Tips to help you get a six pack
With summer just around the corner, you may be wondering how to get a great six pack. It might come as a surprise to you that everybody has a six pack. Unfortunately, for most of us it is concealed under a layer of flab.
Therefore the secret to defining those abdominal muscles is two fold; not only do you have to work on building muscle up, but you also have to focus on losing some excess weight.
But how do you lose weight without losing muscle mass? I can imagine that you are now sat with a bemused expression on your face. This isn’t surprising really, considering the vast amount of conflicting research on this subject.
Different views exist about whether carbohydrates should be completely cut from the diet, if lifting weights is necessary for a six pack, how many meals should be consumed per day and so on. The questions are never ending.
This article therefore aims to provide a comprehensive guide providing you with all the information that you need to achieve a six pack. Dietary and exercise tips will be included, along with an overview of the most common body building supplements available on the market.
Follow the advice provided and you will be able to show everyone your six pack in no time at all.
What is metabolism?
Before we reveal the secrets to achieving a six pack, it is vital that you have an understanding of the term ‘metabolism‘. This word is used frequently throughout this article; it is a term used to describe the series of chemical reactions that occur inside our bodies that keep our cells and organs functioning correctly.
In order for this series of reactions to occur, energy must be present. The minimal amount of energy required for these reactions to take place is known as the basal metabolic rate.
Have you ever wondered why your friend can eat as much as he or she wants without gaining weight, whilst you only need to look at a cream cake and you pile on the pounds? This is because basal metabolic rates vary from person to person.
People who gain weight easily usually have a low basal metabolic rate; they utilise less energy and therefore burn calories at a reduced speed compared to those with a high basal metabolic rate.
Your basal metabolic rate can be determined by a number of cohabiting factors, including age, gender and genetics. In order to lose some of the weight around your midriff (so that your abs become visible), you may need to boost your metabolism. A number of lifestyle changes can achieve this, which will be discussed throughout the rest of this article.
‘You are what you eat’
Sometimes the old sayings speak the most sense. No, this saying doesn’t imply that if you eat a takeaway you turn into a slice of pizza. It instead refers to how the contents of your food can effect your health.
For example, if you eat foods that are high in fat, you are at more risk of obesity. Whereas if you eat high protein foods, you will build up protein rich muscle.
The following tips will guide you in modifying your diet to help you to lose weight, whilst increasing your muscle mass. However, you will notice that it’s not just what you eat that is important; when you eat is also significant, if you are trying to increase your muscle bulk.
Remember that breakfast is the ‘most important meal of the day’
How many times have you heard the phrase ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’? Yet, skipping breakfast is one of the first mistakes that people make whilst trying to lose weight.
Astbury et al. (2011) highlighted the implications not consuming breakfast has on metabolic rate. Those who skipped breakfast were found to have a slower metabolism and were less able to lose weight, in comparison to individuals who consumed breakfast.
Although the former study only utilised a small sample size of just twelve participants, a larger scale study completed by researchers at the University of Bath (2011) reported similar findings.
So, if you are aiming to lose weight in order to reveal that six pack, make sure you enjoy a hearty breakfast each morning. The former two studies both coincide with the view that eating breakfast curbs food cravings and helps to prevent hunger pangs.
You will also notice a real boost in your energy levels. This increased energy will help to give you the motivation and will power to complete the recommended ab boosting exercises outlined later in this article.
How do you like your eggs in the morning?
Following on from the point above, if you are reading this article you are not aiming for weight loss alone. In order to get the six pack that you have been day dreaming about, you need to convert your usual breakfast of toast, pancakes and sugary cereals to omelettes, scrambled egg, lean meat and other forms of high quality protein.
Eggs are rich in amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Protein plays a significant role in the growth and maintenance of muscle tissue. Protein is key to building a six pack.
A large egg contains approximately 6 grams of protein, so eating 3 eggs gives you 18 grams. To build muscle, you should aim to get around 2 – 3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
So if you weigh 60 kg, you need to consume 120 – 180 grams of protein. 3 eggs would therefore make up roughly 10 – 15 percent of your daily protein requirement.
In addition to providing protein for muscle growth and maintenance, eating eggs also promotes satiety (a feeling of fullness). They provide a great start in the morning as you are less likely to consume high amounts of calories throughout the remainder of the day.
Leidy et al. (2013) reported that individuals who consumed a high protein breakfast were less likely to have food cravings and hunger pangs than those who skipped breakfast or ate cereals high in sugar content.
