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 exercising regularly are your first steps, but in addition, each of these small changes will help make the difference.
1. 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.
2. 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.”
3. 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.
4. Try to drink a glass of water with every meal. It’ll keep your body hydrated and full, and keep your metabolism online. Soft drinks? Out.
5. 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 cheat day.
6. 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.
7. Go green. For tea, anyway – it’s the most natural fat burner available. Pair it with lemon to blunt your insulin response, making your body less likely to store food as fat.
8. Up the speed. Medium-intensity cardio ups your cortisol and turns you into a fat-storage unit: so keep it short and aggressive. Try a Tabata row: 20 seconds’ work, 10 seconds’ rest, repeated 8 times. The catch? You need to manage 100 metres every interval.
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. 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.s
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.