Forget putting off finding your six-pack for another day. Here’s a list of things you can do to start torching body fat right now.
Typically, when someone aspires to having a better six-pack—or a six-pack, period—he or she does it with a sense of urgency. We assume this applies to you, too. You want a lean, shredded midsection ASAP. But how long does it take? A few weeks? A few months? More than that? If we had a single answer, you’d be the first to know. But it depends on many factors, one of which is your starting point. (If you already have a four-pack, for example, you may be just weeks away.)
Whatever your situation, we feel your urgency, and we’d like to help you do something about it today. Here, we give you 30 tips for burning the fat that’s covering the washboard abs that lie beneath. All of these tips can be used throughout the course of a single day. (And as an added bonus for minding these tips, you’ll actually burn fat while you sleep.) But, of course, don’t stop after just one day. Follow as many of these tips as you can day in and day out, and soon enough the aforementioned starting point will be history.
FIRST THING IN THE MORNING
1. Have a cup or two of coffee. Caffeine is found in most fat-burning supplements since it inhibits the storage of bodyfat and burns extra fat during exercise. Drink a large cup of coffee before cardio, but make sure it’s black—don’t add sugar or cream because the extra calories only impede your fat-burning efforts. Better yet, take 200-300 mg of a caffeine supplement. One study from Chonbuk National University (Chonju, Korea) found that caffeine and carnitine taken before a cycling workout increased fat-burning and endurance.
2. Supplement with BCAAs and carnitine before cardio. Cardio helps burn fat, but it can also burn muscle. So take 5 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and 1-2 g of carnitine 30 minutes before cardio. BCAAs minimize protein breakdown, and carnitine maximizes fat-burning during the workout and helps maintain testosterone levels.
3. Do cardio before breakfast. When you do cardio on an empty stomach, your body is more apt to burn fat as its primary source of energy since glycogen stores are depleted from eight hours of fasting the night before. This might mean waking up 30 minutes earlier than normal, but the fat-burning benefits are worth it.
4. Do intervals. Any cardio is better than none, but intervals have been shown to burn more fat than cardio sessions done at a constant slow-to-moderate intensity. A study from Laval University (Ste-Foy, Quebec, Canada) found that subjects who trained with intervals lost nine times as much bodyfat as those who performed a moderate-intensity cardio program for 20 weeks. Try going for 20-25 minutes at a roughly 1:1 ratio of intense to slow/moderate intervals (for example, sprint for a minute, walk for a minute and repeat).
5. Eat eggs for breakfast. After cardio, it’s time to eat, and it doesn’t get any better than whole eggs. The yolks contain nutrients, such as healthy fats and lecithin, that enhance muscle growth, promote fat loss, and enhance mental function. The cholesterol found in eggs helps to synthesize testosterone, which aids fat-burning indirectly by promoting gains in lean muscle. The fat in yolks also provides much-needed energy to your muscle cells and typically isn’t stored as bodyfat. A study found that consuming eggs for breakfast reduced hunger and food intake for more than 24 hours, compared to a breakfast containing bagels. Two or three whole eggs plus 2-3 egg whites for breakfast should suffice.
Worried about the cholesterol from egg yolks? Don’t—one study from the University of Connecticut (Storrs) found that subjects who consumed an extra whole egg (640 mg of additional cholesterol) each day did not experience an increase in the low-density lipoprotein cholesterol particles associated with cardiovascular disease, compared to those not eating eggs.
6. Go slow. Along with protein and healthy fat, you should consume a slow-burning carbohydrate at breakfast. We suggest two slices of whole-wheat toast or one cup of cooked oatmeal. The slow-digesting carbs improve fat loss by keeping insulin levels steady and increasing the amount of fat you burn during exercise. You’ll also have sustained energy for the next several hours, as whole grains digest slowly and feed your brain and muscles gradually. Researchers from Loughborough University (England) found that when athletes ate slow-digesting carbs at breakfast and lunch, they had lower insulin levels and higher levels of fat-burning during the day compared to those who ingested fast-digesting carbs. They also discovered that test subjects who ate slow carbs spared muscle glycogen better during exercise due to greater fat use. In addition, the fiber present in 100% whole wheat has been shown to aid fat loss and keep you feeling full so you don’t overeat.
7. Eat half a grapefruit with breakfast. Consider this fruit a wildcard fat-burning food. One study from Scripps Clinic (San Diego) found that subjects who ate half a grapefruit three times a day lost an average of nearly 1.8kg in 12 weeks. This could be due in part to grapefruit’s ability to reduce insulin levels as well as its high level of vitamin C, which is believed to be effective at burning fat.
