Losing Belly Fat Is Not Only Good For Improving General Health, It Is Also Crucial For Those Stepping Onto The Stage
It is very well known that maintaining a high body fat percentage can be damaging to our health.
Several scientific studies have established a link between abdominal obesity and a range of diseases (1). As a result, a common goal set by many is to reduce belly fat.
For the bodybuilder, as competition nears, it becomes necessary to reduce belly fat and body fat percentage more generally to improve aesthetics.
This article will highlight six different methods that can be applied to help you lose that often stubborn belly fat and improve your definition.
The Six Methods
This section will outline the six methods commonly used by bodybuilders to reduce belly fat. It will also highlight a number of scientific studies that back-up these methods as effective.
1) Track Your Calories And Macros
If you are not already food tracking, it’s recommended that you start. Doing so will ensure that you are consuming the right amount of good food to maximize changes.
The driving force behind fat reduction is calorie restriction (2).
Creating a calorie deficit forces the body to find energy from another source out with food. As a result, the body will begin to break down stored body fat for energy purposes.
By failing to track your eating, you may over-consume calories which will prevent fat loss from occurring.
While macronutrients are of secondary importance for causing weight loss, they most certainly have an impact on body composition.
A detailed study on nutrition in the lead up to a bodybuilding contest recommends the following split (3):
- Protein: 2.3 – 3.1 grams per kg of body weight
- Fat: 15 – 30% of calorie intake
- Carbs: Remainder of calorie intake
Ultimately, without tracking you are shooting in the dark. It is not uncommon for individuals to either over or underestimate their calorie intake and food quality.
Therefore, if you want to make the best fat loss progress possible, start tracking.
Tracking doesn’t have to be difficult either. There are a number of fitness apps and online tools that allow you to calculate your calorie target and track your daily nutrition quickly and easily.
2) Increase Protein Intake
On the topic of macronutrients, protein is the macro that you should pay particular attention to. Consuming protein during fat loss is important for two main reasons.
Firstly, protein is the macro responsible for maintaining muscle size. When restricting calories, the body will break down muscle tissue as well as fat tissue.
Studies have shown that high-protein diets help to preserve muscle to a greater degree (4).
This is hugely significant for the bodybuilder as it will allow them to maintain lean muscle mass while reducing fat and improve overall aesthetics.
Hunger is often an issue that many bodybuilders experience during a fat loss phase. Protein regulates hunger hormones and helps to curb cravings and combat hunger.
In addition to this, consuming protein has also been found to boost the body’s metabolism thus facilitating fat burning (5).
One final study investigated the relationship between protein intake and abdominal fat.
Results indicated that those who had a quality protein intake were more likely to have a lower amount of abdominal fat (6).
3) Focus On Fibre
In the same way that protein can help manage hunger and control appetite, fiber has been found to have a similar effect.
Fiber is the indigestible plant matter which comes in two forms – soluble and insoluble.
It is thought that both types of fiber have a beneficial impact on the health of the body – specifically digestive health.
Fiber slows down the digestive process and nutrient absorption. A consequence of this is a prolonged feeling of fullness and diminished appetite.
Research on fiber suggests that consuming an additional fiber can decrease calorie consumption and facilitate weight loss.
One four-month study found that an additional fourteen grams per day led to a 10% decrease in calorie consumption and more than four pounds of weight loss (7).
While both types of fiber appear beneficial, soluble fiber may be specifically effective for belly fat reduction.
A second study concluded that consuming ten grams of soluble fiber contributed to a 3.7% reduction in abdominal fat (8).
4) Restrict Carb Consumption
Consuming fewer carbohydrates is another effective fat loss method that is commonly adopted by bodybuilders.
The reason fat loss tends to occur during a low-carb diet is, once again, to do with calories.
The majority of the calories consumed tend to come from carbohydrates. Therefore, by substantially reducing carb intake, you also decrease your calorie intake thus causing fat loss.
Additionally, low-carb diets may also be effective for reducing appetite which can lead to a greater reduction in calorie intake (9).
There are many scientific studies that advocate the use of low-carb diets for reducing body fat.
One study on the matter concluded that a low-carb diet effectively improved body composition and significantly reduced abdominal fat (10).
