Friday, December 15, 2017

10 Low-Calorie Starbucks Drinks Worth Your Macros


1. Dark Chocolate Light Frappuccino

One of the most popular Starbucks drinks ever, we had to give you a way of enjoying this rich, smooth, chocolatey dream the low calorie way!!!


Grande, Dark Mocha Light Frappuccino, no whip


F: 1 C: 34 P: 5

Calories: 160

2. Grande Toasted White Chocolate Mocha

Recipe by @TheMacrosBarista on Instagram

Just in time for the holidays, when you want to grab a low calorie Starbucks drinks, add hot toasted white mocha to your list after you hit the iron!


Grande Toasted White Mocha with 2 pumps toasted white mocha syrup, 2 pumps sugar-free vanilla (or Splenda) and Half water, Half coconut Water.


F: 3 C:29 P: 1

Calories: 150

3. Grande Cappuccino

For the foam lovers of the world, it’s easy to hit your macros with cappuccinos. Soft, velvety foam and of course, caffeine, without going over on your numbers!


Grande 2% Cappuccino


F: 4 C: 12 P: 8

Calories: 120

4. Skinny Non-Fat Mocha

What kind of list would this be WITHOUT a classic mocha made into a low calorie Starbucks drinks addition??? Chocolate and coffee were made to go together, so you should be able to enjoy them while reaching your goals!


Grande, 1% milk, Mocha


F: 1.5 C: 24 P: 14

Calories: 160

5. Vanilla Chai Tea Latte

Recipe by @TheMacroBarista on Instagram

One of the most requested low calorie recipes of all time, grab you a vanilla chai for only 110 calories!


Grande (Hot or iced), Coconut milk, 2 pumps chai, 2 pumps sugar free vanilla.

breastfeeding calories


F: 4.5 C: 18 P: 8

Calories: 110

6. Skinny Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Is it really even the holidays without hot chocolate? Cozy up with one of these for your low calorie Starbucks drinks.


Grande Skinny Peppermint Hot Chocolate


F: 1.5 C: 23 P: 13

Calories: 160

7. Iced Pumpkin Spice Macchiato

Recipe by @TheMacroBarista on Instagram

If you’re into pumpkin foodstuffs as much as nearly everyone, this drink is perfection in a cup. Sweet, spicy, and PRETTY, this low calorie version of Pumpkin Spice is ingenious!


Grande Latte macchiato, 2 pumps pumpkin sauce, half coconut milk, half water, extra pumpkin spice topping.


F: 2.5 C: 26 P: >1

Calories: 125

8. Gingerbread Latte

There is something extremely comforting about Gingerbread in a cup. These low calorie Starbucks drinks offer up the caffeine and gingerbread- a combo that is definitely what’s up.


Tall, 1%, Gingerbread Latte, no whip


F: 0 C: 39 P: 12

Calorie: 200

9. Java Chip Frappuccino

While dieters are cringing on daily wheatgrass shots, it’s okay, you can feel a little smug that you can make this low calorie frappuccino fit your macros.


Tall, Java Chip Light Frappuccino, No Whip


F: 3 C: 29 P: 4

10. Tazo Zen Tea

When you’re wanting to go on a low calorie Starbucks drinks binge, this is your beverage of choice. It’s subtle and perfect for sipping and studying without worrying at all if it fits. Grab it hot or cold, whatever’s your cup of tea.


Venti Zen Hot Tea


F: 0 C: 0 P: 0

Calories: 0


*All of the links to the original recipes or the recipes these stemmed from, are located in the reference box below.


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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Macros Matter But Calories Are King


If you’re reading this (no it’s not too late as Drake may suggest), then you likely also read my recent article outlining the importance of tracking macros for long-term physique development. (Something the IIFYM Macro Calculator can help you out with).

In that article, I alluded to the fact that tracking daily calorie intake is a great place to start when paying more attention to dietary habits. I then proceed to explain how macro tracking comes into play. Well, that’s fine and well for those of us that have already had plenty of experience tracking daily calorie intake, but what about everyone else just getting started (or the non-believers)?

Some of you may be brand new to tracking your daily calorie intake and wondering just where to start. For that reason, I’m back again to explain why, although tracking macros is beneficial, understanding and accounting for total daily calorie intake is a key fundamental principle. That it will only make everything else in the future that much more productive as you continue progressing with your dietary adjustments.

For those new to counting kcals and dropping lbs, I’m covering some of the major considerations for long-term success as you build the foundation that will serve you well as you continue developing your dietary strategies for improved health and better physique development.

Energy Balance & Weight Management

A simplistic explanation to say the least, but necessary for keeping this article focused on the topic at hand, thermodynamics is a set of four laws which explain the transfer and general properties of energy between a system and its surroundings.

In relation to body composition changes and daily calorie intake, we can think of this as “energy in vs. energy out.” Now before moving any further, it’s important to briefly note that long-term body composition changes go quite significantly beyond general energy balance.

Thinking of weight management as calories consumed versus expended is a great starting point, but as articles like my flexible dieting vs calorie counting article help highlight- other factors contribute to long-term success as well.

That being said though, it does certainly create a solid foundation to then build from. All things being equal, if your average daily calorie intake is exceeding your body’s ability to use those calories (think of it as fuel for the machine) for various bodily processes and energy production, you’re going to generally be in a state where additional weight gain is likely through increased body fat storage. Even if those calories are from a “health food,” they’re still calories, and they can still contribute to weight gain through effecting your overall energy balance.

Any Food can be a Fattening Food


daily calorie intake


Energy balance now in mind, it can be pretty easy to understand why labeling foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy” is a bit of a disservice to ourselves as a diet-conscious society. Sure we need to pay attention to nutrient-density (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and the like).

However as we mentioned above- calories are units of energy provided in various amounts through food. It can be as organic and vitamin-packed as they come, but if your daily calorie intake is exceeding your current metabolic rate and daily average energy expenditure, you could still be gaining additional body fat.

Consume an additional 500 calories from organic avocado and although you may be also consuming health-promoting vitamins and minerals- you’re still going to gain virtually the same weight as you would by consuming 500 calories from a high-fat candy bar or cake.

Once accustomed to the inner workings of such an app, you can spend the next 3-5 days simply logging your normal eating habits as compared to what a “normal” day of eating is for you.

It has to be mentioned that, yes quality does come into play. As my flexible dieting article covers- the breakdown of macronutrients comprising daily calorie intake, and to a degree, micronutrient content can certainly have some long-term contributions to better or worse body composition.

In the grand scheme though, if you’re total daily calorie intake isn’t adequate for your goal- the rest will have an otherwise negligible effect. In other words, if you’re eating far too little calories, you’re unlikely to gain much muscle naturally. A daily calorie intake far and away from creating a negative energy balance will prevent you from losing body fat consistently, no matter how “healthy” the foods are that you’re consuming.

The Protein Priority

Although this article is covering the importance of tracking total daily calorie intake and not necessarily tracking macros, it’s worth mentioning at least tracking protein within your daily intake can be a great next step. In relation to weight management, some reasons tracking protein can be beneficial are due to some unique benefits to weight management.

One being, protein requires much more energy to process and use than carbs or fat. This higher energy requirement (thermic effect of food) makes protein less likely to contribute to body fat. In addition, protein is also quite satiating due to the specific digestion process required to break it down.

Both of these aspects make it helpful in long-term weight management. Not to mention its importance in muscle recovery and growth. If you’re not quite ready to track protein, carbs and fat; at least consuming a consistent protein goal within your daily calorie intake can be a helpful compromise in the meantime.

Determining Daily Calorie Intake


daily calorie intake

Example Screenshot From Our IIFYM Calculator


If you’ve recently become interested in tracking your daily calorie intake for the first time, there are a few methods you can use to get a rough idea of where to start in terms of daily calorie intake, which you can then begin adjusting from week to week based on our muscle growth or fat loss goals.

I personally suggest most individuals simply download a smartphone application like MyMacros+ that makes it easy and convenient to track the foods you eat from day to day.

Once accustomed to the inner workings of such an app, you can spend the next 3-5 days simply logging your normal eating habits as compared to what a “normal” day of eating is for you. Then, take those 3-5 daily calorie intake totals and average them together.

breastfeeding calories

This will result in an average daily calorie intake you can then use as your official starting point in tracking intake consistently. Follow that average intake as your first week’s baseline goal- then in the following weeks you can monitor your bodyweight change, energy levels and strength progression in the gym to determine when and what degree to adjust your daily calorie intake goal each week to match your current body composition goals.

Tracking Where it Counts

Following this strategy can make it much more effective of a starting point since you’re better able to start at an intake that your body is currently adapted to. If for instance, you suddenly began following an arbitrary, pre-determined daily calorie intake goal, you may be overshooting your body’s current ability to use calories, or severely under eating- potentially causing unnecessary, negative metabolic adaptions in the way of muscle loss or fat gain.

