All the crunches in the world won't eliminate the layer of fat covering your six-pack muscles. While exercise is important, diet matters too. A meal plan for abs includes lots of lean protein, fiber and fresh produce.
Breakfast is the ideal time to set the tone for your diet for the day. An abs breakfast can be tasty and satisfying.
A breakfast for six-pack abs can include healthy, whole, unprocessed foods such as eggs, oatmeal, fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables.
How to Achieve Abs
Magazine articles and your favorite fitness YouTubers claim that you can achieve a six-pack with their exercise programs. These exercises, such as crunches, hanging leg raises and planks, can do a lot to strengthen your core, but they do little to melt away the layer of fat that covers your ab muscles and keeps your six-pack from showing.
Read more: 12 Moves for Washboard Abs
Spot training just isn't a realistic way to reveal six-pack abs. Research published in the_ Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research_ in August 2013 is one of many studies conducted over the decades showing how exercising a specific body part — in the case of this study, the leg — may contribute to overall body fat loss, but did not specifically target fat loss in the leg trained.
The same is true for your abs. You can exercise your core as part of a comprehensive exercise program to lose fat, but you can't just do sit-ups to erase belly fat. Regular physical activity, which includes total-body strength training and calorie-burning cardio, is necessary to lose fat all over, including from your middle.
As a paper showed in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases in the January/February 2014 edition, it takes a significant amount of physical activity to drop fat. Aim for more than the standard recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week to slim your belly, and combine this regimen with the right eating plan to achieve six-pack abs.
Meal Plan for Abs
Your diet plays an important role in getting a slimmer stomach. When you consume fewer calories than you burn (through exercise and the tasks of daily life), you lose fat — including the pad covering up your six-pack.
Certain foods help you stay full longer, so it's easier to stick to a low-calorie diet, reduce bloating and promote a higher metabolism. Include them as part of an overall healthy, balanced, portion-controlled diet.
Read more: How to Get Six-Pack Abs in One Month
Include Vegetables at Breakfast
The best foods for abs include fresh produce. Eating fresh vegetables daily is associated with reduced waist circumference. A study published in the November 2018 issue of Nutrients showed that it takes more than four servings daily to reduce the risk of weight gain and reduce belly size. A belly with less fat is going to show off your ab definition.
Another study, published in BMJ Open in 2018 determined that the more fruits and vegetables consumed, the lower a person's fat mass and abdominal obesity. The lesson: Add fresh produce to breakfast to increase your intake and reveal flatter abs.
Usually, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or a standard piece of fruit is considered a serving. That means you need about four cups per day, which sounds like a lot. But, if you spread them out over all three meals and snacks — it's doable.
For an ab breakfast, include chopped bell pepper or tomato in an egg-white scramble. Add fresh spinach leaves to a fresh fruit smoothie (you won't notice the taste) or have roasted wedges of sweet potato stand in for toast. Include berries, bananas, oranges or apples as part of your meal.
Breakfast Whole Grains and Fiber
Go for the whole grains and high-fiber foods. Items such as bran flakes, oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain bread help keep you full because the fiber takes longer to digest. Plus, the healthy fiber helps scrub your digestive tract to keep you regular and discourage bloating and stomach distension.
The journal Plant Foods and Human Nutrition published research in September 2018 which found that when you replace refined white bread with whole-grain wheat bread for 12 weeks, you experience a decrease in belly fat.
Plus, the researchers surmised that consumption of the whole grain also discourages belly fat accumulation. This means that if you include more whole grains, you're more likely to lose the weight you need to reveal your abs and to keep it off in the long-run.
Whole-grain abs diet foods include whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cereals, oatmeal and even cooked quinoa.
Read more: 10 Myths About Grains
Load up on Lean Proteins
Lean protein is key to a meal plan for abs. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June 2015 demonstrated through research that higher protein diets do, in fact, lead to slimmer waists. The researchers suggest that having about 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal is ideal in reducing appetite and slimming the abdomen.
