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Contrary to what many think - one does not get six-pack abs on crunches alone. While the first prehistoric man to sport ridges on his underbelly (after he got rid of the scales) was probably very active, his mastodon meals were loaded with protein, and he didn't have to worry about highly processed foods. Considering he had a brain the size of a small lemon, his ab-friendly nutritional regimen wasn't the result of forethought; rather it was a series of small strategies he incorporated unconsciously. That's what we have come up with for you: 12 small nutritional tweaks that are so painless, you won't take notice of them until your stomach begins to look like the back of a stegosaurus, and the local women start migrating to your cave without requiring the customary club-strike to the backs of their heads.
1 Don't cut too much fat. It may be tempting, in your quest for perfect abs, to completely embargo all fat, but it's not wise. In research conducted at Harvard University Medical School, subjects on a low-calorie, moderate-fat weight-loss diet were able to stay with the program longer and adhere to it more closely than those who cut fat out altogether. Stick with Mediterranean-style fats such as olive oil, fish, nuts and avocados, which do not promote heart disease or cancer, but do have health benefits such as lowering your cholesterol and protecting your joints.
2 Use nonfat dairy products high in calcium. Substituting nonfat milk for whole milk is a no-brainer, but clearing out all that saturated sludge is just one of the pluses. Scientists at the Department of Nutrition at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, found that subjects who included nonfat calcium sources in their diets lost more body fat than calcium-free subjects.
3 Drink more water. For years you have heard doctors, nutrition experts, personal trainers and MEN'S FITNESS apostles say you need to drink eight 8-ounce of glasses of water a day. This is great advice for maintaining overall heath and ensuring optimal performance, but if you can swallow a bit more, you can burn extra fat. In a study published in the journal Metabolism, subjects who hyperhydrated experienced greater lipolysis, the burning of stored fat. Water helps mobilize fat stores, while dehydration prompts stubborn fat to sit tight (or, more accurately, sit loose). Many weight-loss experts believe that drinking one ounce of water (or any noncaffeinated, nonalcoholic beverage) per pound of body weight is the formula for effective fat burning.
4 Avoid carbonated beverages. If you're trying to lose fat, full-sugar sodas should be one of the first things you banish from your diet. However, many bodybuilders and other physique competitors stay away from carbonated drinks, even diet ones, as they believe the beverages cause bloating and water retention, perhaps due to the sodium content.
5 Replace starches with vegetables. While we don't endorse voguish carb-restricted diets, it is true that many people overeat carbs, especially processed ones. Try cutting your usual portions of rice, potatoes or pasta in half, substituting a cup of a vegetable such as broccoli, cauliflower, green beans or zucchini. While a cup of white rice contains 240 calories, a cup of mixed steamed vegetables has only 50.
6 Don't eat a big evening meal. A lot of guys harbor the false notion that skipping meals during the day will help them shed pounds. However, this inevitably leads to massive bingeing at night, which is a sure way to put on flabby pounds. Instead, eat your bigger meals earlier in the day and progressively downsize the later it gets. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that calories eaten in the morning are much more likely to be used for energy than calories eaten at night, which easily go unused and are stored as fat.
7 Creatine helps burn fat. For years creatine has been used to pump up muscles, but it also helps burn calories. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine showed that creatine can help you burn an extra 100 calories a day. Try five grams a day, taken after your workout, for at least six weeks.
8 Vary your caloric intake. Instead of eating the same thing day in and day out, try this: Eat very strictly two days a week and moderately three days a week, then give yourself a little slack on the weekends. (We said a little.) The opportunity to splurge a bit makes it easier for you to stay on a low-calorie intake for longer periods. It also sends your body mixed signals, never giving it the chance to kick in its primitive survival mechanism that stores fat when calories are cut back.
9 Pump up the protein. When you decrease your total calories, you need to increase your protein intake an extra 20 percent to maintain your muscle mass and keep your metabolism in high gear. For a guy who weighs 180 pounds, this computes to 36 grams of protein a day. Calorically, this won't make much of a difference; it's only an extra 144 calories.
10 Make some of it casein protein. Casein protein, found in milk and cottage cheese, is a slow-burning protein that takes more time to break down than whey. By staying in your system for a longer period, it provides your muscles with a steady stream of amino acids, helping maintain your muscle mass and thus keeping your fat-burning furnace stoked
11 Spread it out. Parceling out your daily calories into four or five (or even six or seven) smaller meals can lead to a trimmer physique over time. For one, you benefit from the "thermic effect" of food--your body uses calories to digest food, and the more often you digest, the more you burn. This technique also keeps your muscles swimming in amino acids, and keeps your insulin levels, which lead to fat accumulation when left unchecked, under control.
12 Keep at it. This sounds like obvious advice, but it's worth repeating. At times your fat-loss program may seem unbearable, but research shows that the longer you stick with it, the easier it gets. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that subjects who maintained their weight loss the longest reported that it took less effort to diet, and that they could pay less attention to their food intake and still keep the weight off.
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