This is why online physique coaches such as myself, and the IIFYM Macro Coaches can never in good conscience tell someone they should eat (x) amount of calories without knowing their specific body composition, physical activity, and recent eating habits. It just leaves far too much on the table in terms of personal needs.

In our recent flexible dieting article, I provide insight into the most personalized way to find your ideal, baseline intake to then begin adjusting from week to week based on your goals. If you’re already tracking your total daily calorie intake successfully, taking that next step toward tracking specific macros can be a relatively easy, but very beneficial next step for your body composition goals.

If you’re interested in learning more, please check out that article here. For a more time efficient starting point, the IIFYM macro calculator is a great tool to check out as well.

Adjusting Daily Calorie Intake


daily calorie intake


Once you’ve gotten a consistent, baseline daily calorie intake, you’ll need to adjust that intake periodically based on your physique goals. If the goal is to gain muscle, it’s prudent to slowly increase daily calorie intake to ensure your body is in an environment conducive to quality muscle growth and maximized training performance while promoting an increased metabolic capacity.

All while balancing that fine line between calories to support health, performance and daily energy levels with an excess intake that will just lead to unwanted, unnecessary body fat accumulation.

…the success of a diet first starts with calorie balance in relation to weight management goals, and only then can the nuances of more detailed diet programming have an impact.

The opposite holds true for fat loss, with the same principles nearly mirrored. Since our bodies undergo various metabolic adaptions as calories are restricted and fat loss occurs, it’s important to approach fat loss in a very gradual manner. (1,2)

It may be tempting to slash daily calorie intake for immediate fat loss. However doing so will lead to extreme metabolic adaptions, increase muscle loss, and just make the entire dieting process much less enjoyable and manageable along the way. Whether you’re looking to get jacked or slim down, remember just how accurate “The Tortoise and The Hare” fable is in relation to body composition goals. Be the tortoise!

Adjustment Guidelines

As with determining baseline daily calorie intake, it’s very difficult to give hard and fast rules for things like dietary adjustments. Not only will each person’s exact needs differ, but the degree of change will differ even between stages of a diet or growth phase.

That being said though, once again- smaller changes are almost always better. At the end of the day, you can always make slightly bigger changes in the following weeks if needed. It’s harder though, to backtrack after making extreme changes.

Generally, I see changes pretty often within the quite large range of ~400 weekly calories (~57kcals daily deficit) to around 800 calories (-114kcals daily deficit). It’s certainly possible to structure and adjust one’s own dietary strategies from week to week with success, however it may just mean additional self-education along the way combined with a bit of trial and error.

For those with room in the budget and interested in truly hitting the ground running. Using dietary adjustments and general dieting strategies are something that coaches with plenty of experience with a variety of athletes such as  IIFYM Coaches can come in handy.

Down for the Count

The changes made and makeup of daily calorie intake can vary among people. The rule that holds each person in common though is that daily calorie intake needs to be consistent and adequate before other dietary strategies can be successfully implemented.

Keto, carb-based, high protein or minimal protein- the success of a diet first starts with calorie balance in relation to weight management goals, and only then can the nuances of more detailed diet programming have an impact.

If we need to crawl before we can walk and eventually run; tracking calories is one of the most important first steps a person can make toward successful body composition changes. Not only does it allow consistency each week that can be strategically adjusted along the way, but also highlights the ability to freely choose foods based on preference, budget, and specific health goals.

Not following strict, unnecessary meal plans that just aren’t manageable over the long term. At that point, you’ll have the ability to fully maximize future efforts in fine-tuning things like food sources, macronutrient breakdown and meal timing to continue reaching your absolute best self along the way.

If you have more questions about flexible dieting, IIFYM, or following a sustainable diet, check out our FAQ and SAQ (Should Ask Questions).

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What Stimulates Muscle Growth More…Whole Eggs or Egg Whites?


You are woken up by an early text message from your friend.

They say “Remember we had that discussion about egg nutrition? I told you whole eggs are better than egg whites.”

With one eye open, you message back and say, “What the heck are you talking about?”

Your friend tells you to check Instagram and Facebook.

You scroll down your phone, your feeds are flooded with headlines from the New York Times saying, “Whole Eggs are Better for you Than Egg Whites.”

While scratching your head you are thinking “WTF?”

I just stocked up on a months’worth of liquid egg white cartons.

You begin reading the article frantically while biting your nails.

The writer completely takes the conclusions out of context to freak you out even more.

After that, you storm into the kitchen and throw all your egg white cartons away and start buying whole eggs in bulk.

You see where we are going with this?

This happens every day with false article headlines, misleading interpretations of the scientific data, and then coaches, clients, and uneducated consumers fret and go off and do extreme things.

This new study HERE is a perfect example of this (1).

Throughout the rest of this article we will break down this new article about egg nutrition and its claim on whole eggs are better than egg whites for muscle growth.

Don’t throw your egg white cartons away just yet 😉

Egg Nutrition Study and What in the World is “Muscle Protein Synthesis?”

Let’s break down some key points here in the egg nutrition study we are going to be discussing.

    • 10 subjects (healthy young males)
    • The study claims it was resistance-trained subjects, but we never really know how experienced these subjects are with weight lifting
    • They took all subjects through a decent resistance training program and immediately after gave them 18g of protein via whole eggs or 18g of protein via egg whites
    • The results showed that whole eggs stimulated muscle protein synthesis (MPS) acutely over liquid egg whites

breastfeeding calories

Now, you’re probably like what in the world is muscle protein synthesis and what does it matter to me?

The best analogy we can give you is from Professor Stuart Phillips from McMaster University (2):

“Imagine your muscle as a brick wall, when new bricks get delivered these are the amino acids from proteins, on one end of the wall there’s a process to put bricks in which is muscle protein accretion and on the other end of the wall you take bricks out which is muscle protein breakdown. Protein synthesis is the bricks end of the wall and bricks out of the wall is protein breakdown and the net difference between the two are net muscle protein balance and this would be the rate at which your making things and subtracting at which the rate your breaking them down, if that’s in a positive direction the wall gets bigger (i.e., muscle growth) or if it’s in the negative direction your muscle shrinks. Protein ingestion and resistance training is a potent stimulus to make the brick wall bigger and stronger (i.e., stimulate the protein synthetic process).”

We know that’s a lot to take in but trust us when we say that analogy compared to the way textbooks break it down is a lot more digestible.

Now, let’s look at some of the egg nutrition study limitations:


egg nutrition


    • Only 10 subjects and all males, it would be interesting to see a larger sampling size and with women as well
    • The study claims it was resistance-trained subjects, but we never really know how experienced these subjects are with weightlifting, so it’s great to see this study replicated in true resistance trained subjects
    • This study investigated whole eggs vs egg whites in isolation. Very few if any people we know just eat in this fashion
    • This study looked at acute MPS (meal by meal). The effects of MPS for muscle growth need to be considered over time and long-term (days, weeks, months) and that includes consumption of other foods throughout the day (3)

The total protein consumption in both conditions was only 18 grams, prior research shows you may need at least 20g of a high-quality protein to sufficiently maximize protein synthesis after resistance training (4) or even up 30-40g to stimulate MPS (5).

So, it’s not clear how results would change with more usual consumption (i.e. double that amount) or if MPS was looked at over a longer term.

Practical Applications

Remember we said not to throw out your egg white cartons just yet?

The reason being this is an interesting study that suggests other nutrients besides protein may enhance anabolism.

That said, it’s important to point out that ultimately the effects of MPS for muscle growth need to be considered over time (days, weeks, months) and that includes consumption of other foods throughout the day (carbohydrates and fats).

Instead of worrying about egg nutrition, specifically whole vs egg whites as a protein source for muscle growth, consider the hierarchy of importance for daily dietary protein…

While it’s possible that there are unique properties to whole eggs that maximize anabolism (i.e. lipids, micronutrients, antioxidant carotenoids, and microRNAs), it alternatively may well be that these properties are sufficiently available in other foods we normally eat (depending on one’s overall diet).

We’d also note, it’s always important to look at the context of a study when drawing evidence-based conclusions.

Instead of fretting over this new egg nutrition study, let’s wait until there’s more data conducted on it, and in the meantime, focus on these suggestions we have for you:

      • If you don’t have a cholesterol issue, then it’s okay to have whole eggs
      • If you don’t prefer whole eggs (specifically the yolk), it’s fine to have liquid egg whites as a substitute
      • If you are a coach, we wouldn’t recommend forcing your clients to eat whole eggs or even egg whites if they don’t have a personal preference for it. This is how our coaches go about it.
      • If you think whole eggs aren’t nutritious, you are flat out wrong, research shows the yolk is nutrient dense and may contain a variety of bioactive compounds (see above). The removal of the yolk and its associated nutrients from eggs may limit the stimulation of MPS rates as well as well as overall human health (6)
      • Instead of worrying about egg nutrition, specifically whole vs egg whites as a protein source for muscle growth, consider the hierarchy of importance for daily dietary protein (7):
      1. Total Daily Protein Intake – what matters most is hitting your total protein goal at the end of the day (i.e., if your total target protein goal is 200g, then focus on hitting that number)
      2. Protein Distribution – it’s important to evenly distribute your protein at however many meals you eat per day (i.e., 150g per day and 4 meals per day, should be 50g per meal) this way it keeps MPS elevated and MPB (muscle protein breakdown) lowered (Side Note: a good tool to track your protein goal is IIFYM flexible dieting calculator)
      3. Protein Quality – including high-quality protein sources (animal sources) such as Eggs, chicken, milk, beef, fish, etc. To stimulate MPS due to the high leucine content and strong amino acid profiles
      4. Specific Protein Timing (pre/post workout or before bed)- Having enough protein pre and post workout for recovery is important for muscle growth and remodeling, as well as having high-quality protein before bed to keep your body in an anabolic environment.

