Results of my four-week, very non-scientific body composition study

Since my post last month I’ve been keeping daily body composition stats from the Tanita scale on an Excel spreadsheet. Before I list the highlights of changes that have taken place, a few notes:

The duration of the study was 28 days. For any fans of Joe Friel’s Training Bible periodization model, this phase was a modified Base 2: six days of riding a week consisting primarily of endurance training and augmented by a couple days of tempo intervals and one on-the-bike strength workout.

I was originally going to do 10.5, 12.5 and 14 hours, respectively, but was pretty blown by the end of week 2 and so simply repeated the 12.5 hour schedule for week #3. Week #4 was an easy recovery week of 7 hours.

My nutrition strategy during the first three weeks was pretty basic: eat simple and healthy and count calories up until dinner time. I was very lucky to have my wife, Lisa, making some excellent, healthy dinners but I’ll admit that counting calories for these meals, given the variety of ingredients and portion sizes, taxed my mental fortitude.

My solution to this laziness was to arrive at dinner running a 750 calorie deficit (Basal Metabolic Rate + calories burned in training – calories of foods consumed prior to dinner). Assume about 500 calories for dinner and then allow myself a small bowl of olive oil-popped popcorn (240 calories) as a snack. In theory, the net daily calorie deficit resulted from the extra calories I burned just by going about my daily business (estimated 300-500 calories), work, chores, playing with the kids, etc.

Also, no booze during the week, which is a huge change from last year. On the weekends and during the recovery week I slacked off the diet and booze restrictions somewhat. I think these breaks from regimented dieting are critical to sustainability as they hedge against my all-or-nothing, boom/bust tendencies of last year. The idea is to periodize diet in the same way as training, tightening screws as the racing approaches.

OK, cutting to the case, here are abridged results:

Monday, January 9:

Weight: 162.6 lbs

Body Fat: 12.1% or 19.7 lbs

Body Water: 57.2%

Muscle: 135.8 lbs

Sunday, Febrary 5, 28 Days Later:

Weight: 154.4 lbs = -8.2 lbs*

Body Fat: 10.2% or 15.7 lbs = -1.9% or -4 lbs

Body Water: 58.2% = +1%

Muscle: 131.8 lbs = -4 lbs

* – the discrepancy between total weight lost (8.2 lbs) and the sum of fat & muscle lost (8 lbs) is that I supposedly lost 0.2 of bone mass, although this stat would fluctuate between 7.0 to 6.8 lbs on a daily basis.

Some anecdotal observations:

With the benefit of daily observation, it quickly became obvious to me that water % is THE critical figure in the algorithm used by the scale to determine the other numbers. In other words, body fat% and muscle weight could vary significantly (say, 0.5% for body fat and up to 2 lbs muscle) on any given day.

My theory for these day-to-day variances is twofold:

  1. Water retained as a result of training stress. Ironically, I would always see an uptick in body weight and water% (along with a corresponding drop in reported body fat% and gain in muscle mass) on almost every Sunday and Monday—the days that I was most fatigued from the week’s training.
  2. Water retained as a result of increased sodium intake. The same numbers could be explained by my slackening of diet on the weekend, which almost inevitably meant that I was consuming more sodium and thus retaining more water**. I might test this theory more scientifically this Summer, although I’m positive that a casual Google search would turn up all the proof I need to support it.

Looking to drop a couple more body fat percentage-points and 3-4 pounds this phase and another two or so in Build 1, which would get me under 150 lbs for the first time in 12 years. Racing weight is imminent. Thanks to everyone who have supported the effort.

** – Postscript: as if to demonstrate this theory in shocking fashion, on this Monday, February 6, I have gained a whopping 3.4 pounds in one day. According to the scale, I gained 3.6 pounds of muscle and lost 0.2 lbs of fat. The real story is that my body water  increased 0.5%, likely because I ate a bunch of pizza and chips at a Superbowl party last night.

