How to Track Your Body Composition in the Off-Season

22 March, 2017 ,

The Tape Measure

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  • Tool overview: The tape measure can be used to measure places on your body that create circumferences: arm, wrist, waist, hips, legs, calves. Not every tape measure starts at the same place so make sure you read yours correctly. There are special stiff tape measures made for this type of measuring. Measuring your circumferences can help you see what body parts are growing or shrinking. Often hockey players increase their upper leg and glute level hip circumferences in season.
  • Best way to use this tool: Using circumference measurements in combination with body weight measurements can give you a more complete picture of what is going on with any weight changes you experience. For instance, if you gained 10 pounds and saw that your upper leg circumference increase 10cm then you know some of the weight gain you experienced is in your legs! You will need someone who knows how to be consistent in circumference measurements to measure you. I recommend finding a professional who is I.S.A.K. certified. Many sports dietitians are I.S.A.K. certified and do not be shy to ask the person measuring you to inform you on their methodology and training.
  • How often to use this tool: Measuring circumferences should not be done too often. I would not advise doing them more than 1 time in a 3 week period when you have a goal to track body composition changes closely. If this is not your goal then measuring circumferences more than 1 to 3 times a year would be overdoing it.

The Calipers

  • image01Tool overview: This is a professional tool and needs to be used by someone who is trained in anthropometry (I.S.A.K. designation for instance). Calipers measure the thickness of skinfolds that include skin, fascia (layer under the skin), and the fat that sits on top of the muscle. The goal is to determine surface changes in the body fat layer. Often athletes think this tool can tell them how fat they are but in truth the tool is only good at tracking body fat at a few places on the outside of the muscles and a caliper measure is not going to tell you your body fat %. Another consideration is that the method to use this tool properly is not super quick. It will take the average professional 10 to 20 minutes to measure your skinfolds.
  • Best way to use this tool: Using skinfold measurements in combination with circumferences and body weight can give you a more complete picture of what is going on with any weight changes you experience. The sum of the skinfolds can indicate if the body fat layer has increased or decreased over time. For instance, if you gained 10 pounds and your upper leg circumference increased 10cm AND the sum of your skinfolds decreased 10mm then all measures together point to a gain in muscle mass and a loss in body fat. One warning about skinfolds is they tend to be less useful in early teenage years when growth spurts are occurring.
  • How often to use this tool: Measuring skinfolds should not be done too often. I would not advise doing them more than 1 time in a 3 week period when you have a goal to track body composition changes closely. If this is not your goal then measuring skinfolds more than 1 to 3 times a year would be overdoing it.

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Author

Pearle Nerenberg

Pearle Nerenberg, MSc., R.D. is Canada’s leading expert on hockey nutrition, and author of the book The Nutrition Edge for Hockey Performance. She co-founded and chairs the Hockey Nutrition Network, an international non-profit organization dedicated to linking hockey players with top sports dietitians who have an expertise in hockey nutrition.

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