In an effort to promote improved eating and fitness habits amongst staff members at BodyTech Gym, my co-workers and I were challenged by management to enter an in-house Body Composition Contest.The winning male and female would be determined by the greatest percentage of body fat lost over a period of four weeks. To make it reasonably fair, since some staff members had significantly more (or less) body fat to lose, other variables such as girth circumference measurements would be taken into account.
My personal goal throughout the contest was less focused on weight loss, and more focused instead on minimally decreasing body fat while simultaneously increasing strength and lean muscle mass. My usual workout routine outside of running typically involves at-home calisthenic and dumbbell workouts, but it’s been years since I last did any type of strength training in a gym environment with heavier weights and machines. I reasoned that this Body Composition Contest was the perfect catalyst to get serious about strengthening my injury-prone running legs! Additionally, I wanted to see what kind of results I could get by a) using BodyTech’s Supervised HIT Circuit two or three times a week, b) making no dietary changes at all, and c) limiting my cardiovascular training to no more than 30 to 60 minutes every other day.
First of all, for those of you who have never had a body composition test done, what you can expect is a measurement of estimated fat mass, which can be further measured by essential, and non-essential fat:
Essential Fat – fat that is required in order for the body to function properly; for women, 10 – 13% of essential fat is necessary to meet this need and anything below is going to be detrimental to long-term health. Conversely, a body fat percentage over and above 31% is too high, and also potentially harmful. Women who have between 24 and 31% body fat are seen as having an “Acceptable” amount of fat, although lowering their percentage to under 24 would be most optimal.
Non-Essential Fat – is exactly that; “non-essential.” The body uses this excess fat for storage, to protect organs and provide insulation; it is stored in the abdomen, around inner organs (visceral fat), or in various body locations underneath the skin (subcutaneous fat).
Everything else in your body that is not body fat (i.e. lean body mass), is made up of vital body tissues and cells: muscle, water, organs, connective tissue, and bone. Lean body mass should ideally be between 70 and 80% of a female’s body composition; 70% is acceptable, while 80% is very fit. And incidentally, a woman’s total body water percentage is also an indicator of good (or bad) health. For women, an ideal body water percentage is anywhere between 45 and 60%.
My baseline measurements on day one of the challenge revealed that my body fat percentage was already below 20%, with total water percentage being 60% and everything else (muscle, organs, tissue, and bones) being 22%. So health-wise, you could say that my body composition results were already showing favourable percentages, however there was still room for a little improvement and according to my physiotherapist, definitely room for leg and glute strength improvement.
The following is a sample of the weekly workout routine I stuck to, although admittedly it wasn’t until about a week and a half into the challenge that I got serious about my intentions of using the Supervised HIT Circuit:
Monday – 20 minute cardio HIIT workout on stationary bike, followed by Supervised Circuit and supplementary glute exercises (total workout time 45 minutes)
Tuesday – 50 minute easy-paced run
Wednesday – 25 minute cardio HIIT workout at home, plus 5 minutes of oblique exercises
Thursday – 20 minutes steady cycling on stationary bike, followed by Supervised Circuit (total workout time 45 minutes
Friday – Rest
Saturday – 20 minute cardio HIIT workout on stationary bike, followed by Supervised Circuit and supplementary glute exercises (total workout time 45 minutes)
Sunday – 45 minute steady-paced run
[I’ve also posted below a few examples of what a typical day of meals looks like for me]
At the end of the 4-week challenge, my body composition was tested again and the following changes had occurred:
- a 1kg (2.2lb) decrease in weight
- a 1% decrease in body fat
- a 1% increase in water
- a decrease in all girth circumference measurements: I trimmed a little fat from my triceps, hips, waist, and thighs
- no change in fat free mass (muscle, organs, bone and tissue)
So how can these results be interpreted? Given that no dietary changes were made, the fact that I was able to still trim down in weight, body fat, and girth circumference measurements, indicates that the changes I made to my usual exercise routine (higher intensity weight training combined with moderate cardiovascular workouts) were most likely responsible for the overall fat loss. Notice too, that the percentages of weight and fat loss are not extreme, which also suggests that the results were safely achieved and less likely to last only temporarily (which generally happens when women try to lose weight with quick-fix diet strategies).
At this point you may be wondering if, despite the loss of weight and fat, my goal of increasing strength and muscle was achieved. The answer is yes and no. My workout card, that keeps a running record of weights lifted and number of repetitions on each of the Supervised Circuit machines, showed a small but gradual progression in strength gain on all but two of the machines. With regards to an increase in muscle mass, it didn’t happen; however, there was also no change, meaning that weight and fat loss occurred without compromising muscle mass.
The end result: a moderate but improved (and appropriate/steady rate of) change in body composition, as well as overall strength. Over a longer period, I suspect an increase in lean muscle mass would also have been seen.
Examples of my typical daily meals are below; I cook and bake most of our meals and rarely eat anything out of a box. Also, please note that although the generally accepted view is that sufficient daily protein intake for adults is 0.8g per kilo of body weight, I consume almost that amount in my post-workout shake alone! A study in the British Journal of Nutrition (August 2012), suggests that 1.2g per kilo of body weight is more beneficial, especially for endurance and strength-trained athletes.
Meal One: Post workout protein shake with half of a small banana, almond milk, flaxseed, and a small handful of walnuts (my choice of protein powder is made of undenatured whey, and contains 36g of protein).
Meal Two examples: tofu and vegetable curry with brown rice + kiwifruit, or mussel and chickpea salad with roast vegetables + small green apple, or grilled salmon with roasted pumpkin, brussel sprouts and green beans.
Meal Three examples: apple-spiced millet and seed slice with plain yogurt and kiwifruit, or 3 rice cakes with peanut or almond butter + a small piece of fruit, or 2 pieces of toast with boiled egg and avocado + small piece of fruit.
Meal Four examples: Small bowl of chickpea and vege soup, with black rice/beet/mushroom patti served with small side salad of halloumi cheese, or grilled pesto chicken with brown rice and broccoli/pea soup, or ground turkey loaf with roasted capsicums and butternut squash + beet soup. And, I always end my dinner meal with a home-baked but healthy-ish sweet.
On weekends I enjoy a couple (or more) glasses of red wine, and I often go out for lunch or dinner, or order in and also enjoy a not-so-healthy dessert
Disclaimer: The conclusions made in this blog post are mine alone, and based on my own thoughts and opinions. What works for me may not work for others. I am also not a calorie counter and nor do I recommend specific diets. I simply eat meals that I feel are nutritionally dense and balanced, I eat portion sizes that satisfy my appetite, and I allow room for a little indulging.