SSD Health & Wellness Q&A – Bodyfat

Recently our SSD Health & Wellness Team created a Q&A section within the monthly newsletter for questions and answers directed to me. Below is the first question posed to me from a member of our department:

Question:
Ian, in the last two years my body fat percentage has bounced from 6% to 19% percent. Its a constant struggle to maintain a low ideal body fat percentage. I am guessing your body fat percentage hovers around 5% to 6%. I haven’t seen too many top level athletes that can maintain that type of lean muscle mass. Are you a genetic mutant? What’s your secret?
Answer:
First of all we need to define normal ranges of BF% for men and women.

 

                        Women            Men

 

Essential              10-13%     2-5%

Athletes              14–20%      6-13%

Fitness                 21–24%     14–17%

Acceptable         25–31%     18–24%

Obese                 32%+          25%+

 

Thanks to our lousy eating habits in the western world, the median ranges on this chart have changed over the past couple decades. The range that has not changed is the Essential BF% for men and women. Any lower than that and we see a decline in health and performance. Women maintain higher BF% due to physiological factors related to procreation and rearing children. They are made to survive the worst of times in order to carry and nurture new life. BF% can be measured many ways and is a much more reliable tool than BMI calculations, which are highly inaccurate due to factors in the person being measured and then compared to an archaic “normal average” – the results are highly skewed.

 

My personal feelings are that more often than not, most men & women find themselves in the “fitness” to “acceptable” ranges, but that doesn’t always mean they are happy with that. Although I will concede that those bodyfat percentages are rising, again due to our lousy eating habits and the false information the FDA and USDA are trying to feed us – pun intended. Almost everyone wants to see better definition in their muscularity and wants to see that six pack come out. It’s there, it’s just got a layer of fat over it. That’s where a diet aimed at reducing insulin levels and reducing caloric intake, thereby allowing the body to burn BF as a fuel source, becomes the pivotal ingredient. Men will start to see an increase in definition and have improved health and performance around the 10% range. Women find this around the 16% range. Below this we see increased definition and vascularity while still maintaining good performance and, if trained correctly, a profound strength to weight ratio. For athletes and performance based individuals, that means being able to move large loads, longer distances, faster. In other words, an increased power output, which is all that matters in the realm of performance. 

 

Once we dip into the very low BF% “essential ranges” we have a higher likelihood of health & physical problems coming up due to metabolic derangement in the body caused by not enough BF. For women, this can be really hard on the body and can yield some long-term problems. Athletes should not stay here for long periods of time. Cycling in and out of low ranges like this is usually what happens and although hard on the body, is a sustainable practice. I personally employ this ideal in my training and I have been victim of the 5% BF performance reduction issues. I function optimally at 6-7% and in strength gain periods (winter programming), I will allow the range to get up to about 9%. Cycling back and forth is not a bad thing and can yield gains in various areas of training and health, just don’t let it get too out of control.  

 

Sure, the other side of this coin does have stuff to do with genetics. There are Ectomorphs (thin, hard gainers), Endomorphs (medium build), and Mesomorphs (heavy, easy weight gain). There’s not much we can do to change our hardwiring, but we can control it by diet and making particular modifications to an exercise program dependent upon our needs and desires. The Ecto’s are going to have a fairly high metabolism and correspondingly low BF%. For athletes of this type, they will have a higher ration of slow twitch muscle fibers and tend to be better at endurance based efforts.

 

Endomorphs tend to be the “lucky ones” with broad shoulders, small waists, fast moving but not hyperactive metabolisms, and they can cut and gain weight fairly easy. These types of folks maintain that “fit” appearance most of the time if they put in a little effort and their corresponding BF% tends to keep them in those ranges. These folks are pretty well rounded athletes with an ability to do well at both ends of the athletic spectrum – endurance & strength.

 

Mesomorphs are heavier built individuals with a slower metabolic rate. Bones may be heavier and denser and their ability to gain weight, muscle and fat, can be a bit easier. That can be good or bad. BF% tend to be higher on these individuals. These people tend to have very good strength and power outputs with a good mixture of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers.

 

Keep in mind you can move around from classification to classification, but for the most part you’re not going to take a marathon runner (Ecto) and make him a world class Olympic Weightlifter (Meso). Folks in either category can push up or down to some extent and see gains with changes to diet and training.

 

The athletic training you are doing has a lot to do with metabolism and BF%. They are intertwined.  Unbeknownst to most folks, we are programmed at a genetic level to thrive in short, high intensity workouts. We are not designed for repeated and continual long duration, oxidative work. It is very damaging to the human body to do this time after time. It also does nothing for the metabolism as there is no EPOC cycle post workout. EPOC stands for “Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption”.

