A flat belly gives you confidence when you're on the beach or sporting your skinny jeans. Crunching endlessly isn't the way to reach this goal, however. Small dietary changes and little tweaks to your workouts are what get you a defined middle.
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Use these 10 strategies to get you a trim tummy.
1. Eat Fewer Carbs
Think twice before you reach for that bowl of pasta or french baguette. A high carbohydrate intake can keep you from the svelte stomach you desire. No need to cut out all carbs, just the extras — especially refined white flours, sugar and processed snacks.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2015 showed that when participants reduced carb intake to about 40 percent of daily calories on a reduced-calorie plan, they lost more abdominal fat than participants who consumed 55 percent of their calories from carbs. You can still afford a piece of fruit and a 1/2-cup serving of whole grains at meals, but your dietary emphasis should be on lean protein and healthy fats.
2. Chow Down on Protein
Lean proteins take longer to digest, so they make you feel full. You also use slightly more energy to digest protein, which gives you a little boost in your metabolism. High-protein diets, compared to standard protein diets improved cardiovascular risk factors and body composition — including reduction of belly fat — according to research published in 2009 Nutrition and Metabolism.
It's easy to fit a little extra protein into your day. Have eggs at breakfast at breakfast, grilled chicken with lunch and broiled salmon at dinner. Protein at snack times could be low-fat, plain Greek yogurt, string cheese, cottage cheese or a whey protein shake.
3. Take an Active Happy Hour
Hanging out for a few drinks after work seems like a great way to wind down, but it may be padding your middle. Alcohol has calories that do add to your day's total consumption and could cause you to put on a few pounds if not kept in check. A paper in Current Obesity Reports from 2015 proposed that alcohol intake can be a risk for obesity, which definitely keeps you from having a trim middle.
Instead of throwing back a few cold ones or a fruity margarita, hit the trail with friends. You can still catch up and kvetch about the boss, but burn calories instead of taking them in.
4. Hoist Some Iron
Strength training helps you develop muscle all over your body, which contributes to a higher metabolism. When you burn more calories at rest, it's easier to rid yourself of any extra fat padding your abs.
Do at least two total-body strength-training workouts per week, lifting heavy weights for eight to 12 repetitions. You'll become stronger, stand taller and scorch fat. Sample moves to include are pull-ups for the back, bench presses for the chest, leg curls for the hamstrings, squats for the hips and quadriceps, curls and dips for the arms and military presses for the shoulders.
5. Amp Up Your Cardio
You've been dedicated to hitting the treadmill or elliptical at least three times per week. Kudos! But, steady-state exercise isn't the best way to burn fat — especially stubborn belly fat. Make these three sessions consist of high-intensity intervals to stimulate the metabolic changes that increase fat oxidation.
After a warmup, alternate 60 to 90 seconds of all-out effort with 60 to 90 seconds of easy effort. Cool down and you're done in 30 to 45 minutes. As an added bonus, watching these intervals makes your workout time fly by.
You may think of the sit-up when you go to work your abs, but this move isn't comprehensive when it comes to giving you a flat stomach. Plank holds target the entirety of your core, including the fronts, sides, back and deep abdominal muscles that improve your posture and function.
When you stand taller and move with ease, your abs look flatter and more defined. Do the plank by getting into the top of a push-up position, hugging the belly button to the spine and holding for 20 to 60 seconds at a time.
Read more: 11 Plank Variations for Rock Hard Abs
7. Elevate Your Crunches
Move from a mat to a stability ball to perform classic crunches. A study published in a 2007 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that abdominal muscle activity seriously increased when crunches were performed with the low back on a stability ball, compared to standard crunches.
8. Eat Fewer Flatulent Foods
If you're doing all the right things, but feel swollen and bloated often, it might be what you're eating that's preventing you from having a flat stomach. Everyone is different when it comes to sensitivity, but some foods to watch for include beans, broccoli, cabbage, onions and artichokes. Pears, apples and peaches, as well as bran and dairy, can cause bloating in some people, too.
Keep a food diary for a few days and see if you notice a trend in what you eat and how your belly swells. Eating slowly and staying away from carbonated drinks may also help you reduce bloat.
9. Maintain a High-Fiber Intake
Fiber keeps you regular, and being irregular can back you up, causing an uncomfortable pooch. Eating enough fiber also keeps your body weight down, as pointed out in a Journal of Nutrition 2009 study that showed that a high intake of fiber, particularly whole-grain fibers, associated with leaner torsos. Aim for a minimum of 25 grams of fiber daily if you're a woman and 38 grams if you're a man.
10. Drink Your Water
If your belly is swollen due to an extra-salty meal or being constipated, you may avoid water because you worry it will only exacerbate your bloating. But, if you drink extra water, you send a signal to your body that it doesn't have to fear dehydration and hold on to excess water. You'll flush it out and feel slim in no time.
In addition to drinking to quench your thirst, add a few extra glasses if you live in a hot climate or worked out extra-intensely. Also, include plenty of watery foods in your diet, such as cucumbers, leafy greens and tomatoes.
Read more: 10 Foods to Avoid for a Flat Belly