Do you have an aversion to eggs? Other protein rich breakfast options include salmon on whole meal bread, cottage cheese, burritos and blueberries tossed in Greek yoghurt.
Eat little and often
In order to achieve a six pack, you will need to modify your eating habits. Instead of eating three large square meals many people are accustomed to, you need to eat smaller dishes at more frequent intervals. Try eat six small meals throughout the day.
Research has shown that not eating at regular intervals can slow your metabolic rate, thus increasing your blood cholesterol levels and your weight. Although this research was drawn from a study with a small sample size of just ten participants, a cross sectional study completed on a much larger scale, utilising in excess of 14,000 participants, yielded similar results.
In order to prevent a decline in your metabolic rate it is vital that you eat at least every three hours. Obviously, whilst you are at work cooking meals between breakfast and lunch may be inconvenient, therefore you can split these meals up with a simple snack such as a whey protein shake, piece of fruit or a handful of almonds.
Fill up on chicken, red meat, eggs and legumes
All of the foods mentioned in the sections above are rich in protein. Increasing the quantity of protein that you consume in your daily diet is one of the most important steps that you can take in building your six pack. Protein is essential for muscle growth, maintenance and repair.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the average healthy male consumes at least 56 grams of protein per day. This should be exceeded when you are trying to build a six pack.
Animal products are the best sources of protein. Red meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products are all rich in protein. If you are a vegetarian there are other alternatives such as oats, nuts and legumes, however the protein concentration is much smaller in these foods. This means that you would need to consume a greater quantity of them to reap the same health benefits.
It is also vital to remember that you are not only aiming to build up muscle, you are also attempting to get rid of the fat that is concealing your abdominal muscles. Therefore, it is imperative that you chose low fat food options, such as fat free yoghurts, fat free milk and leaner pieces of red meat.
Also, I know it is one of the tastiest parts of chicken, but chicken skin is high in fat so remove it prior to consumption. The rewards will be worth the small sacrifice on taste!
Don’t go cold turkey on carbohydrates
Many people assume when they are trying to lose weight and build muscle that they need to cut carbohydrates straight out of their diet. Although the assumption that cutting carbohydrates leads to weight loss is correct, eliminating them completely from your diet will cause your energy levels to slump.
This drop in energy levels means that your body will start breaking up your muscle to compensate for the energy loss. Obviously, when trying to work on your six pack, this is something that you will want to avoid.
Instead, it is recommended that you swap foods high in sugary carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, cakes and crisps to starchy carbohydrates. Starchy carbohydrates include whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, sweet potato, broccoli and brown rice.
Curb late night snacking
How often have you craved a slice of pizza or a yummy kebab late at night? Night time seems to be when our food cravings are at their highest. Unfortunately, at this time of day we find ourselves turning to chocolate bars, crisps or takeaway rather than fruits and vegetables.
Eating high carbohydrate foods before you go to sleep is a major risk factor for weight gain. Chaix et al. (2014) found that eating late at night results in a decrease in metabolic rate and as a result an increase in weight.
It could be questioned whether this study is representational of humans as it was information gathered from the observation of mice, however other studies have reported similar findings.
For example, in an investigation utilising human participants, Scheer et al. (2013) reported that individuals who snacked late at night were more likely to be overweight. They also found participants who eat late at night were more likely to indulge in high calorie foods such as pizzas and takeaway.
At night your metabolic system is slower. As a result, blood glucose levels are impaired. You are therefore more likely to store energy from food as fat. This fat is what is concealing your six pack.
Eating not long before bedtime can also impair sleep quantity and quality. As we will discuss later, inadequate sleep is a further risk factor for slower metabolism. Therefore, it is vital that you curb late night food cravings and don’t consume any carbohydrates past 7pm in the evening.
If you are hungry, you should eat some peanut butter, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt or almonds. These are protein rich foods which will help satisfy your late night hunger.
Gulp down plenty of water
Research has shown that drinking at least seventeen ounces of water per day can help to speed up your metabolism. Boschmann et al. (2003) also reported the vital role that water plays in speeding up metabolic rate and the speed at which fat is burned.
The health benefits of water are not surprising, considering that water makes up sixty six percent of your total body weight. Water also plays a significant role in ensuring that muscles have enough energy to function correctly. When you are dehydrated, your muscles struggle to balance their water and electrolyte composition, which causes them to shrivel and not function as well.
Water contains zero calories, making it the perfect choice of beverage for those trying to lose weight. So, swap that can of cola or glass of beer for an ice cold glass of water. That six pack will be totally worth the exchange.
