A 6-pack is the hallmark of having a ripped body. No fitness or figure competitor would be caught without one. However, for those of us who didn't win the genetic lotto when it comes to flat abs, achieving a 6-pack isn't as simple as doing ab exercises and watching what you eat.
Instead, you need to hunker down and tweak your diet to perfection. Try these 10 strategies and soon you'll want bathing suit season to be a year-round event.
1. Whey Less
Whey helps build muscle tissue, that's old news. But, did you know that its rich leucine content also means it stimulates fatty acid oxidation (leucine also upregulates muscle protein synthesis while decreasing muscle protein breakdown). A 2006 study showed that adding 60 grams of whey protein/day, in comparison to 60 grams of soy protein or 60 grams of carbohydrate, led to significant decreases in body fat and weight after 6 months.
Whey protein has also been shown to increase satiety. Increase satiety and theoretically you should eat less later! You'll be less hungry at least. Whether or not you eat is up to you.
2. Bone Up On Dairy
Aside from the obvious bone-building and blood pressure lowering benefits of dairy, researchers at the University of Tennessee stumbled on a potential connection between calcium and weight several years ago. Dairy companies became giddy about this research and started putting "weight management" claims on yogurt products and in milk commercials.
While some subsequent studies showed that calcium may help with weight management, others revealed that consuming calcium had no effect on weight.
Clinical trial data may be mixed in part due to the study length or the fact that supplemental calcium, versus dairy products, was used in the some of the studies. Why does the source matter? Because dairy products also contain vitamin D.
One 24-week weight loss study in obese adults showed that body weight loss was 26% greater in the high calcium group (1,200-1,300 mg calcium/day through diet and supplementation) but an astounding 70% greater in the high dairy group (1,200-1,300 mg calcium/day obtained solely through dairy foods).
Fat loss was also significant in both groups though much greater in the group obtaining calcium through dairy products, 38% and 64% respectively from each group. In this study, dairy was superior over supplemental calcium.
Vitamin D is inextricably linked to calcium because it promotes calcium absorption. In addition to the importance of vitamin D in maintaining normal blood calcium levels, lab research shows that calcium and vitamin D may work together to regulate fat metabolism in fat cells by suppressing fat synthesis and sparking fat oxidation (burning). In addition, low circulating levels of vitamin D have been linked to excess adipose (fat) tissue.
3. Eat Large Quantities Of Food
Remember the book "Eat More, Weigh Less"? There was some truth to the title. For several years now, Penn State University researcher Dr. Barbara Rolls, has been studying how the volume of food in a meal affects our satiety and therefore the number of calories we ingest. A concept she has termed Volumetrics.
How does Volumetrics work? Rolls tells us that we should focus on the energy density of foods and consume foods with low energy density, those that are low in calories but fill us up based on their total volume. Low energy density foods include broth-based soups, non-starchy vegetables, many fruits (not dried ones though), and whipped shakes.
4. Eat Often
This should be a no brainer but some people literally have to set their Blackberry to beep when it is time to eat. When we eat we burn calories (thermogenic effect of eating) and we end up less hungry later. Skip meals and you are setting the stage to overeat at your next meal. So, do what it takes to remember to eat often.
5. Drink Green Tea
Researchers have theorized that weight maintenance is easier due to increased thermogenesis and fat oxidation. Tea has a multitude of other benefits as well so you can't go wrong with adding tea to your diet. If you prefer, try an energy drink with green tea extract and caffeine.
6. Ban Trans Fats
Yes, there are foods that still contain trans fats. Even at very low levels of consumption, 1-3% of total energy intake, trans fats increase your risk for coronary heart disease.
In addition to all of the nasty things trans fats do to increase your risk for killing your heart, trans fats are associated with increased abdominal fat deposition. So, read labels. If the product says "partially hydrogenated oil," throw it out. Your heart, gut and the rest of your body will thank you.
7. Eat Fatty Fish
Omega 3s are tied to a healthy heart, healthy skin, decreased depression and a variety of other benefits. They also reduce adipose tissue, most especially in the abdominal area. Studies have revealed that omega 3s upregulate the expression of genes that lead to fatty acid oxidation and decrease the development of obesity.
So load up on salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut, sardines and tuna steak. If you hate fish, take fish oil supplements (enteric coated ones unless you like fish burps).
8. Be Wary Of Sugar Free Products
How many people do you know who chew packs of sugar free gum or candies so they won't eat? Sounds like a good idea, especially the sugar free kind. The thing is, many sugar free gums and candies have sugar alcohols in them which can cause bloating and abdominal discomfort.
In large quantities, they can also cause a laxative effect in some people. Many sugar alcohols are known by their "-ol" ending: mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, maltitol. Mannitol is the worst offender when it comes to gas and bloating.
9. Don't Be So Sweet
It should be obvious by now that sweet, sugary foods like a Cinnabon aren't exactly going to get you to look like a cover model. However, if you still crave sweet foods, you may want to take a look at your intake of artificial sweeteners. You know, the stuff in the blue, yellow and pink packets (I'm waiting for them to come out with something in a pleasant green packet).
Most sweeteners contain few, if any calories, and they won't spike your insulin the way sugar does. But, they may increase your desire for sweet foods. Let's face it, you get used to eating sweet stuff and you may crave sweeter stuff. And, there is no convincing evidence that adding these to our diet has helped us take the weight off or maintain our weight.
10. Quit Boozing
If you are going to drink alcohol, at least drink wine and get a few antioxidants. But seriously, cut the alcohol.
Do you know anyone who has ripped abs and still drinks on a regular basis (and yes, weekly counts as regularly!)? No, you don't, unless they are a genetic freak of nature. And, if you were a genetic freak of nature with naturally rock-hard abs, you probably wouldn't be reading this article.
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