Monday, January 24, 2005

Still Chewing the Fat

In pursuit of answers to my questions about body fat and it's relationship to performance in endurance athletes, I also queried Elzabeth Quinn who writes the Sports Medicine Column for

First my e-mail and then Elzabeth's answer.


Subject: "Question for Sports Medicine"

Is there a rough correlation between percentage of body fat and performance for long distance track and field athletes? I've heard that the reduction of every percentage of body fat is worth about a one percent increase in performance for endurance runners. I know that most elite marathoners have a body fat of between 3-7%.

I am a 44 year old recreational marathoner and in the past twelve months I have run three marathons and a 67K Ultramarathon. My best race times in the past year were, marathon time - 3:53, half marathon time - 1:41 and best 10K time - 43 minutes. I am 6'1" and weigh 200 pounds. I would like to attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon when I turn 45 and my qualifying time is 3:30.

Based on a caliper test, my current body fat is about 15%. I have been below 10% body fat before (twenty years ago!) and feel that between now and October a body weight of 185 pounds is a realistic goal.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Best regards, Vince Hemingson

Hi Vince,

First - congratulations on some impressive past performances! With such dedication I think you are well on your way to your qualifying goal.

Yes, runners with less body fat have less weight to carry and are more efficient. I think your goal weight is realistic and will help your performance. I would also recommend considering weight training in your training routine. Men typically start to lose lean muscle mass around age 30 of about 5% every 10 years. Weight training helps maintain lean muscle mass, helps improve metabolism and provides more running 'horsepower' if you will.

You may want to consider a few sessions with a certified trainer to get your nutrition, running and weight program set up and make sure you don't overdo it -- you goal is doable, but will be challenging. You definitely don't want to lose too much too fast or your performance could suffer instead of improve.

Best of luck in your training!

elzabeth quinn, m.s.

So Elzabeth's advice meshes very nicely with Jeff Galloway's. I have to confess that I thought both Jeff and Elzabeth would have been more emphatic about me losing weight. In fact, neither of them seem to think losing weight should be a primary goal for me and both cautioned me that losing weight could adversely effect my training regime and ultimately my performance.

Elzabeth's advice about weight-training is well taken and is something that I have done pretty consistantly for most of my adult life. There is no denying that in the past few years weight-training has taken a back seat to my running and I am spending less time in the gym and more time on the roads and trails running. But I can still bench press my body weight and I try to cross-train as often as possible. And, oh yeah, fit in the rest of my life!


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