8. Eat oatmeal. Let’s assume it has been a couple of hours since breakfast. Time to eat again, as burning maximum fat requires eating 6-8 small meals a day spaced 2-3 hours apart to keep the metabolism stoked. Oatmeal is a great fat-burning snack because, like the whole-wheat bread you ate for breakfast, it contains loads of fiber. Consume about one cup of cooked oats now, but make sure it’s not a flavored, sugar-laden kind.
9. Have some cottage cheese, too. No meal is complete without a good source of protein, and cottage cheese is about as convenient and bodybuilder-friendly as it gets because it’s packed with protein and is low in carbs—28 g of protein and just 6 g of carbs per cup. The protein is mostly slow-digesting casein, which decreases muscle breakdown and makes you feel fuller longer. Just be sure your cottage cheese is no more than 1% milkfat.
10. Drink lots of water. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can actually increase your metabolic rate and leave you less likely to overeat since you’ll feel fuller; likewise, being dehydrated can result in decreased fat-burning. A study from Germany found that when subjects drank about two cups of cold water, they increased their metabolic rate by 30% for more than an hour. Drink two cups of cold water between meals to keep your metabolism high. Drink regularly and make sure you consume at least a gallon of water a day.
11. Supplement with green-tea extract. Green tea contains both caffeine (mentioned earlier as a potent fat-burner) and catechins, phytochemical compounds that help burn fat. Your best bet is to supplement 500 mg of green-tea extract three times daily before meals, because an extract is absorbed more readily in the body than tea.
12. Warm up before you lift. If you can find just 10 extra minutes before you begin your resistance training to do a moderate warm-up on a treadmill, stationary bike, or other form of cardio equipment, you’ll get a leg up on fat-burning. Research shows you can burn up to 150 additional calories by doing a brief cardio session before training with weights.
13. Train large muscle groups. You burn more calories (and, subsequently, more bodyfat) during and after a chest and back workout than from an arms workout simply because you’re involving more muscle mass. For the same reason, you burn more calories training those larger bodyparts with free-weight compound exercises (squats for legs, barbell and dumbbell presses for chest, barbell and dumbbell rows for back) rather than isolation and machine moves (leg press or flyes, for example). One study presented at the 2005 National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Annual Meeting reported that performing squats burned about 50% more calories than the leg press. But don’t limit yourself to two bodyparts—doing a modified full-body workout in which you train, say, chest, back, shoulders, and legs (save arms, calves, and abs for another day) allows you to burn even more calories. In this case, try doing 1-2 exercises per bodypart, 3-5 sets each, and train each muscle group more frequently (such as twice each week).
14. Lift heavy. Common gym lore says you should lift with light weights and high reps to burn more calories and fat. Not necessarily. Studies have shown that training with heavy weight (doing sets of around six reps) keeps your metabolism higher and your testosterone levels elevated for longer after the workout, both of which result in greater fat-burning potential.
15. Keep your rest periods short. Just because you’re training in the six-rep range doesn’t mean you need to sit around for 3-5 minutes between sets. Short rest periods maximize calorie burn. Typically, we’d suggest 30 seconds between sets (research shows this rest period burns the most calories during the workout), but because you’re training relatively heavy, feel free to bump that up to about one minute. To ensure muscle recovery with less rest, alternate bodyparts every other exercise. For example, if you’re training chest and back with three exercises each, do a chest exercise, then a back move, then return to chest, and so on; if you’re doing a modified full-body workout, go from chest to back to shoulders to legs, then return to chest. While one bodypart is being trained, the others get a chance to recover.
16. Extend your sets. Burning more calories by lifting weights means squeezing in more work in roughly the same amount of time. This is where techniques such as drop sets and rest-pause come into play. Say you’re doing a set of six reps to failure on a given exercise. After the sixth rep, either decrease the weight and immediately rep out to failure again (drop set), or rest 15-20 seconds and perform a few more reps with the same weight (rest-pause). Extending sets in these manners burns more calories and fat. To avoid overtraining, which can actually limit fat loss, use such techniques on only the last set of each exercise.
17. Load up on simple carbs post-workout. Who knew eating processed carbs could burn fat? At one time of day it will: post workout. Immediately following intense exercise, muscles need replenishing via increased blood glucose (sugar) or they’ll begin to break down. Less muscle mass means a slower metabolism, which is the last thing you want. Therefore, consume 60-100 g of a fast-absorbing carbohydrate (a sports drink, white bread, or white rice cakes) immediately after training to keep your metabolism revving.
