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Body Fat Percentage: point of diminishing return?
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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Jun 17, 2012

Hi all:

So I've been making some decent progress in getting fitter, decreased body fat now from 15% to about 11% (determined by caliper measurement) and dropped about 9 pounds.

What I'm wondering is, have those of you who are farther along in this process (down in the 6 or 8% range, maybe) noticed that there's a point at which additional weight loss either doesn't make much difference in your climbing or even starts to hurt your performance (presumably because you're starting to cut into your "essential fat" stores)?

I know I've got a ways to go, but would like to try to figure out what a worthwhile target percentage would be and would be curious to hear about other people's experience with this.


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By agd
Jun 17, 2012
alaska

Good job on the loss. How long did it take and what was your method? Slightly off topic...


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By RandyR
Jun 17, 2012

David Horgan wrote:
Hi all: So I've been making some decent progress in getting fitter, decreased body fat now from 15% to about 11% (determined by caliper measurement) and dropped about 9 pounds. What I'm wondering is, have those of you who are farther along in this process (down in the 6 or 8% range, maybe) noticed that there's a point at which additional weight loss either doesn't make much difference in your climbing or even starts to hurt your performance (presumably because you're starting to cut into your "essential fat" stores)? I know I've got a ways to go, but would like to try to figure out what a worthwhile target percentage would be and would be curious to hear about other people's experience with this.


You're not likely to find yourself at the point where you are cutting into essential fat if you are doing this in a healthy manner (clean diet/exercise). You will soon find yourself at the point where it is harder and harder to lose body fat, and this will be a point of diminishing returns, that is, where the additional effort to continue to lose body fat will take up the time you could be practicing your climbing. 11% is pretty good. 8% is pretty incredible if you can get there.


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By Dana Bartlett
From CT
Jun 17, 2012

I noticed there was a point of diminishing returns, but it's purely anecdotal experience. At my lightest (5 feet, 10 inches, about 142 pounds) was good for my climbing, but I noticed if I got any lighter I felt weak and dragged out.


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By Mike Anderson
From Dayton, OH
Jun 17, 2012

I generally agree with the previous posters. There is a point of diminishing returns, but its very difficult to quantify, mostly because body fat is so hard to measure accurately. I have found my point, and when you get down there, i think it will be fairly obvious to you...it was to me.


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By Ryan N
From San Louis Obispo
Jun 17, 2012
RJN

I'm 6' 0", 160 lbs and 6% body fat....... Just sayin


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Jun 17, 2012

alexdavis wrote:
Good job on the loss. How long did it take and what was your method? Slightly off topic...


Thanks Alex!

The method was pretty much what RandyR alludes to, getting pretty serious about eating the right stuff [Edit: meaning essentially no "sweets"/desserts, no alcohol, very little fast food. This is mainly to avoid the insulin spike that goes with eating simple sugars.] in the right amounts and exercising a lot.

More specifically, I started out with this old formula I'd read somewhere that said your basal metabolic rate (roughly the amount of calories you need to lie in bed and breathe for a day at your given weight) was your weight in pounds times 11 calories. That gave me 1870 calories or something. I ate about 50 cal more than that per day for a few weeks, and lost a few pounds and then stopped losing...hungry all the time but not losing weight.

So then I did very slightly more "research" by using the formulas here www.builtlean.com/2011/01/18/how-many-calories-should-you-ea>>> and here www.builtlean.com/2010/03/14/how-to-calculate-your-calorie-b>>> The site is a little aggro/men's fitnessy, but the approach he's using to make these calculations is based on reasonably real science, I think.

Anyway the bottom line of that and some other reading was basically to adjust my calories upward a bit more (2100/day in my case) and start doing cardio as close to every day as I could manage. This fit well into a block of time where I was working a huge amount and so did not have time to go climbing, but did have time to exercise. The site I mention above is big into interval training so I have been doing some of that, 1-2x per week sprint workouts either on foot or bike, plus longer bike rides at a decent pace and longer runs. I aim for about an hour of cardio a day. On days when I need to give my legs a break, I do some hangboard and a few sets of pushups.

The bike has been a new addition to things, and is great because you can do it day after day with very little risk of injury, whereas running can be dicey if you do it every day.

I should say (before numerous other folks do) that the short-term goal of the above is to get a lot lighter and a lot fitter, and it's been working great for that, but it's certainly not adequate training for climbing in and of itself. I look at it as a foundation for a regimen that will focus a lot more on actual climbing, once my schedule allows me to get back to that. Meantime, I haven't weighed this little since I was about 16 (I'm 44 now), and that seems like it's going to help out on the rock!

