It’s pretty common for men to pack some extra poundage around their midsection. In fact, the average man is about 24 pounds heavier today than men in 1960, according to stats from The State of Obesity—and the figures are rising. We’ve seen slimmer days, but don’t think this is a grim sentence, dooming you to eternal chubbiness. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways for you to burn belly fat—fast.
The fact of the matter is battling the bulge takes different strategies and approaches depending on your genetics, your metabolism, your will power, etc. What works for your buddy won’t necessarily be your be-all and end-all solution. To simplify things, we compiled plenty of tips to help rev your metabolism, lose your love handles, and unsheathe your abs. You’ll have to do some trial and error to deduce which ones work best for you (hey, losing weight is hard work). But if you put in the work (a.k.a. incorporate a few of these tips each week), you’ll be well on your way to a smaller waistline. Who said your glory days were in the past?
1. Eat more protein
About 25%-30% of the calories in each gram of protein are burned in digestion, compared to only 6%-8% of the calories in carbs. Do the math: You save 41 calories every time you substitute 50 grams of protein for an equal amount of carbs.
2. Read labels
Avoid foods with “high-fructose corn syrup” in the ingredients list. Since 1971, consumption of this sugar substitute—which is used to sweeten soda, commercial baked goods, and even condiments—has increased more than 350% in the U.S., paralleling the rise in obesity.
3. Get off your ass
Do every exercise standing instead of sitting. “You’ll expend up to 30% more calories,” says Joe Stankowski, C.P.T. The solution for the bench press? Dips.
4. Mix up your movements
When you lift, perform supersets in which you alternate between sets of lower body exercises and upper body exercises. That way, your lower body rests while your upper body is working. “This allows you to work your muscles maximally with very little downtime between sets for a faster, more effective workout,” says Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S.
5. Exercise blind
When you’re using the elliptical trainer, try letting go of the handles and closing your eyes. (Be careful!) Without the visual feedback, your core muscles will have to work harder to keep you balanced, burning more calories.
6. Embrace yardwork
View any type of physical activity—even those you try to avoid, such as mowing the lawn—as a chance to burn fat and condition your body. (Just make sure you use a push mower.)
7. Snack on dill pickles
They have one calorie per slice.
8. Take larger steps
When using the stair climber, skip one out of every five steps. Then take one large step to get back to your normal walking pattern. This step recruits additional muscle, upping fat loss, says Cameron McGarr, C.S.C.S.
9. Rent motivation
Once a week, watch a movie that inspires you to exercise. Examples: Rocky (for the gym), American Flyers (for cycling), Hoosiers (for team sports), and Chariots of Fire and Without Limits (both for running).
10. Break a record
Challenge yourself to run farther in the same amount of time—even if it’s just one-tenth of a mile—every single workout. This ensures you’re always burning more calories from one workout to the next.
11. Smash your dinner plates
And buy smaller ones. That way, even if you fill your plate to capacity, you’re ultimately eating less than what you would likely pile on your existing platters.
12. Cut carbs
Yes, you’ve heard it a zillion times. The reason: It works. In just one of many recent studies, a Journal of Nutrition report found that men who reduced their carb intake to just 8% of their daily calories lost seven pounds of fat and gained two pounds of muscle in six weeks.
13. Lift first, then run
By doing cardio after you’ve lifted—when you’re already tired—the same speed or intensity will have a greater effect than had you done it beforehand, says McGarr.
14. Change directions
Try this interval-training trick on the elliptical trainer: Ride for 30 seconds as fast as you can, then immediately reverse your direction and ride for 30 additional seconds just as fast in the opposite direction. Rest 60 seconds and repeat. The force of stopping your momentum, as well as going from a dead stop to full speed twice in the same interval, will give your fat-burning efforts a massive boost, says Alwyn Cosgrove, C.S.C.S.