18. Drink a whey protein shake. Your muscles need protein, too—and fast—to avoid breaking down immediately following weight training. Whey protein is the ideal fast-absorbing protein. Drink 20-40 g mixed in water within 60 minutes after lifting. Data from a 2004 Journal of Nutrition study shows that when whey protein makes up a good portion of dietary protein, it enhances fat loss.
19. Take creatine. This popular bodybuilding supplement isn’t just for adding size. Creatine increases metabolism when coupled with lifting, burning up to 100 additional calories a day. Take 3-5 g of creatine along with your postworkout carbs and protein.
20. Eat a handful of nuts. If you have a long gap between your postworkout meal and dinner, you need to squeeze in another snack/meal to maintain your metabolism. Eating a handful of almonds works nicely. Studies have shown that those who eat nuts have an easier time staying lean.
21. Have a salad before dinner. The key to reducing fat intake at dinner is making sure you don’t eat too much. In a clinical study at Pennsylvania State University (University Park), having a salad as an appetizer was shown to lead to eating 12% less at the main course, since lettuce and other healthy salad ingredients (including nuts, garbanzo beans, and vegetables) help you feel fuller. But avoid unhealthy salad additives, such as fatty dressings and crumbled blue cheese, which sabotage your efforts.
22. Eat fish for dinner. The healthful omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon and trout can promote fat loss. One study showed that individuals who ate fish on a daily basis dropped more weight than occasional fish eaters did. Of course, that doesn’t mean fried fish—make sure yours is grilled.
23. Have a side of broccoli. This superstar vegetable is nutrient-dense and high in fiber, both of which aid your fat-loss efforts by making you feel full. Broccoli is also high in calcium (which many studies have shown is linked to weight loss), not to mention vitamin C (another potential fat-burner) as well as chromium (which curbs carb cravings and stabilizes insulin levels). So place a pile of broccoli on your dinner plate next to your salmon.
24. Have a glass of fat-free milk. Dairy products fight fat because of their calcium content, so when deciding what to drink with your dinner, a glass of milk is a great choice. (The fact that it contains protein doesn’t hurt, either.) We suggest fat-free because, well, there’s no fat in it. But we’ll give 1% a pass, too.
25. Eat fruit for dessert. Don’t spoil a perfectly healthy meal with a sugar- and fat-laden dessert. Got a sweet tooth? Eat a piece of fruit after dinner, such as an apple or pear (we assume a grapefruit after dinner doesn’t sound appetizing). Fruit is generally low in calories, high in fiber, and loaded with antioxidants such as vitamin C—all allies in your fat-burning efforts.
26. Take a walk after dinner. Got a dog? Take him for a walk after dinner. No dog? Go for a walk anyway. It’s not rocket science: Taking a nice, leisurely walk burns additional calories, which is helpful after a substantial dinner, especially if you “accidentally” ate too much. Even if it’s just a 20-minute stroll, a walk does you good—but try to keep a decent pace.
27. Avoid all carbs. What not to do is just as important as what you should do. That said, steer clear of carbohydrates after dinner, because those eaten in the late evening are destined to be stored as bodyfat. The one exception to this rule is if you train late at night. If so, you need to consume simple carbs postworkout as mentioned earlier.
28. Eat a slow protein. To maintain your muscle mass you should eat something late at night, and protein is the best choice. A shake is ideal because many powders are free of carbs and fat. Casein protein (as opposed to whey protein) is your best bet because it’s slow-digesting and feeds your muscles gradually while you sleep, which minimizes muscle wasting and, as a result, promotes a high metabolism. Thus, casein offers greater fat-burning potential.
29. Take ZMA at bedtime. The supplement ZMA contains zinc, a mineral crucial to staying lean; low levels of zinc can result in less testosterone in the body and lower metabolism. Not sure if you’re low on zinc? Research shows that hard-training athletes are low in zinc. As long as you work out harder than your girlfriend, you probably are, too. Just to be safe, take a ZMA supplement on an empty stomach about 30-60 minutes before going to sleep.
30. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep. Missing out on sleep can mean missing out on muscle repair that occurs when your body is at rest. Messing with the repair process means less muscle and, subsequently, a slower metabolism. If your alarm is set to go off at 7 a.m., be in bed by midnight. Then wake up and repeat these 30 steps all over again.