But the scale says…

“I’ve been eating right and working out more than normal and i’m not losing any weight!!”  This is what i hear on a very regular basis with my clients.  Hmmm, you haven’t lost weight but have you possibly lost some body fat?

Most people don’t know that you can lose body fat without actually losing body weight.  In this case, you might be gaining lean muscle mass which is why the scale isn’t budging.  You can also lose weight but not necessarily lose any of your fat.  If not done right, you might end up losing muscle mass instead of fat.

People get really hung up on the numbers on the scale but this isn’t nearly as indicative of where you need to be as you would think.  Have you ever heard of the “skinny fat girl”?  She’s the girl that, in clothes, looks skinny but she actually has zero muscle tone and is actually quite high in her body fat percentage.  Or the person who has this random number of pounds that they want to lose but no real idea why they came up with that number….maybe because it’s would get them to the weight they weighed on prom night.

Our bodies are made up of water, muscle, fat, bone, and tissue. Our body fat percentage is the percentage of our weight which is made up of fat.   Sometimes i’ll tell people their body fat percentage and they freak out that it’s “so high!”  Well, we all need some fat in our bodies in order to survive.  The part that isn’t fat is called our “lean body mass.” A 160-pound person with a lean body mass of 120 lbs has 25 percent body fat (40 lbs of fat). That may sound like a lot, but our bodies need a certain amount of fat for insulation, energy storage, hormone production, and other functions.
How much body fat should a person have?
This depends upon a few variables. Women need more body fat than men. Breasts are almost all fat, and women have more fat around their hips (yep, that’s just how we were intended to be!).  If a woman’s body fat drops too low, she will stop menstruating. Also, men naturally have a greater amount of muscle bulk. Another factor is age. As people get older, their muscles tend to shrink, and they tend to accumulate visceral fat (fat that surrounds your organs). This is at least partially related to the decline in testosterone and other hormones.
The generalized classification for body fat percentages is as follows:
Women (% fat)
Essential Fat10-12%
Athletes14-20%
Fitness21-24%
Acceptable25-31%
Obese32% +
Men (% fat)
Essential Fat     2-4 %
Athletes          6-13%
Fitness          14-17%
Acceptable    18-25%
Obese           25% +
Knowing your body fat percentage can also help you determine if your weight loss goals are realistic.  Remember, weight loss doesn’t always mean fat loss!!
For example:
Let’s say you’re a 130 lb woman with 23% body fat, and your goal is to “lose 20 pounds”:
Initial body fat: 130 x 0.23 fat = 30 lbs body fat
Lean body mass: 130 (current weight)  – 30 (lbs fat) = 100 lean body mass (bones, organs and all else) ** your lean body mass is what you need to be alive…unless, of course, you want to have some bones or organs taken out
Goal: 130 lbs – 20 lbs = 110 pounds
As you can see, the goal of losing 20 pounds is not realistic or healthy.   At 110 pounds, this woman still requires 100 lbs of lean body mass (bones, organs, etc.), but would only be carrying 10 lbs, or only 9%  body fat.   From the chart above, you can see that this is a dangerously low percentage.
A better goal might be for the woman to reduce her body fat from 23% to 18%.  In this case:
130 x 0.18 = 23 (lb of body fat)
100 (lbs lean body mass) + 23  = 123 lbs goal weight
So, for this individual to achieve a lean, but healthy 18% fat, she would need to lose only 7 pounds of fat, reducing her weight from her current 130 pounds  to 123 pounds.  Losing more than 7 pounds means losing lean body mass (usually  metabolically-active muscle tissue), which is clearly not desirable.
So before you decide that you need to “lose weight”, remember to consider that “weight” consists of both lean body mass and body fat.   Try to keep your weight loss goals realistic, and remember, keep the calorie-burning muscle, and lose only the fat.
Ok, so how do you lose the body fat?  Eat right and exercise!  You hear of people who lose weight on the chocolate chip cookie diet or cayenne pepper and lemon juice.  Of course you would lose weight.  You’re starving your body of calories and nutrients.  If you, however, eat a balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, and veggies (and, yes, the sweets, caffeine and whatever else as long as it’s in addition to the good stuff and in moderation) and exercise, you will lose body fat.  Also, if you add some body resistance weight training in to your cardio, you’ll see even better results!
Sounds simple, huh?!  Well, it is pretty simple as long as you’re thoughtful about your day.  Try to avoid trans-fats as much as possible.  Keep your sugar intake as low as possible…this means stop buying all the fat free crap that’s loaded with sugar fillers.  Watch your alcohol intake.  Not trying to be a party pooper but most alcohol is loaded with sugar and high in calories.  If you’re sitting at your desk, take 60 seconds to stand up and do some squats.  Do something like this every hour and you’re on your way to a lower body fat percentage!
Do not confuse body fat percentage with body mass index (BMI).  I am not a fan of BMI measures because it simply takes height and weight into account and tells you whether or not you’re healthy.  So, two people with the same height and weight but with differing body fat percentages will have the same BMI.  This is too much of a cookie cutter measurement so you’re better off knowing the real numbers.
Finding out your body fat percentage and lean body mass isn’t all that complicated.  The best and most accurate is hydrostatic weighing (underwater) but, unfortunately, we don’t have access to that.  A fitness professional can, however, take circumference measurements, use the calipers, or even bioelectrical impedance in order to get you these numbers.   You might be shocked at where you fall in the classification chart so it’s a good number to know, good or bad!

