Contest Prep for Jr. USA's Part 3 by Jean Jitomir
Few things are more motivating than the knowledge that you will have to be nearly naked in front of hundreds of people in a matter of weeks; March was a good month for the old contest prep.
Every three weeks I have been collecting 1) weight; 2) BMI; 3) Whole Body and Lumbar DXA Scan; 4) Resting Energy Expenditure; 5) Multi-Frequency BIA; 6) Handheld BIA; 7) Lange Calipers; and 8) Circumference Measures. There is short description of each test and my results below. For more information about the individual tests, please refer to my previous article.
I have bolded tests that are showing interesting changes:
Weight is easy you can detect small changes, which may be encouraging. The trick, however, is determining whether the weight loss is fat, muscle or water! Weight, in combination with a body fat testing technique can indicate what type of weight you are loosing. I did some calculations with my DXA measurements this month that show how much of my weight loss so far (the DXA detects a little over 10 lbs since I started testing) is from lean mass and fat.
The unit-less BMI a quick way to estimate body fatness; my BMI at 21.8 is in the middle of the healthy range. In previous contests, my final BMI is usually between 20 and 21, which is on the lower end of the healthy range.
Calculate your BMI: http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/
Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA)
DXA is the best way to measure bone mineral density and risk for osteoporosis. It is also the easiest and one of the most accurate ways to measure body fat.
I’ve had two DXA measurements since the last update and with good results. My body fat percentage has decreased from 17.5% to 12.3% and it shows! Based on the full DXA print-out (data not given above), I have lost 7.5 pounds of fat and 3.3 pounds of lean muscle since January. These values indicate that I have lost about 70% of my weight as fat and 30% as muscle mass.
The DXA print-out also provides the grams of lean muscle mass in each area of the body. Interestingly, all of the lean mass loss is in my lower body and I gained lean mass in my upper body. This was, in part, due to strategy I used early in the dieting process. I noticed in the photos that I looked a little unbalanced and tried to prioritize my upper body both in term of training and nutrition. I only did leg workouts once every two weeks and sometimes didn’t eat after the workout. That approach was risky because I obviously gave up some hardness in my legs to prioritize size in my upper body. In my view my legs rebound pretty easily and I am working them more now to harden them up before the contests. I did not try to increase my upper body while maintaining leg size because that has not worked in my previous experience.
As a female competitor, I am concerned about my bone health through the dieting process. The essential fat for a female is somewhere around 12%- to be prepared for a bodybuilding competition, the body fat should be lower than this. As such, I have NEVER prepared for a physique competition and maintained a normal menstrual cycle. As a result of the dieting process I did not menstruate in March; based on the DXA values, my period disappeared at about 15-16% body fat; this value varies between women. I will probably start a low dose birth control pill to prevent bone loss some time in May. If your period is irregular or absent, you should also consider replacing the missing hormones to protect your bones. Your doctor should be willing to work with you in terms of circumventing undesired weight or water gain from the pill.
The DXA measurements will help me to determine if I am losing bone mass during the dieting process. The lower spine DXA measurement is better than the whole body scan for telling whether or not I am loosing calcium- at the beginning, my lumbar Z-score was -0.5. That value meant I was at the 27th percentile for women of my age and ethnicity. In other words, 73% of 24 year old white women have denser bones in the lower spine than I do. My value had decreased to -0.7 but is now returned to -0.5. The variation may reflect measurement error of the machine instead of a trend, since the number has gone back to the initial value. I have, however, reintroduced squats into my lifting program in the last month, which is beneficial for bone density
Resting Energy Expenditure (REE)
The REE is the number of calories used by the body in a fasting state, lying down, awake, not moving at all. It works by measuring the amount of oxygen taken in and carbon dioxide exhaled to calculate the amount of energy the body is using.
My REE looks very similar to where it was at the beginning, which means I am burning about the same number of calories at rest and my metabolism is not running more slowly than usual. In terms of weight loss, I should be able to move the last 3-4 lbs off my body without too much trouble.
Multi-Frequency Bioelectrical Impedance (BIA)
BIA is the best way to measure water in the body. The BIA also calculates an estimate body fat; however, the BIA estimate is not very accurate and is very sensitive to changes in body water. I was holding a little extra water on this day so my body fat percentage from the BIA was lower than the true value.
The handheld BIA is that little body fat contraption seen in many gyms- it is a rough estimate, however. My values came out about 5% higher than the more reliable DXA value. From what I’ve seen in the lab, values are usually within 3-5%. Lean and athletic women tend to show values that are too high on the handheld BIA, while sedentary people tend to come out a little closer to their actual values. The handheld BIA has been showing consistent body fat loss in each session; however, the percentages are not dropping as much as the DXA.
There are literally hundreds of caliper equations in existence. The best equation for you is based on your gender, ethnicity, age and many other factors. Furthermore, as many as 10 sites can be measured to plug into a formula- no less than 6 should be used.
The Jackson/Polluck formulas have been the best for me so far, as compared to the DXA. The Jackson/Polluck 7 caliper formula has been the most similar to the DXA measurements. Though the body fat % value is a little lower on the calipers, the percent change is much closer than either of the BIA methods or the other caliper formulas. If you do not have access to a DXA or hydrostatic weighing for body fat, the calipers with the Jackson/Polluck 7 formula are a reasonable way to monitor it. Just remember, the calipers have no way of measuring the fat that is not under your skin.
To learn how to measure with caliper, please see:
To calculate your body fat from calipers, please see:
For a physique competitor, a simple tape measure is one of your most useful tools! On a contest diet, your waist and hips should shrink a whole bunch, while the arms shouldn’t show a dramatic drop. In combination with calipers, you may be able to tell whether you are losing inches from fat or muscle. My waist and hip measurements have dropped, which is a good sign. Generally, at contest time, my waist just under 25” and my hips are usually about 34”.
Look at yourself
There is generally a lot of talk among physique competitors about where your body fat should be for a contest; however, it is mostly arbitrary, especially at the local level, especially for figure competition. For example, I had a friend who did a figure competition and her trainer wanted her thigh caliper pinch to be 8mm. She made it to 12 before the contest and was disappointed in herself for missing the goal. In reality, she didn’t have the leg muscle to pull off that kind of leanness. Furthermore, she had a nice shape and was very polished and feminine. She won overall in the contest and beat out leaner competitors because she had a sleek, balanced look.
It is more important in bodybuilding to have a certain level of leanness; however, the body fat level that looks good on the muscle you have varies from person to person; being as shredded as possible is not always best.My physique has completely changed over the last several weeks; I’ve had several moments where I’ve wondered what kind of masochistic mindset had prompted me to compete but that’s all part of the fun. I know it’ll all pay off in a few weeks. My goal was to be in the best condition I ever have been for a contest and I’m well on my way! See my other article in this issue about breaking through a plateau to learn about some methods I used to stimulate fat loss after a lull.