Body Composition for Health and Sports Performance

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Body Composition from DEXA scan

Focusing on changes in body weight and body mass index (BMI) alone, as outcome measures of lifestyle interventions, ignores the beneficial multi-system and psychological effects of lifestyle medicine, in particular exercise. This includes advantageous changes in body composition for health and performance.

Why is body composition important? Because not all weight is equal in terms of tissue composition and distribution. To support optimal health, favourable levels of lean mass  versus fat mass decreases the risk of sarcopenia, associated bone loss and metabolic syndrome. For athletes, high lean mass coupled with low fat mass is related to improved athletic performance, especially in disciplines where strength to weight ratio a major consideration and/or those disciplines such as gymnastics and ballet where an aesthetic component confers a performance advantage.

The range of methods for measuring body composition have advantages and disadvantages in terms of accuracy, accessibility and expense. Although accurate in experienced hands, skin fold measurements are limited to giving a measure of subcutaneous fat. Impedance scales have the advantage of giving a measure of both total and visceral fat percentage, however accuracy is dependent on hydration status, amongst other variable factors. Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) scan is the “gold standard” for measuring body composition to include bone, lean and fat: both total and visceral. DEXA scan is relatively inexpensive and very low radiation dose compared to traditional X ray or computerised tomography (CT). This method of assessing body composition during training seasons is used by some professional sports teams. The illustration above shows a trained male with total fat in the athletic range. Although simple to measure, BMI does not accurately reflect body composition. All methods of assessing body composition can potentially have role in monitoring changes, for example over training seasons, and trends for individuals rather than relying on the absolute values of metrics measured.

How to go about optimising body composition? Combined exercise and nutritional strategies trigger and reinforce favourable metabolic and Endocrine signalling pathways. The detail of these lifestyle strategies will depend on the clinical context and the objectives of the individual: ranging from a sedentary person trying to improve health and well being, to an athlete aiming to improve sport performance. In all scenarios protein intake is an important factor in supporting lean mass, alongside tailored exercise/training. Temporal considerations for optimising body composition in athletes include the age of the athlete and targeting key competitions during a training cycle and in long term over athletic career. Ultimately optimising body composition has to translate to improved athletic performance for the endurance athlete. So aiming for “high quality weight loss” with retention or even improved lean mass, is more likely to support performance, rather than focusing on fat mass loss in isolation, which may occur in any case as a secondary consequence of integrated periodised training, nutrition and recovery. Striving for weight loss and reduced fat mass without careful monitoring and attention to effects on performance, can run the risk of athletes developing relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-S). Female athletes with functional hypothalamic amenorrhoea have been shown to decreased levels not only of lean and fat mass, but in addition reduced metabolically active brown fat and the associated hormone isirin which promotes fat “browning” and impacts bone mineralisation. In addition, there are differences between male and female athletes to be considered in terms of body composition and cycling performance.

From middle-age, both lean mass and bone mineral density (BMD) decline: sarcopenia and bone health intertwined. In order to mitigate against these changes, resistance exercise is particularly beneficial to stimulate muscle and load the skeleton and for metabolic and cognitive benefits. BMI is particularly misleading as a metric to assess risk of disease in menopausal women. Rather, the finer detail of body composition, for example visceral fat area, is more informative in terms of metabolic and psychological health.

Body composition is a more reliable indicator of health than body weight or BMI. Nevertheless body composition in isolation is not the sole determinant of health and performance. Rather body composition is just one of many multi-system effects mediated by integrated metabolic and Endocrine signalling pathways. These network effects are driven by lifestyle factors including exercise, nutrition and recovery, to determine health and sports performance.

For more discussion and debate on the role of body composition for health and performance BASEM Spring Conference 2018 6 CPD points from FSEM and BJSM approved for international education

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References

Challenging those hard to shift, big fat obesity risks BMJ 2017; 359: j5303 British Journal of Medicine 2017

Lifestyle Choices for optimising health: exercise, nutrition, sleep British Journal of Sport Medicine 2107

One road to Rome: Exercise British Journal of Sport Medicine 2107

Current Status of Body Composition Assessment in Sport Review and Position Statement on Behalf of the Ad Hoc Research Working Group on Body Composition Health and Performance, Under the Auspices of the I.O.C.Medical Commission

International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2017
Case-Study: Body Composition Periodization in an Olympic-Level Female Middle-Distance Runner Over a 9-Year Career International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 2017

Body composition assessment of English Premier League soccer players: a comparative DXA analysis of first team, U21 and U18 squads Journal of Sports Sciences

Protein Recommendations for Weight Loss in Elite Athletes: A Focus on Body Composition and Performance International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 2017

Optimal Health: For All Athletes! Part 4 – Mechanisms British Association for Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Effect of Chronic Athletic Activity on Brown Fat in Young Women Plos One 2106

Irisin levels are lower in young amenorrheic athletes compared with eumenorrheic athletes and non-athletes and are associated with bone density and strength estimates Plos One

Kings and Queens of the Mountains Science4Performance

Low bone mineral density in middle-aged women: a red flag for sarcopenia Menopause 2017

Resistance training – an underutilised drug available in everybody’s medicine cabinet BJSM 2017

Benefits of resistance training in physically frail elderly: a systematic review Ageing Clinical and Experimental Research 2017

Is BMI a valid measure of obesity in postmenopausal women? Menopause 2017

Association of visceral fat area with the presence of depressive symptoms in Chinese postmenopausal women with normal glucose tolerance Menopause 2017

 

 

 

Medically young, older athletes

Spot the differences?

