Can You Get Abs Without A Calorie Deficit?


In this article I will explain everything you need to know about abs and if you can get abs without being in a calorie deficit?

You cannot get visible abs without being in a caloric deficit because abs can only be visible under 10-14% of body fat percentage. The only way to reduce body fat percentage to highlight your six-pack is by restricting calories for an extended period of time.

This means, if you wanna get abs, you need to start eating less. However, some people can be in a calorie deficit, losing weight from everywhere, but not from the abdominal area. Here’s why.

Do You Have To Be In A Calorie Deficit To Get Abs?

You have to be in a calorie deficit to get abs because abdominal muscles cannot be displayed unless your body fat percentage is relatively low. However, for people with high levels of stress, the frequent release of cortisol can cause abdominal fat deposition, despite being in a caloric deficit.

There are a couple of reasons why people may be in a caloric deficit and still losing fat from thighs, shoulders, arms but not from the abdominal area.

The first indicator of why people lose weight from everywhere but the abdomen is excess levels of stress.

There is a strong association between stress and abdominal fat distribution.

Multiple studies show that constant changes in cortisol (stress hormone) contribute to greater abdominal fat depots for men and women (source).

When we are stressed, we experience the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal to release cortisol.

Elevated cortisol inhibits the sex steroids and growth hormone secretion, with promotes abdominal fat deposition (source).

In other words, even when you’re in a calorie deficit, but you’re in a highly stressful environment, you can struggle to display your abs.

A stressful environment can be anything that is related to your finance, work, family, home, or about anything that gives you anxiety and keeps your mind occupied.

Related article: Can You Lift Weights On A Calorie Deficit?

Also, keep in mind that caloric deficit for an extended period of time is contributing to the release of cortisol as well.

That’s why you can have two different people who are doing the same diet, same workouts, but if one experiences much more daily stress comparing to the other, the one with less stress will have much better results.

The simple solution is to focus more on stress reduction that will lower the cortisol levels down.

This will help with regulating the hormonal balance and lead to better results, comparing to let’s say, additional workouts or even strict dieting.

Related article: Why Am I Gaining Weight In A Calorie Deficit?

Will A Calorie Deficit Get Me Abs?

A calorie deficit will get you abs because the less body fat you have, the more visible abs will be. For people with somatotypes like mesomorph or ectomorph, it can be easier to display abs, where for endomorphs it can take longer.

In other words, some people may experience different results simply because of their somatotype. Somatotype is a body structure that differs in fat distribution and hormonal dominance (source).

There are three main somatotypes. Ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.

Ectomorph has naturally thin and skinny limbs. They are usually thyroid dominant, have a fast metabolic rate, high sympathetic nervous system activity, and high carbohydrate tolerance.

Those types of people usually are very skinny and regardless of what they eat, they always seem to not gaining weight.

For them, building muscle is a challenge but they can have visible abs, regardless if they are in a calorie deficit or not.

Mesomorph is naturally muscular and athletic. They are usually testosterone and growth hormone dominant, have moderate sympathetic nervous system activity, and metabolically flexible (means they can easily eat and extract energy from all types of foods), and have moderate carbohydrate tolerance.

Those types of people are strong and muscular with wide shoulders. They usually look naturally athletic, even without training.

For mesomorph building muscle is not a challenge and they can have visible abs with a small amount of effort.

Endomorphs are naturally thick and broad. They are insulin dominant, with a slow metabolic rate, low sympathetic nervous system activity, and low carbohydrate tolerance.

Those types of people will have a hard time displaying abs because they have a hard time lowering body fat.

They have to be careful with the foods they eat because insulin dominance means that just a small amount of sugar will release insulin and switch the body into the fat-storing, rather than fat burning.

On the flip side, endomorphs have much easier time with building muscle mass.

Related article: Can You Build Glutes In A Calorie Deficit?

Can You Get Abs On A Calorie Surplus?

You can get abs on a caloric surplus as long as you perform targeted abdominal training. Heavy resistance training and progressive overload will lead to muscle hypertrophy, but to be able to display abs completely, you will need to be in a caloric deficit.

In other words, you can build abs with exercise, but you cannot show them on caloric surplus (source).

The target abdominal training is basically doing exercises specifically for the abs. That can be variations of crunches, sit-ups, planks, leg raises, leg lifts, pike-ups, etc.

And as long as you do it until muscle fatigue 3-4 times per week, you will get abs.

Progressive overload means you add extra weight, sets, or reps. In other words, you want to increase your total volume over time. You don’t do the same exercise with the same reps for 6 months.

You want to keep adding extra resistance, pushing the bar higher, and challenging yourself.

Regularly progressing yourself gives you much better results compared to doing the same exercise over and over again.

This way, even being in the caloric surplus, you can get abs pop out. But to have them fully display, you will need to get into the caloric deficit.

Related article: Does Calorie Deficit Work Without Exercise?

In Conclusion

You cannot get visible abs without reducing your body fat percentage. This means you have to get into a caloric deficit. But for people who are coping with a high amount of stress, or other external factors, it is easier to reduce the allostatic load (total stress amount) instead of restraining and stressing the body even more.

Also, depending on your body type, some people will have a harder time developing or displaying abs. But this doesn’t mean it can’t be done. With enough calorie deficit and stress reduction, everyone is able to get abs.

Related Questions

How Long Does It Take To Get Abs?

It can take around 6-12 weeks to get abs on the caloric deficit. Naturally lean people can get abs in 6 weeks, where naturally thick people can take 12-24 weeks. The time will depend on your current body fat percentage, your current diet, exercise routine, and stress level.

Can You Build Abs On A Calorie Deficit?

You can build abs being on a calorie deficit because calorie deficit doesn’t inhibit muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth. To be in a caloric deficit and build abs you need to consume a hypocaloric, high-protein diet and perform specific abs-oriented resistance training.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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