Podcast Episode 20 Transcript – Tracking Changes in Body Composition

The Ideal Nutrition Podcast

Aidan

00:00:09 – 00:00:22

Hello and welcome back to episode 20 of the Ideal Nutrition podcast. I am Aidan Muir, and I’m here with my co-host, Leah Higl, and today we’re going to be talking about tracking changes in body composition and what’s the best way to do that? 

Leah

00:00:22 – 00:00:55

So, we’re going to keep this one kind of short and sharp, but it is something that comes up a lot in practice. Like I find that tracking—you do want to track body comp—if you’re making changes to body composition, you want some way of tracking that. Some kind of data is going to help you along that process. I think people can just get a little bit lost in—in how to actually go about doing this in the most effective way. Um, so the first thing that we have access to is obviously body weight, so weighing yourself, um, it’s a very easy and accessible thing to do so everyone can have a set of scales at home, and it’s something you can track at a very little expense.

Leah

00:00:55 – 00:01:35

So personally, something that I tend to do with most of my clients is we’ll track body weight if that’s something we’re trying to change. Um, so how to actually go about that? We have to take into account day to day fluctuations. I think a lot of people do freak out if their weight kind of goes from, like, 72 then the next day it’s like 73.5, um, but we have to understand that that’s very normal. Um, there’s going to be fluctuations in your weight depending on how much you’re eating, carbs intake, salt intake, your training, fluids. Like there’s going to be so many things that go into changes in your weight that aren’t necessarily going to be changes in body composition. 

Leah

00:01:36 – 00:02:19

So, taking one-off weights here and there like you’re once a week weight is not necessarily giving you the most accurate data for body composition and body weight, like actual changes that are occurring. So, something that I recommend is either take your weight very frequently in terms of like daily, um, at the same time every single day trying to keep things as consistent as possible and then take weekly averages, or you take it very infrequently in terms of like maybe once a month. So, rather than doing—a lot of people do like that on the Monday they weigh themselves. Monday morning is weigh-in day. That is not the most effective way to track your weight or your body composition. You either want to use, like, the weekly averages or doing it less frequently than that. 

Aidan

00:02:19 – 00:02:36

Yeah, I see that as the best way to do it personally. I actually with my clients, I actually do the once a week. So, like, I get people doing a weekly check-in and I’ve heard the logic and it makes a lot of sense to me but I’m like—in my system—like I don’t know—like I—I—it—I only need it once per week that’s all I need, like, um—

Leah

00:02:36 – 00:02:39

But then you’re the one making decisions based on that, I guess, not the person. 

Aidan

00:02:39 – 00:03:20

Yeah, and I think—I don’t know whether I’m right or wrong, but I think the kind of person who says that once per week and freaks out about that is also the same person who weighs themselves every day is still going to freak out about ups and downs. Yeah, and I think unpacking that mindset is important for everybody, and to a certain degree I don’t think you can solve that. Like, I think a lot of people are going to always have that. We can’t just logic our way out of it, but, like, I still think it’s—it’s an important thing, um, even—I saw Layne Norton post something on his—on his feed today, um, about how one of the meta-analyses on weight loss maintenance or weight loss success really involved—or one of the outcomes was that people, 

Aidan

00:03:21 – 00:03:32

Who regained weight often pinpoint weight fluctuations as one of the factors that contributed to them, like, losing the motivation and stuff like that. It’s like—that’s something that kind of needs to be undone anyway. 

Leah

00:03:33 – 00:03:33

Yeah. People reacting to that weight fluctuation.

Aidan

00:03:36 – 00:04:01

You’re always going to fluctuate yeah. The example he uses—and once again, this is a psychology issue with everybody anyway but he talked about investing, where it’s kind of—he didn’t use this example I’ll talk about, like, if you buy a property, an investment property, you don’t see the prices. Like you don’t know that it’s gone up, like, $1000 one day and down $1000. You buy stocks and you see the prices go up and down. It’s like you’ve still got to ignore those things. It doesn’t matter what it is until you sell it like— 

Leah

00:04:01 – 00:04:14

No, that’s like a real—that’s a really good way of thinking about it, because even still when I invest in stocks, that’s something that gives me quite a lot of anxiety because I can see the data. Me owning my house doesn’t give me as much anxiety. So that’s a great way to go, like, think about it. 

