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Use the mirror to read the scale

Published February 01. 2014 09:00AM

Ambivalence. That's a fine word to characterize what I feel any time I type an article where I tell you about me.

While most readers share my interest in improving health and fitness, few have the time or the desire to prepare foods and work out in the manner I do. As a result, I fear a personal anecdote about the fat-burning benefit to a four-hour bicycle ride while only consuming 100 calories carbs or using a large segment of Sunday to prepare healthy meals for the upcoming week could turn more readers off than on.

Yet an ongoing theme to this column is that to get better and get the most out of the latest research, you must tweak what you read to suit your needs and then experiment on yourself. If that is my belief, how can I not include personal stories?

That's why, on more than one occasion, I've made reference to spending Saturday riding a bike ravenous or cooking egg-white omelets and a slew of healthy snacks for a large chunk of Sunday. You don't have to do either, I rationalize, but you need to know how I tweak info so you can too.

My most recent experiment yielded a result which proves today's title as well as a concept that I've encouraged you to embrace for a number of years: nutrient partitioning. Because of that, I'll battle through my ambivalence and share.


Using a scale to assess your fitness, including the success of a diet, can be a delicate endeavor. Most day-to-day variations in weight result from water-weight loss or gain.

If I don't make rehydrating a priority after a long, hot race in the summer, for example, I may weigh four pounds less the next morning.

That's why I only weigh myself once a week when I rise on Saturday morning to check body weight. Any other weigh-in is done to check my hydration level.

And since the scale can be suspect, it's always good to "read" the number based on what you see in the mirror.

I'm not concerned about a change of pound or two on the scale, for instance, if it's not affecting my fitness and if it's affecting my fitness, I usually can see a change in the mirror.

Last December, I was a pound or two heavier than I wanted to be on successive Saturdays, and on both Saturdays I didn't like what I saw in the mirror. While I still had good definition in my abs when I flexed them, I detected a little bit of new body fat at what most people call "the love handles."

I'll be 53 with my next birthday, and the mid-50s is supposedly the time that no matter what you do you lose at least some muscle mass and add body fat.

That theory seemed to make sense because I really don't really alter my exercise time too much in the winter. What does happen, however, is I do more lifting and far less bicycle riding outside since snow, ice, and single-digit wind chill readings force many rides inside.

Combine that with the fact that I watch my diet year-round, and I was beginning to wonder if what I was seeing in the mirror was the beginning of the inevitable physical decline I've often read about. But I've seen 50-plus bodybuilders cut to shreds, so I decided to experiment a bit.

I have this bad habit of ingesting a high percentage of my calories, nearly half, after supper, so I reduced that by about 250 calories. I also replaced some of the remaining after-supper carbohydrate calories with protein.

Two weeks later, I am proud to announce, that I weighed myself and my weight hadn't changed one ounce! But while that reading seems to indicate failure, a check in the mirror showed success in the form of a bit more definition in my delts and a bit less excess at the love handles.

While I had not dropped any weight, I had dropped a bit of body fat, maybe no more than a pound, and replaced it with a bit of muscle mass. The fact that I had increased the amount of weight and/or the number of reps I was performing on many weightlifting exercises that week supported that.

To recover from a hard workout the day of the weigh-in, I increased my total calories as well as the percentage of carbohydrates back to pre-experiment amounts. I did the same Sunday to recover from that four-hour ride as well.

By Monday, I resumed the small reduction in carb cals late at night. The next Saturday, I was about a pound lighter. This time, the mirror confirmed that the weight loss was mostly body fat and also reaffirmed the theory known as nutrient partitioning: in short, that not all calories are equal.

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