There are plenty of fitness rules you can argue over, but the fact that abs are made in the kitchen is not one of them.
The foods you eat and the diet you follow will be the deciding factor when it comes to a flat, defined stomach or an abdominal wall that’s hiding behind belly fat.
There are four main components to showing off a great set of abs: genetics, muscularity, body fat percentage and diet.
Genetics will determine the shape and insertions of your ab muscles, your muscularity will determine the size of your muscles and how fat you can get before they disappear—which is directly tied to body fat percentage—and your diet impacts your ability to lose belly fat and expose your abdominal wall.
And this exactly why abs start in the kitchen. When it comes to building and exposing a strong, sexy midsection, you can forget about doing 1,000 crunches a week. Instead, focus your efforts where abs are really made: the kitchen.
Are Abs Really Made in the Kitchen?
If you’ve been doing sit-ups every morning in hopes of seeing a six-pack or a flat stomach, cut it out. Abs are made in the kitchen, so that’s where you should start. Whether or not you can see your abs depends entirely on your percentage of body fat and where you store it.
If you’re quite muscular—and have big muscles—you may be able to catch a glimpse of a few ab muscles at 15% body fat, if the fat is evenly distributed throughout your body. For those men who are less muscular, it might not be until the 10% range that you can see abs. For women, these percentages may jump a little bit and a flat stomach may appear at the 15% to 18% range.
So, is there a special ‘abs are made in the kitchen diet’? Well, look at it this way: Because what you eat has a direct impact on how much—and where you store—fat, eating foods that are less likely to contribute to fat gain are essential to an abs in the kitchen diet.
Controlling insulin is a major factor to consider when you’re attempting to build your abs in the kitchen, so the food you pick is very important. Avoiding anything with added sugars that cause insulin to spike and those calories to be stored as fat is a total must.
Reasons that Prove Abs Are Made in the Kitchen
If you don’t believe that crunches and sit-ups aren’t going to give you the stomach you want, here are a few important factors to consider:
1. Certain Foods Are More Prone to Making You Fat
Calories are not all created equally, and the source of the calories you consume plays a major role in what your body does with them. Sugars—whether they are added to food or occur naturally—cause your blood sugar to spike and the pancreas to release insulin. When these foods are consumed regularly it’s common for many of those calories to be stored as fat in the gut.
The exception to this is sugar that is found in fruit and whole grains. This is true because fiber is present in these sources. But be warned: fruit juices, smoothies, dried fruits, or fruit consumed in any fashion other than as a whole causes the same reaction in your body as drinking a soda.
2. Certain Foods Help You Burn Fat
Much like some foods can promote fat gain, others can help you lose fat. When you eat foods that are high in protein, they provide something called a thermic effect. The thermic effect of food plays a role in stimulating your metabolism, so you actually burn calories to digest and absorb it. Sugars have a very low thermic effect, while proteins and fats have much higher thermic effects. When you eat these foods you’ll burn more calories.
3. Spot Training Doesn’t Work
If you grab a dumbbell and do bicep curls all day, you’ll build a set of big strong biceps. The thing is, they won’t be lean and well-defined; they will still be buried under fat. Exercise has the ability to strengthen and shape muscle, but it does not make you lean. The same thing goes for your abs. Spot-training abs doesn’t make you leaner, so therefore you won’t get a flatter, more defined stomach. So it’s true that abs are made in the kitchen and diet certainly plays the most important role in your progress.
Rules You Need to Follow for Flat Abs
1. Cut Down Carbs
One of the best ways to get rid of belly fat fast is to limit carb consumption. Your carb consumption will depend on how much activity you’re doing every day, but even then it’s wise to keep them relatively low. Added sugars are a definite no, and when you do have carbs make sure it’s from a whole grain source or fruit. If you spend your days at a desk job and have a relatively sedentary life, maybe 10 grams of carbs in the morning via some fruit (about 100 grams of blueberries) and again in the evening may be good.
Green vegetables are technically carbs, but we won’t count them. Try to eat them with almost every meal to help you feel full and make sure you’re getting adequate fiber. If you’re working out, you can also have some carbs around your workout, typically afterwards, to the tune of about 30 to 40 grams. Carb reefed days are also recommended if you’re going low-carb and exercising daily. These should take place every three or four days, and feature about 100 grams.
2. Stop Drinking
Alcohol can sabotage any diet and make a flat stomach nearly impossible. And it’s not just beer bellies that are affected; the same belly fat is packed on from spirits, coolers and wine. Alcohol is high in sugar, has no nutritional value, is poisonous and stalls your metabolism from burning carbs and fat from energy. Furthermore, booze can lead to some pretty bad food choices.
3. Eat Protein with Every Meal
A firm, flat stomach or ripped abdominal wall requires muscle, so protein is a must. We’ve already mentioned the thermic effect of protein, which is probably its smallest benefit. Protein is required to repair and grow muscle tissue to provide the look you want. Ideally, you want about one to 1.2 grams of protein for each pound of body weight (so 140 to 168 grams per day for a 140-pound individual) for muscle growth and regeneration. Protein will also help you stay full to avoid snacking on ab-busting food and keep your metabolism revving.
