Work It Out: The Ab Edition

The million dollar question.


What is the meaning of life?

The question I get almost daily now is about gaining and/or abs.  How do I gain without getting a tummy?  How do I get better abs?



I don’t do core work other than leg raises in the captain’s chair and crunches.  I don’t do cardio beyond walking  (my trainer won’t let me while I try to gain).  I focus on weights and lifting heavy.  It sounds crazy, but my abs are sore following a leg day – barbell squats work your whole body!

Without millions of sit ups, here’s what my abs looked like for my first competition in October (I’m on the far right):


Please know that “normal” people don’t walk around with fitness model abs 365 days a year.   In the pic above I certainly didn’t have a ripped 6 pack, and I’d been working hard.  Fitness models and competitors are relentless, but there is a lot of diet/water manipulation (not to mention the occasional photoshopping) that goes into it. Don’t put those expectations on yourself!

If you are trying to gain, the extra food will probably go to your stomach at first.  It has to go somewhere before it re-distributes!  As long as you aren’t filling it with junk, your body will figure out where to put it.   I tell myself this every day.


So how do you get abs?  I hate to say it… it’s true what they say – abs are made in the kitchen.  I wrote a brief post about this when I did my Kitchen Workout.  Based on the questions I got and my personal goals, I wanted to get a little more specific in this post.

The secret is what you put in your mouth.

That’s what she said.


Bad diet


Fat vs. Carbs

I get asked a lot about the proper balance of fat and carbs.  This really depends on your body type.  Some people do better with more carbs, others more fat, and still others with a balance.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you.  You’ll be able to tell in a week or so.

I’m actually experimenting this week with a higher fat diet.  We’ll see how it goes…



Switch your simple (refined) carbs with complex carbs.  Simple carbs are quick to digest and are converted to blood glucose. Glucose in your bloodstream increases after consuming a high-carb meal.  Excess glucose accumulates as body fat, resulting in weight gain.  If you continually create excess glucose, you create a nasty cycle.  As the level of glucose in your blood falls below “normal,” you become hungry, which results in consuming even more carbs.  Read more about complex carbs here.

Try eating oatmeal for breakfast rather than toast.  Make it interesting – try Zucchini Bread Oats, Strawberries and Cream, or try a Strange But Good take on oatmeal that uses TVP as the base: Pumpkin TVP Oatmeal.



Rather than croutons or a roll with your salad, top it with black beans, white beans, or chickpeas.  My favorite topper is Spiced Roasted Chickpeas – crouton crunch without the salt, butter, or white carbs.

Replace pasta with quinoa or lentils.  I never cared for lentils until I discovered fun ways to flavor them, like in these Lentil “Meat” Balls served over spaghetti squash (another great carb replacer).

Spaghetti Squash and "Meat" Balls



Limit your sugar intake.  You would be surprised how it sneaks its way into nearly everything.  Sugar is fat-free; however, if you eat a high sugar diet your body will convert the excess into fatty acids (fat).  This fat is stored wherever you tend to store adipose fat cells… for many of us, this is the stomach, hips, butt, and boobs/moobs.

Avoid candy, sodas, “fancy” coffees, juice, and baked goods.  You probably knew that.  Are a few not-so-obvious items to watch: cereals, breads, canned sauces and soups, flavored yogurt, protein powders, and fruit.  That’s right – I said fruit.  It’s good for you in moderation (we all need some sugar for energy), but you shouldn’t be eating 10 servings a day.  When you eat your fruits, try to have it earlier in the day or surrounding a workout.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with something else…. like my (almost) nightly treat: the 150 Calorie Microwave Cake.




Ditch salt.  Stop salting your food.  Unless you want to be bloated.  There are so many other ways to add flavor!

Frozen foods are huge culprits.  Even the “healthy” brands are loaded with sodium.  Also check the sodium in canned soups, pastas, breads (some have more sodium than chips), pretzels and rice cakes, sauces, and cottage cheese (it took some searching, but I did find a no-salt added option).  Check out this post for more info and alternative seasoning ideas.


