There's a lot of truth in the saying "abs are made in the kitchen." But whether you're looking to flatten your stomach or sculpt it into an impressive six-pack, the best approach is combining a flat stomach diet plan for men with a few select exercises.
Find Your Calorie Target
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 is a great place to start. There, you'll find estimates for how many calories you should eat each day according to your age, gender and physical activity level.
For example, a 29-year-old man who's generally sedentary needs about 2,400 calories per day while a 45-year-old man with the same activity level needs about 2,200 calories per day. Bump up to an active lifestyle and the 29-year-old will need 3,000 calories per day while the 45-year-old needs 2,800.
These estimates are for maintaining your body weight — not for weight loss. If you want to lose belly fat, you must create a calorie deficit, which means burning more calories than you take in.
Most fitness and health authorities, including the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), recommend aiming for a weight loss rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week. In the case of a flat stomach diet plan for men, that translates to a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day, or eating 500 to 1,000 calories fewer than the calories you burn.
The NHLBI notes that eating plans of 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day are suitable for most men to lose weight, although you might need more calories if you work out a lot. Resist the lure of crash diets: They're not sustainable and introduce a number of serious health risks, and the weight usually comes right back on once you've returned to normal habits.
Build a Flat Belly Diet
Now the bad news: There are no magic flat belly diet foods. That doesn't mean you can't use diets that are marketed for weight loss — but before you buy into the latest fitness or diet trend, consider whether the habits it teaches are really right for you.
Meanwhile, the lack of "magic bullet foods" for a flat belly means you're free to create a diet plan that revolves around healthy versions of your favorite foods as long as you hit an appropriate calorie goal, as already discussed, and follow key recommendations from the DHHS for a healthy diet. Those principles, which appear in almost every single well-balanced diet on the planet, include:
- Eat a wide variety of colorful vegetables.
- Eat plenty of fruit, especially whole fruit.
- Eat whole grains that are rich in fiber.
- Consume fat-free or low-fat dairy.
- Choose high-quality sources of lean protein, like fish, chicken and other lean cuts of meat.
- Use modest amounts of healthy oils that are rich in unsaturated fat, as opposed to saturated fat.
At the same time, be aware of these important limits:
- Less than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from added sugars.
- Less than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fat.
- Consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
And finally, avoid ultra-processed foods, which constitute a shockingly high percentage of the packaged food supply.
Drinking and Bloating
Drink alcohol in moderation if at all; the DHHS defines "moderation" as up to two drinks per day for men. But before you lift that glass or bottle, do a little research and take note of how many calories it contains. Having an extra pint might mean giving up something else in your flat stomach diet plan for men in order to maintain that calorie deficit you're working toward.
Do drink plenty of water. A caveat to that: A handful of small studies haven't yielded conclusive proof about whether drinking a full glass of water in the morning and before each meal actually increases fat loss, although it's clear that replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water can help you lose weight. This information is summarized in a data review that was published in the July-December 2010 issue of Nutrition Reviews.
However, there's no denying that water helps you feel full, which makes it a natural appetite suppressant of sorts. Staying well-hydrated is also important for your body's fitness and weight-loss mechanisms, so it's no wonder that drinking plenty of water is universally recommended for your weight loss efforts.
What if your switch to a healthy diet is accompanied by bloating around the midsection — the exact opposite of the flat belly you're looking for? A sudden increase in fiber or change in diet can cause this. Your body will adjust to increased fiber, but you can make things easier on yourself by increasing the amount of fiber-rich foods gradually.
Harvard Health Publishing offers a few other potential causes for belly bloat, among them constipation, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Your body might also struggle to digest the sugars in certain foods, and in rare instances, belly bloating can signal a more serious medical problem.
Ultimately, if you feel your belly might be something more than transient flatulence from increased fiber intake, see a doctor for help diagnosing the cause.
Read more: How Long Does It Take to Get Six-Pack Abs?
Flat Stomach Exercises
Even a skinny belly can look flabby if you don't have any muscle tone. So, you'll get the best and fastest results if you combine your great kitchen maneuvering with some strategic exercises to build at least a little muscle in your core. As a bonus, having a strong core can improve your sports performance, make everyday tasks easier and decrease the risk of some injuries.
Your most important core muscles include not only your rectus abdominis — the so-called six-pack muscle that runs down the front of your abdomen — but also the obliques, which wrap around the sides of your abdomen. In an April 2014 issue of its ProSource newsletter, the American Council on Exercise detailed the results of a 16-person EMG study that examined muscle activation in the rectus abdominis and obliques during 15 popular ab exercises.
The results may be surprising: For rectus abdominis activity, nothing beat the humble crunch, as long as it's performed with careful attention to technique. However, numerous exercises, including the captain's chair crunch, suspended leg lifts with ab straps and decline bench curl-ups all produced more activity in the obliques.
Just to make things a little more interesting, Harvard Health Publishing notes that core conditioning — and getting a flat stomach — isn't only about working your ab muscles directly. You must also train all your other major muscle groups to keep your body balanced and healthy.
So in addition to a few strategic core exercises, don't forget to also do exercises for your back, glutes, hips, chest, arms and legs. Here's a great training goal: Use challenging compound movements that also work your abs. Not only will you be building a strong, balanced body, you'll also be feeding that calorie deficit that'll help you whittle any excess fat away from your midsection.
Read more: The 41 Hardest Ab Exercises
If you spend a lot of time at a desk or otherwise sitting, you may have short, tight hip flexors, which can affect your posture and how your stomach looks. Not into stretching after your workouts? Consider taking classes that emphasize flexibility, such as yoga, Pilates or even ballet. Yes, they're for men too, and they might be more of a workout than you expect. Some martial arts classes also emphasize stretching as an aspect of training.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Real-World Benefits of Strengthening Your Core"
- American Council on Exercise: "Abs! Abs! Abs!"
- Department of Health and Human Services: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs Per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Key Recommendations"
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Healthy Eating Plan"
- Department of Health and Human Services: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Recommendations: Components of Healthy Eating Patterns""
- Harvard Health Publishing: "What's Causing That Belly Bloat?"
- Nutrition Reviews: "Effect of Excessive Water Intake on Body Weight, Body Mass Index, Body Fat, and Appetite of Overweight Female Participants"