Alcohol and the Athlete

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Alcohol is in everyones lives and it something that can’t really be un-avoided unless you want to completely go cold turkey. However alcohol can have a significant negative impact on athlete or individuals who are training heavily for competition. For the average person working out, as long as they aren’t drinking heavily, won’t have a big impact on exercise. Drinking heavily means having 3-5 drinks or more per day. Men are recommended to have 2 drinks maximum and women to have 1 drink maximum.

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Alcohol has a wide variety of impacts on athletic performance. One huge impact is in regards to muscle repair, which can decrease an athletes or body builders potential to build muscle mass and decrease body fat. This is a huge issue with college athletes since not only are they underage, but this is prime time when they really start focusing on building muscle. Besides growth hormone, alcohol also reduces the amount of testosterone that is released in the body, which is a hormone needed to gain muscles. An important impact on athletes that play ball sports and any sport is that alcohol decreases hand-eye coordination, accuracy, and balance, which are all crucial skills needed in this type of sport. Furthermore because of all the negative impacts and its depression of the immune system, it can delay the healing process, so athletes that are already injured should refrain from drinking during the healing period.

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Binge drinking is obviously very dangerous for athletes, exercises, and your average person. The negative impacts seen above are long lasting based on the amount of drinks you have and the amount of days you are drinking in a row. The more you drink, the more your entire week of training will decrease. Also if you are working out after a heavy night of drinking 5 or more drinks, not only will your brain and body be impacted, but typically you will be sluggish and not have the power needed to push yourself through a real workout and experience gains from it.

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Dehydration is a huge issue when it comes to drinking alcohol. When consuming alcohol it leads to your kidneys producing more urine, so drinking too much can lead to a much larger urine output than normal. If you workout soon after drinking, your sweat in combination with the diuretic impact of alcohol can lead to severe dehydration. In turn, dehydration causes a negative impact on athletic performance. Also alcohol interferes with your body producing energy due to the fact that alcohol is processed in the liver, which is where glucose is produced. Therefore with low blood sugars, your body isn’t going to be able to work at the rate that it is normally used to.

I’m definitely not saying to not drink because once you are 21 it is a normal thing to have a beer or glass of wine with a meal. My recommendation is to significantly cut back on alcohol during important training periods or competitions, and consume alcohol in moderation during lower phases of training. Here are some healthier options when choosing something to drink:

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Just remember to THINK before you DRINK!

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The Right Bar for You: A Guide to Nutrition Bars

One of the biggest markets, besides protein powders, is nutrition bars. There are protein bars, diet bars, energy bars, meal replacement bars, and so much more. That can get really confusing especially to athletes who just want something they don’t have to think about. Bars are a great option for on the go! Nutrition bars were actually designed for athletes and soldiers since they require a great deal of nutrition, but don’t have the time to sit down to eat all their required calories.

Nutrition bars used to be just filled with sugar and maltodextrin. Since more research has come out about different types of fuel sources for performance, nutrition bars have adapted to follow the trends. Changes include nuts, chia seeds, and dates. So here are some of my favorite bars to choose.

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GoMacro bars are one of my favorite. The ingredients list for each bar isn’t that long and all of the ingredients are easily pronounced and known foods, which makes it a bar that isn’t heavily processed. It packs 12 g protein, 3 g dietary fiber, and it is 290 calories. This bar is a great post-workout snack to have along with a glass of chocolate skim milk in order to get the recovery athletes need. The taste is also pretty great compared to a lot of bars. These things come in a ton of flavors like peanut butter chocolate chip, banana and almond butter, or cashew caramel.

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The RXBAR is a new product that I discovered at my local cafe. I was very intrigued by the substantial amount of protein and small list of ingredients on the front of the label. I ended up buying one of these to test out for the blog, and I have to say I’m pretty pleased with the product. The bars brand states that they focus on whole foods, and each bar has egg whites, fruit, and nuts. This is the first time I’ve seen eggs utilized in the making of a protein bar. These bars have 12 g protein, 3 g dietary fiber, and only 210 calories. The flavors include mint chocolate, blueberry, chocolate sea salt, pumpkin spice, and more. If you are looking for an alternate protein source and unique flavors this is the bar for you!

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The Pure Organic bar is very similar to Larabars, which I’m also a big fan of as a snack for athletes. These pack a punch of good carbohydrates, a small amount of protein, and some fiber at around 190 calories. The ingredients list is small and the product is nonGMO for those that are looking for a product that is organic and GMO free. This is a great bar to have along with a yogurt or a piece of fruit for a healthy snack during the day.

