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Body Fat % - Results of different methodologies of determining

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Post  Tom H Fri Aug 19, 2011 12:35 am

Body fat percentage is not a topic that gets a lot of discussion here, but there is the mention now and again. I’ve been working on shedding some of the additional weight over the past year and have been exposed to multiple methods of measuring body fat and found that different measurement techniques can provide significantly different results. Today I experienced a hydrostatic measurement that is accepted as the gold standard methodology of determining body fat. Since I was going to get the hydrostatic result, I also wanted to get results from the other methodologies to see how they compare, and thought I’d share them here. So immediately prior to the hydrostatic weighing, I used my home scale and made a visit to my local gym.

Methodologies:

Home Scale – a Homedics model (Tri-Fitness Plus HealthStation) that does weight, body fat %, total body water, Basal Metabolic Rate and Muscle Mass %. Body fat is measured using Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) as measured on the bottom of your feet.

Gym – Had a very experienced personal trainer measure the body fat using the both the Caliper methodology and by using a handheld BIA instrument. Weight was determined using a standard Doctor’s office style scale.

Hydrodensitometry or Hydrostatic weighing – Basically, this methodology weighs you underwater after you completely empty your lungs of all air. It requires 3 measurements to be identical to provide an outcome, so if you don’t empty your lungs completely each time, you may have to take more than 3 readings. By knowing your weight when dry (they too used a standard Doctor’s office scale) and then determining your weight fully submerged, you can figure out the exact amount of body fat.

Results:




Method


Weight
Body

Fat %
Home
151.4
7.5%
Gym (Caliper)
152.8
13.5%
Gym (BIA)
152.8
15.1%
Hydrostatic
150.0
10.08%

The Hydrostatic result is the one I was really looking forward to seeing and am quite happy with the result. It tells me I’m in a good place (Athletic/Excellent on the charts) but do have some fat left to lose and still remain in a healthy range. I was a bit surprised that the home scale came out closer than either the Caliper or higher end BIA measurement, and to the credit of the home scale manufacturer in their manual they indicate the scale measurements may differ from caliper or hydrostatic, but that changes in body fat % will be reflected accurately. Of all of them, the one I have least confidence in is the Caliper method as it is totally dependent upon the person doing the measuring. I had one person measure me on 5 separate occasions and saw small and consistent reductions in the BF%, but when that person left and a new person started doing the measurement, my BF% took a 10% jump. The BIA techniques, either the home scale or the handheld at the gym, both provided a steady trend measurement that while not entirely accurate, did provide feedback that things were moving in the right direction.

So I now have a baseline and know that I can drop as low as 142 and still have a ‘healthy’ amount of fat. For any of you who have wondered about the different methodologies, I hope this provides an interesting read for you.
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Post  T Miller Fri Aug 19, 2011 8:52 am

Thanks Tom. This was very interesting and informative.
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Post  dot520 Fri Aug 19, 2011 9:07 am

That's all good stuff to know. At my gym (Lifestyle Family Fitness) they have two methodologies.....Hand Held and standing scale. The hand held has always been about 3% more than the standing. There are so many variables when doing these non-hydrostatic readings (caffeine, drinking liquids prior to, other oddities), that for the most part they are good for trends. The hand held, though, seems to be sweepingly inaccurate for me as I do this sporatically in the evenings at the gym. I've been going for 2 years, lost 16 lbs, have put on visible muscle (not only because the fat is missing, but I'm signficantly stronger) and the reading last month came in at the same body fat I had 2 years prior before I made improvements. Up 4.5%. Not good for trending.

I'd love to have some tough love and get the hydrostatic one done. I think NIFS does it here locally.



Tom, how much did you pay for the test?
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Post  ssilvert Fri Aug 19, 2011 10:17 am

Tom,

I'm wondering about the rest of the story. What are your current weight, height, and recent PR's? Though there's not a direct correlation, I think it can be said that there is some relationship between body fat and race times. I think that the same is true of BMI and race times.

I have a Tanita scale that I use for body fat %. It has never read below 11%. Most of the time I am in the 12% - 13% range. I am 5' 8" and weigh 142 pounds. My recent times are around 19:00 for 5K and 40:00 for 10K. My BMI is 21.7.

So when I saw that your scale was saying 7.5% I was pretty shocked. I figured that either you are an elite runner or your scale is way off. But my scale is probably wrong in the other direction. As you mentioned, the important thing is that the scale be consistent so that you can track progress.

Oh, one last thing. I've heard it said that the caliper method varies widely based on who is doing the test. For this test to be accurate you need someone who is very well trained. That's what I've heard about it and I assume it's probably true.