This is the why having the scale is a good thing, even with its dubious method of generating the data. Normally a weight gain of this magnitude would be cause for major panic, aside from the awesome idea that someone could eat a bunch of junkfood and gain three pounds of muscle overnight. But, I have come to take these daily swings with, well, a grain of salt–much more important to watch for trends over a longer period of time. Worst case scenario is my body has reached some sort of equilibrium after a week of recovery, I have dropped under 10% body fat and retained the majority of muscle mass I started out with.

Some body composition numbers from my new toy

The month of December saw me receiving multiple daily packages from UPS and the postal service. The packages were addressed to me, but none the contents were actually for me. They were toys for the children—many, many toys—generously given by their grandparents, despite my admonishment not to buy too many toys. The money would be better spent subsidizing our cable & internet bill (the de facto toys of today’s youth).

Admittedly, I am hard to buy for as my interests are somewhat fringe. As such, the sums of cash I received from both my parents and in-laws were both graciously received and last week I finally pulled the trigger on my own Christmas toy: a Tanita BC-554 Ironman Body Composition Scale, bought from The Colorado Cyclist on sale for $109.99. Sorry for the plugs and just a mention that I receive no compensation from the manufacturer or retail entity, but am maybe a little old school in feeling that credit is due for a useful product purchased at a fair price.

Anyway, this is an item that had been on my “would never buy this for myself” wishlist for over a year. It is my new weapon in the trench warfare that the struggle to achieve optimal racing weight has become.

I input the personal data last night, including my age (42), height (5’ 10’’) and the fact that I am, according to Tanita, an athlete (defined as someone who trains 10 or more hours per week).

Here are my stats from this morning’s first official weigh in, along with some explanation and analysis:

Weight: 162 lbs

Body Fat: 13%. On the low side of the healthy range for a 42-year-old male but completely shameful for an endurance athlete.

Visceral Fat: 5. Had to look this one up: fat between body organs and for men and underneath the abdominal muscles in particular. A score of 1-12 is healthy, scoring goes up to 59.

Water: 56.6. 50-65 is the healthy range for men. I weighed myself first thing in the morning and was likely a little dehydrated.

Muscle Mass: 134 lbs

Bone Mass: 7 lbs

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – 1828. This is the number of calories burned per day just by existing. This figure is 100+ calories higher than what I get when I run the numbers through the BMR calculators on found on the internet.

Metabolic Age: 18. This means that I have the BMR of your average 18-year-old male, for what it’s worth. The range is from 12-50. As tempting as it is, I refuse to gloat about this figure. I have always vowed to age gracefully and find it super annoying when people moan about getting old, which I find a far more desirable outcome than the alternative.

Physique Rating: 5. Indicates that I have average muscle mass and body fat %.  If I were to drop 2% of body fat I would get the desired rating of 8, which means average muscle  lower than normal fat%. This is a scale created by Tanita and measured 1-9. Important to note that the scale is non-linear and each number has it’s own specific meaning.

Drawing some rough conclusions from this data: 13% of 162 means that I have 21 lbs of body fat. The low end of recommended fat% for cyclists is 5%, a figure that I poached off the excellent Sports Fitness Advisor blog.

Let’s say that for the sake of non-perfectionism, that 6% would be ideal. Using my weak math which I won’t bore you with, I can then reverse engineer a target weight = 150lbs. So basically I want to lose 12 lbs of fat by the end of April.  Of course this assumes no change in muscle mass, which is unlikely over the course of the next few months of hard training, so I will have to revisit these numbers on a regular basis and revise my target weight accordingly.

Incidentally, there happens to be another cyclist who is 5’ 10”, 150 lbs.

Tastes Like…Victory.

Resupply has just come in the mail.

Recovery smoothie recipe:

1 rounded scoop of this stuff

1 banana, small, medium or large (as if the grocery gives you that choice)

1 Tbs dextrose sugar

1 Tbs maltodextrin

1 cup ice

1 cup water


Gulp as necessary until completion.

Even though the impact of such supplementation is dubious come race day, it’s a tasty reward for bashing out leg presses in the gym and if nothing else, provides for an unparalleled placebo effect.