Aidan

00:04:14 – 00:04:16

But either way it’s got to be unpacked basically. 

Leah

00:04:16 – 00:04:38

Yeah, definitely. And in terms of taking like those weekly averages and using those daily weights, I do really like it in the concept of doing a very slow bulk. So, when there is very small changes happening over a long period of time even weekly weights they’re not going to—they’re not going to show you a lot even over the long term. So, I think it does make a little bit more sense, especially when you’re doing long slow bulks. 

Aidan

00:04:38 – 00:05:10

Yeah, I find that one of the—that’s honestly one of the biggest things from an accountability perspective, etcetera, that has really improved the results of my clients from what they were getting before they saw me to now, is just the fact that their weight is tracked. It’s like—say we want to gain just under a kilo per month. We just have that data and we’re like—we’re just taking weekly averages, monthly averages, going from there and making sure they don’t exceed that or drop too far behind that kind of pace; versus if that data is not there, they feel like they’re not making their progress, they eat more food, they gain quicker, and then they gain more bodyfat. 

Leah

00:05:11 – 00:05:32

So, something I do recommend all the time is using something like the Happy Scales app. So that’s an app where you can—you can log your weights and you can see your weight trajectory over time, so it takes into account all of those, like, fluctuations and shows you your overall trend. And I think something like that can be a very useful tool when you’re using body weight to track progress. 

Aidan

00:05:32 – 00:06:09

Yeah, I have never actually recommended that to a client, but I have had clients who’ve used that, and you can see how much more reassured they are every time they get that little spike, because they’re like, I’m still on track, my average is still—and that’s all we care about. We care about averages, like, as long as its trending, and another explanation I’ve kind of thought of—like I can’t actually do it over podcast but I often think about in terms of, like, what we call the underlying work. Like if somebody’s trying to lose weight, I call the calorie deficit the underlying work. Where it’s kind of like, you know, if you need to, say, lose 10 kg or you’re trying to lose 10 kg, you need a calorie deficit. You know that if you average, say, a 500 to 1000 calorie deficit per day, 

Aidan

00:06:09 – 00:06:41

You’re probably going to average somewhere between half a kilo and one kg per week weight loss, like, it’s not exact mathematics, but, like, roughly that’s kind of what we’d expect. And you know that therefore, it would take you somewhere between 10 and 20 weeks going at that average rate, and if you’re just—like the underlying work is this line that is the average that’s taking you there, that you’re making progress towards that 10-to-20-week kind-of time frame, and there’s gonna be fluctuations around that, and a lot of these fluctuations are explainable, carbs, water, sodium. All those things feed into it. 

Aidan

00:06:42 – 00:06:58

Um, some of it—it’s worth thinking about like—it’s like if you have a big meal or something like that over the weekend high carb high salt, that explains it. But like other stuff, it’s just—like it’s just random, like, we don’t need an explanation for everything. We don’t care about the fluctuation. We just care about the underlying work being done basically. 

Leah

00:06:58 – 00:06:59

Totally. 

Aidan

00:07:00 – 00:07:40

Next topic we’ll talk about waist circumference. This isn’t actually something that I use in my own practice, but it is something that is a very easily accessible way of measuring things. Um, going back to that kind of bulking phase, where it’s like if you’re gaining size and your waist circumference is increasing significantly, you’re probably gaining a lot of body fat vice versa if you’re trying to lose weight and the scales aren’t moving, but your waist circumference is going down significantly that’s awesome because you’re re-comping. You’re probably gaining muscle and, like, I always get, like, really sceptical because people say it all the time like PTs will talk about it in a short time frame. Like, somebody’s scale doesn’t move for, like, two weeks, and they’re like, oh you’re gaining heaps of muscle. It’s like we know you can’t get in that much muscle over two weeks, 

Aidan

00:07:40 – 00:08:12

But, like, if it’s over a longer time frame and your waist conferences dropping, you’re getting leaner, you are losing body fat. Um, caveats I always want to add on to that though, because I see—this is rare, but, like, I see a lot of people who have frustrations with the scale, and, like, okay, I don’t use a scale, I’m going to use a better metric, and they use waist circumference, and I am mostly talking about females in this case. What if you get your menstrual cycle and you’re more bloated sometimes of the month? And that’s one of the reasons people, like, are mad at scales because they fluctuate. 