Not keen on plain water? Try throwing a few slices of lemon or orange into your glass to give it more taste.
A sample meal plan
Overloaded with information? There’s no need to be. To summarise the points I made above regarding the ideal diet to build your six pack, it may be helpful to see the information in the form of a daily meal plan.
Below is a sample meal plan you can refer to. Remember however to search around the web and mix things up so that eating does not get monotonous.
Breakfast – 7 am
- Three boiled eggs
- Green tea
- Handful of blueberries
Snack – 10 am
- Handful of almonds
Lunch – 12pm
- Two chicken breasts served with a handful of kidney beans and chopped avocado
- Steamed vegetables
Snack – 3 pm
- Cottage cheese with a banana
Dinner – 6pm
- Rump steak with a large dollop of sweet potato mash, served with broccoli, asparagus and spinach
Snack – 9 pm
- Peanut butter and celery sticks
Protein shake – after your workout
Water – drink at least two litres of H2O throughout the day.
When people envision a body builder, they see a muscular man lifting a tonne of weights up into the air. Although lifting weights has numerous health advantages, they are not compulsory for building a six pack. Most of the exercises outlined below can be done in the comforts of your own home.
The abdominal exercises are listed in order of effectiveness as reported by a well known study, known as the ACE study (2001). During the investigation, researchers measured muscle stimulation via electromyography whilst participants were completing the following exercises.
These exercises were then ranked in terms of how much they stimulated the abdominal muscles. We have provided a description of each exercise, so you have no excuse not to try them.
Lie on your back on the floor and place your hands behind your head, keeping your legs straight. Touch your right knee with your left elbow. Repeat with the other side; touching your left knee with your right elbow. Repeat the manoeuvre eight times.
For this exercise, a chair with hand rests is required. Sit down in an upright position on the chair, ensuring that your back is pressed flat against the back of the chair. Placing your hands on the hand rests of the chair for support and keeping your legs bent, lift your knees upwards until they are touching your chest. After returning your legs so you are in the starting position, repeat the exercise eight times.
Exercise Ball Crunch
As the name suggests, you will need an exercise ball. Lying back on the exercise ball with your feet flat against the floor and your arms crossed against your chest, sit up whilst contracting your abdominal muscles. Lie back down and then repeat eight times.
Vertical leg crunches
Lie down with your back against the floor. Place your hands behind your head. Bend your knees, placing one leg over the other so that your ankles are crossed and then elevate your legs. Whilst tightening your abdominal muscles, lift your upper body up. Hold this position for thirty seconds, then lie back down. Repeat eight times.
This exercise can be completed with a piece of specialised gym equipment, as named in the heading, or a cheaper alternative would be to practice with an exercise ball.
Occupying a kneeling position, place your hands on the top of the exercise ball. Whilst keeping your abdominal muscles contracted, roll the ball outwards as far as you can. It is important that you keep your pelvis straight. Roll the ball back and repeat.
If you suffer from back problems, it is advisable that you give this position a miss. Researchers of the ACE study reported that participants experienced back pain following the practice of this manoeuvre.
Long arm crunch
Lie down on your back on the floor. Keep your arms straight by your sides. Still keeping your arms straight, raise them as though you are pointing up at the ceiling. Lift your upper body up until your arms are adjacent to your legs, as though you are holding your arms out in front of you. Again, repeat this exercise eight times.
Lying down with your back against the floor and your arms straight against your sides, elevate your legs whilst keeping your knees bent. Keeping you upper body on the floor, draw your knees up until they are touching your chest. Hold the position then lower your legs. Repeat the manoeuvre eight times.
Crunch with heel push
Lying flat with your back against the floor, place your hands behind your head. Bend your knees and keep your feet flat against the floor. Raise your shoulders so that you are sitting upright then lower yourself to the starting position. Repeat eight times.
Similar to the manoeuvre that you completed for the Torso track but this time utilising a piece of equipment called the ab roller. Push the roller forwards as far as is comfortable, pull back and then repeat eight times.
Lying down on your stomach on the floor, prop yourself up onto your elbows. Slowly straighten your legs so you are on your tip toes and hold this position for half a minute. Try and keep your abdominal muscles contracted during this time. Rest for a few seconds and repeat five times.
Supplement your diet
With many body building supplements available on the market, it can be difficult to assess which ones will benefit you when trying to get a six pack. The following supplements will assist with your weight loss and muscle bulking goals.
Whey protein powder
One of the most common supplement that people wishing to build up their muscle take, is whey protein powder. They are an effective way of ensuring that you obtain well above the recommended daily quantity of protein in your diet.
