Muscle Knots, for real?

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If you have ever had a massage or been through physical therapy as a result of a sports or fitness related injury, you probably have heard about muscle knots.   The New York Times, “Ask: Well,” addresses the debate over whether muscle knots actually exist and how to treat them.  Take a look…

Muscle Knots

 

Fall Fitness Goals, Part 2

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By Kara Glasco, MS, RCEP, HFS

If you’ve started a 5, 8, or 10k training plan for the fall, I have a few things for you to consider while you are training.  In “Fall Fitness Goals, Part 1,” (Scroll down),  I highlighted common running program problems and how to select a safe and effective training plan.  Even if you have embarked on the perfect 5k plan, there is always a slight risk of injury due to the high impact nature of running.   Have you ever met a runner who didn’t experience a few aches or pains during their training?  In Part 2, I will concentrate on common running injuries, corrective exercises for these injuries, and why the right running shoes are so important.

 
Common Running Injuries
I believe that every runner, beginner or elite, has experienced the twinge of runner’s knee or burn of achilles tendonitis.  With so many different factors affecting the joints, it is no wonder running injuries are so common. Factors such as gait, stride length, foot strike, body weight, training surface and muscular imbalances can all affect your injury risk. According to Runner’s World Magazine, some of the most common running injuries are patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee), achilles tendinitis, hamstring issues, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, IT band syndrome and stress fractures (1).  Any of these injuries can affect a runner, but patellofemoral pain, hamstring issues, shin splints, and IT band syndrome tend to affect more novice runners.  These four common injuries can be worked through with strengthening exercises, stretching and myofascial release.  Plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis and stress fractures are much more serious and a visit to the doctor is a must.

 
Stretch, Strengthen, and Foam Roll
A multitude of factors can cause any of these common running injuries including muscle imbalances, weak joints, foot pronation and trying to run too much too quickly. Patellofemoral pain can be caused by overpronation of the foot or weak gluteal muscles, which cause the knee to turn inward as you run (1).  Hamstring issues arise from improper muscle length that leads to muscle weakness.  Your hamstrings may be overstretched, but most sedentary office workers tend to have excessively tight hamstrings due to prolonged sitting.  Shin splints occur when high amounts of stress are placed on the anterior muscles of tibia causing micro tears in the muscle (1).  Shin splints are generally a sign of doing too much too quickly whether it be mileage or pace.  IT band issues can arise from weak glutes, weak hip abductors and also trying to go too hard too fast.  Below I have some suggestion for alleviating these running ailments.  If your pain last longer than a few weeks, you should consult a qualified medical professional.

 

Treatment Suggestions
Patellofemoral pain: Rest + glute strengthening exercises (lateral exercises, squats, lunges) + stretch hip flexors + change stride length or foot strike.
Hamstring Issues: For tight muscles stretch and foam roll daily + strengthen exercises (hip bridges, leg curls, deadlifts)
Shin Splints: Rest + Ice + NSAIDs + stretches and strengthen muscles of the anterior tibia + modify training program (increase training time for slower progression) + change stride length or foot strike + foam rolling calf muscles may help
IT Band Issues: Rest + Foam roll IT band + stretch hip flexors + strengthen glutes, quads, and hip abductors (lateral exercises, squats, lunges) + modify training program (increase training time for slower progression)
One of the great perks of running is it requires little to no equipment except for a pair of running shoes.  Believe it or not, but old or improper running shoes can contribute to any of the injuries listed above.  When deciding on the right pair of shoes, I suggest visiting a specialized running store.  Most specialized stores can assess your feet for arch issues, pronation issues, and width needs.  If you have an abnormal foot type, don’t be surprised if the right shoe cost upwards of $120.00.  Spending a little extra cash for right shoe will not only help you train better, but save you from the aches and pains in the long run.

1 Sources – Aschwanden, Christie. “The Big 7 Body Breadowns.” Runner’s World 3 Feb. 2011: 49-60. Web.

Planning your Fall Fitness Goals

 

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by Kara Glasco, MS, RCEP, HFS

Spring and fall are the most popular times of the year for road races.  With the fall races approaching, it is almost time to start a training plan.  Most of the information I highlight below can apply to an 8k or 10k race that a novice runner or “never run before” participant is going to start.  Carefully review my insights into training for your first 5k run and tips for selecting the right program for you.