In line with what other people seem to be saying also, my plan had been to just continue honing down fat/weight-wise until it stops working, and then back off the calorie restriction a little and maintain whatever weight that turns out to be. Guessing that's going to be 3-5 pounds below where I am now.

I do think the body fat percentage is an interesting alternate way of looking at things, though, because there was a period where I started gaining muscle as I was losing fat, and my weight stayed the same. I was really bummed for a week or so until I measured my percentage and saw that it had dropped a good bit, and also noticed that I'd had to go to a smaller notch on my belt! Anyway, after that little hypertrophy period, the weight has started to come off again.


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Jun 17, 2012

Ryan N wrote:
I'm 6' 0", 160 lbs and 6% body fat....... Just sayin


Have you gone lower than that and had it not work well, or was that the "wall" that other people are talking about and your body just wouldn't go lower?


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Jun 17, 2012

Mike Anderson wrote:
I generally agree with the previous posters. There is a point of diminishing returns, but its very difficult to quantify, mostly because body fat is so hard to measure accurately. I have found my point, and when you get down there, i think it will be fairly obvious to you...it was to me.

If you don't mind sharing it, do you know what your percentage is?


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By MorganH
Jun 17, 2012

JLP wrote:
For sport climbing, you can never be too light. I don't know anyone who climbs, say, 12 and up, who isn't constantly honing their diet and exercise in an effort to lose more weight while gaining climbing specific fitness. Body fat is a pretty small part of the equation. It's just an indicator, not something you target.


Ha! I onsight 12s, and I'm a fat bastard.


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Jun 17, 2012

MorganH wrote:
Ha! I onsight 12s, and I'm a fat bastard.


Even better! What's YOUR secret?


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By Ryan N
From San Louis Obispo
Jun 17, 2012
RJN

Well if I shaved my beard I could probably drop 3 lbs there. If I stopped drinking 4 Red Bulls and 3 packs of Skittles every day I may drop some fat? But why?


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By JMo
From Tucson, AZ
Jun 17, 2012
vertebrae roof

Light is right. 4 egg whites w tomato and avocado, then protein shot w few nuts and carrots, lunch is salad w lean protein, afternoon carrots/protein nuts, dinner is lean protein, bit of whole grain and veggies. Went from 167 to 152 in 3 mos on this diet. 6'2". Be sure to take a day or two off each week to stay motivated. Those days eat what you want.

People are fat. People tell themselves stories to stay fat. Until you hit 5-6% you won't lose strength, at least not climbing strength. Don't believe me? Try climbing with an entire extra rack sometime and see if it makes a difference.


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By RandyR
Jun 17, 2012

JMo wrote:
Light is right. 4 egg whites w tomato and avocado, then protein shot w few nuts and carrots, lunch is salad w lean protein, afternoon carrots/protein nuts, dinner is lean protein, bit of whole grain and veggies. Went from 167 to 152 in 3 mos on this diet. 6'2". Be sure to take a day or two off each week to stay motivated. Those days eat what you want. People are fat. People tell themselves stories to stay fat. Until you hit 5-6% you won't lose strength, at least not climbing strength. Don't believe me? Try climbing with an entire extra rack sometime and see if it makes a difference.


This diet sounds awfully low in carbohydrates to me. Have you been dieting like this long term?


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By Optimistic
From New Paltz
Jun 18, 2012

JMo wrote:
Light is right. 4 egg whites w tomato and avocado, then protein shot w few nuts and carrots, lunch is salad w lean protein, afternoon carrots/protein nuts, dinner is lean protein, bit of whole grain and veggies. Went from 167 to 152 in 3 mos on this diet. 6'2". Be sure to take a day or two off each week to stay motivated. Those days eat what you want. People are fat. People tell themselves stories to stay fat. Until you hit 5-6% you won't lose strength, at least not climbing strength. Don't believe me? Try climbing with an entire extra rack sometime and see if it makes a difference.


Wow, that's getting down there! What effect has it had on your climbing?


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By Princess Mia
From Vail
Jun 18, 2012
Chillin' at City of Rocks

Unless you are a pro climber..... I wouldn't worry too much. Live a little and enjoy good food and drink. In the long run you may climb better that way cause you are not a dieting freak!!!
IMHO-- dieting that much just to send a grade harder just ain't worth it!!!


