The perfect six-pack is not a myth. In fact, you already own it – it’s just hiding under belly fat. And since you can’t spot-reduce fat in specific areas (whatever you might have heard from a dodgy PT or the Internet), the key to losing belly fat is reducing your overall body fat percentage. The magic number is 10% to put your abs centre stage, but there are myriad health benefits to lowering your body fat percentage.
Firstly – and quite simply – you will live longer. The higher your body fat percentage, the lower your life expectancy. Being overweight or obese significantly increases your chance of dying from heart disease, diabetes or cancer, as well as suffering many other health problems.
But losing weight doesn’t just help you live longer – it also helps you get more enjoyment out of your longer life. Multiple studies have shown that losing weight increases your mood and positivity, makes food taste better, improves your libido and sex life, helps your brain fire on all cylinders and reduces expenditure on unhealthy habits.
So the physical and mental health benefits of getting lean are plain to see, but how do you get there? Eating healthily and regular exercise are your first steps, but in addition, each of these small changes will help make the difference.
1. Reduce your daily intake of liquid calories
When you’re trying to lose body fat, one thing that will undoubtedly help your cause is to stop drinking so many calories – especially those high-sugar, nutrient-light drinks. Subjects who replaced their daily can of sugar-laden fizzy pop with the same amount of water lowered their total daily liquid calorie intake from 17% to 11%, according to research from Virginia Tech in the US, which is almost down to the 10% limit of liquid calories recommended by authorities. A can of pop can contain around 35g of sugar – enough to send your blood sugar levels rocketing then crashing, making you crave another sugar hit. The sweeteners in diet varieties have been shown to increase hunger levels so you eat more, according to the University of Sydney – so your best bet is calorie-free soda water. Add fruit wedges for flavour.
But it’s not just cans of the fizzy stuff to watch out for. A glass of OJ contains more sugar per glass than fizzy drinks, but replace it with an actual, delicious orange not only reduces the calorie count but also provides all the other nutrients typically stripped out during the juicing process. More specifically, it gives you fibre, which helps blunt excessive blood sugar rises.
2. Get enough kip
“Seven to eight hours is the target,” says fitness model and PT Alex Crockford. “When your body is at rest is when your muscles grow and recover after exercise.” If you’re training like a demon but sleeping like a nocturnal ’90s raver you’ll burn out and end up packing on the pounds.
3. Attack this workout once or twice a week
Crockford’s go-to fat torching drill. Set a timer for three minutes. Do five pull-ups, 10 box jumps, 15 thrusters, 20 kettlebell swings and then as many reps as possible of good-form burpees until the time is up. Rest 60 seconds, then repeat for between two and four total sets. “Keep a tally of the total number of reps you accumulate,” says Crockford. “This is your score. Next time round, beat it.”
4. Eat more
Yes, you read that right. The key, though, is what to load up on. “Add two fistfuls of green veg to every meal,” says Precision Nutrition’s Brian St-Pierre. They’re nutrient-dense but low on calories – so they’ll fill you up without being fattening, and keep you healthy.
5. Drink a glass of water with every meal
It’ll keep your body hydrated and full, and keep your metabolism online.
6. Enjoy eating out
Don’t be the man ordering steamed chicken breast – as long as you’re getting a decent hit of protein and green veg, the steak and spinach is fine. Just leave the frites for another day.
7. Get stronger
Not everyone’s first priority, but lifting more weight will make any workout more intense. By adding 1.5kg worth of muscle to your body you have the potential to burn 1,050 extra calories a week, according to a study by the University of Michigan. Aim to progress in big, compound lifts like the power clean and squat, and every workout becomes a fat-burner.
8. Slow it down
Low-intensity steady state cardio (LISS) lowers the stress hormone, which is great as cortisol turns you into a fat-storage unit. Plus, a long slow jog will burn more calories than a short, sharp circuit. Even better, LISS can act as active recovery the day after an intense session so you get the best of both worlds.
9. Get a taste for spicier food
Capsaicin, the compound that gives chilli peppers their heat, will also play merry havoc your metabolism. Add paprika to your home-made burgers – you, uh, do make them from scratch, right? – and turn them into a fat-burning feast.
10. Drink milk
There is some evidence that calcium deficiency could slow metabolism. A pint of whole milk contains two-thirds of your RDI of calcium, and people who get enough of this mineral are leaner than those who don’t, according to the British Journal Of Nutrition. Research has shown that consuming calcium through dairy foods like low fat yoghurt or fat-free cheese could also contribute to reducing fat absorption from other food sources.
11. Increase your vitamin D levels.
This doesn’t include sitting in the sun for hours on end. Vitamin D absorbed from food is essential for the preservation of muscle tissue. You can get 90% of your recommended daily intake from a 100g piece of salmon. So eat plenty of fish, eggs, milk and cereals to get your intake up.
12. Get your fibre on
Research has shown that some fibre can fire up your fat burning by as much as 30%. These studies have found that those who are consuming the most amount of fibre are gaining less weight over a period of time. It’s best to aim for around 25g per day – start by adding wholegrains to your diet.