Eat Your Way to a More Beautiful Beard

There’s not too much you can do about a receding hairline, other than curse your gene pool. But facial hair is a different story. “The condition of your facial hair directly corresponds to the health of your body,” says Jim White, registered dietitian and American Dietetic Association spokesman. Specifically, he continues, “The same nutrients that have a positive effect on our heart and other major organs also benefit our skin and hair.”

In other words, you can literally eat yourself to a shinier, smoother, more healthy-looking beard. We asked White to tell us which vitamins are an essential part of a healthy facial hair diet, what they do, and how to get them into our diet. Results of our conversation below.

VITAMIN A AND BETA CAROTENE
How they better your beard
: “Vitamin A maintains and repairs skin tissue,” says White. “And keeping your skin healthy allows for better hair growth.” Beta carotene is a nutrient that your body converts to vitamin A. Since it’s found in foods that are lower in saturated fats than those that are rich in vitamin A, you’re better off eating foods that are high in beta carotene.

Where to find them: Vitamin A is present in milk, cheese, butter and egg yolks. Beta carotene is found in yellow and orange produce (e.g., carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and papayas) and leafy green veggies (e.g., spinach and kale).

VITAMINS C AND E

How they better your beard: Vitamins C and E promote the production of sebum, a natural oil that is produced by our bodies and lubricates and moisturizes hair, making it look thicker and more lush. Additionally, vitamin C assists in the growth of bodily tissues, including those that comprise our skin and hair follicles.

Where to find them: Citrus fruits, green peppers and broccoli are good sources of vitamin C. Wheat germ oil, almonds, sunflower seeds, safflower oil, peanut butter, corn oil, spinach, broccoli, mangoes and spinach all contain high amounts of vitamin E.

PROTEIN

How it betters your beard: Our skin and hair are composed primarily of keratin, a structural protein made up of amino acids. We don’t produce amino acids on our own; instead, we need to eat protein, which the body then converts to amino acids.

Where to find it: Fill up on fish, lean meats, poultry, eggs, rice, beans and milk.

VITAMINS B6, B12 AND BIOTIN
How they better your beard:
B vitamins help your body synthesize the protein you eat so it can be used to build new skin cells and hair. Getting enough B vitamins, says White, also helps reduce stress and prevent hair loss.

Where to find them: Fish, poultry, leans meats, eggs, nuts, and whole grains such as brown rice and oatmeal are chock-full of B vitamins. Foods that are rich in B12 include beef, milk, cheese and wheat germ.

OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
How they better your beard:
Essential fatty acids are just that: essential to normal growth, including that of facial hair. They also protect cell membranes, helping to prevent your whiskers from getting dry and brittle.

Where to find them: Make sure flax seed oil, walnuts and fatty fish (e.g., salmon) find their way into your diet.

Want to make your beard even more beautiful? Of course you do! Supplementing the above foods with a multivitamin, or with any of the individual nutrients listed above, might do the trick. Just don’t overdo it: Your body will excrete any extra water-soluble vitamins (e.g., vitamin C or B12), but it’ll hold on to extra fat-soluble vitamins (e.g., vitamin A). Excessive doses of vitamin A could actually lead to hair loss. Ask your doctor to recommend a proper dosage, and you’ll soon be on your way to winning whiskers.

Fight the Winter Blues

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 in 10 Americans suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to our completely unscientific reckoning, the rest of us get totally bummed out in the winter too. How could we not? We wake up to darkness, we commute home in darkness, and it’s as cold as a witch’s you-know-what outside.

Fortunately, there are ways to beat the gloom, beyond buying a one-way ticket to Miami. We contacted a basket of experts -- including the man who first discovered SAD -- for advice on how to combat the winter funk. So rise and shine; it’s time to bring the sunshine back!

The SAD Specialist
The major cause of SAD is lack of light. So my advice to sufferers is simple: Get more light! You can do this by walking outdoors (especially in the morning), bringing more light into your home, or using special light fixtures. If you opt for light therapy fixtures, remember that bigger is often better, mornings are usually the best time to use the lights, and you needn’t stare at the light -- just sit in front of it with your eyes open. Light therapy usually works within four days or so. -- Dr. Normal Rosenthal, author of Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

The Yoga Instructor

When posture improves, so does confidence. People who feel down have slumped shoulders, a collapsed chest and a tendency to look downward. This posture puts pressure on the heart and stops the diaphragm from moving freely. Yoga postures increase blood flow, which flushes the muscles, organs and glandular system of waste while delivering oxygen and nutrients. They also soften the muscles, allowing the energy lines of the body to open and restoring balance to your nervous system. -- Ducky Punch, founder of Yummy Yoga

