For many of us, ab training means finding an open corner in the gym and doing sets of crunches until we know that 6-pack can only be a few days away. The day arrives, but the abs seldom do.
The problem with this type of thinking is twofold. One, you'll never have abs if your body fat isn't scarce enough to see them—and body fat is hugely dependent on nutrition. The second big problem is that crunches are probably the least effective way to work your abs.
There are better ways to train abs, and I'm here to share them. Trust me, it's time to break free from your usual crunch-heavy routine. Try these moves instead. They've been shown to stimulate 200 percent or more ab activity than regular crunches.
Top 5 Ab Exercises
5 Must-Do Ab/Core Exercises: Ripped Freak Abs
Watch The Video - 05:04
EXERCISE 1 // PLAN (2-3 sets of 30-60 second holds)
The plank is great for working your entire core, and it can stimulate up to 130 percent more ab activity than the crunch. To make it more difficult, widen your feet and reach forward with your hands—that'll give your core an even bigger challenge. When you reach forward, try not to tilt from your hips.
If reaching forward isn't quite hard enough, or you want to do more oblique work, bring your knees up and toward your elbows.
EXERCISE 2 // SIDE PLANK (2-3 sets of 30-60 second holds)
The side plank can target each side of your body, allowing you to address weaknesses and correct imbalances. This move hits more than your abs—your abductors, adductors, quads, hamstrings, glutes, upper body, and lower back all get a workout.
Your ankle, hip, and shoulder should be in one line, and your chin should remain off your chest. If you need a greater challenge, raise your top leg to parallel with the ground. You can also grab a dumbbell and "sweep" the weight from under your body. You should end with your arm straight up.
This movement can stimulate nearly 190 percent more activity than the regular crunch. The key is to fully extend one leg at a time and think about bringing your shoulder, rather than your elbow, up to touch your opposite knee. Visualize that contraction.
To make this harder, use a medicine ball and crunch up as you weave the ball in a figure-eight pattern in and out of your legs.
Tuck your hands under your butt and bring your knees to your chest. Concentrate on your pelvis as you tuck it up. You should feel your lower abs kicking in as you roll your pelvis up and forward. This exercise should activate 140 percent more of your abs than a regular crunch.
This exercise should stimulate 200 percent or more abdominal activation than a regular crunch. Amazing! Make sure your shoulders and back are posture-perfect. Raise your knees past your waistline; if you don't move your hips far enough, your hip flexors will do all the work.
For a higher degree of difficulty, do straight-leg raises or alternate legs. You can also hold a dumbbell between your legs for added extra resistance.
DMAE, also known as dimethylaminoethanol or deanol, is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which can quickly cross the blood-brain barrier, leading to rapid changes in brain function, notes FamilyEducation.com. DMAE can be found in sardines and anchovies and can also be purchased as a supplement. While the stimulating effects of DMAE can be beneficial, individuals experiencing conditions including mania or insomnia may experience a worsening of symptoms and should consider alternatives. Consult your health care provider before using any supplement.
DMAE can improve skin tone, firmness and hydration, states American Chronicle Magazine. DMAE has antioxidant properties, which can prevent free-radical damage and promote skin elasticity. However, the mechanism of these benefits is not certain, the magazine notes. DMAE may work by stimulating muscle contraction, leading to tighter skin. Alternatively, DMAE may simply hydrate existing connective tissue, giving skin more elasticity and resilience.
Well-Being and CalmDMAE combined with other vitamins may help improve the psychological state of patients suffering from emotional disturbances, noted the European Journal of Medical Research in 2003. In Germany, researchers evaluated 80 subjects over a three-month period via EEG readings and personal questionnaires. Participants were taking either a placebo or a vitamin-mineral supplement containing DMAE. Researchers concluded that the DMAE led to an enhanced sense of well-being as well as calmer brain activity, as evidenced by the EEG readings.
