If you long to show off sleek six-pack abs, proper dietary choices are a must. The key is to reduce calories for weight loss while choosing foods that help support belly-fat burning. No food will build muscle on its own, however, so you'll also need to fit exercise into your schedule most days of the week for optimal results.
The only way to lose body fat is to consume fewer calories than you burn for energy; as you trim down, your stomach will gradually shrink with the rest of you. You'll lose 1 to 2 pounds each week -- a healthy goal -- by creating a deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories each day. At a moderate activity level, most people can estimate calorie expenditure by multiplying their weight in pounds times the number 15. For example, a 155-pound person burns about 2,325 calories per day and will lose 1 to 2 pounds every week eating 1,325 to 1,825 calories per day.
Choosing whole grains such as sprouted-wheat bread, whole-wheat noodles and brown rice may help increase abdominal fat burning, according to a study published in "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in 2008. Participants were placed on a reduced-calorie diet, and one group was instructed to get all grains from whole sources, while the other group was told to eat no whole grains. Although both groups experienced similar weight loss, the whole-grain eaters lost a greater percentage of body fat from the stomach region.
Pick Your Protein
Trading some of the carbohydrates in your diet for protein-rich foods such as fish, beans and egg whites may help you lose more belly fat, according to a study published in "Journal of Nutrition" in 2005. The study analyzed dietary habits of 617 people and found that those who consumed slightly more protein and fewer carbs tended to have a smaller waistline. The publication "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" recommends getting 45 percent to 65 percent of total calories from carbs and 10 percent to 35 percent of calories from protein. Aiming for the lower end of the guidelines for carb intake and the higher end for protein may help you achieve your flat-belly goals.
Muscle tone will define your six-pack, so perform ab-building moves two to three times weekly. The American Council on Exercise recommends the bicycle maneuver, which involves lying on your back and raising each elbow to the opposite knee. For balance, you should also perform strength-training exercises for the rest of your body, including back, chest, legs and arms. You also need aerobic exercises, such as brisk walking or jogging, to burn calories and boost cardiovascular health. Perform these 30 to 60 minutes per day, five days per week.
- Harvard Health Publications: Calorie Counting Made Easy
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: The Effects of a Whole Grain-Enriched Hypocaloric Diet on Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Men and Women With Metabolic Syndrome
- Journal of Nutrition: Protein Intake Is Inversely Associated with Abdominal Obesity in a Multi-Ethnic Population
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- American Council on Exercise: New Study Puts the Crunch on Ineffective Ab Exercises
- ShareCare: How Much Cardio Exercise Should I Do?