The secret to finding out how many calories to eat to get six-pack abs is based on knowing your ideal weight, combined with the right diet to build lean muscle. Armed with this knowledge, science tells us exactly what type of exercise program will get you that ripped and toned torso you desire.
Multiply your weight by 15 to see how many calories will maintain your current weight. If you need to lose weight, plan on shaving off 500 to 1000 calories per day to safely lose one to two pounds per week.
The Six-Pack Abs Secret
The six-pack is actually a muscle called the rectus abdominis, which is responsible for helping you bend, twist and stand upright. It has connective tissue that is entwined or crisscrossed to help the muscle do its job. When there is no excess abdominal fat, this muscle gives you the rippled look of six-pack abs.
Now that you know what it is, how do you get it? Getting the elusive six-pack isn't about just doing 100 crunches a day, as it requires the right diet and exercise program. In fact, the American Council on Exercise says diet is actually more important than exercise. The secret to having a toned abdominal area is low body fat combined with the right exercises to build muscles.
Calculate Your Body Fat Percentage
To get six-pack abs, your body fat percentage needs to be low. The best way to calculate that is by looking at your Body Mass Index, or your BMI. According to the CDC, this number for adults should range from 18.5 – 24.9 for a normal or healthy weight. This number is calculated by taking your weight (in kg) and dividing it by your height (in meters). To get a ripped torso, your BMI needs to be at the lower end of this spectrum.
Get out your calculator to figure out your BMI or plug your numbers into their BMI calculator to get your number. Once you have this information, you can see how much weight or body fat you need to lose to get that lean and toned flat tummy look.
Calories Needed for Lean Abs
Now that you have your BMI number, you know how much weight you need to shed to get six-pack abs. If your BMI number is already in the low end of the range, then you will just need to focus on eating calories to maintain your weight and work on specific exercises to target the abdominal muscles. If you need to lose weight to get your BMI in the right range, then you need to burn more calories than you are taking in. It is time to get the calculator out again. You never knew getting six-pack abs meant so much math, did you?
According to Harvard Health, to figure out how many calories you should be eating you first need to take your current weight and multiply it by 15. This is the number of calories you would eat to maintain your current weight if you are moderately active, which means you are getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
Harvard Health says losing one to two pounds per week is a safe rate of weight loss, therefore you need to shave off 500 to 1000 calories each day from your weight maintenance calorie number to lose weight. For example, if you are a woman that weighs 160 pounds, to maintain that weight you would eat 2,400 calories per day. To lose weight, you would need to eat 1,400 to 1,900 calories a day to lose weight at a safe rate. Unless you are under the supervision of a doctor, Harvard Health recommends you don't eat less than 1,200 calories per day for a woman or 1,500 calories per day for a man.
To lose weight, reduce the amount of calories you are eating and increase your activity level until you reach your goal weight and target BMI. To help count your calories, write down everything you eat to keep track of your diet and calories in a food diary or use a calorie-counting app like My Fitness Pal or Fooducate.
The Six-Pack Abs Diet
Now that you know how many calories you should be eating for six-pack abs, let's talk about what you should be eating. All calories are not the same. In fact, according to a November 2018 study in the British Medical Journal, maintaining a low carbohydrate diet will burn 250 more calories per day than a high carbohydrate diet. Swapping out regular noodles for zucchini noodles or that breakfast bagel for eggs will not only save you calories, but will help you burn more calories throughout the day which means the pounds will drop off faster.
In addition to dropping weight to show off those six-packs abs, you also need to build lean body mass or muscle. The best way to do that is to eat protein, says a January 2016 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Adding in protein-rich foods like chicken, fish and beans, along with engaging in resistance training and cardio exercise is the best way to lose body fat while building muscle.
Exercises for Six-Pack Abs
Now that you have your diet and calorie count down, you also need to add in the right exercises to get six pack abs — and that doesn't mean just doing crunches. The best way to keep your metabolism up to lose weight and to build muscle is to work out your entire body.
In fact, even though men tend to ignore working out their legs, a January 2018 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning showed that working out your lower body (versus just working out your upper body) will actually burn more calories even into the following day. That's right, to get six pack abs and to maximize your ability to build lean muscle, you need to work out your legs, along with your abs, at least every other day.
You need to target your rectus abdominis muscle to get six-pack abs. According to the American Council on Exercise, the three best exercises for a ripped torso are The Plank, The Bear Crawl (crawling on all fours to target every part of the rectus abdominis) and the Half Get-Up (laying on your back with leg bent and reaching one arm up).
Intermittent Fasting for Lean Abs
There has been a lot of buzz recently about intermittent fasting, in which you don't eat for a set period of time, versus regular fasting, in which you don't eat for a more extended period. Even though research shows in the long run that you lose the same amount of weight with fasting versus restricting calories, intermittent fasting in which you eat in a set time frame (such as noon to 6 pm) does have other health benefits.
A June 2018 study in Cell Metabolism showed that obese men who did this type of intermittent fasting improved blood pressure, had lower insulin levels and decreased appetite. Whether it is counting calories or intermittent fasting, find out which diet plan works best for you to get in the best shape to show off those six pack abs.
- American Council on Exercise: "3 Ab Exercises You Are Not Doing, But Should Be"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Body Mass Index"
- Harvard Health: "Calorie Counting Made Easy"
- British Medical Journal: Effects of a low carbohydrate diet on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance: randomized trial"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Higher compared with lower dietary protein during an energy deficit combined with intense exercise promotes greater lean mass gain and fat mass loss: a randomized trial"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning: Effect of Lower-Body Resistance Training on Upper-Body Strength Adaptation in Trained Men"
- Harvard Health: Intermittent fasting: Surprising update"
- Cell Metabolism: Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves Insulin Sensitivity, Blood Pressure, and Oxidative Stress Even without Weight Loss in Men with Prediabetes"