The Naturopath
Try St. John’s Wort, which serves as a tonic for the nervous system and balances mood. Ashwagandha helps you cope with stress and environmental changes, and astragalus restores energy and helps prevent lethargy. You can also try certain vitamin supplements. B6 will help with mood, as will vitamin E. Magnesium is good for anxiety, insomnia and winter aches. -- Dr. Kathia Roberts of the Seasonal Health Wellness Center

The Life Coach
Tell the truth. When the seasons change, be honest about what makes you happy and go after it. For example, when mornings get cold and dark, you might be inclined to hide from life under your blankets. But if what actually makes you happy is to get your blood flowing, then that’s what you must do. The no-snooze-button rule is a good one. -- Will Craig, director of educational programming at the Handel Group

The Personal Trainer

When we are physically fit, we manage stress better. The most effective way to get out of a rut this winter is to work out. Most any kind of exercise will help, from Pilates to cardio, just as long as you’re physically active. Like the quote says: “If it’s physical, it’s therapy!” I recommend a strength-training program since it naturally increases your body’s testosterone levels, which will increase your feelings of well-being and confidence. -- Kevin Kohout at Personal Trainer Los Angeles

The Nutritionist

Eating mini-meals throughout the day is a good idea. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids relieve symptoms of depression; you can find these in fatty, cold-water fish like salmon, or walnuts and flaxseed. If you can cut out caffeine, sugar and alcohol, do so! Alcohol and caffeine are both mood-altering and habit-forming substances, and too much sugar can lead to fatigue and mood swings, wiping out any benefit of serotonin. Finally, stay hydrated. Do not replace water, the liquid of life, with any other beverage. -- Carrie Wiatt of Diet Designs

The Happiness Expert

Go for a walk. In the winter, it’s easy to get in the habit of hurrying from one indoor space to the next, but it’s dreary to be inside all the time. You’ll get a jolt of energy and cheer -- and also boost your mental focus and productivity -- if you take a quick walk outside, where you can get the sun in your eyes and experience the weather. Even bad weather can be therapeutic! -- Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project

The Therapist

The best way to combat depression is to be proactive about avoiding a spiraling mood. When you experience depressive thinking -- like “I give up” or “Why bother?” -- try to recognize these thoughts and adjust them. If the world seems hostile and painful, remind yourself that this might not be true; you just feel terrible today. And do what you don’t feel like doing: Start an exercise program or get involved with a group of people. Don’t let the negative thoughts win! -- Doric George at Visions of Freedom Therapy

Stay Fit and Trim All Winter Long

It’s so easy to stay fit in the summer -- the beautiful days keep you outdoors and active, while the heat controls your appetite. Then the weather turns, and every day it seems you’re moving just a little bit less and eating just a little bit more.

But when you think about it, there’s really no excuse for such behavior. “It’s almost like a woman who’s pregnant and thinks, ‘I can eat anything I want!’” says Joshua Margolis, founder of New York City–based personal training service Mind Over Matter Health & Fitness. “You can, but it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.” In other words, winter is not a license to sit around and stuff your face. If it were, Colorado would be a state full of fat people; instead, it has boasted the nation’s lowest percentage of obese adults since 1990, a fact largely attributed to the population’s strong outdoor culture.

However, even if we accept that blaming the cold for our sloth-like habits is wrong, it can be tough to stay on track with health goals when it’s cozy inside and miserable outside. To help, we asked fitness expert Margolis and nutrition expert Ilyse Schapiro, a registered dietitian and certified dietitian/nutritionist at Brown & Medina Nutrition in New York City, for their best tips on how to stay healthy and happy during those long months of sleet and snow.

Eat Citrus
“Winter is cold and flu season, so it’s more important than ever to keep your immune system functioning at its best,” says Schapiro, who recommends taking vitamin C to give it that extra boost. “Oranges and clementines are in season, so why not put out a bowl of those during the game instead of a bowl of chips?”

Find a Workout Partner
It’s a dark, bitter morning, and your bed’s so warm and comfy ... but you’re supposed to meet Joe at indoor tennis in 30 minutes. Says Margolis: “Having a buddy to exercise with automatically creates accountability and responsibility.” If you’re in need of a partner, ask that guy you always see at the gym or someone from your intramural sport team, or simply post on Facebook: “Hey, I’m going out for a run in the morning. Anybody interested in joining?”

Choose Healthy Comfort Foods
We crave thick, heavy food in the winter. But instead of reaching for a can of calorie-packed cream-based soup, heat up some hearty lentil stew or veggie chili. Schapiro also recommends preparing recipes with low-fat instead of full-fat dairy and lean ground turkey versus ground beef. As for carbs, always opt for whole grains, including whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat couscous, quinoa and brown rice. For more ideas, check out EatingWell, Schapiro’s go-to source for healthy recipes.