My husband, the BADASS

Ok, i must preface this with the fact that Keith may kill me when he reads this.  He’s a pretty modest and humble person but i’m going to go ahead and risk my life in order to get some stuff off my chest.

I am married to a BADASS.  Period.  Plain and simple.  Of course, I knew he was a badass but did i really know he’s an all caps BADASS?!  Well, now i do.

All kidding aside.  As we’re gearing up for week 4 of our triathlon training, I have really been thinking more and more about what all Keith had to do to prepare for the Louisville Ironman last year.  Yes, i knew everything he was doing because i wrote his training plan but i didn’t really know what he was going through because I wasn’t going through it too.  I knew his rides were long, the swims were strenuous, and the runs were brutal but all i could physically relate to were the runs.  I went on plenty of rides and I even rode beside him for lots of runs but it’s still not the same.  I was there with him step for step but I still didn’t truly grasp what all his body was being expected to do and what it was actually capable of doing!

It’s crazy how tri training is so different from only running…and this is coming from someone who is really good at cross-training!  I have been famished for 3 straight weeks.  My body is fatigued all the time.  I start every workout still a little tired from the previous workout.  These are all great things and i’m loving the experience but when i think about the difference in what I’m doing and what he had to do to get ready for IM Louisville, I am truly blown away.

How in the world did he do it?!  He never complained and he very rarely missed a single workout!  As I sat here and planned our workouts for week 4 of tri training, I got curious about what a week in his training looked like.  It seems like it was a zillion years ago so I pulled his plan up on my computer to see.

Granted, he was training for a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 run so obviously he needed some big training but still?!  How was he able to do it?

Here’s a typical week in the land of Keith’s Ironman training (still about 4 months out from race day so he was still in the base building period of training at this point!):

Monday swim:  warm up:  300 swim, 200 kick, 300 pull; main set:  30 x (50 w/ 10 sec rest) as follows:  #1-10 = gradually get to 85% by #10, #11 – 18 = 25 kick, 25 sprint, #19-30 = race pace- each one at 90+% cool down:  400 pull (total = 2,700)

strength training

Tuesday:  bike:  warm up:  15 min; drills:  3 x (3 min isolated leg w/ 30 sec rest); main set:  2 x (20 min @84-92% w/ 10 @ 60-70% after each); cool down:  spin until HR is below 50%

run:  1:10  (10 min warm up, 3 x (10 min tempo w/ 2 min recovery), 6 x (20 sec strides w/ 1:10 recovery after each)

Wednesday:  bike: warm up: 20 min; drills:  3 x (3 min isolated leg w/ 30 sec recovery after each); main set:  3 x (16 min @ 75% w/ 4 min @ 60-70% after each); cool down: finish with easy recovery in small chain ring

yoga

Thursday:  strength training

run:  60 min

Friday:  swim:  warm up: 400 swim, 300 pull, 200 swim, 100 kick ; main set:  2 sets of the following: 350 @ 75%, 300 @ 80%, 250 @ 85% – swim the first set, pull the second set ; cool down:  600 swim (total = 2,300)

yoga

Saturday:  bike:  3:25

run:  50 min

swim:  30 min

Sunday:  run:  1:45  (20 min easy, 3 x 20 min tempo runs w/ 5 min recovery between each, slow jog for rest of run)

bike:  60 min (immediately after run, if possible)

strength:  home strength workout

I look at this and am in awe.  I had so much respect for Keith as he was training and my heart completely swelled with pride when he crossed that finish line BUT, i have to say, i think all of that has quadrupled in the past 3 weeks.  Not only because I am doing minuscule amounts compared to what he was doing and am finding that it’s quite hard but also because he has not even almost downplayed what we’re all doing.  He trained for and completed the ultimate of tri’s while I’m training for .25 miles in the water, 12 miles on a bike, and a 3 mile run.  What?!

I know a lot of athletes and it can be really hard to find those who won’t turn their nose down at you if your swim sucks or your bike is crappy but not Keith.  He will be your biggest cheerleader.  I think he might giggle at me sometimes when I overdramatize how i could eat my weight in cheese dip because I’m training my ass off or when I complain about having to get out of bed in the morning to get my “longest swim ever” done but he continues to treat me as an equal.

Why am I writing this, Keith is probably wondering.  No, not just to remind him that he’s a total BADASS but also to remind myself (and all of you) that successful training and hard work equals a successful race.  I’m sure Keith felt some burn-out at times in his 9 months of training but he continued to keep his eye on the finish line and was determined to get there.  Keith is the perfect proof that if you want something bad enough, you can have it!

Keith, again, my hat’s off to you.  Can’t wait to see how you tackle your next one 😉

Oh, and just for fun, i thought I’d throw in some re-cap race day pics!

