4 minutes – No, it’s not how long it will take you to get abs according to the latest infomercial. It’s the time taken to read this article (roughly) and get to grips with the 10 diet steps that stand between you and a set of flat abs. You may think it’s all about exercise, but it’s not. The key to fast abs? Fast food!
Not the type you pick up at the drive-thru, but quick, real foods that burn fat paired with smart, well-balanced eating strategies you can (and want) to stick to. No fad diets, no pills, just sensible food rules that are practical and waistline-friendly.
A lean belly, after all, isn’t made in the gym – it’s made in the kitchen. The foods you put in your body are (far) more important than what you put into your workouts. Of course, this doesn’t mean getting active regularly isn’t an important part of equation, it is (see our article here). But if you want the fastest results, consider a smart eating plan the foundation of your six pack success.
Step 1. Eat Smart!
Losing belly fat and getting fast abs means understanding food. No matter how much exercise time you devote to whittling down that fatty layer, if your abs remain hidden beneath three inches of pizza and beer, no one will ever see them. This is where the importance of calories come into play.
Calories are essentially units of energy, consume too many above what you’re burning off (through exercise and your resting metabolic rate) and you’ll gain weight. It’s a simple energy in vs energy out equation (fat = stored energy). The illustration below gives a good example of how different foods can alter the scale, making weight loss easier or harder. But this doesn’t mean you need to axe all of your favorite foods. In fact, you can eat all the burgers, chips and ice cream and still achieve a washboard midsection, if you eat and train smart.
Here’s the skinny: To see your abs, you need to get your body fat levels down to ~13%. This means losing weight. What’s your target weight in pounds? Add a zero to that number and that’s (approximately) how many calories you should be eating each day. Below we explore where to get them and the best sources of the all important macro-nutrients including protein, carbohydrates and fat.
Step 2. Eat Often!
How and when you receive your energy from food should be one of your top concerns if you’re serious about your six pack, and yet most people fuel their body they same way they gas up their car – when it’s running on empty, a red-light warning usually triggers an unhealthy pit-stop.
The fix? First, engage your brain. Use common sense when shopping for food. Go for fresh, natural ‘whole’ foods where possible. Stay away from heavily processed, pre-packaged goods, they’re loaded with sugar preservatives and refined carbs – all bad news for your belly.
Second, try to maintain a steady influx of healthy snacks and smaller meals (3-5 is good) throughout the day. Don’t get me wrong – it’s the total number of calories (irrespective of when you eat them) that ultimately determine whether you lose or gain weight. However, regularly fueling your body with nutritious foods will help keep you feeling full and satisfied.
Step 3: Pump-up Your Protein
Let your fuel keep torching calories long after it’s vanished from your plate by putting protein in the driving seat.
It may sound like something Albert Einstein would rattle on about, but postprandial thermogenesis could be your no-effort secret in the battle to lose your belly. Up to 15% of your daily kilojoules get gobbled up by the body-heating process. and certain foods raise the effect.
Thermogenic foods increase basal metabolism, because you need more energy to digest them, which burns more kilojoules. And king of the belly-burners is protein. Digesting protein is more energy-intensive than any other food. A study in the American Journal of Nutrition found the thermic response to protein ingestion is 50-100% higher than that of carbohydrates.
A further study carried out by researchers at Arizona State University increased subjects’ protein intake from 15% to 30%of their daily kilojoules. The protein-packed participants then burnt an extra 35kj an hour after breakfast and lunch, and an extra 60kj an hour after dinner. That’s 750 extra kilojoules a day – equal to a couple of stubbies of light beer.
The secret is to start early and get some high-quality protein down you for breakfast. You may get funny looks from your girl, but a chicken breast or homemade burger will set you up for the day. Opt for lean cuts as saturated fat lowers the thermic effect If you’re a traditionalist a couple of rashers of lean bacon, a low-fat chicken sausage and a poached or boiled egg will do the job. With some lean meat in your tank, you’ll be burning kilojoules before you even hit the road.
Step 4. Eat 6-Pack Superfoods!
Deciding what (and what not) to eat for fast abs can be tricky, so we’ve made it easy with our done-for-you shopping list of the top 20 6-pack super-foods. The rule here is simple, make each a regular staple of your diet and watch your belly begin to melt away. Print it out and stick it up on your fridge at home for easy reference.
Packed with muscle-building protein, complex carbohydrates, heart-healthy fiber and iron, these foods come fully equipped to boost your metabolism, satisfy cravings and keep your energy levels stoked throughout the day. In fact, these foods are so good for you they’ll just about single-handedly exchange body fat for lean muscle – providing you hit the gym too, of course.
Step 5. Make Time for Breakfast!
Scientific evidence shows that people who routinely skip their morning meals are significantly more likely to sport a bulging-belly, so it’s doubly important to tuck in and eat after you rise. Why? Breakfast acts as the ignition key that jump-starts your metabolism each morning and fuel your morning activity.
However, amid the morning rush, this meal is too often the first to be axed which can cause your metabolism to stall and prime your body to store belly fat. While it’s generally accepted that (almost) anything is better than nothing when it comes to breakfast, what you choose to eat now will set the tone for the rest of the day.
