Is belly fat covering up all of your hard work? Sadly, no matter how many ab workout programs you do, if you don’t address the layer of fat hiding your abs, you will never get to see the fruits of your labor.
The problem is that belly fat is the most stubborn for most of us. Even after dieting, you are still left with a soft layer hiding your six-pack. To get those abs to pop, you need to address that belly fat specifically, and there are a couple of things you can do to target stubborn fat specifically. As with all fat loss, it all comes down to hormones. And if you can get your fat loss hormones working in your favor, belly fat will be a thing of the past.
Fat Loss Hormone 1: Cortisol
This so-called “stress hormone” is a major culprit for hiding your abs. When cortisol gets out of control, it encourages fat to accumulate in your belly.
If you have a stressful job, don’t sleep enough, have money worries, hit your workouts hard and frequently, allow yourself to succumb to road rage as you drive to work, or live with a level of anxiety about the pressures of life, there is a very good chance that you need to address your cortisol levels if there is ever any hope of having a lean midsection.
The Cortisol Fix:
There are several things you can do to keep cortisol at bay. For starters, ensure you’re getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and avoiding long marathon (over an hour) workouts is a good place to start. Other things that relax you, such as meditating, reading, journaling, going for a walk, or anything else along those lines, will go a long way to help control your stress hormone.
Nutritionally speaking, a couple of techniques can help keep cortisol under control.
First, strategically eating carbohydrates is a good place to start. Chronically low carbohydrate diets are very stressful on your body’s energy systems. Adding some days of high carb intake, especially after difficult workouts, will reduce your energy system stress. I usually have 2-3 high carbohydrate days throughout my week, all coinciding with my biggest workout days.
Secondly, a quick supplement trick to reducing post-workout cortisol and getting your body to burn belly fat rather than store it is to supplement with Vitamin C before your workout. Several studies have shown that taking Vitamin C before intense exercise can drastically reduce cortisol levels after your workout. One study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance showed that athletes taking 1500mg of Vitamin C before a 2-hour training session reduced their cortisol levels by an average of 57%. You want to take 1000-2000mg before your workouts to give you an edge.
And lastly, alcohol is not your friend when it comes to cortisol. The processing of alcohol in your body, which your liver deems as a toxic substance, is a stressful event that raises cortisol levels. In 2007, a study published by the Endocrine Society showed that regular drinkers have chronically higher cortisol levels. This would explain the “beer belly.” Bottom line, if getting a ripped midsection is a priority for you, frequent alcohol consumption will make things difficult.
Fat Loss Hormone 2: Insulin
In a nutshell, insulin sensitivity is how efficiently your body accepts the nutrients you are feeding it. When insulin sensitivity is high, you will be burning fat. On the opposite end of the spectrum, fat storage (especially on your belly) becomes the order of the day when you are insulin resistant.
The Insulin Fix:
As with cortisol, carbohydrates are the primary nutrient you want to be aware of for managing your insulin levels. Eating the right carbohydrates at the right time can keep insulin working for you properly.
Carbohydrates high in fiber and lower in sugars don’t elevate blood sugar nearly at the same rate. These carbohydrates are better for more regular insulin and blood sugar response.
The chart below shows good carb choices and some bad carb choices.
The right time to eat carbohydrates is anytime your body is naturally insulin sensitive. And, as mentioned above, the one time when your body is most insulin sensitive is your first meal after a demanding workout.
Make sure to consume some good quality carbs 1-2 hours after your toughest workouts. This will go a long way in improving your insulin sensitivity going forward.
Fat Loss Hormone 3: Catecholamines
Catecholamines may be your body’s strongest belly fat fighters. The catecholamines are a group of hormones released by the adrenal glands. Two of the more well know catecholamines are epinephrine and norepinephrine. When these catecholamines are elevated, your body will start oxidizing (burning) fat at a proficient rate due to the activation of Hormone Sensitive Lipase (HSL).
If you can strategically elevate catecholamines, fat-burning won’t be a problem for you.
The Catecholamine Fix:
One of the best ways to elevate catecholamines is with intense exercise. High-intensity interval training works very well for this.
An effective nutrition strategy is to incorporate intermittent fasting. Numerous studies have shown that intermittent fasting increases blood levels of catecholamines, which in turn increases your fat-burning rate.
There are many ways you can tackle Intermittent Fasting. My preferred Method of fasting is the 24-36 hour fast. I will take a break from eating once or twice a week. With the 24 hours fast, I will eat dinner tonight and then not eat again until dinner tomorrow night. The 36-hour fast extends this fasting period past dinner tomorrow night so that I don’t eat until the following morning. Although 36 hours sounds much more difficult, the reality is most of the time you are fasting is during sleep, so it is far less tedious than it sounds.
I’ve also found that these day-long fasts have worked wonders in improving my gut health. Occasionally taking a break from digesting my typical foods is a nice change for my digestive system. (less stress on the digestive system = lower cortisol)
Belly Fat Burning Action Plan
What good is all of this information without a plan of attack?
Here are the top 8 things you can do to start melting that stubborn body fat.
- Sleep 7-9 hours a night
- Mix in some high carbohydrate days coinciding with your most demanding workouts
- Take 2000 mg of Vitamin C before your workouts.
- Avoid frequent alcohol consumption and alcohol consumption in excess
- Eat “Good Carbs” in your first meal after your workout
- Avoid eating “Bad Carbs.”
- Use High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to raise catecholamine levels
- Try a 24-36 hour fast, 1-2 times a week
Meet the author of this post, James Gaida:
In the words of International Man of Mystery Austin Powers, “Allow me to introduce myself.” I am a fat loss expert and certified Precision Nutrition Coach. I have spent more than 13 years coaching clients towards “real world” results. During that time, I became certified as a Specialist in Performance Nutrition and a Certified Fitness Trainer.
My experience and passion went into creating the ultimate fat loss diet program. 4 Day Fat Loss (4DFL) is dedicated to teaching simple techniques to burn fat rapidly, increase energy, and live healthier lives. If you want to find out how to burn fat quickly and transform your body, check out the 4DFL Method.
P.S. – If you liked this article, then you will love the other articles that I have written for EFI:
- Taking Advantage of your Injury for Improved Body Composition
- How Fasting Can Help with Your Inflamed and Painful Joints
- The Truth About Carbohydrates for Fat Loss