Love handles or a little junk in the trunk may make your suit pants swell and your jeans hang low — but they aren't usually a huge health concern.
But if you're a man with deep belly fat — measured by a waist circumference of 40 inches or greater — take notice. This visceral fat sits inside your belly, surrounds your internal organs and excretes inflammatory chemicals that greatly increase your risk of chronic disease, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, some cancers and dementia.
Get rid of your gut: Reform your diet, move more and make a few tweaks to your lifestyle to shrink your belly. There's no magical method of getting rid of belly fat for men. You have to put in the work, but the rewards to your health and physique are great.
Types of Belly Fat
Belly fat comes in two forms: subcutaneous (under the skin) and visceral (deep, internal). The subcutaneous fat may be aesthetically displeasing, but doesn't really negatively affect your health. Subcutaneous fat is the squishy kind you can pinch. Visceral fat, however, acts as an endocrine organ; it secretes hormones and other chemicals linked to chronic disease. It's hard and firm, making a man's belly protrude.
Belly Fat and Heart Disease
For example, a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that visceral fat is associated with higher triglyceride levels and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL — the good kind of cholesterol) in men. The presence of excessive visceral fat was also associated with higher total cholesterol in men. High triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and high total cholesterol are all major risk factors for heart disease.
Belly Fat Impacts Overall Health
Ample evidence shows that visceral belly fat raises cancer risk too. A meta-analysis of recent studies published in Nutrients in 2016 showed that abdominal obesity contributes to the development of lung cancer. Another meta-analysis, published in the journal Bioscience Reports in 2017, showed that visceral belly fat may contribute to the development of colorectal cancer.
Research also shows that visceral belly fat is associated with brain atrophy and the onset of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The adipokines excreted by the visceral fat tissue are likely why belly fat can be a factor in these brain degradations that occur in old age, as shown in 2014 research in The Lancet Neurology.
Needless to say, men need to know how to lose belly fat to improve their health — for now and the future.
Shut Down Sugar Consumption
Added sugar in candy, cookies and other sweets, as well as soft drinks and fancy coffees, is unhealthy and has negative effects on your metabolic health. When you eat a lot of added sugar (not the natural stuff in fruit and unsweetened dairy), your liver gets overloaded and must turn it into fat — often belly fat. High sugar intake can raise your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone linked to the storage of visceral belly fat, as shown in research published in Obesity in 2014.
How to Cut Sugar Intake
Modifying your intake of sugars can help you reduce your levels of belly fat. When you drink sugar in the form of soda, sports drinks and fruit punch, it's especially harmful because your body doesn't register the calories. You don't get full from sugary drinks and end up consuming more total calories as a result. Too many calories contributes to weight gain and fat development.
A man can switch from cola and sweet tea at meals to sparkling water with lemon or lime — or just plain ice water. Drink your coffee with just a splash of low-fat milk or have it black and enjoy the taste of the beans. Finally, skip the mixed drinks. such as margaritas and punches, which are full of added sugar.
Actually, you'd be best off if you moderate alcohol consumption altogether. The calories in alcohol can cause you to gain weight; plus it lowers your inhibition and can cause you to snack and eat more in general. Stick to two drinks per day if you're younger than 65 and just one drink per day if you're older.
Limit Carbohydrate Consumption
Carbohydrates are a macronutrient found in foods such as bread, fruit, pasta, pizza and sugar. Too many carbohydrates pad your diet with calories and can cause your body to store fat. Many very low-carb diets, such as ketogenic and Atkins, are famously popular for their ability to assist you with weight loss, but they're so restrictive that long-term maintenance is difficult.
Research shows that you don't have to go drastically low carb to lose belly fat and see benefits, however. Research in the Journal of Nutrition published in 2015 shows that moderate reduction in carbohydrates, to about 40 to 45 percent of daily calories, has a notable effect on fat distribution and can help belly fat go away.
That means men who consume about 2,000 calories daily can still enjoy 200 to 225 grams of carbs per day. A medium banana contains 27 grams of carbs; a half-cup of cooked spaghetti noodles has about 34 grams of carbs; a slice of white bread has about 14 grams. You can still enjoy a good deal of carbohydrate foods on a moderate-carb diet — and still get rid of your gut.
Read more: How to Count the Carbs in Pasta
Choose Good Carbs
When you do eat carbohydrates, choose high-quality ones with lots of fiber. Foods with fiber slow the movement of food through your digestive tract and help you absorb more nutrients. Fibrous foods can help you feel full longer so you eat less and lose weight.
Fiber also plays a role in the loss of visceral belly fat. Eating more fibrous foods, especially those with soluble fiber like oats, lentils and nuts, helps men lose stomach fat. A five-year study published in Obesity in 2012 found that eating 10 grams of soluble fiber daily reduced abdominal fat by 3.7 percent.
