For well-defined abs, most people will need to reduce excess body fat and build abdominal muscle through diet and exercise. Foods that may help support ab definition include lean meats, tofu, and most nuts.

No single food can encourage body fat reduction on its own. A calorie deficit is necessary for body fat loss. Certain foods may help support this.

However, other foods with low nutritional value or empty calories can result in weight gain and be detrimental to achieving defined abs.

This article explains why diet is important for defining abs. It also explores which foods to include and avoid.

A meal containing healthy foods that may help a person to define their abs.Share on Pinterest
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A healthy diet can support body composition goals. These diets need to contain a suitable amount of protein to help build muscle. They also need carbohydrates and healthy fats to provide the energy a person needs for exercise.

While it is not possible to reduce fat in targeted areas, decreasing overall body fat may also lower abdominal fat. Creating a calorie deficit is one way to reduce overall body fat.

Creating a calorie deficit

To create a calorie deficit, people need to eat fewer calories than the body needs. This means the body will look to other energy sources to function correctly, such as stored fat.

However, people should not reduce calorie intake excessively. Adequate calories are necessary to maintain metabolism and provide energy for exercise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that a person can safely and effectively lose roughly 1–2 pounds per week. This may require individuals to reduce their calorie intake or increase their calorie expenditure by approximately 500–1,000 calories a day.

Learn about safely creating a calorie deficit.

Eating the right foods

Lower-calorie foods, such as fruit and vegetables, may help with reducing body fat as they contain fiber, which can provide a feeling of fullness and therefore may help a person to eat less overall. Fruit and vegetables also contain a range of vitamins and minerals that support health.

Choosing certain foods can help a person decrease body fat and build ab definition.

Protein and healthy fats

Protein supports muscle growth and can help reduce hunger.

Some examples of foods that are rich in protein or healthy fats include:

  • poultry, including chicken and turkey
  • lean meats, including beef, pork, and lamb
  • fish, especially fatty fish, such as salmon, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids
  • low fat dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • eggs
  • soy, such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy milk
  • beans and lentils
  • most nuts, including walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts
  • seeds, including pumpkin, sunflower, and quinoa


Some examples of foods high in fiber include:

  • fruits, including bananas, apples, and oranges
  • non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach
  • starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, corn, and green peas
  • unrefined grains, such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, and oats
  • beans and legumes, such as lentils, kidney beans, and chickpeas

It is best to consume lower-fiber carbohydrates before exercise to avoid gas or bloating.

It is also important to drink plenty of water. A 2016 study found that water may increase metabolism, helping the body burn calories more easily. It can also help with a feeling of fullness, which may potentially reduce overeating.

Water is crucial when exercising, as dehydration can impair exercise ability. It can also help reduce bloating in the abdominal area by encouraging waste removal from the body.

Eating an excess of calories, especially from sugary or fatty foods, can result in weight gain. Therefore, people working toward abdominal definition may wish to avoid foods with low nutritional value and higher calories.

Some examples of things to limit or avoid in a diet to define abs may include:

  • foods with added sugar, including candies, chocolates, and cakes
  • drinks with added sugar, including sports drinks, soda, juice, sweet tea, and sweetened coffee beverages
  • alcohol
  • foods made with refined grains, including white bread, baked goods, and sugary cereals
  • fried foods, including burgers, fries, and fried chicken
  • processed meats, such as pastrami, pepperoni, and hot dogs

In addition to reducing foods high in sugar and fats, following a low sodium diet may also help with abdominal definition. A 2019 study found a low sodium diet may reduce gastrointestinal bloating. To help with abdominal definition, a person may consider reducing the number of salty foods in their diet. Reading food labels can help a person monitor their sodium intake.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults perform 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week.

Additionally, adults should also perform muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity involving major muscle groups, such as the abdomen, on two or more days a week.

There are four main abdominal muscles:

  • the external and internal obliques, which help the torso twist from side to side
  • the rectus abdominis, which allows the body to bend forward
  • the transverse abdominis, which provide stability and strength to the torso

Building defined abs requires exercises that target each of the four abdominal muscles.

Below are three examples that work to build abdominal muscle:

Toe reach

This exercise is good for building the rectus abdominis.

To perform the toe reach:

  1. Lie face up on the floor with the legs extended into the air at 90 degrees to the body.
  2. Lift the arms and point the fingers upward toward the toes.
  3. Keep the lower back pressed into the floor and exhale while curling the upper back off the floor and reaching the fingers up toward the toes.
  4. Lower back to the start.
  5. Perform as many repetitions as possible within 30 seconds.

Bicycle crunches

This exercise is good for building the rectus abdominis and obliques

To perform bicycle crunches:

  1. Lie face up on the floor.
  2. Interlace the fingers behind the head and curl the knees up to the chest, keeping the lower back flat on the floor.
  3. Twist the torso toward the right side, bringing the left elbow over to the right knee. Extend the left leg straight out at the same time.
  4. Repeat the twist to the opposite side, crossing the right elbow over and bringing the left leg in to meet it. Extend the right leg straight out.
  5. Repeat as many times as possible within 30 seconds.

Plank hold

This exercise is good for building the transverse abdominis.

To perform the plank hold:

  1. Lie face down on the ground.
  2. Push the body up onto the forearms and toes.
  3. Focus on keeping a straight line from the shoulders to the heels. Do not let the back arch or sag toward the ground.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds, then rest.

People can also perform a side plank variant, which is another exercise to work the obliques.

Cardiovascular exercise, such as running, dancing, and swimming, is also important to reduce overall body fat.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) can also be particularly good at burning fat. HIIT involves short bursts of high intensity effort, followed by rest. For example, people can try 30 seconds of sprints, followed by 90 seconds of rest, and repeat 10 times.

For ab definition, people will likely achieve optimal results through a combination of diet and exercise.

Focus on consuming a healthy diet that provides energy for exercise and creates a calorie deficit. This should include fruits and vegetables, lean protein, high fiber carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

Cardio exercise can help reduce overall body fat, while targeted abdominal exercises can help tone and define the ab muscles.