Now that you got some great info on egg nutrition, specifically regarding whole eggs vs egg whites, keep in mind the hierarchy of importance for daily dietary protein intake is what matters most.

It’s easy to run away with a study like this and say “see, I told you whole eggs are better than egg whites.”

Which is mostly true, but it should never be looked at as a black and white statement or end all be all situation.

Enough with us blabbing away about egg nutrition…Go and enjoy that beautiful sizzling sound of when you have the frying pan on medium-high and you pour your eggs into the pan and get your muscle gainzzz on 😊


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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Ketogains Macro Calculator And Just How To Set Up Your Macros

This macro calculator was created to really make the lifestyle easier for any individual that was active. Can you recommend retaining fat 42 or removing the different between carbohydrates. When readjusting, it seems like this: 120P, 200C and 39F (the carbohydrates look definitely large if I still want to cut for some time) Another report also suggests the same strategy for establishing fat, which is 3g per LBM as opposed to 0.25 from body-weight or 25% for someone who is inactive. I've been trying to get C=194g , F=111g and my P=222g to complement up-to my 2664 calories daily without exceeding my calories with no matter how I work-this point I can't hit on my macros.

As the need-to consume in a surplus to increase muscle protein synthesis…that does work, no matter macronutrients content to. The macro calculator shows you the actual quantity of protein, fat that's desired for YOUR body as well as predicts in case you follow the guidelines just how much weight you´ll drop with time. You need to use several exact equations to calculate your BMR with a good amount of reliability, along with the calculator in this article uses the main one hottest in fitness circles.

Operating the macro calculator for a cut has me at: 248c/58f/168p, assuming my BF% is about 20%. Or, am I able to distribute my macros during the day's entire course provided that my matters are being met by me. You alter consumption based off benefits then ought to estimate your intake utilizing the calculator. Looks like so I must be around 2 in accordance with your calculator I am closer to 15-17% after taking a look at a few other guys's body fat photos online. That also debunks the delusion that eating certain foods immediately helps us eliminate more fat than consuming others.

macronutrients calculator
Make certain and to check out my flexible Diet Alternative for much more support reaching this goal's muscle version. Therefore I did a cut for 9 months, and loved The outcome and got to BF than I Might ever had and I'd muscle. Those two factors-the calories Within foods and the way protein, fat, and carb is broken down into by these calories -are what make for shedding weight than others, certain foods more desirable. Learn just how many calories of every macronutrients you need using a macro calculator per day.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

4 Alcoholic Drinks That Won’t Destroy Your Progress


I want to begin this article by saying I’m not advocating that people should drink. I wanted to bring you value in this piece and let you know that if you were looking to drink socially, there are some choices that are better than others. This article will showcase four alcoholic beverages that are the best options when partaking in social gatherings where alcohol is served. More specifically, drinks that won’t ruin your six pack abs!

If you are 100% committed to weight loss, your best bet is to not drink at all, or only on occasion. If you want to make sure you’re working with the right macros and calories, you can always use the IIFYM macro calculator.

While IIFYM allows you flexibility with your foods and beverages, binge drinking and abusing alcohol can have detrimental effects not only on your waistline but also your health.

If you feel you have a problem with alcohol, seek professional help. And if you are in need of nutritional guidance, definitely check out the programs to help you achieve those six pack abs.

What You Need To Know About Alcohol To Keep Your Progress


six pack abs


Many people think that alcohol is simply empty calories—and they’re right. It truly has no nutritional value to promote health.

Sure, it has some antioxidants and trace amounts of nutrients that can aid in overall health benefits, but when you compare alcohol to whole nutrient-dense foods, there’s no comparison. Overconsumption of alcohol can soften your six pack abs and hide them behind fat and a layer of water.

How Many Calories Are In Alcohol?

When it comes to caloric values, we all know that each gram of protein is four calories, each gram of carbohydrates is four calories, and each gram of fat is nine calories.

In addition, think about what’s taking place when alcohol is around. Consumption of snacks.

What people are often unaware of is where alcohol fits into this all and how it can affect your six pack abs. Well, for every gram of alcohol, there are seven calories. This is almost double that of carbohydrates and protein, and only slightly below that of fat.

Mixed Drinks

The amount of alcohol consumed can easily have you consuming enough calories to overdo your caloric needs for the day if you aren’t paying attention and ruin your six pack abs. Not only that, but many people are consuming drinks with added calories on top of the alcohol.

Let’s take the classic rum and Coke for example. For each one that you drink (depending on the rum) you’re looking at 150 calories. We all know that when you go out with friends, more than likely people aren’t going to only have one. Let’s say they drink three or four by the end of the night—that puts them between 450 and 600 calories just in alcohol.

The Wrong “Six Pack”


six pack abs


Similar to a rum and coke is beer. On average, one can or bottle of beer is around 150 calories. It’s not uncommon to see guys hanging with their buddies drinking over six beers (enter joke about having a keg instead of six pack abs) in one night (how many of your friends have six pack abs?).

That’s 900 liquid calories accounted for—ouch! That in itself is taking up a good portion of your daily calories and we haven’t even factored in the food you ate during the day or even the food you were snacking on while out.

Have A Plan

In addition, think about what’s taking place when alcohol is around. Consumption of snacks. What kind of snacks? Highly-palatable ones in the form of chips, pretzels, pizza, and other generally salty foods that people pick at. By the end of the night you’re looking at well over 1,000 calories—not exactly a good plan when you’re trying to uncover your six pack abs.

Now, I’m not telling you that you need to skip social events or parties, or even go there and be miserable by not drinking or having a few snack items.

breastfeeding calories

However, you need to be aware and conscious of the drinks you are consuming and in what quantities. It’s easy to be hanging with the guys, finish off your drink and simply grab another without mentally keeping track. Or your buddy notices you’re empty and grabs you another beer while getting one for himself.

This could be disastrous for your physique if you don’t have a game plan in place before heading out. Try to stick to a certain number of drinks based off of your calories for the day.

Be Mindful While Consuming Alcohol

Speaking of having a plan, IIFYM’s coaching program speeds up the process of uncovering your six pack abs. This 12-week program is customized to fit your wants and needs. Take the guesswork out of things by signing up!

You should also keep your drinking to a minimum. You don’t need to drink every single night or every weekend. You’re not in college anymore. It’s time to be a responsible adult.

Forgetting you’re no longer part of a fraternity can lead to poor behaviors and send you down the rabbit hole where your friends and family will have to send search and rescue to bring you back. Drink responsibly when you do, and only drink on (special) occasion.

So, what are your best drink choices for at home and when out (even when following the IIFYM lifestyle)? Below are four of your best options to keep your calories low and your six pack abs in check:

1. Straight Liquor


six pack abs


Anything straight is going to be your best bet—vodka, rum, scotch, bourbon, tequila, whatever. Where you get in trouble is when you start mixing drinks with sugary beverages.

This can be in the form of regular soda or fruit juice. You can have your liquor neat (no ice) or on the rocks (with ice). It’s personal preference how you want your liquor. Some people will use the ice to dilute the strength of the liquor used while others like the full-flavored variety.

The key to drinking liquor straight is to sip on it and enjoy the flavors present. Straight liquor doesn’t mean lining up shots on the bar and trying to impress your friends.

You are getting the highest alcohol concentration through liquor, which means you shouldn’t be looking to slam these home unless you’re looking for your night to end early and the bloating to make your six pack abs disappear.

2. Calorie-Free Mixers

If you aren’t a fan of straight liquor and need something to mix it into so it dilutes the potency and taste, opt for a calorie-free and sugar-free mixer. Rather than a rum and Coke, order a rum and diet. Something like Diet Coke, Coke Zero Sugar, Sprite Zero, etc.

If you’re not a fan of beer or liquor, there’s always wine.

Just find something that is zero calorie and zero sugar to mix your alcohol with. This will save you a bunch of calories by the end of the night. Your six pack abs will thank you.

3. Light Beer

Regular beer consumption and ruin even the best six pack abs. When it comes to light beer, you are generally saving about 25% of the calories when compared to a regular beer.

