You've heard the phrase 'eating for abs'. But what does it actually entail? You're likely picturing heck loads of salads, a hefty portion of protein with each meal, and shakes left, right, and centre, right?
The ethos, which was first coined by personal trainers and sports nutritionists, has been around for years. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't just cover eating foods that will get you stomach definition, but an approach to nutrition and training in general.
Implying that you cannot get visible abs without following a healthy diet, it reinforces what most personal trainers are often quick to point out: that is, that even the best training plan can be undone with an unfocussed diet.
There's a whole load of questionable advice online about the trustworthy meal plans to follow if you're aiming for ab definition so, instead of scrolling Instagram and blog posts from questionable 'pros', let the qualified experts help.
Keep reading for advice and an ab-friendly meal plan from nutritionists Jenna Hope and Lauren Windas. And afterwards, if you decide you're not so fussed about ab definition after all? Well, that's 100% the right choice for you, and you shouldn't feel pressured to look a certain way just because others might.
Is diet important for ab definition?
First things first: what role does diet play in helping get abs? "While diet certainly plays a role, it’s important to note that some will find it easier to get visible abs than others," explains nutritionist Jenna Hope.
underlying health conditions
can all play a role.
Windas agrees, saying that while diet is important, exercise is too. "You need a combination of the two if you want to get a sculpted midsection. Even then, depending on your body type, getting visible abs can be tough; other, less controllable factors come into play, like the above," she explains.
How do you get visible abs?
Ah, that age-old question. It's actually quite simple: you all have abdominal muscles, however, the way in which you see them is by achieving a lower body fat percentage (%) and building lean muscle tissue.
"Studies confirm that there's a link between the foods you eat and your body composition. You need a good balance of the three macronutrients - that's protein, carbohydrates and fats," explains Windas.
She shares that, if abs are your end goal, studies have also found it's important to maintain a calorie deficit and consistently weight train to build your lean muscle mass. Think about it: if you want to show your abdominal muscles off, you first need to lose the layer of fat which currently covers them.
But why weight training, too? Well, building lean muscle tissue is important for achieving sculpted abdominals. "Plus, eating a balanced diet that's high in protein is useful for supporting your resistance training," Lauren explains.
So, the formula for abs? Most evidence points towards adopting a calorie deficit (that's reducing calories down so that the body burns more energy than it is consuming), and manipulating macronutrients based on your exercise regime (aka, eating higher protein for weight training). Research suggests it's the best way to not only promote fat loss, but work towards more ab definition too, Lauren shares.
"In this aspect, yes, abs are built in the kitchen, as through a healthy diet, you can create a calorie deficit for fat loss. However, don't forget you also need to pair eating in a calorie deficit with cardio exercise and resistance training for the full whammy," explains Lauren.
Your ab-building meal plan
Lauren shares that it's important for you to focus on the overall quality of your diet. Make sure you're including:
Plenty of non-starchy vegetables e.g. broccoli, courgette, spinach and bell pepper
Lean sources of protein e.g. chicken and turkey
Complex carbohydrates e.g. brown rice and lentils
Healthy fats e.g. nuts, avocado and olive oil
Fruits e.g. apples, bananas and berries
More on the all-important portion sizes, later. For a woman actively looking to lose weight in order to achieve more prominent muscle-definition, Lauren advises aiming for approximately 1800 calories a day, and 2200 calories daily for men.
"This is if you're looking to strip fat and reveal your abs, eating three main meals with the option of one or two snacks a day," she shares. But do remember here: everybody’s energy requirements are unique and therefore these calorie suggestions are simply a guideline.
Also worth noting here: you really don't need to lose weight, or gain ab definition, or embark on a new fitness plan to be happy. Workout in ways that you love and eat food that equally nourishes you and fills you with joy. There's no one-size-fits-all approach.
Green leafy shakshuka with three eggs, cavolo nero, spring greens, shallots, green peas, green pepper and courgette OR
Quark with a handful of fresh blueberries and spoon of almond butter.
Fillet of chicken breast served with chickpea, avocado and mint feta salad OR
Pan-fried sea bass with Mediterranean lentil salad.
Salmon fillet with cavolo nero on a bed of grilled courgette and aubergines, sprinkled with pumpkin and sunflower seeds OR
Chicken ramen with loads of veg OR
Beef steak served with steamed broccoli, spring greens and spinach, and baby new potatoes
Peanut butter on rice crackers or oat cakes
Protein smoothie with milk or plant-based milk
Nuts and seeds
Cottage cheese on rye bread
7 top tips for eating for abs
The main takeaway both nutritionists want you to remember? Sometimes, focusing on consuming a nutrient-dense diet may be more achievable than obsessing over visible abs. "In some cases, visible abs require an incredibly low body fat percentage, which may contribute to impairing hormonal function," explains Jenna. In other words, it's not good for you.
Still keen to give it a go? Bear these in mind at all times.
Focus on your protein
Ensuring adequate protein consumption is super important. Why? As protein helps to keep you fuller for longer, as well as helping to stabilise blood sugar levels, prevent energy crashes and reduce cravings for high sugar foods, shares Hope.
Windas agrees, adding that protein contains the essential amino acids which are building blocks for muscle growth. "Whenever you weight train, you cause microtears in your muscles. It's the amino acids that help to repair those tears and build new muscle tissue. They surround and fill the tear, making the muscle bigger and stronger," she explains.
Aim for more protein when you are exercising lots - that's 1.2g-to 1.6g per kg of body weight - and less if you're sedentary - 0.8g per kg of body weight.
Jenna advises consuming at least two litres of water per day. "Staying hydrated can help to prevent misinterpreting thirst for hunger, and plays a role in maintaining energy and brain function throughout the day," she adds.
Eat plenty of fibre
Loading up on the vegetables and the fibre-rich foods can help to keep you fuller for longer. "Plus, it ensures that energy is more sustained throughout the day," Hope expands.
Be mindful of portion sizes
Weight loss occurs when you’re consuming less energy than you require. Large portion sizes can contribute to the overconsumption of energy.
Aim for half of your plate (i.e. two fistful portions) and build your macronutrients around that.
Your protein serving should be around the size of your hand.
Your carb portion should be one fistful of complex carbs.
Your healthy fat portion should be about a tablespoon of healthy unsaturated fats, e.g. a sprinkling of nuts and seeds.
"By building your meals in this way, you are likely to be achieving a calorie deficit and supporting the growth of new muscle tissue, in combination with your exercise routine. This, in turn, will help your body to become leaner and reveal abs," explains Windas.
Top tip: swerve too much ketchup. Sauces can take the meal up a notch, just be aware of the amount you’re adding, warns Jenna. "There's a middle ground - sauces often contain additional energy and sugars which can contribute to overconsumption," she shares.
Avoid skipping meals
Meal skipping has been shown to increase total energy intake. "Rather than skipping your meal and eating more at the next feed, opt for a protein-rich meal or snack to keep your blood sugar levels balanced and your energy sustained," Jenna shares. See - smart.
Fats are a fundamental and essential component of any diet. "I’m definitely not advocating a low-fat diet although, but when you're trying to lose weight, ensure you’re not overconsuming them. The recommendations are to consume around 30 to 35% of your dietary intake from healthy fats," she explains.
One final thought - life isn't all about weight loss. Highly restrictive diets and overexercising can impair your relationship with diet and exercise and impair long-term results, so before you jump headfirst into a new 'abs diet', remember: building a body for life, eating nourishing foods you love and doing workouts you enjoy will likely end in better results, anyway.
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