Monthly Archives: September 2014

Analysis, Part Two


Liter mugs of beer, sacrificing sleep to maximize socializing, eating carbohydrates Garfield-with-a-lasagne-style (to minimize the effects of those liters of beer!), trading my Friday morning gym-session for a shopping trip with a buddy; to say this has been a week of poor health choices would be an understatement. It is the peak of festing season in Bavaria (the world-famous Oktoberfest in Munich runs through next weekend), and my friends and I have been trying to make good use of the last bit of fair weather before winter’s dreary rains head our way, so I’ve done a lot of backsliding on my nutritional goals. Coincidentally, I received the results of my metabolic analysis the week before all of this backsliding began, so I am acutely aware of just how terrible some of the choices I’ve made are. How convenient (insert sarcasm here).

The surprising good news is that my resting metabolic rate is fast. Normal is somewhere in the 1200-1600 range and mine proved to be in the 1700 range. This data tells me two things about myself: the first is that in my teens and early twenties, my metabolism must have rivaled that of a hummingbird, and the second is that leading up to when I was my heaviest and least-healthy, my nutrition must have been more terrible than I can comprehend.

The metabolic test was a fairly simple process that took about fifteen minutes to do. The hardest part was making sure to fast for a least four hours prior to the test, and then I was tasked with lying very still, without falling asleep, and breathing into a mask as normally as possible without a lot of yawning or coughing. The mask was hooked to a machine that gathered information and gave me back data about my metabolic rate. While taking the test, it was explained to me, if you fall asleep, the data will show you a slower metabolic rate than you actually have, and if you move around, it reads a higher than actual metabolic rate.

Along with my resting metabolic rate, I was given two caloric calculations. The first calculation shows the number of calories I should eat per day in order to maintain my weight, and the second tells me the number of calories to eat per day in order to lose one pound of fat per week. In order to get these two values, my lifestyle, the amount of exercise I generally do, as well as my resting metabolic rate were assigned caloric values and added together.  I’m not going to share the exact values here because I would hate to seem as if I am giving nutritional advice, but I will say that both the number of calories to maintain weight and to lose some are over 2000 calories.

There is an important bit of information I learned when getting the results for my metabolic test. It takes about 3,500 calories to burn pound of fat, so, if a person is trying to lose weight, it is generally suggested they cut about 500 calories per day if they want to lose a pound of fat per week. The distinction between losing a pound of fat and just plain old losing weight is an important one; if you cut too many calories (more than 500 a day), your body goes into survival mode and starts to shed muscle because it has to work harder to maintain muscle than it does fat. To me, sending your body into muscle-burning, fat-hoarding survival mode sounds counter-intuitive to any fitness plan- it is hard to be fit and strong without any muscles!

A friend recently told me some horrifying nutritional advice she overheard being given in the gym locker room where a thin young lady was telling someone who had complemented her physique that they should do as she does and “workout at least an hour a day, eat under 1400 calories per day, and not to worry if her hair started to fall out because it would grow back once her body adjusted.” Thankfully my friend has enough self-confidence to step in and say that not only did that sound like bad advice but that someone who isn’t a licensed nutritionist should probably not be giving out nutrition advice. Hair falling out???? That sounds like a body going into survival mode to me; it also sounds like a good way to be hospitalized for an eating disorder (which is also counterproductive for fitness goals).

I was concerned that the number of calories I would need to eat for weight loss was going to be depressingly small, and I was pleased to learn that it actually isn’t that much smaller than the number I had been eating. MyFitnessPal has been helping me track the calories, although it, too, sometimes gives bad nutritional advice; a recent app update gave it the power to tell you about your food choices- a little box will pop up with green writing when you’ve made a good choice to tell you all the virtues of the food you’re eating, and, like a traffic light, yellow or red writing to tell you the not-so good things about what you’re eating, but I disagree with it on some things. I wish that the app would be a little more open-minded about things like eggs (it doesn’t tell you that they are a good source of protein, just that they are high in cholesterol), but I’ve learned to just ignore it when I disagree. It is, after all, only an iPhone app.

Obviously with a trip to Oktoberfest and a few end-of -season BBQs, my caloric intake has been higher than it should be. I have a follow-up appointment in the near future and I will be interested to see if I’ve made any progress at all despite my best efforts at self-sabotage. Even if there is no quantifiable change, having my metabolic score has really reinforced the importance of proper nutrition as being just as critical to fitness as exercise. As soon as I’m done eating soft-baked pretzels the size of my torso, I will be doing a refrigerator and kitchen cupboard overhaul, but first, the pretzels!

Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, Gemütliche!
Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, Gemütliche!





Analysis, or, The Time I Asked People to Judge Me by Weight, Body Fat and Athletic Ability and Tried Really Hard Not to Feel Awkward

A fantastic opportunity recently presented itself to me, and I had to step a little bit out of my comfort zone and dip a toe in the waters of full-blown Fitness Freakdom in order to not let this chance pass me by. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the good fortune to undergo free fitness and metabolic testing.  I’ve often heard of people being in the right place at the right time, and this was an occasion when I was that lucky person.