So, instead of 150 calories, a light beer will yield you around 100. Some will have more, others will have less—it all depends on the type and brand of beer you get.

Yes, the overall flavor of the beer can be “watered-down,” but the flavor is still there for you to enjoy. Light beer is generally “lighter” (no pun intended) than a heavy beer such as Guinness and can help reduce the bloated feeling you get after consuming multiple heavy beers.

4. Red Wine


six pack abs


If you’re not a fan of beer or liquor, there’s always wine. Red wine holds its place in between regular beer and light beer. For a five ounce pour of red wine, you are looking at around 125 calories. Most wine drinkers will partake in one or two glasses before setting their glass down for the night.

Red wine generally has a higher ABV (alcohol by volume) compared to beer, so if you decide to drink wine at an event or party, be aware that you will start feeling it much quicker than if you were drinking beer. BONUS TIPS!

Two quick aspects to keep in mind when you plan on spending a night out on the town with friends or family and drinking will be involved. In order to keep yourself in check (as well as your six pack abs), follow each alcoholic drink up with a glass of water.

This will not only help you stay hydrated, but it will slow down how quickly you get your next drink. This will help you think clearly and keep track of how many drinks you have already consumed.

The second piece of advice is to never drink on an empty stomach. By having food in your stomach, it slows down the absorption rate of the alcohol being consumed. This will help keep your mind sharp and slow the effects that alcohol has on your judgment.

No one likes a sloppy or belligerent drunk (or one that is passed out on the floor). Before going out, you could try one of the amazing macro-friendly (low-calorie) recipes from

These recipes are delicious and can help you achieve the six pack abs look you’re striving for. Or better yet, get the IIFYM recipe book that has on the site. 100 simple recipes that fit your IIFYM lifestyle.


The post 4 Alcoholic Drinks That Won’t Destroy Your Progress appeared first on IIFYM.

from IIFYM Recipes and Articles – IIFYM

Friday, September 8, 2017

Part 2: Why Fad Diets Are Ruining The Fitness Industry


In Part 1 of this article, we discussed the rise of fad diets, what makes a diet a “fad”, and some of the more dangerous and unhealthy fad diets out there.

Today, in Part 2, we’re going to talk about some of the more popular fad diets out there. Now, these diets have provided some people with encouraging results; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should run out and try them.

(Side note: If you haven’t obtained your dieting macros yet, check out the IIFYM macro calculator. It’s time you started a sustainable diet!)

Let’s talk about why…

Very Low-Carb Diets

Now things are about to get interesting.

Low-carb diets are still extremely popular. And for good reason; they do help a lot of people lose weight. But this isn’t necessarily the magic of not eating any carbs at work, but rather – like any other diet that helps you lose weight – simple caloric restriction.

Much like very low-fat, low-carb diets lead to weight loss because you are effectively eliminating an entire macronutrient group from your diet. See, nothing magic.

And while I personally find very low-carb diets to be unnecessary, they do work for a lot of people for many different reasons.

The main reason low-carb leads to weight loss which is simply caloric restriction. Cutting out a whole macronutrient group from your diet leads to a drastic cut in calories as well; maybe even up to half in some people.

The Shift to High Protein

Considering the typical American diet, high in fat, carbohydrates and low in protein, it’s no wonder the low-carb fad has had some good results.

Another reason for the success of low-carb fad is that these diets are typically high in protein.

High protein diets have shown to be the most effective diets when it comes to fat loss for two reasons. One, protein provides you with a high level of satiety. It takes the body longer to digest protein so consuming more protein will leave you feeling fuller, longer.

Second, protein has a high thermic cost, meaning it takes the body more calories to digest it than any other macronutrient. Therefore, the more protein you eat, the more calories your body will expend while digesting it.

Good…But Good Enough?

fad diets


And while the low-carb fad does have some positives, they are far outweighed by the negatives. I’ll start with the obvious…carbs are delicious! Seriously, why would you want to live your life without carbs?

Carbohydrates make up some of the best foods out there, so if you can include them in your diet while still losing fat, why wouldn’t you?

In complete seriousness though, the main reason people fail at diets is they are either too restrictive or don’t provide enough variety. Low-carb does both.

(Including carbs in your diet while losing fat is beautiful, your Custom Macro Blueprint will do just that!)

The second problem with low-carb is that people often do not take calories into account. Many popular low-carb books and programs boast about how by eliminating carbs from your diet, you can eat as much protein and fat as you want and not have to worry about counting calories.

That’s wrong. Completely, and utterly, wrong. Which is why it’s included in this fad diets series.

Fad Diets Love to Blame Insulin

The thought process behind it is this: carbohydrates have the greatest effect on insulin levels. High levels of insulin (continual elevation) prevent the body from burning fat.

Therefore by eliminating carbs from your diet, you keep insulin low and will burn fat all the time.

The truth, however, is much different. First, carbs aren’t the only macronutrient that has an effect on insulin; protein will raise insulin levels too. Secondly, low insulin levels are not the driving force behind fat loss, calorie balance is.

So it doesn’t matter whether you are low-carb, high-carb or medium-carb, if you are not in a negative caloric balance, you will not lose fat.

Carbs Are Vital For Performance

Third and probably most important, carbs provide the fuel you need for great workouts and help keep your body’s hormones functioning properly.

Carbs are converted to glycogen in the body and are stored in the muscles to fuel workouts. The more energy you have during a workout, the better your performance, meaning the harder you can work and the more calories you’ll burn.(9)(10)

…just like low-fat and low-carb diets, paleo requires you to omit entire food groups on the unproven notion that they are “bad” or “unhealthy”.

Carbs also prevent the body from trying to convert amino acids into energy (which leads to muscle breakdown) by providing the body with an energy source by which to draw from during recovery.(11)(12)

Carbs have an effect on your thyroid and various hormone levels in your body too. Low-carb intake can lead to a decrease in T3, which is an important hormone in the regulation of your metabolism. Basically, low levels of T3 can cause your metabolism to slow.(13)(14)

Hormone Issues

Low-carb can also cause testosterone to drop while increasing your stress hormone cortisol. This is a recipe for disaster, as high levels of cortisol combine with low testosterone will lead to greater fat storage.

While popular low-carb diets like Atkins or Keto can provide some initial success; they unnecessarily rob your body of its preferred source of energy, while also encouraging the consumption of highly-processed, low carb foods, and offering no distinct advantages over simple caloric restriction.

“Ideally your macronutrient breakdown should be balanced to support your bodily functions without sacrificing your sanity.”

The bottom line is, while low-carb has shown to be effective when it comes to fat loss, it can be difficult to sustain and could negatively affect the way your body functions.

Going low-carb isn’t anything magic. If you like carbs, you don’t need to eliminate them from your diet just to lose fat. There are plenty of better ways to go about it that don’t involve suffering or extreme deprivation; such as a flexible dieting approach.


fad diets


The Paleo, or caveman diet, has become extremely popular in recent years.

If you’ve never heard of the Paleo diet, the basic idea is to have your diet emulate that of our Paleolithic ancestors. To be true to the Paleo diet, if it wasn’t available to our ancestors, we shouldn’t eat it either.

That means that since foodstuffs such as dairy and grains weren’t around then, we shouldn’t consume them either. The basis for this is that this is the way our bodies were genetically designed to eat.

There are several things wrong with this assumption but we’ll talk about that in a minute. First, let’s talk about some of the good aspects of Paleo.

On the surface, the concept of Paleo is good. In order to follow the diet, you can only consume foods that were around when our Paleolithic ancestors roamed the earth. This includes things like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and animal protein. All of these are foods you should be consuming anyway and are healthy.

IIFYM blueprint

The consumption of these foods also increases satiety, which is another positive. One thing that Paleo has going for it, compared to other fad diets is you are less likely to be hungry while eating paleo because of the quality of food you eat. One reason many diets fail is

One reason many diets fail is that people are constantly feeling hungry. Any diet that staves off feelings of hunger is likely going to be more successful.

Positives < Negatives

Much like other fad diets, however, the positive aspects of the Paleo diet is a short list.

The biggest problem with the paleo diet is the notion that if our ancestors didn’t eat it, we shouldn’t either.

Again, this is completely, and utterly, wrong.

First of all, this is like saying that we shouldn’t brush our teeth just because toothpaste and toothbrushes weren’t around in the Paleolithic era. The logic that just because something was or wasn’t available should dictate whether it is “good” or “bad” is flawed.

So things like dairy and grains, which are full of vitamins and nutrients, are bad, but processed foods like Paleo bread, paleo cookies, paleo bars and paleo protein powder are fine?

Lol, okay…

“Instead of dealing with nonsensical diets, reach out to our coaches to help dial in your dietary needs.” 

Second, there wasn’t one specific Paleo diet. Our ancestor’s diets varied based on the region they were in, what food was available and what time of year it was.

Plus, food today doesn’t even closely resemble what it did thousands of years ago, due to genetic modification and manipulation.

