6 Pack Abs – Diet Versus Exercise, Which Is More Important?
Abs is the abbreviation for abdominal muscles. 6 Pack Abs refers to the “rectus abdominis” muscle, or the paired muscle that runs vertical on each side of the anterior wall of the abdomen. Developing a 6 Pack Abs involves strengthening this core muscle and reducing the body fat over this muscle.
The debate on whether it is more important to shed body weight or exercise regularly to develop 6 Pack Abs is long standing. The reality is that both are crucial and it is impossible to develop 6 Pack Abs by paying attention to one and ignoring the other. The predominance of diet or exercise over the other in the quest for 6 Pack Abs however depends on the age and physical condition. Young people still in their growth stage would need to concentrate more on exercise rather than diet whereas others may need to focus more attention on diet.
Diet plays a crucial role in developing 6 Pack Abs. Developing 6 Pack Abs requires shedding stored up body fat.
One pound of fat is about 3500 calories. A diet pattern that controls the calorie intake and reduces consumption of say 350 calories a day would ensure that the body sheds a pound of fat in ten days or three pounds of fat in a month.
A diet rich in calories and fat may negate the gains resultant from a strict exercise regimen. Exercises burn up the stored up fat in the body but if the person consumes more calories or even the same calories that exercise burn, the weight remains stagnant.
Many people however make the mistake of limiting diet to reduced food intake. Reduced food intake without paying attention to the quality of the food consumed may lead to the body running short of essential proteins, vitamins and minerals required to sustain key body functions. This may lead to fatigue and other complications.
The correct dietary approach is to eat right focusing on the quality of the food consumed. Success depends on a balanced diet that provides the body with all the required nutrition while still limiting the calories. Failure to ensure this would result in an unbalanced diet that may cause sickness, injuries, fatigue and other complications that may derail the quest for 6 Pack Abs in a much bigger way than not dieting.
Calorie counting and portion control does not mean food deprivation but rather making the right food choices that ensure the body gets its fill without adding to the fat. The best ingredients for a six-pack diet depend on one’s body constitution and tastes.
Opt for healthy foods low in fat such as green leafy vegetables, fruits, fish and seafood. Similarly, opt for good sources of fat such as flax, avocados, olives, nuts, fish oil. Foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids such as sardines, flax seeds, kiwi fruit and walnuts deserve special mention. Omega 3 is anti inflammatory and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, fatigue, joint pain and a host of other ailments.
Opt for foods rich in fibre such as whole grains. Fibre provides a feeling of fullness without adding any calories. Whole grains such as oats, brown rice or quinoa alter the glucose and insulin response of the body and accelerate burning of visceral fat.
To ensure a balanced diet, ensure intake of 1.0 gramme of protein per pound of body weight per day. Opt for lean meat and poultry such as chicken and turkey but avoid red meat, cured meat, hot dogs and sausages that contribute to unhealthy fat. A diet rich in lean protein ensures that the body does not have to break down muscles for fuel, preserving 6 Pack Abs.
As a rule, avoid fast foods and processed foods that tend to be rich in empty calories, sugar and fat and which do not nourish the body much. Such foods include salted snack foods, fried fast food, packaged food, canned food, processed cheese, refined cereals, donuts, genetically modified foods, frozen desserts, candy, gum, club soda, alcoholic beverages.
As another general rule of thumb, broil, steam or grill the food rather than frying. Consumption of fried food contributes to intake of unhealthy trans fat. Similarly, avoid foods containing margarine. Margarine contains hydrogenated fat that converts to trans fat when cooked and contribute to not just obesity but also high blood pressure, and heart disease. Use healthy oils such as Olive Oil, Flax Seed Oil, Canola Oil, Walnut Oil, Sesame Seed Oil, Macadamia Nut and others. Avoid unhealthy oils such as soybean oil, safflower oil and other similar oils that abound in polyunsaturated fats responsible for inflammation and many other heart conditions.
Choose healthy alternatives. For instance, mashed potatoes make a healthier alternative to French Fries and a grilled chicken sandwich make a healthier alternative to a cheeseburger. A thin crust and veggie topped pizza makes a better choice than deep dish or cold cut topping pizzas. Similarly, opt for oil based dressings rather than cream based dressing when preparing salads, and substitute ketchup or mustard instead of mayonnaise when preparing sandwich. Drink water or fruit drinks instead of soda. Replace standard dessert options such as cake, cookies or ice cream with fruit or yoghurt. Opt for raisins or nuts instead of crackers or candy as snacks.
A diet rich in whole grains, five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, three servings of low-fat dairy and two servings of lean meat, fish or poultry contributes to significant reduction of belly fat.
Besides picking sound food choices, ensure good dietary habits. Some good pointers in this direction include:
- Do not skip breakfast. A healthy and balanced diet requires consumption of breakfast on a daily basis. Skipping breakfast invariably leads to a heavy lunch and a heavy lunch invariably leads to drowsiness and an unproductive evening. Healthy cereals, fibre rich breakfast bars or even an apple makes for easy and quick options, while still ensuring nutritional value.
