Article Summary:This six-pack abs diet is recommended to burn belly fat only when you are about 4 to 6 weeks away from obtaining a flat stomach.
Six-pack abs are a popular goal for people who desire to lose weight. Permanent weight loss is achieved through lifestyle changes related to nutrition, exercise, and mindset. The love handles, stomach pooch, "saddle bags" and remaining fat around the midsection can be stubborn and frustrating to address. It is said that a flat stomach is made in the kitchen. Nutrition plays a key role in how you lose the last bit of body fat and is essential to see six-pack abs.
There are three key points to consider when trying to achieve a flat stomach. In order to be successful, bloating must be minimized, muscle retention must be maximized, and calories must be manipulated in order to create enough of a deficit to force the body to burn the remaining fat.
The first point is bloating. There are many causes for bloat, and the most common are related to food allergies. For example, between 30 and 50 million Americans suffer lactose intolerance, or the inability to digest significant amounts of lactose, the sugar found in most dairy products. It is estimated that 1 out of 133 Americans suffer from celiac disease, or the inability to digest foods that contain a protein called gluten. While incorporating these foods into a regular nutrition program may not reveal full blown symptoms of an allergic reaction, the side effect is often bloating and water retention. The first step for a successful six-pack diet is to eliminate all potential sources of bloating, including dairy and processed wheat products.
Most people aren't aware that bloating can also be caused by reactions to certain chemicals and preservatives in foods. This is why most bodybuilders eliminate any type of processed foods when preparing for a competition. Bodybuilders are a great reference for the flat stomach diet because they earn their living knowing how to achieve minimal body fat levels while maintaining muscle mass. Most bodybuilding diets for contest preparation will eliminate any type of dairy, processed carbohydrates, bars, shakes, and packaged foods, and focus instead on whole, natural foods such as lean proteins, vegetables, and fruit.
The second point is muscle retention. A lower calorie intake than normal is often required to lose belly fat. It is important for this type of diet to sustain muscle mass. Loss of muscle mass means loss of definition, as well as a slowing of the metabolism that makes it even more difficult to burn fat. While it may not be possible to completely prevent any loss of muscle, there are a few key steps that will help diminish the impact of the low calorie diet.
The key elements should be protein and healthy fats. Protein serves a dual purpose in the flat stomach diet. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle mass and therefore an abundant supply of protein will assist the body with repairing damage to muscle and maintaining lean mass. Furthermore, the body must expend more calories to digest protein than other macronutrients, so it creates what is referred to as the thermic effect. In essence, protein will raise metabolism and cause the body to expend more calories during digestion, thus increasing the overall calorie deficit. Healthy fats, while high in calories, have been shown to also help increase metabolism, spare lean muscle, and aid in recovery from the intense exercise usually associated with trimming down to shed love handles and achieve six-pack abs.
The final point is the calorie deficit. The human body was designed to remain in a constant state of homeostasis (literally: "to stand equally"). This is a survival mechanism. Because fat is intended as stored energy for times of need, the body does not prefer to burn fat. If total calorie intake is lowered, the body will adapt by lowering metabolism so fewer calories are required, thus preserving the fat reserves. In order to continue to shed fat, calories must be consistently shifted to avoid homeostasis and allow the fat burning mechanisms to continue.
The first two points advocated eliminating processed foods and increasing lean proteins in the diet. This will automatically shift calories down because whole foods are nutrient dense. They contain a high supply of nutrients with a lower amount of calories by weight than processed foods. In order to handle lower calories, it is extremely important to incorporate abundant amounts of fresh vegetables. Vegetables contain bulk and help control hunger while providing key vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals the body needs to remain strong. Dieting can cause a weakened immune system, so the integration of vegetables along with the inclusion of a quality multivitamin will help the body stay strong through the period of calorie restriction.
In order to avoid homeostasis, a method called ramping or zigzagging calories can be employed. Ramping calories cycles calories so that the body is never stuck at a specific level. For example, if the target is 2000 calories, ramping may start one week at 2200, then a week at 2100, followed by 2000, then 1900, then 1800. Over a 5-week period, the average calories are 2000, but the ramping prevented the body from adjusting to that fixed level and helped continue fat loss week to week by slowly lowering calories. Zigzagging involves shifting calories each day. Again, using a 2000 calorie target as an example, Monday might be 2000 calories, Tuesday 2100, Wednesday 1900, Thursday 2200, Friday 1800, and so on to average 2000 calories for the week.
Because so much precision is required for a flat stomach diet, the use of nutrition tracking software is highly recommended. There are many options available, both online and as desktop software. Look for a program that allows entry of custom foods and nutrition, that supports recipes, and will track more than just calories but other nutrients as well. A good program will plot weight and body fat as well as show calories over time. This will help with adjusting calories week to week as well as staying as close to the target as possible.
*It is important to understand that the six-pack abs diet to lose belly fat is not a lifestyle program, but a short term "sprint" to shed the last few stubborn pounds of fat. It should only be followed when the target weight is only a few months away ... starting this program too soon can lead to fatigue, burnout, over training, and even sickness.* Professional bodybuilders might start their "competition diet" 12 - 16 weeks out from the competition. Most people can plan to start their flat stomach diet within 4 - 6 weeks of reaching their target weight as they do not have to reach the ultra low body fat levels bodybuilders achieve in competition.
In summary, here are the key points for the flat stomach diet:
- Eliminate processed foods and dairy (including cheese, yogurt, etc.)
- Avoid shakes, protein bars, and other packaged or processed foods.
- Avoid foods that contain gluten. Allowable foods include potatoes, yams, hominy, rice, and legumes.
- Increase intake of lean proteins.
- Fish oil supplements or flaxseed oil are two great ways to supplement healthy fats.
- Increase intake of fresh vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables like broccoli and green beans.
- Zigzag or ramp calories.
Any successful six-pack abs diet will also include exercise. A complete discussion is outside the scope of this article, but a combination of resistance training and cardiovascular exercise is ideal (some people mistakenly believe they should focus on cardio only; when resistance training is key to reaching low body fat). The one topic that was not discussed is supplements. While there are many popular fat-burning supplements on the market, these supplements tend to come and go while 10 years of coaching clients to achieve low body fat has shown the fundamentals of quality nutrition and exercise remain the same.
The editor recommends: Exercise to Flatten Your Stomach by Lynn Bode
Jeremy Likness is a Certified Fitness Trainer and specialist in Performance Nutrition. He is an International Health Coach and his e-Book, "Lose Fat, Not Faith" has sold hundreds of copies around the world, along with the 5-CD audio program. Jeremy lost 65 pounds of fat himself and his vision is to conquer obesity one success story at a time. For more information, visit www.LoseFatNotFaith.com.