Third, just like low-fat and low-carb diets, paleo requires you to omit entire food groups on the unproven notion that they are “bad” or “unhealthy”. Any diet that puts a ban on certain foods and requires you to deprive yourself of foods you may love isn’t going to work in the long run.

Like I said, the concept of paleo is great. Where the diet falls short however is its use of flawed science to perpetuate a style of eating that is outdated and really can’t be replicated. And any that forbids perfectly healthy foods while tries to sell you highly processed “diet friendly” versions should raise some eyebrows.

Clean Eating

clean eating


This is another very popular diet, especially among fitness enthusiasts.

Clean eating can mean different things to different people, but the general rules of clean eating are that “clean” foods should be: Minimally processed, and have a high nutrient density.

To take it a step further, foods like lean meats, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains should be prioritized while highly processed foods should be minimized or eliminated altogether.

Now, a diet consisting of whole, nutrient-dense foods is going to have positive effects on your body and your health in general, including increased satiety, more energy and less inflammation.(15)

…when making money is based on people’s ignorance, or using cherry-picked data to sell a product becomes commonplace; that’s when I have a problem.

A number of processed foods in the typical diet has been linked to a number of diseases and health issues. By minimizing these foods, you will help improve cell function, fight disease and just feel better in general.(16)

Now, like Paleo, clean eating is good in theory. Yet, it also suffers from some of the same pitfalls that Paleo does.

Draped In Ambiguity

First off, what exactly does “clean” mean?

Of course, it’s going to mean different things to different people and is impossible to define. The bigger issue with this, however, is regardless of how you define “clean”, it will ultimately come down to labeling foods as “good” or “bad”, “clean” and “dirty”.

This thought process is the cornerstone of fad diets. Clients following our programs are able to move away from this detrimental thought process.

The truth is, no one food is going to cause you to store more fat, just like no one food will help you lose more fat. Fat loss is about calories in vs. calories out.

This leads into the second pitfall of clean eating. People who are eating “clean” often don’t concern themselves with caloric intake, falsely believe that if they only eat “clean” foods that they cannot get fat.

However, if your daily caloric maintenance level is 2,500 calories, and you’re eating 3,000 calories each day, it doesn’t matter if those calories are coming from chicken and broccoli or McDonald’s, you will gain weight.

The Perpetuation of Fad Diets

fad diets


While the health and fitness industry has always been a big market, the rise of the internet has helped it grow exponentially.

No longer are people just restricted to getting their information from their local trainer, or the pages of a magazine. The online fitness industry has allowed clients and trainers alike, to reach people that they wouldn’t have been able to, not that long ago.

But with the good, comes the bad.

The internet has allowed many so-called experts and gurus to make a living selling products/services that benefit them more, monetarily, than it benefits their clients, physically.

And this includes fad diets.

From the downright dangerous fad diets such as the HCG diet, or cleanses and detoxes, to ones based on bad science like low-fat or paleo, every fad diet has one thing in common: people are making money off it.

Now, I’m all for capitalism, and the freedom to earn a living. Yet, when making money is based on people’s ignorance, or using cherry-picked data to sell a product becomes commonplace; that’s when I have a problem.

Profit Before Health with Fad Diets

And it’s not the client or consumers fault. They just want to lose weight or be healthier. It’s the fault of the individuals who’re supposed to be helping people, who instead seize the opportunity to make a dollar, at any cost. When they use their position of authority within the industry to sell things that people don’t need, or can’t benefit from.

And that’s why it’s important that clients and consumers of health products educate themselves, and don’t just take everything at face value.

“That’s the beauty of flexible dieting/IIFYM, it allows for multiple interpretations without unnecessary restriction.”

Yes, there are some diets like low-carb, paleo, or clean eating, that when done correctly, can benefit fat loss. However, the marketing and perpetuation of “extreme measures for extreme results” has sullied what are otherwise sound nutritional principles.

There are a lot of great people, doing great things, and helping a lot of people in this industry. But there are also those out to make a buck, regardless of how it’s done, or if they’re actually helping anyone.

Don’t just assume because something worked for someone else, that’s it’s good for you too.

It’s best to have a program that is tailored to your variables, such as a Custom Macro Blueprint.


The post Part 2: Why Fad Diets Are Ruining The Fitness Industry appeared first on IIFYM.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Best Back Exercises To Increase Pull-up Volume


Lebron may “wow” crowds pulling up for threes, and Migos by “pulling up in a ‘Rari” but for most of us, our best chance of impressing someone with our pull up skill is in the gym. Unfortunately finding someone with sick pull-ups skills is about as rare as finding someone that actually puts their weights up after using them.

Normally the best advice someone gets when looking for the best back exercises for better pull-ups is to simply “perform pull-ups more.” Or to just start by using an assisted pull up machine until they’re able to execute bodyweight pull-ups.

Although practice does make perfect, many considerations are left out that can greatly help gym goers bring up their pull up skills, even if they aren’t in a sports car at the club. Implementing the below considerations and strategies can help you improve aspects of your performance under the bar and out of the gym for better pull-ups and a stronger back.

Also, remember how crucial your diet is while consistently (and otherwise), a great place to start is with our macro calculator.

Determine Your Baseline

Before you get to work improving your pull-ups, it’s a good idea to first determine what exactly you’re working with. Few people walk onto a basketball court and immediately start draining shots and slam-dunking. In the gym, performing pull-ups can be compared to hitting three-pointers in basketball.

The shot itself may be incredibly similar to close range shots, but you aren’t likely to succeed behind the arch until you’ve first mastered shots around the paint.

If you’re just getting into a regular weight training routine, don’t be disappointed if you can’t immediately rep out multiple pull-ups. It may be one of the best back exercises, but it’s also one of the hardest. Just like those three-point shots, it takes time to reach that level.

It may require some months of consistent, balanced weight training programming before you can properly execute a pull-up, and if that’s the case, that’s totally fine.

Once you’ve been weight training consistently for some time though, it can be helpful to test out your pull-up proficiency. Doing so can give an idea of where you’re currently at and better evaluate what the best back exercises are to begin helping you improve.

The Test


best back exercises


The best way to test yourself is to simply find a pull-up bar and attempt to execute one, or as many body weight pull-ups as you can execute. The not-so-simple part of this test is making sure you’re actually performing your pull-up properly.

A lot of people can swing, strain and struggle their way above the bar, but fewer people actually perform a pull up in the manner it’s intended. When looking to first test out your pull-up skills, consider the below pointers.

Place your hands in a pronated (over hand) grip, slightly outside of shoulder width. Feel free to use a small box or step if you happen to be shorter and need help getting up to the bar. It’s better to use a step and make sure your set up is correct than to jump up to the bar and eliminate that opportunity to start strong.

Once you are set up and hanging from the bar, work to fully retract your shoulder blades before beginning to pull. This can be difficult for those new to retracting their shoulder blades and is something we’ll cover later in this article.

However, think of it as the opposite of shrugging- push your shoulder blades down and back. Doing this will help you better engage your back muscles and not rely too heavily on your arms to do the work.

What to Do With Your Feet Placement and Movement

Either cross your feet at the ankles and allow them to fall slightly behind your body, or put your feet together, legs straight, and maintain a nearly straight line with your torso. Whichever feels more comfortable to you, the main focus is keeping your feet stable throughout the pull-up and prevent yourself from overarching your lower back which can place undue stress on your spine.

If we’re creatures of habits, our muscles are machines of patterns.

Although swinging your feet throughout the repetition can make it easier by providing body English to the movement, it removes a considerable amount of activation within your back muscles. Try to consistently keep your body stable throughout the movement for better muscle activation and long-term benefits from the exercise.

Test Results Explained

Once you have a hang on the proper execution of a standard pull up, you can now test yourself by seeing how many pull-ups you can properly perform before hitting muscular failure or proper form begins diminishing. The number of pull-ups, or lack thereof, can determine the direction to take training and the best back exercises to perform moving forward, this article will include progressions for two different categories of test results:

  1. Completed 1 or fewer pull-ups
  2. Completed 2 or more pull-ups

The following sections will cover considerations that can greatly help both categories of athletes looking to improve their pull-up performance. Later in this article, the training templates and suggestions will be given to both categories individually. Regardless of where your current pull-up progress is, we’ve got you covered!

Principle of Specificity


best back exercises


Although too often used as blanket advice by average gym goers, there is some merit to simply “perform more pull-ups” when looking to get better at them. This is true not because that’s all you need to do, but instead to highlight the principle of specificity within training performance.

If we’re creatures of habits, our muscles are machines of patterns. Attempt a movement for the first time, whether that is a dance move, an agility test or a resistance training exercise, and you’ll likely feel a bit unsteady and clumsy. Practice that same movement consistently for a few weeks, and it’ll soon begin feeling like second nature.

This is because our muscular and nervous systems are closely intertwined. Without our muscles, the signals received and sent through our nervous systems would never lead to actions. Likewise, without a nervous system firing properly, our muscles would just be a motionless pile of tissue.

