I'm not going to lie to you — if you want six-pack abs, exercise is probably inevitable. Strength training, cardio, and straight-up core-strengthening workouts will be your best friends. But that's not to say there aren't other factors that contribute to a chiseled midsection that have nothing to do with hitting the gym or pavement. Read on to find out what you should be doing once you leave that HIIT class and head home.
Don't Discount Stretching
Stretching can often be pushed to the back burner and thought of as a waste of time. However, stretching can play a big part in helping you get the ripped abs of your dreams — plus, it may decrease your risk of injury while doing more intense workouts. Stretching is all about lengthening and releasing your muscles, with the goal of maintaining and improving your flexibility and muscle development. Make sure to do all your static stretching (i.e. holding the pose without moving) post-workout when your muscles are warm and limber, which may help you avoid injury. Try poses that target the core like Cobra, Bridge, Camel, and Cow.
Aside from exercise, a clean-eating plan is your most important element when it comes to encouraging your abs to show themselves. Instead of opting for a trendy diet, choose something that feels sustainable to you for the long haul. As a general rule of thumb, 50 percent of your daily caloric intake should come from carbohydrates (think: complex grains and starchy veggies), 25 percent should come from lean protein (hello, tuna!), and 25 percent from fats (avocado, anyone?).For carbs, add things like brown rice, bulgur wheat, rolled oats, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and parsnips to your grocery list. Protein can come in the form of fish like tuna or salmon, chicken, ground turkey, and eggs. You'll find good fats in everything from almond butter to avocados and cashews.You may not want to hear this, but to make the most of eating clean, it's smart to cut down on alcohol. And sugar. Sorry!
Make Snacking Proactive
If you're going to have a snack during the day or pre-workout (which is fine!), you'll want to turn to something that's not going to throw off all your healthy-eating progress. Look no further than think! protein bars: They're packed with protein, contain five grams of sugar or less, and are GMO- and gluten-free. Not to mention the flavors are out of this world — choose from indulgent options like Brownie Crunch, Lemon Delight, Coconut Cake, and Double Caramel Bliss, to name a few.
Take the Stairs!
OK, OK, so this might look a little like exercise, but it's so easy to get your heart rate up doing everyday activities. You'd be surprised at how many daily movements are dependent on a strong core. Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work (unless you're on a ridiculously high floor, of course); walk to the grocery store and carry your bags home instead of driving; take an evening walk after dinner and listen to a podcast instead of plopping on the couch to watch TV — the possibilities for a little extra movement are endless.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is your body's time to recover and reset — too little sleep causes a spike in the stress hormone cortisol, which triggers the reward center in your brain. Meaning: your cravings go into overdrive. Your brain is looking for something that feels good, aka cookies, chips, pizza, and all the other sugary and high-carb snacks you normally steer clear of — and to add insult to injury, the tired brain doesn't have great impulse control. Sleep-deprived brains also cause the metabolism to slow down — your body's ability to process insulin stops working correctly. Insulin is responsible for changing sugars and starches into energy; when you haven't gotten enough sleep, this process gets sluggish, meaning the body starts to store those foods as fat.On a practical level, it just makes sense that if you're tired, you're probably more likely to skip the gym, opt for quick, greasy takeout instead of cooking a healthy meal, and spend more time in front of a screen snacking. So make sure to get adequate shuteye before you rise and grind!