- Opt for light but frequent meals rather than a few heavy meals to keep metabolism steady. Long gaps between meals tend to slow down metabolism and cause hunger pans, which may prompt overeating. To ensure proper metabolism, ensure that the breakfast is the heaviest meal of the day, lunch is the second heaviest meal of the day and dinner the lightest meal of the day. Intersperse these three meals with snacks.
- Drink adequate quantity of water to not only keep the body hydrated but also to wash away the toxins that store up as fat. The optimal quantity of water required is roughly the same figure in ounces as half the person’s body weight in pounds. Consuming less than optimal water may cause dehydration. Drinking excessive water may dilute essential salts and minerals. Sports drinks or potassium rich fruits such as bananas and apples constitute ideal supplements for water, when indulging in heavy physical activity and when sweating a lot.
- Make sure to get adequate sleep. Sleep deprived people burn off muscle rather than fat and tend to overeat.
The best way to reduce overall fat is indulging in cardiovascular workouts such as dancing, bike riding, rowing, running, jogging, paying basketball and football. Such workouts reduce the extra fat over the Abs. Having said this, such workouts would also tend to lower body fat elsewhere as it is not possible to target fat loss in any specific area of the body through workouts.
However, limiting the exercises to cardiovascular workouts would result in loss of muscle mass, including the muscles in the Abs. To limit muscle mass loss, it is important to indulge in regular resistant training. Lifting weights is a good option.
Although most people want to develop six pack Abs to show off, the primary purpose of the Abs is to work in conjunction with back muscles to maintain correct posture and stabilise the spine. The exercises aimed at developing six-pack Abs therefore need to align to support the spine. Some exercises that help are crunches, sit ups, leg lifts and static holds.
Crunches: Crunches are by far the most popular exercises to develop six pack Abs. This involves lying on the floor with arms in front of the chest or with hands lightly touching the temples. Bend the knees and raise the upper torso (shoulders) towards knees using the abdominal muscles. Make sure to avoid lifting the entire back off the floor, to avoid back strain. The critical part of the exercise is the initial flexing of the Abs when lifting the shoulders off the floor. Exhale air through the mouth when lifting and inhale air through the nose when shoulder blades touch the ground during the return phase. With time, do the crunches on a stability ball to introduce instability to your workout, and improve balance
Bicycle Crunches: Bicycle crunch exercises are a variant to ordinary crunches. This involves lifting feet off the ground while doing the crunches, alternating each leg in the air. Bring the left knee up toward the right shoulder and then the right knee toward the left shoulder.
Sit Ups: Sit Ups are another popular exercise regimen recommended to develop 6 Pack Abs. The method involves lying down on the floor with feet remaining on the floor but the knees up and hands crossed on chest. Wedge the feet underneath something heavy and sit all the way up, lifting lower back off the floor along with shoulder blades. Keep the back straight without hunching and go down again. Repeat this process as many times as required.
Jackknife Sit-Ups: A variant of the conventional sit-ups, this again requires lying down flat on the floor with hands on the sides. Raise the knees and torso. The legs fold naturally bringing feet towards the hips, resembling a jackknife. Spread out and repeat.
Leg Lifts: Legs lifts are another exercise that improves 6 Pack Abs. This involves lying down on the floor with legs straight out and hands at sides. Lift the legs straight up to a 90-degree angle without bending the knees. Then lower the legs and repeat without letting the legs touch the floor.
Static Holds: This requires putting the body into the push-up position but with elbows on the floor and the whole body flat. Hold the position as long as possible. This posture trains the core, including Abs to hold the body in place.
Having mastered the basics, add complex core-movements to the workout to boost overall body constitution. For example, combine push-ups with rows, or go into a push-up position on two dumbbells.
Advanced workouts also involve training oblique muscles, which is the muscles to either side of the stomach. The best way to do this is twisting when indulging in sit-ups, side bends, or using twisting machines at gyms.
The frequency of exercise has a big say in the success of the training regimen. Abs muscles, just like every other muscle need time for recovery after a workout. The optimal resistance-training regimen is twice a week and the maximum no more than every alternative day. However, the optimal range of cardiovascular exercises are at least 30 minutes a day.
Developing six pack Abs requires an integrated approach involving both diet and exercise. Concentrating on exercise with scant regards to diet would eventually result in fluctuating weight and regain the lost body fat in a short time. Again, crunches may help to develop Abs of steel, but body fat would still cover it. It would require cardiovascular activity and a strict diet regime to reduce the fat layer.
Finally, beware of the hype surrounding Ab machines and instant Ab exercises guaranteed to deliver 6 Pack Abs. There is no short cut to painstaking and long drawn out diet and exercise regimen to develop a 6 Pack Abs.
Finally, make sure to consult a doctor before starting any exercise or diet program, or acting on any information contained in this article. Some diet plans or exercise regimens may not suit and may actually be dangerous for people with certain medical conditions.