Together, that’s when the magic happens. As we begin practicing a movement pattern, our nervous and muscular system becomes more and more proficient at working together (1, 2).

Consistency is Crucial

Our nervous system can more efficiently send out the correct signal, and our muscles can more accurately respond to execute that movement pattern more consistently and correctly. Essentially, sometimes the best back exercises for athletes are simply the ones you’re being consistent in executing.

IIFYM blueprint

Our bodies first learn how to efficiently execute a movement through improved neuromuscular activation, and then begin adapting to execute the movement more forcefully through muscle hypertrophy (3).

This said it can be easy to understand why it’s so important to regularly practice the best back exercises for our goals. Baseball players take batting practice constantly, basketball players throw up thousands of shots each offseason, and competitive weightlifters perform hundreds of reps each month to become better at their primary lifts.

Frequency Matters

One of the best back exercises for better pull-ups is simply doing pull-ups more often. If you’re new to training (≤ 6 months) then training back once per week is a great starting point that can produce a lot of initial growth. However, for those training longer than 6 months, consider increasing frequency to 2x/week, spread evenly throughout the week.

This frequency can be great for better increasing specificity toward your goals and optimally building a better back, and better pull-up performance.

Training a body part 2-3/week is great for long-term muscle and strength progress due to increase motor pattern efficiency, but also through more optimized muscle protein synthesis (MPS). After a resistance training, MPS is elevated for around 36-48 hours post-workout.By hitting the best back exercises for our goals every 2-3 days, we maximize the spikes in MPS we promote between workouts for better total muscle growth. (4, 5)

Drop for a Better Pull


best back exercises


Snoop Dogg would surely endorse this section because anyone looking to improve their pull-up performance should assess their current body comp, and in most cases, drop it like it’s hot. Even though you’re looking for the best back exercises to improve our pull-ups, body comp evaluations can help you become more efficient at any exercise you perform.

This doesn’t mean crash dieting. On the contrary actually, gradual dieting approaches better retain muscle tissue and strength. Anyone looking to improve their pull-ups should assess their body fat levels. Then consider a mini cut or brief dieting phase as you continue your pull-up pursuit.

Having some body fat is necessary and eating in a caloric surplus for extended periods of time is especially necessary for ensuring optimal muscle growth and strength improvements. However, there comes a point, which differs for each individual slightly, where too much body fat isn’t detrimental.

Excess fat can actually just make our movement patterns less efficient by decreasing relative strength. The force we can produce relative to our own body weight.

“Looking for help with your diet? IIFYM Macro Coaches are here to help you!”

It can be pretty obvious why this is especially important for pull-up performance. If your strength levels are the same in both scenarios, but in scenario ‘A’ you had 200lbs to pull up and scenario B you had 185lbs to pull up, then scenario ‘B’ is the clear preference for someone with the goal of improving their pull-up count.

Optimizing body composition essentially makes the best back exercises better by improving the efficiency we are able to perform them.

Slow but Sure Wins the Race

Dieting for an extended period of time can eventually negatively affect strength levels and training performance. However strategically performing a brief dieting phase, or “mini cut” can allow athletes to reduce excess body fat and improve their training efficiency.

A “mini cut” or longer fat loss phase can be a success with a Custom Macro Blueprint.

A very effective strategy is to find a local facility that offers BODPOD of DXA body composition scanning. If unavailable, even assessing your body composition through progress photos compared to previous, leaner body weights can help you get an idea on where your current body composition is.

For anyone interested in learning more about how to determine whether it’s a good time to diet, or continue with your offseason, another article of mine, “THE TRANSITION: TO START CUTTING FAT OR BULKING?” is a great resource to check out here on

Also, be sure to check out the free IIFYM Macro Calculator if just getting started with managing your diet.

Sync Up


best back exercises


Our bodies are basically like Apple products. Our mind is the MacBook and muscles the iPhone. Not only does performing a specific movement consistently improve our ability to efficiently execute that movement, so too does it improve our ability to sync up our mind-muscle connection.

Much like syncing up our iPhones without laptops for better productivity. A phrase used often in fitness magazines but rarely explained in detail- our mind-muscle connection is essentially our ability to mentally “tune in” to our bodies.

Watch a young, aspiring bodybuilder try to fully flex their back muscles for the first time and you’re almost sure to see them struggle. This isn’t because they’re clumsy, but instead due to the lack of familiarity in how to actually activate their back muscles on command.

Give that athlete a few weeks of consistently focusing on flexing their back muscles and perform movements that help them improve that ability and they’ll soon be hitting full lat spread poses every time they walk past a mirror.

The Mind Games Continue

Once again, this is because our minds and muscles are closely connected. As we gain experience weight training, flexing for poses and stabilizing our core- we gain a better ability to use our muscles more effectively, and physically execute the movement patterns we are thinking about.

With many athletes, performing pull-ups early on entails using almost entirely arm muscles and very little, if any, back muscles.

This ultimately limits their ability to execute pull-ups since the back muscles are much more complex, larger and able to produce much more force compared to the biceps. Without completely incorporating the muscles within the back, athletes are greatly limiting their pull-up potential. They instead transform one of the best back exercises into an inefficient arm exercise.

Not only will balanced back training improve your pull-up performance, but it will also allow for better overall symmetry and proportion in your physique.

If you are able to do a few pull-ups, but afterward barely feel any fatigue in your back, this may apply to you. Luckily, if that is the case, there are some exercises and strategies you include to help better incorporate your back muscles. Enabling you to get the absolute most out of the best back exercises and greatly reduce frustration along the way.

Tips for a Better Mind-Muscle Connection

When working on improving the mind-muscle connection with your back, it’s helpful to incorporate a few basics exercises into your warm-up routine before back days. Although progressively lifting heavier weight is important for muscle growth, it can be tempting to neglect muscle activation for the sake of just moving a lot of weight.

After a general warm up, below are some of the best back exercises to help you further warm up and begin each workout with activation in mind.With each, the main goal isn’t to lift a lot of weight but to simply focus on maximizing the involvement of your back muscles with each rep.

Execute these movements with a slow rep speed, full contraction, and a 1-2 second squeeze with each rep. Focusing on the squeeze can help athletes gain a better feel for what it’s like to fully incorporate the various, major back muscles and lead to better activation during the actual working sets of the workout.

Really feel your back working with each set. The result is better muscle recruitment and greater long-term progress.

When approaching the best back exercise form, treat it like “elbowing” someone standing behind you when performing rowing movements. Think more about using your back, and your arms as simply attachments to hold the weight, and not actually to move the weight.

During back exercises, your back muscles are doing the majority of the work, your arms just happen to be there so your hands can hold the handle.

The Best Back Exercises for Improved Muscle Activation


best back exercises


Activation Exercise Sets Reps
Band Pull-Aparts 2 12-15
Kneeling Cable Face Pulls 2 12-15
Standing Rope Lat “Pullovers” 2 12-15

With training experience and muscle activation sets, you can improve your ability to activate your back muscles more effectively. In turn, applying that to your pull-up sets can help you incorporate the muscles capable of producing the most force, and stimulate the back muscles that pull-ups are designed to strengthen and grow in the first place.

The more you can connect with your back muscles and less you emphasize your arm involvement, the greater the potential for improvement in perfecting your pull-ups.

After all, we can perform the best back exercises in the world, but if we aren’t performing them optimally, we risk leaving a lot of results on the table, or in this case- the pull-up bar.

Build Your Back Base

Before we get into some pull-up progression strategies, it should be noted that a key to successful pull-up progress is first having a solid based of overall strength- namely bicep, latisimus dorsi, rhomboids, teres major and teres minor.

IIFYM blueprint

Along with practicing pull-ups, it’s a good idea to include a variety of other back exercises in your training routine to help set and continue building your strength base. Not only will balanced back training improve your pull-up performance, but it will also allow for better overall symmetry and proportion in your physique.

Using our list of some of the best back exercises in each movement pattern, try to include at least one exercise from each category in your weekly back training.

The Best Back Exercises and Movement Patterns

Rowing Variations

  • 1 Arm Dumbbell Rows
  • Machine Back Rows
  • Seated Cable Rows
  • Pendlay Rows
  • T Bar Rows

Vertical Pulling Variations

  • Seated Close Grip Pull Down
  • Seated Pronated Pull Down
  • 1 Arm Cable Pull Down
  • Pull-Up Variations

Shoulder Abduction & Elevation Variations

  • Kneeling Cable Face Pulls
  • Reverse Pec Dec Fly
  • Band Pull-Aparts
  • Chest Supported or Bent Over Dumbbell Reverse Fly
  • Dumbbell & Barbell Shrugs

Major Compound Movements

  • Barbell Deadlifts
  • Rack Deadlifts
  • Deficit Deadlifts

Workout Strategy – Category 1: (Completed 1 or fewer pull-ups.)


best back exercises


We all start somewhere, and especially with pull-ups, not being amazing at repping them out is certainly understandable. After incorporating the best back exercises and considerations from above, there are some category-specific workout strategies that can help as you continue complimenting your pull-up pursuits.