One of the main advantages of supplementing with whey powder is that it can help you to lose weight, whilst preserving your muscle mass. Bastian et al. (2008) divided participants up into two groups; one group was given a daily whey protein shake, whilst the other group was given a control shake for comparison.
Both groups were placed on a low calorie diet of just 500 calories per day. It was discovered that participants who consumed daily whey protein powder shakes experienced not only a greater decline in weight, but maintained their muscle mass.
Willoughby et al. (2007) also conducted a study utilising a similar method to the one outlined above, but this time with the aim of investigating the effects of whey protein powder on muscle mass and strength.
Rather than the low calorie diet, both groups of participants were introduced to ten weeks of resistance training. It was found that the group of participants receiving the placebo had reduced muscle mass and strength in comparison to the group of participants who received 20 grams of protein powder daily.
Wondering when is the best time of day to consume protein shakes? The latter study recommends that shakes are consumed one hour prior to and one hour following exercise.
Muscles contain a chemical known as creatine. Creatine assists in the production of energy that muscles need in order to function correctly. Creatine is found in some of the foods that we consume in our everyday diet such as meat and fish, however taking a creatine supplement can ensure that you are getting the required intake.
Research has shown that creatine can maximise exercise performance. This will obviously enable you to get the optimal benefits available when performing the recommended exercises outlined previously. If you have more energy, you will have more strength and will power to work out for longer. This will result in an increase in muscle mass.
A good idea is to add fruit juice to the creatine powder as the sugar present in the juice helps to raise the levels of insulin in the blood stream. This enables your muscles to absorb the creatine at an increased and more effective rate.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid found in your muscle tissues. Glutamine can be found in foods rich in protein such as milk, eggs, yoghurt, cottage cheese, chicken, beef, beans and spinach.
Research has show that supplementing with glutamine can help with muscle growth and repair. Following a period of strenuous exercise, the levels of glutamine in the bloodstream and muscles drops. Consuming a glutamine supplement prior to working out prevents this sudden drop in glutamine levels.
This ensures that muscles contain a high enough concentration of glutamine for muscle growth and maintenance to occur. Glutamine also helps muscles to recover following intense exercise.
Reinbach et al. (2009) reported that daily consumption of green tea can have a positive impact on metabolic rate. This is supported by research conducted by Diepven et al. (2006) who reported that daily consumption of green tea can not only lower blood cholesterol levels, but it could also help in the regulation of blood glucose levels and even lower elevated blood pressure.
For green tea to be effective it is recommended that at least eight cups of it are consumed per day. Seems a lot right? Luckily, green tea can be purchased in a capsule form. This should make life a little easier for you.
Also don’t forget to continue to take your usual multivitamins to make sure you keep topped up on your recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Final tip: Get enough rest
When we think about getting a six pack we imagine about grueling hours spent at the gym; we hardly think about spending more time in bed. However, research has shown that lack of sleep can significantly slow your metabolism, resulting in unnecessary weight gain.
Following on from a review investigating the correlation between sleep and metabolism, Sharma et al. (2010) concluded that there was a positive correlation between the two; the more sleep that we obtain per night, the greater the speed of our metabolism.
It is recommended that you obtain at least eight hours of sleep per night. A recent study conducted by Elder et al. (2012) demonstrated the benefits of increased sleep on weight loss. It was reported that individuals who slept for the recommend eight hours per night were more likely to lose weight than those who slept for less than six hours.
Struggling to sleep? The following techniques can help you to obtain the recommended number of hours of sleep in order to achieve that six pack that you have been dreaming about:
- Incorporate yoga into your daily routine
- Have a warm bubble bath before bed
- Cut down on caffeine, alcohol and smoking
- Wind down before bedtime with relaxing music
So now you have the perfect excuse to have a lie-in at the weekend!
After reading this article you should now have a clear understanding of the steps that you need to take in order to get a six pack. Not only do you need to make dietary modifications such as increased protein intake, decreased carbohydrate consumption and increased water ingestion, you also need to modify the times of day that you have something to eat.
Effective ab exercises, the importance of adequate sleep and types of supplements are other important topics that this article has discussed.
In order to get a six pack, you will need to make some sacrifices and give up on consuming certain foods that you may love. However, it will be well worth the wait! As the saying goes “Abs are made in the kitchen”.
Getting a six pack does not have to be difficult; most people can achieve one in 6 – 12 weeks with a good nutrition and exercise plan.
All the best in your journey!