 

EPOC is the body’s way of making up for the caloric and metabolic deficit it is in after a short high intensity workout (15-25 min training session at 75-80%+ Max. Heart Rate). EPOC kicks in with the feeling of a very ramped up metabolism after a hard, sprint or interval based workout. This cycle can last up to 8 hours. When a person is in EPOC and they have worked their diet out correctly, the EPOC cycle helps re-establish a normal state (homeostasis) in the body by pulling all the calories and energy it needs to re-establish metabolism from your pre-existing BF. So, you lose a ton of BF post-workout due to this short high intensity training. There is almost no EPOC cycle in long training cycles (60+ Min), so there is almost no post-workout BF burn off. In a long workout, BF is only burnt during the workout due to the low heart rates and metabolic requirements and it is a substantially shorter time frame than the long EPOC cycle.

 

Also not present in long training cycles is the hormonal response in the body that stimulates growth. Too long of training sessions blunt the neuroendocrine response and cause a build up of stress hormones that actually break down the muscle you are working to create. The desired hormonal response created by proper strength and conditioning programs creates a very anabolic environment in the body, so muscle and bone grow and strengthen very well. Remember, an increase in lean body mass means an increase in metabolism as muscle needs more energy than fat to sustain itself. The build up of negative hormones and metabolic factors causes inflammation at a structural and cellular level. The problems created by inflammation can be mitigated by supplementing the diet with fish oil.

 

Don’t get me wrong, we need to workout or participate in sports or athletic endeavors that will make us work for a long time, but not on a regular basis as is commonplace. Going long in the pool, track, bike or workout/cardio routine a couple times a month is plenty and is good to keep the adaptation process in the body continually moving forward. This also lets the body work at a lower heart and respiratory rate for a longer period of time and places new stresses on the body for it to adapt to and overcome to increase health and athleticism. 

 

So, let’s say you have consulted someone in the know, dialed in a personalized diet and workout program and got to where you want to be, composition or weight wise. Now what? If you have been tracking your diet and workouts, you will know exactly what is necessary to maintain or change those new ratios. Both of those factors are the keys to maintaining your new BF% and performance. Your diet can be changed somewhat to accommodate for particular training.

 

For example, on a programmed strength day (i.e., 5×5 Squats, 5×5 Press, and 3×5 Deadlifts at 82% 1 RM for sets across– a tough day of barbell work), I would up the protein intake a bit more in the post workout meal/shake and a tad throughout the day. Carbs would remain at about 45g post workout to help refuel and shuttle aminos back to the muscles and improve recovery. Protein would be a tad higher to help the muscle repair process. Fat would be minimal in this meal to help the replenishment process – this is the only meal you would eat that would be low/no fat.

 

If I were to do a high intensity conditioning workout (timed circuits, intervals, Olympic weightlifting or barbell work mixed with metabolic conditioning with no or minimal rest) that extended out to the 20-30 min range, I would recommend about 45g protein and about 90g carbs for a post workout meal or shake. The higher carb content helps replenish the fuel in the muscles and liver while the protein helps muscle regeneration. Again, low or no fat in this post workout meal. Both these post-workout meals help maintain and increase LBM and don’t support body fat. Just don’t ruin your efforts by screwing up the remaining meals in the day.

 

In the end, I would take any person and define their somatype (body type), their athletic/health goals, and then get them on an insulin controlling diet (Paleo, Primal or Zone), and put them on a good personalized strength and conditioning program involving barbell work for strength and high intensity, short duration training for metabolic impact and overall conditioning. Dependent upon the body type and goals, you may tweak one area of work above the other to gain the desired response.

 

Does this really work? Yes it does. It just takes commitment and desire. Some would say I am genetically lucky, but the truth is I am no different than any other person, I have just experimented to find the things that really work and produce results that keep me healthy and happy. I have faith you can do the same!

 

Cops are lazy….

OK, there I said it. I know the hackles have gone up and the hate emails are being typed as we speak. “How could you? You’re one of us! What about the brotherhood and loyalty and love of guns and gadgets?!?” Yup, that’s all good and I am all for it, but let me smack you upside the head with a healthy dose of reality. This all comes down to the perception of what we do on a daily basis and how our fitness plays a role, realistic or not, in what we are doing. So, let me provide some insight into what I see in regards to this matter.

