Achieving taut, flat and ripped abs takes commitment, willpower and careful dietary planning. Exercising your ab muscles with twists, crunches and holds builds strong muscle, but it doesn't directly help you get the definition your desire. A balanced diet containing few, if any, processed foods is critical in achieving that chiseled, washboard look. A quality, whole-foods diet augments a comprehensive workout program that includes strength training and cardio, including ab-specific exercises and high-intensity interval training.
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To get a ripped midsection, you'll have to reduce your body fat to an extremely low level -- between 6 and 9 percent in most cases. How soon you reach this body fat level depends on your weight when you start. The heavier you are, the more fat you must lose to achieve your goal. When you're already relatively lean, losing the last few pounds of fat can be a slow process that requires extra dietary and workout attention.
Making healthy food choices is a good first step toward creating ripped abs, but you must also keep your calorie intake on point. Most adult males need between 2,200 and 3,000 calories daily, so a deficit of 250 to 1,000 calories helps you drop between 1/2 and 2 pounds of fat per week. As you lose fat all over your body, your muscles -- including your abs -- will appear more defined. If you have a lot of fat to lose, start with a higher calorie deficit so you lose excess fat quicker. As you get closer to your goal, weight loss will naturally slow, and you may opt for the less-aggressive deficit so you avoid losing muscle mass along with fat.
The more faithful you are to your diet and workouts, the better your results. It'll take some planning to make sure all your meals are on point. Prepare meals at home and pack them in a cooler so you're set for the day.
At each meal, fill your plate with a 4- to 5-ounce serving of protein, generous servings of nonstarchy vegetables, and 1/2 to 1 cup of whole grains or starchy veggies. Include a tablespoon or two of healthy, unsaturated fats in your meals throughout the day, too.
Snacks should combine quality carbohydrates, which supply energy, and protein, which helps you maintain and gain muscle. Muscle is necessary for keeping your metabolism revved so you burn more fat, get leaner and look muscular.
To lose fat as quickly as possible, stick to whole foods and avoid processed choices, such as packaged cereals, chips, crackers, pasta, sweets, soda and fast food. Foods with long ingredient lists that include refined flours, chemicals and sugars won't help you achieve ripped abs.
Make protein the focus of your diet for ripped abs. Choose sources of lean protein such as white fish, flank steak, eggs, chicken or turkey breast and tofu. If you tolerate dairy, low-fat Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are other quality sources of protein. Lactose-intolerant men, though, may experience bloating as a consequence of consuming dairy.
Vegetables provide you with fiber, to help you stay full, as well as nutrients to keep your body in tip-top shape. Most watery versions, including romaine, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, zucchini and peppers, are appropriate. Choose the most colorful ones to maximize your diet's nutritional value. Starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and peas, can also be an occasional meal item. Have fruit, such as berries or apples, as a snack-time carbohydrate or a healthy dessert.
Whole grains have more fiber and nutrients than quick-digesting, refined grains and provide you with the energy you need for workouts. Quinoa, brown rice, barely and sprouted-grain breads -- often found in the freezer section -- are choices.
Examples of unsaturated fats that support your diet include nuts, avocado, seeds, olive oil and salmon.
The exact serving size at each meal depends on your personal caloric needs to lose fat and maintain muscle. Breakfast ideas include eggs sauteed with chopped mushrooms, peppers and onion alongside oatmeal with low-fat milk and walnuts; peanut butter spread on sprouted grain toast with Greek yogurt and berries; or a lean ground turkey patty topped with sliced tomato and avocado, with baked sweet potato wedges.
At lunch and dinner, serve yourself a grilled chicken breast with barley and a large green salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. Alternatively, broil salmon and serve it along with steamed broccoli and a sweet potato. Flank steak, topped with salsa, goes with sauteed onions and peppers, guacamole and brown rice. Season meats and vegetables with spices, herbs, citrus and vinegar rather than bottled sauces or dressings, which contain added sugars, flavor enhancers and preservatives.
Snack options include cottage cheese with blueberries; almonds with an apple; deli turkey on sprouted grain bread or a smoothie made with a scoop of whey protein, cherries and almond milk.