At the end of a long season it is time to rest, recover and regroup. It’s time to transition off the road bike and onto the cross bike. It’s when I go back to the gym to work on strength, start running and skiing again and have more time to hang out with friends and family. It is also the time when, like other athletes at Vision Quest, I reflect on the season I’ve finished and set my goals for the year ahead both in terms of events and what parts of my fitness I am going to focus on improving. If weight loss is my goal, it is the perfect time to do it because I am not asking as much of my body as I do in-season (and with the impending temptations of holiday food, it’s always helpful to have a goal backing you up when turning down a second piece of pumpkin pie). This year I made the decision that once and for all I was going to lose those few extra pounds that I was lugging up climbs that my competition wasn’t.
Body weight is the number we’ve all been conditioned to look at. It is the metric which traditionally tells us if we are getting fatter or thinner. It is the number that athletes plug into their Power/Weight ratio. That magic number that tells us how potentially fast we are relative to people who are twice or half our size. It’s the number I focus on when I am training to race. The higher my power/weight relative to the others, the faster I will be able to go up those climbs.
But while your body weight is a good number to know, it doesn’t tell the whole story. What is missing from this metric is how much of you is good weight, ie. muscle? And how much is expendable weight, ie. fat? The reason this is important to know is when as athletes we undertake to drop a few (or many more than a few pounds), it’s really important that we not cut into the hard earned strength that we’ve built.
This summer Vision Quest invested in a new tool to help its athletes find the answer to this question as well as set goals to strive for as they train and get fit. A new Dexafit Scanning Lab is now located in the Highland Park facility and open almost every day. To get an appointment just sign up at https://dexafit-highland-park.youcanbook.me/
I decided to give Dexafit a try to see if it might help me figure out how much weight I could lose and not 1) jeopardize the muscle I had worked so hard to build and 2) become unhealthy and susceptible to getting sick.
I arrived at VQHP for my scheduled appointment and met Katie Brickman who runs the lab at VQ. No special clothing required but I had to remove metal buckles, jewelry and shoes. I lay on what looked like the conveyor belt for the x-ray machine at airport security, ankles together, arms by my side, eyes looking at the ceiling. Katie told me to lie still and not speak until the large arm that was part of the machine passed over me from head to toe. The scan itself uses a very small amount of radiation (10 microsieverts vs. 400 for a mammogram or 150 for a chest x-ray). It takes about 8 minutes and then you’re done. Results are in!
The bed also doubles as a scale and it weighs you while you lie there – so don’t bother under-reporting your weight to Katie. The truth will come out.
After the scan was done Katie and I sat in front of a computer screen filled with colorful charts and numbers telling all sorts of things about me. Katie focused first on my muscle weight, a number I had never considered before. In that moment I understood where my power came from. That was the good news. But at the same time it hit me that I would never be as light as most of the other women I knew. I was never going to be able to go that low without compromising strength. In some ways that was a huge relief.
My fat weight number was a meaningless number to me at first (it just seemed really high). But when we looked at the percentage of fat that I was carrying and compared it to a body composition chart the Katie had for my age group, we realized it wasn’t so bad but that I also had a few extra fat pounds to lose if I wanted to improve my power/weight.
Using a special program, Katie showed me how much I could lose while still remaining healthy and strong. We came up with a fat percentage goal for me and translated that into a target number of fat pounds for me to lose.
The other helpful bit of information that the scan revealed was an imbalance between the muscle mass/strength of one arm versus the other. It was significant enough that I know now what to focus on in Functional Training classes this fall. Fortunately my legs were balanced. No doubt the summer of training for Lotoja helped with that. I have had experience in the past with imbalances causing problems. When one side works harder than the other eventually all sorts of related issues arise such as hip pain, back pain etc. Imbalances are important to investigate and there is no better time to do that than after one season is over and before the next one starts.
Perhaps the most valuable and reassuring part of the scan were the results of the Visceral Adipose Tissue (VAT) analysis. This part of the test measures the fat we cannot see; the stuff that collects around our internal organs and contributes to heart disease and diabetes. Katie explained that often someone will look thin because their subcutaneous (visible) fat levels are low yet inside they are a walking time bomb. How would you know unless you got tested?
The Dexafit also scans for bone density. In fact this was GE’s original application when it designed the machine. Unlike the bone density scan that many women get pre and post menopause – the value provided here is an overall value. It won’t tell you if you have osteoporosis in one part of your skeletal structure versus another. So don’t use this as a substitute for a full bone density scan. It will however alert you if you have a big problem and I suspect it is good overall value to compare over time.
Katie recommended that I return in a few months to be scanned again to see what kind of progress I had made against my goals. No doubt after some strength training and proper eating I might be able to move some of my numbers.
I am really excited at last to have a goal that is based on the reality of what I’m made of, not some generic chart that tells me how much I should weigh. The next question was obvious though: What do I do now to make sure I lose “fat” pounds and not muscle? I decided to get some help with this and set up an appointment with VQ nutritionist Andrea Rusin.