Fitness Testing: Part 1

This week I had the privilege of undergoing incredibly advanced fitness testing at the GW Weight Management and Human Performance Lab. When they heard about the 30@30 campaign they volunteered their time, equipment, and expertise to help me capture a precise and complete picture of my current fitness and develop a customized nutrition plan to coincide with my training from Coach Matt. 

The Cast:
Mike: The lab manager, Kevin Love look-alike, and someone who will end up an easy finalist for the Genuinely Nicest Person I’ve Met in 2018 Award (no cash value, sorry Mike). 

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Steph: The really sharp dietician with a contagious enthusiasm for nutrition and a fun, natural coaching cadence to her approach. 

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Todd: The accomplished professor behind the renowned Miller Method with enviable biceps. Todd is one of those guys that perennially looks 35 but could easily be 60. Damn you, Todd.

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Day One:
I arrived at the facility and immediately felt excited to get my lab-rat on.

Mike began by calibrating the first machine that would measure my Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). Breathing into a tube connected to the computer, this machine captures how many calories my body burns at rest. That is, how many calories my body would naturally burn if I laid in bed all day/imitated my dog for a day.

You know how you see “based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet” on nutrition labels? Well, that’s of course a general estimate. This machine identifies my natural state down to the calorie. This gives a precise input to Stephanie as she creates a nutrition plan based on my on my goals and my physiology. 

Cool Aside #1: I learned that Steph and Todd do a ton of work with remote clients. So they’ll work with someone in New York, Boston, China, or in the International Space Station (note to prospective astronaut clients: your email transmission may be slightly delayed due to distance…) find a convenient place to get tested (if they’re not in the DC area) and then create nutrition and fitness plans and work remotely via Skype. 

The RMR test is super easy… you just need to be fasted for a few hours prior, so I scheduled mine first thing in the morning and ate afterwards. You just sit there in a chair, maxin’ (maskin’?) and relaxin’, and let the computer do its thing. 

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The results were pretty neat: I burn 1974 calories per day just by existing! Way over my age-predicted score of 1838. The last time my score was that much higher than a predicted score I was playing golf….

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After this brief 15 minute test, we headed into the other room to complete a DXA scan.

The DXA scan is the most scientific way to understand your body composition. As Mike explained and Todd elaborated, the DXA scan works by shooting a very tiny amount of X-rays through your body to reveal what is bone, muscle, tissue, fat, etc. It’s often used in hospital settings to look at bone density, but this lab and a few others have access to a DXA for fitness and weight management.

It’s like a low-key, non-invasive open MRI machine – you just kick off your shoes and lay on your back. The whole thing took less than ten minutes.

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Cool Aside #2: As I lay there, I was thinking about the generations of incredible athletes who didn’t have access to this technology. Imagine what Jim Thorpe or Wilt Chamberlain could have done with data from a DXA scan? It also got me thinking about what it will be like for athletes in the future… one day, you’ll be able to get this data by waving your smartphone (or futuristic equivalent) around your body. Crazy. Until then… this is the best thing out there. 

The results are instantaneous and very cool. 

Basically, Green = good (muscle). Yellow = less good. Red = not good (excess fat). 

My results…. not bad! A decent amount of torso muscle (for a guy) and very little fat lining my organs (a bad indicator for heart disease, etc.). 

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With the RMR and DXA results in hand, Stephanie and Todd went to work. Based on my fitness goals as an endurance runner, they had a couple key findings and suggestions:

– I am in terrible shape for an endurance athlete, currently carrying as much as 27 lbs. of excess fat that hampers every step I take. 
– I have really strong bones. Best bones Todd has ever seen. Ever. He said that. (Insert Arrested Development Narrator Voice: “He didn’t”). 
– I actually have a decent amount of muscle. The strength training that Coach Matt has me doing is clearly effective. 

Based on this data and our discussion, Steph and Todd devised a nutrition plan designed primarily to lose fat (while maintaining muscle). This should yield a significant improvement in my race times, as every pound that isn’t necessary is slowing me down. The goal is to knock off about 20 lbs., putting me around 155 lbs. High school weight. 

Aside #3: Over this past year, as I’ve learned more about the impact of weight on distance running, it has become so clear how easy it is for someone to become obsessed with eating and weight-loss in an unhealthy, unproductive way. The line between thoughtful weight control and disordered eating can be thin and blurry in a sport where every unnecessary ounce is working against you. That’s why it’s so important to educate children about nutrition and to teach all athletes – especially young runners – how to care for their weight and body in a useful way and to be mindful of the societal and personal pressures that drive unhealthy habits. So if you’re thinking about restructuring your diet, whether its because you want to run a marathon or just feel better, consulting professionals like Steph and Todd is so, so helpful.
(UPDATE: Jess shared a great writeup about discussing weight and running on the running blog Salty Running). 

My nutrition plan actually involves slightly upping the amount of total calories that I’m currently eating on average and significantly increasing the proportion of protein. I’m going to aim for 2100 calories/day…. with about 180 grams of protein/day (and about 240g/carbs and 47g/fat to round out the other macronutrients). That’s a lot of protein. 

Now, importantly, as Coach Matt was smart to remind me, there is decent evidence that excessive protein intake can have a negative effect on endurance athletes (read here and here). So if you’re a super-fit distance runner, this is probably not the diet for you. However, since my largest, most immediate gains will come from shedding excess weight, this high-protein diet is the way to go.

I certainly won’t be hungry. 

This means I have to find some new ways to up my protein intake… if any of you know of high-protein foods (that are also lower in fat… sorry, peanut butter) that you recommend please let me know!

Luckily, before I even got home, Stephanie had emailed me a detailed nutrition plan that included sample meals, snacks, and options for travel, etc. She uses a great, free app that I can use as a diary that she can access on the back end. 

Day one was really, really cool. But the big test – the VO2 Max test on the treadmill – that would come on day two….


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