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The Rise Bar is perfect for Vegan athletes and athletes that want to pack in a lot of protein from a bar source. The protein varies per bar from around 17-20 g protein, which is an insane amount for a nutrition bar. The two products I would recommend to athletes are the protein bars for post workout and the energy bars for preworkouts and snacks. The ingredient lists are short and filled with simple whole foods like nuts and dates. I would definitely recommend keeping a few of these around.

A few other popular bars that I recommend for athletes and exercising individuals for more of a snack use are Larabars, Kind bars, and Thats-It. Bars are a great option to have in the bag in order to be able to fuel yourself before or after a workout. Plus nutrition bars are usually shelf stable for a long time, so you can throw it in your bag and forget about it for quite a significant amount of time and it will still be good.

Smoothies: Easy Breakfast for Athletes

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Smoothies get a bad rap in the health world. This is due to the fact that a lot of places, like Jamba Juice, put in juices and large amounts of fruit without any other nutrients. Also a a lot of juices that use only fruit or vegetables strip them of their nutrients that the body needs. Learning how to make a smoothie the right way can be a game changer especially for athletes that have trouble getting in breakfast before a morning workout. They can be a super easy meal to make the night before and leave in the fridge for the next day. Even college athletes can make smoothies by purchasing a super cheap 10$ personal nutribullet for their dorm rooms.

To make a smoothie a good option it needs to be composed well and to be nutrient dense. That means that it needs to be well balanced. You have to think about it like this: would you eat 4 pieces of fruit for a snack? No, you wouldn’t, so you definitely shouldn’t put that amount of fruit in your smoothie. A key tip for making a smart smoothie is think of it as you would think a meal. You have to have some protein, some carbohydrate, and some fat.

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Here is a simple guide to making a great smoothie for breakfast or post-exercise snack:

1. Use only one serving of fruit in the smoothie. You will be adding natural sweetness to the mix without wasting all of your daily fruit servings in a smoothie. The fruit will bring in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and based on the fruit it may even have some antioxidants! A serving size of fruit is 1 small apple, 1 cup sliced banana, 1 large peach, 1 cup sliced strawberries, or 1 cup pineapple chunks.

2. NO JUICE! You want to use a liquid in your smoothie that isn’t juice since juice provides no nutritional value. A few good options are skim milk, almond milk, or soy milk. You get protein and a few vitamins utilizing milk over juice and water.

3. Don’t forget your two friends: fat and protein. Fat and protein will help keep you full for a long period of time. This is what is missing in smoothies at commercial places usually and is why you are still hungry after a smoothie. Good options for these include 1-2 tbsp nut butter like Justins, 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1/4 avocado, protein powder (make sure NCAA compliant if you are a college athlete through your school’s sports dietitian), 1/2 cup cottage cheese, chia seeds, or raw nuts.

4. Throw in some vegetables. This will provide an extra addition of fiber along with the fruit. You don’t have to pile it on, but throw in some spinach or kale leaves to keep you fuller for longer. Plus you don’t really taste the vegetables! It blends in pretty well with all of the other ingredients.

5. If you want to get super creative, you can boost it with some extra flavors. Simple ideas are raw cocoa, cinnamon, ginger, cardamon, or mint.

I personally like to make smoothies all the time because I love forming creative flavor combinations. One of my most recent creations is the PB&J smoothie. It contains 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 1 large tbsp Justin’s honey almond butter, 1 cup mashed strawberries, a few ice cubes, a handful of kale, and 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk. Just like my smoothie, you can have so much fun with these since there are a ton of flavor combinations.

Just remember to not replace all your meals with smoothies. Save smoothies for when you need a quick breakfast option or a meal replacement for a time that you skip a meal. Mix it up!

Hydration: How to Hydrate for Optimal Performance

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Water makes up more than half your body weight. Therefore it is incredibly important to keep to the body. Water has a wide variety of functions in the body such as lubricating your joints and transporting oxygen to your working muscles. When you participate in exercise, your body generates up to 20 times the heat it creates at rest. In order to get rid of the massive amount of heat, your body sweats it mostly all out. That means you are losing a ton of fluid that needs to be replaced! The rate that you sweat helps determine how much water you need to replenish your body. This is a very individualized process. Sweat rates vary between athletes, so there isn’t a one-size fits all fluid recommendation for optimal performance. In order to have optimal performance, you have to drink the right amount of fluids to fit your needs along with the daily requirements. You want to avoid dehydration since it has a significantly negative impact on athletic performance.

