The Abs diet is a six-week plan that combines nutrition and exercise. It emphasizes 12 power foods that are the staples of the diet. It focuses on building muscle through strength training, aerobic exercises, and a dietary balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fat. An updated version of the diet (the New Abs Diet) was released in 2010, and there is also a version targeted for women.
David Zinczenko, editor of Men’s Health, developed the diet in 2004. He introduced it in the magazine and in his book The Abs Diet: The Six-Week Plan to Flatten Your Stomach and Keep You Lean for Life. Zinczenko says he grew up as an overweight child and by age 14 was 5 ft. 10 in. (1.8 m) tall and weighed 212 lb. (96 kg). He learned about fitness while in the U.S. Naval Reserve and nutrition from his tenure at Men’s Health.
Despite its name, the diet does not specifically target abdominal fat. Exercise helps the body burn excess fat but it is not possible to target specific areas of fat, such as the abdomen. Diet and exercise help eliminate excess fat from all areas. If the bulk of a person’s fat is around the belly, then that is where the greatest amount of fat-burning will occur. The Abs diet is designed to provide the necessary vitamins, minerals, and fiber for good health, while it promotes building muscle that helps increase the body’s fat burning process.
The Abs diet claims it will allow people to lose weight—primarily fat—while developing a leaner abdomen and increasing muscle tone, strength, general health, and sexual health. The diet has two components: exercise and nutrition. There are six general guidelines that are the basic principles of the diet. These are:
- eat six meals a day
- drink smoothies regularly
- know what to drink and what not to drink
- do not count calories
- eat anything for one meal a week
- focus on the Abs diet 12 power foods
The diet strongly recommends its followers eat six meals a day to help maintain what researchers call an energy balance. This is the number of calories burned in an hour versus the number of calories taken in. Georgia State University researchers found that when the hourly surplus or deficit of calories is 300–500 at any given time, the body is most susceptible to burning fat and building lean muscle mass. To stay within this range, Zinczenko recommends the following daily meal schedule: breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, midafternoon snack, dinner, and evening snack.
Another guideline is to drink smoothies regularly in place of a meal or snack. Smoothies are mixtures of low-fat milk and yogurt prepared in a blender with ingredients such as ice, protein powder, fruits, and peanut butter. Although there are no definitive studies, some researchers suggest that the calcium in the milk and yogurt helps to burn body fat and restricts the amount of fat produced by the body.
A third guideline details what to drink and not to drink. Drinking eight glasses of water daily is recommended. The benefits of 64 ounces of water are that it helps to alleviate hunger pangs, flushes waste products from the body, and delivers nutrients to muscles. Other acceptable drinks are low-fat milk, green tea, and no more than two glasses of diet soda a day. Alcohol is not recommended since it does not help to make a person feel full. It also decreases by one-third the body’s ability to burn fat and makes the body store more of the fat from food. In addition, it decreases the production of testosterone and human growth hormone that help burn fat and increase muscle mass.
Although burning calories is required to lose fat, Zinczenko says calorie counting makes people lose focus and motivation. The foods allowed on the diet are energy-efficient and help curb feelings of hunger, according to Zinczenko.
People following the diet are allowed to cheat for one meal a week. The meal should include foods that the dieter misses most, including items high in carbohydrates and fats. This helps prevent feelings of burn-out or frustration that are often experienced when dieting, at least in the early stages.
The last guideline is to focus on the 12 power foods of the diet to help meet core nutritional requirements. The 12 power foods are:
- almonds and other nuts (unsalted and unsmoked)
- beans (except refried and baked)
- green vegetables, including spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus
- non-fat or low-fat dairy products
- instant oatmeal (unsweetened and unflavored)
- eggs and egg substitute products
- lean meats, including turkey, chicken, fish, and beef
- peanut butter
- olive oil
- whole-grain breads and cereals
- whey protein powder
Other foods that can be eaten often include almond butter, apples, avocados, bananas, bean dips, brown rice, Canadian bacon, canola oil, cashew butter, citrus fruit and juices, edamame, fruit juices (sugar-free), garlic, hummus, lentils, mushrooms, melons, pasta (whole-wheat), peaches, peanut oil, peas, peppers (green, yellow, and orange), popcorn (fat-free), pretzels (whole-wheat), pumpkin seeds, sesame oil, shellfish, soup (broth-based), sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and yellow wax beans.
Adequate exercise is as important as good nutrition in losing fat and flattening the stomach in the Abs diet. It includes strength training three times a week, abdominal exercises two or three days a week, and optional aerobic exercises two or three times a week. There are three basic principles to the exercise program: leave at least 48 hours between weight workouts of the same body part; do no exercises one day a week; and warm up for five minutes before exercising by jogging lightly, riding a stationary bike, jumping rope, or doing jumping jacks. There are three components of the plan that target different types of exercise:
- Strength training—Total-body workouts three days a week, with one workout placing extra emphasis on the leg muscles.
- Cardiovascular exercises—Do these twice a week in between strength training days. Activities include cycling, running, swimming, brisk walking, and stair climbing.
- Abdominal (ab) exercises—Do ab exercises two or three times a week, before strength training workouts.
GETTING STARTED. People who are not already exercising should do light strengthening exercises three days a week for the first two weeks. One sample routine is to alternate between three sets of 8–10 pushups and three sets of 15–20 squats with no weights. Rest for one minute between sets. When it becomes easy to do 10 or more pushups and 20 or more squats, increase the number of pushups and add weights to the squats, using either a barbell or dumbbells. The weights routine should be followed by 30 minutes of brisk walking.