I have looked around the CrossFit community and found a lot of LEO’s involved in CF, but I tend to see and hear about more firemen and soldiers using CF and applying it daily. CrossFit Centurion is not a huge gym, but we have a decent client base and out of that group, the majority of men are firemen (and when I say “firemen” I also mean “firewomen” so don’t start hounding me over being sexist or something lame). We have some cops in here, but we’ve had a lot more show up, try it, say they love it, and then find a lame excuse to quit and go back to, A) either nothing at all, or B) doing something physical that may be good for certain aspects of fitness, but have no application to the tasks of the job. I would suspect that is true in other affiliates besides the ones I have seen and talked to.

What is more common is to see some hellaciously fit, hard charging firemen and soldiers involved in CrossFit. The firemen  seem to be very prevalent at CF facilities, do CF at their stationhouses, have affiliates based out of their stations, and do VERY well at athletic events and CrossFit based competitions. Same can be said for soldiers, here and abroad in the most ideal and the worst of conditions. The Spec Ops community is very supportive of CF and thankfully uses it more than the average bear or Taliban soldier.

I applaud the hell out of my LEO clients in here and at other affiliates because they really get it – they find a sick and twisted enjoyment in the workouts and they see the benefit out on the street when the time comes. Those LEO’s who aren’t into CrossFit, are afraid of it/don’t understand it , make excuses why they can’t stick with it or start, will never see a benefit and real world application, not if, but when the time comes and the shit has hit the proverbial fan. So, here’s the meat and potatoes, or in this case, the donuts and coffee of my theory.

As LEO’s, we get stuck with a lot of “routine” stuff. The “routine” car stop, burglary alarm, disturbance call, etc., and that is a bad place to be. But, it’s the nature of the job and we get complacent. A normal day for a cop is that of counselor, problem solver and mediator. It gets boring and uneventful. Every once in a while something fun jumps off – a pursuit, foot bail, hot call, the kind of “cop work” we all signed up to do. And then even more infrequently, and this is the really important part, we go to the routine call and something really bad happens.  Our defenses are down, we are lackadaisical in our approach to the situation, we just got done with eating something or downing a Big Gulp of soda, and all of a sudden it goes sideways without warning or provocation. Suddenly, it’s a fight. Not a scuffle, but a real “I am not going back to prison for a 3rd strike because I just killed my wife” kind of fight. You have a VERY motivated bad guy on you and he has already formulated what HE is going to do to YOU. It’s all reactive on the part of the cop and that’s not a good place to be.

I don’t know how many of you out there have ever had someone legitimately try to kill you, but I can speak from experience that it is slightly unnerving. To have someone say that to you, make the effort to complete the act, and then feel them trying to pull your gun out of your holster is less than enjoyable. Meanwhile you are now handicapped and trying to fight with one hand since the other is latched onto your gun and you’re probably on your back or trying to stay on your feet while someone puts every ounce of energy into ruining your day. You are in panic mode and now have another concern – get help!

Your radio traffic is rough at best. Screaming, maybe loud and unintelligible, or you may not know where you are. Those LEO’s out there know what I am talking about – you want to pull your hair out as you listen to the traffic and you are pounding your steering wheel in frustration because you can’t understand or know where your partner is at. If all goes well and by the grace of God things turn around, you will get out of this situation and the bad guy goes to jail.

In the end, the CAD event shows the encounter lasted about 3 minutes until the first units got on scene to assist you. You may be beat up, injured, in a systemic meltdown of adrenaline and hormones. Some cops pass out, others throw up, some have heart attacks or strokes. You make it out of one bad situation and land in another. Or how about the SWAT guy who starts gassing after a couple hours in heavy gear in lousy conditions? Or the K9 handler jumping fences and running all over Hell’s half acre after a dog in odor and can’t stay in the fight whent he bad guy is found? How about just a positive public image and command presence?

Ummm, okay that sucks you might say, so what’s the point? The point is how ready was that cop for that situation? Sure, our theoretical cop worked out and is a Master marksman at his last range qualification, but that doesn’t have any worth to it here. Why not? It was routine – everything about it. The call, the attitude, the preparation insofar as working out or shooting at static targets on the range with no outside stress. So it did nothing for that cop. That cop’s day to that point was “go to call, handle call, leave – go to call, handle call, leave – go to call, handle call, leave – go to call, scuffle with guy who is drunk and resisting, get him in cuffs, High 5 each other at the “fight” you were just in (puh-leeeze), and leave – go to next call. Routine is the enemy and variation is your friend.

