How to Get a Six Pack (According to Science)
With beach season (like we get one in the UK) just a few months away, now is the perfect time to put your fat burning wheels in motion and chisel yourself a nice, lean six pack. If you want one that is.
When it comes to shaping a six pack, body fat percentage is your starting point and will ultimately determine how long it will take you to get some nice washboard abs. If you’re already pretty lean, then getting a six pack may only take a few weeks of full attention to diet and training. However, if you’re starting with a little bit of extra padding, realistically, it’s going to take some time longer.
HOW FAST CAN YOU LOSE BODY FAT?
The rate at which you can drop body fat depends on multiple factors. How active are you? How much muscle do you have? And finally, how much of a calorie deficit can you sustain? We’ve already discussed the best way to kickstart rapid fat loss, however for some people – no matter how aggressive they are with their training – weight loss will be a slow process. It’s important to give ourselves enough time to make the desired progress.
If we consider 1lb of fat is around 3500kcal (the scientists out there no this estimate is not entirely accurate, but it’s suitable for this example) then in order to lose around 2lbs a week we need to have a weekly calorie deficit of -7000kcal, which is 1000kcal a day!
This quick calculation tells us it’s going to be hard work to lose body fat more rapidly – requiring a large reduction in calorie intake and a serious increase in activity. Moreover, it’ll be even more of a challenge if you’re female. This is because women typically tend to lose weight slowler than men because women tend to have less lean mass and expend less energy at rest and during exercises.
For example, a man who maintains weight on 2500kcal without exercise could reduce his calorie intake by 500kcal and increase his activity to burn another 500kcal. This would put him in a fairly comfortable daily deficit of 1000kcal. Whereas a woman might have to exercise more than 30% longer than the man to burn the same amount of calories. If she was eating 1700kcals a day and maintaining weight, then she would need to reduce her calorie intake to 1200kcal a day, which would be much harder to maintain in terms of overall food volume and controlling hunger.
BALANCE FAT LOSS RATES AND SUSTAINABILITY
There’s nothing inherently wrong with dieting on this few calories but it’s unlikely to be sustainable. Aggressive dieting needs to be used for short periods of time and mixed up a few days here and there with higher, maintenance calorie intakes to break up the dieting process. Alternatively, you can always take a more graded and less severe approach that might take longer, but is less likely to push your will power to the max. This really comes down to the individual.
In order to calculate the amount of calories you need for maintenance and make adjustments to create a calorie deficit, you can use one of many online calculators that will give you a fairly good calorie requirement estimate. However, these are only estimates, so you have to keep this in mind when managing your weight loss expectations. Afterwards, you can use apps like My Fitness Pal to track your daily calorie intake to try and hit your daily calorie and macronutrient targets.
In terms of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein), you want to make protein the focus of most meals because it is the most filling macronutrient and will help preserve muscle tissue and maintain your metabolic rate.
Aim for 1.6g per kg of bodyweight and then eat the rest of your calories from whatever sources you like. Just try and stick to high fibre whole foods, which will help keep you feeling full and healthy.
In the initial ‘diet’ stages, people tend to drop weight quickly – mostly bloat and water weight. So if you drop 4lbs+ in the first week this is unlikely to continue. Please don’t get disheartened. Just be consistent and most importantly patient.
Even after these initial stages, when weight loss becomes more steady, there will be a point where it will slow. Don’t worry too much – quite often there’ll be some body composition changes taking place. If you exercise – especially weight training – you might also be building muscle.
Naturally, as you lose weight and drop body fat, you’ll be carrying around a little less padding with you on your day to day activities. You’ll also be using less calories to do the same tasks. You might become more efficient at exercise too. Your output can be reduced even subconsciously as our bodies ‘rebel’ against dieting to try and conserve energy. You might want to get a six pack, but your body will try and resist this in some quite surprising ways.
YOUR BODY WILL ADAPT AND SLOW THINGS DOWN
You might fidget less, or adjust activity in other areas of your life, like walking less, not doing household chores etc. This is a form of metabolic adaptation so keep this in mind and try and keep on top of your activity levels. You can use smartwatches and activity monitors to get a rough idea of your daily activity. They aren’t 100% accurate but can be a useful tool.
YOU CAN’T LOCALISE FAT LOSS
On a final note, no amount of sit ups or crunches will give you a six pack without shedding some body fat. You cannot localise fat loss, so spend your time exercising focusing on increasing energy expenditure and building some muscle and that will definitely help more than endless amounts ab work.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR SIX PACK
The key to keeping a six pack is to ensure you don’t simply end the diet and go ‘renegade’ with your eating choices. Return your calorie intake back to your predicted maintenance intake and try not to do a post-diet binge. Maintaining a six pack is far from easy as when you have dieted your drivers to eat are going to want you to increase your body fat to healthy levels (being very lean isn’t necessarily healthy by the way). Don’t worry about gaining a few lbs, especially if your focus changes to building muscle, or just having a more balanced life!
If a six pack for your holiday or other event is important, then the key in the longer term is to keep yourself in touching distance, within 10-15lbs, of your ideal ‘look’. This is an amount of padding that many people can sustain and still have a balanced life, but still get abs back in 6 to 8 weeks when they decide to tighten up their diet.
Finally, remember having abs doesn’t mean you’re healthy or define you as a person. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is important for health, but don’t be overly obsessed with looking like a fitness model all year round. The truth is many of those you see in magazines only look like that for photoshoots, for only a few weeks of the year, not all year around as you might believe.