4. Don’t Fear Fat
Dietary fat is not the same thing as body fat, and consuming more dietary fats can help you shed pounds from your belly and expose your flat stomach. Getting 25% to 30% of your daily calories from various healthy fat sources is highly recommended to help keep your metabolism humming, provide energy and keep your hormones regular. Some of the best sources are nuts, nut butters, olive oil, avocado and fish oil.
5. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep is essential for muscle growth and fat burning because it lets your body grow and recover. The more muscle you have, the faster you burn fat, and sleep helps with both of these things. Also, getting a good night’s sleep can help keep cortisol (stress hormone) down, which is closely associated to weight gain and belly fat.
6. More than Crunches
In order to get a flat stomach you’ll need to exercise, but crunches won’t do it on their own. Exercises that promote core balance and stability—like the bench press, squat and shoulder press—are great at strengthening the abdominal wall. In fact, squeezing your abs tightly for most resistance training exercises is optimal to not only strengthen the abs, but promote good form, too.
But the strength of your abs isn’t enough to let them show through, so to get that firmness you might want to think about adopting a cardio routine, starting at about 20 minutes per day, three times per week to enhance the work you’re doing in the gym and kitchen. When you do perform crunches and ab-focused exercises, remember you should feel the contraction in your abs. Squeeze your abs tightly for each repetition as you attempt to shorten the distance between your chest and waist. Keep the emphasis on the abdominals!
Understanding Healthy Eating vs. Gym Training
Gym training cannot supplant and healthy diet and a healthy diet won’t deliver the firm stomach you want without gym training. These two components are completely different, yet inseparable when it comes to building an improved aesthetic. For example:
- Gym training helps build muscles and make you stronger. It helps utilize the calories you consume in a productive way, providing the energy to make it through your workouts, repair and recover. But the truth is that to get stronger and build muscle you don’t necessarily have to eat a clean diet. There are likely people you see in your gym that are big and strong, but have little or no muscular definition. This is because they likely a) stay in a caloric surplus to build strength and size, or b) don’t really know very much about nutrition and think that exercise is all they need to improve their physique.
- When you want to lose body fat to achieve a flat stomach or defined abs, you need to lose fat. This means you must be in a caloric deficit and therefore need every calorie you consume to serve a real purpose. When you eat healthy, there isn’t a lot of room to add fat or be lacking in the nutrients you need to simultaneously build muscle and cut fat.
- Now this won’t always be true for everybody, because genetics play a major role in how our bodies look and function. But no matter who you are, your journey to abs starts in the kitchen with the food you eat.
Foods to Eat and Avoid for Flat Abs
If you want to make your abs in the kitchen, you’ll need a meal plan. Here are a list of foods to eat and avoid that can be the recipe for cooking some abs in your kitchen. All of these foods can help you lose the fat and build the muscle you need to shape your abs:
Abs Are Made in the Kitchen Foods
Foods to Eat
- Green vegetables
- Chicken breast
- Turkey breast/game meats
- Eggs/Egg whites
- Greek yogurt (plain)
- Olive Oil
- Sweet potato/oats
Foods to Avoid
- Soda/fruit juice/smoothies/wine/beer/spirits
- Processed foods/fast food
- Yogurt with added sugars
- Oats with added sugars
- French fries
- Bananas (unless directly following a workout)
- White bread
- White pasta
- Salad dressings
Abs Are Made in the Kitchen Meal Plan
|Foods To Eat||Foods to Avoid|
|Green vegetables||Soda/fruit juice/smoothies/wine/beer/spirits|
|Chicken breast||Processed foods/fast food|
|Turkey breast/game meats||Yogurt with added sugars|
|Eggs/Egg whites||Oats with added sugars|
|Greek yogurt (plain)||Bananas (unless directly following a workout)|
|Olive Oil||White pasta|
|Sweet potato/oats||Salad dressings|
Sources for Today’s Article:
Swaminathan, R., “Thermic Effect of Feeding Carbohydrate, Fat, Protein and Mixed Meal in Lean and Obese Subjects,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1985; http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/42/2/177.abstract?sid=72b3da4d-89b4-4401-905f-8aa8095a8d85, last accessed April 11, 2016.
Crovetti, R., “The Influence of Thermic Effect of Food on Satiety,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1998; http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v52/n7/abs/1600578a.html, last accessed April 11, 2016.
Chopra, I., “Relationship between Serum Free Fatty Acids and Thyroid Hormone Binding Inhibitor in Nonthyroid,” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 1984; http://press.endocrine.org/doi/abs/10.1210/jcem-60-5-980?journalCode=jcem, last accessed April 11, 2015.
International Sports Science Association, “You Can’t Spot Reduce: Learn Why!” Bodybuilding web site, July 17, 2008; http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/issa72.htm, last accessed April 11, 2016.
Poliquin Group Editorial Staff, “Ten Amazing Benefits of Eating Fat,” Poliquin Group web site, November 13, 2013; http://main.poliquingroup.com/articlesmultimedia/articles/article/1069/ten_amazing_benefits_of_eating_fat.aspx, last accessed April 11, 2015.