Leah

00:08:12 – 00:08:13

Yeah and this can fluctuate. 

Aidan

00:08:13 – 00:08:39

And then waist circumference will also fluctuate by even more because that’s the specific area where it’s going to increase by the most. That’s a caveat I want to put out there in terms of, like, there are—it’s rare but there are people out there who are like, I’m not gonna use scales, I’m going to use waist circumference because I don’t want to be messed up by the scale. It’s like—well that could still lead to the same issues so, like, you still want to think about it in terms of we care about averages all those kinds of things still, and yeah. It’s—it’s just another way of measuring basically. 

Leah

00:08:39 – 00:09:23

Yeah, 100%. So, the third way we can measure body composition is utilising things like DEXA scans, Bod Pods, underwater weighing, um, they’re all kind of, like, very similar things. The most accessible thing is likely going to be something like a DEXA scan, uh, they’re pretty much everywhere. We consider that pretty much like the gold standard for assessing body composition because you at least get a really good reading on what, like, the amount of body fat is, how much muscle mass is there, um, and your bone mineral density. So, you’re getting a good reading on all three of those things. So, that’s your body composition. Things like scale weight, waist circumference, they’re not taking into consideration every aspect of body composition. 

Leah

00:09:23 – 00:09:46

Um, so specifically—specifically if you’re tracking things like muscle growth, um, utilising a DEXA scan could be one of the best ways to go about that, but it’s not something you would do super frequently. So, it’s not like you would use that to make short term changes to a plan. Um, it’s more or less than what you do every, like 3, 6, 12 months to see overall changes in body composition. 

Aidan

00:09:46 – 00:10:21

Yeah, I’m massive on DEXA scans, like, I don’t push it on anybody but, like, the moment a client cares about body composition changes, and they’re like, I want to measure to see if I’m actually making changes, DEXA scans is my go-to. Um, I like it for the context you talked about like calorie surplus because I have a lot of natural powerlifters who aren’t taking anything and have been lifting for five years and, like, I want to move up weight class I want to gain 10 kg, and it’s like—if they do that too quickly they might get a lot of body fat, and say they gained 10 kg of size and only four kg is actual lean body mass, 

Aidan

00:10:21 – 00:10:49

It’s not a good thing. They haven’t gotten better as a powerlifter and therefore it means if they were only capable of doing that in a calorie surplus when they cut, they probably are going to lose muscle as well. It’s like if they’re going through a cycle, which, like, both of us are fans of, like, where it’s like you—you bulk slowly and then you cut it and then bulk slowly and then you cut. If they’re going through that cycle, and they had that poor of a ratio in their gaining phase, at the end of that long cycle, they probably only have, like, two kg of actual muscle. It’s like—well you could have stayed lean year-round. 

Leah

00:10:49 – 00:11:09

That’s important information to have especially as we know, like, the individual differences in how much muscle mass one person can gain over a certain period of time compared to another person. If you have that data, you are able to improve, say, your next bulking phase to make sure you can optimise muscle growth whilst minimising fat gain a little bit more—with more specificity. 

Aidan

00:11:09 – 00:11:28

Exactly. It just gives you that, like, real hard data to be like if that is a situation that does happen, you’re like, okay well next time let’s go twice as slow, like, it’s pretty simple when you look at it from that perspective it gives you useful information. The next one we want to talk about is skin folds so do you do skin folds at all?

Leah

00:11:28 – 00:11:34

I don’t. Only because the majority of my clientele is online so that would be pretty impractical. 

Aidan

00:11:34 – 00:12:10

Yeah, lowkey, that’s actually one of the reasons why I don’t do it as well, because I—I very confidently always say my service online and in person is the same, and if I did skin folds, I’d be lying if I made that statement. So, like, that’s one reason why I don’t. Um there’s a few other reasons, the—the honest one which is actually gonna feed into this is—so, I got—I got my qualification and to do that, you have to be within 2% of yourself every time you do it. So, by definition you have to be incredibly accurate with yourself, like, that is part of how it makes it such an accurate measurement, which I’ll talk about in a second, and also within 10% of the gold standard practitioner, like, somebody who’s, like, level 3 ISAK accredited or whatever. 

