Sept. 10, 2009 -- Six-pack abs. Who doesn't want them? It should come as little surprise that one of the most asked questions that personal trainers get from guys is: "How can I get six-pack abs fast?"
Sure, a flat stomach is great. But it does not indicate good health. Many individuals who have a thinner physique are naturally thin because of their genetic makeup. They burn fat quickly, while the bodies of others are slower at this.
Moreover, whether a man has six-pack abs or a flat stomach tells you nothing about his flexibility, cardiovascular health, strength, digestive system, immune system, respiratory system or central nervous system. In short, if you see a thin person, don't assume he or she is in shape.
So, if you are a man and you would like to be in shape, what goal should you seek to achieve besides the coveted washboard stomach? After working more than 17 years in the fitness industry and coaching a number of individuals on diet and other aspects of health, I can offer four simple steps:
First, when eating, eat like a man.
Second, when exercising, don't be delicate; explore and discover.
Third, keep your blood sugar levels stable.
And last but not least, pay attention to the balance between your carbohydrate and protein intake.
Step 1: Eat Like a Man
Don't eat like a woman if you are a man. Confused? The truth is, women have different dietary needs than men -- due, in part, to hormonal fluctuations that take place on monthly cycles and throughout life. Men also have less body fat than women do, and have more testosterone and lean muscle tissue, which burns more calories.
With this in mind, calories must be adjusted accordingly. For example, men will need more calories than women who have the same activity level. According to the Harris Benedict Formula, a 50-year-old woman who weighs 150 pounds and is 5 feet, 8 inches in height would have a daily caloric need (technically known as a basal metabolic rate, or BMR) of 1,385 calories. A man of the same age, weight and height has a BMR of 1,524 calories.
Step 2: Expand Your Training Horizons
There are many marathon runners, iron man participants, and adventure competitors who think they only need to push themselves mentally, only in their environment. But they forget about their proper form and strength. Yes, you might have a perfect inner shell -- in other words, your cardiovascular system. But your external shell -- your posture -- is faulty. And the same is true for a jogger or a walker.
It isn't enough to train only your inner shell. If you like to burn more calories and shape your body, you've got to pick up some weights or work with your own body weight as resistance. Here are a few suggestions to get you started if you have not strengthened your body through resistance training for more than two years:
1) Push up -- Place your hands on the floor. Activate your abdominals so your body and legs form a straight line. Bend your arms until your nose touches the floor. Push yourself back up into the starting position.
2) Pull up -- Find a playground with swings. Position yourself below the swing. Hold on with your hands on the outside. Pull yourself up toward the swing while bending your arms. Straighten your arms and repeat.
3) Step up -- Find a bench. Place both hands on your hips and step up onto the bench with your right leg first. Lift your body up by straightening your right leg. Return to the starting position and repeat 20 times before switching to the other leg.
4 Steps for a Healthier Man
Have you been restricting yourself to resistance training with no cardio? Switch it up. Have you been trotting at a leisurely pace on the treadmill? Kick up the intensity levels and take an approach in which you alternate jogging with sprinting.
In short, don't do the same routine over and over; change it. And if there is nothing to change, well then it's time to "just start it." If you think you can't, then ask yourself, "Are you a winner or a loser when it comes to accomplishing your goals?" The choice is yours.
Step 3: Keep Blood Sugar Levels Stable
Let's say you start out your exercise routine with the best intentions. You are scheduled and committed to your workout times. But each time you work out, you hit the wall after 20 minutes. No energy.
Yes, low energy can be butt-ugly when it comes to a workout -- especially since stopping short can rob you of the benefits from fat burning that you would get with 30 to 40 minutes of cardio training.
Fortunately, stable blood sugar levels throughout the day may be the solution for you. If your energy drops during the day, you may have a tendency to grab food when you are on the run and eat any food that is put in front of you (donuts, chocolate-covered raisins, hot dogs from the deli -- sound familiar?).
If this is the case, you need to get a grip of yourself and change your habit. Simple sugars cause your pancreas to secrete insulin to process all of that sugar in your blood. As soon as this happens, your blood sugar levels drop back down and you feel lethargic again.
Think about a stock market chart in a down economic environment. At minute-to-minute intervals it might go up and down, but the overall trend is downward. The same thing happens with your energy levels when insulin and blood sugar enter this tug-of-war.
How to change this downward trend? Simple. Introduce complex carbohydrates, the equivalent of a recovery stimulus package for your blood sugar levels, to release slow and steady energy into your system.
Complex carbohydrates are unprocessed grains -- such as brown rice, whole wheat flour, millet or quinoa. If you don't know what they are, please ask your girlfriend, ask your wife, or just Google it. Implementing complex carbohydrates in the morning will slowly release energy and does not spike your blood sugar levels.
Step 4: Mind the Balance Between Carbs and Protein
There will always be a winner or a loser. If you compare your intake of carbohydrates to protein, which do you think will be the winner?
What the question really comes down to is: what is the big difference between carbs and protein on your blood sugar? The wrong carbohydrates can have the effect of a short burst and a quick letdown of energy. Protein, like fat, has a stabilizing effect on your blood sugar. Proteins stimulate the secretion of the hormone glucagon by the pancreas, which works in opposition to insulin. So all of that sugar that insulin stores as body fat, glucagon puts back into the blood stream for use as fuel.
Insulin is triggered by the wrong types of carbs. Glucagon is triggered by protein. So naturally, in a head-to-head comparison for weight loss, the winner will be protein.
But don't be without complex carbohydrates. An effective ratio for weight loss between carbohydrates, protein and fats would be 40-40-20. Most important, however, is still the amount of calories that you consume.
Muscle mass, definition and losing that belly can be accomplished by implementing the strategies we mention above. Protein, carbohydrates and fats, in the proper balance, each have a place in everyone's diet. Workout routines need to be challenging and periodically altered.
And to improve yourself physically and maintain mental agility, momentum is the key to success. Start the ball rolling and don't look back. Move forward. Are you starting today or are you going to read many more articles, books or magazines before you get started? The decision is yours.
Stefan Aschan is a leading expert on lifestyle, health and fitness who has helped more than 30,000 people get fit through advice on nutrition, fitness and lifestyle changes. For your free must-read "Updates and Solution" newsletter and e-report on "How to have 10 times more success losing weight, staying on top of your goals, and accomplishing the change of body shape and appearance," visit http://www.strength123.com.