For this example, we will assume you are training back, in some capacity, twice each week. Let’s say Tuesday and Friday are training sessions you’re normally including some back work. Including pull-up, specific work early in both sessions, and focusing on variations best suited to prime you for better, complete pull-ups can go a long way in pointing you in the right direction.

Having your pull-up exercises early in your sessions can also help you put the most attention and energy toward your pull-up priority.

Note on Eccentric Training

When unable to perform many or any, pull-ups a typically suggested antidote is to begin by performing eccentric pull-ups. That is, using a small step to get into the “up” position and simply lowering yourself slowly back down.

Eccentric exercise can be a great step in improving pull-up performance but isn’t likely the best first option. Although it can induce solid muscle growth and improve motor patterns, eccentric exercise is also likely to produce significant muscle damage to new trainees.

The main point is to be patient and operate at your own pace.

Although they make the list of best back exercises for better pull-ups, it’s important to make sure not to overuse them early on to allow for sufficient recovery from each workout. (6,7)

Week 1-2

Assisted Pull-Up Machine

Day 1: 3 Sets x 8-10 Reps
Day 2: 3 Sets x 4-6 Reps

*Gradually reducing assistance each workout

Week 3-4

Day 1: Banded Pull-Ups

4 Sets x 6-8 Reps

Day 2: Eccentric Pull-Ups

2-3 Sets x 4-6 Reps (4 second eccentric)

Week 5-6

Day 1: Standard Pull-Up Singles

6-8 Sets x 1 Rep

Day 2: Banded Pull-Ups

3-4 Sets x 6-8 Reps

Week 7 – As Needed

Day 1 & 2: Standard Pull-Ups + Banded Pull Up Complex

2-4 Sets x 2-8 Reps

*Perform each set by first completing as many standard, unassisted pull-ups as possible, then transition immediately into banded pull-ups to finish each sets’ rep scheme


best back exercises


Once capable of completing approximately 2 sets of 4+ repetitions 

Standard Pull-Ups, 2-4 Sets x 4-8+ Reps

This isn’t just some of the best back exercises to improve pull-up performance. The program is also laid out in a way that each exercise builds upon the previous one.

Assisted pull-ups with a machine help trainees add just enough assistance to gain better motor pattern improvement and gradually decrease assistance until ultimately needing very little assistance to execute the exercise. This point does not only improve strength but a better feeling for the movement in general.

At this point, banded pull-ups feel more natural, and confidence has grown as you approach a traditional pull-up bar. Moving forward, each successive step helps to build on that initial progress, inching closer and closer to full, traditional pull-ups.

“The best back exercises, to begin with, are those that best fit your current training status”

The key point to remember is that each level of progression may require more or less time than this outline suggests. For some, it may require a few more weeks in each level to really get the skill down and gain sufficient strength. For others, already able to perform 1 pull up successfully, it may be somewhat easier to reach the point of traditional + banded pull-up sets.

The main point is to be patient and operate at your own pace. Progress doesn’t happen overnight, but with each successful workout, you’re that much closer to your goals.

This is also true with your diet, being patient is key. Follow a sustainable program with your Custom Macro Blueprint.

Workout Strategy – Category 2: (Completed 2 or more pull-ups.)

The progression strategy from category 1 won’t drastically change for category 2. What will change will be where you can begin in the outline, and our list of the best back exercises to perform as you advance later in your progression.

If you’re already capable of performing at least 2 traditional pull-ups, it can be helpful, to begin with, pull-up singles to increase total pull-up working volume, then progress toward a variety of pull-up variations that can complement your overall strength progress.

These variations will stimulate a different proportion of overall back musculature and simply keep your workouts interesting, as you become a pull-up pro.

Week 1 & 2

Day 1 & 2: Standard Pull Up Singles

6-8 Sets x 1 Rep

Week 3 & 4

Day 1 & 2: Standard Pull Up Singles & Doubles

6-8 Sets x 1-2 Reps

Week 5 – 8 (or as needed)

Day 1 & 2: Standard Pull-Ups + Banded Pull Up Complex

2-4 Sets x 2-8 Reps

*Perform each set by first completing as many standard, unassisted pull-ups as possible, then transition immediately into banded pull-ups to finish each sets’ rep scheme


upper body


Once capable of completing approximately 2 sets of 6-8 repetitions

Day 1: Standard Pull-Ups, 2-6 Sets of 6-8+ Reps

Day 2: Advanced Pull-Up Variation, 2-6 Sets of 6-8+ Reps

At this point, it’s safe to say you’re standard pull up foundation is pretty strong. Once you become confident in completing multiple sets (6+ reps each) of traditional pull-ups, it can be a great idea to periodically program variations of traditional pull-ups to compliment your training. Some effective variations include:

The Best Back Exercise for Advanced Pull-Up Progression

  • Neutral Grip Pull-Ups
  • V Bar Pull-ups (V Bar attachment placed over a straight pull-up bar)
  • Pull-Ups with Static Holds at the Top of Each Rep
  • Chin Ups
  • Weighted Pull-ups & Chin-Ups (weight belt for added resistance)
  • Olympic Ring Pull-Ups (increase your focus on stabilization)

Pulling (up) all the Stops

There is a multitude of paths you can take to reach pull-up proficiency. The distance, enjoyment and relative ease of the journey may differ.

Ultimately as long as you are progressively getting stronger in an organized training routine based around the best back exercises for your goals, keeping pull-up variations as a major training focus, and properly adjusting your diet to meet your body composition goals, pull-up performance is certain to improve.

Regardless of your exact routine, using the above considerations and progression schemes can help you get where you’re going quicker through adequate building blocks and the best back exercises shown to facilitate muscle growth and strength in a balanced way. Lebron can keep his pull-up threes; you’ve got pull-ups at your gym covered now!


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from Articles & Interviews – IIFYM

Thursday, August 31, 2017

9 Foods That Are Beneficial For Cognitive Health


Sometimes we need reminding that food has powerful impacts on our health. What if I told you that blueberries can make you have a better memory? What if I told you dark chocolate could improve your concentration?

And what if I told you that to date, 99.6% of pharmaceutical drugs developed to combat neurological diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease [AD] have failed? I think I have your attention.

This article will give you a rundown of the nutrients and foods with the strongest evidence for neuroprotection, and for improving cognitive function.

(Side note: understanding how to fuel your mind and body starts with a proper intake, our macro calculator is a great starting point.)

1. Fish




The strongest evidence for any nutrients protecting against cognitive decline lies with the marine omega-3 fatty acids, EPA & DHA; as little as 1 oily fish meal per week is associated with less incidence of AD and dementia (1; 2; 3).

The primary benefit appears to derive from the fatty acid DHA, the main fatty acid in brain tissue that is found highly concentrated in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, herrings and anchovies (3).

A consistent feature of this research is that the effects of marine omega-3 fatty acids are preventative, and intake throughout the lifespan is the strongest association with protection against cognitive decline (4; 5). At a minimal intake of 1-2 meals per week, this is a simple dietary addition to any IIFYM strategy.

Your Dose: 3 x 90-120g servings of oily fish per week.

2. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables


cognitive health


Several nutrients vital for cognitive health are provided by this broad food group, which encompasses foods like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, lettuce, rocket, cabbage, broccoli etc. In particular, vitamin E and vitamin B9.

Next to the omega-3 fish oils, high dietary intake of vitamin E is strongly associated with lower risk of neurodegenerative disease (6).

An interesting feature of vitamin E research worth paying attention to is supplementation in controlled trials has failed to improve cognitive function (7; 8). Vitamin E thus appears to be a nutrient where dietary intake comes first.

Our client’s macronutrient intakes allow for plenty of Vitamin E consumption with their Custom Macro Blueprint.

Vitamin B9 is another nutrient abundant in dark green leafy vegetables, and the B-vitamin family have been implicated in neurological disease, due to their multiplicity of roles in neurological processes (9).

Additional Cognitive Benefits to Dark Leafy Greens

The mechanism may be through lowering homocysteine levels; traditionally considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, high homocysteine levels have been associated with risk of AD (9). Recent controlled trials have found improvements in cognitive function with supplementation of vitamins B6, B9 and B12, via reducing homocysteine levels (10; 11).

Vitamin K is also abundant in vegetables of the dark green variety and is an oft-overlooked nutrient in brain health. Higher circulating vitamin K levels are associated with less cognitive decline with ageing (12).

Dark green leafy veggies serve another purpose for our IIFYM coaches: adding bulk to clients diet plan’s during fat loss phases.

With that said, it’s nice to able to eat a lot of something during a diet, and with this low- calorie food group, you not only get density for your diet but nutrient density for your brain and overall health.

Your Dose: 1 large greens salad – about 2 cups chopped vegetables – daily.

