We’ve all heard the saying that and are made in the kitchen. But what does it mean? And why aren’t abs simply made by working out diligently?
Here’s the real talk: six packs? They take some serious discipline. And that means that it’s not just the exercise that matters, it’s also the diet.
Science time: your rectus abdominis, those muscles that make up the “six pack” muscles, are covered by a layer of fat. And that layer of fat is going to take a minimum of three months to a year to go anywhere depending on your body composition. But it’s also important to know that even if you can’t see your abs, they’re still working hard for you every day. So, it’s still important to establish a good routine to establish a strong core even if seeing that definition isn’t your goal.
The last time I had serious ab definition, my routine looked liked this:
- Six days a week of either a one-hour cardio, strength, or HIIT
- Four days a week of running. A minimum of five kilometres, and, because I was training for a marathon, I was putting in an average of 50 kilometres per week, give or take
- One active rest and recovery day that included foam rolling, a bit of yoga, and running around with the kids
- I was eating about 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day of dense, plant-based calories
In short, if abs are your goal, it will take commitment and drive. To get you started, here are a few tips from those in the know:
- Work out consistently – at least six days a week, for 30 to 60 minutes per day
- Do your core work – planks, ab rollouts, stability ball crushes, Russian twists, etc. Add a five to 10 minute core routine to your usual workout at least 3 to 5 times a week
- Add cardio to your routine. Why? Cardio does burn fat… that same fat that’s covering your ab muscles
- Know the role diet plays. Because of the layer of fat mentioned above, abs don’t necessarily show up just with exercise. You do need to watch your diet, too
- Similar to point four, your diet plays a role, but cutting out food groups, or restricting calories so severely that you’re hungry all the time, is not the answer either. Eat a diverse diet of whole foods
- Avoid refined sugars, starches, alcohol, and other processed foods. These foods will add that layer of belly fat quickly. If you want abs, that nightly glass of wine is not getting you there
- Crank up the fibre and the water in your diet. Fibre helps keep you full, and water keeps you hydrated, helps control hunger (most people who are hungry all the time may just be dehydrated). There’s also a lot more benefits besides seeing your abs to both of these steps. Fibre is great for digestion, and water helps with everything from digestion to clearer skin
- Calorie deficits will be a requirement. In other words, to see abs, you’ll need to burn more calories than you eat. This is normal for any weight loss to happen, but there is a balance. Eat too little, and your body will assume you’re starving, and hold on to every calorie you eat. Figure out the balance that works best for you, and know that if you’re incredibly active, you will need more calories than a sedentary person
Even with all these points, it’s important to also remember that life is about balance. For me, when I was following the program above, yes, you could see my abs, but I was likely not particularly healthy. My balance between work, workouts, and enjoying time with family, friends, and partners was completely skewed. I had early morning workouts, and was planning my weekends around long runs. In short, I was an awful person to spend time with.
I’ve decided the best option for me is to stop striving for that coveted definition and work instead at something more in line with my goals – a strong core that helps me run faster and prevents injury.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with doing the work, if the work is part of what makes you love your body. I know I feel so much happier with myself if I treat myself with care and respect.