I’ve always wanted to really know what my body fat percentage was – I have tried those handheld devices that sends faint electric signals through your body to measure the amount of “water” a few years ago back in my triathlon running days. Back then I weighed around 113lbs and it usually clocked me in at 18% B.F.
Photo Comparison Method:
I also used to compare myself to these photos that shows approximately what you might be – but everyone’s body composition and genetics are different, of course! Some women naturally have visible abs at < 19% body fat, while mine barely seem to seep through on some days.
Just over a month ago (early May), my husband and I decided to track down a Bod Pod up in Portland, OR for a quick test.
Communication on getting the test was easy – the guy who facilitates the Bod Pod testing transports it around to different gyms and areas, so we had to shoot a couple short emails back and forth to coordinate a time to meet up. All you need is about a 20-30 chunk of time MAX depending on how much you like to chat. Be sure not to eat or drink substantial amounts of things, or workout too much within an hour or two before testing.
The Bod Pod Process:
What the Process Was Like:
You strip down to some light skin-tight workout clothes (I had compression shorts and a sports bra), and put a swim cap over your hair to reduce the “air pockets” that might distort the measurement. You step on a scale to weigh yourself, and also tell the facilitator person what your height (inches) is so they can input those numbers.
You then sit inside the pod super still, and just breathe naturally. There’s a robotic voice that tells you “It’s taking measurements now” much like those space ship rides at Disney. There’s also a few pops and clicks, and the sound of a faint vacuum-like feel, almost like a plane just landed.
The pod takes three measurements: between each measurement, the facilitator has to open the door to neutralize the air pressure. After sitting still for all three, you just get out of the door and you’re done!
How it Works:
The Bod Pod uses air displacement (like how much physical space does your body take up in the pod) to measure your body fat. Apparently, this method is one of the more accurate methods (compared to a DEXA, or the dunk method) and has an error rate of less than 2% or so usually.
It went by really quick! The entire process of measuring took about 3 minutes total, and my husband and I were in and out in under 20 minutes after some chatting, quick dressing/undressing (and even a re-test for me since the printer wasn’t on the first time around).
After the test, I got a paper printout of my results within a minute. It looks a bit like this:
I actually ended up testing TWICE because the first time, the printer wasn’t turned on, so my numbers didn’t print correctly on the page (ended up at 17.0%). I did it a second time and got basically very similar results (so there wasn’t any goofs or what not).
Body Weight: 117.8 lbs
My Body Fat %: 16.8%
Resting Metabolic Rate: 1,184 (basically, if I were to sit around and do NOTHING all day, my caloric needs to survive)
Total Energy Expenditure (Daily): 1468 (If I don’t “workout” or have a gym day…surprisingly my apple watch calculates me pretty similar to this number)
The Analysis: What Does This All Mean to Me?
First of all, I’m way leaner than I actually thought I was! And actually at the moment, I’m probably a little higher than 17% since I gained back a few lbs and little water weight post-nationals now that I’m in off season.
BUT, my results are actually a pretty strong indicator that I’m sitting at around my ideal weight class for weightlifting. Having almost 100lbs of lean body mass would make it incredibly difficult for me to drop a weight class (48kg / 106lbs) without losing some substantial muscle mass, since anything below 10% or even 14% body fat for females starts to get pretty dangerous. Moving up a weight class would probably cause me to be overly thick and heavy for my height (4’11”) and just overweight in general – and body fat doesn’t do much to move barbell weight around. If anything, extra fat might make you slower and a little more sluggish.
These results are quite interesting and funny to me though because I actually used to weigh somewhere between 125-140lbs throughout high school and college. I don’t know what my body fat could have been then…I’m guessing 24-27%.
However, it’s been a long several years for my body to reach the current composition that it is now and it’s just a great reminder that permanent and effective change to your composition takes time and long term sustainable life-altering efforts. My lifestyle right now is completely different and my body’s composition reflects that. If I were to suddenly gain weight and be 125lbs again, I definitely would look different and feel different now than when I was 125lbs prior to weightlifting or even starting any of my athletic endeavors.
My Current Body Issues: What’s the Downside of My Results?
Let me go ahead and admit upfront: My hormones are already pretty out of whack with the weight and body fat that I DO have. After having done some tests, currently my estrogen and progesterone levels are very low – at the bottom of what would be considered the acceptable range for a healthy female.
Staying below 18% and having “visible abs 24/7” is NOT EASY! There’s been a lot of compromises along the way to get this far. This infographic article by Precision Nutrition does a fabulous job at outlining the cost of being lean. Here’s also a great podcast episode by Empowered by Iron that discusses the “dark side of being lean” in female strength athletes.
For the past few years, I’ve made choices to eliminate certain foods from my diet because I know they’ve made me feel slightly bloated (gluten, soy & most dairy being the culprits). I’ve also avoided a lot of social events and gatherings, staying out late, made it a priority in my life to train or at least “move” almost every day. Being able to maintain a body like this is literally a full time job alongside my career and relationships. No wait, it’s not just a full time job…it’s my LIFE.
Although it might seem many of my facebook and instagram post shows all smiles, and that I’m completely smashing PRs and weights in the gym all the time…I have a confession.
Dealing with a low body fat percentage (which isn’t even THAT low compared to a lot of fitness model competitors and world-class athletes!) is a HUGE mental struggle for me in addition to being a physical struggle, considering I’m dealing with secondary amenorrhea at the moment, and it seems like my genetics don’t allow me to have as defined abs as many others despite how well I usually eat, and how active I usually am.
So why am I choosing to maintain and/or keep a low body fat if consequently, it’s probably not the healthiest in the long term?
Because at this stage in my life, I currently choose to compete as a national-caliber weightlifter and I know it’s to my advantage to be hovering close to this for the time being. Here’s a bit more about that in the last article I wrote about dealing with the scale weight.
So some concluding thoughts: I enjoyed actually getting a bod pod test done and thought that just seeing the composition of my body was worth it – it was not only informative to me for feminine health reasons, but also affirming that this is the body that I have worked for and this is the body that I currently live in.