If you want to know the best way to lose belly fat, without eating a bunch of weird foods, doing hours of boring cardio, or buying expensive (and often totally useless) supplements, this page will show you how.
You may have heard that belly fat is harder to lose than fat stored in other parts of your body. But that depends on which type of abdominal fat you’re talking about.
There are two main types of fat in the stomach area.
Visceral fat is stored deep inside your body. It surrounds and protects your internal organs. You can’t actually see visceral fat, as it’s underneath your abdominal muscles.
Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, is stored just under your skin. It’s the stuff you can pinch.
Visceral fat does tend to accumulate more quickly than subcutaneous fat. But it’s also relatively easy to get rid of.
For one, it has a lot of blood flowing through it. This makes it easier for the various hormones that trigger the breakdown of stored fat to get to the fat cells in the first place. It also helps transport fat away from the fat cell so that it can be burned off elsewhere.
While visceral fat isn’t particularly hard to get rid of, the fat under your skin is another story entirely. In particular, fat stored around the side of your waist and lower back, as well as the lower part of the abdominals, can be very difficult to shed.
Some say that cardio is the best way to lose belly fat, while lifting weights should be reserved for people who want to build muscle. Here’s why they’re wrong.
Think of your belly fat like a bank account. But instead of storing money, it stores energy.
If you spend more money than you’re earning, eventually you’ll have no money left in your account. In much the same way, getting rid of belly fat is all about creating an energy deficit by “spending” more energy than you get from your diet.
The only true requirement when it comes to losing your gut is an energy deficit. And you can create that deficit with diet, resistance exercise, cardio, or a combination of all three.
Contrary to popular belief, the best way to lose belly fat doesn’t have to involve any cardio at all.
Lifting weights isn’t just for people who want to gain muscle, and will improve the way you look in two very important ways.
Firstly, if you don’t do some form of resistance exercise while you diet, much of the weight you lose will come from muscle as well as fat.
Weight training is essential when it comes to holding on to the muscle you already have. Without it, you’ll end up as a smaller version of your current self, with many of the flabby bits still intact. The “skinny fat” look is common in people who rely on diet and cardio, or even just diet alone, to lose weight.
Cardio isn’t necessarily the best way to lose belly fat, and certainly isn’t going to help you hold on to the muscle you have right now. In fact, combining a calorie deficit with too much cardio and no resistance training can actually increase the risk of muscle loss.
Second, with a properly designed strength-training program, you’ll burn fat both during and after your workout.
Your body will always burn some fat while you’re sitting around doing nothing, irrespective of whether you exercise or not.
However, lifting weights has been shown to raise something called post-exercise fat oxidation, which is just a fancy way of saying that it increases the amount of fat you burn after exercise.
This increase in fat oxidation happens fairly quickly, and can last for some time. In fact, a single workout has been shown in several studies (such as this one and this one) to raise both energy expenditure (burning calories) and fat oxidation (burning fat) for at least 24 hours, sometimes even longer.
What’s more, some of the fat that’s burned in the post-exercise period will be pulled straight from your stomach.
In one trial, researchers from East Carolina University had a group of eight men lift weights for 40-45 minutes. Each man had a microdialysis probe inserted into his belly. This allowed the researchers to measure the amount of fat that was released from fat cells before, during, and after the workout.
Here’s what they found:
Metabolic rate was over 10% higher after the men had lifted weights compared with the same time point on the control day. What’s more, the rate of fat burning was also doubled following resistance exercise.
But that’s not all. The amount of fat being released from fat cells in the stomach was around 80% higher both during and immediately after the workout.
In short, lifting weights will burn fat, and some of that fat will come straight from your belly.
It’s true that many studies to compare resistance with aerobic exercise show that, on the whole, aerobic exercise is the best way to lose belly fat.
However, many of these studies use resistance training programs with a very low metabolic demand — the exercises are performed on machines, many of them are single-joint movements that isolate small muscle groups, and the overall training volume is relatively low.
A routine based on exercises with a high metabolic demand is another story entirely.
I’m talking about exercises that work the large muscle groups in your legs, hips and back, using a heavy(ish) weight that limits you to somewhere between 5 and 15 repetitions per set.
In other words, the best way to lose belly fat is to work muscles that are nowhere near your belly, using exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses and rows. On a rep-per-rep basis, these movements work a lot more muscle mass than most other exercises.
Strength training makes a direct contribution to the calorie deficit required to lose belly fat. And if you’re doing exercises that work large muscle groups, lifting heavy weights and pushing yourself hard, that contribution will end up being fairly substantial.