Diet Foods

“Fat-free” or “low-calorie” items often means “this has a ton of ingredients you can’t pronounce.”  Avoid packaged diet foods.  They are often worse than their “regular” counterparts because – in order to add flavor – they have more sodium and/or sugarNot to mention the additives.

fat free


Additional Thoughts

  • Listen to your mother.  Eat your vegetables.  They are low-calorie and nutrient-rich.  If you are a volume eater (I am!), veggies are a lifesaver.  Try to have 1-2 servings at every meal.  Prepare them with herbs, vinegar, and/or olive oil.  If you are coating you veggies in dressing, cheese, and salty sauces it kind of defeats the purpose.  Click here for tips on adding veggies to you diet.
  • Always make sure to get enough protein!  20g after you exercise will help build muscle and allow your body to recover.  If you are an athlete, have at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.  Some people will balk at this… but if you want to build muscle, trust me on the protein.
  • Drink water (at least half your body weight in ounces).  Dehydration slows down the fat-burning process.  Drinking more water can also help reduce muscle and joint soreness when exercising.  And we all know this one: drinking water with a meal may make you feel full sooner and help you not over-eat (or drink other beverages).
  • Make the way you eat part of your lifestyle, not a diet.  Diets crash.  A lifestyle is a shift in thinking.  Find something that works for you, that you like, and go for it.


**Disclaimer: I have NO formal training.  This is just what I’ve learned/experienced.  I don’t walk around with a 6 pack – it’s bulking time!  Don’t sue me.  The End.**


Something else I didn’t realize… not only is my next competition just 11 weeks away, but I am also doing an 8 hour adventure race in less than 2 weeks.  Eek.

Do you have a “flat ab” secret?

Do you consider the way you eat part of your lifestyle?  How did you get to that point?



  1. says

    Great tips, Laura! I am (sadly!) very sensitive to carbs, so I know that normally all I have to do is reduce my carb intake and increase my fats to bring my abs out of hiding. I rarely do this as I have no desire to be ripped all the time!

    • Laura says

      Thanks! It’s been an experiment… I’m curious to see how I feel after a few days. Definitely missing carbs more than I thought I would!

  2. says

    Every time I see a competition pic of you, I’m blown away again. Wow–amazing! Anyways, I love all the tips. I’ll also be curious to hear what you think about the higher fat diet you’re currently experimenting with. I tried it, and while I definitely keep healthy fats in my diet, getting too much didn’t work as well as I’ve seen with other people. I had better results with up-ing my protein, and keeping healthy fats more in a normal range. Like you said, to each their own!!

    • Laura says

      Thank you SO much! I have a long way to go, but the journey is fun!

      Not sure how much I like the higher fat thing, but I’m going to give it a week…

  3. says

    What a great post! I cannot tell you how many times I have tried to convince the girls I know to stop going to those silly WW things, it is good to watch what you eat, but the food they supply is full of things that you can’t even pronounce! Please tell me how that is healthy?

    As I get older I definitely have tuned more into the less sugar and salt diet. I try to moderate what I eat instead of depriving, and I eat a TON of vegetables. Surprisingly enough it makes you feel better to eat that way. :-)

    • Laura says

      That’s my biggest problem with those programs. The idea is fine… but teach people about good, whole foods!

  4. says

    GREAT POST!!!!!!!!!!! All your advice is spot on! People are so different so things that work for you or me may not work for others BUT the food you put in your mouth – that is SO IMPORTANT! Not only for the look but ya can’t see what a layer of fat is covering…. and for some, their body may be a tough one & they may eat well & never see a 6 pack – maybe a 4 pack like me.. 😉 Even more as you wrote, wrong foods even if you are not overeating may result in a softer look. Like Miz, this is a lifestyle fore me – just life BUT is is very very hard work to see those abs even if you are working them & living healthy.. clean eats! :)

    I do more than you cardio & core wise but we have totally different body types.. the point you made above! :)

    • Laura says

      Thank you Jody! You make such a good point – the RIGHT foods are what matters…. and wheterh you have a 6 or 4 or no-pack, feeling better is reward enough! :)

  5. says

    From previous experience, I know that a higher fat, lower carb diet does work for me but I hate it! I did the South Beach Diet like 8 years ago and lost 35 lbs (15-20 of which I eventually gained back) but eating in that style. It’s just hard to maintain though.

    • Laura says

      Wow… 35 lbs?! I have heard that keeping to a high fat diet isn’t the best idea… it’s really just soemthing to do for a weeks or so to jump start your body.

  6. says

    GREAT POST!!! You put SO much time into this – so proud of you!!!!!!

    Seriously, honey, you did a great job – be proud :)

    The way I eat is definitely part of my lifestyle – it works for ME and that’s what is most important :)

    Great tips. Nothing really makes me “bloat”, so I don’t have any tips to share.

    I’m excited to see how this higher fat diet works for you! Really, twin! Keep me updated! Let’s chat more soon xo

  7. says

    Great post. I really need some of these reminders right now. What stinks is that I’m not supposed to lift and the only thing I’ve been given the ok to ido is run (cardio). So I feel like I’m really struggling with what to eat and how to eat knowing that I’m losing my muscle mass :-(

    You look amazing and I always love your insights, information AND inspiration.

