Being fit and healthy doesn't have to be complicated. Confused by all the misinformation? All your common fitness and nutrition questions are answered in this one-stop resource. Want to simplify things even further? Check out the SSF Fundamentals.
We have over 300 citations to evidence-based research. While experts are continuing to make daily discoveries in the fitness and nutritional sciences, we know enough to make a difference today.
Fitness is the key to improved mental and physical well-being. Beyond burning fat and building muscle, it's about your happiness, ability, and longevity. All aspects of human life benefit from fitness. Let's get started!
—Julien Offroy de la Mettrie, L'Homme Machine
Regular exercise and improving food quality are suggested. Options include building up muscle first before burning fat later, or burning fat first then building muscle later. A slower body recomposition is another option.
Moderate to abundant muscle mass with little to moderate body fat. Burning off excess fat is suggested at higher than 15% body fat (25% for women). At 10% body fat (20% for women) or lower, a slow bulk to build more muscle is an option. If you are at your desired physique, simply maintain your caloric intake and training intensity.
Some factors that affect our physical and mental states are:
Focus on prevention over treatment.
Poor eating choices and a sedentary lifestyle are associated with higher body fat, physical ailments, mental illness, and higher mortality. Underweight individuals also have a high mortality rate. Good eating choices and fitness are associated with longevity, leanness, and mental wellness.
If you are sick, it is advisable to rest until you are well. If you are sore the day after a workout, this is normal, but if you feel a sharp pain, this is an injury. If injured, it is advisable to avoid any exercises that aggravates the injury and consult with a doctor.
Beyond body composition and fitness level, your doctor can assess your blood pressure and blood test for triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Below are ideal markers of health and fitness for risk-free individuals:
It is crucial get about 7–8 hours of sleep each night at consistent hours. Sleep helps with recovery, muscle growth, performance, well-being, and mental health. With less sleep, ghrelin, a "hunger hormone," would increase, leading to overeating. Also, each muscle group needs at least 48 hours to repair, recover, and regrow, so muscles in the same group shouldn't be worked out on consecutive days.
If you are unable to get a full night's sleep, a short 5–15 minute nap can give a few hours of improved cognitive performance.
Chronic stress magnifies existing negative health issues, including obesity, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and is a significant factor in accelerated aging and premature death.
Active individuals will require greater consumption of calories since their body demands it, while more sedentary individuals will opt to eat less to maintain equilibrium. Overeating has more to do with food choices than activity level.
While aesthetics is a motivating factor to become fit, the primary outlook should be for health. Good health is subconsciously attractive and aesthetics follow as a consequence of being healthy. Making health a priority directly affects mental and physical well-being, helping decrease body image issues.
Focusing on nutrition and exercise instead of weight and appearance would often lead to more desirable results.
Our height, structure, predisposition to store fat, and muscularity are genetically determined when we reach puberty. These attributes determine our base shape and appearance, and cannot be changed without surgery or drugs. We can, however, increase or decrease body fat and muscle to sculpt a new shape. Keep in mind, we have a natural limit for muscular potential.
Your body weight does not consist of just muscle and fat, but also water, blood, organs, waste, tissue, and bones. Your scale tells you your weight, but it doesn’t tell you how much of it is lean muscle and how much of it is fat. If you gain or lose a few pounds over the course of the day, it is likely just fluctuations of water weight. Measuring week-by-week, first thing in the morning, is a more reliable way to track progress.
You can find out your approximate body fat percentage at home with calipers, or at a gym or medical centre that offers DXA scans. You can also roughly guess your body fat percentage by looking at your midsection in the mirror. If you have no visible abdominal muscles, you are likely over 20% body fat (or over 30% for women). If you can see partial outlines of your abs, you are likely 15–19% (25–29% for women). If you can see full abdominal muscles, you are likely at the most 10% (20% for women). Women have higher body fat percentages because of extra adipose tissue in their breasts, thighs, and glutes.
Did you know?
You cannot spot reduce. When you burn fat, you burn fat all over your body. Men commonly have stubborn fat in their abdominal and lower back areas while women store more fat in their thighs, glutes, and breasts. How much fat being stored there is determined by genetics.
BMI (body mass index) takes only weight into account, while body fat percentage takes the ratio of muscle mass into account. For that reason, body fat percentage reflects a more accurate picture of overall fitness and health. The DBW calculator below can help you find your desired body weight based on known body fat percentage:
There is little variability with resting metabolism from person to person, so using labels such as "fast or slow" metabolisms are misleading. Lean mass, the thermogenesis of foods, especially protein, have greater variability on metabolism. The more muscle mass one has, the higher the metabolism. Having three vs. six meals in a day has little effect on metabolism. Metabolism is increased through exercise, especially weight training, due to the energy expenditure during the workout and the energy required to repair the muscles.
Metabolism: The chemical processes by which cells produce the substances and energy needed to sustain life.
While not a hard rule for illustration purposes, the majority of your body composition (lean mass + fat) is the result from diet. Diet enables you to change your weight. Exercise is a tool to manipulate further change by necessitating the growth of muscle or to accelerate fat loss.
Exercise goes hand-in-hand with nutrition. Exercise provides massive mental and physical health benefits.
If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. However a big caveat: while a calorie is a calorie, the body is not a closed system. What you consume affects metabolic and hormonal secretions which may cause you to store fat instead of expend fat, and vice versa. This is why the type of foods and beverages we consume are crucial.
Exercise is a variable that increases caloric expenditure and metabolism.
When transitioning from a bulk to a cut or vice versa, adjusting calories slowly by 200 to 250 calories per week gives the body time to adapt psychologically and physiologically. Your weight will still change during this transitioning phase.
Bulking and Cutting: Bulking is increasing body weight with an emphasis on building muscle. Cutting is decreasing body fat and weight while preserving muscle mass.
The calculator below will give you an approximate number of calories to consume daily for your current and goal weight.
BMR Calculator: The calculator uses the Mifflin-St Jeor equation, which is an accurate method of calculating your BMR.
BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate): Assuming there is zero activity, the BMR is the number of calories you burn in a day in a rested metabolic state.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE): The BMR with the activity level multiplier gives you the total calories you burn in a day.
Maintenance = TDEE: Consuming this number of calories will allow you to maintain your current weight.