Buy Winter Workout Gear
When you make a financial commitment to something, you tend to stick to it more. Likewise, spend money on a parka, goggles, base layers, ice tools -- the sky’s the limit -- and you’re probably not going to let them go to waste. For an extra guarantee, put your purchases somewhere you’ll see them every time you come in or out the door. Guilt is a brilliant motivator.

Get Your Beta-carotene
Antioxidants protect against damage to cells and can help fight diseases and illnesses from cancer to the common cold. If you increase your intake in the winter, says Schapiro, you can stave off or shorten the length of a cold. Beta-carotene is one major antioxidant, and foods rich in it are readily available during winter. Carrots, sweet potatoes and broccoli are all in season and are packed with the infection-fighting cells.

Pick up a Winter Sport
Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice hockey, ice climbing, snowmobiling … “An inordinate number of fitness disciplines require colder temperatures,” says Margolis. The winter season is a great reminder to mix up your workout. “If you’re doing the same thing repeatedly,” explains Margolis, “your body gradually gets used to it, and the energy you expend decreases. It’s no longer as challenging for your body.” Ramp up your workout by testing new cold-weather skills. Or simply get out there with your little cousins and have a snowball fight; 8-year-old kids can make you burn more calories than drill sergeants.

Why Your Abs Aren’t All That … Yet

A hundred crunches twice a week, week after week, month after month, and … nothing. If this is you, well, first of all, take heart in the fact that you’re not alone. Lots of guys approach abs the wrong way. Which comes to our second point: You’re probably approaching abs the wrong way. But again, don’t despair. We’ve got the fix, and we’re sharing it with you.

What You’re Doing Wrong

Several things, truthfully. The main one is you’re not giving your abs enough variety -- specifically, not enough ab muscle fiber recruitment. “You need to train your abs in all planes and in combination with a bunch of other exercises to achieve full development,” explains Mike Wunsch, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the director of fitness at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, Calif.

Secondly, and related to the above, your abs program needs to be a core workout. Most people put all their focus on the upper abs, but that’s only part of the core puzzle. Wunsch puts his clients through a series of exercises that include not only extension and flexion, but also rotations. As a result, the entire core gets worked. And he never waits until the end of the workout to do core work. “We do it right after the warm-up, so it’s the first high-intensity move you do. If popping abs are what you want, it must be a high priority.”

Finally, you’re not hitting your abs often enough. Abs are not like other muscles that need to be worked only twice a week, maximum, for solid development. For those abs to show, says Wunsch, you need to use his program four times a week, alternating the exercises with each ab-workout day.

Wunsch’s Program for Making Your Abs All That

Perform two core moves per workout, supersetting the moves. In other words, do the second exercise right after the first, then rest. Do two to four sets, with 30-second rests between each superset. (Beginners should start with two sets.)

Alternate workout A with workout B for each day you do abs, and make sure you get a day of rest for the core between the first two and last two workouts. Example: Monday is A, Tuesday B, Wednesday off, Thursday A, Friday B.

And remember: Do the core routine after the warm-up (i.e., before the rest of your workout).

Workout A
Plank Saw, eight to 12 reps

Dumbbell Russian Twists, eight reps to each side

Workout B
Dumbbell Farmers Walk, 25 to 40 feet

Prone Cobra, 10 reps with a five-second pause

Exercise descriptions
Plank Saw:
Get into a standard plank position. (Lie face-down with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, forearms underneath your chest and flat on the ground. Prop yourself up to form a bridge using your toes and forearms. Maintain a flat back and do not allow your hips to sag toward the ground.) Your toes should be on top of two plastic plates or something similar (paper plates, 5-pound weight plates, etc.) that will slide. To execute the saw, slide your body backward and then forward, like a saw, so the angle between your forearms and upper arms goes from about 135 degrees to about 45 degrees.

Dumbbell Russian Twists: Start seated on the floor with your knees bent at 90 degrees, heels in contact with the ground. Hold a dumbbell or weight plate straight out in front of you (with arms slightly bent at the elbows), then lean back until you feel the abs engage to stabilize your body. Rotate as far as possible to your right and touch the DB or plate to the ground behind you. Make sure you rotate your entire torso and are not just reaching around with your arms. After touching, forcefully change directions and move the load to the other side.

Dumbbell Farmers Walk: Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells, with the heels of your hands facing your hips, and walk about 25 feet (go farther each week) without putting them down. Take short, choppy steps when walking -- especially the first few steps. This allows you to conserve energy and stay balanced during your stride. Once you pick up momentum, you can take longer strides, but it’s almost always easier to maintain control with short, choppy steps.