Aidan

00:12:11 – 00:12:38

Um, within six months I’d lost that ability, um, as in, like, I was working with a rugby team and there were people who’d come in who didn’t have abs, 12 weeks later of the pre-season they had abs, and my callipers would say they’d gained body fat. I’m like, okay I suck at this now but that’s going to lead into two things I want to talk about. So, one of them skin folds are incredible. They’re actually one of the most accurate way of measuring things with a good practitioner that’s a starting point. 

Aidan

00:12:39 – 00:13:08

Um, arguably even better than DEXA because you can do them more frequently. You could do skin folds on a weekly basis and it’s a far more accurate measure. DEXA can be far more messed up by water changes and stuff like that. Whereas skin folds, you’re literally just measuring fat, like, massive changes in hydration can affect it, but, like, you’re literally just measuring the body fat somebody has which is something we obviously care about. It falls apart when you try and translate it to body fat percentage which a lot of people try and do. They’re trying to do formulas and often these formulas under-represent body fat, 

Aidan

00:13:08 – 00:13:38

Like you could be 12% body fat on the DEXA and 7% on skin folds for example. It’s a common thing I would see, but obviously depends on the formula used, but usually they do a sum of seven or some of five sites on the body, and then use an equation to figure things out from there. So really accurate when done well but I kind of share my story and I’m not ashamed of that, but, like, I share my story to be like I’m an honest guy and I don’t think many people are as honest as me and I’m like, if I sucked six months later, how many other people suck? 

Leah

00:13:38 – 00:13:45

I think there’s a lot of people doing skin folds that have no business doing skin folds.  

Aidan

00:13:45 – 00:14:16

Yeah, and that’s the other thing, like, a lot of people don’t get the qualifications which is fine. I’m all for people, like, if you’re good at something I don’t care if you’re qualified that’s my honest opinion, but, like, um, they never would have had to pass that thing to be like, oh I was within 2% myself, like, they never would have had to pass that to start off with. The other thing that I was going to go back with the rugby club is, like, apart from that, like, one example I used about the people who didn’t have abs and—and then did later on, like, apart from that that was pretty rare. The ones that I really struggled with are the large people. People who have a lot of body fat and this is—this is pretty clear in the research that’s like,

Aidan

00:14:16 – 00:14:57

When people are above, say, 30% body fat—I don’t want to put a number on it but, like, quite high body fat, skin folds become really bad, like, they’re not really accurate because there’s too much for the callipers to grab. It just doesn’t work very well. Um, I’m not gonna name—no. There’s even—another local coach who’s, like, a PT bodybuilding coach who’s working with one of my clients who was quite large and they were using skin folds on her, and, like, readings were just all over the place, and I was never going to tell because I’m not going to discredit, like, another person, like, or anything like that. But, like, it’s crazy, like, you can’t use them on quite large people and then there’s also the individual variation. Oh, the last thing to also add is, 

Aidan

00:14:58 – 00:15:14

You can’t switch practitioners if you’re using skin folds, because that’s one of the things I said in terms of, like, you can—you have to be within 2% of yourself to be good at skin folds, but 10% of the gold standard. 10% is a pretty decent variation. If you switch practitioners multiple times, you’re going to get different ratings every time basically. 

Leah

00:15:15 – 00:15:51

So, the last thing we’re going to talk about in regard to tracking changes to body composition is one that is very popular, um, and that’s like your BIA machines and BIA scales. So, your bioelectrical impedance analysis. So, you’re going to see this in a lot of different gyms, um, a lot of PTs will use it, um, because it’s one of those things that’s a lot cheaper than a DEXA scan, but it’s a little bit more interesting than just a plain old weight scale. Um, so it’s a machine where—most of them is like they’re a scale and you will hold some handles, um, and it sends, like, an electrical current through your body and that’s how it reads your body composition. 

