November 21, 2013 | Comments: 10 Comments
Categories: Motivation, Nutrition, Science, Wellness
I’ve written about the fact that I’ve started eating more calories here and here. After my weight stayed stable for a while, I continued to eat about 1900-2000 calories most days. I’ve been wildly excited with every side effect of eating more food from not being cold all of the time, to having periods that are regular and practically devoid of PMS, to increased strength in every lift. There has been one thing that I haven’t been too excited about; the fat gain. The weight on the scale is not relevant to me if when I look in the mirror and there are muscles to show for that weight. Right now, that isn’t the case. I weigh 126 pounds, up from the 115 I started at and down from the 129 I peaked at. The important thing to know is that while I was initially gaining weight, my body fat percentage was staying the same at about 25%. So I gained weight, but most of it was muscle. Awesome! That was back in June when I weighed 121. Now in November (exactly one year since the dinner reservation that started all of this) my body fat is 28%. That was a bummer number to see since I’ve been pretty consistently training 3-5 days per week, lifting heavy twice per week and doing HIIT twice per week. According to all of the calorie calculators I tried, I should be recomping or losing weight, not gaining.
I have always suspected that there was something wonky with my metabolism, but I was pretty certain that I had messed it up even more from the years of restrictive eating and over-training, so I made an appointment at the OHSU Human Performance Lab to have my Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) tested. It’s a pretty easy test. You put on this neoprene mask that is hooked up to a computer and lie down, maybe nap. While you are lying there breathing into the mask, the amount of oxygen you consume over 30 minutes is tracked and averaged. The amount of oxygen consumed is directly related to how many calories you are burning.
RMR is the number of calories a body burns by just being alive. It is dependent on age, sex, muscle mass and weight. If you were to wake up in the morning and not move for the rest of the day, your RMR is the amount of calories you would need to sustain your current weight while just lying in bed. According to the information I received from the testing lab this morning, “RMR comprises approximately 75% of total calories burned per day for normal healthy individuals.” That is to say, all of the moving around we do in the day gets added on to our RMR to determine our total calories burned in a 24 hour period. The more you move, the more you burn. There are several different formulas used to determine RMR and they will all return a number within about 200 calories of each other. The quickest formula is just 10 times body weight, so if we go by that one I should have an RMR of about 1260. According to the formula that the OHSU lab used, I should have an RMR of 1311. Not even close. The test showed it to be 779, about 500 calories or 40% lower than it should be for a “normal healthy individual.” That sucks in a big way.
This explains why I’ve continued to gain weight. I’ve been using 1200-1300 calories as an RMR for determining my calorie needs, when in fact I should have been using about 780. It also explains why I had those poppin’ back muscles when I was eating 1600-1700 calories per day. I had gained some muscle and my body fat was about the same. I was really hoping that I could continue to see strength and muscle mass gains while eating a little more (1800-2000) because food is awesome, but the only way that can happen with an RMR of 780 would be for me to increase my activity levels. I’m already pretty active, so I’m not certain that I’m up for that.
Normally a doctor would prescribe increased exercise including weight lifting if a patient wanted to increase their RMR. I already do that, so I asked the doctor if there was anything beside building more muscle, which burns an extra 30-70 calories per day per pound, that would help me increase that number. After hearing about the history of obesity in my family, and my current food and exercise schedule he concluded that in addition to having possibly depressed my metabolism through calorie restriction, that I was born with a lower metabolism and that I have genes that would have been great 1,000 years ago. He said that it isn’t fair and that there probably isn’t a lot I can do at this point to increase my RMR.
The yellow line is my predicted oxygen consumption.
My actual oxygen consumption as reported is an average of the bottom three lines.
Click for a bigger picture.
While that is a disappointing conclusion, at least it is a hard number I can work with. I just got back from the lab a couple of hours ago, so I haven’t figured out what exactly will be my next move. I’m really happy with my energy levels and everything else that has accompanied my increased calorie intake, but with the extra body fat, there are certain types of exercises that are not as easy as they were only months ago. Maybe I’ll go have my VO2max tested to see how many calories I actually burn while working out. That would be another interesting piece of data to add to all of this. I can tell you one thing I will NOT do. I will not restrict calories back to the 1200-1400 range ever again. If I have to hold on to a little extra fat to be happy, warm, have energy, and not be a general grump, then that is exactly what I will do. My emotional health is way more important than how I look.
12/3/13 UPDATED TO ADD:
I went and had a second test this morning at a different facility and the results were very similar. This one only tested for 15 minutes in stead of the 30 minute the OHSU test took, but the results are comparable. This test brought back and RMR of 835. It’s the number in the big orange box.