A quick search on Google showed me how fortunate I actually was; it seems that a metabolic test costs about $150 and a fitness test with VO2 Max can run between $140-$350 depending on where you go for your testing. Don’t let the prices scare you away because (and I know it’s easy for me to say because it didn’t cost me a damn penny, but I’m gonna say it anyway), I think these tests will prove to be quite useful for anybody who is either looking to be more fit as an athlete or trying to slim down in a healthy and sustainable way. photo 1-12 The tests are divided between two days. The first day, I underwent fitness testing and to prepare for this, I had to fast for one hour (no snacks, for one hour!) and not exercise on the morning of the test.

At the start, my blood pressure, resting heart rate, height and weight were recorded, then, I was hooked up to some sensors on my right hand and foot that sent a message to a machine and calculated my body fat percentage. Next, my grip and back strengths were assessed with some small pieces of equipment that measure the amount of force exerted. My cardio-respiratory fitness (VO2 max) was measured by wearing a face mask hooked up to another machine while I ran on a treadmill for less than ten minutes at various speeds. This test started at a walk and increased to a medium-paced jog. Other versions of this test take you up to your maximum ability to run, but I think because I told the testers that I was generally pretty slow and ran without dreams of races and simply for the sake of not being on the elliptical every day they decided the maximum test wouldn’t be necessary. After the VO2 test, my flexibility (or lack thereof) was measured.

In total, the testing took a little over an hour and I left with some interesting information. My flexibility, even though it has improved greatly over the last year, is still pretty terrible, I was pleased to find my body fat percentage in the normal range, but I’d still like for it to be lower, and my muscular fitness (grip and back strength) and resting heart rates were pretty good. What I was surprised to discover is that my cardio-respiratory fitness is EXCELLENT. And when I say excellent I’m not talking just barely made it out of the ‘good’ and into the ‘excellent range’, I’m talking 1 and 3/10ths of a point away from being in the ‘superior’ range. photo 2-11Imagine my surprise when, after all the complaining I do about huffing and puffing when I run, I find that I’m actually doing less huffing and puffing than most people. When I expressed my surprise to the man who was administering the test, he explained to me that half of a person’s VO2 fitness is determined by good luck- more specifically good genetics- and the other half is determined by the exercise you do to strengthen your cardio-respiratory system. I’d like to take a moment to thank my parents for blessing me with an excellent-verging-on-superior central VO2 system (heart and lungs), and I’d like to also thank Jamie Eason for giving me the kick in the pants needed to strengthen my peripheral VO2 system (all of the vessels).

The man running the test said that people are often surprised by these results and gave me the example of a guy he had tested earlier that morning who was a competitive athlete in very good overall shape who scored in the ‘poor’ range. Most likely, that guy doesn’t have a very good central cardio-respiratory system but is getting by because he has worked to strengthen the peripheral system. Once again, thanks Mom and Dad for making my life easier.

I had a chance to talk with the people running the test about my lifestyle and my typical workout schedule so that they could calculate those factors into their recommendations for me. Not really knowing what to expect, I had brought my workout journal along with me and it proved to be quite helpful. I was able to show them exactly what I had been doing at the gym, and I got a nice pat on the back for my workout regime. It was awesome to hear that what I had been doing was good, and I left with some guidance to go back to doing more strength training for a few weeks (I have recently been focused on doing a lot of circuits) and do more sets of fewer repetitions with heavier weights with the goal of challenging myself to become even stronger and take that new strength back into my circuit training so that I can do more (I’m looking at you Mr. Tough Mudder Interval Workout…) and do it better.It was also suggested that I find a personal trainer to get some tips on form and movement across the planes (i.e. moving up and down, side to side, or on the diagonal).

It was hard not to feel a little bit like a racehorse at an auction being poked, prodded and measured, and it was hard, too, to not bring along a photo of the 24-year-old version of myself and say “See? I have potential!”. As awkward as it was, It wasn’t nearly as awkward as I had guessed it would be. I prefer to go through life as inconspicuously as possible and this fitness test was the opposite of inconspicuous with all of the attention diverted to the things that make me the most self conscious (my athletic ability and my body composition). Thankfully, the people doing the testing were very professional (I didn’t feel like they were judging me in a personal way, just a science-related way) and the information was so interesting that it was easy to separate my fears of being a less-than-perfect physical specimen from my desire to learn all the fun science-y things.

I have yet to make an appointment with a personal trainer (although I fully intend to), but I’ve focused more on the weights (except for this weekend which I spent hiking) and am feeling the burn. When I get the results from the metabolic test, I will have a better idea of how much to eat for healthy weight loss. I’m really excited to have some new goals to work toward and to know that these are good goals because they have been set for me by professionals. Generally, I think the hardest part about starting a fitness program is knowing whether or not it is a program that is going to work for me, but, since this one is based on the information my body gave to those who are designing it, I know that it will work.

The sun sets behind the Bavarian Alps. An image from my hiking weekend.
The sun sets behind the Bavarian Alps. An image from my hiking weekend.