Ready, Set, JOG?

Most “Couch to 5k” programs assume that participants are sedentary with no other physical limitations  that could impact their 5k abilities.  Most new 5k runners generally have a weight loss goal that influences their decision to complete the race.  I would warrant that previously sedentary individuals may have a few joint issues, mobility problems or health conditions that may make exercise more risky than the average 5k runner.  Most 5k plans tell participants start off easy, which I would recommend as well.  However, after multiple 5k plans, the first weeks of these plans may be too advanced for most beginners.  One beginner 5k program I reviewed had participants jogging on the first day of the first week!  If you have never jogged in your life, the first jogging workout may be a total shock to the system making your joints ache for days.

Another common flaw of these beginner 5k programs is their training plan length.  Most plans do not have enough training weeks to truly prepare novice runners for their first race.  I would have my novices walk three times per week for at least the first two weeks in order to build up their joint, muscle, and tendon strength.  As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, muscles adapt quickly but tendons and joints do not.  You need enough training time to prepare your cardiovascular system as well as your musculoskeletal system.  I would have a true beginner complete at least a 12 week training plan, and more experienced racers complete a 9 to 12 week plan.  Obviously this is for racers that have no other preexisting conditions that could make walking and jogging contraindicated.  Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise routine or more advanced training plan.

What’s Your Goal?

Another factor that the “Couch to 5k” programs do not take into account is each individual’s reason for completing the race.  Whenever I design a road race program, I use the client’s goals to help me make their plan.  Do you want to just simply complete the race?  Do you want to complete the race but have a real concern about getting injured? Do you have a time goal in mind?  Do you want to increase the amount of time you jog versus the time you walk?  Most internet plans are not tailored for these specific goals.  If you are more concerned about injuries, your couch to 5k plan should have specific elements to prevent that including stretching and flexibility exercises.  If you want to increase the amount you run or your race time, you should have a strength training plan in order to facilitate this goal.  I challenge you to find a “Couch to 5k” program online that includes a flexibility, mobility, and strength training component.

Programs Must Include

When selecting the right “Couch to 5k” plan for you, look for a program that has flexibility and strength training exercises.  Flexibility exercises will reduce your risk of injury, minimize muscle soreness and help with muscle imbalances.  Strength training is essential for improving your running abilities, can increase your cardiovascular endurance and reduce muscular fatigue at the end of the race.  I suggest you run a maximum of THREE days per week, and more days do not equal better performance.  Many programs will suggest you run upwards of five days per week which can be disastrous.  Remember it is about QUALITY runs not QUANTITY runs!  Also you should incorporate cross training (ellipticals, biking, rowing, swimming) on your non-running days to keep your cardiovascular endurance high while giving your joints a much needed break.  Stay tuned for  more tips for starting your 5k training program.

Saucy Substitutions

By Kara Glasco, MS, RCEP, HFS


Go to any fancy restaurant and I guarantee everything on the menu will come with a decadent and delicious sauce. Sauces can instantly elevate the most mundane of dishes and can be secret calorie traps.

Some of the oldest diet tips are to avoid cream based sauces (alfredo sauce), mayonnaise based sauces (ranch and blue cheese dressing) and fat loaded sauces (scampi). Where is the fun in that? I feel that often times the sauce is the best part of the meal! When trying to lose weight, cutting out nutritionally void calories such as the ones in sauces can be a big key to your success.

Another tip is to substitute an unhealthy sauce for another healthier one. Sometimes I get the yummy, yet fattening, sauce on the side, lightly dip my fork into it and use the sauce sparingly.

When deciphering restaurant menus, look for any of these sauces that will be lower in calories but high in flavor: salsa, guacamole, vinaigrette, marinara, salsa verde, tzatziki, and chimichurri.