DMAE may help improve memory in individuals with cognitive impairment, notes a 2009 issue of the journal Psychopharmacology. French researchers tested the effects of DMAE on the performance of otherwise healthy rats and human male volunteers, both of whom were injected with scopolamine, a drug which can cause drowsiness and amnesia, among other side effects. They found that the DMAE reduced the deleterious cognitive effects of the scopolamine, leading to their recommendation of DMAE for memory improvement.
Most diets these days allow for some sort of cheat meal or cheat day during the week. This makes sense because it enables the dieter to stick with the plan while allowing for some light at the end of the tunnel.
A cheat meal also prevents the metabolism from dropping. It also comes in handy if you have to attend a social event like a wedding or birthday party.
The question is: what is a cheat day, how much of a cheat meal/day is needed, and can a cheat day be counterproductive?
What Is A Cheat Meal?
A cheat day can mean two things: carte blanche (eat what you want) or have one meal to your liking while the remaining meals are still within the diet plan. The answer depends on how much of a calorie deficit you are in and what kind of diet is you are following.
Let’s cover the deficit aspect first. If someone goes into a really deep deficit (cutting calorie intake by 50% while still training hard), a cheat day would actually be needed.
Why A Cheat Day Makes Sense
So you are dieting, cutting your calories, upping the cardio, etc. You are all set for a gradual fat loss of one to two pounds per week. After all, you did the math and created a calorie deficit.
Unfortunately, your body hates you. Actually it loves you so much that it wants to keep you alive and prevent death by starvation. So it makes some adjustments, which were great for the hunters and gatherers but bad for a physique athlete.
What are those adjustments?
After a couple days of dieting, the metabolism slows down, hunger increases, and more and more muscle mass is sacrificed by the body for energy. The human body is very efficient at adapting to new conditions.
In short, thyroid hormone T3 levels drop by thirty percent; conversion from T4 to T3 in the liver is being slowed down, the half-life of cortisol increases and the production of Insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) is down.
Your muscles are so low on glycogen that they become resistant to growth despite training. In fact you are probably losing muscle. At this point, we need to talk about leptin for a second since it is also an important player in the diet scenario. Normally, it is a messenger hormone that inhibits your appetite to prevent you from overeating and gaining weight.
Now when you are dieting, the opposite holds true. With the reduced calories, leptin levels drop and appetite goes up. This means that a person who lowers his body fat is at an immediate disadvantage: His metabolism is automatically slowed down by as much as 30% within days, while suffering from hunger pangs.
So during a diet, all of a dieter's nightmares come together: higher protein turnover combined with a lower levels of T3, IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor, one of the strongest muscle building hormones), leptin, andtestosterone. Why is that a nightmare? Because not only will you not lose any more fat, you will actually look worse than before.
The loss of muscle will create a skinny fat version of yourself, the type you can see on most treadmills in the country. All this happens despite training and after only several days, not months, of dieting. Very soon you’ll reach a plateau; no fat is lost and instead lean body mass is sacrificed.
What? All this work and I look worse while feeling awful? Yes, this one reason is why most diets fail. But the madness can be stopped.
Yes, in some cases people simply use drugs. Testosterone, human growth hormone, and insulin are injected, combined with oral thyroid medication, thereby restoring the hormonal imbalances. For us, this is not an option. We need to find a way to manipulate the body’s hormones for a short time.
This can be achieved with a refeed. In order to prevent the above-mentioned adaptations, it is necessary to increase the calories and to refeed every five to seven days. A refeed is basically an intelligent cheat day where calories are increased to anywhere from 130 percent to 150 percent above maintenance.
Increasing the calories for a short period of time reverses the process described above. Testosterone, IGF-1, and leptin levels are brought up; the production of cortisol is slowed down; muscle loss is stopped, even reversed. As a result, the rate of metabolism increases, which then sets the stage for further fat loss.