Prone Cobra: Begin by lying face-down on the floor with your arms beside your hips and your palms facing up. Activate your core muscles by drawing your abs toward your spine and squeezing your butt. Slowly exhale and lift your chest off the floor and your arms up and backward toward your hips. Rotate your thumbs toward the ceiling as you carry out the movement. Pause at the top of the movement for five seconds. Then return to the starting position.

What Comes First: Build Muscle or Shed Fat?

You want to get rid of the flab. You also want to put on muscle. But you know that you can’t optimally (or even remotely) do both at the same time. So what plan should you embark on first?

The answer depends entirely on 1) your honest assessment of what you look like now, and 2) what you hope to look like in the not-too-distant future. Says Mike Wunsch, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the director of fitness at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, Calif.: “Every guy wants abs and arms” -- meaning cut abs and big arms. But, he adds, that’s like wanting to look like the chiseled bodybuilder … on the day of competition. “Ronnie Coleman doesn’t look like that 99 percent of the time,” he explains. “He’s usually 30 pounds heavier, having built up a ton of muscle before he goes into his cutting phase and then dehydrating just before the contest.”

Determine Your Goal

What you want to do is develop a sustainable physique that you can live with day in and day out. Take a look at yourself in the mirror: Do you have a decent amount of muscle but too much fat? Or are you pretty defined but lack any real muscle?

Once you’ve determined your goal, the next step is to embark on a fitness-and-nutrition plan that will change your shape accordingly. “If you have respectable strength, go right into a cutting program,” says Wunsch. “If you’ve got a six-pack but want to get bigger, you’re going to have to put on some fat along with that new muscle.” He gives an example of a 6-foot guy who’s a ripped 160, but who would rather be a ripped 190. To get there, he’s going to have to be a softer-looking 200 first.

First, Eat Right

If your goal is to get lean,
says Michael J. Sokol, a personal trainer recognized by the American Council on Exercise and owner of One-on-One Fitness in Chicago and Scottsdale, Ariz., you should consume six smaller balanced meals/snacks every two to three hours per day. Each one should contain protein (eggs, nuts, lean meat, fish, tuna, cottage cheese), quality, low-glycemic carbohydrates (wheat-berry bread, sweet potatoes, wheat pasta, fruit, brown/wild rice, steel-cut oats), dark veggies and plenty of water.

If your goal is to pack on the muscle, Wunsch advises getting at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Those six meals per day must be sizable, and one should include a post-workout whey protein recovery shake. While you don’t need to eat as “clean” (lower in fat, no junk) as those trying to get lean, you should still aim for nutrient-dense calories (e.g., a free-range, grass-fed hamburger with a whole baked potato, rather than a Whopper with fries). Just don’t skip those workouts -- with all that food, your body will be generating both muscle and fat, and intense workouts will ensure that much of it is the hard stuff.

Now: Build Strength or Burn Fat

Strength-building
is all about hoisting heavy weights approximately three workouts a week. A good approach is to do a push day (chest, shoulder and triceps), a pull day (back and biceps) and a leg day. Emphasize major compound moves (involving more than one muscle group), such as bench presses, incline presses, military presses and triceps presses on push days; pull-ups, deadlifts, back rows and straight bar curls on pull days; and squats, lunges and calf presses on leg days. Keep your reps below 10 per exercise, and rest 2 to 3 minutes between sets.

Meanwhile, says Wunsch, do zero cardio. “Aerobic conditioning has a negative influence on muscle gain,” he says. “You don’t want to tax the lean body mass that you’re trying to add.”

Wunsch’s fat-burning program is actually not that different, but everything is done at a quicker pace and with a higher rep range. While you’ll still do three workouts a week, the breakdown will be chest/back, shoulders/arms, and legs, which more freely allows you to superset exercises. For example, if you’re doing three supersets of push-ups/deadlifts, you’ll do the two exercises back-to-back (one superset) and rest 45 seconds between each superset. Aim to get at least 15 reps per exercise, per superset.

So, what about the cardio? Surprisingly, Wunsch doesn’t advocate standard cardio for fat loss either. “Running or biking is not what works best,” he says. “Look at the research.” Instead, you need to activate as many muscle fibers as possible with strength training to create a metabolic effect, and when you do any kind of fast movement, it should be done as equally timed intervals, such as sprints or heavy rope-jumping -- 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off -- for 10 to 20 minutes only.

Finally, whichever program you’re on, make sure to include some core conditioning. “Remember, your core is not for your six-pack,” says Wunsch. “It’s for resisting movement in your low spine and transferring energy from your upper body to your lower, and vice versa.” In other words, ditch the isolated crunches and go for total core moves, like ball roll-outs and planks.

Ronnie Coleman Photo by www.localfitness.com.au