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Percent Muscle and Fat Content

2011-04-01 updated 2011-09-13 - Send Feedback
Related: body fat, metabolism, training

I address this discussion especially to athletes looking to improve performance over time.

Loss of muscle + gain of fat = reduced performance

Shown below is a comparison for my own DEXA scans, taken in 2006, 2007 and multiple scans in 2011. My biking fell off heavily in 2008-2012, and only in 2011 did I resume training seriously.

The DEXA scan shows that I gained 5117g = 11.2 pounds of body fat through March 31, 2011. Intensive training through September 2011 reversed all of that fat gain, and more.

More important to cycling performance, it shows that I lost 3193g / 7.0 pounds of muscle. Iintensive training in 2011 regained nearly all of that muscle.

Example Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry or DEXA scan for your author

Percent body fat

My March 2011 body composition was 20.6% body fat, twice where I wanted to be. Try strapping on a 25 pound backpack climb, and you’ll quickly find it a huge burden, even on flat ground. I like being light and nimble, and 20% body fat is no fun.

With intensive training, weight dropped by 12 pounds to 180 at 15.5% body fat by mid-may 2011. When cycling uphill, it’s a massive difference in comfort and fatigue.


The graph below shows the relative proportions at various time intervals, fat and non-fat.

Proportion of fat and lean tissue for 2006/2007/2011 as determined by DEXA scan

Comparing DEXA over time for a muscle group

I checked my records for lean mass in my legs. The 4203 gram lean tissue loss seen above from 8/2/06 to 3/31/11 is found to be (see below) as 3186 grams from the legs, or 75% of the difference in lean tissue (muscle). That leg muscle mass was gained back by later in 2011, and reached a new high by September 2011.

August of 2006 I achieved an all-time personal best for my key climbing benchmark (Old La Honda Road at 19:09), showing that peak muscle mass was the key factor involved. At that time I was also speed skating intensively as cross-training, which no doubt increased leg strength considerably. In 2011, I nearly matched my best effort without even training specifically for that time trial— the increased muscle mass and lower body weight account for that.

DEXA history for your author
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