Washboard Abs on a High-Fat Diet, No Ab Workouts and No Cardio?

Mark SissonApologies in advance for the self-serving nature of this post, but I felt that it was time to answer more specifically many of your questions about my own program and to use myself as an example of how the Primal Blueprint works if you integrate all the elements.

As many of you know, I am coming off a three month rehab from knee surgery. I’m about 95% healed now and can even do my “Indigenous Peoples Stretch” (a full unloaded squat) – a sure sign that all is well. Throughout this time, I have maintained my usual diet and have done whatever upper-body lifting I could manage that didn’t also require substantial leg involvement (pushups, pull-ups, dips, cable-work, etc). Despite my (or should I say “because of my”) high-fat diet and doing pretty much zero cardio over the past four months (including a fair amount of down time before the knee surgery) my weight, my lean mass and my body fat have all remained steady.

I went on FitDay.com a few days ago (great site to reveal the truth about what you eat) and entered what was a typical full day of eating for me. The results were pretty much as I expected: 2,458 calories, 58% of which was from fat; 165 grams of protein (1 gram per pound of body weight) and 114 grams of carbs. Now some might say that eating less than 2500 calories is too low for a moderately active man, but there are two points to make here. First, I am never really hungry. On this Primal Blueprint eating style, I eat when I want to and stop when I no longer feel hungry. Pretty simple. If I skip meals, I don’t get light-headed or famished. I don’t ever feel like I need more calories or that I am missing out on anything or “sacrificing” some guilty pleasure. I get plenty of protein to spare muscle and add to protein turnover. I get plenty of fat for fuel – sometimes 65% of daily calories. Second – and this goes to the heart of the Primal concept – when you eat fewer carbs, your body readily accesses dietary and stored fat for fuel. Even at 8% body fat, I still have 46,000 calories of stored fat, at least 25,000 of which is available to use as fuel at any time. Theoretically, you could walk 250 miles on that. It’s a beautiful thing when you direct gene expression to “want” to burn fat instead of always storing it. You certainly don’t need cardio to produce the full effect (you can if you want, within guidelines). As we often say here “80% of your results come from how you eat.” Conversely, eating more carbs drives up insulin, drives carbs towards fat storage, decreases fat-burning by prompting fat cells to hold on to stored fat and makes you hungrier for more carbs. I could burn some or most of all that off again by doing tons of cardio, but that only makes me hungrier for more carbs and perpetuates the cycle. It’s like digging a hole to put the ladder in to wash the basement windows.

The other point I want to make is that I don’t do abs. By that I mean I don’t specifically do an ab routine or ab classes as any part of my workouts. On the other hand, I pretty much work my abs all day long without specifically focusing on them. And that’s an important distinction. Grok probably had a wicked set of abs. He had to. Abs are the center of the human movement universe. They are part of today’s “core”, the fulcrum, the key in Chi. But you don’t necessarily need to do endless crunches, sit-ups, roman chairs, leg raises or other isolation moves to strengthen them. Sure, you can if you want, but I think the best way to work your abs is involve them in almost every other movement you do. Every time you do it. When you do pushups, you should tighten your abs hard, likewise when you do pull-ups, squats, lunges, curls – you name it. And working your abs doesn’t stop in the gym. When you sit at your desk, you should take that opportunity to tighten your abs (and by abs, we mean the whole complex: rectis and transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, and pyrimidalis).

Tighten that belly as if you are going to be punched in the gut while blowing out the candles on your birthday cake. Hold it for 10, 20 or more seconds a few times every hour. Now do it while slightly tilted to one side. Now the other. For even better results and a stronger core, you would simultaneously contract your buttock muscles like you are trying to hold in the bean dinner you had at Barry’s last night. Do these short exercise bursts while you are driving to pick up the kids or when stuck in traffic. Hell, I do some of my best ab work bent over doing sprint work on the stationary bike. It’s really all about squeezing, tightening and trying to shorten the distance between your sternum and you pubic bone. This is all considered isometric work, but the abs respond extremely well to it. Eat right and those well-worked abs will show!

High-fat diet, no cardio, no ab workouts. Talk about thumbing your nose at Conventional Wisdom!

Further Reading:

What is the Primal Blueprint?

My Knee is Killing Me… No, Really.

My Daily Salad

Are There Any Good Carbs?

What I Eat in a Day

My Weekly Workout Routine

My Sprint Routine Video

Chronic Cardio

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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