Weight gain (TDEE + 500): Adding 500 calories per day to your TDEE will allow you to gain one pound of weight per week.
Weight loss (TDEE - 500): Subtracting 500 calories from your TDEE per day will allow you to lose one pound of weight per week.
Did you know?
It takes approximately 3500 calories to burn 1 lb of fat, which is a deficit of 500 calories per day for a week.
Every time you gain or lose 5 lbs of body weight, use the BMR calculator again to re-adjust your caloric intake. Caloric requirements will change as your weight changes.
To bulk, consume more calories than you burn in a day. If you are a "hardgainer," you are simply not eating enough.
To cut, consume less calories than you burn in a day, but never fewer than 1200 calories, otherwise malnutrition and counterproductive results follow. If you are struggling to lose weight, please read the nutrition section and cutting tips. Also consider intermittent fasting.
To calculate how much of your daily calories could be allocated to carbs, protein, and fat, try the SSF macronutrient calculator.
—Cicero, Rhetoricorum LV
Did you know?
Corn is a grain. Peas and peanuts are legumes.
The suggested food pyramid is an epidemiological common sense approach to consuming whole foods while limiting refined foods. Plant and animal sources are supplemented with dairy, legumes, nuts & seeds, and whole grains. Spices, herbs, and seasonings add to palatability.
Palatable: Pleasant to taste.
This food pyramid is the foundation of the SSF Diet.
By comparing the nutrient density per calorie of major food groups, we can plot them on a graph. Foods that are nutrient-dense contain micronutrients that are required by the body, and are thus health promoting. Lack of nutrients and inflammation are linked to health risks. Overconsumption of calories and poor health are correlated with obesity.
Nutrients: Substances essential for growth and the maintenance of life.
Maintaining a healthy diet is not meant to be temporary and should always be part of a lifestyle. Sticking to a healthy diet for life will give you long-term mental and physical benefits.
Common food allergies are peanuts, eggs, milk, fish, soy, shellfish, tree nuts, and wheat.
Food intolerances, which include symptoms of inflammation such as heartburn, cramps, and diarrhea, are common after consuming corn products, dairy, and wheat gluten.
Did you know?
65% of the population is lactose intolerant, with as much as 90% in East Asian ancestry. However, cheese and yogurt are easier to tolerate since it goes through a fermentation process that breaks down the lactose in milk.
Despite the controversy cholesterol and sodium receive, they are not problematic. Food products high in dietary cholesterol such as eggs actually improve blood cholesterol. This is because dietary cholesterol is not the same as blood cholesterol. Sodium is a mineral that is required by the body and becomes harmful when the individual has existing high blood pressure, which is a consequence of a poor lifestyle.
Did you know?
An 88-year-old-man who consumed 25 eggs a day for many years was found to have normal cholesterol levels.
Suggested: Consume plenty of vegetables with meat and fat sources in each meal. Consume least one type of fruit source a day.
This section lists some of the most accessible and nutrient-dense foods that are abundant in vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties, along with healthy low-calorie beverages. Also, calorie for calorie, it will keep you more satiated than other types of foods.
If your goal is to lose weight, raspberries make great snacks since each raspberry contains only one calorie. They're also filled with fiber and nutrients.
Grass-fed beef contains a higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids compared to corn- and soy-fed cattle. Beef products include steak, roasts, ribs, ground beef, sausages, and beef jerky. Pork products include bacon, sausages, ribs, and ham.
Food listed in italics are among the most nutrient-dense food sources.
Take advantage of the low-calorie and high-nutrient benefits of vegetables.
Limit processed meats like bacon, sausages, ham, and salami. Opt for whole cuts.
The beverages listed are virtually calorie-free.
The listed spices, herbs, and seasonings are very low in calories.
Suggested: Pick from one group as a side for each meal. Try to use only one group source per day.
Moderation: Avoidance of extremes or excesses.
While not as nutrient-dense as the essentials above, these supplementary sides give your meals variety, flexibility, and satisfaction.
Nuts and seeds should be unsalted and unsweetened.
Did you know?
Red wine contains properties that are health-promoting.
Did you know?
Legumes are among the highest sources of fiber.
The darker the honey, the better its antibacterial and antioxidant properties. However, a sugar is a sugar.
Suggested: Try to treat yourself a meal and beverage in this section once a week on your "cheat day."
Processed Food: Or "convenience foods" are commercially prepared for ease of consumption. Examples are ramen noodles, cereals, potato chips, TV dinners, and fast food meals.
Foods that are commercialized, pre-prepared, refined, processed, and manufactured are likely to be unhealthy, even when they try to make a health claim. Mixed beverages are easily consumed and are packed with dense calories which adds up very quickly. By looking at the ingredients list on processed food packages, you will often see some form of sugar, wheat, corn, or soy combined with polyunsaturated oils, along with several additives designed for preservation, texture, palatability, or colour. This section contains common inflammatory empty-calorie foods and beverages that are fattening, disease-promoting, and thus, should be restricted.
Having no foods in this section inside your home can be more savoured outside the home.
Despite having no calories, artificial sweeteners still alter gut microbiota linking it to type-2 diabetes. Sweet properties are also addictive, contributing to appetite cravings and promoting poor dietary habits.
The above are a combination of sweet, salty or fried. 2/3 of the list are sugar and wheat flour products. All are very high in calories.
All macronutrients serve important functions, and each macronutrient vary in micronutrient quality. Carbohydrates can be simple or complex, full of or devoid of nutrients, and high or low in calories. Protein quality depends on amino acid completeness. There are saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fat types, as well as essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6.
4 calories per gram.
Carbohydrate sources such as fruits and vegetables are very dense in vitamins and fiber. Carbs are also the body's preferred source of energy other than alcohol, especially for anaerobic and long-duration exercise.
Starchy complex carbohydrate sources such as potatoes and long-grain rice help replenish muscle glycogen stores. Muscle glycogen is used as fuel and depletes during strenuous exercise. Starchy foods also contain resistant starch, which resists digestion, functioning similarly to fiber. It is satiating and promotes health in the gut microbiota.
Did you know?
Fiber is a carbohydrate.
Refined carbohydrate sources such as sugar and wheat- and corn-based products induce appetite cravings and contributes to body fat gains, cardiovascular disease, higher LDL cholesterol, higher triglycerides, and lowering HDL (good) cholesterol. Overconsumption of refined carbohydrates in combination with fats are the driving forces for the obesity epidemic.