Research has indicated that low-carb diets are beneficial for more than just causing fat loss. They have also been found to reduce disease risk and improve the health of diabetics (11).
5) Cut Down On Sugar
Sugar is composed of two different molecules known as glucose and fructose both of which play an important role in providing the body with energy.
Consuming a large amount of sugar on a regular basis has been associated with weight gain and the development of metabolic diseases (12).
A study looking at the impact of sugar determined that a high consumption led to an increase in abdominal fat (13).
When you eat a great quantity of sugar, it is thought that the liver is overloaded with fructose and quickly turns it into fat (14).
On top of this, sugary foods and drinks can be extremely calorific. Therefore, eating a high quantity of these foods can take you out of a calorie deficit and prevent fat loss from occurring.
Reducing the amount of sugar that you consume will have a substantial impact on your calorie intake and rate of fat loss.
Be conscious when selecting foods and avoid products that contain refined sugars. There are some foods marketed as “healthy” that contain a high amount of refined sugar.
6) Increase Exercise Frequency
This section thus far has focused primarily on nutrition; but what about exercise?
The impact that maintaining good nutrition and exercising frequently has on the body is well documented.
In addition to reducing disease risk, regular exercise can also be used to improve body composition and reduce abdominal fat.
Exercising more frequently will cause a greater amount of calories to be burned. Increasing calorie burn will have a direct impact on the rate of fat loss.
As a bodybuilder, strength training must be performed often during the fat loss process to ensure that the amount of muscle loss is minimized.
The purpose of performing strength training exercises is not to target fat in specific parts of the body. This is something often referred to as “spot reduction” or “spot fixing”.
One study put spot reduction to the test and took participants through six-weeks of abdominal training. By the end of the study, abdominal fat had not significantly altered (15).
As well as performing strength training, it is also not uncommon for bodybuilders to increase the amount of cardiovascular exercise they perform in a fat loss phase.
Exercises such as walking, running, cycling, and rowing are all associated with large calorie burns and can cause a substantial reduction in abdominal fat (16).
While there is a range of proposed fat loss methods, these six tried and tested methods have been scientifically proven to work.
Therefore, any bodybuilder who needs to reduce body fat for an upcoming competition should consider adopting a number of these methods.
1 – Paley, Carole A.; Johnson, Mark I. (2018-05-04). “Abdominal obesity and metabolic syndrome: exercise as medicine?”. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation. 10. doi:10.1186/s13102-018-0097-1. ISSN 2052-1847. PMC 5935926. PMID 29755739.
2 – Hołowko, Joanna; Michalczyk, Małgorzata Magdalena; Zając, Adam; Czerwińska-Rogowska, Maja; Ryterska, Karina; Banaszczak, Marcin; Jakubczyk, Karolina; Stachowska, Ewa (2019-06-27). “Six Weeks of Calorie Restriction Improves Body Composition and Lipid Profile in Obese and Overweight Former Athletes”. Nutrients. 11 (7). doi:10.3390/nu11071461. ISSN 2072-6643. PMC 6683015. PMID 31252598.
3 – Helms, Eric R; Aragon, Alan A; Fitschen, Peter J (2014-05-12). “Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation”. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 11: 20. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-20. ISSN 1550-2783. PMC 4033492. PMID 24864135.
4 – Mettler, Samuel; Mitchell, Nigel; Tipton, Kevin D. (2010-02). “Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes”. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 42 (2): 326–337. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181b2ef8e. ISSN 1530-0315. PMID 19927027.
5 – Leidy, Heather J.; Mattes, Richard D.; Campbell, Wayne W. (2007-05). “Effects of acute and chronic protein intake on metabolism, appetite, and ghrelin during weight loss”. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.). 15 (5): 1215–1225. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.143. ISSN 1930-7381. PMID 17495198.
6 – Loenneke, Jeremy P.; Wilson, Jacob M.; Manninen, Anssi H.; Wray, Mandy E.; Barnes, Jeremy T.; Pujol, Thomas J. (2012-01-27). “Quality protein intake is inversely related with abdominal fat”. Nutrition & Metabolism. 9 (1): 5. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-5. ISSN 1743-7075. PMC 3284412. PMID 22284338.
