One of the most common questions I get asked is, “How do I get abs?” Or, “How do I flatten my belly?” Companies are making millions of dollars each year selling products that promise a flat, toned tummy simply and easily. Unfortunately, most of those products are complete junk. Developing a tight tummy takes time, patience and a lifestyle change.
I have always been very active, and I have never been overweight. That said, I still never had visible abdominal muscles. It wasn’t until I started prepping for the stage that I uncovered my abs. The x-factor was, of course, nutrition. For most of my life, I ate improperly. I thought I was eating healthy by relying on foods like protein bars and packaged “healthy meals,” but the sugar and sodium content of those foods made my abs invisible. It also didn’t help that my protein, carb and fat macronutrients were all out of whack. (I think my carb and fat intake were about 85% of my calories at one point!)
Over the years, I’ve developed a list of my secrets for a flat, tight and toned tummy. When I adhere to this list, my abs look great! When I don’t, the fat reappears. It’s that simple. So, if you are looking for a little help developing a great midsection, consider these tips:
1. Power up with protein. Not only does protein help build muscle, it also keeps your metabolism high, as your body has to work hard to break down and absorb this nutrient. I shoot for 30 to 40 percent of my calories to come from protein.
2. Eat fish. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, this protein source promotes fat loss and enhances the efficiency of leptin, a hormone that quiets your appetite. I typically have one or two fish meals a day (4 ounces per serving). My favorites are salmon, halibut, trout and tuna.
3. Choose low-glycemic carbs. These unprocessed, high-fiber carbs keep your blood sugar balanced and your body in the fat-burning mode. Regularly eating high-glycemic carbs (candy, white pasta, etc.) leads to fat storage in the midsection. I shoot for 30 to 40 percent of my calories to come from low-glycemic carbs.
4. Swear off sweets. As discussed in the previous point, sugar is the enemy of a great midsection, as it can lead to fat storage here. So, when I am craving something sweet, I will have a single square of 70 percent dark chocolate with a teaspoon of all-natural almond butter. That said, every few weeks, I will share a dessert with my hubby when dining out. You don’t have to give up everything you like forever. You just have to save the indulgences for special occasions.
5. Fatten up. Having 20 to 35 percent of your calories come from healthy fats will help reduce inflammation, maintain your blood sugar and promote fat loss. Incorporate such healthy fats as nuts, nut butter, olive oil, avocado and flaxseeds, to name a few. Coconut oil is another great option, as research indicates it enhances metabolism and satiety.
6. Keep it clean. Stick with whole food sources like lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, fresh fruits and lots of veggies.
7. Have a salad every day. Veggies are your best friend when it comes to stripping fat and keeping your belly flat. Their high-fiber content fills you up, so you eat less calorie-dense foods. Also, veggies support healthy digestion, which is critical for diminishing bloating.
8. Use probiotics & digestive enzymes. Healthy digestion is essential for keeping your belly looking flat. The two supplements I rely on to bolster my digestion are probiotics (maintain the healthy bacteria in your gut) and digestive enzymes (helps your body break down the foods you eat). In addition, recent research has found that probiotics help with protein absorption. Probiotics and digestive enzymes can be purchased in all health food stores.
9. Drink 3-5 liters of water per day. Doing so keeps your body functionally optimally, your hunger managed (thirst is often confused with hunger) and minimizes bloating and water retention. All of these contribute to a tight and toned midsection.
10. Train your abs consistently. Training my abs consistently and with a little resistance helps the muscle stay tight and visible. Here’s an example ab workout:
Repeat circuit 4 times (no rest between exercises)
20 crunches holding a 15-lb dumbbell
20 crunches with feet straight up from hips, holding each crunch for three seconds
15 double reverse crunches
15 leg raises
20 butterfly crunches
11. Get conditioned with HIIT. Cardio helps to dissolve the fat blurring your abdominal definition. While I perform all different types of cardio, I prefer HIIT for the fat-burning efficiency. Specially, I like outdoor sprints, as my abs are always sore the day after doing them. When you really push the sprints, you can’t help but engage the midsection (and the rest of your body). Here is an example workout:
¼ mile Jog, 5-minute Stretch
6 x 50 yard Back-to-Back Sprints. Sprint 50 yards and immediately turn around and sprint back to starting point. This is one set. Rest 30 seconds between each set.
6 x 100 yard Sprints. Sprint 100 yards and walk back to starting point. Rest 30 seconds between each sprint.
¼ mile Jog or Walk, 5-minute Stretch
12. Be patient. Achieving a tight, toned tummy takes time. Focus on doing the work daily to achieve your goal, and you WILL get there. Follow a program for a month before you decide that you need to change. We often give up right before a breakthrough. On those days when you have a setback, feel discouraged or unmotivated to go on, close your eyes and imagine what it will feel like in detail to have achieved your goal and then keep pushing forward.
Push Toward Your Best
OK, so I gave you a lot of tips above. Don’t be overwhelmed. Take it one tip at a time. The key is to just get started doing SOMETHING. Whether it be walking every day or cutting out sugar, once you make a decision to do something and put a little energy behind it, you will get inertia on your side and the ball will start rolling. Then, there will be no stopping you!
Keep pushing— your best is waiting.
Walker KZ, O’Dea K. Monounsaturated fat rich diet prevents central body fat distribution and decreases postprandial adiponectin expression induced by a carbohydrate-rich diet in insulin-resistant subjects: response to Paniagua et al. Diabetes Care. 2007 Nov;30(11):e122;