  8. says

    Love! I prefer to eat intuitively, simply and to space out certain foods. For a while there I tried balancing my macros w each meal/snack, but it left me with heartburn from eating too many types of food groups in one sitting. Basically, I’ve learned to not mess with my bodys intuition & wisdom. 😀

    • Laura says

      Intuition is a great point – Iwish I’d mentioned that too. Ultimately, listen to you body and you’ll be fine. unless your body tells you to stick your face in chocolate cake. LOL!

  9. says

    You are absolutely right about everything. I have SO many clients that tell me that they want “six pack abs” and think that they will come from doing a million crunches. I teach a HARDCORE (no pun intended!! ha!) abs class once a week, and mine are nowhere near 6-pack. My stomach has never even been “flat,” even at my lowest weight. A HUGE part of it is genetics too, and if you have lost a good deal of weight and lost elasticity in your skin, it’s pretty much impossible. But, hey- I’m not entering any fitness competitions, so I’m pretty happy to know that my abs are super strong, even if they don’t pop out. :)
    AWESOME post, my dear.

  10. Amelia says

    Great information. Though it is true, what works for one may not for another. I can’t believe your next competition is 11 weeks away. It feels like yesterday that you finished the last one!

    Flat ab secret? Nothing different than what you mention. Nix the alcohol, that’s what I found out a couple years ago! The quote about “chemical shit storm” made my husband roll with laughter this morning!

    Side note: I got your email, just haven’t had time to give you a proper reply. :) prob happen this weekend.

    • Laura says

      Alcohol! How could I have forgotten that one?! I’ve given it up for Junk-Free January and I can’t believe how much better I feel.

  11. says

    Moobs!!! HAHA!! Love it!

    I’ve never strived for a 6 pack, but I do want to focus on toning my stomach this year. This post was really helpful. I think it convinced me to get my sugar intake in check. Sugar = my downfall. :(

  12. says

    Thanks so much for tips!!! I have finally admitted my denial of the fact that I’ve become skinny fat. Running is great and all but I have lost so much muscle tone since I’ve started.

    I was wondering what your thoughts are about planks :)

  13. says

    Another post with a wealth of information. You are my health guru. I’m so glad you listed the things to avoid. Need to pay more attention to that…. Why is so easy to think you’re eating healthy when you’re not! (ex: chicken deli meat. fail)

    • Laura says

      Oh man, you are so right about deli meat. I used to do the same thing… now I can’t stand the sodium even in the low sodium versions. Not to mention how processed it is!

  14. says

    Awesome tips, thanks for sharing! I definitely am guilty of eating processed [yet, natural] foods like bread and sweets and dairy, but I try to eat mostly produce and protein… I’ve found that a higher protein diet helps to keep me fuller for longer versus empty calories that keep me going back for more soon after I finish :)

    P.S. I recently discovered lentils too and love them!

    • Laura says

      I think the bread and dairy products aren’t so bad in moderation. Especially if you get whle grain breads that are low sodium, and dairy products that are lower in sodium and sugar.

  15. says

    At first I was all “[Sigh] a workout post…I love you Laura but you know these lose my attention,” and then BAM! Hello nutrition! And I was back in the game. :)

    Anyways, LOVE the last point about just making the way you eat a part of your lifestyle, not a ‘diet’ (unless you mean that in the anthropological sense). Also, I’m not sure if I am actually getting enough protein or not. I thought I was. Now I’m questioning everything…

    OK, not really, but these are all fabulous tips and ideas and things to keep in mind, athlete or not. What you say about everyone sort of having to adjust it to your own body and life is also true. I find that about a lot of ‘rules,’ like ‘no eating at night.’ I eat at least half of my daily calories between 6 and 11 PM I think, and my body is cool with it.


    • Laura says

      Oh Sarah… you have to do SOME strength training. Think of it this way – it will give you an excuse to eat more Proats! :)

  16. says

    you have no formal as in classroom training, but we’re just splitting hairs here – what you are learning during um… ACTUAL training 😉 is just as real, perhaps even moreso, since you’re putting it into practice. this is all VERY good information (I have no “formal” training in this area either…) and is effective!

    …and the half your body weight in water – this is what my naturopath always says too – it’s a good rule!

  17. Haley says

    Thanks for the great tips.. My biggest downfall is “fat free” or “low fat.” I KNOW they are full of crap and added sugars… Sometimes my brain wins though and I buy them because “fat is bad” has been drilled into my brain for so long. errr! I am working on it!

    • Laura says

      Fat isn’t bad! My trainer actually was worried about me trying a higher fat diet this week because he doesn’t want me to lose weight. Counter-intuitive, right?

