Doing ab crunch after ab crunch will build you a strong midsection, but not necessarily a lean one! Yes, it is true that performing exercises with a certain muscle group will help increase blood flow and energy use in that area, but it’s not enough to really get you the results you are looking to achieve.
When it comes to getting a super lean midsection— or a trim body for that matter— it’s not just your workout that is important, but also the food you feed your body! Getting a six-pack starts with a consistent workout routine that builds a lean body and ends with the proper nutrition that fuels recovery and activates the pathways of metabolism needed to build muscle and burn off fat!
Here are the four six-pack foods you need in your diet.
Load up on green vegetables. Most people don’t get enough fresh vegetables in their diet! In fact, only 30 percent of us eat vegetables three times per day. Fresh vegetables deliver nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that the body needs for a healthy metabolism. The bulking nature of vegetables can help fill you up and keep appetite suppressed. If you want to get a six-pack pronto, start eating more vegetables— have them with breakfast, lunch and dinner! The best part— you really can’t go overboard, either!
Tip: Have them in salads, sautéed or even raw. And to keep boredom away, don’t limit yourself solely to broccoli and lettuce. Choose from varieties of kale, spinach, swiss chard, collards, Brussels sprouts, red or green leaf lettuce, green or yellow beans, arugula, radicchio or even red or green cabbage. The choices are endless!
Use different carbs. Staying away from carbs is one myth that most people think is necessary to get a six-pack, but the truth is you can still eat them. Just make sure it’s the right ones and you eat them at the right time. Fibrous sources of carbohydrates from cruciferous and starchy vegetables and from fruit not only provide sources of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, they also pack soluble fiber as well. Soluble fiber swells in the gut and slows down digestion, causing a slow and steady release of glucose into the bloodstream and keeping energy levels sustained.
Tip: Instead of eating starchy carbohydrates from grains sources, get your carbs from non-processed, whole food fruits and vegetables including sweet potato, different types of squash, potatoes, or high fiber fruits like berries and apples! Try sweet potato protein pancakes, zucchini noodles, or add fruit to your salad! Eat your carbs at the time of day where you will get the most benefit from them, and that means when your glycogen storage is at its lowest— first thing in the morning or post-workout.
Fats are your friend. Fats don’t make you fat! A higher fat diet can help preserve muscle tissue, and can also help stimulate the use of fat as fuel. Essential fats, which are the ones the body doesn’t make, need to be supplemented through the proper nutrition in the diet. In fact, it’s been shown that high-fat, high-protein diets actually result in leaner bodies with less abdominal fat than diets with higher carbs at the same caloric value! Essential fats help regulate our hormones and metabolism, which is crucial to growth and proper post-workout recovery.
Tip: Avoid eating your fats with carbohydrates, as they will slow down digestion and can stimulate a greater insulin response versus eating them with just protein. Aim for 20 to 30 percent of your daily calories from good-for-you fats likes nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, chia, coconut or flaxseed oil. Add a tablespoon of natural almond butter to your protein smoothie, try cooking with coconut oil, or add a tablespoon of flax oil to your salad.
Pack your diet with protein. This should come as no surprise! If you want to get that six-pack, you need to build muscle! Why? Well for one, muscle is metabolically active tissue and the more muscle you have, the more active your metabolism will be. Not only does a high-protein diet provide you with the building blocks — amino acids you need to build muscle— but it also takes a lot more energy to break down protein into its useable nutrients versus other foods with the same caloric value.
Tip: Aim to get five or six small servings of protein every day. This will keep your protein levels in your muscles sustained, which will help to maintain lean mass. Protein should provide 40 to 50 percent of your total calories for the day when it comes to getting and staying lean. Protein can come from meat, chicken, turkey, ground meat, egg whites, non-fat dairy, whey protein powder, or vegetarian sources such as soy, pea or rice protein powder.
Parker B, et al. Effect of a High-Protein, High-Monounsaturated Fat Weight Loss Diet on Glycemic Control and Lipid Levels in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2002. 25(3): 425-30.