When you consistently head to the gym instead of meeting your friends or spending time with your family—and yet still don't see your belly flab budge—it can be insanely frustrating. Ditto for chugging less-than-stellar-tasting protein shakes, right? Well, it turns out that some of the things standing in the way of you tackling your belly fat may be counterintuitive. In fact, while it may be obvious that not exercising or eating too much food can make your midsection hold onto fat, belly jiggle can also be caused by exercising too much or not eating enough. Scratching your head? We turned to leading fitness experts to help point out and explain the flat belly mistakes they consistently see men making. And after you've been clued in, make sure you load up on these 50 Best Ever Foods for Men, too!
You Don't Mix Things Up
Our bodies are smart and very adaptable. If you continuously do the same workout routine over and over, your progress is going to reach a plateau. It's imperative to work your body—especially your core—in different ways. "I always tell my clients to focus on both linear as well as three-dimensional movements," says Brandon Schuchard, fitness manager at 24 Hour Fitness. "For example, a crunch is linear and a cable wood chop is 3-D. Including these kinds of different movement patterns in your program will not only improve functionality and achieve a flat belly, but it will also help stimulate your mind." To visualize more ideas, watch this video on how to do a Fast No-Equipment Abs Workout.
You Consume Too Many Shots
While a shot of tequila or vodka may not yield as many calories as a Long Island Iced Tea or a margarita, it still has between 65 to 100 calories. "Have three to five shots and those 'less calories' add up to a lot of calories—calories that have zero nutritional value and almost certainly get stored as belly fat," says Peter Sers, Trainer at modelFIT. "The phrase 'beer belly' should really be changed to alcohol belly."
You Think You Can Eat Anything Because You Workout Hard
It's been proven that people overestimate how many calories they burn when they workout. So, along with keeping tabs on the amount of alcohol you're consuming, you need to watch your diet. "While it's true your body is in need of more nutrients post-workout, it doesn't give you the ability to eat anything you want," says Sers. "Chances are, if you overdo it with your post-workout meal, you've just consumed more calories than you burned during that awesome workout." It's also important to note that our bodies aren't designed to work optimally when fueled by a diet of chips and chocolate; if you're looking to get the most out of your workouts, you want to be as conscious as possible about what you're putting into your body. Try one of these 23 Best Protein Shake Recipes if you're not sure how to refuel after your workout.
You Ignore Your Emotions
One of the reasons working out is so imperative is that it allows you to connect with your own body and emotions. It's important to be conscious of how you're feeling throughout your fitness journey. "Find your emotional connection to your fitness goal," suggests Schuchard. "Ask yourself, 'Why do I care?' and make note of the emotions that race through your body when you look at yourself in the mirror. Embrace those emotions and use them in a positive way to encourage success."
You Focus Too Much on Spot Training
Regardless of how many ab exercises you do, you'll never have a six pack if there's fat covering up your abs. "It's very common for people to just work on their abs, thinking it will somehow miraculously burn off the layer of belly fat above them," says FitFusion trainer Kenya Seki. Your body doesn't take fat from your belly just because you want a flat stomach; when it needs energy, it takes it from all over your body. "The best way to get rid of belly fat is to have a full-body workout program with cardio and a healthy diet. Doing ab exercises can definitely help, but don't make them the only priority."
You Skip Leg Day
"Too many guys focus on just working their 'show' muscles: their chest, biceps, and abs," says Seki. "They think that just because these are the most visible muscles, they need the most attention. But it's actually the opposite!" Why? Your big muscle groups burn the most calories—and the biggest muscle group is in your legs. So, when you avoid leg day, you're actually passing on the biggest calorie burning and hormone producing muscle groups in your body! If you have extra fat to lose around your waistline, working your legs is one of the best things you can do to get your belly flatter. "Plus, working your legs stimulates your body's natural production of testosterone and growth hormone, which will get you even better results, long after your workout."
