The myth of being in “starvation mode”

HumanSilhouetteI was speaking with an athlete recently and I may have contributed to a myth. The idea that you can restrict calories and not lose weight is a myth. Instead what is likely is one of two other issues. One, the athlete’s metabolic rate may be slowing or two, the athlete has been gaining muscle. How can you tell the which is happening? I can tell you the weight scale won’t help but a tape measure will! If you see changes in size at the neck, shoulders, chest, biceps, abdominal, waist, thighs and calves you may be getting leaner. If you are not seeing sizes increasing or decreasing in these muscle groups then your metabolic rate may have slowed.

How to measure and log your findings
You will need a cloth measuring tape or seamstress tape measure. Note it is advisable to replace your cloth tape measure every year if you measure weekly as the tape measure cloth tape will stretch over time. These tape measures are easily found at stores that sell sewing supplies or online.clothtape

Take 3 measurements of each area mentioned above and the average of the 3 is the final measure.

Note You may need help measuring your shoulders.

Neck – Wrap the tape around your neck while neck muscles are relaxed, not strained. Make sure that you account for the blank space proceeding the first measure (0) on the tape. Then pinch the tape with your index finger and thumb where the larger number overlaps the (0) measure on the tape. Repeat this 3 times for the neck and average the measures. This becomes your final measure. See measuring points in the illustration at the top of this article.

Shoulders – Should follow the same procedure as the neck but you will want to ensure that the measuring tape crosses over the bony protuberances on either side of your shoulders towards the top of the acromial portion of the deltoid. See measuring points in the illustration at the top of this article.

Chest – Should follow the same procedure of neck measurement. Make sure the measuring tape is parallel to the ground and comes across the nipples. Utilizing the nipples as a measuring point will make this measure easier to reference when you repeat the measure. See measuring points in the illustration at the top of this article.

Abdomen –  Should follow the same procedure as the neck measurement. Make sure the measuring tape is parallel to the ground and comes across the belly button. Utilizing the belly button as a measuring point will make this measure easier to reference when you repeat the measure. See measuring points in the illustration at the top of this article.

Waist – Should follow the same procedure as the neck but you will want to ensure that the measuring tape crosses over the bony protuberances on either side of your hips that lie below your left and right Gluteus Medius and  towards the top of the left and right Tensor Fasciae Latae. See measuring points in the illustration at the top of this article.

Bicep – Wrap the tape around your right and or left bicep at the thickest are of the bicep as the bicep is flexed to its largest possible state while not over straining this muscle group. Make sure that you account for the blank space proceeding the first measure (0) on the tape. Then pinch the tape with your index finger and thumb where the larger number overlaps the (0) measure on the tape. Repeat this 3 times for the right and or left bicep and average the measures. This becomes your final measure. Note it is not necessary to measure both right and or left biceps but doing so may help you find issues in symmetry between the biceps. Symmetry is not often an issue an endurance athlete concerns themselves but in extreme situations where there are obvious visual issues in symmetry, it is advisable to seek out medical assistance from a Sports Medicine Doctor or Physical Therapist to diagnose the asymmetry and treat it if possible or if it is hampering health or performance. See measuring points in the illustration at the top of this article.

Thighs – Should follow the same procedure as the biceps but you will want to ensure that the measuring tape crosses over the thickest portion of the thighs which is usually about a 3rd of the way down from the groin or two-thirds of the way above the knee. Technically what you are measuring is the full circumference of your thigh crossing over the left and right Rectus Femoris, Vastus Lateralis, Sartorius, Gracilis, Adductor Mangus, Semimembranosus, Semitendinosus, Biceps Femoris, and Tensor Fasciae Latae.  Note it is not necessary to measure both right and or left thighs but doing so may help you find issues in symmetry between the biceps. Symmetry is not often an issue an endurance athlete concerns themselves but in extreme situations where there are obvious visual issues in symmetry, it is advisable to seek out medical assistance from a Sports Medicine Doctor or Physical Therapist to diagnose the asymmetry and treat it if possible or if it is hampering health or performance. See measuring points in the illustration at the top of this article.

Calves – Should follow the same procedure as the biceps but you will want to ensure that the measuring tape crosses over the thickest portion of the calves which is usually about a 3rd of the way down from the knee and about the middle of the shins. Technically what you are measuring is the full circumference of your calves crossing over the left and right Gastrocnemius Lateral Head and the Gastrocnemius Medial Head.  Note it is not necessary to measure both right and or left thighs but doing so may help you find issues in symmetry between the biceps. Symmetry is not often an issue an endurance athlete concerns themselves but in extreme situations where there are obvious visual issues in symmetry, it is advisable to seek out medical assistance from a Sports Medicine Doctor or Physical Therapist to diagnose the asymmetry and treat it if possible or if it is hampering health or performance. See measuring points in the illustration at the top of this article.

Logging your measurements can be as easy or as technical as you want. TrainingPeaks.com has an area known as metrics, where you log your results. I have also used spreadsheets, weight loss mobile apps and the tried and true pen and paper. The goal no matter which method you choose to log your metric measurements is to look for changes over time.metrics

So if you are not losing weight but several of your measures are larger you have not gone backward in your weight loss you have added muscle! Which of course muscle is heavier than fat.

So what if your measures don’t change, the weight scale barely moves downward? Check your caloric deficit again and look at what you are eating. If you are eating foods or taking supplements that have more sodium than you should be taking in then you have likely gained water weight. Eating celery, drinking green tea or coffee and approx 1-1.5 gallons of water over a couple of days can flush the sodium and show some weight loss.

So what if it isn’t water weight gain? Then I suggest you look again and your diet log, get in touch with a sports nutritionist. The Sports Nutritionist may schedule a test to determine your current metabolic rate. He or she will then likely make adjustments to your diet. You may be surprised to find out that they may have you eating more calories or even more meals.

CoachRobUntil Next Time,
Train Smarter Not Harder,
Coach Rob

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