15. Fill up on high-fiber foods
Consider them “good carbs.” Their bulk takes up space in your stomach, helping you feel full and eat less. The top fiber food: beans, which contain 8 grams per 1/2 cup. Research shows that guys who added 12 grams of fiber a day to their diet lost a quarter of an inch from their love handles, without otherwise modifying their diet. Here are some of the best sources.
16. Top your salad with vinaigrette dressing
Studies show that acidic foods such as vinegar and lemon juice work like lighter fluid in your body’s fat incinerator, increasing carb combustion 20%-40%. Researchers believe the acids blunt insulin spikes and slow the rate at which food empties from your stomach. Fermented foods like pickles and yogurt are also good sour options.
17. Don’t skip meals
Not eating for long periods of time puts your body into a catabolic state, meaning it starts to break down muscle tissue for energy—and conserves fat.
18. Try the VersaClimber
The more vertical you are when doing cardio, the more calories you burn.
19. Don’t be a couch potato
If you’re a TV junkie, add up the number of hours you watch right now, and cut out all reruns—even if there’s an episode of Seinfeld on you’ve never seen. Spend the time you save on your feet: outdoors or in the gym.
20. Hit the weights
If you’re lazy, it’s not as bad as you think—just 10 minutes a day of lifting, three days a week, will help. Harvard research shows that 30 minutes of weight training per week has a greater reduction on waist size than almost any other variable.
21. Pass on the potatoes
In any form—mashed and baked, as well as French fries and potato chips. They raise levels of insulin in the blood, triggering your body to stop burning—and start storing—fat. Sweet potatoes are acceptable. They have more nutrients and fiber.
22. Eat your biggest meal of the day after you lift
It takes calories to digest food. And researchers at the University of Nevada found that it takes 73% more calories to process that food after a weight-training session than if you hadn’t worked out at all.
23. Chug H2O before a meal
The water will take up room in your stomach, making you feel more full and reducing your appetite, says Christopher Mohr, M.S., R.D.
24. Request substitutions
Any time your restaurant entree comes with a side of pasta, potatoes, or rice, ask for vegetables instead, says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D. Your server will be more than happy to accommodate you.
25. Join a league
That is, sign up for a sport such as softball, soccer, or even kickball. It’ll automatically schedule exercise sessions into your week, and because you’re part of a team, you’ll have peer pressure that’ll ensure you keep showing up.
26. Break between scoops
That is, if you can’t live without ice cream, cake, or other calorie-laden desserts, go ahead and have one scoop (about 1/2 cup) or one small slice. Then, if you still want more, wait 20 minutes. Typically, you’ll find that while you wait, hormones kick in and trigger a feeling of fullness, reducing desire for that second serving.
27. Brush your teeth more often
In a recent Japanese study of 14,000 people, researchers found that men who brushed their teeth frequently were leaner than men who did not. Thank that minty-fresh flavor, which may make you less likely to snack between meals.
28. Eat an unbalanced diet
“By cycling your calorie intake so that you eat less calories one day and more the next, you’ll keep your metabolism on its toes,” says Volek. And that’ll ensure you keep burning fat at a high rate. The key: Shoot for an average of 2,000 calories a day over a week’s time.
29. Dial up an incline
When you run outside, you apply force to the ground and propel your body weight forward all by yourself. When you run on a treadmill, the belt helps you. To counteract this, always walk or run on at least a 1% incline, the treadmill grade an English study found is nearly equivalent to outside running.
30. Stick to no-calorie drinks
That means coffee, tea, diet soda, mixes such as Crystal Light and, of course, water.
31. Have breakfast every day
Research from Harvard and Boston’s Children’s Hospital shows that obesity rates are 35%-50% lower in people who eat breakfast regularly, compared with folks who don’t. Nutritionists believe a.m. meals help regulate insulin levels and hunger, so you’re less likely to overeat throughout the reminder of the day.
32. Avoid foods that come in a bag or box
Typically, these are highly processed carbs—foods that quickly raise blood-sugar levels and shut down your body’s ability to burn fat.