Cheat Meals: How To Do A Proper Refeed
The calories during a refeed should come mainly from carbohydrates, moderate protein, and very low fats. I recommend four to five grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight over a 24 hour period with about one gram of protein per pound of body mass and trace fats (i.e., only what’s in food, no actual fat sources such as oils, fatty fish, nuts and beef). So our 100 lb dieter would be eating 400 to 500 grams of carbohydrates and 100 grams of protein.
Why Should I Eat Carbohydrates? Won’t I Get Fat By Eating So Much?
You will not. Adding carbohydrates to a diet at this particular point, as opposed to protein or fats, has several advantages. Leptin, insulin, and blood sugar levels are being up-regulated, but due to the temporary lack of enzymes, the body is unable to store body fat.
The body’s first order of business is to refill glycogen storage, which takes about 24 hours. After that fat storage starts. Imagine someone with a $10,000 credit card balance with twenty-four percent interest. If this person gets $10,000 he will pay off the credit card, not start a savings account.
The credit card balance is your muscle and liver glycogen; the savings account your fat cells. Too bad this awesome window is only open twenty-four hours.
A cheat day or refeed can be made more effective if the dieter does a heavy workout after his carbohydrate day. This ensures the glycogen gets taken into the muscle. The refeed day would be an ideal time to work on a weaker muscle group and use the insulin response for new growth.
So, let me sum up how I would structure a diet and training program for an already lean athlete.
Example Diet and Training Program
Monday: very low carbohydrates high fat/medium protein. Training:
Now what about someone with a more moderate calorie deficit? Assuming a caloric deficit of 300 calories, the question is whether that person should also have a full fledged cheat day.
It’s not really necessary but you’ll still need to modify your diet after a couple weeks.
The body’s hormonal response during the diet is similar to that of an extreme calorie deficit. Cortisol will be elevated, testosterone suppressed, and the metabolism slowed down. However, since glycogen stores are probably not completely empty, I suggest only a single high-carbohydrate cheat meal to avoid the possibility of fat storage.
Depending on the size of the athlete, 200 to 500 grams of carbohydrates should be sufficient in order to replenish glycogen, speeding up the thyroid as well as creating a general feeling of happiness and unity with the world.
Varying caloric intake every few days is a great way to keep your metabolism running. A popular way of doing it would be a two days low, one-day high carbohydrate scheme like this:
Monday: moderate deficit, 100 to 150 grams of carbohydrates. Training:
3x10 stiff legged deadlifts
4x30 calf raises
Tuesday: repeat Mondays diet. Training:
3x10 pull ups
4x10 incline bench press
4x10 0ne arm rows
4x10 shoulder presses
3x10 cable flyes
2x10 side raises
Wednesday: consume twice the amount of carbohydrates, in this example 200-300 grams, cut your fat intake in half, no weight training. Here you can have a small desert or a bowl of pasta to fill your carb need and restore mental sanity.
Thursday: back to Monday’s diet, work on weak body parts. Let’s assume those are chest and back:
4x10 floor flyes
15 12 10 8 8 incline dumbbell press
3x20 cable flyes
4x10 pull ups
3x6 rack dead lifts
100 seated rows
If you don’t feel fuller or more energized by Thursday, you might be overdieted and would need to switch a two days high/two days low diet.
Friday: would be a rest day, follow your regular diet, then you would start the cycle again.
Refeed Frequency Chart
Here is a quick chart for refeed frequency.
< 8% body fat - Refeed every 5 days
9-19 % body fat - Refeed every 10 days
>20 % body fat - Refeed every 14 days
< 20% body fat - Refeed every 7 days
20-30 % body fat - Refeed every 10 days
> 30 % - Refeed every 14 days
Disclaimer: I don’t believe in all-out junk fests. Even on a cheat meal you should consume mostly clean foods and maybe have a small dessert or a side of fries with your steak.
So the cheat meal is not a myth; it is a necessity if you diet correctly.
For anyone who has further interest in this topic, I highly recommend Bodyopus by Dan Duchaine and The Ultimate Diet 2.0 by Lyle McDonald.