9 calories per gram.
Most foods that are naturally high in fat, such as animal sources, nuts, avocados, and coconuts, contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals, as well as essential fatty acids required for body functioning and health. It is also a very good source of body fuel and contributes to weight loss. Crucial vitamins A, D, E, and K, are fat-soluble which means fats are required for bioabsorption.
Monounsaturated and saturated fats from animal sources, eggs, butter, avocados, coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil are health-promoting.
Although fats are important for weight loss, they are high in energy density, compounded by fried foods.
The body functions well with an omega-3 and omega-6 ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Most of us consume 1:15 or higher, which contributes to inflammation and oxidative stress, leading to a host of critical diseases. Sources high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats are margarine, canola oil, and vegetable oil.
Saturated fat is detrimental to health when combined with refined carbohydrate sources.
4 calories per gram.
Proteins are poor fuels for energy.
7 calories per gram, however due to the thermic effect of food, it is actually 5.7 calories per gram.
Answers vary on the subject of intoxication.
Many alcoholic beverages contain sugar.
Did you know?
Alcohol lowers testosterone levels.
The SSF macronutrient calculator below gives a daily guideline of how many calories and grams to consume on workout and rest days. Your desired daily caloric consumption should be based on your maintenance, weight gain, or weight loss goals from the BMR calculator.
The macronutrient calculator and suggestions are designed to maximize muscle retention or development while minimizing or decreasing fat accumulation through partitioning. The calculator also averages the workout and rest day calories, where its weekly total is still the same as your desired daily caloric consumption.
Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are adjusted according to workout or rest days. Workout days require more carbohydrates and calories to fuel workouts. In contrast, since we are more sedentary on rest days, we benefit from lower carbohydrate consumption. Higher protein consumption is used on workout days to improve protein synthesis and muscle recovery. Higher protein intake is also beneficial in cutting to preserve lean mass and promote satiety.
The macronutrient ratios do not fit all athletes, however, as endurance and high-performance athletes require more carbohydrates.
If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM): A rule of thumb to eat anything as long as it fits within your macronutrient ratio and calorie range. It works, although it does not necessarily reflect good health if the food sources are of low quality.
The healthiest foods are the most nutritionally dense ones. Vitamin A helps maintain vision and skin growth, iron is needed for the production of red blood cells, a complete amino acid profile helps build muscle, and essential fatty acids are required for brain functioning. High quality foods sustain and promote life, as well as regulate weight management.
Plant and animal sources are the densest macronutrient and micronutrient sources. When combined, both sources will fulfill the daily nutritional requirements in fewer calories.
Vegetables and fruit are abundant with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Along with vitamins and minerals, meats cover protein and fat requirements. Essential fats and oils aid with the bioavailability of crucial vitamins and minerals, such as the commonly deficient iron.
A diet rich in meats, eggs, fish, vegetables, and fruits have been known to contribute to weight loss, prevent cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, acne, and tooth decay. Many physical and mental health ailments can be prevented or alleviated.
Vegetables and berries are extremely low in calories. Contrary to popular belief, meats, seafood and eggs can be relatively low in energy density as well.
Did you know?
1 Cinnabon is the caloric equivalent of:
While added fats and oils are very high in energy density, small amounts for cooking or flavour goes a long way.
Protein is the most satiating source, with fiber and water contributing to satiety. Animal (protein) and plant (fiber and water) sources reduce appetite and hunger, promoting the feeling of fullness to prevent overeating.
While the idea of reducing grains is unconventional in a Western diet, they are comparatively overrated since plant and animal products are nutritionally denser. In addition, corn and wheat products are common sources of food intolerances. Rice, due to its absence of inflammatory properties, is considered a neutral starchy grain.
Did you know?
Wheat, corn, and rice are grains while a potato is a vegetable. Like grains however, potatoes are considered a starchy carbohydrate source.
While grains are fair in fiber content, more fiber per calorie can be obtained from vegetables and fruits such as leafy greens, avocados, bell peppers, carrots, pears, apples, oranges, and bananas. Legumes are very high in fiber. Nuts and seeds are also good sources of fiber.
Hyperpalatable: Food products that are engineered by food scientists to create insatiable overconsumption are considered hyperpalatable. Salt, sugar, fat, and wheat flour are combined to maximize pleasure in the brain's reward system, simulating properties of addictive substances.
Hyperpalatable and easily-consumable products that are sweet, salty, or fried are generally nutrient-poor, high in calories, and easy to overconsume. Calories and satiety are important variables for weight management.
Metabolic syndrome: A cluster of medical conditions including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, raised triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol.
Modern diseases such as obesity and the metabolic syndrome, along with cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, are linked to the Western diet, which largely consists of the overconsumption of refined carbohydrates and high omega-6 seed oils. Consuming nutrient-poor food sources contribute to overeating and addictive behaviours.
While overconsuming empty calories promote malnutrition and obesity, being underweight and unhealthy is the result of malnutrition by consuming fewer calories.
Sugar, made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose, and junk food are considered "empty calories." Sugar is a contributing factor to diabetes, the obesity epidemic, high blood pressure, and raised triglycerides. Refined carbohydrates also contributes to cancer growth.
Empty Calories: Calories that contain little to no nutrients. Sugar is a source of empty calories.
Many seemingly innocuous "low-fat" products compensate with added sugar. Examples include barbecue sauces, fruit drinks, yogurt, peanut butter, dried fruit, tomato sauce, salad dressing, gravy, seasoning mix, and granola.
Omega-6 fatty acids found in polyunsaturated seed oils are commonly consumed through fried foods and processed food. The typical ratio can be as high as 1:25 omega-3 to omega-6 in the Western diet. The ratio should be closer to 1:1 or 1:2.
Wheat flour is typically mixed with sugar and fat, sources high in energy density, to create baked products, which contains a massive amount of calories that can be consumed in one sitting. For example, a dish of fettuccine alfredo pasta is 1200 calories and a 12" medium cheese pizza is 1920 calories.
