Tired of doing crunches everyday and still not melting that muffin top? The solution may be simpler than stepping up your sit-ups. The truth is, it’s just not possible to spot-train any one muscle group, and that includes your abdomen. Even if it’s the only problem area you struggle with, ab exercises alone aren’t enough to pulverize that pooch. The key to a toned tummy involves a combo of diet, cardio, and core-strengthening moves. Read on for our top ten tips to help you whittle your middle and have you strutting in your skinny jeans in no time!
1. Fill up with Fiber
Fiber not only fills you up, helping you to consume less calories during the day, but it also helps transport the foods you eat through your body quicker. This allows your body to absorb less calories, and banishes belly bloat to boot! Try to incorporate more fiber-rich fruits into your diet such as apples, berries, and pears, as well as whole grains like quinoa and brown rice. Experts recommend getting 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily.
2. Own Your Omega-3s
We all know omega-3s are essential to a heart-healthy diet, but did you know they can also do wonders for your waistline? These healthy fats promote fat burning by making your metabolism more efficient. So, if you tend to carry a little extra pudge in your pants, upping your omega-3s will help to metabolize and melt that unwanted ab flab. Aim for at least two servings of fatty fish such as salmon or tuna per week, along with an ounce of almonds or peanuts (about 23) every day.
3. Perfect Your Proteins
The more muscle you build, the more fat you burn, and without protein you can’t build those muscles. The complex make-up of protein-rich foods make these foods harder for your body to digest, meaning your body uses more energy to digest them. In short, this means that you burn more calories when you eat protein. The amino acids found in protein also help speed up muscle recovery after a workout, helping you to build muscle more efficiently. To figure out how much protein you should be eating, multiply your body weight in pounds by .37. That number is the minimum amount of protein grams your body needs per day, but you may need more depending on how much you exercise. Make sure to stick to lean proteins such as turkey, chicken, eggs, fish, beans, and tofu.
4. Reach for Red Fruits
Recent studies have shown that compounds found in both watermelon and tomatoes help to reduce lipids (fat) in the blood which in turn helps to control belly fat. In one such study, women were given watermelon juice every day for eight weeks. The women ended up reducing their body weight and belly fat significantly more than those who were not given the watermelon juice. So add more tomatoes to your diet by topping a salad or using in soups and sauces, and enjoy a cup of cubed watermelon with breakfast or as a midday snack.
5. Keep up the Cardio
Everybody has a six pack; whether or not you can see it depends on how much fat it’s hiding behind. The best way to shed that extra layer around your abdomen is through cardiovascular exercise. As you lose extra fat, your skin will become more taut, and as the fat within your muscles decreases, you will begin to looked more toned. To reach that fat-burning zone, you want to get your heart rate up and keep it up for twenty minutes. For optimal fat-burning, shoot for five intense, twenty minute cardio sessions each week.
6. Target Your Core
Instead of doing endless sets of crunches which only work the rectus abdominis (the largest abdominal muscle), you need to pay attention to the other muscles that make up your core as well, such as your obliques and transversus abdominis (your “lower abs”). Target your core as a whole with moves such as medicine ball slams, planks, dumbbell side bends, sit-ups with a medicine ball toss, and twisting crunches. For more information on core strengthening moves and how to perform them properly, check out www.exrx.net.
7. Engage Your Abs
This is an easy little trick that you can do in and out of the gym. While working out in the gym, keep your back straight and tighten your abs during both cardio and weight training exercises. This way, even if you aren’t doing ab-specific workouts that day, you will still be engaging those abdominal muscles. When you’re not at the gym, practice good posture while standing and sitting, and keep those abs tight. Not only will you look better by standing up straighter, you’ll be getting in a little extra ab work too.
8. Stave Off Stress
Stress activates the secretion of cortisol, a hormone in our bodies that, at prolonged increased levels can lead to higher blood pressure, higher levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and ultimately, more belly fat. To keep cortisol levels under control, you need to learn to manage your stress levels in a healthy way. Whether it’s yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, or treating yourself to a monthly massage, be sure to find a stress reliever that keeps you cool under pressure.
9. Rest Up
Lack of sleep is another factor that can negatively affect your body’s cortisol levels. Not getting enough shut-eye messes with your body’s natural biorhythms, which can also trigger cravings for sugar and fatty foods. Not only that, but the longer you are up during the day, the more you’ll likely eat. That said, get 7 to 8 hours a night when possible.
10. Beware the Booze
While alcohol isn’t the only culprit in developing the dreaded “beer belly,” there is something to the saying. When you drink alcohol, your body burns that off first, meaning that it blocks your body’s ability to burn fat. Add to that the fact that when drinking, we don’t always use our best judgement when choosing what foods to eat, and often eat more or less healthy foods than we typically would, and you have a recipe for belly fat. The best thing you can do is stick to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for alcohol consumption: one drink per day for women, and two for men.
One Last Word…
The most important thing to remember is that there is no magical pill for toning your tummy. If there were, we’d all be on it. It takes hard work and a lot of patience to get the results you desire. So skip the pills and powders and contraptions that claim to magically melt away your muffin top, and remember that diet and exercise are the only real keys to success.