Stan
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Post  healdgator Fri Aug 19, 2011 10:18 am

I have a home scale that measures body fat, water weight and BMI (well, it calculates BMI, it doesn't measure it). I don't believe it to be very accurate. I got measured (I believe calipers, but I don't recall) after a race last year and measured in significantly lower than my home scale. So, of course, I have no confidence in either method. I think it was 13% and 17% or something like that.
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Post  Tom H Fri Aug 19, 2011 12:13 pm

dot520 wrote:That's all good stuff to know. At my gym (Lifestyle Family Fitness) they have two methodologies.....Hand Held and standing scale. The hand held has always been about 3% more than the standing. There are so many variables when doing these non-hydrostatic readings (caffeine, drinking liquids prior to, other oddities), that for the most part they are good for trends. The hand held, though, seems to be sweepingly inaccurate for me as I do this sporatically in the evenings at the gym. I've been going for 2 years, lost 16 lbs, have put on visible muscle (not only because the fat is missing, but I'm signficantly stronger) and the reading last month came in at the same body fat I had 2 years prior before I made improvements. Up 4.5%. Not good for trending.

I'd love to have some tough love and get the hydrostatic one done. I think NIFS does it here locally.



Tom, how much did you pay for the test?

Hey Dot, you are on the spot with the BIA methods. If you've exercised or are sweating more because of humidity or if you switch devices, the readings seem to vary widely. I found the hydrostatic testing lab on line by typing "Hydrostatic body fat San Jose" to find it, and it only cost $40.

ssilvert wrote:Tom,

I'm wondering about the rest of the story. What are your current weight, height, and recent PR's? Though there's not a direct correlation, I think it can be said that there is some relationship between body fat and race times. I think that the same is true of BMI and race times.

I have a Tanita scale that I use for body fat %. It has never read below 11%. Most of the time I am in the 12% - 13% range. I am 5' 8" and weigh 142 pounds. My recent times are around 19:00 for 5K and 40:00 for 10K. My BMI is 21.7.

So when I saw that your scale was saying 7.5% I was pretty shocked. I figured that either you are an elite runner or your scale is way off. But my scale is probably wrong in the other direction. As you mentioned, the important thing is that the scale be consistent so that you can track progress.

Oh, one last thing. I've heard it said that the caliper method varies widely based on who is doing the test. For this test to be accurate you need someone who is very well trained. That's what I've heard about it and I assume it's probably true.

Stan

Stan, current weight first thing in the morning on my home scale is 149 and height is 5' 8" working out to a BMI of 22.7, so you and I have a very similar build. My Marathon PR is 3:42:02 set at Euguene last May and Half is 1:44:49 set about a year ago. I've read a number of articles that claim a direct correlation between weight and race times, but not directly body fat - but it makes sense that if you reduce weight and are an endurance athlete, you are probably reducing body fat. The test results from yesterday also provided a table showing body fat % for me down to 142 lbs (your weight, coincidentally), and at that weight I would have a BF% of 5%. I also cycle, swim and do pilates, so my lean mass may be different than yours, but your Tanita reading definitely sounds a bit high to me.

If you are interested, I'll send you the complete test results for you to take a look at.
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Post  T Miller Fri Aug 19, 2011 2:54 pm

Stan - Just add a little bit to this discussion. I used to have a Tanita scale and although I don't know how accurate it was with it's numbers but it was consistent in the sense that when my weight was down it would also show my body fat down in a rather consistent manner. The lowest reading I had ever observed was 6.9% when I was 152 5' 9.5''.

That scale died and now I have a home medic scale that I don't trust at all. I trust the weight but the body fat doesn't seem to correlate to weight loss at all.

I don't think it is a coincidence that my body weight does directly correlate with my PRs. When my weight is down I run faster all all distances across the board. I've yet to reach a weight where my PR times fall off. I've also observed that I can only lose weight as my fitness improves. I don't know if I've been able to lose weight between training cycles or during a base building period.
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Post  Jerry Fri Aug 19, 2011 3:43 pm

I have a Tanita scale and the lowest I have read is 11% with 128-130lbs. And I am at 135 and 13% now. I know for sure I can run faster if I can get my weight down under 130.

6-7% scary. P90X,huh? Very Happy
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Post  Schuey Fri Aug 19, 2011 4:14 pm

I use the Tanita BC-554. I know as I have lost weight the % of body fat has come down. lowest I have seen my body fat % is 5% this morning it was 5.2%. Personally I think that if you have a good scale, I would think the body fat number gives a good idea or estimate of where you are body fat wise. I would think the key is to weight yourself at the same time every time you do it so you that the you can compare the data.

I did the same test as Tom but I did a few years back when I weight a lot more then I do today. Maybe it is time to think about going back to UIC and having it done again.

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Post  Alex Kubacki Fri Aug 19, 2011 4:29 pm

Forgive me for this one as I've never seen one of these scales. But how does a scale figure out how much body fat you have by just standing on it?
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Post  Tom H Fri Aug 19, 2011 5:39 pm

Schuey wrote:I use the Tanita BC-554. I know as I have lost weight the % of body fat has come down. lowest I have seen my body fat % is 5% this morning it was 5.2%. Personally I think that if you have a good scale, I would think the body fat number gives a good idea or estimate of where you are body fat wise. I would think the key is to weight yourself at the same time every time you do it so you that the you can compare the data.

I did the same test as Tom but I did a few years back when I weight a lot more then I do today. Maybe it is time to think about going back to UIC and having it done again.