Ask 100 people and "protein" is the answer—heck, the only answer—most list when asked. Trust us. We tried. And it should come as no surprise. Protein builds muscles. Protein keeps you full. Protein ended the Cold War.
OK, maybe that last one is a stretch. And while protein is important, it's really just a small piece of the nutrition puzzle. Watching people struggle with that puzzle is what spurred us to write Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha. After all, if all men knew what they needed to eat beyond protein, we wouldn't be in our current predicament.
We have created a society of men with low testosterone and growth hormone who endure epic struggles to gain muscle, lose fat, and live a more enjoyable life. You might think your hormones are fine until you get older. Pharmaceutical companies might have you believe that drugs are the only answer to improve your hormones. Both are flat-out lies. Meanwhile, men's testosterone levels have dropped more than 20 percent on average over the last two decades.
Overcoming that decline is the purpose of Man 2.0: We need to take charge of our bodies. We need to make you more manly again—or as we say, more alpha. No matter what you might have heard, you can improve your hormonal environment naturally. While there are many ways—all of which we discuss in Man 2.0—the best place to start is with your diet.
These are the nutrition basics you need to know to build the body you want and create a hormonal environment worthy of alpha status.
Carbs /// Then and Now
Carbohydrates seem to be the focus of most diets you read about—especially fat-loss diets—so it makes sense to start here. Carbs have taken a real beating in the media ever since some guy named Atkins decided we weren't allowed to eat doughnuts anymore. Prior to this we were allowed to eat doughnuts, but they had to be "reduced fat." This made us feel better about ourselves somehow.
All joking aside, carbs get a worse rap than they deserve. They come in a variety of forms, some of which are good for you, and some bad. The bad ones are usually highly processed and could barely be considered food other than the fact that they're edible. They may be delicious, but they're also the result of some crazy scientific processes.
Of course, if you process the crap out of anything, it reaches a point where it just isn't healthy anymore. This doesn't mean carbs are evil and to blame for all the ills of the world, from all-out war to the obesity epidemic. It just means processed foods are great at making people fat.
In the most basic sense, carbohydrates are collections of sugar molecules, which your body breaks down into fuel, particularly when you work hard. Sugars, starches, and fiber are all basic forms of the carbohydrate.
There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. We could also mention fibrous carbs that you can find in foods like green vegetables like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, sprouts, spinach, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini—but we won't. For the purposes of this discussion of carbs, we only want to touch on stuff that counts.
We usually don't recommend counting calories—or carbs for that matter—coming from fibrous carbs. This doesn't mean that these foods don't matter. They do. But we've never met anyone who got fat eating too many vegetables. And after coaching thousands of people, we determined that eating more veggies has always been a good thing.
The Simple View of Simple Carbs ///
Simple carbohydrate sources include things like include table sugar, syrup, and sweetened soda. Most of the time, these carbs should be avoided—with the possible exception of a well-earned cheat day. They are the "bad carbs" that fitness pros talk about. Also included on this list are things like candy, snuggles, cake, beer, puppies, cookies, and unicorn magic.
In other words, the very idea of fun itself is now off-limits to you. What's allowed, you ask? Acceptable complex carbohydrates include: oatmeal, apples, and peas.
The Slightly-More Complex View ///
If that sounded a bit, um, simple, it's because it is. For a long time, people believed that complex carbohydrates were universally better for you than simple carbohydrates, but today we know that isn't always the case.
You see, your body takes both complex and simple carbohydrates and tries to break them down into usable sugar energy to fuel your muscles and organs. It's not the type of carbohydrate that matters when it comes to healthy hormones and metabolism, but rather how quickly your body can break it down and how much it will spike your blood glucose levels.
A slightly more sophisticated way to rate carbohydrate quality than simple/complex is something called the glycemic index (GI). The GI attempts to classify foods by how quickly they break down and how high they boost blood sugar levels.