Sugar, fat, and salt are commonly added to improve palatability, however its function is to promote excess calories and overconsumption. A plain Belgian waffle without the butter and syrup is still 410 calories. Half a cup of unpopped popcorn without butter comes out to 260 calories. Even worse, easily consumable high-calorie beverages such as juice, mixed coffee, pop/soda, and beer can double a day's caloric total from meals.
Refined carbohydrates are low in protein, water, and fiber, the primary components of satiety. Coupled with hyperpalatability, it becomes easy to overconsume.
A glass of orange juice is very different from an orange. Orange juice has added sugar for more total calories while lacking in fiber. The higher fiber in an orange helps with satiety and slows the absorption of sugars instead of causing a blood sugar spike.
Consider that it is more satiating to eat 6 large eggs than it is to eat 2 glazed doughnuts, even though both have the same amount of calories. It has been hypothesized that the body craves nutrients and would overeat until nutritional requirements are fulfilled.
Sugar is linked to addiction and thus is given prominence as a primary ingredient in hyperpalatable foods. The combination of salt, sugar, fat, and wheat flour creates many of the most common hyperpalatable foods that we commonly call "junk food."
Calories in-out is a simplification since the body metabolises calories at different rates with hormonal responses from food consumption, fasting, and exercise. Nutritional compositions, gut microbiota, and hormones affect how calories are partitioned.
Satiety: The feeling of fullness, or satisfaction of an appetite.
Protein is considered to be the key to weight management as its effects on satiety are profound. Fiber and water are also important contributors to satiety. At least two of the three sources are abundant in animal and plant sources. On the other spectrum, refined carbohydrates are poor for satiety and contribute to increased appetite. Satiating foods help prevent overeating.
The more energy dense food is, the more calories it packs. Sugar and fat are high energy density sources. For example, in a medium Dairy Queen Blizzard, the total calories are equivalent to 9 large eggs. Eating 9 eggs in one sitting, which is satiating, is more difficult to finish than a medium Blizzard as a dessert.
Microorganisms that live in our digestive tracts regulate energy balance and weight. The ecosystem can be modified through long-term diet which either contributes to good health, or to inflammation which leads to diseases such as obesity and type-2 diabetes. The composition of the gut microbiota has been shown to differ in lean and obese humans.
The body regulates fat through hormones and enzymes. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar and the storage and expenditure of energy. Insulin is raised after a meal, regardless of macronutrients, contributing to the intake of nutrients as well as being the only hormone responsible for fat storage.
When insulin is low, such as between meals and during sleep, more body fat is being broken down. Refined, simple carbohydrates raise insulin levels significantly, contributing to increased fat storage. Insulin levels can be reduced in combination with fat, dairy, fiber, vinegar, or citrus fruits.
Fats, especially saturated fats, have been controversial in the conventional Western diet for causing weight gain and cardiovascular disease. Research shows that is not necessarily the case. The controversy exists because while saturated fats are beneficial on a low-carbohydrate diet, they are conversely harmful when combined with refined carbohydrates, which is the staple of the Standard American Diet.
Saturated fats actually serve important body functions for bone, organ, brain, immune health, and weight loss. The French paradox highlights some benefits of saturated fat. Further, high fat diets have been shown to provide important neuroprotective benefits for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Not all saturated fats are the same, though. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat but mostly consists of medium-chain triglycerides, mostly in the form of lauric acid, which raises good HDL cholesterol, which is protective for your heart.
Not all omega-3 fatty acids are the same either. Walnuts and flaxseed are very high in ALA omega-3, but this is misleading. The body has to convert ALA. Only a small portion of ALA can be utilized to EPA and DHA, which are useful to the body. Seafood and fish oil are excellent sources of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.
Did you know?
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, which means fat is required to absorb these important vitamins. Vitamins B and C are water-soluble.
Try to opt for the high-fat dairy instead of the low-fat dairy. It is common in low-fat labeled products that fat is substituted for added sugar. Without dietary fat, the body becomes exposed to malnutrition since fats are needed to absorb crucial nutrients.
Intermittent fasting means no food over a certain amount of time to optimize fat burning periods or to minimize fat accumulation on a bulk. Fasting is not the same as starving.
Did you know?
While you are sleeping, you are actually fasting.
Fasting increases growth hormone levels, improves the cardiovascular system, and decreases the risk of metabolic diseases, inflammatory responses, and diabetes. Intermittent fasting also reduces blood pressure and increases insulin sensitivity, providing benefits to the heart and brain. Additionally, fasting slows the rate of aging, extending human longevity and health, and may reduce the risk of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.
You may drink water or consume extremely low-calorie beverages during the fasted state, otherwise the fasted state breaks. A 16 hour fast followed by an 8 hour feast is recommended for men. Meal frequency has an insignificant effect on metabolism because total calories consumed in a day matters more. Fasting does not cause negative effects on cognitive abilities or mood and even in a fasted state, the body is adept at preserving muscle.
Intermittent fasting is different for women, however. Nutritionist Stefani Ruper suggests women should listen to their body if they attempt intermittent fasting, while Martin Berkhan of Leangains suggests limiting fasting to fourteen hours for women.
Another contributing factor to overeating and obesity is addiction. Hyperpalatable foods are designed to be addictive or overconsumed, echoing Pringles' slogan of "Once you pop, you can't stop." The sweet, salty, or fried properties of hyperpalatable foods target the brain's reward centre, drawing parallels to drugs.
Food Addiction – A Serious Problem With a Simple Solution by Kris Gunnar.
Diets are nutritional guidelines to help facilitate meal planning for health or fitness goals. A diet is considered successful when it is part of a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Individuals are free to choose what diet works best for them whether it is for ethical or preferential reasons, or for greater dietary control.
The Simple Science Fitness diet focuses on nutrient-dense food sources based on the site’s food pyramid, list of foods, recipes, and macronutrient suggestions. It is the least restrictive of the following popular diets and arguably works just as well, if not better, due to the flexibility, variety, balance, and ease of incorporating into a sustainable lifestyle.
Similar to the Atkins Diet, about 95% of the total calories of a ketogenic diet comes from fat and protein sources. The remaining calories come from non-fiber carbohydrates to a maximum of 50g per day, with almost all of these coming from low-calorie non-starchy vegetables. Due to carb restriction, the body then regulates blood sugar and will prefer utilizing body fat and ketones for energy. While this can be done daily, it is recommended to go with either a targeted ketogenic diet, where excess carbs are consumed around training, or a cyclic ketogenic diet, where one "carbs up" over the weekend.