Punch up the flavor

Lemon juice, mustard, vinegar, and hot sauce are great additives to jazz up the flavor of any dish without adding many calories. I really enjoy adding lemon juice to my steamed veggies and sauteed greens so I don’t need to use butter.

Anything vinegar based will always be very low in calories such as hot sauce and mustard. Try making a spicy marinade or mustard based rub instead of a ketchup or oil heavy marinade. I love making buffalo chicken skewers and I marinate the chicken in only hot sauce for a buffalo flavor with hardly any added calories. All the same flavors as your favorite wings with no added carbs, fat OR GUILT!

Another tip is to increase the amount of vinegar to oil ratio in homemade salad dressings. I tend to make my dressings and marinades heavy on the vinegar because it acts as a meat tenderizer and makes a little go a long way. I suggest using two types of vinegar or acid in salad dressings for a more rounded and less harsh flavor profile. My favorites are balsamic, of course, lemon juice and any type of wine vinegar.

Slimmer Sauces

Another great way to save some calories in your sauce recipes is to swap out part of the fattening ingredients for chicken or vegetable broth. Broth has only 5 calories per tablespoon and is packed with yummy flavor. I suggest only swapping half of the liquids or fats for broth so you don’t completely change the recipes flavor profile.

As I mentioned in my healthy substitutions article, I use low-fat condensed milk in place of heavy cream for a rich consistency without hundreds of extra calories.

I found this pesto recipe years ago, loved it the instant I tried it and will never make a traditional recipe again. This recipe is so light compared to the oil laden recipes most cookbooks use. The flavors really shine through as well because the ingredients aren’t somthered with all that oil. Traditional pesto has over 230 calories for 1/4 cup while this updated version is only 104 calories, what a saving!!!

Lighter Pesto Sauce
2 Tbsp pine nuts
2 cups basil leaves, fresh
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth (or homemade broth)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 or 2 medium garlic clove(s), peeled (depending on how much you like garlic)
1/2 tsp table salt

Over medium heat, toast pine nuts in a small pan for about 3 minutes. Toss frequently so they won’t burn. Pour pine nuts into a food processor. Add basil, broth, cheese, oil, garlic and salt. Process until it’s the smoothness of and thickness of your liking. If you like, let it stand overnight for melding/thickening purposes.

Serving size is 1/4 cup.
Calories: 104 calories
Fat: 9g

Source: http://www.weightwatchers.com/food/rcp/RecipePage.aspx?recipeId=110351

Photo Source: http://www.phillymag.com/be-well-philly/2013/03/05/15-healthy-sauces-dressings/

Sneaking “healthy” into recipes

By Kara Glasco, MS, RCEP, HFS

Most parents will agree that it can be a nightmare to get vegetables into your kids.  As a personal trainer and foodie I always like to increase the nutritional value of what I am cooking.  Vegetables are full of flavor, low calorie, essential for losing weight and packed with vital nutrients.  Any nutrition expert will tell you to swap out vegetables for carbs when trying to lose weight, but what if the family won’t go along with your plan?  This is when “OPERATION: HIDDEN VEGETABLE” starts and man is it satisfying when your family gobbles down the meal and are none the wiser!!!

Add Flavor Not Calories

One of the best ways to keep the calories low without sacrificing the flavor is to add herbs and spices.  Fat does provide a lot of flavor but can send the calorie count through the roof.  Fresh herbs are one of my favorite ways to boost the flavor profile of any recipe.  I especially love adding fresh mint, cilantro, basil or oregano to salads.  The herbs help me limit the dressing since their flavor makes the salad so delicious.

I also enjoy using my crockpot for creating flavorful recipes such as chilis, curries or sauces.  The crockpot truly enhances the flavors of any meal because the spices simmer all day without the need to add extra fat.  Vegetables can also add great flavor to recipes, and my favorite thing to do is jazz up boring store bought sauces.  I take your off the shelf jarred tomato sauce, add a large can or two of plain tomato sauce and throw as many diced up vegetables as I can into the mix.  I sauté garlic, peppers, onions, and carrots until soft, and I add extra herbs and spices as well.  Not only does this save me money since jarred sauces can be very expensive, but I can control the sugar, fat, salt, and calories by “making” my own.