Leah

00:15:52 – 00:16:34

I won’t spend too long on this but they’re very, very inaccurate. So, they’ve not been validated for use in terms of actually measuring someone’s body composition with any kind of accuracy. So, it’s not like you’ll be getting a good idea of what your actual body composition is by having a BIA analysis done, um, but they’re one of those things that are going to be everywhere. Uh, in regard to tracking your body composition over time, uh, they’re also not great at that. So, we know there could be some consistency in that if that you really, really plan it so, if your training is always the same around the time you’re doing it, if your food intake is always the same, your fluid intake, 

Leah

00:16:34 – 00:16:50

Um, and all these things that can mess with the analysis. If you keep all those super consistent, you might be able to get somewhat of a decent reading, um, in regard to body composition changes over time but the logistics around doing that, and, like, realistically, can you do that? Probably not. 

Aidan

00:16:50 – 00:17:27

Yeah, particularly on a frequent basis and like—like I’m not going to comment necessarily on the accuracy of, like, in body, as I said, quite expensive, all those kinds of things. But, like, for—for the cheaper end, it is—it is pretty messed up in that I worked in a job where I was doing home visits. So, I would have the scales myself and, like, I would go around and, um, every week we would use them with our clients because that was just part of what—what we had to do as part of the job, and I use them on myself and over like a multiple day—like multiple day kind of time frame, I’d be anywhere from 5% to 20% body fat. 

Aidan

00:17:27 – 00:18:02

I was like, goddamn, like, I’m using this on my clients and, like, we talked earlier about how scales, like, mess with people’s head imagine being like, oh I’m 20% body fat today but I was 5% body fat two days ago, what have I done wrong? So, like, that was obviously fine by me because I was like this is—but, like, that would mess with some clients and, like, I had one client who, um, they seemed to be more inaccurate when you have big fluctuations in water weight as in, like, my interpretation was that, like, obviously we know that’s going to affect things, like, just as a quick, like, side tangent, but if you do—say they’re accurate, say they’re 100% accurate, 

Aidan

00:18:02 – 00:18:31

And say you got on it and said—it said you were 10% body fat for example, and then you drank a litre of water and gained a kilo of non-fat mass, you gained a kilo of fat mass. Your body fat percentage goes down because you just drank water. So, like, firstly, that’s—that’s a flaw in even accurate body fat measures because it’s like—you have a bad weekend, so to speak, you eat heaps of carbs, have heaps of sodium, gain heaps of water weight, and your body fat percentage drops. 

Leah

00:18:31 – 00:18:33

Yeah, like percentages in general probably not the best thing to go off. 

Aidan

00:18:33 – 00:19:14

Yeah and, like, I’m not opposed to body fat percentage. I kind of like it as a measure, but, like, if you’re measuring on a weekly basis, it starts rewarding you for eating more carbs basically. Um, so that’s one thing to think about, but, like, what I was getting at with the scales was it seemed to—whether I’m right or wrong in my analysis, but I was using it with, like, hundreds of people for multiple years. I found that, like, it seems, like, those water fluctuations would be over exaggerated on the scales in terms of, like, if somebody was very well hydrated and carbed up, it would make them significantly leaner, and if they were very dehydrated, it would go the other way in terms of—it would say they’ve gained heaps of body fat, like, I’m talking more than 7% swings and stuff like that. Yeah, definitely something that, like, if you’re trying to measure body composition, a 7% swing over the course of the weekend is probably missing—missing the mark a bit. 

Leah

00:19:23 – 00:19:50

Yeah. I don’t ever really find any time where I’m like, oh yeah, we’ll use BIA as a good way to track body composition changes. If anything, like, if people come in with those results like cool, I’ll look at them, but they don’t mean a lot to me because I know they’re not super accurate. And the accuracy can definitely differ between the kind of machine you’re using, and you know generally the results from them are not going to tell you a—a bunch about your actual body composition. 

Aidan

00:19:52 – 00:20:32

So, that wraps things up for episode 20. Um, I want to say thank you to everybody who has given a review to the podcast. Funnily enough, I said this on Instagram but, like, I’ve been looking at the reviews and I’ve been looking in the wrong place, and it was like, we don’t have that many reviews, what’s going on? Like—and, like, this is not a massive podcast, like, we don’t have a huge audience or anything like that, but it was like, yeah do people care about us? And, like, I looked and there’s—like I found where the reviews actually are kept, and there’s, like, way more than I thought there was. It’s just blown my expectations away. So, I would say thank you to everybody who has done that, and if you haven’t and you would consider doing that, I would greatly appreciate that, and Leah would as well.