For a while, the GI was all the rage, and people argued that by following a low-GI diet, you could keep insulin levels in check even while eating more carbs overall. This has turned out to be only partially true. While it's probably better to eat low GI foods than high ones, there probably won't be a tremendous difference in your waistline if you still eat your weight in sweet potatoes instead of Cheetos.
Neither low-carb diets nor low-GI diets are a magic pill for fat loss; the main thing is to eat the right amount of healthy foods that fuel metabolism, which in turn will help you burn fat. Another important thing to remember is that your body needs carbs, even if some of the fad diets tell you otherwise. Without carbohydrates, your body will begin to break down muscle tissue to fuel your body, which could sabotage your efforts to build muscle and transform your physique.
Carb lovers lament low-carb diets, and anti-carb crusaders posit that you can avoid carbs for the most part and still do well. The truth exists a bit in the middle ground. So yes, speaking generally you should avoid simple carbs and high-GI foods, but that doesn't mean you can eat complex carbs or low-GI foods all day either.
Most important, the problem with carbs is eating them alone. Instead, you should try to have carbs with protein. Eating carbs and protein together slows the rate of digestion of the carbs, lowers the glycemic or insulin response, and offsets some of the negatives that come with carbohydrate consumption.
Fats /// Rethinking History's Greatest Monster
For a long time, fats were like carbs are now: blamed for every damn health problem possible. For nearly 20 years, low-fat was synonymous withhealthy. This is how many people—maybe even some of you reading this—still determine if something is safe to eat. If it's low fat, it has to be good. Or if it doesn't have saturated fat, then it's OK.
Lies piled on top of more lies! As our nation's fat consumption decreased, its obesity increased, according to CDC data. This was due to a variety of factors, including the frequency of meals and snacks, the exploding size of portions, and the overconsumption of sugar—often in the form of "low-fat" foods.
So what is the bottom line on fat? For starters, it's a necessary component of your diet, and something you're probably not consuming enough of. Fat is good. It's good for testosterone. It's good for your heart—yes, you read that correctly. And it's good for your muscles.
Did we say fat is necessary for testosterone production? Well, it's worth repeating.
Aside from the big T and making big muscles, fat also plays a crucial role in the general functioning of your body. It's a critical coating for nerves which speeds up conduction down the nerve. This ensures that every time a neurochemical signal is sent through your body—basically, any time your brain wants to tell your body to do anything—it happens efficiently.
Fat also serves as a substrate for a whole set of hormones known as eicosanoids. These are essential to regulate essential functions like blood pressure, inflammation, and even blood clotting. Fat is needed for basic human physiology, which is reason enough to include it in your diet.
But if there's one thing that the last few decades of fat-hate have taught us, it's that not all fats are equal. So here's what you should know about the different types of fats—and why eachneeds to be included in your diet, with the exception of trans fats.
Good Fat 1 /// Monounsaturated Fat
Monounsaturated fats are found mostly in high-fat fruits such as avocados, as well as nuts like pistachios, almonds, walnuts, and cashews. This type of fat can also be found in olive oil.
Monounsaturated fats help lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. They've also been proven to help fight weight gain and may even help reduce body fat levels.
Good Fat 2 /// Polyunsaturated Fat
Like monounsaturated fats, these good fats help fight bad cholesterol. You can find polyunsaturated fats in foods like salmon, fish oil, sunflower oil, and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats also include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are often referred to as essential fatty acids, or EFAs.
EFAs cannot be manufactured by our bodies, and so it becomes essential to ingest them. And because your body needs these nutrients to function optimally and remain healthy, it's your job to make sure your diet has enough of these fats to avoid problems and breakdown.
Good Fat 3 /// Saturated Fat
Saturated fats might be the most misunderstood substance you can eat. And for good reason: There have been studies linking high intake of saturated fats to heart disease. So sayeth the headlines. Case closed, right?
It turns out most of these studies also create more unanswered questions than The Riddler. When researchers have gone back in and looked at the data from all the countries where data was available, they saw there actually was no link between fat consumption and heart disease deaths.