Schuey, I'm with you on taking measurements under the same conditions. For me, it is first thing in the morning after emptying the bladder. Then, and only then, do I pop the top on my first Diet Coke Laughing

Alex Kubacki wrote:Forgive me for this one as I've never seen one of these scales. But how does a scale figure out how much body fat you have by just standing on it?

Alex, compliments of the internet:

Bioelectrical Impedence


Description: By standing barefoot on metal foot plates, an undetectably low voltage electric current is sent up one leg and down the other. Since fat is a very poor conductor of electricity, a lot of fat will impede the current more so than a lot of lean tissue. By measuring the resistance to the current, the machine estimates the percent body fat.

<p>How accurate is it? BIA accuracy, if done correctly on properly operating equipment, is approximately +/- 3%. However, accuracy is dependant upon several client-based variables. It is recommended the following guidelines be followed:

  • Abstain from eating and drinking within 4 hours of the test
  • Avoid exercising within 12 hours of the test
  • Void (urinate) completely prior to testing
  • Do not drink alcohol within 48 hours of the test
  • Avoid taking diuretics prior to testing unless instructed by your physician

Advantages:



  • Requires little or no technical knowledge of the operator or the client
  • Testing itself takes less than a minute
  • The unit can be easily transported from place to place
  • Requires only an electrical outlet and the machine itself

Disadvantages:


  • This method has a higher standard error range than most people desire
  • Tends to consistently overestimate lean people and underestimate obese people
  • The accuracy BIA does have is very dependant on multiple variables which may be hard to control for some people
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Post  Mark B Sat Aug 20, 2011 1:27 am

Interesting. So how much do these types of scales cost?
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Post  Mike MacLellan Sat Aug 20, 2011 9:24 am

There are plenty of photo-series online too that show various musculature definition at various body fats. Given those, I'm probably close to Schuey, I just don't have the muscle underneath to bulge through the way most of those guys do affraid
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Post  Schuey Sat Aug 20, 2011 10:07 am

Mark B wrote:Interesting. So how much do these types of scales cost?

They can cost 150.00-300.00 (at least for the Tanita scales). I'm sure there are some that don't cost as much but then I would question the numbers a little more. Not that the one that cost the most is the best, I normally look at the company, reviews and then try to find the best one for the best price point.

I do know that I would like to get the Tanita BC-1000 that links up to the Garmin Ant+ and then downloads all the information right into Garmin Connect, I think the cost is around 280.00.

Mike MacLellan wrote:There are plenty of photo-series online too that show various musculature definition at various body fats. Given those, I'm probably close to Schuey, I just don't have the muscle underneath to bulge through the way most of those guys do affraid

lol! about the muscle underneath to bulge through.
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Post  Jerry Sat Aug 20, 2011 12:43 pm

Schuey wrote:

They can cost 150.00-300.00 (at least for the Tanita scales). I'm sure there are some that don't cost as much but then I would question the numbers a little more. Not that the one that cost the most is the best, I normally look at the company, reviews and then try to find the best one for the best price point.



I remember mine is around $40. I disagree the higher the cost, the high accuracy. I suspect they use exactly the same technology. The high end model just has the software to minus some points. People pay, you got to make them happy.

Otherwise, how do you explain you have 5% lower body fat than Jerry?

Want to post pictures to let the team judge? lol!
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Post  Schuey Sat Aug 20, 2011 3:07 pm

Jerry wrote:
Schuey wrote:

They can cost 150.00-300.00 (at least for the Tanita scales). I'm sure there are some that don't cost as much but then I would question the numbers a little more. Not that the one that cost the most is the best, I normally look at the company, reviews and then try to find the best one for the best price point.



I remember mine is around $40. I disagree the higher the cost, the high accuracy. I suspect they use exactly the same technology. The high end model just has the software to minus some points. People pay, you got to make them happy.

Otherwise, how do you explain you have 5% lower body fat than Jerry?

Want to post pictures to let the team judge? lol!

I agree Jerry if you read my post I said that the most expensive doesn't mean it's the best. It's all about finding a good price balance.

How do I explain I have less body fat then Jerry? Because I'm in better shape then Jerry and I don't drink diet coke and I don't eat out like you do Jerry. It's all about eating fresh fish and veggies buddy! You should try it some time and see what happens.

I bet if you just give up eating out you will see the weight go down and the body fat go down. Same with drinking that diet pop.

Any day you want to post pictures I'm up for it! lol!
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Post  Tom H Sat Aug 20, 2011 5:47 pm

So wanted my home scale bf% reading to more closely match the hydrostatic reading, so fiddled around with my personal data to get a 9.8% reading. The only drawback is that means I am now only 5' 6" in height. Smile
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Post  T Miller Sat Aug 20, 2011 6:31 pm

Mark B wrote:Interesting. So how much do these types of scales cost?

Mark, I bought my tanita several years ago for 50.00. I'm not sure about my home medic but I think it was in the same range under 100.00.
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Post  Mike MacLellan Sat Aug 20, 2011 7:32 pm

I'll join in the picture fest and make this a real competition Wink
Wait, can we take them post-run?
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