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The Abs diet is a six-week plan that combines nutrition and exercise. It emphasizes twelve 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.
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 at age 14, he was five feet 10 inches tall and weighed 212 pounds. 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 will help eliminate excess fat from all over. 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 developer David Zinczenko says 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; do not count calories; eat anything you want for one meal a week; and focus on the Abs diet twelve power foods.
The diet strongly recommends its followers eat six meals a day since it helps to 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 if 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, mid-afternoon 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 with ingredients such as ice, protein powder, fruits, and peanut butter, that are prepared in a blender. 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 drink. Drinking eight glasses of water daily is recommended. The benefits of 64-oz of water are that it helps to alleviate hunger pangs, it flushes waste products from the body, and it 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 at all 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 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 will help dampen feelings of hunger, according to Zinczenko.
Another guideline is that dieters 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 diet fatigue that many people go though when dieting.
The last guideline is to focus on the twelve power foods of the diet to help meet core nutritional requirements. The twelve 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 weights 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.
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 through Wednesday workout but instead of the ab exercises, traveling lunges, 10–12 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 repetitions (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 to 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 elimination 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 pounds in the first two weeks followed by 5–8 pounds in the next two weeks, according to Juliette Kellow, a registered dietician who reviews diets for the Website 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 did strength training, or weightlifting. However, additional research indicates that the fat-burning metabolic effects of aerobic exercise lasts 30–60 minutes while the metabolic effect of strength training lasts 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. So adding 10 pounds of muscle can burn up to 500 extra calories each day.
Overall, the 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 food. 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 food containing these products.
The diet does not address if it is suitable for vegetarians or vegans. Menus in the book do not have meatless options. However, eight 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 to the diet and replacing meat with soy protein sources, such as tofu and meat substitutes that are high in protein. Brands
Morningstar Farms, Boca, and Gardenburger make meatless burgers, hot dogs, chicken breasts and strips, and other items.
Since the diet includes a rigorous and regular exercise program, people with heart disease or certain 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.
There is no specific research that proves the Abs diet delivers on what it promises: fat loss, muscle increase, increased sex drive, and six-pack abs. It is also unclear whether the diet will 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.
In an article in the October 2004 issue of Health, registered dietician Maureen Callahan comments on the merits of the Abs diet, calling it an overall good diet and exercise plan. She adds that the diet is mostly healthy but she questions its promotion of protein powder, one of the diet’s 12 power foods. She says people can get extra protein by eating low-fat cottage cheese or a few additional ounces of leanmeat or fish.
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American College of Nutrition. 300 South Duncan Ave., Suite 225, Clearwater, FL 33755. Telephone: (727) 446-6086. <http://www.amcollnutr.org>.
American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, IL 60606-6995. Telephone: (800) 877-1600. <http://www.eatright.org>.
American Society for Nutrition. 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20814. Telephone: (301) 634-7050. <http://www.nutrition.org>.
Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. 3101 Park Center Drive, 10th Floor, Alexandria, VA 22302-1594. Telephone” (703) 305-7600. <http://www.cnpp.usda.gov>.
Ken R. Wells