High fat diets are nutrient-dense and excellent for satiety, weight loss, and health, as well as for keeping lean, treating obesity, and for building muscle. Studies have also shown neuroprotective benefits such as slowing aging and treating epilepsy.
Most experience "brain fog" and lethargy in the first week or two of adjustment. While in ketosis, bad breath due to acetone is a side effect. With lower muscle glycogen levels, optimal performance and strength are compromised. The diet is not meant for high-performance or endurance athletes. The temptations of carbohydrates in most environments may make the diet challenging to sustain. Long-term studies are required before consensus can be reached.
The paleo/primal diet is focused on whole foods that mirrors the diet of our ancestors and of our species' biological adaptation. Typically lower in carbohydrates, the diet consists of vegetable, fruit, egg, fish, meat, and nut sources while processed foods, grains, legumes, and to some extent, dairy, are excluded.
Focuses on whole, complete, nutrient-dense foods for optimal health. Excellent for satiety, weight loss, and for building muscle. Historical and anthropological records show that pre-agrarian hunter-gatherers have had excellent health.
The absence or limitations of legumes, grains, and dairy may be too restrictive to some.
The Mediterranean diet has long been the standard diet to promote good health. Fat intake is relatively high with extra virgin olive oil being the principal ingredient. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seafood, and red wine are the staples of the diet, while saturated fat sources such as red meat and eggs are limited.
The diet may not be optimal for fitness performance or muscle-building goals.
Released in 2011, it is the current dietary guideline by the US Government. The simplistic plate diagram restricts all food to vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and "protein." Fats are visibly absent.
An easy-to-follow method of food portioning.
Eliminating fat sources and emphasizing no-fat/low-fat options while allowing half of the grain sources to be refined are outdated, counterproductive and potentially dangerous. Calcium and milk recommendations are excessive and harmful in the long term while offering no additional benefits, especially since the majority of the population is lactose intolerant. The "protein" section is ambiguous. The Harvard School of Public Health proposed modest improvements in response, but still falls short of the nutritional variety of the 1943–1956 USDA food chart.
A humane, environmentally-conscious high-carbohydrate diet. Focus is on a wide variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Vegetarians avoid all meat and fish, but may consume either eggs or dairy, or both. Vegans do not consume any animal sources, including meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.
Without proper planning, the absence or limitations of animal sources may cause nutritional deficiencies in vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, zinc and essential omega-3 fatty acids. Since vitamin B12 is only naturally found in animal sources, supplementation is necessary. When common nutritional deficiencies exist, a vegetarian diet is correlated with poor health and risks for mental disorders such as depression. Temptations of meat may make the diet challenging to sustain, especially since humans are natural omnivores throughout all cultures in history.
Several other diets come in similar variants as the ones discussed. Many are also worth avoiding for health reasons, especially those that involve "detoxing," cleanses," or "juicing," as these misguided fad diets are ineffective at best or damaging at worst. Many diets are temporary rather than being part of a permanent lifestyle change.
Cooking is mandatory for a healthy lifestyle. Low quality fast food and pre-cooked packages have replaced the time, effort, and skill required for cooking. Even though going to a restaurant requires time and effort, the trade-off for grocery shopping, preparation, and cooking is that your diet, wallet, and health will buy you additional years of enjoyable living.
Pound for pound, buying food in bulk from places such as Costco and Trader Joe's is significantly cheaper than fast food in the long run. Not only is cooking a useful and gratifying skill, you can also make leftovers to save time. Refer to the recipes list for various cooking ideas.
By creating your own meals, most of your fresh foods and leftovers will be stocked in the fridge and freezer, with less stored in the pantry. The kitchen items you would use the most are:
Most sauces and dressings are high in energy dense sugar and seed oils. To substitute, the palatability of meals can be improved with low-calorie spices and herbs, salt, lemon/lime juice, and vinegar. For instance, adding a little bit of paprika and salt to cooked broccoli significantly transforms how it tastes. When used in small amounts, good fats such as coconut oil, butter, and extra virgin olive oil also improve palatability.
Western dishes commonly consists of salt, pepper, paprika, cinnamon, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, basil, sage, rosemary, and parsley. For a spicy dish, add cayenne pepper, paprika, chili powder, and red pepper flakes. For Eastern dishes, go with curry, ginger, coriander, cardamom, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg.
Food combinations can make a difference for better or worse. A potato contains a long list of beneficial micronutrients, yet it is bland to eat by itself. It is high in carbohydrates and satiating. In contrast, butter is not satiating on its own, and it is energy dense. However, adding butter to a potato improves the palatability along with additional health benefits: butter contains various additional micronutrients, helps with the bioavailability of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and the fat lowers the potato's high glycemic index. Adding a bit of sea salt and vinegar further improves both the palatability and health benefits.
Try not to combine certain foods together in the same meal. If you have red meat or spinach with a glass of milk, you will miss out on iron absorption. The calcium in milk inhibits the absorption of iron and zinc.
Sticking to one food group means consuming too much of one thing and not enough of another. Variety allows a wide range of essential micronutrients the body requires without approaching levels of toxicity.
Buying and cooking whole foods can be cheaper than McDonald's. Here are some tips:
Unless you have specific physical and performance goals, counting calories are not required if protein intake is high enough. For the purposes of losing or gaining weight, tracking calories is recommended, especially for beginners. Many over- or underestimate the number of calories they consume daily. Counting calories is a valuable way to understand the energy density of various types of foods.
When you eat or whether or not you have breakfast is not as important as what you eat and how much you eat in a day. The body is efficient with partitioning and storing energy and nutrients, so it is fine to eat three meals or six meals a day as long as you meet the day's total caloric requirement. However, nutrition timing is more important around a workout.
Measuring portion sizes are not necessarily required in a diet high in animal and plant sources since they are satiating. However, if performance or weight goals are not being met, measuring portions with a food scale and tracking calories in proper macronutrient ratios are recommended.
Cheat meals and occasional indulgences are encouraged. It reduces the chances of long term failure and serves positive psychological benefits since it's a break from structure and satisfies cravings. On the other hand, undesirable mental and physical side-effects may follow the short-term pleasure.
As long as you are mindful of your caloric intake and of any potential addictive behaviours, have anything you want for a cheat meal.