High-protein foods to include at breakfast include eggs and egg whites, ground lean turkey or chicken breast, whey protein and low-fat dairy, including cottage cheese, milk and yogurt. If you're sticking to plant-based foods, tofu, beans and pea protein powder are options.
Unsaturated Fats and Your Abs
Fat is not your enemy when you're after six-pack abs. You just have to look for the right kinds. Unsaturated fat is heart-healthy and supportive of a chiseled stomach.
The journal Diabetology and Metabolic Syndrome published research in November 2015 showing that overweight women who pursued a diet with a normal amount of calories with 15 to 20 percent monounsaturated fats experienced a decrease in body weight and waist circumference. These fats actually helped the women slim a little, so just think what they can do for your abs.
Examples of unsaturated fats are olive oil, avocado and fatty fish. Saute your morning vegetables or eggs in olive oil; spread avocado over whole-grain toast.
Nuts and seeds contain healthy unsaturated fats. Almonds, in particular, have a proven belly-busting reputation. According to research published in a January 2015 issue of the_ Journal of the American Heart Association_, daily consumption of 1.5 ounces of almonds can prevent the onset of cardiometabolic disease and is associated with decreased abdominal fat.
Use the almonds instead of a high-carb, refined food at breakfast. For example, instead of reaching for a muffin, have a handful of almonds. Or, sprinkle almonds over oatmeal or spread almond butter onto whole-grain toast.
Breakfast Ideas for Abs
When you put together these recommendations, you get some pretty tasty breakfasts that also support your ab goal. An ab breakfast may consist of:
- Oatmeal with almond milk, fresh berries and sliced almonds
- An omelet made with 2 egg whites, 1 whole egg and a variety of vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes, onions, peppers and mushrooms
- Whole-grain toast with almond butter and thin-sliced apple
- Fresh fruit, such as an orange or raspberries, with Greek yogurt
- A smoothie made with low-fat milk or alternative milk, frozen berries, banana, almond butter and chia seeds (protein powder optional)
Suitable oatmeal recipes include the classic cooked in water or low-fat milk as well as overnight varieties that make breakfast quick and delicious.
To make overnight oats:
- Place about 1/2 cup of rolled or quick oats in a mason jar
- Add a cup of milk (of choice) on top — or use half milk and half yogurt
- Drizzle in a sweetener, such as stevia, honey or maple syrup and a pinch of salt
- Top with chopped fruits such as berries, apple or mango; optional add-ins include nuts, nut butter, seeds and unsweetened coconut
- Stir together, cover and let sit in the fridge overnight for a creamy dish ready the next morning
Swap out your coffee for a cup or two of green tea. Information in Nutrition Research published in July 2018 showed that the catechins in green tea are powerful when it comes to helping you achieve your six-pack. Continual consumption of green tea beverages reduced abdominal fat and offers protection against diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Regional Fat Changes Induced by Localized Muscle Endurance Resistance Training"
- BMJ Open: "Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Body Adiposity Among Populations in Eastern Canada: The Atlantic Partnership for Tomorrow’s Health Study"
- Nutrients: "The Relationship Between Vegetable Intake and Weight Outcomes: A Systematic Review of Cohort Studies"
- Plant Foods for Human Nutrition: "Effects of Whole Grain Wheat Bread on Visceral Fat Obesity in Japanese Subjects: A Randomized Double-Blind Study"
- Diabetology and Metabolic Syndrome: "Effects of Unsaturated Fatty Acids on Weight Loss, Body Composition and Obesity-Related Biomarkers"
- Journal of the American Heart Association: "Effects of Daily Almond Consumption on Cardiometabolic Risk and Abdominal Adiposity in Healthy Adults With Elevated LDL‐Cholesterol: A Randomized Controlled Trial"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "The Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance"
- Nutrition Research: "Efficacy of Tea Catechin-Rich Beverages to Reduce Abdominal Adiposity and Metabolic Syndrome Risks in Obese and Overweight Subjects: A Pooled Analysis of 6 Human Trials"
- Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases: "The Role of Exercise and Physical Activity in Weight Loss and Maintenance"