Body Fat vs Lean Muscle Mass

Today marks my second body fat test, also known as hydrostatic testing. This is a procedure where you step into a tub of water and are weighed. Then you expel as much air out of your lungs while submerged and a scale is read. This weight is compared to your wet weight and your lean body mass and body fat are determined. This is the “gold standard” when it comes to knowing you body mass.

Since I decided to get healthy, this was a test I wanted to take. I was fortunate to have that opportunity at my sports club back in June (Read Body Composition Analysis). Now, 4 month later I will see if I have hit my goal, which was to lose 5 pounds of fat and to drop my body fat from 15.6% to 13%. This would be a big step for me. I have been working out faithfully 3-4 times a week, including 30-45 minutes of cardio. I feel better now than I did 4 months ago and have been keeping the weight off while following a plant-strong lifestyle.

One thing I need to remember is NOT to get caught up in the numbers. I am sure I would have been just as successful accomplishing the decrease in my blood work numbers (134 point drop in my TC) , as well as losing weight ( lost 44 pounds) even if I had not paid attention to the numbers. I followed the basic rules of omitting meat, dairy (all of it!) and oil to my diet and I was amazed at how quickly the weight drop and I started to feel better.

I have been recording my daily meals using Fit Day (many favor CRON-o-meter), while allows me to see just how I am doing when it comes to total calories, how those are broken down and if I am meeting my RDA on minerals and vitamins. I also have recorded my weight daily, which gives me a quick visual that changing my lifestyle has been the best decision I have made for my health.

Today’s test will be a success no matter what the results. I have stuck to his lifestyle and now nearly 12 months later don’t miss the meat or dairy and no longer add oil in my cook. My overall weight is down about 4-5 pounds from the June test, so I expect to see an increase in my lean body mass. If you do have the opportunity and want to see just where you are, I recommend “getting tanked.”

Body Composition Analysis

That is how the header reads of the 4-page report that was generated today at the conclusion of my hydrostatic testing by Body Fat Test. This was touted as “the Gold Standard” as it relates to testing. What is hydrostatic or hydrodensitometry.

Hydrostatic weighing is the most accurate way to measure body fat and is the method by which all other means of measurement compare their degree of error (source).

While I had heard of this sort of analysis before, I had never undergone such testing. Thankfully our sports club advertised this last month and I figured I would sign up and pay my $49 to see just where my body fat percentage is. Unfortunately, the only “baseline” (and I use that loosely) I had was the Body Mass Index (BMI). While not all that accurate it gave me a rough estimate, it does not computer the percentage of body fat.

I weighed in at 179 pounds on their Healthometer beam scale. This was 2 pounds more than what my home scale reflected this morning at 4am this morning. Based on their calculation I am still short of my 175 pounds weight by 4 pounds. More on that shortly.

I walked up the stairs and into the mobile lab and filled out my release form and was asked my height (72″). I then change into my bathing suit and walked up the two steps leading to the stainless steel tub, which is actually a scale you are laying on. I was told the test would be administered 3 times. Each time I would take a normal breath and exhale, followed by a second breath and fully exhale before I submerged myself underwater. Once under the water I had to continue to expel air until I heard the technician bang on the side of the tank. Not as easy as it sounds. The actual submersion lasted approximately 30 seconds as you are trying to get all the air out of the lungs to get an accurate reading.

After I had finished the last test I got out the tub and dried off while the 4-page report generated. The first page contains the immediate results based off your personal data including height, weight, as well as your wet weight (6.49 lbs. in my case). The body fat percentage was 15.6% or 27.9 lbs. Based on their chart, which was provided by Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s Institute for Aerobic Research the “healthy range” for my age bracket (40-49) is 15.1%, putting me just above the average (85th percentile).

The other number the calculated is the lean body mass, which is what is remaining when you remove the fat, including bone, muscle and internal organs. My lean body mass percentage was 84.4% or 151.1 pounds. I did ask the technician if I could work backwards with the numbers from my original weight of 216 pounds, unfortunately the unknown variable is how much fat/muscle has been lost since I changed my diet and started exercising.

The last 2 pages of the report are tailored to each individual. Thankfully I come in below the 30% of body fat, which is considered to be obese, but I could retest (at a cost of $39) in 4 months to see if I have achieved the goal the technician set. For me that would be decreasing my body fat to 13% or 5.3 lbs. of fat. That would put my target weight at approximately 173.7 pounds. I was told the weight could fluctuate depending on adding muscle, while losing fat.

They also add in a nutritional component to assist in making your goal (while seeing your return visit). I have only skimmed the nutritional program, but some of it seems to echo what many McDougaller’s already know. Step 1 talks about ridding the pantry of “cookies, cakes, ice cream, salad dressing, butter, margarine, sugar, white bread, and everything that “God did not create in its natural form” (source). It also mentions removing cheese from the diet, although they do allow for cottage cheese. No thanks.

As an option for milk, they say to switch to 1% or non-fat, but also recommend soy milks, no mention made of nut milks though. They still allow for “lean” cuts of meat and chick (4 to 6 oz.) as well as fish. The final piece of advice, “You must cut out fried foods completely. They are not allowed, and soon you will not miss them. No fried food whatsoever, at all! They generally have little nutritional value and are extremely high in fat” (source).

Since I have my diet under control eating plant-based, whole grain foods I am already two steps ahead. Not being tempted by the fried foods or cheating once a month on foods I know are not good for me has me on the path to health. The resting metabolic rate accounts for approximately 70% of daily energy expenditure. My resting metabolic rate is 1985 calories a day. This is down about 200 calories from my an estimation I calculated using a software program called Fit Day.

The final page of the report is on exercise. Again, like the previous pages it is tailored to me and my body. It lists about 30 exercises accomplished at different paces and the number of calories my body will burn. For example, I use an elliptical machine for 45 minutes for my cardio workout and based on their numbers I burn 244 calories in 30 minutes. If I run at a pace of 5 mph (12 min/mile) I will burn 325 calories.

While I did find the numbers interesting and might consider going back for a retest in 4 months, a simpler way of analysis is to stand in front of a mirror and ask yourself, “Do I like what I see?” If the answer is no, then make the necessary changes. If you do like what you see then you just saved yourself $49. I do believe this testing reaffirms the positive changes I have made in the last 8 months to get me to where I am at today. Following the McDougall way is simple, eat what you want, stop when you are full and exercise. Can it get any easier? No counting calories, no need to weigh in or count points. He provides the guidelines, the discussion provides the support. You can make a change and get healthy.