12 Days of Beef
800 calories, 15g carbs, 55g fat, 65g protein (per day)
12 Days of Chicken
810 calories, 15g carbs, 45g fat, 90g protein (per day)
2160 calories, 190g carbs, 90g fat, 135g protein
Chicken and Broccoli Stir-Fry
1400 calories, 40g carbs, 80g fat, 135g protein
Salmon with Indian Spices
500 calories, 5g carbs, 30g fat, 45g protein
1500 calories, 10g carbs, 110g fat, 115g protein
Ground Beef Stuffed Bell Pepper
1950 calories, 120g carbs, 105g fat, 130g protein
350 calories, 2g carbs, 26g fat, 28g protein
1980 calories, 175g carbs, 72g fat, 160g protein
Beef and Stewed Cabbage
3450 calories, 200g carbs, 180g fat, 270g protein
1875 calories, 65g carbs, 80g fat, 225g protein
Chunky Chicken Soup
1520 calories, 175g carbs, 40g fat, 120g protein
Meatball Tomato Soup
3335 calories, 40g carbs, 230g fat, 260g protein
580 calories, 2g carbs, 45g fat, 42g protein
920 calories, 115g carbs, 40g fat, 30g protein
Bulviniai Blynai (Potato Pancakes)
1060 calories, 145g carbs, 40g fat, 35g protein
2885 calories, 5g carbs, 200g fat, 250g protein
Hasselbackspotatis (Baked Potatoes)
650 calories, 70g carbs, 35g fat, 15g protein
380 calories, 30g carbs, 25g fat, 15g protein
910 calories, 150g carbs, 30g fat, 15g protein
1050 calories, 95g carbs, 55g fat, 65g protein
550 calories, 50g carbs, 30g fat, 30g protein
150 calories, 35g carbs, 1g fat, 7g protein
380 calories, 70g carbs, 15g fat, 15g protein
390 calories, 30g carbs, 30g fat, 6g protein
Strawberry Ice Cream
340 calories, 40g carbs, 20g fat, 3g protein
143 calories, 22g carbs, 5g fat, 5g protein
Supplementation requirements depend on your fitness goals and your diet. High-performance athletes benefit greatly from supplements. The SSF Diet is designed to cover all nutritional requirements, while other diets such as veganism would require vitamin B12 supplementation. The following are a few important supplements.
Adding supplements to a poor diet doesn't work.
Whey Protein: While most can consume enough protein from food consumption alone, whey protein is a convenient and inexpensive source of high quality protein. Protein intake should be spread throughout your meals and is crucial before and after your workout. In addition, it was found that a combination of whey and casein protein promotes the greatest increases in fat-free mass.
Vitamin D3: Individuals who do not get enough sun or live in cold climates will greatly benefit from this essential micronutrient. Vitamin D helps the heart, improves performance and recovery, and lowers the risk of cancer and diabetes.
Did you know? Vitamin D is actually a hormone.
Fish Oil: Found in fish, fish oil contains the omega-3 acids of EPA and DHA, which is an anti-inflammatory that offers several benefits to the heart, brain, liver, and helps reduce anxiety and depression. In addition, fish oil helps with both weight loss and muscle building.
Creatine: Naturally found in the body, creatine improves lifting performance and muscular mass while on a bulk. It does not provide benefits for weight loss. Taking 5g (1 tsp) once a day at any time, except with caffeine, is all that is needed.
Recommended quality supplements at good prices can be purchased from our affiliated links:
Additional benefits of exercise are improving well-being and the quality of life, retaining youthful vigor, reducing the risk of morbidity and mortality, and providing improvements in physical appearance, performance, balance, and mobility, which contributes to confidence.
Sedentary: A person who spends most of their time sitting instead of being active. A sedentary lifestyle is associated with early death.
With your physician's clearance, before progressing to weight training or moderate to vigorous cardio, start with core bodyweight exercises and light to moderate cardio until your body can adapt to the neurological and physiological changes. Beginner bodyweight exercises include bodyweight squats, push-ups, planks, bridges, and assisted chin-ups. Light to moderate cardio includes incline walking, stairs, and jogging.
There are many ways to improve your health and fitness. Choose a lifestyle or goal that you can enjoy and stick with at a comfortable level.
Here are some fitness-specific goals:
It is recommended to exercise at vigorous intensity at least three times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes, or exercise at moderate intensity at least five times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Did you know?
Four one-hour workouts in a week is only 2.4% of our time.
Women are extremely unlikely to get big and bulky from lifting weights because they produce very little testosterone, which is an important hormone for muscle growth. Conversely, women are more likely to slim down since lifting weights is excellent for burning fat. Elite natural lifters such as Jennifer Nicole Lee, Jamie Eason, and Marzia Prince are thin, lean, and "toned."
No matter your age, you start at your unique physical baseline and you can make tremendous improvements within weeks and months.
Did you know?
Ernestine Shepherd of Baltimore, Maryland, started training at age 71 and became a competitive bodybuilder at 75.
For more examples of inspiring individuals on their fitness journeys and transformations, check out /r/progresspics.
Anaerobic and Aerobic: Anaerobic respiration means the "absence of oxygen" and aerobic respiration means "with oxygen." Anaerobic exercises require short bursts of energy while aerobic exercises can be performed over long periods of time.
Anaerobic exercises include weight lifting (barbells, kettlebells, bodyweight resistance, etc.), sprinting, high intensity interval training and plyometrics, while aerobic exercises include running, biking, swimming, and sports.
While aerobic exercises are excellent for endurance and oxygen consumption (VO2 max), it is not as efficient or effective as weight training and other anaerobic activities for burning fat or building muscle. Relative to the time and workload they put in, the physiques of Olympic athletes can be observed:
Regardless, cardiovascular exercise alongside anaerobic exercise is recommended since the combination improves both muscular endurance and heart health.
The number of sets and repetitions relative to weight resistance will give you different results and physiques.
|Power Lifting||Bodybuilding (Strength)||Bodybuilding (Aesthetics)||Cardiovascular|
|Strength||Myofibrillar Hypertrophy||Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy||Endurance|
|1–5 reps||4–8 reps||8–15 reps||15+ reps|
|3–5 sets||3–4 sets||4–5 sets||2–4 sets|
|2–5' rest||1–3' rest||0.5–1.5' rest||0.5–1.5' rest|
|Note: The ' marker denotes time in minutes.|
Your body shape is largely influenced by how much muscle mass you have. For your desirable body shape, look no further than examples of elite athletes in their respective fields of powerlifting, weight lifting, and endurance to see how exercise affects lean mass:
"Toning" is simply the result from building muscle and reducing body fat.
