The abs are part of your physique that stands out as much as bulging biceps or massive shoulders, and they’re often considered to be the epitome of a person’s fitness. This is the first installment of a two-part series on how to achieve a head-turning set of abs.
Getting cheese-grater abdominals demands the right exercises, diet, and focus, not just in the gym and at meals, but during nearly every part of your day. Abs aren’t just about training and nutrition, they’re a lifestyle.
1. Use The Help-Hurt Rule: Throughout your day, constantly ask yourself whether something will help or hurt your progress. You probably do this when you’re making major life choices, but it can have as much impact with the small, everyday decisions we make, too. Can you skip one meal, cut short a workout, or cheat yourself out of a couple of hours of sleep? These may seem like small things in the big picture, but they add up in a hurry.
If you teach yourself to analyze every single decision and activity in this light, you’ll move ahead toward your goal more steadily. And you’ll be surprised how after a short while, it becomes an automatic process. Pretty soon, you won’t even realize you’re doing it.
2. Remove Temptations: If everything around you is a healthy option, it’s hard to make a bad decision. Home is where you have control. If you don’t bring foods into your house that can slow your progress, you’re less likely to go off the rails. One of the first smart decisions you should make is to remove those temptations. Bring home healthy foods. Fruits, seeds, and nuts are great healthy snacks that won’t set your abs-building back. If your periodic cheat is ice cream, visit the neighborhood shop to enjoy it. If you bring ice cream home and put it in your freezer, it’s going to tempt you to overdo it.
3. Prioritize Meal Cadence: Muscle protein synthesis is the process of building new muscle fiber by the conversion of dietary protein. Those fibers are comprised of a variety of amino acids, one of the most important of which is leucine. In order to build new muscle throughout the day, you need a constant supply of leucine; that’s why eating high-protein meals several times per day is necessary.
I’ve done careful research and experimentation with my own diet over the years, as well as with more than 700 face-to-face clients and many thousands of online students. What I’ve discovered is that five whole-food meals and one shake during each day has been the most effective approach for 90 percent of my students, 90 percent of the time. When I tried getting my macronutrients in two, three, or four meals per day, I just found myself getting weaker and smaller.
4. Don’t Count Calories: In my opinion, following a calorie-based program doesn’t support fat loss, because calories are not all equal. Different macronutrients cause different hormonal changes, which can have a dramatic effect on your fat-loss efforts. For instance, more carbs will result in more insulin, which has a detrimental impact on your thyroid and cortisol profiles. Secondly, foods break down with varying levels of effort. Calories from meat, for example, require a lot more energy to digest, as opposed to pasta. Processed carbs break down quickly and easily since they typically contain little fiber or protein, while whole foods burn a significant amount of calories just from the effort it takes to digest them.
5. Cheat Honestly: I have a personal rule not to give myself any cheat meals unless I’m under 12 percent body fat. Once I hit 12 percent, I treat myself to one six-hour window a week. In short, anything goes for six hours. When I’m bulking, I usually give myself two half-day treat days per week. The wife and I will step out for dinner on Thursday and Sunday, maybe hitting a movie and some treats. Looking forward to those events helps me control cravings during the week and maintain a healthy long-term dietary program.
6. Earn Every Carb: Every carb you consume should be earned, and until you’re down to 12 percent body fat, you haven’t earned any. You should be on a low-carb (albeit not zero-carb) diet until you get down to 12 percent. For some big guys, eating low-carb might still call for 200 to 300 grams per day, but those should come from low-glycemic sources, mostly in the form of green fibrous vegetables. The rest of the daily calories are derived from healthy fats and proteins.
7. Start Your Day Green: Begin your day with a green drink. It provides plant-based proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, with minimal caloric intake. I generally start off with a base of celery and cucumber. From there, dark leafy greens are the priority. I like kale, broccoli, spinach, parsley, or mint. Low-calorie additions like lemon juice, fresh ginger, and even cayenne powder can add some zing. Chia seeds, chlorophyll, and aloe vera are great additions, as they contribute valuable doses of gelatinous fiber. You’ll be amazed at how quickly these superfoods can put your health on a new track.
8. Try The Meat And Nuts Breakfast: IFBB heavyweight bodybuilder Ben Pakulski and trainer Charles Poliquin convinced me to try this, and it’s one of the best tips anyone has ever given me. A typical breakfast might be eight ounces of ground beef (or other protein source) cooked with one tablespoon of coconut oil, two whole eggs, a cup of spinach, and then one-third cup of mixed nuts on the side. After your overnight fast, the first meal you eat sets the pace for your neurotransmitters. High-glycemic foods will trigger serotonin, so you may feel great, but you’ll also be sluggish and tired. Low-glycemic foods will prime your neurotransmitters to trigger acetylcholine and dopamine, satisfying your food craving while increasing your focus and drive. This will put bulge in your muscles, not in your belly.
9. Be Wary Of Food Allergies: The bloating and slow-down of the digestive process from allergies to gluten or lactose can stop your progress cold. If you feel as though you may be developing an allergy to a food, you need to get tested. Even a mere sensitivity can be enough to give you gas, fatigue, or bloating. If you find that eliminating the food for a couple of weeks helps, you may want to remove it from your diet permanently.
10. Rotate Your Fats And Proteins: Never repeat the same fat or protein in one day. Rotating them can keep your diet more palatable, but it also helps ensure you’re getting a more complete variety of the healthy fats and amino acids. Don’t just consume chicken and beef. Get the whole spectrum of different seafood, poultry, and red meat into your diet. Try a new protein every week, such as venison, elk, buffalo, scallops, or turkey.