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There are a few ways that you can tell if you are dehydrated. Signs and symptoms vary based on how dehydrated you are. One of the easiest ways to tell if you are mild to moderately dehydrated is through decreased urine output. If you aren’t going to the bathroom frequently then that is a potential sign of dehydration. A few more mild to moderate dehydration signs are dry mouth, headache, dizziness, and feeling tired. For severe dehydration, you should definitely be heading to the hospital because at this point your dehydration is a medical emergency. These signs and symptoms include extreme thirst, little to no urination, rapid heartbeat, and rapid breathing. You want to make sure you never get to this point since it can be detrimental to your exercise performance and due to the fact that it is extremely dangerous to the body.

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One of the other easiest ways to tell if you are dehydrated is through monitoring your urine. You want to first look at the color of your urine. The ideal color would be clear or light straw colored. The darker the color of your urine, the more water you need to drink. After you look at the color of the urine, you want to look at the amount that you are putting out. The goal is to have a large output every time you are going to the bathroom. Also make sure you are going to the bathroom frequently. If all three of these things are happening then you are well hydrated!

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This is a general guide for how to properly hydrate yourself throughout the day including your exercise activity. The Institute of Medicine recommends for men to have 3.7 liters per day while it suggests for women to have 2.7 liters. For the equivalent in fluid ounces, men should have 125 oz and women should have 94 oz. If you are an athlete that has a green gatorade bottle, that is equal to about 3 or 4 of those a day. It seems like a large amount, but if you carry a water bottle around with you all day it can easily be done! Just like you carb load before activity, you have to drink water before activity starts. It is good to be prepared ahead of time. At least 2 hours prior, you need to be consuming 16-20 oz, which is about 1/2 of a 32 oz water bottle or a little more. Once time gets closer to exercise or an event, you want to have another 8-16 oz. That is only 1 to 2 cups of water, which isn’t that much if you think about it!

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During activity it is very important to stay hydrated because this will minimize your sweat losses post exercise. A key goal is to have 5 to 10 oz of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. A guide to an oz is about 1 gulp from your water bottle is about the same as 1 oz. If you are playing in a competition and won’t be able to take water breaks like you do during workouts, a good tip is to take advantage of timeouts. During timeout, make sure you are taking at least 5 gulps from your water bottle. The more gulps you get the better off you are. Another thing to take into consideration is the length of your workout or competition. If you are exercising longer than 60 minutes, you want to consume a sports drink like Gatorade for half of your fluids since it contains carbohydrates to give you an energy boost. After activity is the time to replenish. You want to have 20-24 oz for every pound of body weight that you lost from exercising. In order to figure this out, you can weigh yourself before a game or workout then weigh yourself after to see how much weight of body fluids you lost from sweating. Don’t wait too long to fill up on water!

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Here are a few tips to remember when thinking about hydration as an athlete or regular exerciser! A common tip to utilize is carrying a water bottle with you throughout the day that way you are unconsciously taking sips and filling up when you run out. Another tip to really hone in on how much water you need during exercise is weighing yourself before and after exercise. This way you can determine your sweat rate and figure out how much fluid to have. If you are losing 2% of your body weight, you can have severe negative impacts on your athletic performance, so don’t let yourself get to this point! Avoiding that is easy by following the guide on drinking water during activity shown above. There are other ways to get fluids along with drinking your water. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables since they are made of mostly water. Not only will you be getting additional water, but you will also fill up on vitamins and minerals to keep the body healthy!

After this, I hope all my readers are carrying around water bottles with them and staying hydrated! Bottoms up.

The Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice

There are 1,000s of products coming out every day for athletes that are either for pre-workout or post-workout. However, as an athlete, it can get pretty confusing to make the right choice for you. I’m here to talk abut one of my favorite post-workout products, which is tart cherry juice. As sports dietitians and students in sports nutrition programs, we are always reading research on cherry juice for recovery. Finally as a dietetic intern with Columbia Athletics, I was able to sample some product and really research more into the topic as a whole for providing recovery post-workout for athletes.

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The tart cherries that are typically used in this sports juice product are Montmorency cherries. Montmorency cherries have a high ORAC (oxygen radical absorption capacity) value, which makes it a very beneficial fruit to consume for overall health. Sports nutrition research has looked at a wide variety of benefits of tart cherry juice made with these cherries. Most of the research shows benefits of muscle recovery, pain management, and improved sleep quality.

