One of my goals at the beginning of last year was to lose 3% body fat. I actually just wanted to get leaner but being a numbers/specifics oriented person, I needed to set an actual goal and I thought that 3% was achievable and not low enough to be just an easy target. I was going to base my tracking on using the InBody scanner, and I decided to measure my progress monthly. During this journey, I learned a couple of interesting things not only about myself and how my body reacts to not just exercise but more so nutrition, but also about the InBody scans and how they can be help and hurt your fitness journey. I thought what I found might be interesting to others so I’m going to share them, hopefully it helps.
Before I go over my year in review, a quick description of the InBody scan and the analysis printout. The InBody scanner uses bioelectrical impedance analysis (low and high frequency electrical currents are sent through the water in the body) to measure muscle mass, body fat, and total body water. The construction of the scanner allows it to measure each of these in the 5 main body segments: arms, legs, and torso. The printout you get displays those numbers as well as a calculation of body fat %, lean body mass, basal metabolic rate (minimum calories needed to sustain life), and BMI.
First, let’s look at my scan from the beginning of the year – my first scan was on 1/6/23 (I gave my body a couple of days to recover from New Years celebrations and having visitors so that it wasn’t entirely inflated from holiday eating and drinking). On that first scan, I weighed 176.0 lbs, of which 79.4 lbs was muscle mass, 36.4 lbs. were body fat, and I had a PBF of 20.7%. I started off by just trying to eat healthy, cutting down on desserts, eating more salads, etc. – all the usual things. After 1 month, I’d lost almost 3 lbs and 2% of body fat. This was going to be easy! (Narrator: it wasn’t that easy)
Month 2: down 2 more pounds but almost no change in PBF. Wait, what? A look at the rest of the scan showed that I’d lost 1.3 pounds of muscle mass. That really threw me for a loop – not only wasn’t I losing body fat but I was losing muscle while losing weight. A talk with Danielle taught me that if you starve the body of enough fuel, it will start to eat at the muscle. So I needed to adjust my diet to adjust for the fact that I was working out a little more and eating a little less. I actually needed to eat more, but smarter. My biggest focus after that was increasing my protein intake, but I also decided to embark on some extra weightlifting to boost my muscle mass. The other big change was tracking my food intake to make sure I was hitting my target (155g of protein or more/day).
Month 3: The changes worked – I actually went up in weight a pound, but I increased muscle mass 2.7 lbs, and dropped body fat to 17.1%, a 1.7% decrease. So, I’d met my goal of losing 3% body fat, and actually increased muscle by 2 lbs. At this point, though, I wanted to see if I get to a 5% decrease while continuing to increase muscle. So I kept up the nutrition and lifting regimen – one of the biggest things was I had started having a protein shake in the morning with creatine added as a big boost along with the focus on protein.
Skip ahead to 5 months in and I had gotten down to 15.7% body fat at 170 lbs, with 82 lbs of muscle. That was a 5% decrease, 6 pound loss in weight, and 2.6 pound increase in muscle. I was very happy with my body and where I had gotten to, and was enjoying the extra lifting. Unfortunately, at that point the summer hit. We traveled a bit, I strayed off my nutrition plan a little bit, and I probably got a little lax about my goals. After all, I’d already hit my number!
By the end of August, I was back up to 175 lbs and 18% body fat. I got mad at myself for losing all those gains I’d worked so hard for so I went back at it, trying to get back to where I was. It took until December (hello holiday season and too many temptations!) but I got down to 171.7 lbs and 16.9% body fat, with just under 82 pounds of muscle. During that period, I got closer to 83 pounds of muscle but a shoulder injury in September kept me from doing a lot of extra lifting so I started to lose some of that muscle. You can see in the data and charts at the end how my weight and muscle fluctuated/stagnated in the second half of the year as my nutrition got less strict and my lifting was limited.
So, what did I learn during this journey and how can it help you?
- One of the biggest things you can do to help your overall fitness/health/weight goal is to track your food. Understanding what’s going into your body will help you make decisions that will help you reach your goals, and help you plan your eating. Your food is your fuel – if you want your body to run like a race car, don’t put the lowest octane fuel into it. For me, I found that I had to hit my protein goals to get the muscle I wanted but I also know I need to work on my carbohydrate intake to keep the fat down (carbs are my weakness).
- The InBody scanner is a great tool to help you understand what’s going on in your body. It breaks down the components of your weight more than just a scale can – it lets you know if you’re adding/losing muscle or fat, not to mention if you’re getting an imbalance in your body (left/right side bias).
- It’s easy to get stuck on the numbers and start chasing them. At one point during the middle of the year, I would get mad if my muscle mass hadn’t gone up (or had gone down) – I was eating my protein, I was lifting, what was going on? There are always a lot of factors that go into it, and the test, while accurate, can be affected by a lot of things (your sleep, if your hydration is off that day, too much salt the night before) so if you live and die by those numbers you can make yourself crazy.
- Based on that, I wouldn’t recommend doing a scan more than once every 3 months – that’s a good interval where you’ll truly see the effects of what you’re doing without seeing little ups and downs that may influence your plan. Try to be consistent about when you take the scan (day of week/time of day) to minimize the variables and make sure you don’t eat or drink out of the ordinary the day before. They recommend taking the test in the morning and definitely before exercising if you can.
- Talk to someone to develop a plan based on your goals, and try to make your goals a combination of measurable, achievable items (lose X% body fat or add X pounds of muscle), and things that aren’t necessarily achievable but mean something to you (I want to fit into my favorite pair of jeans again). That way you won’t only be married to the numbers and end up losing the overall picture of WHY you’re doing this.
As we start off 2024 with new goals and plans, I hope sharing my journey from last year helps you. All of the coaches at FitTown are here to help you reach your goals, so if any of us can assist you in any way, just ask – we love to work with our members one-on-one just as much as we enjoy teaching your classes!
For you numbers people, here is the data and associated charts: