Have you ever heard the phrase, “Abs are made in the kitchen?” Eating healthy and fueling for exercise can make a big difference in your performance, energy levels, and ability to build muscle. BUT, that doesn’t mean you need to go on a strict diet to get a 6-pack. In fact, that probably won’t help you as much…
There is not a list of “bad” foods you should avoid if you are wanting to get fit. Cutting out specific foods or entire food groups can lead to underfueling, missing out on important nutrients, and obsessive thoughts about food. Instead, focus on eating mindfully and think of ways that you can add nutritious foods to your diet!
Read on for more information about what foods to eat and avoid for a 6-pack abs, whether or not you should go on a diet to get a 6-pack, and tips for eating for exercise and fueling your body!
Should I go on a Diet to Get a 6-Pack?
Nope, going on a “diet” is really not a good solution to anything, even people that are trying to lose weight should not be going on a diet. Unfortunately, we are part of a culture that is obsessed with dieting!
Dieting can be tempting, especially when you hear about the experiences of others who have gotten serious results from following a certain diet.
However, you often don’t see the dark side to dieting. This might include:
- Obsessively thinking about food
- Missing out on special occasions because you are following a strict eating pattern
- Not enjoying the foods you are eating
- Increased depression and anxiety
- Binging due to restriction
- Weight gain
- Missing out on certain nutrients that your body needs
- Decreased energy levels
- Disordered eating
There is a healthier way to eat, even if you are wanting to get fit and work on your 6-pack! Focus on eating mindfully and listening to and responding to your body’s cues. Eat to nourish your body rather than punish your body.
What Foods to Avoid for a 6-Pack
I have great news for you- there aren’t any foods you have to completely avoid for a 6-pack! In fact, avoiding foods that you enjoy can actually make your brain hyper-focus on those foods and can lead to binging, as well as feelings of guilt and shame associated with food.
If you are looking to be more toned and develop your six-pack more, a healthy balanced diet is the best eating plan. You don’t need to completely avoid certain foods or food groups to have a defined stomach, but you should limit less healthy foods that don’t provide many nutrients.
Foods to limit for a 6-pack include:
- Sugary beverages
- Sugary desserts and treats
- Highly processed meats
- Fatty foods such as french fries, pizza, burgers, chips, ice cream, etc.
- Too many packaged, salty foods
- Refined grains
Instead of thinking about what foods you need to stop eating, focus on adding more nutrient-dense foods to your diet. Maybe that means including a fruit or a vegetable every at every meal, or including more whole grains with your breakfast.
Focusing on what you can add instead of what you need to take out is a much better way to think about healthy eating. It helps to keep your mind in a place of abundance rather than feeling like you are missing out on foods that you enjoy.
What Foods to Eat for a 6-Pack
It can also be helpful to understand carbohydrates, protein, and fat and how to include these important macronutrients in your diet. Vitamins, minerals, and water are also extremely important to a healthy diet. As you give your body all of the nutrients it needs, it will be much easier to build strength and develop your core.
Carbohydrates are the fuel that your body uses as energy. Your workouts are mostly powered by carbohydrates and if you don’t have enough in your system, you might not be able to exercise as hard and get the results you want.
Carbs are found in a lot of foods including grains and starches (potatoes, corn, peas, rice, pasta, bread, tortillas, oatmeal, pretzels, crackers, etc.), fruit (dried, fresh, canned and frozen), dairy products (milk and yogurt), and anything with sugar in it (candy, sweets, juice, etc.).
Protein is essential to building and maintaining healthy levels of muscle. Protein is made up of amino acids which really are the building blocks of your body! Protein is found in meat, poultry, fish, tofu, milk, greek yogurt, nuts, nut butters, protein powder, soy milk, edamame, cheese, and eggs.
Fat is one of the most misunderstood macronutrients. Some people try to avoid it, especially when they are trying to get fit, because they don’t want more body fat. It doesn’t actually work like that though- eating any macronutrient in excess of your body’s needs can lead to fat storage in your body. Healthy fats are actually extremely important because they help you feel satisfied, they can decrease inflammation, and they can help your body absorb important nutrients.
Focus on getting most of your fat from foods high in unsaturated fat. This includes avocados, olive oil, nuts, nut butters, and seeds. Saturated fats, mostly found in animal products, should be limited in your diet.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals don’t provide your body with any calories, but they are still important nutrients for your body. Your body is a powerful machine with lots of moving parts, and vitamins and minerals are involved in so many of the reactions and processes that are happening constantly. People that are athletic and putting a lot of strain on their body through exercise usually need even higher levels of vitamins and minerals to help their body deal with the stress.
Vitamins and minerals are found in tons of foods and each food has a different nutrient profile. This is why it is important to get a variety of foods from each food group in your diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables!
Did you know that your body actually contains A LOT of water? Water is technically a nutrient because it helps keep everything functioning properly in your body. Consuming enough water is especially important for athletes that are burning more energy and losing water through sweat.
Tips on Eating For Exercise
If you are going to the gym regularly and pushing your body to get stronger, you have to be giving it the nutrients it needs to do that. Putting so much stress on your body without helping it recover is actually going to do more harm than good. Here are some tips for fueling your body for exercise!
- Fasted workouts are not healthy. Expecting your body to go 100% without giving it any fuel to work with is ultimately going to backfire on you! Eating before exercise is a MUST!
- If you struggle to eat before you workout, experiment with different foods and eating times. If you are competing as part of a sports team or something similar, trying out a new fueling plan on the day of a competition is probably not the best idea- try to figure out what works for your body before then.
- The closer you get to exercise, the more you will want to focus on carbohydrates. Protein and fat slow down the digestion of carbs, which is not really what you want when you are about to go workout- you want the energy from those carbohydrates to be available right away.
- Try some liquid protein a couple hours before you exercise. Sometimes high protein and fat foods can make you feel sluggish if you eat them too close to exercise, but sometimes liquid protein is a little bit easier for your body to handle. Still be sure to pair it with a good source of carbohydrates!
- If you are working out for longer than an hour, you might need some extra carbohydrates during your exercise, especially if it is a really hard workout. This is where simple carbohydrates come in handy, especially sports drinks! The sugar in sports drinks digests quickly and is easy on the stomach.
- After exercise, your body needs fuel to recover and rebuild muscle. I encourage athletes to consume a good source of protein and carbohydrates within at least an hour of exercise. Sometimes it can be a good option to take a snack to the gym to buy you some time until you can get to a full meal.
- Take rest days! Overworking your body is not a good thing, and it can actually impair your progress. Take time to rest, but still fuel your body appropriately, even on rest days!
- Many athletes have high energy needs. Rather than cramming all of those calories into a few huge meals, space out your eating throughout the day. Make healthy, balanced snacks a regular part of your routine and include fluids regularly through the day too!
- Your body can’t really handle a ton of protein at a time. It is much better to eat protein every 3-5 hours to help with muscle growth. Most people only need between 15-30 grams of protein at a time!
- Practice mindful eating. Get rid of distractions when you eat so that you can tune in to what your body is needing. Our bodies are super smart and they will actually tell you what they need if you are willing to listen!
If you were feeling confused and maybe even a little nervous about what you can and can’t eat, hopefully you are feeling more confident now! There are no foods that are off limits, even when working on your 6-pack abs. Instead of thinking about what foods you need to stop eating, focus on how to add more nutrient-rich foods to what you are already doing.
Don’t get overwhelmed by all of the diets and confusing nutrition information available on the internet and from personal trainers. If you have nutrition questions, always get your information from a registered dietitian nutritionist– we are the only ones truly qualified to be giving you nutrition advice!
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