Muscle Recovery and Pain Management
The British Journal of Sports Medicine released a study that examined the impact that tart cherry juice had relieving the symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage. In the study 14 male college students drank either 12 oz tart cherry juice or a placebo twice daily for 8 consecutive days. The results showed that strength loss and pain were significantly less in the participants taking the cherry juice compared to the placebo. This shows that tart cherry juice has the potential to be effective in reducing exercise induced muscle damage symptoms. Another study, in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, looked at the efficacy of tart cherry juice on reducing muscle damage and pain for long distance runners. The study looked at 54 healthy runners that consumed either 355 mL bottles of tart cherry juice or placebo cherry drink twice daily for 7 days prior to the event and on the day of the race. At the end of the study, both groups indicated pain. However, the group that consumed cherry juice reported a significantly smaller increase in pain as compared to the placebo group. Overall, the results of these two studies and more have shown that cherry juice has the potential to be very beneficial for reducing muscle damage and pain.

Interventions for Sleep
An interesting fact about tart cherries, like Montmorency, is that they are one of the only known food sources that contains melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that anticipates the daily onset of darkness and helps synchronize the circadian rhythm. The European Journal of Nutrition released a study examining the impact of tart cherry juice consumption on urinary melatonin levels and improved sleep quality. 20 participants consumed either tart cherry juice concentrate or a placebo for 7 straight days. The results indicated that total melatonin content was significantly elevated in the participants of the tart cherry juice group when compared to the placebo group. Furthermore, there were significant increases in time in bed, total sleep time, and sleep efficiency total in cherry juice concentrate when compared to the placebo. This data suggests that tart cherry juice consumption increases melatonin, which in turn improves sleep quality. This is incredibly important for athletes since getting an adequate amount of sleep can help performance.

Inflammation Reduction
Due to the phytonutrients and anthocyanins in cherries, they are thought to have the ability to combat aches and pains.The theory behind this is that these antioxidants block the enzymes in the body that cause inflammation. In the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, a study was released looking at the effects of tart cherry juice in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress along with muscle damage and recovery. 20 recreational marathon runners consumed cherry juice or placebo 5 days before, the day of, and for 48 h following a marathon run. The results showed that inflammation was significant reduced in cherry juice group compared to placebo by looking at markers like IL-6 (interleukin 6), CRP (c-reactive protein), and uric acid. Tart cherry juice can have a significant impact on post-exercise recovery since inflammation is built up during exercise.Cherry-Juice-8-oz

So what is one of my favorite tart cherry juice products? CheriBundi! I had the chance to try this while working with Columbia Athletics since the previous sports dietitian on staff had left a bunch of bottles in the cooler. On the first sip, you can definitely taste how tart it is. My lips puckered up a bit, but it was quite delicious. After a few more sips, the tart cherry juice was reminiscent of a freshly baked cherry pie. I was addicted. This stuff is amazing. The regular 8 fl oz bottle has 50 cherries per bottle, the light version has 40 cherries per bottle, and cherry rebuild bottle (with protein) has 45 cherries and 8 g protein. The cherry rebuild is probably the best option for athletes pre and post workout since it will not only reduce exercise induced muscle damage, but it will also help with the process of building back up the muscle.

If you aren’t already using tart cherry juice as a muscle recovery product then I definitely recommend checking it out. Just remember not to try it during competition times since you don’t know how your body will react to it. The best time to use it is during practices or in the off-season. My recommendation to sports dietitians is to definitely get this product on your fueling stations for the athletes! Have a cherrific day.

Carbohydrates: Fuel for Life

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Hey guys! I have a super informative post for you today about one of my favorite macronutrients: Carbohydrates. I was inspired to write this post and probably a series of posts (one debunking the myths of carbs) because I have seen a lot of social media about how carbs are bad for you and how they make you fat. While these myths aren’t true, I’m here to inform you why carbohydrates are important especially for athletes!

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The main reason why athletes need carbohydrates is due to the fact that carbs are the major fuel source for the body. Think of your body as a car. Without filling up your tank with the right gas, you won’t be able to run for a long period of time. The same thing goes with carbohydrates. When participating in exercise, your body breaks down glycogen stores to use for energy. When your body doesn’t have adequate amounts, you become fatigued, have a reduction in ability to train hard, impair your performance ability, and can negatively impact your immune function. Also having maximum stores of carbohydrates prevents your body from breaking down protein to make glucose for energy. If you rely on protein for energy, it can severely impact your ability to build and maintain muscle tissue. Not only does the body need carbohydrates for energy, but so does the brain. Consuming the right amount of carbohydrates can help not only athletes, but others, on and off the field.

