Washboard abs, a comprehensive strategy: Part I
If you're like most, you've seen the infomercials, the ads and the magazine articles spewing their bullshit. "Great abs in five minutes a day, three days a week!" "Get a trim waistline without dieting!" "Get leaner and more muscular in 10 days using our brand new thingamajig!" It's catch phrases like these that make me want to vomit. The only thing worse than the catch phrase is the cesspool of information that usually follows. Infomercials are perhaps the worst offenders when it comes to fooling the public. They are filled with testimonials, endorsements, colorful graphs, sexy models, and a salesman that acts like he lives on a combination of crack and speed. The most alarming thing about this kind of advertising is the fact that it works. These marketing gurus prey on the ignorance and insecurities of literally millions of people.
I can promise you this: I will never give you anything but the most up to date, valid and reliable information out there. The article that follows is a guide to get you leaner. I am not promising a miracle in a week. I am not promising it will be easy. But I am promising you this information is founded in science and years of helping the average person to the competitive bodybuilder hit their goals.
So you say you want abs. You say you want to take your shirt off at the beach without being embarrassed. You say you can't lose the fat around your waist. Well, if you are truly ready to see results, I've got just what the doctor ordered.
MAKE THE COMMITMENT
You must understand that getting into shape has no down time. Losing body fat, gaining muscle, or just wanting to look better must be a lifestyle. If you don't make changes in your lifestyle, you are destined for failure.
You must decide if this is something you truly want and whether or not you are willing to make a firm commitment to yourself. It's going to take some time and a little effort.
It's not easy. But getting into shape doesn't mean that you're destined to a life of misery. In fact, the longer and harder you work, the more in tune with your body you become and the easier it gets. The more progress you make, the more motivated you'll be.
BIG GOALS, SMALL GOALS
Once you've made the commitment, you need to set a goal. This goal should be what you ultimately want to accomplish. It's what I call the "big goal." This could be any of a thousand things: shredded abs in 10 weeks, to lose 20 pounds in four months, to lose 50 pounds in one year. Whatever your big goal is make sure that it's reasonable. For instance, if you're 30 pounds overweight, don't expect to be shredded in a month. It may take four to six months, and depending on your genetics, motivation and lifestyle it may not happen at all. This is not meant to discourage anyone. You can always improve your health and the way you look. I just want to emphasize the importance of being realistic.
In order to reach your big goal you must set smaller goals. These small goals must be made daily and weekly. Simply develop your nutrition and training goals for each day and each week and follow accordingly. Using and attaining your small goals will be a fantastic motivational factor. These small goals are in the present, and in the immediate future you'll be consistently reaping the rewards of your efforts. Having a big goal without smaller, more attainable goals will greatly increase your chances of losing your drive and eventually result in failure.
KEEP A JOURNAL
To help keep you on the road to success keep a daily journal. It is imperative that you track your success as well as your failures. Record your daily workouts. Record your food intake for the day. Also record how you felt on a particular day and even record how you feel on particular exercises. Records must be kept of what works and what doesn't. I will be giving you no bull guidelines for nutrition and working the abdominal area, but each body responds differently. Without keeping a record you'll never know which direction to go.
VISUALIZE YOUR BIG GOAL
Your mind can be your greatest ally on the road to success. Once you set your big goal you need to use your mind to visualize how you want to look. You must be able to go as far as imagining how you feel once the goal is attained.
The concept of visualization may seem odd to some. However, it may surprise you to know that some of the most successful athletes, celebrities and businessmen use visualization to attain their levels of success. For example, Michael Johnson, Olympic gold medal winner and world record holder, said that he actually sees himself running with perfect form and then winning the race before it has even begun.
Power lifters make it a habit to see themselves successfully lift a weight before they've even made an attempt. National-level power lifter Joe Matos told me when I first started working out, "You've got to be able to see it happen in your mind first before your body can do it." I never forgot that and over the years discovered just how powerful that statement is in everyday life.
To help you visualize, put pictures of role models up on your bathroom mirror or on the refrigerator. Write your goals on a piece of paper and keep it in plain site so you can constantly be reminded, especially in your weakest moments. You'll be amazed at how small exercises like this can help in a huge way.
MACRO NUTRITION / Carbohydrates
Eating correctly is the number one way to tighten up that gut. You can lift all the weight you want and do abs till your blue in the face and never see much improvement. To get you started, let's first start with a lesson in macro nutrition. There are three basic macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat. Carbohydrates are by far the leading cause of obesity. Around the world there is almost no correlation between protein or fat consumption and obesity. There is a very strong correlation, however, between sugar consumption and obesity.
In the United States we've gotten heavier each year since 1964. This is when our consumption of carbohydrates started to rise dramatically. Fructose (a simple sugar) was also starting to be used more frequently in fat free foods. As our sugar consumption went up each year, our waistlines have gotten bigger. And they continue to grow. As a nation we are the heaviest we've ever been, and obesity among our children is reaching epidemic proportions.
Our being fat as a nation is almost entirely due to excessive carbohydrate consumption. Foods are not created equal. They are metabolized, assimilated, utilized and stored in different ways. Carbohydrates are a fuel source for the body. It is important to understand that even though carbs can be a good fuel source, they are a nonessential nutrient. Meaning we do not have to ingest them to live and be healthy. On the contrary, carbs in the quantities Americans eat them can and will lead to a very unhealthy existence.
Our inability to process carbohydrates in large amounts is the result of millions of years of evolution. According to many experts man evolved on a diet consisting of 65% - 80% protein coming mainly from fish sources. The rest was a mixture of grains, nuts and fruit if available. For millions of years, man didn't have candy, pasta, cereal or other highly processed carbs. We've only had refined sugar as part of our diet for a mere blink of time. You can begin to understand why carbs play such a big roll in obesity, diabetes and heart disease. We just do not have the ability to eat carbs, especially simple sugars, in the amounts that we do.