Six pack abs are visible within the 10% body fat range (20% for women) and more prominent at lower percentages. A stricter calorie deficit diet will allow you to go at a lower body fat. How much abdominal muscles protrude is partially determined by genetics and partially determined by muscularity.
T-shirts, shorts, and athletic wear are suitable attire to wear for training. Many enjoy listening to songs with portable music players. For footwear while doing heavy weights, flat-bottomed shoes such as the Converse Chuck Taylor and Vibram Fivefingers are recommended. Some go barefoot while working out at home. The Vibram Fivefingers are also useful for running.
Gym memberships are useful to access equipment that you do not have at home. It can be motivating to work out with other people, and it is also low-cost in the short term.
If you are an absolute beginner, or unsure how to do proper form and technique for injury prevention, or would like to have guidance and motivation, working with a personal trainer is a worthwhile investment.
If you are comfortable working out alone, a home gym is a very convenient and good long-term financial investment. The recommendations below are all that are necessary to build an effective quality home gym where you can perform many exercises, including the Big Six.
While all kinds of physical activity provide health benefits, weight training is superior in increasing metabolism for fat loss while strengthening your muscles and bones to protect your joints, and decreasing the risk of disease and injury.
Weight training includes but are not limited to these types of equipment:
As an alternative or supplement to weight training, body weight/calisthenic exercises may be performed.
Many bodyweight exercises do not require a gym. Exercises can be performed with little to no equipment.
Bodyweight exercises without equipment include push-ups, handstand push-ups, pistol squats, and planks. With Olympic rings, simple to advanced chin-ups, pull-ups, push-ups, and dips can be performed. The difficulty level of each exercise can be modified by using leverage.
/r/bodyweightfitness has tons of resources on bodyweight fitness.
Sprints, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and plyometrics are anaerobic activities similar to weight training, except it strongly relies on performance goals such as speed, agility, power, and coordination, as well as improving VO2 max and cardiovascular health.
Since they are high intensity workouts, it is not recommended to be performed on the same day as weight training due to the risk of overtraining. It is entirely optional to do on rest days if your body is adapted to the higher levels of training, such as being proficient with the Big Six. If you wish to incorporate sprinting with weight training, look into short intensity interval training such as Tabata, or simply do a single 30-second sprint once a week.
Compound exercises are widely considered to be unparalleled full body exercises, used by beginners all the way to the elite. Each exercise works on more than one muscle group while strengthening the core (abs and back). Excellent for both fat burning and muscle building, compound exercises work virtually the entire body with greater intensity than isolation exercises like bicep curls.
Other than the Big Six, Olympic lifts such as the clean and jerk (power clean) and the snatch are fantastic full body exercises, although it requires practice and proper technique to perform correctly.
The Big Six are of some of the most important fundamental compound exercises that work the entire body. They are:
Described as the king of all exercises, squats work primarily the legs and is often considered a full-body exercise. The barbell squat is probably the most intense yet rewarding exercise to perform. Front squats is a superior alternative or addition to the back squat.
Often competing with squats for the king of all exercises, this powerful movement works the entire posterior chain. It is also taxing on the central nervous system, so short and heavy is usually enough.
This excellent shoulder exercise also works on the arms.
A powerful exercise for the lats and underrated as a bicep builder. Beginners will often struggle with only one or two reps, but over time, even weighed chin-ups would be possible. Chin-ups are palms facing toward the body while pull-ups are palms facing away. Arnold Schwarzenegger considers chin-ups to be the best bodyweight exercise.
Once your body has adapted to the fundamental Big Six lifts with proper form, you may wish to move to an intermediate program that includes supplementary exercises. Accessory exercises mostly target individual muscle groups.
Squats and deadlifts work the abs and glutes better than direct work. For instance, strong abs are needed to perform a 300 lbs squat or a 400 lbs deadlift.
Abs and Obliques
SSF 3x Base Program
|Note: The ' marker denotes time in minutes.|
Perform a workout day (A or B) three times a week on nonconsecutive days. For example, every Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays. Each week will alternate as workouts ABA and BAB.
Each workout is approximately 30–40 minutes long.
Apply progressive overload for 6–8 weeks, then take one week off to allow the body and central nervous system to recover.
You may add accessory exercises such as the stiff-legged deadlift, barbell curl, and calf raise.
Following proper diet, rest, and sleep, while applying progressive overload, you will expect to see strength and muscle increases on a bulk, or preservation of muscle mass while shedding fat on a cut.
SSF 4x Intermediate Program
|Close-Grip Bench Press||1–2||12–15||1.5'|
|Note: The ' marker denotes time in minutes.|
Upper and lower days are grouped together on consecutive days and there are four workouts per week. This routine is set to have Wednesdays and weekends off, however you can change to a Sunday/Monday/Wednesday/Thursday or Tuesday/Wednesday/Friday/Saturday format.
Each workout is approximately 60 minutes long.
Apply progressive overload for 6–8 weeks, then deload for 2 weeks at 80% and 90% of your heaviest weights.
SSF 5x Intermediate Program
|Tues||Bench Press (Heavy)||3||6–8||3'|
|Bench Press (Light)||3||10–12||2'|
|Dumbbell Bench Press||3||10–12||2'|
|Cable Seated Row||3||6–8||2'|
|Dumbbell Shoulder Press||3||10–12||2'|
|Dumbbell Lateral Raise||3||10–12||2'|
|Dumbbell Front Raise||3||10–12||2'|
|Barbell Bicep Curl||4||6–8||1'|
|Barbell Tricep Extension||4||8–12||1'|
|Close-Grip Bench Press||3||10–12||1'|
|Dumbbell Bicep Curl||3||8–12||1'|
|Note: The ' marker denotes time in minutes.|
Five workout days per week, with Thursdays and Sundays off. You could shift the days over to have Monday and Friday off, or Tuesday and Saturday off.
Each workout is approximately 50 minutes long.