CrossFit prepares people, mentally and physically, for really hard situations where physical and mental fortitude are the only way to finish/survive. That’s just the beginning. How about working under really crappy conditions at a maximum energy expenditure and effort? Throw on a weighted vest and do a workout for 20 minutes or grind through a massive set of 5×5 Back Squats at 330 Lbs then go do sprints. Holy Christ, that will make anyone want to quit and find the easy route. It almost makes me want to go back to 3 exercises at 3 sets of 10 reps of Bench and Curls. Then I could just jump on the treadmill for 45 minutes do a light jog, not stretch, down my protein shake, and wander out after 90 minutes all at a nice leisurely pace with my heart rate never above 60% MHR.  I did no real functional movements, there was no intensity, there was no work on the multitude of physical skills to make up a well rounded and healthy athlete, I didn’t take care of myself pre or post-workout, and I was in there way too long at too low an intensity to create a disruption in the body and make adaptations and cut loose a slew of stress hormones and catabolic reactions in the body.

Bicep curls, bench press and jogs a couple times a week do nothing for you when it comes down to it. They do make you strong, but in a very limited range of output and exposure. You will have endurance, but foot pursuits and fights aren’t long and easy going, they are short, all out, high intensity effort with lots of gear on and in uncomfortable conditions. That sounds familiar for a CrossFitter. How about doing 4 rounds of deadlifts, burpees and 400m runs. That now has some functionality – there is a strength component, a bodyweight movement that replicates metabolic demands of a fight or high stress situation, and that can simulate a foot pursuit after a fight. Now do it again a few more times and do it against a clock or against someone else to push you a bit.  There is nothing more functional that running and lifting something heavy…a few times. The benefits become a bit more apparent now.

The problem here being cops don’t see that. It’s hard, it’s not free or 50% off, and it goes against the grain of what they think will really work for them. Most cops I know really don’t want to work that hard. After all, it’s hard, sweaty and painful. They are lazy.

Until they are exposed to it and have CrossFit broken down to them bit by bit, it makes no sense and seems ridiculous. Those who do CrossFit and have been in those bad situations have told me afterwards that it was their physical training a capacity that got them through it. It helped them catch the bad guy, stay ahead of him in the fight, take him into custody and stay much calmer throughout the ordeal. I will personally attest to that. The cops in my gym, no matter where they work, realize it could go bad in a second and they are going to be more than prepared for it, so they work hard to ensure that they have the upper hand.

Well that’s neat, so what the hell do firemen and soldiers have to do with all this cop-bashing? Well, to be fair they too often have the same mindset of cops entrenched into their brains about working out and being prepared. But, once they are exposed to CrossFit they tend to stick around and see the worth in it much more than cops. Cops start to think if it doesn’t happen on a regular basis then it’s probably not going to happen, so “why the hell am I busting my butt like this?”

Firemen and soldiers I’ve spoke with don’t see it that way. The majority of them involved with CF were resistant at first, but once it was broken down to them they saw the light. They saw the relation between a hard, high intensity, multi modality workout and day to day work.

As a fireman you will be subject to getting up at all hours of the day, wearing a shit-ton of gear and hot clothing in really bad conditions for very long periods of time, all the while working your butt off in a high stress, dangerous environment. As a soldier you will load out in a full kit of gear, leave your FOB for a patrol or long term recon or other operation. The conditions will be harsh and the threat level high, with a constantly varying workload and intensity level. For these folks, these types of working conditions are “routine”. They are hard, but the workouts were harder and they do much better in those crappy conditions. That high heart rate and massively hard work done at the gym makes this stuff easy. The soldiers and firemen I’ve talked with attest to the efficacy of CrossFit as it benefits their job, their health and helps keep them alive. Go ahead and ask the ones at my gym.

To be fair, there are a whole bunch of fat and lazy firemen and soldiers out there, just like cops. They won’t do anything to better themselves or ensure their health and safety. I would love to walk up to those people, tell them they are a disgrace to the uniform, country and profession, but I can’t so I have to hope that they aren’t put in a position where someone else’s life is at stake – especially mine or my families. I wouldn’t feel comfortable having that person watch my back, but it’s a reality. It’s also a reality that CrossFit has only gleaned the surface of the military and public safety community. The majority of them are still doing things the old way, if they are doing anything at all.

Those that are involved in training for what life holds are making a much bigger impact on their lives, their partners lives and the lives of those they come in contact with. It’s those people we hear about and respect and can call “squared away”, “dialed in”, “operators”, “machines” or “heroes”.

For my Law Enforcement brethern and those in public safety and the military on the fence about changing what they’ve always done to prepare themselves for their jobs, I urge you to take a jump and do something hard that will make a difference. You will thank yourselves, as will those you help. Change the stereotype and be proud of what you’ve chosen to do for a profession. Be strong, work hard, and get out alive!