(above) Pre Race Yoga (i think it’s about 4:30 AM!)

(above) Body Marking in the uber-nerve filled transition area

(above) Last “bye” before the swim start!!

(above) This was his “oh my gosh, i LOVED the 2.4 mile swim!!”  (and, no, he wasn’t being sarcastic)

(above) Somewhere around the half-way point on the bike

(above) Coming into the transition area after 112 miles on the bike!!

(above) Mile 2 on the run.  Filling his posse in on the first 10 hours of his day 🙂

(above) STEPS AWAY FROM THE FINISH LINE!  “KEITH RITCHEY, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”  (aka BADASS)  🙂

My Personal Road to NOLA

Two and a half years.  That’s how long it had been since I had been able to train for a Half Marathon.   Fall of ’09 was the last time I trained for and ran a Half Marathon.  I had a Half in Spring of ’10 but spent the last month before the race doped up on anti-inflammatories, not running, and dealing with an injury so this “race” was nothing more than a painful run / walk.  I spent the rest of 2010 training for and running a Full marathon.  I did run a Half that winter, 20 days after my full, so it was more of a run than a race (you know, you train very differently to run a Full than you do to race a Half!).  I had to take the first 5 months of 2011 off to deal with some injuries and the last 6 months of 2011 was again focused on a Full.

I realized this last fall while training for the Marathon.  I made a deal with myself that the next time I trained for a Half, I would do everything in my power to get myself a PR.  This would mean hitting all my paces, fast and slow, not missing any workouts, focusing on core strength, and most importantly, getting my head back in the game.  I think being out of the “Half scene” for so long had me really wanting this next race….craving it.

So, when we decided our next training would be for New Orleans, I was ecstatic!  I was feeling strong coming out of Marathon training and told myself, “you’re getting yourself a PR in March, no matter how hard you have to work.”  Well, this thought all came crashing down when I spent the month of December in and out of the cardiologists office.  I was fairly unconsolable when my doctor told me to stop running.  One, i was completely freaked out about my heart and, two, how in the hell would I get a PR if I was sitting on my ass?

Well, fortunately, my cardiologist lifted my “no running” ban and off I went.  I decided that i would run this race with and for my heart.  I really needed this race..to prove to myself that I am healthy and that my heart can handle running.  That may sound weird but this race became very personal to me.  I would finish a speed run and think, “take that, heart.  i’m making you work!”  I have had very few runs since December that I haven’t thought of my heart but I’ve also had very few runs that I didn’t finish and feel grateful for the run.

I’m not gonna lie.  I had some frustrating runs.  Not that I’ve ever been fast but, wow, take 2 years and focus on the Marathon and walk / runs and then try to spend every week doing 400’s and 800’s and you’re quickly reminded at how different this type of training is.  I was having a hard time hitting my paces…I was hitting them but i was working harder than I remember working in the past.   I felt strong though.  Ready for race week!!

We had one group run the week of race week- some 400’s.  I had done two of the 400’s when I caught some gravel and a rock with my left foot and rolled my ankle.  It hurt like hell and I knew right away that this wasn’t one that i could run off but more than anything I was devastated that New Orleans might be out the window.  Heartbroken.  I hobbled home and got ice on it right away but I was devastated.  It sucks to get hurt before a race but this one had so many more meanings for me than just a race.  Mentally, i needed this race more than any other race I’ve ever run.

I knew that I needed to do everything possible if I was going to make this race happen in 5 days.  I spent 2 days getting needled, nights with castor oil wraps on my left leg from mid shin down to my toes (pulled the tendons in my outer calf), days with ice and pillows under my foot, and lots of time “writing” the alphabet with my toes and thank goodness, it all paid off!

I had some pain Friday night from walking around New Orleans but, lucky for me, it rained on Saturday so we spent more time in the car than we did walking, and Sunday brought race day.  It couldn’t have been more perfect.  I was concerned about my ankle and felt a little unsteady and nervous but i was more focused than ever.

I am so lucky to have had Keith run with me.  He knew how important this race was to me and, although we didn’t say 10 words to each other the entire race, it was so great to have him beside me.  I never checked my pace.  I knew that I needed to run by feel and i needed to feel like I was working.  I checked my pace band against the clock at each mile and felt great.  At one point keith said, “you might want to slow down..you’re going a bit fast” and my response was that I had no idea if or when my ankle would give out so I would race my heart out while I could.  Luckily it never gave out!  I had some weird quad cramps the last 5 or 6 miles that I’m guessing may have been exacerbated due to all the Aleve I was taking (who knows, just a guess) but not enough to make me slow down.  I had a little chest tightening around mile 10 and thought “oh no, not you” but it went away as quickly as it came.

Suddenly we were heading into the park and nearing the finish.  I knew I had my PR in my pocket.  I fought back tears as I crossed the finish line.  It feels like it’s been a long journey to get to this finish line.  Somehow, with all the obstacles, this was my perfect race.  I couldn’t have asked for a better finish…Keith, a PR, and a big “take that” at all the fear I’ve had while running for the past 3 months.  Thank you, Keith, for your support.  I couldn’t have done it without you.