Men and women with six-pack abs adorn fitness magazine covers and star in ads for supplements and gyms. But now, the impressive six-pack isn't enough. Defined muscular middles on the likes of Taye Diggs and Bradley Cooper reveal an elusive eight-pack. This "step up" from a six-pack comes from a combination of diligent exercise, meticulous diet and genetic blessing. Achieving an eight-pack is no easy feat and may not be achievable by everyone, but much of the work begins in the kitchen.
The Eight-Pack Defined
When your body fat is low enough -- usually at least 6 to 9 percent for men or 16 to 19 percent for women -- the muscles of your rectus abdominis may show when you bare your midriff. These are the muscles closest to the surface and appear cut or defined when the layer of fat covering them has mostly disappeared.
Several muscles make up the rectus abdominis region; the eight-pack results when you can see the four pairs that are separated by the linea alba, a strip of connective tissue that draws a line down the center of your core. Three bands of connective tissue between each of the muscle pairs form the cut lines, or valleys, between each of the packs. Developing the valley between the lowest two sets of muscles turns a six-pack into the eight-pack look.
The degree to which you can develop these valleys does depend a lot on genetics. But, without conscientious attention to diet and exercise -- you'll never achieve a washboard belly. Most men will need to reduce their body fat to less than 6 percent and women to less than 16 percent to achieve an eight-pack.
Eating for an Eight-Pack
Protein is a key component in an abs diet. This macronutrient supports your gym efforts to build muscle all over your body. More muscle boosts your metabolism and stimulates greater calorie burn and fat loss. Every meal -- whether it's a snack or sit-down -- should contain a portion of protein such as 4 ounces of lean meat, a scoop of whey, 1/2 to 1 cup of low-fat dairy or 3 ounces of soy.
Sugar, alcohol, processed foods and refined carbohydrates, including white bread and rice, are off the table. Instead, most of your carbohydrates come from vegetables and fruits with the occasional 1/2-cup serving of whole grains at one or two daily meals.
Consuming small meals every two to three hours also supports the goal of achieving an eight-pack because it prevents you from feeling engorged, helps you get in all the calories and protein you need and prevents feelings of deprivation. However, eating mini meals six to eight times per day isn't essential to achieving an eight-pack. Just avoid skipping meals and starving yourself -- which can promote the release of stress hormones that promote storage of fat in your belly -- but don't go out of your way to eat when you're not hungry or your schedule doesn't allow it.
Abs Diet Sample Foods
Include a variety of foods in your eight-pack meal plan to expose your body to a wide array of nutrients. Ideal high-protein foods to include are egg whites, tuna and other white fish, chicken breast and flank steak. Cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and tofu can also support your abs diet. Leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, summer squash and sweet potatoes are options for vegetables. Choose 1/2 to 1 cup of quinoa, oats and brown rice as carbohydrate sources daily. Apples, oranges, grapefruit and blueberries make good fruit choices.
An eight-pack doesn't come from a fat-free diet, either. Go for 1/4 cup of walnuts or pumpkin seeds or a 4-ounce serving of salmon daily, for example, to get healthy unsaturated fats that assist with nutrient absorption and provide essential hormone and brain support.
Breakfast might consist of 1/2 cup of dry oats cooked in water served with one-half of a grapefruit and 6 egg whites; lunch might be composed of a large green salad topped with chicken breast and pumpkin seeds; dinner is white fish with a small sweet potato and a cup or two of steamed broccoli. Between meals, have a can of water-packed tuna with celery and mustard; 1 cup of cottage cheese mixed with walnuts and chopped apple; or a whey protein shake made with plain yogurt and blueberries.
Eight-Pack Exercise and Expectations
Without focused abdominal exercise, an eight-pack is only a pipe dream even if you're following all the right dietary provisions. Perform five or six exercises every other day for one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions to build a strong core musculature. This will help contribute to the muscles and definition that will be revealed with an optimal diet, but it will also provide balanced strength at the core so you're functionally, as well as aesthetically, developed. Traditional crunches while consciously contracting your abdominal muscles, hanging leg raises, plank holds, captain's chair crunches, bicycle maneuvers and decline bench curl-ups are examples of exercises to include.
Keep your sights realistic too. Not everyone is genetically predisposed to sculpting an eight-pack. Some people's abdominal muscles are staggered or angled in a way that doesn't develop into a clear set of "packs." You may diet yourself down to an extremely low body fat level and find that only four of your abdominal muscles are visible.