You Focus on Eating Too Often
Many dieters are told to eat every few hours to fuel their metabolism. And while that may work for some, more and more research is pointing to the efficacy of intermittent fasting. "When you practice intermittent fasting, your body will begin to use its fat stores—like your love handles—as energy," says NY Health & Wellness medical director Dr. Angelo Baccellieri. "There are many methods of fasting, but an easy and effective method is as follows: no food after dinner, (example 7 p.m.) and ten only water, plain tea, or coffee in the morning. Delay lunch until 1 p.m. and you have gone 18 hours without food consumption. Try this twice weekly for a flatter belly." Too tough? Then simply aim for 12 hours, i.e. 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
You Don't Understand Calories
It's surprising how many men think calories have become an antiquated concern—or worse, that a calorie is a calorie. Of the men who track their calories, many don't pay enough attention to where those calories are coming from. Do you really believe that 200 calories from a candy bar are the same as 200 calories from broccoli? "It's so much more than a number. What you eat impacts your hormones," says Baccellieri. "Insulin is a storage hormone, and foods that are high in sugar will send your insulin levels up and shift your body into storage mode." This means that you'd be better off eating 1,000 calories worth of fruits, vegetables, and nuts—which are rich in fiber and healthy fats to mitigate blood-sugar spikes—than you would be eating 500 calories in processed junk.
You're Scared of Egg Yolks
Many people avoid egg yolks because they think that yellow part will raise their cholesterol. But it turns out the cholesterol in the foods you eat have virtually no impact on the cholesterol level in your blood. It's sugar and carbs that trigger production of bad cholesterol in your body! Plus, egg yolks contain choline, which has been shown to fight belly fat. "Men who stick with egg white omelets are missing the most important part of the egg, the yolk, which is loaded with healthy fats, vitamins, antioxidants, and amino acids," says Baccellieri. It's also important to note that often when you eat fragmented foods, your body is left craving the rest—making subsequent unhealthy food choices more likely.
You Do Too Many Crunches and Sit-Ups
The most common exercises guys do for their abs are crunches and sit-ups. "When you look at the anatomy of your core, these exercises primarily work the upper portion of your abs. But the muscle group that provides more of a flattening effect is actually the transverse abdominous, which some people refer to as the lower abs," says Seki. Try exercises that help pull in your lower abs, like leg raises, planks, and the bicycle crunch.
You're Too Obsessive
If you can relax about your goal to have a flatter tummy, you could actually be better off. Yes, really! Anxiety produces extra cortisol, a hormone that encourages the body to store fat, particularly in the abdominal region. "Practice deep-breathing exercises. as they have been shown to help alleviate stress levels; every time you find yourself thinking too much about your gut, hit the 'pause' button in your mind each and take five deep-belly breaths, inhaling for five counts and exhaling for 10 counts," says Exude's Edward Jackowski, Ph.D. and the author of Escape Your Shape. Can't chill out? Then chomp on these 32 Foods That Turn Off the Stress Hormone That's Making You Fat.
You Don't Get Enough Sleep
When you snooze, you lose—and that can be a good thing because not sleeping enough will not only impact your judgment and mood, but also your weight. "During sleep, the pituitary gland releases growth hormones that can aid in fat loss, muscle building, and cell regeneration," says Seki. "Sleep also suppresses your appetite and raises your metabolism, while allowing the body to rest and recover." Not sleeping enough also raises those previously-mentioned cortisol levels, which can slow down your metabolism and lead to excess production of visceral fat, the type of fat that gathers around your waist. Just being in bed isn't enough, though; it needs to be high-quality sleep, so do your best to relax, keep your room dark, quiet, and cool, and completely silence your phone.
You're Scared of Fat
It's not just the egg yolk that you shouldn't be afraid of; it's all healthy fats that you should be embracing. Healthy fats include those from avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, olive oil, and grass-fed butter. "These healthy fats are needed to feed the brain and create a sense of fullness," says Dr. Baccellieri. "Fats are brain foods, and when there are good fats in your diet, hunger and cravings are mitigated." Incorporate these more of these 20 Healthy Fats to Make You Thin and you'll be all set!
You Eat Too Much Protein
The average person only needs about .4 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example: If you weigh 150 pounds, you'd only need 60 grams of protein per day (150 x. 4= 60). If you're really working out more intensely, you might need up to 1 gram per pound of body weight. "Most guys are taking in way more protein than they need, either by eating a lot of meat or consuming too many protein supplements," says Seki. He explains that too much protein can slow down your body's metabolism and the rate that you're burning fat—not to mention that it puts a strain on your digestive system and kidneys. Seki recommends keeping a close watch on exactly how much protein you're consuming. If you're not sure how to keep you protein consumption under control but still in check, refer to our expert advice among these 20 Ways to Get 20 Grams of Protein at Every Meal.