Jumping on the treadmill or exercise bike is not the only way to burn calories, and isn’t necessarily the best way to lose belly fat. All forms of exercise burn calories, and that includes lifting weights.
Are there any foods that burn belly fat?
One question that seems to appear in my inbox on an almost daily basis centers on the effect that individual foods have on fat loss.
It seems people want to hear that there are “good” foods and “bad” foods, and that the best way to lose belly fat involves eating less of the bad ones and more of the good ones.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the idea there are certain foods (blueberries, dark chocolate, avocados and so on) that will somehow burn fat is complete nonsense.
But it’s the sort of nonsense that seems to pop up every so often on daytime TV or in the happy-clappy health magazines when they’ve got no more “declutter your life” or “I’m okay and you’re okay” articles left to publish.
There are certain “hot” foods (such as red pepper) that give your metabolism a lift. But the overall effect is relatively small, and it’s debatable whether the short-term increase in metabolism has much of an impact on fat loss over time.
At the risk of repeating myself, getting rid of belly fat requires an energy deficit, and it’s your overall diet rather than any individual food that will determine your rate of fat loss.
Of course, you can’t ignore the nutrient content of a diet and expect to see an identical change in body composition based on calorie values alone.
The composition of your diet matters. It affects things like hormone levels, appetite, energy expenditure and so on, all of which will have an influence on how much of the weight you lose comes from muscle or fat.
And there is one nutrient – protein – that will make it a lot easier for you to lose your gut.
Studies show that protein does a better job at filling you up than carbohydrate or fat. Eat a protein-rich breakfast, for example, and chances are that you won’t eat as much food for lunch.
The figure below is from a University of Washington study where dieters were told to eat roughly twice as much protein as normal. The circles at the top represent daily calorie intake, while the diamonds at the bottom represent body weight.
As you can see, eating more protein led to a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake that lasted for the length of the study. In fact, calorie intake dropped by an average of 441 calories per day.
Protein also has a “muscle sparing” effect during fat loss. If you don’t get enough protein while you’re on a diet, you’ll end up dropping muscle as well as fat.
There’s another benefit to eating more protein.
A chocolate bar (mainly carbs and fat) and a chicken breast (mainly protein) might have the same number of calories when they’re sat on the table in front of you. But your body uses up more energy processing the chicken than it does the chocolate bar.
In other words, some of the energy in each gram of protein is “wasted” while it’s digested and metabolized.
All of which goes a long way towards explaining why Danish researchers found that one of the best ways to lose belly fat is simply to eat more protein.
They put a group of 65 people on either a 12 percent protein diet or a 25 percent protein diet. After six months, subjects in the high-protein group lost twice as much abdominal fat as those in the low-protein group.
Are there any exercises that will get rid of belly fat faster than others?
The short answer to this question is no.
The best way to lose belly fat doesn’t involve doing hundreds of crunches.
Same thing goes for sit-ups, the bicycle crunch, leg raises or any of the various “drawing in your belly button” exercises.
These exercises will build and strengthen the abdominal muscles that sit underneath your belly fat.
But they won’t get rid of the fat that’s covering them up.
Researchers from Illinois discovered as much when they looked at how training the abs affects the amount of fat stored in the stomach.
They took a group of 24 participants and assigned them to one of two groups. The first group did nothing, while group two performed seven abdominal exercises (2 sets x 10 repetitions), five days a week for six weeks.
A grand total 4,200 repetitions of various abdominal exercises over a six-week period had “no significant effect” on the amount of fat stored around the stomach. Please don’t waste your time trying to burn off stomach fat by twisting and crunching it away.
So there you have it.
The best way to lose belly fat is to set up your diet so that it puts you in a calorie deficit, make lifting weights a priority, and fit in cardio as and when you have the time.
Apply some hard work and patience, and it won’t be too long before you see the results you’re looking for.
SEE ALSO: THE FLAT BELLY CHEAT SHEET
If you want less flab and more muscle when you look down at your abs (or where they should be), check out The Flat Belly Cheat Sheet.
It's a “cut the waffle and just tell me what to do” PDF, written in plain English, that tells you exactly how to get rid of belly fat. To download a free copy please click or tap here.
ABOUT CHRISTIAN FINNChristian Finn holds a master's degree with distinction in exercise science, is a former personal trainer and has been featured on BBC TV and radio, as well as in Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Fit Pro, Zest, and Perfect Body magazine.