Books like The China Study and movies likeForks Over Knives have pointed the finger at saturated fats—and all animal fats—as the reason for seemingly all health problems. However, these releases, like the studies they cite, take a slanted bias toward the saturated fat hypothesis and completely ignore populations that are incredibly healthy despite diets based on saturated fats.
There are several studies of hunter-gatherer tribes that consumed 50-70 percent of all their calories from saturated fats without any health problems. For example, people who live in Tokelau, a territory off of New Zealand, eat a diet that is 50 percent saturated fats, and they have cardiovascular health superior to any other group of people. Yet such populations have largely been ignored.
Even Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard, has publicly stated, after a 20-year review of research, that fats—and more specifically saturated fats—are not the cause of the obesity crisis or heart disease.
Listen, saturated fat is one of the best sources of energy for your body. This is why your bodynaturally stores carbohydrates as saturated fat—whether you want it to or not. Are you going to argue with one of the most basic structures of how your body was intended to work?
Need more convincing? Saturated fats are some of the most satiating foods, meaning they keep you fuller longer. Research shows diets that are higher in saturated fats are often lower in total calories consumed. And, as we alluded to already, saturated fats boost testosterone.
That leaves you with one option, assuming you're not a vegetarian: You should be eating red meat, dairy, and eggs to consume your share of saturated fats.
Bad Fat 1 (and only) /// Trans Fats
Trans fats are the black sheep of the fat family. They aren't just bad fats; they're the worst fats, and in truth, one of the worst forms of food you could possibly consume. They're found in foods such as French fries, potato chips, and many fried foods.
Some trace amounts of trans fats naturally occur in meats and other foods, but by and large, most are not naturally occurring. Instead, they are manufactured by a chemical process called partial hydrogenation. Manufacturers take liquid vegetable oil—an otherwise decent monounsaturated fat—and pack it with hydrogen atoms, which convert it into a solid fat. This makes an ideal fat for the food industry because it has a high melting point and a smooth texture, and it can be reused in deep-fat frying.
Essentially, trans fats come about as a result of overprocessing foods in order to offer consumers and vendors a longer shelf life. If you are serious about your goals, you should try to avoid trans fats at all costs.
However, we can't escape the world in which we live, so we advocate a moderate approach. If you limit your intake of junk foods, exercise regularly, and get good nutrition otherwise—including a variety of healthy fats—then chances are, you can have the occasional Twinkie once every few months and be OK.
Protein /// The Alpha-Macro
Both carbs and fats have spent their time as public enemy No. 1, being demonized or lauded by turns. On the other side of the spectrum, our friend protein has enjoyed a steady rise to prominence and popularity.
A favorite among bodybuilders, athletes, and just about any fitness enthusiast, protein is used by your body to repair damaged muscle, bone, skin, teeth, and hair, among many other functions. Think of it as the mortar between the bricks; without it, the entire structure of your body begins to break down.
Protein helps to create an anabolic hormonal environment, which is good for muscle building and fat loss. Along the lines of the brick metaphor, it also provides the materials used to build your muscles.
Protein is comprised of smaller molecules called amino acids. There are 22 standard amino acids, nine of which can only be obtained through your food. Your body can manufacture the rest. The nine you have to ingest are called the "essential amino acids." These are:
A complete protein—also known as a whole protein—contains adequate portions of those nine amino acids. By contrast, an incomplete protein is one that lacks one or more of the nine essentials.
Amino acids also help your body create hormones that help regulate things like blood pressure and blood sugar levels, which are directly responsible for your metabolic rate and muscular growth. In short, protein is extremely important, especially the complete proteins found in foods such as fish, poultry, eggs, red meat, and cheese.
Sense a trend here? The worlds of flora and fauna have a lot to give us—more so than any processed food that comes plastered with the words "natural" or "healthy" on its packaging. Nature got it right the first time around, so build your diet around whole foods and critters.