V. What to eat
When you think of building muscle and strength, you probably think of protein. And this is a well-grounded association because protein is the building block for muscles. Many diets neglect protein and people can fall short in this macronutrient. When this happens, your muscle tissue struggles to repair and rebuild. You may even find yourself in a catabolic state, breaking down your hard earned muscles. So how much protein do you need? That depends on a lot of factors, and no hard rule will fit each person perfectly. In general, I recommend about 30-35 grams for men and about 20 grams for women, consumed every 2.5 to 3 hours for both. Another way to estimate your proper protein intake is by multiplying your body weight by 1.2 – 1.5 grams. Four times this is an estimate of how many calories of protein your body needs daily. Once you understand protein’s role in preserving muscle mass, you will likely be inclined to shoot for the higher end of your protein requirements. And this is a good thing because as you lean out, you will have a greater risk of catabolizing muscle. A bit higher protein intake serves as an insurance policy. If your body does look to protein for fuel, eating plenty of protein keeps your body from burning hard earned muscle as fuel, so eat up! In addition to maintaining muscle, there are lots of reasons to ensure you are getting plenty of protein. Protein is very satisfying, so it will help keep your appetite a bay even while you are cutting calories. In addition, protein takes quite a bit of energy to digest, so it can help boost your metabolism. Burning more and desiring fewer calories, is the gift of protein. Added bonus, there are plenty of incredibly nutritious sources of protein. Eggs are an all-star protein source because their amino acids are readily available and they are packed with nutrients. Proteins, whether meat or vegetable based, allow you to bolster your micronutrient intake when focusing on getting your servings of this macronutrient. Protein is probably sounding pretty good now. But don’t pile it all on your plate at once. Spread your protein intake out among your meals, and be sure to consume a minimum of 20 grams both before and after training. This is critical to maximizing the gains from your strength training.
Don’t be fooled into thinking protein is the only macronutrient that matters. In fact, the most drastic change when following our 6-pack abs diet will be your intake of carbohydrates. Carbs are still your primary fuel source during exercise, so you would be crazy to cut them too much around the time you train. But you will need to reduce your intake significantly at all other hours. Why cut calories from carbs rather than protein or fat? In comparison to protein and fat, carbs provide less satiety and the biggest spike in insulin. These sudden bursts of energy can be good when you need to exert yourself in training. But they are not helpful in sticking to your diet throughout the day. Cut the carbs and you may find yourself with less bloating, water retention and sudden cravings for sugar. Remember, we are not suggesting you ban all carbs. So how many do you need? Halve your weight and divide this many grams of carbs equally before and after your workouts. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you need 80 grams of carbs around your workout, so 40 grams before and 40 grams after. Other than these carbohydrate intakes, feel free to eat veggies when you get hungry during the day. Most vegetables are very low calorie and nutrient dense. Just try to limit your intake of starchy vegetables like corn, and make sure you are not adding sauces or oils without realizing it. And, of course, stay away from the highly processed carbs and refined grains that are devoid of nutrient and spike your insulin. How do you know if you have dropped your carbohydrate intake too much? You are starving all the time with furious cravings and your energy levels have dropped severely. This is a clear sign that your resting metabolic rate has plummeted, and this is a very detrimental development in your 6-pack abs goal. This is one reason, as discussed earlier, that I suggest a high-carb/calorie cheat day or weekend every few weeks. Doing so will rev up your metabolism and keep the firing burning.
Think fat makes you fat? Think again. Although this macronutrient is the most calorie-dense, providing 9 calories/gram, those calories are essential to your health. Fat plays a very important role in neural function, absorption of many nutrients, metabolism, and temperature regulation among other bodily functions. Bottom line, the human body needs fat and can’t make it from scratch, so it is critical that you consume the right types and amount. Fat can get a bad rap, and rightfully so, when we think of pastries and fried foods. But healthy fats that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids are one of the best things for your bodies. Flax seeds, olive oil, flaxseed oil, nuts, tuna and salmon are a few great sources of healthy fats. Swap out traditional salad toppings like croutons for heart healthy ones like walnuts, sunflower seeds and avocados to enrich your diet. Being so calorie dense, it is easy to go over-board on calories consumed from fat. It is important to watch your intake, even of nutritious fats. We recommend 0.2 grams times your body weight, or about 10 calories per pound. Spread out these calories from fat among your meals, avoiding it pre and post workout. Because fat is difficult to digest, it is very satisfying. But this also means it is not appropriate around training when you need rapid absorption.
Believe it or not, the USDA considers water a macronutrient. And for good reason because it makes up about 60% of your body and 70% muscle tissue. You simply can’t survive without it this calorie free macronutrient. Your training and health require water, and probably more than you think. To fill your muscle cells with glycogen or transport amino acids to muscle tissue, your body needs water. And many other nutrients cannot be properly assimilated and used by the body without it. Dehydration, even by just a few percent, will hamper your training and recovery to get stronger. As we know, the second part of getting a 6-pack is leaning out to let your strong abdominal muscles show. This too requires good hydration because stored fat is broken down through a process called hydrolysis. This process that splits the triglyceride molecule into glycerol and three fatty acids is reliant upon water. Not to mention all the other important bodily functions reliant on water, not the least of which is your mood and brain function. To suppress your appetite and edginess when dieting and maximize your muscle growth and fat burning, shoot for a minimum of 10 cups of water daily. For a better estimate, halve your weight in pounds and drink a minimum of that many ounces of water daily. Always carry a water bottle with you and drink before you are thirsty. Steer clear of other beverages like soft drinks, fruit juices, and coffee that can wreck havoc on your body and diet. While fruit juice filled with sugar or bubbly Coca Cola may sound refreshing, they are not going to help you get 6-pack abs.