7 – Howarth, N. C.; Saltzman, E.; Roberts, S. B. (2001-05). “Dietary fiber and weight regulation”. Nutrition Reviews. 59 (5): 129–139. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2001.tb07001.x. ISSN 0029-6643. PMID 11396693.
8 – Hairston, Kristen G.; Vitolins, Mara Z.; Norris, Jill M.; Anderson, Andrea M.; Hanley, Anthony J.; Wagenknecht, Lynne E. (2012-2). “Lifestyle Factors and 5-Year Abdominal Fat Accumulation in a Minority Cohort: The IRAS Family Study”. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.). 20 (2). doi:10.1038/oby.2011.171. ISSN 1930-7381. PMC 3856431. PMID 21681224.
9 – McClernon, F. Joseph; Yancy, William S.; Eberstein, Jacqueline A.; Atkins, Robert C.; Westman, Eric C. (2007-01). “The effects of a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet and a low-fat diet on mood, hunger, and other self-reported symptoms”. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.). 15 (1): 182–187. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.516. ISSN 1930-7381. PMID 17228046.
10 – Gower, Barbara A; Goss, Amy M (2015-1). “A Lower-Carbohydrate, Higher-Fat Diet Reduces Abdominal and Intermuscular Fat and Increases Insulin Sensitivity in Adults at Risk of Type 2 Diabetes123”. The Journal of Nutrition. 145 (1): 177S–183S. doi:10.3945/jn.114.195065. ISSN 0022-3166. PMC 4264021. PMID 25527677.
11 – Feinman, Richard D.; Pogozelski, Wendy K.; Astrup, Arne; Bernstein, Richard K.; Fine, Eugene J.; Westman, Eric C.; Accurso, Anthony; Frassetto, Lynda; Gower, Barbara A.; McFarlane, Samy I.; Nielsen, Jörgen Vesti (2015-01). “Dietary carbohydrate restriction as the first approach in diabetes management: critical review and evidence base”. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.). 31 (1): 1–13. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2014.06.011. ISSN 1873-1244. PMID 25287761.
12 – Jensen, Thomas; Abdelmalek, Manal F.; Sullivan, Shelby; Nadeau, Kristen J.; Green, Melanie; Roncal, Carlos; Nakagawa, Takahiko; Kuwabara, Masanari; Sato, Yuka; Kang, Duk-Hee; Tolan, Dean R. (2018-5). “Fructose and Sugar: A Major Mediator of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease”. Journal of hepatology. 68 (5): 1063–1075. doi:10.1016/j.jhep.2018.01.019. ISSN 0168-8278. PMC 5893377. PMID 29408694.
13 – Stanhope, Kimber L.; Schwarz, Jean Marc; Keim, Nancy L.; Griffen, Steven C.; Bremer, Andrew A.; Graham, James L.; Hatcher, Bonnie; Cox, Chad L.; Dyachenko, Artem; Zhang, Wei; McGahan, John P. (2009-05). “Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans”. The Journal of Clinical Investigation. 119 (5): 1322–1334. doi:10.1172/JCI37385. ISSN 1558-8238. PMC 2673878. PMID 19381015.
14 – Faeh, David; Minehira, Kaori; Schwarz, Jean-Marc; Periasamy, Raj; Periasami, Raj; Park, Seongsu; Seongsu, Park; Tappy, Luc (2005-07). “Effect of fructose overfeeding and fish oil administration on hepatic de novo lipogenesis and insulin sensitivity in healthy men”. Diabetes. 54 (7): 1907–1913. doi:10.2337/diabetes.54.7.1907. ISSN 0012-1797. PMID 15983189.
15 – Vispute, Sachin S.; Smith, John D.; LeCheminant, James D.; Hurley, Kimberly S. (2011-09). “The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25 (9): 2559–2564. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181fb4a46. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 21804427.
16 – Vissers, Dirk; Hens, Wendy; Taeymans, Jan; Baeyens, Jean-Pierre; Poortmans, Jacques; Van Gaal, Luc (2013-02-08). “The Effect of Exercise on Visceral Adipose Tissue in Overweight Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”. PLoS ONE. 8 (2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056415. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3568069. PMID 23409182.