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By CaptainPoopyPants
Jun 18, 2012

caliper measurements aren't that accurate seeing as how they are unable to measure visceral fat, only subcutaneous. You could be in the 20% range in reality and get a caliper reading of 11%. The only real method is to get a DEXA scan. Bio-impedance doesn't really work either due to the fact that varying levels of hydration can effect the conductance.

and Ryan N...I would highly question your method of measurement that gave you a body fat percentage that low.


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By Eric8
From Framingham
Jun 18, 2012

JLP wrote:
You should go make a baby with this guy.


hey now, I don't really think Morgan was trolling or being a dick. The fact is there a lots of climbers who climb 12+ and are also tubby. Maybe not tubby by modern america's standards but certainly by climbing standards...


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By wendy weiss
Jun 18, 2012

I'm with Mia on this. You'll never catch me eating a diet of egg whites, nuts, and carrots.


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By Mike McKinnon
From Golden, CO
Jun 18, 2012
Bunny pancake

Ryan N wrote:
I'm 6' 0", 160 lbs and 6% body fat....... Just sayin


I am 5'10" 175 and 6% body fat. What is your point? Other than to state that everyone's body is different.


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By MorganH
Jun 18, 2012

MorganH wrote:
Ha! I onsight 12s, and I'm a fat bastard.


I've been climbing for over a decade, and I try hardish. I've actually experimented a little with dieting, and while it does have some positive effects, training does more and is much more entertaining. Just about anyone should be able to get into redpointing at least 8a with some moderate amount of sport specific training, otherwise known as climbing whenever you can as hard as you can.


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By Reid Kalmus
From Breckenridge, Colorado
Jun 18, 2012

Who cares what grade you climb. Go out, have fun and scare yourself a little. Eat healthy to be healthy. Diet if you must, but climbing is supposed to be fun not a chore...


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By Will S
From Joshua Tree
Jun 18, 2012

It's kinda like that judge and pornography...he knows it when he sees it, well you'll know it when you get there. Strictly speculation on my part (no research to back it up), but my theory is that there is no universal %, or even tight range, and what % a person needs to stay healthy probably varies with your body type...endomorph,ectomorph etc.

At 5'8, I normally stay around 135-138. At 138 I start more focused dieting and calorie restriction. I feel that my best climbing weight which I can maintain is ~133. That's about 8% bodyfat judging from past measurements.

Three or four years ago, I was projecting a route and was actively dieting for it. I started at 140, aiming for 133 and overshot my goal and went all the way down to 128, (which is around 4%)...my collar bones and tops of hips were noticeably protruding, my chest was starting to look skeletal and shrunken, eyes and cheeks looked a bit hollowed out, I was more irritable (which is saying something, I'm a grouchy dude on a good day), and while I could crank like a mofo, my stamina was really poor. Approaches worked me more, and I'd get maybe 3 strong attempts and then need days off to recover. I did send the thing, but immediately afterwards went back up to 135 in a gluttonous binge of almond cookies, pad thai, red wine, dark chocolate, and russian imperial stouts.

MacCleod makes a good recommendation in his book along the lines of setting a modest goal, say 5lb, dropping that and then observing how you feel, look, and perform for a while.


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By LeeAB
Administrator
From ABQ, NM
Jun 18, 2012
Once we landed we headed to Font to find a place to stay for the night before doing a day of wine tasting and heading to Buoux.

"5'8", 135lbs"
"6'0" 160lbs"
"6'2" 152"..or even"167lbs"

Wow, you guys are skinny, but everyone is different. I definitely can't do hard moves if I get too light which has happened twice, once on a road trip of 2 months and once after a 2 week trip to do alpine routes in the Sierras. Who knew that doing 15-20 miles days and 1500-2000' of climbing every other day could drop so much weight.

And, yes you will know it when you hit it. Though as others have alluded to, you can continue to see improvements for a short while even when too light, then your body will crap on you.


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By Princess Mia
From Vail
Jun 18, 2012
Chillin' at City of Rocks

5.3
120 lbs
17% body fat (I'm a girl ok)

And I climb pretty hard and I love a good steak, I drink wine and eat chocolate!!!!!


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By Greg Twombly
From Conifer, CO
Jun 18, 2012
Edge of Time, Jurassic Park

About 15 years ago a competition climbing friend and medical pathologist, in his effort to get his body fat to the medical minimum, said he took blood draws daily and trained and starved until he started to see changes in blood protein, what he called muscle metabolates, then he would back off a bit. He was really prone to injury so he was never in prime climbing shape, but I dont think he climbed any better for his extremely low body fat.


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