Many doctors, dieticians and other health care professionals would have you believe that in order to lead a healthy life, 70% of your diet needs to come from fruits, cereals, bread, etc. If the American so-called vitamin- and mineral-enriched balanced diet as touted by the American Medical Association and the American Dietetics Association is so healthy, why is diabetes and obesity increasing at such an exponential rate? Why is it that middle-aged American men only live eighteen months longer than they did in the year 1900? This, despite the fact that we have refrigeration, improved packaging technology, vitamin and mineral supplements and better, more nutritious food. We also have a huge variety of food available to us all year round. So what gives?
As you eat carbs your body breaks them down into a simple, more absorbable sugar called glucose. The glucose is then transported to the blood stream. As your blood glucose levels rise, it sends a signal to your body to release insulin. Insulin governs the processing of glucose. Glucose is processed by insulin in two different ways. As glucose levels rise insulin converts a portion of it to glycogen, which is stored in the muscle cells and the liver. Once all the storage space is taken up, and it doesn't take much, insulin will convert the rest to triglycerides and store it as adipose tissue, or FAT. Insulin is a facilitator of fat storage and a deterrent to fat break down. Even low levels of circulating insulin have been shown to prevent the breakdown of fat to be used as energy. This is why insulin is called the fat storage hormone.
So what is the answer? Cut carbs out of your diet? Absolutely not. It is almost impossible for most people to eat a no carbohydrate diet and not cheat or fall off the wagon entirely. The only people I know that can stay loyal to a protein diet are those that have a life-threatening situation like heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure. A life threatening illness can be a strong motivator. What most have to do, including myself, is fit the diet to your lifestyle and goals.
MACRO NUTRITION / Protein
Protein. Just the mere mention of it gives most doctors and dieticians an anxiety attack. They'll tell you all kinds of crap like: "Too much protein can lead to kidney and liver problems," "an average person can only absorb 30 - 40 grams of protein at one sitting," "vegetable protein is just as good as meat or fish protein," and on and on. I cannot tell you how tired I am of dealing with this unfounded garbage. Yes you heard it, unfounded. There is not one study to support any of these previous statements. I defy anyone to produce one study that supports those statements. You will find, however, a mound of evidence supporting higher protein diets. Protein has a whole host of positive effects.
Protein repairs and maintains everything in our bodies from hormones to muscles. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are eight essential amino acids, "essential" meaning we have to ingest these for survival because our bodies cannot manufacture them. If your protein intake is low your body will get the essential aminos it needs from your muscle tissue. This is a big reason strict wacko vegetarians have a much lower percentage of muscle than meat- and fish-eating humans. And they also have a harder time gaining muscle in the gym because, as a few studies have shown, vege males have 7% - 10 % less testosterone than their meat-eating counterparts.
Why anyone would consciously eat a diet low in protein is beyond me. There are two things that begin with the letter "P" that I would never cut back on. One of them is protein. I cannot remember where I read that, but I had to use it. So having said that how much protein should one consume? I, along with many experts in the field, recommend one gram per pound of body weight (g/lb). However if you train intensely, which is how you should train, you need upwards of 1.5 to 2 g/lb. How can you possibly do this without getting fat?
Protein and fat, in and of themselves, have little to do with getting fat. You see, a calorie is not a calorie. A calorie of a carbohydrate does not equate to a calorie of protein when being metabolized in our bodies. Protein calories are not likely to be stored as fat when compared to carbs. This is mainly due to the fact that proteins require a lot of energy to metabolize and assimilate. It takes about five to six times more energy to process protein than it does carbs. And as an added bonus protein helps to stimulate the secretion of glucagon, which helps to stop the fat storage effects of insulin.
To put it quite simply, if you do not consume enough protein you will not only put a halt to your efforts of obtaining a leaner, more muscular body; you can actually lose some of the muscle you're working so hard to get.
MACRO NUTRITION / Fat
Fat: is it friend or foe? Well if you ask most people, including health care professionals, they'll say foe. It's time for people to wake up! The current ways of eating aren't working. Why do you think for the first time in history the top six books on the New York Times Best Seller list were about the same subject? The subject was diets low in carbs, moderate- to high-protein, high in fibrous carbs (vegetable), and moderate fat. The reason is that these diets work. And they work for various reasons.
One of the biggest reasons protein diets work is the consumption of fat. That is, fat minus the abundance of carbs. Fat has many functions outside of being used as an energy source, and certain fatty acids are essential. Without eating them you'd literally die.
But how does fat help our diet? Well, fat satiates the appetite. Fat helps to stop the cravings for sugar. And probably most importantly, fat, when combined with a low sugar intake, actually aids in burning fat as fuel. That's right, fat helps burn fat. When fat is restricted, our bodies have a defense mechanism built in through evolution for survival. Our bodies will actually stop using fat as fuel in an effort to preserve our stores for future use.
Bodybuilders have known this for years simply through trial and error while dieting for competitions. Many bodybuilders while dieting for shows would reach a certain body fat percentage and suddenly plateau for no apparent reason. We found that adding fat to the diet like olive oil, or flax seed oil, would jump-start the body to burn body fat. It's not the amount of food you consume that is the problem. It's the types of food you're consuming.
Sounds bizarre, doesn't it? Especially since it goes against what most of you have seen and heard. But believe me, if you give the guidelines provided in part two (coming soon) some time, you'll eventually see some results.
Got a question for Mike? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.