Apply progressive overload for 8–12 weeks, then take one week off.
Cardio is an excellent way to keep your heart healthy and to stay in shape, but sometimes pose challenges in preserving muscle mass since chronic activity increases cortisol levels, which burns muscle tissue. If you decide to combine cardio with weight training, make sure you get enough food and sleep, or you may risk overtraining.
Did you know?
Low intensity steady state cardio (LISS) is a good way to burn excess calories while preserving muscle mass on a cut because lower intensity training targets a greater percentage of the body's fat stores for fuel.
While beginners should only do light to moderate cardio until they adapt to the neurological and physical demands, greater benefits of exercise are attained from moderate to vigorous cardio.
Common individual cardiorespiratory exercises include:
Another popular type of fitness activities are group classes. Examples are:
Sports are one of the more fun and engaging activities that may also include anaerobic elements. Here are some examples:
If your urine is relatively clear, you're fully hydrated. As a guideline, 3.7L/day (15 cups) for men, and 2.7L/day (11 cups) for women meets general requirements. Increased water intake would be necessary on hot days and during exercise. Do drink sufficient water in the morning, as well as before, during, and after exercise.
Consuming more carbohydrates on workout days than on rest days is suggested to replenish muscle glycogen. When you alternate higher and lower carbohydrate intake on different days, it is called carb cycling or carb backloading.
Muscle retention and growth requires a daily consumption of 0.59–0.82g/lbs (1.3–1.8g/kg) of protein per body weight per day. If cutting, increasing to 0.82–0.91g/lbs (1.8–2.0g/kg) per body weight is ideal.
If you are at a very low body fat and cutting, a higher protein intake of 1.04–1.41g/lbs (2.3–3.1g/kg) per fat free mass is recommended.
At 200 lbs of body weight, 0.82 grams of protein per pound would come out to 164 grams of protein (200 * 0.82 = 164).
Combining starchy carb sources such as rice and potatoes with added fats like coconut oil and butter are easy ways to add extra calories. High-fat dairy including cheese, cream, and whole milk can be quickly consumed.
At a caloric deficit, it becomes more important to keep meals nutrient dense, which means a stricter diet. Fortunately, there are many ways of keeping satiated by increasing filling low-calorie sources such as vegetables, berries, water, tea, black coffee, and spices. Increasing the protein ratio will improve satiety. Intermittent fasting is also a useful tool for cutting.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends 22–36 calories/lbs/day (50–80 calories/kg/day). Their suggested daily macronutrient breakdowns are 0.68–0.91g/lbs (1.5–2.0g/kg) per body weight for protein, 2.3–3.6g/lbs (5–8g/kg) per body weight for carbohydrates, and 30% of total calories for fat.
The average endurance athlete should consume 500–600g of carbohydrates per day to replenish muscle glycogen levels.
Progressive overloading pushes the body to break plateaus. Lifting heavy weights causes microtears to the muscle fibers. Sufficient quality food, sleep, and recovery time are necessary to rebuild and create more muscle. The ability to lift heavier weights or do more repetitions becomes possible with increased muscle mass.
In order to progress in strength, hypertrophy, or endurance, you must increase your weights, reps, sets, volume, or intensity over time.
You performed an exercise at 20 lbs for 8 reps one week then 20 lbs for 12 reps the next week. Since you reached a personal maximum of 12 reps, you are able to increase your weight to 22.5 or 25 lbs in the following week.
You performed an exercise at 20 lbs for 12 reps one week then 25 lbs for 6 reps the next week. Since the weight had been increased, the target goal is 12 reps with 25 lbs in the following week(s).
While anaerobic exercise stimulates the growth of muscle and accelerates calorie burning, a proper diet regimen is primarily the reason why muscles are able to grow and abs are able to appear.
With a strict diet and training regimen without drugs or surgery, one can build up to 0.5 lbs of muscle per week or burn 2 lbs of fat per week. On a 500 calorie deficit per day with a good diet, you can burn 1 lb of fat in a week (7 days x 500 calories = 3500 calories = 1 lb of fat) plus an additional 1 lb of fat through exercise and metabolic processes. While this may be long or discouraging to some, the results can be substantial: In three months, one could build almost 6.5 lbs of lean muscle mass or burn 26 lbs of fat, respectively. With consistency and application of the progressive overload principle, results follow.
For some, exercising may feel like a chore. It is important to view exercise as an enjoyable experience and part of your goals for mental health, confidence, appearance, performance, and overall well-being. Once you are consistent for three months, it becomes part of your routine and lifestyle. If you miss a day, don't worry much about it, as long you're able to be as consistent as possible.
Results make a great motivator. Methods such as taking before-and-after photos, recording body measurements, tracking weight changes, and monitoring strength improvements allow you to see observable results.
A healthy environment and strong support systems are imperative for continued progress. Having a workout partner is not only motivational, but also keeps each other accountable with some friendly competition.
The weight you're able to lift at relative to your body weight will determine whether you are a beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, or elite lifter. The strength standards calculator below can calculate your one-repetition maximum (1RM), how many times your own body weight (BW) you can lift, and approximate strength level for squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press:
Beginner lifters will see the greatest muscular gains while experienced lifters will see the least over the span of a few years of consistent, progressive lifting. This is because of diminishing returns as the human body approaches their muscular genetic limit. This limit can be overridden with drugs, which is not advisable.
To reduce the risk of injuries, warming up the body with several minutes of cardio such as jump rope or dynamic stretching is necessary before performing heavy weights. After your workout, a cool down of light cardio and static stretching is recommended.
Gaining muscle does not mean you lose flexibility. Performing static stretches allow you to maintain and increase flexibility. Static stretches are not recommended right before a workout since it pre-fatigues the muscles, which would hinder performance. Do stretch after a workout.
Proper and controlled form is more important than how heavy you can lift. Never sacrifice form for heavier weights or you are at risk for injury. If good form becomes difficult, deload the weights until you are stronger. The concentric movement (going against gravity) should be explosive (but it will appear slower with a heavy enough weight), and the eccentric movement (going with gravity) should be slower. For power, aim for fast explosive movements, and for hypertrophy, aim for slower eccentric movements.
If you have limited lifting experience, it is advisable to meet with a personal trainer to learn proper form and technique.
General guidelines for good form while performing a lift: