loss. Things are more complicated than that. Depending on your workout style, your fitness level and a host of other factors, your body will respond to different foods in a variety of ways. To support your fat loss goals and not feel like you're starving yourself, though, stick with a high-protein diet full of minimally processed, nutrient dense foods. This will keep you feeling full while taking in fewer calories and still getting everything your body needs to run properly.

    Retrain Your Body – Along with eating more protein, you're going to have to teach your body to rely on fat for fuel. This is achieved by limiting the amount of carbohydrates that you take in – essentially taking away your regular source of energy and forcing your body to find an alternative. A number of supplements, including L-carnitine and several others have all shown promise in helping your body make the switch.

    Work Out More – As mentioned, the most effective way to lose fat is to cut back on the amount of calories that you eat. But this strategy really only works because it creates a bigger caloric deficient – increasing the gap between the amount of calories that you take in and the amount that you burn. Exercise burns calories and widens the gap even more.

    Lift Heavy – When people start exercising to lose fat, though, they often... well, do it wrong. The common wisdom is that to burn fat you need to lift light weights for tons of reps. And this simply is not true. Of course, this will burn calories and even help to increase your endurance. But it's not going to have the same impact as performing big, compound exercises with lots of weight. Compound movements – like the squat and others that engage lots of muscles at the same time – not only burn tons of calories but also help to build more muscle fiber. That muscle, in turn, increases your overall metabolism and keeps you burning fat even after you've left the gym.

    More Cardio – While heavy lifting will speed up your metabolism and keep you torching fat in the long-haul, cardio delivers much more dramatic results in a shorter period. For example, an hour of intense lifting might burn 200 calories. You'll knock out the same amount, though, with a 30 minute run.

    Drink More Water – Staying hydrated is important for lots of reasons, including your overall health. When it comes to fat loss, though, downing plenty of water will help you feel full and let your body know that it can let go of any extra water that you're carrying around.

    We know: That's sort of a lot. As mentioned, though, several of these steps can all be aided by a carefully chosen supplement. And, Leanmode, just so happens to be such a supplement. Packed with high-quality ingredients that will help you eat less and burn more fat while also giving you the energy to power through your workouts, Leanmode is a powerful tool in your fat-loss arsenal.

    -Jonathan Thompson
    Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist with over a decade of experience writing about all things health and fitness. In addition to plenty of articles and blog posts, Thompson is also the author of the book Weighted Vest Workouts.

    Looking to improve your body composition? Want to build muscle? Or, perhaps you simply want to take your health and fitness up a notch. Whatever the case may be, one thing that you must be doing in order to see best results is making sure that your macros line up.

    What are macros and how do you go about counting them? Let’s give you a quick overview and a few tips to get started successfully.

    What Are Macros?

    First let’s address what macros are. Macros refers to the main energy providing nutrients your food is made up of. These include proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

    Why Count Your Macros For Fat loss?

    When it comes to fat loss, each macro is going to play a different role. Lean protein, such as that which you can find in Stacked Protein, is going to help preserve your muscle tissue while in a calorie deficit, the right amount of carbohydrates will ensure that you have the energy necessary to get through your workout sessions, and dietary fats will help keep your hormones in a healthy optimized state and also help curb hunger.

    This said, because fats are so energy dense, if you don’t track them, they can add up quickly and reduce the results you see. Likewise, take in too many carbohydrates and you won’t be giving your body a reason to turn to fat as a fuel source, so this is no good either.

    By tracking your macros, you ensure you get the perfect amount of each while still sustaining fat burning.

    How Does Carb Cycling Work?

    Carb cycling is another diet approach you may have heard about and has to do with how you structure your macros. In this diet set-up, you’ll include some higher carb days along with some lower carb days, usually added on rest days. This maximizes your use of fat as fuel without sacrificing energy for workouts.

    How To Track Macros

    To Track your macros, you’ll need to figure out what’s in each food you eat. You can use this using any food database such as MyFitnessPal.com or CalorieKing.com. From there, journal these numbers or use an application like MyFitnessPal.com to log them.

    Then at the end of the day, you can see where you stand.

    Tips For Using MyFitnessPal

    Using MyFitnessPal can seem time consuming in the beginning but it really doesn’t have to be hard.

    To make things easy, try and track your food as soon as you eat it. This prevents the chance that you forget what you eat and don’t track accurately.

    Second, remember that you can copy and paste meals from one day to the next. If you eat the same thing for breakfast most mornings, this can really save you time.

    Finally, be sure that you are going over your results on a weekly basis. How did your week stack up? If you aren’t seeing the results you want, remember that you’ll want to adjust your macros accordingly then. This is what will help ensure that you see the most optimal results.

    So make sure that you don’t overlook the importance of tracking macros. It’s one of the top must-do’s if you want to see success regardless of what your goal happens to be.

    -Shannon Clark

    Shannon Clark holds a degree in Exercise Science, is a certified personal trainer, and has been working in the fitness and nutrition field for the last 15 years. She's written for countless online websites and print magazines including Oxygen Magazine, Muscle & Fitness Hers, Bodybuilding.com and T-Nation.com. When she's not in the gym, she loves trying out new healthy recipes (and desserts!) in the kitchen as well as reading up on the latest trends in the fitness industry.