Another of my famous ways to sneak vegetables into a meal is to do the old standby, cover it in CHEESE!  I am always putting extra veggies into my casseroles, pasta dishes and lasagna. These are the best for hiding the extra veggies.  I have even add pureed broccoli into stuffed shells and manicotti, which decreases the amount of cheese filling and cuts down the calories.  My usual ratio for a casserole or baked pasta dish is 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 protein, 1/4 pasta.  Throw some cheese on top and watch them devour those veggies.

Like most college kids, I bought the prepackaged rice and pasta mixes not knowing how unhealthy they were.  I developed this recipe to resemble those packaged mixes with a little less guilt and A LOT less sodium.  I haven’t included a calorie count because this recipe can be modified in many different ways based on your individual taste.  Use any of the quick cooking white or brown rices and vegetable of your choice.  Make sure the veggies are finely diced so they cook quickly and are less noticeable to picky eaters. I throw everything into the food processor and blend until it looks “hideable.”

Creamy Vegetable Rice

1 cup of white rice (I love jasmine or basmati)

1-3 cups FINELY chopped veggies (i like broccoli, celery, onion, and carrot)

1 Tbsp  olive oil

½ cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

½ – 1 cup of skim milk

¼ cup parmesan cheese

In a medium sauce pan add olive oil, finely diced veggies and salt and pepper.  Saute for about 5 minutes or until soft but not browned.  Add enough water for cooking rice according to package directions plus an extra ½ cup.  Bring veggies and water to a boil and add rice.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until rice is done.  Once done, add enough milk to make a creamy mixture.  I may look soupy initially, but continually stir to bring out the thickening power of the rice.  Stir for about 1 minute and add more milk if needed.  Add parmesan cheese and stir to combine.  Enjoy!

Rice with eggplant, courgette and parsley

Rice with vegetables!

Are HIIT Workouts Right For You?

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By Kara Glasco, MS, RCEP, HFS

There is no denying that high intensity interval training (HIIT) really works and I am a huge advocate for this style of workout.  The general idea is to burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time with small periods of recovery.  Essentially, anything can become a HIIT style workout whether it is cardiovascular training such as running or strength training based.  HIIT workouts will increase your cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, decrease time to fatigue, decrease body fat and increase lean muscle mass.  This may sounds like the perfect exercise routine, but there are some potential issues with this style workout.  See my comments below before beginning a high intensity interval style workout.
Tendons, Muscles, and Joint OH MY!

Now comes the ugly truth of extreme HIIT workouts such as T25 and P90X.  I’ve known my fair share of friends and clients that have injured themselves during these programs.  I had one client tear his achilles, two blow out a knee meniscus and countless other pulled muscles, especially the lower back.  This type of workout can be extremely rough on the joints since most include tons of body weight exercises such as push up, pull ups and lunges.  Tendon and ligament injuries can occur in the shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees and ankles due to the high amount of stress placed on these joints.  Due to the repetitive nature of HIIT dvd programs, tendonitis can be a real problem for overworked joints and may require physical therapy.

Muscle injuries are probably the most common issue with extreme HIIT programs.  Most DVD series generally start with a warm-up period, but even the warm-ups may be too intense for some participants.  Certains stretches could be more harmful than helpful for some clients especially if they have pre-existing joint issues.

Some DVD warm-ups may be too lengthy, include too many ballistic exercises and accumulate too many repetitions on already overworked joints.  Muscular fatigue from the warm-up also could cause potential problems during the rest of the workout.  Fatigued muscles can cause issues with form, balance and joint stabilization.

Muscles adapt and recover quicker than tendons and ligaments do after a HIIT workout.  A tendon’s reduced ability to recover after exercise can increase your risk of injury and joint damage.  Muscles recover quickly because of their increased blood flow, demand for nutrients and muscle-specific biological processes.  As you age, your ability to recover and rebound from exercise decreases.  This makes it especially difficult for middle-aged participants to complete the HIIT DVDs without getting injured.