33. Snack between meals
This not only keeps you from being ravenous—and overeating—at lunch and dinner, it forces your body to process food all day long, which keeps your metabolism stoked.
34. Buy a TiVo
And only watch the shows you record. By fast-forwarding through the commercials, and watching only the shows you care enough to set a season pass for, you can cut your TV viewing—and the amount of time you spend on the couch—by more than a third.
35. Load up on yogurt
When researchers at the University of Tennessee put a group of volunteers on one of two diets—one high in calcium and one not—and cut each group’s calorie intake by 500 calories, they found that the people getting calcium lost twice as much weight (an average of 13 pounds) compared with people on the standard diet. Study author Michael Zemel, Ph.D., believes extra calcium helps the body burn more—and store less—fat.
36. Order appetizers
And avoid the bread bowl at all costs. If you’re ravenous when you sit down to eat at a restaurant, immediately order a side salad, or a meat- or vegetable-only appetizer, rather than be tempted by these bottomless—and fattening—freebies.
37. Pop peanuts
Nuts have a very high satiety power—meaning they make you feel fuller after eating than many other foods. And even though they’re high in calories, those calories appear to be processed differently in the body. University of Michigan researchers found that men who added 500 calories’ worth of peanuts a day to their diet gained no excess weight at all.
38. Track your calories
You could do it in a journal, but we know that’s never going to happen. Instead, do it on the web, at a site like fitday.com. Just create a free account, plug in the amount of food you’re eating throughout the day, and let the software tell you exactly how good—or bad—you’re being.
39. Do sprint intervals
Interspersing short, all-out sprints with brief periods of rest is the most effective form of cardio for fat loss, says Stankowski. Try a 2-to-1 “work-to-rest” ratio. That is, sprint two times longer than you rest. So if you run a 150-yard sprint—a good distance to start with—in 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds, then repeat 3-7 times.
40. Check your mood
The desire to snack may not be due to hunger at all, but rather the result of loneliness, depression, or anxiety. “Emotional eating is at the core of bad eating choices,” says N.Y.C. psychotherapist Elizabeth Fagan, C.S.W. If you often find yourself eating when you feel down, or if you feel happier after a meal, that may signify a problem.
41. Shop for one
If you have to buy cookies, chips, or other processed junk foods, buy the single-serving package—rather than the large, family-style bag. That way, when you eat the whole package—and let’s be honest, you know you will—you’ll at last have done a lot less damage to your waistline.
42. Find inspiration
Take a digital picture of yourself, shirtless at the beginning of your journey. Every couple of weeks, take a progress pic to visually document your progress. It’ll help you stay accountable.
43. Go the distance
Perform intervals for a designated distance rather than a designated time. Otherwise, you’ll be running shorter sprints as you get tired, reducing the number of calories you burn, says McGarr.
44. Cheat once a week
Use the meal as a reward for a week’s worth of hard work, or the completion of a project you’ve been dreading. “It’s OK for people to blow one meal a week without feeling guilty,” says James W. Anderson, M.D., director of the Metabolic Research Group at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. “If you follow a healthy diet 95% of the time, you can relax and enjoy yourself the other 5% of the time without gaining weight,” he says.
45. Row to the sky
Every time you complete 10 reps on the rowing machine, lift the handles straight up over your head—without bending your elbows—for two consecutive repetitions before returning to normal rowing form. This works your shoulders and back harder, as well as your legs, since they have to produce more power in order to give you the momentum to perform the move, says McGarr.
46. Avoid white bread
When Tufts University researchers studied the waistlines and diets of 459 people, they found that even in men of similar age and activity level, those who ate white bread frequently weighed more than those who didn’t. “The calories from white bread and refined grains just seem to settle at the waistline more than calories from other foods,” says Katherine Tucker, Ph.D., the study author.
