If stepping on your doctor’s scale seems intimidating, then you may want to avoid the Bod Pod, a state-of-the-art device that measures how much fat you’re hauling around.But if there’s a plausible chance those extra few pounds you’ve put on are actually muscle – or if you’d like to establish a baseline to measure future improvements – then this is the device for you.
Huntington University’s Bod Pod is designed for athletes of all fitness levels to measure lean body mass to help improve performance. Students use it for research projects. Area football stars have used it to prepare for the NFL Combine.
But the device also gets a fair amount of use by the general public, as more people shift their focus from losing weight to shedding fat, says Fred L. Miller III, chairman of the university’s kinesiology department.Most people who make appointments for body-composition assessments belong to a gym, which gets them the half-price rate of $20, Miller says. Of those, most are either curious to see where they’re at after a major weight loss or charting a starting point for their journey.
“You do want some fat,” Miller says. Fat is needed to help protect body organs and is also used for energy, transporting fat-soluble vitamins and cell membrane function. Females need a minimum of 12 percent, while males need at least 3 percent.
Miller, a 2:41 marathoner and Huntington University’s cross country coach, looks like he might be close to that 3 percent minimum. But his current body fat percentage is in the 10-11 percent range – about twice the 4-5 percent average of a professional male distance runner.
“Anything beyond the minimum body fat percent is typically dead weight,” he says. “It contributes little, if anything to your body needs. If anything, it just slows you down.”
At 40, Miller’s carrying less “dead weight” now than he did as a four-sport college athlete. When he ran his first marathon his junior year at Huntington University, his body fat was around 14 percent.
Still, the overall winner of the 2015 Indianapolis Marathon knows he performs best at 8 percent body fat – and he hopes to get there before the Flying Pig Marathon on May 5 in Cincinnati.
INSIDE THE POD
The Bod Pod looks like something from a sci-fi film – a one-person craft for undersea exploration or fleeing a doomed spaceship, perhaps. Its sole occupant one recent afternoon at the university’s athletic complex is a metal canister, which is used to calibrate the machine.
The canister has a known volume of exactly 50.028 liters. The computer takes multiple readings of its volume – how much air it displaces inside the chamber – to make sure everything is operating correctly. The Pod measures how much air a person displaces from the chamber to calculate volume and density of a person's body.
Air can get trapped in hair or clothing, which is why test subjects don a swim cap and bathing suit or compression wear. Moving around and even laughing can distort the readings.
When Miller took preseason assessments of his cross country teams last fall, he says he initially couldn’t figure out why one female runner’s body fat registered several points lower than expected.
“She forgot to put on a swim cap,” he said, explaining that the more hair you have, the more it can distort the readings.
According to the manufacturer’s website, the Bod Pod measures body volume by monitoring pressure changes as a speaker is oscillated between the front testing chamber and a rear reference chamber.
“You just hear it click and then there is a very slight feeling of pressure – kind of like in a plane but much, much milder,” says Annie Giddens, a CrossFit competitor in Fort Wayne who drives to Huntington for a Bod Pod assessment every six months or so.
“It only takes a couple of minutes,” she said, noting that the toughest part of the process was stripping down to a sports bra and compression shorts – which has gotten much easier as her body fat percentage has decreased from 40 percent to 28 percent.
THE NUMBER CRUNCHER
The Bod Pod already knows an awful lot about you before you venture inside.
Age, gender and height is recorded ahead of time. Body mass is measured with a linked digital scale.
All that data, along with body volume as measured inside the Bod Pod, allows the computer to do some pretty elaborate number crunching.
Looking over his runners’ test data, Miller notes that one of his male athletes registered a preseason body mass of 60.752 kilograms. Of that, fat-free mass was 4.905 kg, or 91.9 percent, meaning his body fat percentage was 8.1 percent.
His resting metabolic rate was 1,461 calories per day, while his total daily energy expenditure was estimated at 2,542 calories.
By season’s end, the runner’s body fat had dropped to 7.5 percent. As a coach and researcher, Miller studies this data looking for patterns: Did the runner improve because of his training, or his leaner body?
DIET IS KEY TO FAT LOSS
Muscle really does weigh more than fat. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in awhile those stories about someone gaining weight while losing fat really do come true, Miller says.
He cites the example of a female soccer player who came in weighing three pounds more than she had six months earlier.
“But her body fat percentage went down” – by around 2 percent, if he remembers correctly.
When people ask Miller for tips on shedding fat, he gives them diet advice rather than a list of exercises to do.
As an associate professor in exercise science, he obviously believes exercise is important for good health. “But if you really want to lose weight,” he says, “you need to change your diet.”
In his sports nutrition classes, Miller teaches the importance of eating a variety of healthy foods, including complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
“Some people think protein is the magic cure,” he says. But Miller discourages any diet that puts undue focus on a single food group.
As he trains for his next marathon, Miller is keeping his own fat-shedding technique fairly simple: More fruit and veggies, less total calories.
“It would be great to reach 8 percent body fat before the Flying Pig Marathon,” he said. But if he doesn’t make it, he can live with that.
“I still feel confident in running well due to good training.”
Tanya Isch Caylor blogs about postfat living at www.90in9.wordpress.com. Contact her at email@example.com. This column is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.
Try the Bod Pod
Cost: $40 (or $20 if you belong to a gym, health club or the YMCA)
Time involved: The test itself only takes a few minutes. Machine calibration takes about 15 minutes.
*Test subjects should not eat or exercise for two hours before the test.
*A swim cap and a Spandex or Lycra bathing suit or compression shorts (and sports bra, if needed) must be worn
*Women should avoid scheduling a session during their menstrual cycle.
To schedule an appointment in the Bod Pod at Huntington University, call 260-359-4148 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.