The joints can also take a beating from HIIT DVDs and most participants experience painful and swollen joints at some point during the program.  Shoulders, wrists, ankles and knee joints are at the greatest risk from extreme exercise DVD programs.  Most DVD programs do an excessive amount of repetitions and have participants bend in every which way.  The sheer number of push ups and pull ups is almost the equivalent of asking your wrist, shoulders and elbows to run a marathon!

Think before You Jump

One of my favorite sayings is “It is better to do a QUALITY workout than to do a QUANTITY workout.”  Now, I am not saying that HIIT DVD workouts are a one way ticket to tendonitis, joint damage or muscle injuries.  But, if you have any other pre-existing conditions or lifestyle demands,  high intensity interval training may not be right for you.  I would never recommend an office worker with overexerted wrist muscles from typing perform multiple sets of wrist-supported exercises.  I would also caution sedentary office workers from moving through extreme ranges of motion like most DVDs require due to potential weak hip and back muscles from prolonged sitting.  My last sentiment is that it is illogical for a participant to further tighten muscles that are already excessively tight.  My example is, once agai,n the sedentary office worker with rounded and hunched shoulders resulting bad posture and very tight pec muscles.  Push-ups, planks, and other chest dominant exercises will only further these problem without solving the posture problem. Stay tuned for my next article on alternative exercises to do during HIIT DVDs that are safe and effective.

Sustaining Weight Loss, Part 2

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by Kara Glasco, MS, RCEP, HFS

In this weight loss segment, I am going to address a few topics to think about when it comes to maintaining your weight loss.  Everyone knows that you have to workout and eat healthy to keep the weight off, but did you know how important sleep is for your weight?  Also, your hormones can play a huge role in your ability to maintain your weight.  If you haven’t been able to maintain your weight with diet and exercise alone, examine my information below for new strategies to get your weight back on track.

 
Sleep is Essential

Sleep can be the most beautiful and most elusive thing on the planet with our hectic lives and work schedules.  Having suffered with insomnia my entire life, I can truly attest to the miracle of a good night’s sleep and the effects sleep has on the body.  When it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance, sleep can have a huge impact on your ability to do both.  Many studies have linked a lack of sleep to high rates of obesity and weight gain.  People often turn to food, sugary beverages and comfort foods to keep them awake during the day.  With that being said, the more hours you are awake, the more eating opportunities you have.  A lack of sleep can make you feel unmotivated to exercise, sluggish while exercising and may hinder all performance related gains.  I use exercise as my natural sleep aide and when I don’t workout I generally don’t sleep as well.  This can be become a nasty cycle with both exercise and sleep affecting each other.  In addition, sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on our hormones by disrupting our circadian rhythms.  Studies have shown that a lack of sleep can can impact all the hormones I discuss in the next section.

 
Hormonal Factors

As if weight maintenance wasn’t hard enough, our hormones can play a major role in our ability to lose weight.  I am going to highlight a few of the many hormones that affect body weight, and the key players are insulin, ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol.  Insulin’s main job is to stimulate the storage of glucose from the foods we eat.  Chronically high insulin levels can cause excessive glucose storage and an accumulation of fat stores.  Leptin and ghrelin are hormones secreted by fat cells that signal the brain about our hunger needs.

Leptin is a long-term regulator that signals fullness, which can induce weight loss (1).  Ghrelin is a fast-acting hormone that signals hunger initiating our desires to consume food (1).  Some studies have shown that obesity can also cause elevated levels of leptin, which can lead to a leptin resistance much like insulin resistance (1).  The body becomes unable to recognize leptin hormones, which tricks the body into thinking that it is in a constant state of starvation (1).  This in turn stimulates the body to store fat and carbohydrate furthering obesity.

Cortisol is another hormone that greatly affects your ability to lose or maintain body weight. Cortisol is referred to as the “stress hormone” and can elevate and initiate certain things in response to physical and psychological stress.  Cortisol increases appetite, blood sugar levels, macronutrient metabolism, blood pressure, and immune responses (2).  Chronically high levels of cortisol can increase abdominal fat, lower thyroid function, cause blood sugar imbalances, and decreased bone and muscle mass (2).