47. Keep an eye on portion sizes
“Most people who have been lean their whole lives have a much better understanding of proper portion size than people who are overweight,” says Deborah Riebe, Ph.D., a professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Rhode Island. “If they go out to eat, they’re much more likely to ask for a doggie bag right away or to leave food on their plate rather than cleaning it up,” she says.
48. Never forbid yourself a favorite food
Here’s a shocker: When a group of U.K. researchers told 30 women to avoid chocolate, then packed them into a room filled with the stuff, the women were much more likely to sneak a bite than individuals who hadn’t been given the order. Blame the allure of the forbidden: The more you tell yourself you can’t eat something you love, the more you’re going to want it.
49. Outdo yourself
When you exercise on the rowing machine, try this interval workout: Row for 60 seconds, note the distance on the machine, then rest 60 seconds. Repeat, only this time, row for 55 seconds and try to match or better your distance from the first time. Rest 55 seconds, then repeat, reducing the time to 50 seconds. Continue until you can’t beat your original distance.
50. Sneak extra activity into your day
Pace around your office while talking on the phone or run into the bank to cash your check instead of using the drive-thru. When researchers at the Mayo Clinic fed a group of volunteers an extra 1,000 calories a day over the course of eight weeks, they found sedentary individuals gained eight times more weight than those who fidgeted a lot during the day.
51. Turn off The Late Show after the monologue
Or skip your favorite early-morning show—whatever it takes to grab a few more minutes of sleep each day. When researchers at the University of Chicago studied men who were sleep-deprived, they found that after just a few days, their bodies had a much harder time processing glucose in the blood—a problem common in overweight diabetics. When the individuals returned to a more normal seven to eight hours of sleep a night, however, their metabolisms returned to normal.
52. Buy some new blinds
And maybe a new mattress, because it’s not just the amount of time you spend sleeping that keeps you lean, it’s also the quality of your sleep. Fat cells in your body produce a hormone called leptin that helps the body keep track of how much potential energy (i.e. fat) it has stored. But leptin is only produced during certain stages of sleep. Miss out on those stages because you’re not resting soundly enough, and you’ll disturb levels of the hormone, leaving your body with no real idea of its energy reserves. Consequently, you’ll end up storing calories rather than burning them.
53. Don’t starve yourself
“Under normal conditions, humans absorb only about 80% of the nutrients from the food they eat,” says A. Roberto Frisancho, Ph.D., a weight-loss researcher at the University of Michigan. But, he says, when the body is deprived of nourishment, it becomes a super-efficient machine, pulling what nutrients it can from whatever food is consumed. Start eating again normally and your body may not catch up; instead it will continue to store food as fat.
54. Eat more slowly
“It can take 12 minutes or longer for the signal that you’ve started to eat to make its way to your brain,” says Mark S. Gold, M.D., of the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida. Quick tips: Sip some water between every bite of food you eat, or at least eat more meals with friends or family members. You’ll be more likely to talk and therefore to eat more slowly.
55. Floss twice a day
When researchers in Brazil studied 13,000 people over a three-year period, they found that men with the highest levels of inflammatory agents in their body were also the most likely to gain weight. And periodontal disease, which is caused by poor oral health care, is one of the most common sources of inflammation. Brushing twice a day, flossing, and making regular trips to the dentist are the best ways to prevent the disease. Hate flossing? Studies show that a dose of Listerine may be just as effective at reducing levels of inflammatory bacteria within the mouth.
56. Step on the scale at least once a day
“If there’s one thing that comes up over and over with the thousands of patients enrolled in the National Weight Control Registry, it’s weighing yourself every day on a scale,” says Rena Wing, Ph.D., founder of the registry, which tracks more than 4,500 men and women who have lost an average of 20 pounds or more and kept it off for at least six years. “Don’t obsess over the number,” she says, “but at least keep track of the general range of what you weigh so you can catch small changes as they occur and take corrective measures immediately.”