  18. says

    Great tips, but you know I don’t eat near that amount of protein (at least not the last time I checked). :) I am not super-focused on my diet, although I try to keep things in balance, lots of veggies, minimal processed, and just think about what I’m eating. I don’t have flat abs and for me that’s not a priority right now. i do go through phases where it’s more of a priority though.

    Okay enough rambling. :)

  19. says

    Great tips! I totally believe abs are made in the kitchen – and my scale will second that! It’s all about what we put in our mouth for sure! Thanks for sharing!

  20. says

    You’re an animal!! I’m with you on staying away from processed food especially those which contain ingredients you can’t pronounce (pretty much everything low fat and low calorie). I can’t give up my fruit and cheese though, but then again I’m not shooting for a six pack, although a little definition doesn’t hurt….that’s what she said.
    I want to hear more about this adventure race.

    • Laura says

      Oh, man… I’mnot even close. All of this is MUCH easier said than done. :)

      I want to be clear I’m not saying give up fruit or cheese – I had both this morning! Just in moderation.

  21. says

    I totally agree with all the above. I have been blessed with a pretty flat tummy, but when I gain weight it goes to my legs. I guess everything is a trade off. I typically avoid bread, pasta, and white potatoes, but there is a time and place for everything.

    I also think that dancing and engaging your abs in your dynamic workout is key. I rarely do “abs”, but I feel like I get plenty of core work in other ways. Your abs look amazing in that pic…inspiring.

    • Laura says

      You are so right about core work coming from other activities. It’s amazing how much you use your abs without thinking.

  22. says

    Abs are made in the kitchen, yes, but cookies are also made in the kitchen and that creates somewhat of a problem 😆 In all honesty, though… abs are probably one of the most frustrating things because a lot of it comes down to factors that are really beyond our control… genetics being one of them. I don’t do much corework and I’m not even that careful with my diet, but I never have an issue with putting weight on in my stomach area – it all goes to my butt first 😆

    • Laura says

      Genetics is a big part of it… I definitely have to work harder than other to have abs and they do not stick around post- competition!

  23. says

    The world would be such a better place if people realised that there is no “one” body type that can be created by sheer force of will. I’m glad you pointed that out, in a way, by mentioning manipulations such as photoshop and drastic last-minute dieting techniques.

  24. says

    I love this post! While I try to watch what I eat and maintain a clean and healthy diet, I have a soft spot for carbs so I really have to watch how much I am eating with every meal. When I cut them low and pile up on the veggies and proteins, I can definitely tell a difference in my body! Thanks for all the great info!

  25. says

    This is an awesome post, great tips. I’ve been working o. Getting lower sugar intake. So far so good. You’re the only other person I’ve seen mention TVP, other than Heather. I wanna try it since its so cheap but wary since its soy. Hmm

    • Laura says

      TVP is the best! It’s a great oatmeal alternative, but you can use it anywhere you would use ground beef. I have chili recipe somewhere using it.

  26. says

    Awesome post my friend! You are so right that abs are made in the kitchen. It’s funny because my abs are actually finally showing after I increased my carb intake. I think it differs for everyone though. I guess it didn’t help before that I was eating tons of egg whites, eggs, and greek yogurt but turned out to be allergic to the stuff, so I guess that could’ve caused the bloating. How fun;) And yes, sugar and sodium are big ones too!

  27. says

    This was a fun post to read! I am glad to hear that I don’t have to do much ab work to actually have abs because I never do sit ups and such…. I always get lazy about it haha! I know it’s important to have a strong core though!

  28. says

    I stumbled upon your site while looking for exercises for my latest workout—I love your blog! !
    I recently cut weight and discovered my abs hiding under there! I loved the definition in my core and abs at my lowered weight but I lost my ass! I am now on a 2-3lb lean muscle gain program to get my butt back! (* Have you read the book Strong Curves?) I am also a vegetarian so I have to be sure I am getting enough protein for my “butt building”. (I am currently OBSESSED with Quest bars) —Thank you for your awesome blog—I feel like I was meant to find it! :-}

    • Laura says

      Amy, thank you so much for the kind words!! I’ve been on a mission to grow a butt this past year… it’s worked, but I still have a ways to go. I’ve posted a bunch of glute workouts on the Fitness tab. I also have a vegan protein chart!

      Never heard of Strong Curves, but will google it. Thanks for reading and commenting – looking forward to getting to “know” you. :)


  1. […] A HUGE part of the commitment to compete is a commitment to your diet.  It’s not easy.  It’s not always fun. HOWEVER… abs are made in the kitchen. […]

  2. […] me bring by giving you my top ab secret: abs are made in the kitchen.  There is no way around this.  You’re diet must be on point unless you are one of those […]

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