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There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Complex carbohydrates are longer chain molecules that are strung together in complex chains. A lot of the complex carbs are seen in the picture above, but common options include whole wheat grains such as rice, pasta, bread, vegetables, starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn, and legumes. It is important to get a large amount of these complex carbohydrates in the diet, but make sure to focus on vegetables and whole grains. The ideal time to eat complex carbohydrates is 3-4 hours pre-workout and in your recovery meal.

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Simple carbs are what gets a bad rap because this is the category where all the processed treats like snack cakes, candy, and chips fall into. However not only are some important food groups simple carbs, but there is a time and place for some of these items as well. Fruit and milk are considered a simple carbohydrate, but you should not be limiting yourself to only one serving a day. As adults, we need at least 2-3 servings of fruit and 2-3 servings of dairy per day. Nutrient timing is important when it comes to simple carbs. If you want candy or something sweet, the ideal time to have it is immediately after working out to boost your carbohydrate stores quickly and during a long competition when your fuel is running low such as running a marathon or in a game longer than 90 minutes. Focus on eating simple carbs 1-2 hours before working out or competition and within 30 minutes post.

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Nutrient timing is one of the most important things to take into consideration when planning out your carbohydrate consumption throughout the day. Once you or your dietitian figures out how many g of carbohydrates you need per day, it is important to divide them through 3 meals and 3 snacks during the day. Also it is necessary to think about training and competition because you will need to fuel your body for these activities. The above guide is a general idea about how you should spread carbohydrates throughout your exercise. For more detailed plans, meet with a dietitian in order to come up with the best solution to match your needs!

I hope ya’ll enjoyed this general post about the importance of carbohydrates! I look forward to breaking down the top myths about carbohydrates in the future. Have a great Superbowl Sunday and go Panthers!

Why Sports Nutrition? The Top 4 Reasons Why I Want To Be A Sports Dietitian.

Hey everyone! Welcome to my blog, which is solely focused around one of my greatest passions in life: Sports Nutrition. You may ask why sports nutrition, there are so many other fields in nutrition like Pediatrics, GI, or Diabetes? Well it was quite a journey getting here. I actually started my college journey in human physiology and it wasn’t until I took a general nutrition required class that I realized how much I loved nutrition. A lot of people don’t know what they exactly want to do when they enter the field of nutrition, so I was incredibly lucky that at an early stage it was clear that sports nutrition was what I wanted to do. I’m going to share with ya’ll the top 4 reasons why I want to be a sports dietitian.

IMG_54661. I have a general passion for sports

Sports have always been a huge part of my life. I grew up playing competitive volleyball for many years while both of my brothers played multiple sports. We were always traveling to attend basketball games or baseball matches. So you could say sports was a normal part of my routine. Nowadays I’m just a fan. My favorite sport is volleyball, and I’m a dedicated University of Texas Longhorn Volleyball fan! My other team that I constantly root for is the San Antonio Spurs.

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2. I wish I had a sports dietitian when I was an athlete

Probably one of the most important reasons why I want to be a sports dietitian is because of the lack of nutrition education there is out there for athletes young and old. As a competitive volleyball player, I was always playing in day long tournaments and our parents would create these tables of food for us to eat at in between game. It would have been amazing if a sports dietitian came in to educate us and to educate our parents on how to fuel our performance throughout a long day of games. This actually inspired my masters thesis on elite youth volleyball nutrition education, which I hope to someday utilize when I have my own private practice!

3. To help athletes sort through the mass amount of supplements

There is an insane amount of supplements on the market that use advertising to target athletes. I’m not saying all supplements are bad. I love certain “supplements” like tart cherry juice, a few types of bars, beet root juice, and a few more items. However I think that there is so much out there that athletes need support, and as a sports dietitian I want to help them find the best game plan.

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4. To help athletes get accurate information

The nutrition field is insane. Every week it feels as if there is a new fad diet coming out by someone who isn’t a dietitian. This becomes a problem especially for athletes because they don’t know where to look for the right information. I definitely experienced this as an athlete looking for ways to lose body fat and build muscle. There are a lot of people that call themselves “nutritionists” who spout a lot of misleading information and have no formal background in nutrition. I want to not only educate about misconceived topics like weight gain, but I also want to educate athletes on what a dietitian is so they know who to trust and go to for accurate information.

I hope you all enjoyed my introduction into sports nutrition! I seriously look forward to sharing my passion for this field with everyone interested in reading. I’m going to be posting about product reviews, recipes, my thoughts on latest sports nutrition trends and research, and of course important topics in the field like hydration. Keep updated with the blog by signing up for emails under the right tab on the top, by following my twitter (@brkawaynutr), and by liking my facebook page (the link is also on the right tab)!