Everyone has heard this one. Whether it’s a trainer at your gym, your friend’s mom who always comments on your snacking, or a fitness influencer screaming it at you, you’ve heard it.
So, is it true?! What kitchen appliance do I need to make abs in the kitchen??? Is it a Ninja product, a George Foreman…. Help me out here. Someone whip me up some abs.
This saying definitely has some weight to it. However, I don’t like the way it can be misleading to some.
This phrase came from the fact that your abs will be more visible the less body fat you have. And what is the one sure way to lose body fat? To eat in a caloric deficit.
But before I dive into that fully, I suggest you read this article on why you should train your core.
The most sure-fire way to lose body fat is through a calorie deficit. This is proven time and time again through countless research. Energy balance is the most important factor in weight loss.
People love to say that they didn’t do a calorie deficit for their weight loss – they did a keto diet, a celery cleanse, a detox kit, a low-fat diet, etc.
Whatever way they achieved their weight loss is valid as it worked for them! HOWEVER – what all of these different diets do is… create a calorie deficit.
A keto diet oftentimes reduces the dieter’s energy intake as maybe they binged on carbs before, and that’s why the low-carb restriction works for them.
The celery juice is usually used as a replacement for breakfast in the morning, therefore greatly reducing their calorie intake at the start of the day.
A low-fat diet may involve the dieter eating foods that are healthier and more “whole” as they include less fats – and usually less calories.
All of these fad diets don’t like to advertise that the mechanism that actually induces weight loss is the decrease in calories.
Compare a calorie deficit (no matter what diet you decide to do!) with exercise and you have a great recipe for weight loss! For more on this, read my diet do’s and don’ts here.
80% nutrition, 20% exercise
This popular saying goes along the same lines as “abs are made in the kitchen.” There is not really any research that can back this up – that weight loss or visible abs are 80% nutrition and 20% exercise.
However, it is easier to regulate your energy intake (nutrition) than your energy output (exercise).
It is a lot easier to lose weight if you focus on eating less calories than if you didn’t focus on calories at all and instead spent the whole day working out multiple times, endless cardio and trying to compensate for more calories with more exercise.
More exercise is usually a good thing. Most of us can move more, be more active and sit less. But the idea of eating whatever you want (not in moderation) and then trying to make up for that with exercise is a bit unrealistic.
So, hence the 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. You can better regulate what you put into your body (less calories) and then top off your energy output with added exercise. Rather than not paying attention to your nutrition at all. This also allows you to focus on specific training goals such as getting stronger, learning a new exercise, etc, instead of just trying to do whatever burns the most calories.
Can you create visible abs in the gym?
The entire explanation behind visible abs is a low body fat percentage. The less body fat you have, generally, the more visible your abs are going to be.
So if you have a high body fat % yet you train abs in the gym every single day and have a super strong core, you still may not see your abs. And this is okay! Abs aren’t everything (obvi), and your core unit is strong and functional.
If you have a low body fat %, odds are your abs are visible. But even then, if your genetics don’t really predispose you to chiseled abs, you won’t have them. Every body is different.
The other component to your abs, considering genetics, is your ability to build muscle. Your abs are a muscle group that build up and bulk up with the implementation of progressive overload. With consistent training, your abs will get bigger and more pronounced. The extent to which they’ll “grow” sometimes is limited by genetics, and therefore many people don’t end up with an entirely chiseled look even with a low body fat percentage.
The best bet for visible abs is consistent training and a lower body fat percentage.
How to get a lower body fat percentage
The good news is that to lower your body fat, you get to choose how you want to hit your calorie deficit!
- Choose your method
You could choose a specific diet, or focus on whole foods and balance (my favorite method :)). You could eat less than your target throughout the week so that you have more wiggle room on the weekends. You can eat your favorite foods, just in moderation, so long as you stay in your deficit.
2. Start small
Start with a doable deficit – you don’t want to restrict your calories so much that it’s miserable and you quit after 2 weeks. Make is sustainable and doable long-term. You’ll be much happier, you’ll see long-lasting results, and you’ll feel great about your continued progress. If you don’t see results with a calorie deficit, you likely aren’t properly tracking your calories.
3. Move more
The other good news is that you get to move more! Increasing your energy expenditure is a great way to facilitate fat loss with your calorie deficit.
A hugely successful method is increasing your daily step count. And this is so easy, it’s literally just walking! Spending more time on our feet and less sitting down can greatly influence the rate of fat loss. Go for a walk while you scroll on social media, call a friend, FaceTime family or listen to your favorite podcast.
Abs are made through consistent energy balance
No matter how the individual does it, they are balancing their energy input/output and consistently keeping a strong core and a lower body fat %.
Maybe someone with visible abs loves running and burns a ton of calories doing their hobby, creating a low body fat simply from lots of exercise.
Maybe someone with visible abs doesn’t like exercise much, so they solely focus on nutrition and creating a calorie deficit through their diet.
Maybe someone with visible abs has great muscle building capacity of their abdominals, and trains them nonstop, working super hard to achieve their chiseled look.
There are so many ways to lower your body fat or create an environment for weight loss. It depends on your preference, what you truly enjoy and will adhere to.
Experiment with what works best for you, your body, and your happiness, and see what happens!
We love a sustainable life balance of allll the fun things (lifting heavy, eating pizza, being active, getting good sleep, social drinks, lots of water).
Just remember that abs aren’t a direct indicator of fitness, and don’t determine our happiness.
Minderis P, Fokin A, Dirmontas M, Ratkevicius A. Hypocaloric low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets with fixed protein lead to similar health outcomes in obese mice. Obesity. 2020;28(8):1494-1502. doi:10.1002/oby.22872
Romieu I, Dossus L, Barquera Simón, et al. Energy balance and obesity: what are the main drivers? Cancer causes & control. 2017;28(3):247-258. doi:10.1007/s10552-017-0869-z
Soenen S, Bonomi AG, Lemmens SG, et al. Relatively high-protein or ‘low-carb’ energy-restricted diets for body weight loss and body weight maintenance? Physiology & behavior. 2012;107(3):374-380.