A couple weeks ago, Taylor, our Director of Concierge, ran her first marathon, Grandmas Marathon in Duluth, MN. She had a fantastic first marathon, completed 95% of her training runs, and executed a smart race day plan.
On the Thursday before the marathon, she performed a Bod Pod to assess her current body composition at the culmination of her marathon training. Her results align with the current scientific research but conflict with what the clear majority of exercisers would assume.
For the last four years, Taylor has continued to improve her body composition (detailed in a previous Fit Tip below). She continues to add muscle, lose fat while strength training twice per week, doing virtually no cardio or other physical activity, and eats McDonalds 4-5 days per week. For the 16 weeks leading up to her marathon, she performed one tempo run, one interval run, and one long run (up to 20 miles) while continuing to strength train. At the end of the 16 weeks, her Bod Pod test was the highest (in other words, the worst) it had been in 2.5 years. To be clear, she kept each variable in her life consistent: Twice per week strength training and McDonalds 4-5 times per week but now with the addition of a significant amount of cardio. The result? The worst body composition in 2.5 years. Ask any exerciser running on a treadmill, “What’s your objective” and they will likely respond, “I’m burning calories,” or “I’m trying to lose weight,” despite the fact that we have very little research to suggest increasing the amount of cardio we do results in weight loss. Taylor’s results actually shouldn’t surprise at all.
Take home message: The research, and Taylor’s experience, indicate that cardio is not an effective tool for weight loss or body composition improvement.
Note: Many readers may respond to Taylor’s story with the suggestion that her McDonald’s habit is the culprit. This is clearly not a factor because that variable hasn’t changed over the four years.
For more background on Taylor’s body composition, see below:
The Contrarian, Intelligent, and Realistic Inclusion of Fast Food and How It Impacts Body Composition.
Improving body composition, defined as the percentage of our body weight that is comprised of muscle versus fat, is a paramount goal for the clear majority of exercisers. Two primary interventions drive body composition improvement: 1. Strength training in order to increase lean muscle tissue; and 2. Nutrition intended to lose body fat (and support increased muscle tissue). With so much misinformation and wasted effort in our pursuit of improved body composition, I thought I would share a success story that illustrates an evidence based, albeit unpopular approach to improving body composition.
Of all our staff at Discover Strength, one staff member embodies this approach to Body Composition: Taylor, Director of Concierge, who works at all of our locations. Taylor has worked at Discover Strength for a little over three years and her body composition results have been staggering. First, let’s look at what she does and what she does not do in terms of exercise and nutrition. Her approach is not popular, but it is an intelligent, evidence based approach to improving body composition. Note, I wrote about her results over a year ago, but she continues to utilize this approach and shows tremendous progress.
- Taylor does almost NO traditional cardio. Her last run was 14 months ago (she did a video shoot for our Instagram about 2 weeks ago but it was a total of 20 seconds, so we aren’t counting that!).
- Taylor strength trains twice per week. She rarely, if ever misses a workout.
- Taylor eats McDonalds 4-5 meals per week. She rotates between a “#2” (two cheeseburgers with fries) and a 10-piece chicken nugget.
- She monitors her overall caloric intake and portion size.
Three years ago, Taylor started at a body fat percentage (Bod Pod) of 27.6%. She weighed 120.11 pounds and had 86 pounds of lean mass.
Today, Taylor has a body fat percentage of 16.6%. She weighs 104.9 pounds and carries 87.5 pounds of muscle.
Taylor’s friends mock and ridicule her for eating McDonalds because it is “unhealthy” and are confused by the fact that she only works out a total of 60 minutes per week. Meanwhile, those same friends continually increase their body fat percentage while exercising three, four, or five days per week and eating “clean.” Interestingly, Taylor was a collegiate soccer player. Prior to her first Bod Pod test, she was playing soccer (exercising) for hours per day, virtually every day of the week. To be a healthier person, should Taylor cut back just a little bit on the McDonalds and substitute a healthier or more nutritious option? Yes, probably. Does eating McDonalds have a negative impact on her body composition? Absolutely not. Calories trump all else when it comes to improving body composition.
Take home message: If you are focused on improving body composition but are stagnating in your progress or are interested in expediting your progress, consider the evidence based approach employed by Taylor:
- Strength train twice per week.
- Do not overemphasize additional exercise or activity (or at least, don’t feel guilty if you aren’t more active).
- Eat the foods you like, simply count calories (or monitor portion size) and make sure your daily and weekly intake is appropriate.
- Ignore the nutrition shaming that accompanies eating fast food.