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Read on as our nutrition expert offers six tips to give you a crop top-worthy flat stomach that looks as good as it feels.

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Some things in life just aren’t fair. You could be following a stellar workout regimen and a spot-on perfect nutrition plan, but still end up being at war with your body, feeling bloated, full, pushed, and gassy. The technical term: blah! This cruel experience has the ability to unravel all your efforts and give your self-confidence a blow. Fortunately, there are several smart strategies you can use to minimize these discomforting, sometimes embarrassing, symptoms so you can feel trim and light again.

1. Put Your Nutrition Under the Microscope
Cookie-cutter diet plans could be the main culprit because these plans are often not tailored to your current weight, activity level, your lifestyle, and preferences. Perhaps your carb cycling may be over-exaggerated, your proteins might be through the roof, or fat intake is well below your body demands, just to name a few. Use the common sense approach and if there is too much of a particular food in your daily nutrition and you feel lousy after the fact, replace it with something else. What works for someone else might not work for you. This is why I’m a huge advocate for dietary logging. Having that objective data at your fingertips allows you to pinpoint specific foods that could be affecting your GI system instead of making a guess and neglecting entire food groups.

2. Take Stock of Your Fiber Intake
Fibrous foods (mostly veggies, fruits, nuts, and legumes) often cop the blame, yet fiber is extremely crucial to maintaining essential gut health and bowel regulation. If you’re eating too little or too much fiber, to a degree where it extends below or past the recommended daily allowance (RDA) amount of 25-35 grams, then you could suffer through an outbreak of symptoms. Beans, grains, and legumes are an excellent source of B vitamins, selenium, and potassium, but recent evidence also suggests they are fiber sources to be avoided if you want to alleviate bloat. Despite being whole foods, rather than to avoid them completely (unless an allergy exists), try eating them in smaller doses/portions. Once again, the more objective you are with your daily intake, the better you know what to manipulate if symptoms arise. Experiment for two weeks and note how you feel without the potential antagonistic food item. Did your symptoms improve, worsen, or not change? Slowly and one thing at a time rotate/substitute different foods and keep a diary of your experience.

3. Cycle Your Carbs Wisely
Carb cycling is an excellent tool to fight flab because it can positively influence one’s metabolism, but this can come at a cost. The yo-yoing between high- and moderate-carbs could be well beyond your body demands, which could leave you feeling sluggish, bloated, and lethargic. A common example is someone who has already been eating 200g of carbs and then suddenly doubles it to 400g the next day without slowly building it up. Your body isn’t accustomed to that regimen, so a more gradual approach would be recommended to alleviate that GI load. More carbs are metabolically and anabolically stimulating, but you can reach a point where simply feel the lethargy of insulin fluctuations. Sometimes fat may need to be a little higher, but that’s another discussion. Granted the idea of carb cycling is to stimulate your metabolism and can be useful for social events, eating such a large volume of carbs, especially if your workout routine doesn’t require you to, can cause more chaos and lead to that pot-belly feeling.

4. Protein Problems
If you can’t relate to any of the previous points, your problem might be your protein intake. Protein takes the longest to breakdown in the body, which increases metabolism and keeps one fuller longer. It is broken down into amino acids in the stomach, and if it doesn’t breakdown completely it will have a tendency to ferment and putrefy. Yummy! To ease this occurrence, try eating your proteins first in order for the stomach to digest them first rather than with any subsequent foods. Since protein takes time to digest and assimilate, just as complex/fibrous carbs do, both can further aggravate GI distress since absorption is slowed down even further. Ultimately the food item causes creates more fermentation in the stomach, leading to increased symptoms of bloating, flatulence, or indigestion. Another simple tip is to rotate your protein powders because you might be intolerant to a particular type.

5. Weak Muscles
If you’ve been neglecting your core then this could be a factor. Research in the New Zealand Medical Journal found that individuals who have gained weight and have weak abdominal muscles tend to suffer more from visible bloating than those with stronger cores. The likely hypothesis to explain this is a stronger core acts like a corset holding the bloating inside, which forces excess gas to follow its natural path. Stick to training that core of yours a couple times a week!

6. Watch Your Sweet Tooth
That mid-afternoon candy bar might seem innocuous, but it could be playing a huge role in your bloating. Research in Clinical Nutrition found that 72% of people who suffer from abdominal bloating, and too much gas, had a problem digesting certain sugars. The common offending agents were lactose, fructose, and sorbitol. In the same way you can mindfully include or limit refined/processed carbs, it is important to see how you feel after a pre-workout dose of sugar to make sure it’s not a major cause of any GI discomfort.