Read more: List of Foods High in Soluble Fiber
Fill Up With Protein
For men to lose belly fat, they should put emphasis on consuming ample amounts of quality proteins, meaning those with all the essential amino acids, such as meat, poultry, fish, tofu and eggs — at each meal. Fill up on mainly lean versions of protein, meaning white meat or steak with little fat marbling.
Aim for a minimum of least 10 grams of quality protein at most meals — that equals less than 2 ounces of steak or chicken. A study published in Nutrition and Metabolism in 2012 found that protein intake was inversely related to abdominal fat, meaning the more subjects were able to fit in those 10-gram portions, the less belly fat they had.
Of course, remember that protein has calories, and excess calories are stored as fat.
Get More Active
Men can also benefit their health by getting active. Not only does it improve the overall condition of your heart, exercise is also a very effective tool against abdominal obesity. In fact, physical activity may be the best way for men to lose belly fat. Research in BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation published in 2018 noted that the positive effects of regular and consistent exercise on belly fat are so great that it should be prescribed by doctors as medical treatment for people with too much belly fat.
Of course, any exercise is good, but some is definitely superior when a man's goal is to shrink his stomach. Crunches and other ab-specific work will not slim anyone's belly. Spot training away fat is just not possible.
Get Rid of the Gut
You're better off doing cardiovascular work — such as brisk walking, jogging or cycling — if losing a fat belly is your goal. Exactly how much exercise is optimal isn't clear, but the 30 minutes on most days of the week recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a good goal. If you can do more, by all means do.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT), which alternates bouts of very intense activity with bouts of short rest, is a serious belly fat burner. Bouts in the mixed martial arts room or kickboxing studio are a good choice.
Read more: The Best Cardio Exercise to Lose Belly Fat
If you love hitting the weight-room floor — good news! Weight training at least two times per week, with the intention of strengthening all the major muscle groups helps increase muscle mass and decrease fat by improving your ability to burn calories and fat.
The Right Amount of Sleep
Inadequate sleep or too much sleep can cause belly fat to pile on over the years, shows a study published in a 2014 issue of Obesity. Over the course of six years, study participants who slept seven to eight hours per night gained far less belly fat than people who slept less or more regularly. Reform your sleep habits so you get a solid minimum of seven hours and no more than nine.
Stress can make getting enough sleep a challenge. Plus, stress puts a man at risk of gaining more belly fat and makes it hard to lose. A 2014 study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology confirmed that chronic stress contributes to abdominal obesity as well as other metabolic irregularities.
The Impact of Stress
One reason stress causes such metabolic reactions has to do with the production of cortisol. When a man is stressed, he releases more of this hormone. Constant stress means your body is always flooded with some amount of cortisol. And cortisol makes the body more inflammatory and increases the likelihood that fat is stored in the abdominal region, according to a review published in Current Obesity Reports in 2018.
Learning to manage stress helps men to lose a fat belly. Try delegating more at work and engage in self-care, such as yoga and breath work. Exercise goes a long way in reducing stress as well as in helping organically reduce belly fat.
A combination of strategies is your best defense against belly fat. Getting rid of belly fat is not easy for men, but it can be done. Your physique and health will thank you in the long run.
- Healthline: 6 Simple Ways to Lose Belly Fat, Based on Science
- New York Times: The Dangers of Belly Fat
- Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism: Abdominal Fat Distribution and Cardiovascular Risk in Men and Women With Different Levels of Glucose Tolerance
- Nutrients: Abdominal Obesity and Lung Cancer Risk: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies
- Bioscience Reports: Abdominal Obesity and Colorectal Cancer Risk: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies
- The Lancet Neurology: Adipokines: A Link Between Obesity and Dementia?
- Obesity: Modifying Influence of Dietary Sugar in the Relationship Between Cortisol and Visceral Adipose Tissue in Minority Youth
- Mayo Clinic: Belly Fat in Men: Why Weight Loss Matters
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release: Pasta, Dry, Enriched
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release: Bread, White, Commercially Prepared
- Obesity: Lifestyle Factors and 5-Year Abdominal Fat Accumulation in a Minority Cohort: The IRAS Family Study
- Nutrition and Metabolism: Quality of Protein Intake is Inversely Related with Abdominal Fat
- BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation: Abdominal Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome: Exercise as Medicine?
- Healthline: 20 Effective Tips to Lose Belly Fat
- Obesity: Change in Sleep Duration and Visceral Fat Accumulation Over 6 Years in Adults
- Psychoneuroendocrinology: Chronic Stress Increases Vulnerability to Diet-Related Abdominal Fat, Oxidative Stress, and Metabolic Risk
- Medical News Today: How to Lose Subcutaneous Fat: All You Need to Know
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release: Banana, Raw