Have y’all heard of underwater body analysis? Basically, it’s a test where they use water displacement and other measures to determine body fat percentage, lean mass, resting metabolic rate, etc. It’s the “gold standard” of body composition analysis, second only to the DEXA xrays that are full body scans (and extremely expensive!).
Back in 2014, I signed up and took one of these water tests. I was near my goal weight and feeling pretty good about myself, and I wanted to get a clear idea of where my body was fat-wise rather than just weight-wise. My results came back pretty much where I expected them to be. I got a lot of good information – but two months later, life fell apart when we decided to move across the country.
Now, almost 5.5 years later, I decided to take another test. I saw the signups a week ago, and guys, I can’t tell you how ridiculously excited I was to hear about it. Even though I knew I’ve gained tons and that my body fat percentage is godawful, I was so excited to have new data and stats for comparison and a good starting line, knowledge-wise. (Jason reminded me, more than once, just how much of a geek I am…) My friend Stephanie also signed up, and we decided to go together and then have brunch afterwards. Our tests were yesterday morning.
Little side story on bro-privilege, from the morning of our tests: Three of us were waiting in the parking lot for our turn, as the testing was running a little behind. A cool bro (you know – white tank top, sunglasses, slicked hair) swerves into the lot in a loud, bright yellow muscle car with personalized license plate. He gets out just as the previous lady is leaving the testing truck. Without even a glance our way, this bro jumps ahead of the three women in line and goes into the truck, slamming the door behind him. Why should he have to wait his turn, right? Ugh. The tester didn’t even protest, when he knew that one of the women out there had the next time slot! UGH.
Anyway. After the ridiculous idiot with the stupid car leaves, and the woman whose spot he claimed gets her test done, I finally go in for my turn. Ten minutes later, I have a several sheets of paper with my results, including comparisons to the last time I did this, because apparently they keep all the info in the system for comparison over time! Be still, my data-nerd heart!
And to be honest, the situation wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected! Only half of what I’ve gained since then has been in body fat mass. The other half has been lean mass and water (which increases with lean mass). My body fat percentage is definitely high, but it’s slightly below what my home scale has been telling me, and I figured that my scale was being generous. The tester actually told me that my previous weight was now an unfeasible goal due to the amount of lean mass I currently have. In fact, if I had zero body fat right now, I’d still weigh more than I did that day. Now, of course, I know that you lose lean mass as you lose weight. No matter how much you try not to, you’re going to lose some. The goal is to minimize that amount. But it does mean that with as much work as I’ve done on exercise and strength these last five years, I probably need to reevaluate my final goals a bit. The process suddenly seems a lot more feasible!
The other really nice part of this test is that it tells you your body’s resting metabolic rate – the bare minimums of calories needed to run your organs and tissues at rest. Mine is around 1725 calories. The tester said that you should never, ever eat less than your RMR. (The tester back in 2014 said the same.) When you eat less than you need to survive at rest, your body starts shutting down certain processes and slowing others in order to conserve energy, and this leads to a whole lot of badness that no one wants or needs. For weight loss, the recommendation for me was to eat around my RMR or a little more on days with no exercise or pure cardio exercise, and eat around 2200 calories on days with any strength training or intervals. He also recommended that I try to eat around 166 grams of protein per day to conserve lean mass, but frankly I don’t think I can manage that one!
All in all, it was a good testing experience, and I look forward to taking it again next year to see how my body compensation has changed in that time. Now it’s time to really get to work!