In conclusion, factors besides exercise and diet can affect your ability to maintain your weight loss.  Certain factors such as elevated hormones can silently be hindering your success.  As always, consult with your doctor if you believe hormones may be causing undesired side effects.  When in doubt grab a few extra hours of sleep for numerous health benefits.

 

Sources:
Klok MD , Jakobsdottir S, Drent ML. The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obes Rev. 2007 Jan;8(1):21-34.
Wilson, James L. Cortisol and Adrenal Function. AdrenalFatigue.org. Future Formulations, LLC, n.d. Web. 08 June 2015.

Sustaining Weight Loss, part 1

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By Kara Glasco, MS, RCEP, HFS

Moving more and eating less may be the motto for losing weight, but keeping the weight off is so much more complicated.  Losing the weight is often times the easy part, burn more calories than you consume.  In order to keep the weight off you must exercise regularly, keep your metabolism running like a fine-tuned machine, and consume a very healthy diet.  As if that wasn’t complicated enough, there are many things to take into account when it comes to metabolism.  Your resting metabolic rate, eating frequency, macronutrient intake, sleep, and hormone levels all affect your calorie burning potential.   In this article I will address the basics of your metabolism and how food plays a major role in sustaining weight loss.

Resting Metabolic Rate

Resting metabolic rate very simply defined is the amount of energy or calories burned to maintain daily physiological functions.  These bodily functions include digesting food, repairing tissues, maintaining body temperature, and any other processes needed for homeostasis.  There are many different variables that affect your metabolic rate including: age, gender, height, weight, activity level, and body fat percentage (1).   I’m sure it seems common sense, but your exercise habits, eating habits, and food choices also affect your resting metabolic rate.  In general, the more you exercise the higher your metabolism tends to be.  To calculate your own metabolic rate click here and be sure to select your true activity level (2).  Most people are in the sedentary or lightly active groups.  If you feel you have a slow metabolism or have extreme difficulty losing weight consult your doctor because there may be an underlying reason.

Foods and Metabolism

Your diet greatly affects your metabolic rate with the timing of your meals and your food selection being equally important.  Low-calorie diets are the equivalent of flushing your metabolism down the drain.  A low-calorie diet tricks the body into thinking it is going into starvation mode, which greatly reduces the body’s desire to burn calories.  I like to think about my metabolism as a camp fire, it takes a combination of sticks (snacks) and logs (meals) to keep it burning.  All sticks and the fire will burn out quickly, but too many big logs and the fire won’t even get started.  Appropriate meal timing is also essential for keeping your metabolism elevated and maximizing your caloric burning potential.  I suggest you try to consume some sort of food source every 3 to 4 hours.  I would recommend breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, and dinner.  Depending on your activity level and fitness goals, an after dinner snack may even be warranted.  Certain foods can raise your metabolic rate since these foods are more complicated to break down.  This is called the thermic effect of food, a fancy term for the calories burned to break down food.  Complex foods such as protein, fat, and high fiber food have higher thermic effects therefore keeping you fuller longer.  In a study published by European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers examined the effect of a high-protein meal, high-carbohydrate meal, and a high-fat meal on subject’s satiety.  Each meal was calorically equivalent, and the high-protein meal had a much higher thermic effect and satiety rating.

In conclusion, many factors can impact our ability to maintain weight loss with diet and exercise being the most important.  Choose an appropriate daily calorie range, exercise multiple times per week, consume smaller meal portions, and snack frequently to keep your metabolism blazing.

Sources:

Kelly, Mark P. “Resting Metabolic Rate: Best Ways to Measure It—And Raise It, Too.” The American Council on Exercise. ACE Certified News, Oct. 2012. Web. 05 June 2015.
“BMR Calculator / Basal Metabolic Rate.” BMR Calculator / Basal Metabolic Rate. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2015.
Crovetti R, Porrini M, Santangelo A, Testolin G. “The Influence on thermic effect of food on satiety.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  1998 Jul;52(7):482-8.

Photo:   http://womenslifestyle.com/3-easy-steps-to-fire-up-your-metabolism/