You’ve been working on your abs since January and they’re almost ready for the big reveal. Your last step before hitting the sand? Beating back beach-day bloat. Follow these seven tips to ensure your stomach looks (and feels) as flat as it really is when you show up seaside.
1. Skip sugar-free gum
Sure, sugar-free gum and candies are lower in calories, but they also contain sugar alcohols—sugars that have been bound with an alcohol so that your body digests only part of the sugar, explains Erin Palinski-Wade, R.D., author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies. The partial-digestion process can cause gastrointestinal side effects including bloating, gas, and even diarrhea.
2. Ditch dairy
Many people have some form of lactose intolerance, which makes digesting dairy products difficult, notes Palinski-Wade. If your body can’t break down lactose, consuming any food that contains dairy can result in gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. Skip cereal and milk and start your day with eggs and veggies, or toast with all-natural peanut butter instead.
3. Undo damage from a night out
If you knocked back a few too many drinks on the boardwalk last night and chased them with salty food, your stomach is probably feeling swollen from the alcohol and salt. The fix: drink 12oz of coconut water (look for varieties without added sugar) shortly after you wake up to rehydrate and help eliminate bloat. “The potassium in the water helps balance sodium levels in the body and can help fight water retention,” says Palinski-Wade.
4. Ease up on fiber
A high-fiber nutrition bar seems like a healthy, low-calorie snack to help stave off hunger between meals, but if your stomach can’t handle all the fiber (and potential sugar alcohols in the bar), you might experience bloating and abdominal pain. Fill up on fruit and nuts instead.
5. Set down the soda
You know that bubbly drinks make you burp, which is your body’s way of getting rid of excess air in your stomach. But when gas doesn’t escape via belching, it can build up and make you bloated. On beach day, stay away from carbonated beverages and drink plenty of water—that last part might sound counterintuitive, but it works.
6. Order a smarter side
We all know French fries aren’t flat-abs food, but when you’re on vacation, it’s sometimes easy to just say, “Why not?” Before you reach for the plate, keep in mind that the greasy treat could make you look puffy—and send energy levels plummeting. Fat slows down stomach-emptying and can make you feel overly full. You’re better off ordering steamed veggies or a side salad, which won’t weigh you down for days.
7. Keep moving
It’s tempting to skip a workout when you’ve dedicated the day to bumming around on the beach, but don’t glue yourself to a lounge chair the second you’ve taken your last bite of lunch. “Going for a brisk walk after a meal can increase the speed of digestion and help food move quickly through your GI tract,” says Palinski-Wade. Exercise can also work to expel excess gas from your intestinal tract, helping your body beat bloat. Beach volleyball, anyone?
8. Improve your carb intake
Fast-absorbing carbs—sugar, white bread, and white rice—can raise blood sugar and insulin levels, flatlining your energy levels and stressing your body’s digestive system. Instead, choose slow-burning carbs like oats, barley, sweet potatoes, and wild rice, which provide more sustained energy and help reduce sugar cravings.
That doesn’t mean easily digestible carbs are off the table, though. Try eating fast-burning, high-glycemic index carbs right after your workout, when they’ll be quickly used up. Focus on fruits like watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, and cucumber for a couple of days for extra bloat-fighting power.
Your body stores carbs with water, so going lower-carb for a couple of days—or focusing on “dry carbs” like rice cakes—can help you attain more defined muscles. Focus your meals around lean proteins such as chicken breasts, egg whites, fish, and extra-lean ground turkey. Include greens and other non-starchy vegetables like mushrooms, bell peppers, celery, and tomatoes, plus a thumb-sized amount of heart-healthy fats like extra-virgin olive oil at each meal.
Don’t fall for the low-calorie allure of sugar alcohols, though—they’re lower-calorie because your body literally can’t digest them well. The result: Gas, bloating, and, in some cases, diarrhea.
9. Swap salt for herbs and spices
Whether you like it or not, those salty chips don’t just give you empty calories—all that sodium will also encourage your body to retain water. Before long, you’ll be sending a search party for your abs.
Over the next two days, try to avoid eating fast food, restaurant food, or packaged food—in fact, that’s where most Americans get their (excess) dietary salt. Instead, cook at home with whole ingredients such as lean meat and poultry, vegetables, and slow-digesting carbs.
Better yet, swap out the salt and use herbs and spices instead. Use red pepper flakes for some heat, oregano and thyme for some Italian flavor, lemon/lime juice and zest, or turmeric and curry powder for anti-inflammatory power.
10. Slow down your eating
Put down the fork between each bite and get rid of distractions like your phone or the TV while you’re eating. Whether you’re into the mind-body connection of mindful eating or not, these simple changes will help you de-bloat. You’ll end up eating more slowly so you swallow less air, and you’ll tend to eat less. That’s a double whammy in terms of reducing the air and extra food in your stomach that can bloat you.
Another added benefit: More chewing means better digestion. Grandma was right all along.
11. Eat smaller meals more often
If you’re into skipping meals and then gorging yourself, take a quick pic of your abs after your large meal. Even if it was all clean foods, you’re likely looking at a puffy post-feast gut.
Try a couple of days of spreading out your food into smaller meals every three or four hours. You’ll prevent the “food baby” look and feel more comfortable taking off your shirt.
12. Drink more water
This seems counterintuitive, admits trainer Lee Boyce, C.P.T., but it’s the truth: The more water you drink, the less water you’ll retain. Not only is water key for helping support your digestion, it also flushes out waste and keeps you regular, all crucial components of bloat-free abs.
Men need 12 cups (3 liters) of fluid every day, mostly as plain H2O. Yes, coffee, tea, and broth count—but avoid anything with sugar or sugar alcohols, which will only increase bloat.
13. Lay off the alcohol
They call it a beer gut for a reason. Drinking too much alcohol causes bloating and can do a number on your digestion, says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D. If you’re trying to quickly look less bloated, it’s best to cut out alcohol entirely for a few days. Although we all love a beer or a cocktail on a Friday night, those liquid calories can add up and can cause you to quickly gain a few pounds over the weekend. Stick to eating your calories, rather than drinking them.
14. Focus on total-body movements
Want to get more out of your workouts and lean out in record time? Do more total-body movements. “Using compound, heavy lifts will increase your caloric expenditure, raise your metabolic demand, and cause you to burn more calories while you rest after the workout is over,” Boyce says. “All of this does well for shedding excess water and optimizing fat loss, given you’re on the right track already.”
15. Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep and rest are critically under-appreciated when it comes to looking leaner faster. And, by the same token, sleep deprivation can seriously take a toll on your physique. Stress increases cortisol levels, lowers testosterone, and leads to insufficient recovery, Boyce says. All of this gets in the way of your physique goals.
Get around eight hours of sleep a night, and your body will thank you. Boyce also points out that going to bed earlier can prevent you from overeating or snacking at night, when lots of guys often cave to their midnight cravings. (Alternatively, just snack healthier.)