3. Berries


cognitive memory


Specifically, blueberries and strawberries have been singled out as particularly beneficial for cognitive health (13). The reason lies in a group of non-nutrient compounds known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are a diverse group of plant chemicals that are highly concentrated in berries, grapes (yes, this includes red wine), cacao and teas, and high dietary intake of flavonoids are associated with lower risk of dementia and AD (14; 15).

Citrus fruits are home to another member of the flavonoid family, namely the compounds hesperidin and narirutin, both of which have been shown to result in boosted brain function.

Anthocyanins, a subtype of flavonoid, have been shown to improve cognitive function across the lifespan. Supplementing elderly adults suffering mild cognitive impairment with anthocyanin-rich concord grape and blueberry juice, respectively, improved their cognitive function when consumed daily over 12-weeks (16; 17).

In otherwise healthy children aged 7-10yrs, supplementing with blueberry anthocyanins – equivalent to 120-240g fresh berries – improved memory performance acutely assessed 6-hrs after ingestion of blueberries at breakfast (18).

Eating blueberries, strawberries, and dark-skinned berries daily is a simple, low-calorie and carb, easily IIFYM-compliant way to boost your memory and cognitive function.

Your Dose: 120g blueberries daily.

4. Citrus Fruits




Alarmism over the fruit sugar, fructose, may have chased orange juice away from your breakfast table. Your brain may be calling it back. Citrus fruits are home to another member of the flavonoid family, namely the compounds hesperidin and narirutin, both of which have been shown to result in boosted brain function.

In a randomised, placebo-controlled crossover design trial [the gold-standard in research], consuming 500ml orange juice with 549mg hesperidin and 60mg narirutin [total 45g sugars, FYI] for 8 weeks improved executive function – the brain tasks which regulate attention, focus and organisation – an effect that had not been measured in other flavonoid studies (19).

From an IIFYM perspective, commercially available orange juice may be a bit of a waste of your macros. 45g of carbs in OJ could be 300g of potatoes, and you’ll be fuller for a lot longer on a fat loss diet with the latter.

Setting up your diet for satiety and adherence is a common issue our IIFYM coaches work through with clients. With the main resource being a Custom Macro Blueprint to alleviate these issues.

The positive feature of the studies into flavonoid-rich citrus is that they used otherwise healthy adults, without any cognitive impairment, and found improvements in global assessments of brain function (19; 20).

Cognitive Benefits with a Caveat

These studies do, however, come with a caveat: it would be hard to find a commercially available orange juice with the same hesperidin content (circa 500mg). Citrus fruits contain an average of 15mg/100g fruit flesh, and analysis of commercially available orange juices has shown a range of 12-15mg/100ml (21).

Thankfully, then there is a solution from Chinese researchers to obtain an equivalent dose of hesperidin used in studies: sun-drying tangerine peels, which contain the highest concentration of hesperidin at 50-100mg/g (22). 5-10g of sun-dried tangerine peels will give you an equivalent dose of hesperidin used in the research.

Your dose: 5-10g sun-dried tangerine peels daily or regular citrus fruit consumption.

5. Dark Chocolate




Need an excuse to eat chocolate? Your brain health is one. The caveat here is that it is dark chocolate [min.70% cacao] that we’re talking about, as the benefit is derived from cocoa flavonols [see a theme with these foods?].

Cocoa also contains caffeine and another brain-boosting plant chemical known as theobromine. The synergistic effect of these phytochemicals has led to some interesting results; improvements in visual acuity, working memory, attentiveness and response time (23).

IIFYM blueprint

And if you need that mid-afternoon cognitive lift, without the over-stimulation or sleep-disrupting effects of caffeine late in the day, then dark chocolate may give you the lift you need. In a randomised, placebo-controlled trial in healthy adults, consumption of 520mg cocoa flavonols – equivalent to around 20g dark chocolate – reduced subjective mental fatigue, where subjects underwent a battery of cognitive test performed 2-minutes apart (24).

All in all, this happens to be both a delicious and, from an IIFYM perspective, minimally invasive means of boosting cognition.

Your Dose: 20-40g dark chocolate containing 80-90% cacao daily.

6. Cruciferous Vegetables




I know, I mentioned some of these – kale, cabbage – in no.2 above, but the reality is that the Brassica family of veg deserve their own slot, due to the presence of a family of compounds known as glucosinolates. In particular, a compound known as sulforaphane looks particularly promising for brain health.

Brain inflammation is gaining recognition as a cause of depression, and sulforaphane has demonstrated similar efficacy to pharmaceutical anti-depressants, an effect mediated through its potent anti-inflammatory action (25).

The effects of sulforaphane may convince you never to pass on the Brussels sprouts again at Thanksgiving: the highest food sources of sulforaphane are Brussels sprouts, broccoli sprouts, cabbage and raw broccoli.

The point from no.2 also applies here: this food group count minimally against your carb and calorie goals from your Custom Macro Blueprint, and are easily incorporated in the recommended doses daily.

Sulforaphane protects against the accumulation of amyloid-β, the plaque which builds up in AD, and oxidative damage to the brain (26; 27).

This is yet another example of the preventative effects of nutrition in relation to brain health, as a diet rich in sulforaphane in youth protects against later cognitive impairment (28).

Your Dose: 50g broccoli sprouts; 100g Brussels sprouts; 250g broccoli; daily intake. NB: consume raw, or lightly steamed – never boil.

7. Green Tea




You can drink your way to a better brain, too. For green tea, not unlike dark chocolate, the effect is a result of a combination of compounds, namely green tea catechins, caffeine, and the amino acid theanine, which is unique to tea (29).

Recent evidence has shown that catechins and theanine improved cognitive function over a 16-week period (30). Neuroimaging shows green tea significantly increases calmness, shown through increases across alpha brain bandwidths, which is the brain frequency associated with relaxed attention (31).

Caffeine positively impacts mood and cognitive processes and interestingly can promote neuroplasticity

Green tea consistently shows improvements in mood, alertness, and attention in healthy adults (29). Interestingly, these effects appear to be dependent on interactions between caffeine, theanine and catechins, as the compounds in isolation are less potent (29). The good news? No need to consider green tea within your IIFYM framework: the drinks, my friend, are free.

Your Dose: 3 cups per day (each containing 3-5g leaves dry weight)

8. Eggs




The concern over diet and cholesterol is a concern our IIFYM coaches hear regularly. However, they also have the evidence-based answer: the evidence no longer supports associations between eggs, dietary cholesterol, and blood cholesterol levels (32).

This has been put to bed in dietary fat research, but still, hasn’t trickled down to the lay public. Even in obese subjects, consumption of 3 eggs per day improved their lipid profile – there was no change in LDL-cholesterol and increased HDL-cholesterol (33).

So, with that aside, what do eggs do for your brain? Provide the richest dietary source of choline, the raw material required to synthesize the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is responsible for learning and memory.

Higher dietary choline intake is associated with better memory performance and reduced risk of neurodegenerative disease (34). From an IIFYM standpoint, a 4-egg omelette may take up a lot of macros. Our coaches at IIFYM, in this case, will recommend smaller servings for a client, but more regularly.

It truly depends on your allotted fat intake, which you can find out with a Custom Macro Blueprint.

Your Dose: Up to 12 eggs per week (average 2 per day, 6-days a week).

9.  Coffee




I know you were waiting with bated breath to see if it made the list, and it deservedly does, due to the presence of multiple compounds which exert beneficial effects on cognitive function. Coffee contains caffeine, cholinergic compounds [i.e. boosting acetylcholine] and other plant compounds like theobromine [which you’ll recall from dark chocolate/cacao].

Where our coaches at IIFYM notice, many clients tripping up on fat loss diets is a cognitive dissonance toward liquid calories: “coffee” does not mean the 200kcal Grande Starbucks caramel latte.

With that said, there is strong evidence that habitual coffee consumption protects against Parkinson’s Disease (35). Caffeine positively impacts mood and cognitive processes and interestingly can promote neuroplasticity i.e. the ability of the brain to change and develop new connections (35).

Evidence suggests caffeine reduces inflammation in the brain, providing a protective mechanism against depression and neurodegenerative disease (36). As with green tea, the drinks are free: just remember that from both the cognition perspective and the “free” IIFYM standpoint, we are talking about black coffee.

Your Dose: 1-2 cups per day.


You may have noticed that a theme of much of the research in this area is preventative effects of consumption. Ultimately, the earlier your diet includes a consistent intake of the doses of these foods – or more particularly the beneficial compounds within them – the better.

From an IIFYM perspective, one of the uniform benefits of these foods, perhaps except for eggs and oily fish, is that they come with minuscule caloric weight. Berries, greens, and cruciferous veg can all be included daily without detracting much from your diet plans and weight loss goals.

Green tea and black coffee are free, but if your weakness is the matcha latte or pumpkin-spiced frap, obviously, the purpose of the IIFYM framework is that you can have it – just make sure to plug it into your macro tracker, liquid calories still count.

Nutrition is vital to cognition, so be sure to take this aspect of your brain health seriously, as prevention remains the only cure.

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