Issue #141


by Juan Carlos Lope

20 Questions with Cover Model Fiona MacKenzie

Video Interview with Amateur Bikini Fiona MacKenzie

Fiona MacKenzie, Heather Shanholtz, Anna Lubischer, Angel Starr & Angela Berglund

Off Season Curves
by Tina Jo Orban


Off Season Curves by Tina Jo Orban

Summer ushers in bikinis (or trunks) tanned- skin, well-toned bodies, and if your lucky ripped abdominals. Abs have become the litmus test for fitness these days. One assumes if someone has a visible six-pack-- your probably fit. If you have a visible six-pack, and you are female, you are most likely down in the teens body-fat percentages. If you are male most likely down in the single digits. Female pro bodybuilding competitors compete around 5-8 %. And their counterparts Mr. Olympia’s and other pros hover around 4-6%. I have heard rumors of some of the pros dipping down to around three percent! The recommendation from The American Council on Exercise, for normal body fat percentages are between 18.5 to 24.99 percent for adult men and women, respectively. Unfortunately, the average American does not meet even these percentages.

Now, fitness models, like myself are another story. They have an interesting body composition. Fitness Models tend not to be excessively hypertrophied (think pro female body-builders here) yet have body-fats well below the ACE “recommended” normal” percentages.

There of course exists a wide variety of body-types in the genre of “fitness models” but one may safely say fitness models hover around 12-15% female. That is their lean mass is about 85% and upwards. There is a difference though. For example, the women you see, say on the cover of Shape Magazine versus Hard FITNESS 15-17% the former, 10 -12% the latter. According to Celebrity fitness expert Marc Perry[1] a typical female fitness models hover around 15-17%, whilst their male counterpart (i.e. men on the covers of Men’s Fitness) around: 10-12%.  This is what the average person considers the apex of fitness. Well one thing we must remember even the body composition of an anorexic can be at these coveted values of teen and single digit body-fat percentages. Indeed anorexics can, have similar values of fitness competitors but of course they posses very little if any lean muscle tissue mass.[2] And of course they are not consuming the needed calories and micronutrients for health. (The condition of anorexia is beyond the scope of this article).

Muscle tissue is what gives the body the form and those lovely curves to behold. That is once you get down to teen body-fat percentages. That said, can you or better said, should you maintain year round single digit body fat composition? Or year round body fat percentages in the teens? Yes, and no. If you get down to around 10% or less, for females you know that ripped and shredded-vascular look, that produces those two delicious low belly veins (the superficial epigastric veins in the hypogastric region you probably should not! You will need fuel and supple fat to power you through tough workouts at some point. This “off lean cycle” will help you maintain that lean mass you worked so hard to put on!
Here is why you should not stay shredded year round. The reasons are two fold: First and fore most too low body fat is simply not healthy. I like to think of it like stress. You can stress out for a while and have all those ill effects that stress produces like dumping cortisol into your system and having its catabolic effects breakdown your precious lean tissue, or hyper inflammatory responses to injury or even its negative effects as an insulin antagonist (which promotes increased fat mass, yuk!) for a short term and recover. Stress can be okay in small acute doses. The same is true for hard core leanness, short term duration of being ripped is recoverable. Think about it, when you get that lean it is a stress on your body! So its chronic extreme low fat bodies that run into trouble. One problem is long term restrictive caloric intake can reset your metabolic rate lower. That is the number of calories you will need to consume to maintain your current (new lower weight) will be lower. That is bad. The body seeks to maintain a base rate of metabolism It is what physiologist deem metabolic set point. That can be bumped up with training and a built up lean mass, conversely it can be decreased with restrictive calorie intake. This is one reason you do not want to go too low for too long!
It is well known that extremely low body fat, particularly in female performance athletes and females in general is linked to amenorrhea. (This applies female fitness models, bodybuilders, and competitors alike). Essential body fat, which is the amount needed for maintenance of life, is around 13% for women (4% for men). In this low range under 13% (depending on the individual) pituitary gland reduces the production of hormones which affects the ovaries, which will halt menstruation! That is not healthy. This is natures way of preserving the organism (you). But, did you know that other strange things begin to happen when you get down single digits’ body fat. Your organs shrink! You can also damage the nervous system (recall biology 101 all those myelin sheaths are made of fat). Your body will catabolize itself, that is you are a walking cannibal munching on yourself to stay alive! This is the reason I believe in ‘cycles’ in training. There is a season as the pro body-builders affectionately term it “off season.” I say affectionately because its party time when it comes to fuel.  It is time to indulge in some of those carbohydrates, and fats you shunned during prep for photos shoots, and or competition. Say goodbye to those double cardio sessions and calorie restrictions. For the truth of the matter is fat loss is ‘eat less and exercise more’. Its basic. Now of course I am not saying all calories are created equal. That is carbohydrates versus fats, versus protein all have a different effect on metabolism and ultimately body composition. It is true that when you are an athlete or body-builder you will need essential aminos to maintain and build your protein (muscles). You will need carbs to fuels workouts. And some good fats: polyunsaturates and monounsaturates, mostly for healthy organs, hormones, and hair skin and nails. But the bottom line is when you consume more calories than you expend you will gain weight. Now, depending on whether you weight train or not that weight may be fat and or muscle. The point is, any calories in excess even protein will be packed away as fat. So when you do bump up your calorie intake for the off season, take your workouts seriously. Train heavier and ease off the cardio! Its Simple. You can have your Basal Metabolic Rate tested. I do mine a Dexafit![3] Check it twice a year. If possible (winter and summer).
Personally I don’t stay 10% year round. I bump up a few percentages in my “off” seasons, to enjoy foods I don’t normally indulge in. That said, I am also not a believer in the extremities: meaning not big swings in weight (fat gains and losses). This gains and losses should not swing more than 5% either way. That is not healthy either. The yoyo diet syndrome has been well documented as deleterious to health. Wide arcs in weight cycling actually can reset your metabolism for the worse. So maybe just bump up a few percentages in your “off-cycle”. This cycle of heavy training i.e., greater percentage of 1 rep max and lower reps in your off season pairs nicely with your fuel increase. Now, it is time to pack on some thick healthy muscle mass! And rest assured eventually you can gradually get back to your cardio blasting, calorie-cutting, fanatical routine to return to those coveted-abs. 

[1] “Built Lean” by Marc Perry. This is a worth while resource. Marc Perry has amassed with a comprehensive photo library of body fat percentages. The images give the viewer a good idea what various body fat percentages actually look like on bodies. It is a great source to understanding body composition. 2012 Sept 4. http://www.builtlean.com/2012/09/24/body-fat-percentage-men-women/
[2] “Body Composition in Adolescents with Anorexia Nervosa” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
[3] Exercise Physiology lab and human biometrics testing. http://www.dexafit.com/dexa-san-carlos/


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