According to fitness professional Max Wettstein, 10 time Men's Health cover model, Four El's Fitness and Health Advisor, and author of "Max Wettstein's Guide to Amazing Abs," six-pack abs are more about aesthetics than health. You don't have to have them to be healthy. "We all have a six-pack set of abs waiting to be revealed," says Wettstein. Our abs are covered by a layer of fat between the muscles and the skin known as the subcutaneous adipose layer. A daily calorie deficit is what's needed to melt off the layer of fat, and that's accomplished with proper diet and exercise.
"Getting lean abs and reducing overall body fat percentage isn't just about exercise, it's about a whole pyramid of components," states Wettstein in a video based on his Guide to Amazing Abs. You can't crunch or spot-reduce your way to six-pack abs. They can only be obtained through disciplined eating, high intensity strength and cardiovascular exercise. How and what you eat play critical roles in that strategy.
Wettstein indicates in an interview with LoveToKnow that typically you need to reduce your body fat levels to nine percent or less to 'see' your abs. However, this number varies depending on gender and genetics, and women may have a harder time attaining lower body fat levels without compromising health.
Any diet plan for great abs should include as many whole foods as possible and limit (or better yet, eliminate) processed and fast foods.
Wettstein offers the following eating tips to help you lose fat and reveal your six pack abs:
- Burn more calories than you consume, preferably complex carbohydrates and lean proteins that help prevent insulin spikes, support muscle mass, and sustain energy.
- Except for your post-workout meal, limit your sugar intake to avoid insulin being stored as fat. Wettstein recommends avoiding sugary desserts before bedtime or late in the evening when your metabolism has slowed and your body requires fewer calories.
- Restrict high-glycemic carbs. These should only be consumed during your post work-out meal.
- Eliminate sodas and juices which are laden with high glycemic sugars that can spike insulin and cause weight gain. Even sports drinks are full of added sugars and should only be consumed during high intensity workouts lasting more than an hour.
- Drink plenty of water to keep your body well hydrated and functioning at optimal levels.
- To help your body reach its fat burning zone faster, drink caffeinated green tea or coffee prior to your workout. However, you should not use caffeine if you have been instructed by your physician to avoid it or are sensitive to its effects.
- Curb hunger by filling up on fiber including whole grains, whole fruit with its skin, leafy greens and other vegetables, and brown rice. According to Wettstein, fiber helps make you feel fuller by volumizing your food and reducing hunger.
- Use coconut oil instead of butter or vegetable oil, especially for high heat cooking. Olive oil is a healthy option for dressings and marinades.
- To prevent deprivation, enjoy a cheat day now and then.
Six Pack Superfoods
Wettstein believes the more diverse your diet the better, as long as you are eating nutritionally-dense options that will support your daily schedule and vigorous exercise. He suggests eating organic whenever possible and incorporating the following "superfoods" into your diet to help you meet your six pack abs goal:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Raw nuts
- Raw nut butter (peanut, almond, walnut, macadamia)
- Raw seeds (chia, flax, pumpkin, sesame)
- Fresh fruit (especially apples, lemons, and berries)
- Fresh vegetables (especially sweet potatoes, avocados, and leafy greens)
- Wild, cold water fish
- Lean meats
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Low-fat yogurt
- Raw honey
- Steel cut oats
- Whole grains
- Dark chocolate
How to Eat
How you eat is just as important as what you eat. For optimal results, Wettstein suggests dividing your calories throughout the day into small, frequent meals. This helps keep your metabolism elevated during the day.
Each meal should consist of 30 - 40 percent protein, 40 - 50 percent complex carbohydrates, and 20 - 30 percent fats. Fats should be "good fats" such as nuts, avocado, flaxseed, or fish. Wettstein created a helpful whole foods pie chart to help you visualize your eating plan. Note that this chart allows for more carbs than most eating plans because it assumes you will be active or exercising at least five days a week.
Pair Carbs With Healthy Fats
If you eat a high glycemic carbohydrate such as white bread or pasta, pair it with a healthy fat to help lower its insulin response. For example, slather nut butter on your bread or drizzle olive oil over your pasta.
In his Guide to Amazing Abs video, Wettstein stresses the importance of maintaining an alkalized environment in your body. He indicates that eating too much processed food, meat or dairy can lead to the body becoming acidic, which can sabotage your weight loss goals. An alkaline diet helps keep the body functioning optimally and because it includes healthy foods, it helps support weight loss.
Wettstein recommends considering the following supplements to help fight belly fat:
- Green tea extract: According to Wettstein green tea is believed to have a thermogenic effect on the body to help burn calories.
- DHEA: According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM), studies of men and women concluded that DHEA did not alter total body weight but did improve "LD" cholesterol and total body fat. In another study, DHEA lowered the body fat of men but not of women, states UMM.
- Vitamin C: A PubMed abstract states that people with "adequate vitamin C status oxidize 30% more fat during a moderate exercise bout than individuals with low vitamin C status."
- Whey protein: A meta analysis of randomized controlled trials on the effects of whey protein (WP) and resistance exercise on body composition determined "the current body of literature supports the use of WP, either as a supplement combined with resistance exercise or as part of a weight loss or weight maintenance diet."
A Holistic Approach
Wettstein believes it takes a holistic approach to obtain and maintain six-pack abs. "I believe [having six-pack abs] is a holistic lifestyle approach encompassing diet, exercise, quality sleep, genetic predisposition, gender, and supplements to attain optimum lean-body mass and the lean abs and core that come with that," he says.
Diet is a crucial part of the equation but Wettstein believes the components can be manipulated to reach your goals. In other words, if you've eaten too much or had a cheat day, you must put in more exercise time to make up for the shortfall. "The sum of all the variables still needs to equal 'x' at the end of each day with 'x' being your net calorie balance for your goals," says Wettstein.
Consult your doctor before changing your diet, using supplements, or starting an exercise program, especially if you take medication or have a medical condition.