Welcome back after the holiday here in the USA that I like to refer to as the eating holiday. Yes its that time of the year where we Americans love to spend time with the family, eat our selves silly and watch football on the big screen TV. I tell those that I coach its OK to indulge a bit during the holidays because you will burn it off if you are working with me. Moderation can go a long way during the holidays.
The focus of the 3rd installment of weight loss strategies for cyclists I am going to cover the ways to measure and track your weight. In an upcoming article and webinar on structured training I am going to cover setting SMART goals. For those of you out there who know me personally I am very goal oriented. I set myself up for all kinds of training and racing objectives every year in an effort to get stronger, fitter, faster and leaner. The challenge with setting goals is you need a baseline and and periodized monitoring to see if you are progressing or declining.
Lets start off with ways to track your progress on meeting your weight loss goals.
Tracking Weight Loss Goals
I have found that first sharing my goals with family, friends and teammates make me that much more likely to work harder to achieve them. Then I need to be able to see them in plain sight. So I will print my goals off, add them in a note on my cell phone and in my training software. The next thing that is a must is tracking all of the information you are collecting on your self. There are truly thousands of web sites, computer application and mobile applications that will allow you track your weight loss. Some are free and some you have to pay for. If you do not care for the tech aspect of tracking your weight then get out a pencil and paper and keep it next your bath room scale and right down your weight everyday at the same time.
Currently I am using TrainingPeaks.com to develop training plans and collect training data on my athletes. I can also collect nutrition data there as well but must admit its a bit cumbersome to track with their web application. I have recently started using the LooseIt iPhone app and the complimentary web site LooseIt.com. I like the LooseIt app because not only does it allow me to track my weight from day to day it allows me to set a weight loss goal. While I think the way LooseIt measures for the appropriate amount of calories that user should consume is flawed it still helps. I can also measure the calories I take in each day and LooseIt will let me know how many calories I have left for the day. I like to think of it as my calorie bank account. If I want to eat more then I need to earn it by working out more or being even more active.
Ways to measure fat and body content
Now lets talk about some common sense approaches to measuring your weight first and foremost before we dive into the clinical ways of measuring body fat/content.
One of the easiest ways to weigh your self is with a bathroom scale. Are bathroom scales accurate? They are horribly inaccurate but as long as every time you step on to the scale you don’t see huge weight shifts from day to day you are OK. Consistency is key here. If the measurement can be repeated consistently is what is truly key. I caution anyone reading this that you can be making huge improvements in your fitness but not loose as much weight as you think you should. This is because you are adding muscle, which weighs more than fat.
To combat bathroom scale panic but have very little cash to implement one of the below methods you can take weekly photos of yourself. The other method that I have always found easiest to grasp is “Do my clothes fit looser?”
The following methods and their descriptions come from new-fitness.com where you can get even more details on the pros and cons of each of the methods below. By far BIA and Skinfold Measurements will be the cheapest routes to go when working with a fitness or medical professional.
- BIA (Bioelectrical Impedance) Bio-Impedance is a means of measuring electrical signals as they pass through the fat, lean mass, and water in the body. The fact that the measurement is based on a reading of lean mass and not an estimate of fat mass, lends to a much more comprehensive testing method and results.
- Calipers (Anthropometry- Skinfold Measurements) Using hand-held calipers that exert a standard pressure, the skinfold thickness is measured at various body locations (3-7 test sites are common). Then a calculation is used to derive a body fat percentage based on the sum of the measurements. Different prediction equations are needed for children and specific ethnic groups (over 3,500 equations have been validated).
- Hydrodensitometry Weighing (Underwater Weighing) This method measures whole body density by determining body volume. There is a variety of equipment available to do underwater weighing ranging in sophistication from the standard stainless steel tank with a chair or cot mounted on underwater scales, to a chair and scale The Dunk Tank – Underwater Weighing Model suspended from a diving board over a pool or hot tub.
- DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) DEXA uses a whole body scanner that has two low dose x-rays at different sources that read bone and soft tissue mass simultaneously. The sources are mounted beneath a table with a detector overhead. The scanner passes across a person’s reclining body with data collected at 0.5 cm intervals. A scan takes between 10-20 minutes. It is safe and noninvasive with little burden to the individual, although a person must lie still throughout the procedure.
- NIR (Near Infrared Interactance) A fiber optic probe is connected to a digital analyzer that indirectly measures the tissue composition (fat and water) at various sites on the body. This method is based on studies that show optical densities are linearly related to subcutaneous and total body fat.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) An x-ray based method in which a magnetic field “excites” water and fat molecules in the body, producing a measurable signal. A person lies within the magnet as a computer scans the body. High-quality images show the amount of fat and where it is distributed.
- Total Body Electrical Conductivity (TOBEC) This method is based on lean tissue being a better conductor of electricity than fat. A person lies in a cylinder that generates a very weak electromagnetic field. The strength of the field depends on the electrolytes found in the person’s body water.
- Computed Tomography (CT) CT produces cross-sectional scans of the body. An x-ray tube sends a beam of photons toward a detector. As the beam rotates around a person, data is collected, stored, and applied to complex algorithms to build images that determine body composition.
- BOD POD (Air Displacement) Based on the same principle as underwater weighing, the BOD POD used computerized sensors to measure how much air is displaced while a person sits for 20 seconds in a capsule. It uses a calculation to determine body density, then estimated body fat.
In the next and last article on Weight Loss Strategies for Cyclists I will share with you what I do to plan, loose and maintain weight for the race season. Please take a moment and answer the poll below on the methods you have used to measure your body content.
Until then eat less and enjoy your ride more.
You missed the easiest method that still provides good accuracy. The US Naval method for determining body fat – http://www.bblex.de/en/calc/navy.php
You are right I did miss that method. When I checked out the link you provided I was expecting to see more factors. I remember looking into the calculator years ago and thought there had been more to it. So I looked for more examples of Military Body Fat Calculators and they matched your example provided. I was presently surprised at my results.
Thanks for bringing it up.
yeah, the military has one thing no one else does.. lots of people to experiment with to create a formula for estimating body fat. The formula itself is very complicated which is why the calculators are handy.
I imagine it is fairly accurate for the vast majority of people. I like it because it is easier than using calipers. One of these days I’ll have to get a real body fat test done and then compare it to these other methods. But I don’t have the $$$ to get a real test done.