People who already exercise regularly should consider switching from their current workout routine to the Abs diet workout for at least the first few weeks, according to Zinczenko. For maximum results, it is best to change the workout routine every month to keep the body from adapting to a repetitious routine that can slow muscle development. The Abs diet suggests the basic workout be done on Mondays and Wednesdays, starting with one set of an ab exercise from each of the five categories of abdominal regions. Follow this with two circuits of one set of the core exercises in the order listed. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, do 20–30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise. On Friday, do the Monday and Wednesday workout, but replace the ab exercises with traveling lunges, 10–12 repetitions (reps), and step-ups, 10–12 reps each leg. Do two complete circuits.
ABDOMINAL EXERCISES. These exercises strengthen the abdominal muscles in five regions: upper abs, 12–15 reps; lower abs, 6–12 reps; obliques, 10 each side; transverse abdominis, 5–10 reps; and lower back, 12–15 reps. The following are exercises for each of the five abdominal regions. Upper abs: traditional crunch and modified raised-feet crunch; lower abs: figure-eight crunch and bent-leg knee raise; transverse abdominis: two-point bridge and Swiss ball pull-in; obliques: medicine ball torso rotation and two-handed wood chop; lower back: twisting back extension and Swiss ball Superman.
CORE EXERCISES. These are the basic exercises that promote muscle strength: squat, 10–12 reps; bench press, 10 reps; pulldown, 10 reps; military press, 10 reps; upright row, 10 reps; triceps pushdown, 10–12 reps; leg extension, 10–12 reps; biceps curl, 10 reps; and leg curl, 10–12 reps.
The primary purpose of the Abs diet is to help people, especially men, develop a lean, flat, and hard stomach—referred to in fitness circles as a “six-pack”—and maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. The diet is designed to promote a longer and healthier life by helping prevent cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other diseases. These diseases are more prevalent in overweight and obese people compared to people who maintain a normal or below normal weight. The diet is also designed to promote a healthier sex life in men since some of the causes of erectile dysfunction are obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Excessive fat, especially around the belly, is a major risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure, high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, and other diseases. By reducing or eliminating excess body fat, people can live healthier and longer lives. The health benefits increase when regular exercise is added. People on the Abs diet can expect to lose up to 12 lb. (5.4 kg) in the first two weeks followed by 5–8 lb. (2.3–3.6 kg) in the next two weeks, according to Juliette Kellow, a registered dietitian who reviews diets for Weight Loss Resources (http://www.weightlossresources.co.uk).
Most diets include cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise as part of a weight loss routine. Studies have shown that people who engage in aerobic exercise burn more calories than people who do strength training or weightlifting. However, additional research indicates that the fat-burning metabolic effects of aerobic exercise last 30–60 minutes, while the metabolic effects of strength training last up to 48 hours. Also, the Abs diet promotes increased muscle mass, which increases metabolism so that the body burns up to 50 calories per day for every pound of muscle. Adding 10 lb. (4.5 kg) of muscle can burn up to 500 extra calories each day.
Overall, the Abs diet is healthy and poses no known dangers. Some of the items listed in the 12 power foods can contain high amounts of sodium, such as canned and frozen vegetables, instant oatmeal, and peanut butter. People who want to limit salt intake or who have high blood pressure may want to avoid these foods. Since exercise is a main component of the diet, people with arthritis or back, knee, or other joint problems should discuss the diet with their physicians before starting exercise. People who are allergic to peanuts or nuts should avoid foods containing these products.
The diet does not address whether it is suitable for vegetarians or vegans. Menus in the book do not have meatless options. However, 8 of the 12 power foods do not contain meat or animal products. All of the protein required in the diet can be obtained by adding more beans and legumes and by replacing meat with soy protein sources, such as tofu or meat substitutes that are high in protein.
Since the diet includes a rigorous and regular exercise program, people with heart disease or other health problems should consult their physicians before going on the diet. Men with erectile dysfunction should discuss their condition with their physicians, urologists, or endocrinologists. Also, one of the 12 power foods is nuts, so people with peanut or other nut allergies should eliminate or modify the nut component of the diet.
Research and general acceptance
There is no specific research that proves the Abs diet delivers on what it promises: fat loss, muscle gain, increased sex drive, and six-pack abs. It is also unclear whether the diet will help people maintain a healthy weight once the initial weight is lost. The book contains many anecdotal stories of success, but there are no scientific studies that document the claims.
Zinczenko, along with fellow author Matt Goulding, also published a popular book called Eat This, Not That! There are a variety of titles in this series, which educate readers on making healthy food choices in restaurants, the supermarket, and at home.
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———. The Abs Diet Get Fit Stay Fit Plan: The Exercise Program to Flatten Your Belly, Reshape Your Body, and Give You Abs for Life! Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2005.
———. The Abs Diet 6-Minute Meals for 6-Pack Abs: More Than 150 Great-Tasting Recipes to Melt Away Fat! Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2006.
———. The New Abs Diet: The Six-Week Plan to Flatten Your Stomach and Keep You Lean for Life. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2010.
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Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 3101 Park Center Drive, 10th Fl., Alexandria, VA 22302, (703) 305-7600, Fax: (703) 305-3300, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.cnpp.usda.gov.
Ken R. WellsStacey Chamberlin