‘Break-fast‘: For a quick and healthy brekkie, ditch refined-carbohydrate options like pancakes, bagels & waffles and whip-up a bowl of oatmeal with low-fat milk instead. Low in fat and sodium, this high-fiber option helps lower bad-cholesterol and regulate blood-sugar levels, keeping you energized and feeling full. You can boost the flavor of your oats by adding in things like Manuka honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, a handful of berries, low-fat yogurt, fruits including peaches and banana, seeds/nuts and whey (or vegan) protein powder.
An ‘egg-celent’ choice: If oats aren’t your thing, a protein based breakfast of eggs on whole-wheat toast is perfect. Protein is your best friend when it comes to weight loss, thanks to its extended digestion time and metabolism-boosting capacity, so things like eggs, bacon (in moderation) and lean-mince sausages are always good.
Awesome breakfast extra’s: A piece of fresh fruit, a whole-grain cereal topped with low-fat milk/yogurt, super-food drinks (like spirulina or whey/vegan protein powders) and home-made fruit smoothies are equally great ways to fuel up first thing.
Step 6. Cut Back on the Bad-guys!
Just as there are good-guys of the dieting world, there are bad guys, too. Sure, they might taste good, but I can guarantee that eating too many of them won’t be doing your waistline (or heart) any favors. You don’t need to look far to find these bad-boys, either. They’re everywhere.
White bread, bagels, donuts, waffles, muffins, pastries, cereals. Junk & fried foods like burgers, chips, pizza, lollies and any other heavily processed goodies you get in wrapper, box or bag. Even everyday household items, like tomato sauce (4g sugar per tsp). And let’s not forgot the liquid calories found in Coke, ‘vitamin’ water, sports drinks (Powerade), ‘fruit’ juice and alcohol.
Of course the real problem with these foods and drinks is what’s in them. ‘Empty’ calories, sugar, sodium, refined carbohydrates, trans fats and unpronounceable preservatives are all common culprits which collectively conspire to prime your body to store belly fat and cripple your metabolism.
But don’t panic, I’m not for a second going to suggest you cut out these types of foods from your diet completely. After all, what fun would that be? What I am advocating however is a more measured approach. Think of them as a treat or reward, not something you take for granted everyday. You’ll enjoy them more, trust me. What’s more, when you’re eating right 90% of the time (and exercising regularly), worrying about it won’t even be a second thought.
Step 7. Wrap it & Pack it!
We’ve all gotta’ work (well, most of us) which is why it makes sense to invest in a lunchbox (Tupperware) or a small portable cooler to transport your 6-pack foods for the day. Packing last night’s leftovers with some healthy snacks is a great way to keep your body fueled without over-indulging or reaching for the vending machine.
Step 8. Grab a Smoothie!
Sometimes when you’re eating for abs, you won’t have the time (or patience) to prepare and create healthy, balanced meals. In this case, smoothies can make excellent substitutions. You can whip one up in just a few minutes as a meal replacement or healthy snack, anytime of the day.
Not only can you load them up with power-foods to build lean muscle, burn fat and boost energy, their thick and creamy texture takes up extra room in your stomach, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. While you can make a smoothie out of pretty much anything, it’s a great idea to stock you pantry and fridge full of healthy, ready-to-blend ingredients. Here’s 10 top picks to make any smoothie a healthy, nutritious success:
- Oatmeal (uncooked, instant)
- Ice cream
- Milk/water/fruit juice
- Peanut butter
- Whey protein powder
- Fresh/frozen berries
- Manuka honey
- Fresh/canned fruit & veggies
Mix and match these (plus any extra’s you desire) to create your own unique, healthy blend. Chug one for breakfast or before or after your workout for a delicious way to build muscle, burn fat, and help your heart in under 1 minute!
Step 9. Stay Hydrated!
Although water bears a bad rap for being bland and boring, it plays a critical role in keeping your metabolism ticking over and transporting nutrients to the working muscles. However, these benefits are too often overlooked in favor of alcohol and sugar-laden soft drinks which offer little nutritional value to redeem their purchase.
In fact, unlike water which helps to keep you feeling full, the empty calories in alcohol do nothing to decrease the amount of food you eat and can actually prime your body to store belly fat. This downward spiral is further heightened in men through the impairment of testosterone – a critical hormone that burns fat and builds and maintains lean muscle.
But, by guzzling around 6 glasses of chilled H20 from the moment you rise and nixing your alcohol intake (or at least, limiting yourself to two or three drinks per week), you can counteract these adverse effects. REMEMBER: What we interpret as hunger is often thirst, so keep a water bottle with you during the day. Alternatives like Green tea and low-fat milk are great, too.
Step 10. Move Your Body!
OK, it’s not a 6-pack ‘diet secret’ perse, but it is still important factor and one which can influence how closely you need to follow the steps mentioned above. The best way to understand weight loss is to think of your body as a bank with food representing debits and exercise/metabolic rate representing expenditures. The idea is to create a negative bank balance by increasing ‘expenditures’ to accelerate fat loss and allow you to eat more while still losing belly fat.
Regular exercise also helps build and maintain precious muscle tissue, a potent fat-fighter, to further supercharge your midsection makeover. There are some best-practices when it comes to exercise and results which we discuss more in-depth here, but the bottom line is to get moving. Aim to get active and break a sweat for at least 30 minutes every day. It doesn’t matter how, either. Cycling, jogging, swimming, cleaning, washing the car are all equally great ways to break a sweat and each contribute to your body-bank withdrawals, helping to bring those illusive abs further out of hiding.