I have had the pleasure of training and consulting with some of the strongest people in the world. Actors, athletes, coaches, doctors, government leaders, models, etc. These are people who can and do train for hours at a time. They spent years in school studying to educate and better themselves; some even impact our lives with the decisions they make.
Put these leaders, these champions, on a scale, and if it doesn’t show the numbers they want, they will weep before your eyes. I have held a 230 lb, 6’2″ muscled man in my arms as he wept. All because of the scale.
The Weight of Measure
There are a few types of scales used to measure weight. The main types used today are balance, spring, and strain gauge.
Balance scales are used very little in everyday life as a means of measurement. A balance scale works off a lever measuring a known weight against the tester. A classic example of this would be scales of justice.
A widely used method for weight are spring scales; they were the standard for many years. They work on either a stretch or compress system. A stretch system is what you will find at a grocery store when weighing produce. An object is placed on the scale and the distance the spring stretches, based upon its set expansion, will determine the weight.
The reverse is what is used in home weight scales with springs. The amount of distance compressed is the determining factor.
The last method is a strain gauge scale; it measures the strain of an object. A wire or many wires send out a current when weight bends the attached plate. The amount of stress is calculated and the readout on a digital scale is the collection of those calculations.
There are pros and cons to each system of weighing. Usually different scales produce different readouts. You will find most quality scales are within a few pounds of one another for the average person’s daily weighing needs. No system is without its flaws, and if you need to make weight for a particular event make sure you test on their scale if possible. And under that circumstance is the only time your weight should ever matter.
Let me repeat that.
The only time your weight number is important is when you are in a competition involving weight class. I am going to teach you how to conquer the rest of the time with the art of logic, science, and nutrition.
Essential Body Mass
The human body is made up of various bones, skin, organs, tissue, muscles, fat, water, etc. At a point there is only so much of that weight you can eliminate. For the sake of this article let’s call this Essential Body Mass (EBM). This is a little different than Lean Body Mass (LBM) because you can lose or gain a certain degree of LBM. At the end of the day there is a certain amount of EBM that you must maintain. Sorry, but you can’t make weight by removing your liver or extracting your femur.
If we set aside organs, bones, and body hair, there are a few remaining places we can store fat, muscle, and water which are your main additions to body weight.
Fat—There is a certain amount of essential fat in your body; it is needed for a multitude of reasons and functions. The rest of the fat is stored when you eat an excess of calories for your energy needs. You can store this fat subcutaneously (right underneath the skin) or viscerally (in between organs, mainly abdominal).
Muscle—You have a certain amount of essential muscle in the body. Movement would not be possible without it. The rest of the muscle you have is gained through general life activity or by breaking down tissue and rebuilding it through training. Muscle is more dense than fat. This means that five pounds of muscle takes up less space than five pounds of fat. It doesn’t weigh more than fat; five pounds is five pounds. This is a common misconception that drives me nuts.
Riddle: What weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of rocks?
Water—An extremely large amount of your body is made up of water. Lean muscle tissue and blood contain about 80% water, where as fat cells contains about 20 to 25% water. Water helps transport nutrients, oxygen, and waste products in and out of cells. It is necessary for all digestive, absorption, and circulatory functions.
Water is needed to regulate the body’s temperature and to provide energy. It also helps moisten skin and regulate hormones, emotions, and maintain the normal electrical properties of cells. If your body drops even 2% of its water storage, you can start to function worse, feel fatigued, and are more prone to health problems the further it decreases. Simply put, no water in the body equals a whole lot of a mess.
We talked about what you can’t change. Here are the things that you can change. On a day in and day out basis, dieting down or not, eating in a surplus or not, these things are going to change and are affected by your activity.
The weight of an item you eat is going to change the weight you are. This may seem like, “duh,” but I have experienced many moments where someone weighed themselves after they ate, saw they were heavier, and proceeded to freak out.
The food you eat has weight. The fluid you drink has weight.
Exercise: Grab a full gallon of water and go stand on the scale with it and then without it. I rest my case.
Retention: To hold on to, to hold back within.
Retention comes in all forms and can be caused by multiple reasons. From hormonal issues to glycogen storage, you can retain water in various places in your body in large amounts and for extended periods of time. I am going to cover the main causes of retention and how they occur.
There are many causes and sublevels of edema. Edema is classified mainly as swelling from an accumulation of watery fluid in cells, tissues, or serous cavities. This can range from mild to severe, and the reasons for it vary. Anything from electrolyte imbalances, kidney problems, allergies, injuries, and exercise can contribute on mild to severe levels.
If you have sock rings, swollen calves, or a puffy face, you are technically experiencing forms of edema on small levels. If you live with this constantly, then you are likely dealing with issues of electrolyte imbalance in the body and need to focus on maintaining balance, as much as you can. It is impossible to control but possible to manage.
What to do?
- Make sure to stay properly hydrated.
- Make sure you are getting enough of your sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
- Make sure you are getting proper rest and time off from training.
- Make sure you focus on taking care of your joints and muscles.
2. Glycogen Retention
Muscle holds a massive amount of water. A lot of the time, people accuse diets of being “muscle eaters” but this isn’t usually the case. Usually, they are muscle drinkers because one of the first things to go when you begin dieting down is the water stored in your muscles, especially if you are taking part in an extreme diet or one that is very low in carbs (even if higher in calories).
The reason that carbs are so important is because glycogen storage is pulled mainly from carbohydrate intake. Though a small amount can be taken from protein, it is never on a large enough level to maintain adequate or noticeable glycogen retention. That “plump” muscle look you are wanting, to have them look filled and defined, is from glycogen storage in the muscles. However, if you are not lean enough to see this definition pronounced, all you are going to really notice is that your fat looks fuller on the days you eat carbs.
This is a big reason why carbs are vilified. It isn’t the glycogen’s fault, it’s your fatness. Lose the fat and learn to love what carbs can do for you.
What to do? Put the carbs to work by pulling them into your muscles through lifting and training your body. Go for “plump” not “bloated.” Keeping a lower body fat level also helps with partitioning in general.
This applies to men or women, but I will say that women are going to be affected more by this on larger levels. Stress and hormonal imbalances or just general readjustments in the cycle system lead toward heavy (I do mean heavy) fluctuation in your water balance.
Stress is included in this as the triggers are very close and affect hormonal behavior. For example, if you are stressed out, crying, and can’t sleep, you are going to look and feel very much the same as you do when on your period, no? This is not to be confused with the crying and puffiness that actually happens around your period either. Women are notorious for carrying their emotions on their sleeve, and in most cases, it’s underneath it as well.
What to do? Calm the f*%k down. There are some hormones and issues you can’t control. For the things you can, take care of yourself and your body will take care of you.
Song of the post:
Cibo Matto – Sugar Water