You Think More Is More
Sometimes, less is more, and that's certainly the case with exercising; don't forget, exercise is a stressor on the body. "The right amount of exercise creates muscle, increases metabolism, and affects brain function, but over-exercising increases cortisol, which zaps our energy and immune system," explains Dr. Baccellieri. Plus, your body needs time to rest and repair so that you can continue to push to your max at every workout. He suggests limiting your exercise to about four 1-hour workouts a week.
You Don't Do Both Cardio and Resistance Training
Building off of what Dr. Baccellieri explained about an optimal amount of exercise time, there's also an optimal ratio for the type of exercise you're doing. Specifically, you want to split your workouts between high-intensity interval training and resistance training. Calorie-scorching cardio is key for a flat belly since your stomach will never look shredded if there are layers of fat covering your abs. We don't mean running on the treadmill, either; it's the high-intensity interval training is the most efficient form of cardio to help blast away unwanted fat cells and keep your heart healthy. On the flip side, you also need resistance training. Muscles burn more calories than fat, so no matter which muscle groups you're working, they'll help you towards your belly-flattening goal. An ideal workout regimen will alternate HIIT with strength training.
You Eat Too Little or Eat Too Much
While a healthy, portion-controlled diet is important for reducing body fat and flattening your stomach, eating too little can backfire. "Cutting calories too drastically increases the production of cortisol and insulin, which controls blood-sugar levels," says Jackowski. "Consequently, the body responds by storing excess calories in the abdominal region, most of which are stored as fat." This explains why some thin people have a soft stomach. Jackowski suggests watching out for hidden sugars in "healthy" foods like yogurt, sauces, and salad dressings and keeping your sodium levels in check so that your body doesn't hold on to too much water. You'll also want to consume potassium-rich foods like spinach, which work to de-puff the belly.
DON'T MISS: 14 "Health" Foods Worse Than a Donut
You Go for “Hot” Items at The Salad Bar
"Generally speaking, the salad bar's spicy hot chicken, Mexican rice, and mashed potatoes may sound like good comfort food, but the sodium levels can be enough to put an entire office to sleep!" exclaims celebrity personal trainer Ashley Borden. "You can absolutely get a healthy, low-sodium, high-protein choice at a salad bar: choose hard boiled eggs, beans, tuna, chicken, lots of colorful veggies, and a little feta cheese to top it off."
You Eat While Watching TV
"You should have a game plan for game time," says Tanya Becker, Physique 57 co-founder and chief creative officer. "It was reported that the average football fan can consume up to 2,400 calories while watching the Super Bowl. So, have a plan; portion control is key." This doesn't mean that you have to completely deprive yourself. It just means you should make a conscious effort to be mindful of what you're eating and, ideally, not eat at all while you're watching TV. If you must eat while watching TV, never eat from a serving bowl or plate—always portion out your food!
You Aren't "Pro" Probiotics
Probiotics-enriched foods are gaining in popularity (everything from beverages to almonds) and for good reason. Recent studies have indicated these special microorganisms may deliver a host of benefits. "Besides boosting your immune system and reducing cholesterol, certain probiotics strains can help cut down excess fat, specifically in the belly area," says Becker. "My husband followed a probiotic-rich plan and lost 18 pounds!" While you could opt for a supplement, it's always best to get your probiotics from real food like yogurt or fermented foods like kefir, kimchi or sauerkraut. And be sure to skip these 10 Probiotic Foods You Should Never Eat!
You Give Up Too Soon
We all want a flat belly and most of us wanted it yesterday. Expecting fast results, however, will likely lead to disappointment and impede long-term success. "The bigger surface areas of the human body are the last places to see results due to the fact that they are able to store more body fat," explains Jackowski. "The gym environment is the perfect opportunity to seek professional guidance to help you take steps towards success." We also suggest familiarizing yourself with these 22 Truths About Willpower so that you aren't having a mental battle with yourself so much!