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You don’t have to be a Radiologist to see that there are some differences between the two X-rays above. Both are from adults of the same age 51 years. Female on left as you look at screen and male on right. In both cases, these adults would be described as “medically young”. Always physically active and reasonably accomplished as athletes in their respective sport disciplines. Never smoked, never overweight, good nutrition.

As discussed at the recent conference at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) on “Sports Injuries and Sports Orthopaedics” in the session on the “Ageing Athlete”, there are challenges for athletes in Masters’ age groups, including mechanical joint issues associated with increasing age.

Looking at the male X-ray on right there is small gap between femoral head (ball-like structure) and acetabulum (socket in which femoral head lies). This gap is where the articular cartilage reduces friction between articulating surfaces of this ball and socket joint. In contrast in female X-ray on left of screen, this gap is reduced as cartilage has been worn away so that on right hip (left as you look at screen) bone is grinding on bone. Ouch!

Look again at the femoral heads (ball like structures). In the male these have smooth contours and are symmetrical on both sides. In contrast, in the female there is marked asymmetry with squashed appearance on right side (left of screen) of the femoral head with honeycomb appearance suggesting that there is cyst formation and impaction into socket of joint. This results in shorter leg and weakness of the bone architecture so more likely to compress further. Strangely the blood supply to femoral head is retrograde, meaning it flows backwards from origin of supplying blood vessel to provide vital nutrients to bone, which is a living tissue. If this blood supply is disrupted then the bone dies (avascular necrosis) and become more fragile. The femoral neck (slim area below femoral head) where blood supply courses, has been telescoped down and looks stubby compared to opposite side in female.

Although in the female, the right hip aches and is stiff, it is actually the left hip (right as you look at screen) that hurts more, both at rest and when trying to exercise. Why? If you look carefully on the upper boarder of acetabulum (socket) you will see small cysts. I imagine that pain is caused when the synovial fluid (lubricating fluid) in joint is forced into exposed bone, in hydraulic action especially when moving the hip joint.

So what to do? Total hip replacement (THR) is the only feasible option for the female above, due to extensive damage to the hip joints. Why are some people more prone to this type of joint damage? Apart from underlying medical pathologies that damage joints, the nature of some types of exercise can contribute. For example Ballet is demanding on the hip joint in terms of range of movement and load bearing. The individual can also be predisposed in biomechanical terms to joint issues: in the female X-ray above the femoral head is more exposed than the male.

Although the perception is that THR is more for the elderly wishing to be able to walk to the shops, with improvements in materials and technology used in hip protheses, there are examples of young athletes successfully returning to previous pre-operative levels of exercise training without pain. Recently a 28 year old male soloist dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet had a THR and returned to professional dancing. The medically young athlete will probably have the required motivation and physical ability to rehab effectively. A house in the south of France with private pool and climate for rehab outside would certainly add to motivation. Nevertheless, return to dancing at a professional level in a top level Ballet company after THR is remarkable as classical dance requires a unique combination of outstanding strength, control, proprioception and flexibility. At the conference at the RSM, during the lecture on “Can I run after my hip replacement?” hip replacements in the medically young, active population were reported to have good success rate with athletes able to return to previous level of sport with predicted lifespan of replacement of up to 25 years. Of course every individual athlete should weigh up the pros and cons. Taking up a new impact sport would probably not be sensible. Delaying surgery too long, apart from increasing pain, can compromise biomechanics and therefore replacement outcome. On the other hand, any operation carries a risk, however small and THR requires extensive rehabilitation in order to return to sport.

Deciding on the timing of THR in medically young, older athlete is not straight forward, especially if considering your own hips. Ultimately in such a person, the decision to go for surgery is based on quality of life and limitation to current sport activity, combined with the desire to return to previous level of activity, without the pain. What would you do?

For further discussion on Endocrine and Metabolic aspects of SEM come to the BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance

References

Successful Ageing Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Conference: Sports Injuries and Sports Orthopaedics, Royal Society of Medicine, 18/1/17, Session “The Ageing athlete”. Including lectures on: “Can I run after my hip replacement? Current recommendations for impact exercise following joint replacement” Mr Konan and “Managing acute injuries in worn joints” Mr Oussedik

 

 

 

Successful Ageing

As I am discovering, ageing is an inevitable process. However what can you do to keep as healthy as possible in order to get the most out of life?

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If you are a Masters athlete, you will know that moving into these age groups means it is advisable to change training emphasis in order to prevent injury and compete successfully. As discussed at the recent conference Royal Society of Medicine on Sports Injuries and Sports Orthopaedics, during the session on “The Ageing Athlete”, older athletes need a longer dynamic warm up with controlled mobilisation and muscle activation, together with strength and conditioning sessions to prevent injury. Moving into next age group every five years gives the opportunity to assess and modify training accordingly.

Childhood development has an impact on long term adult health. Essentially the most rapid changes and potential peaks attained during childhood and adolescence reflect optimal physical and cognitive functioning in later life. The evidence from population cohort studies was presented by Professor Diana Kuh, director of MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, at the recent conference at the Royal Society of Medicine. Up to 66% of the decline in functional ability in ageing adults is related to childhood development. In the case of pubertal timing, Professor Kuh described that delay causes 20% reduction of volumetric trabecular bone accrual. In my 3 year longitudinal study of 87 pre and post pubertal girls, high levels of training delayed menarche and blunted attainment of peak bone mass (PBM). Conversely an optimal level of training did not delay menarche and improved bone mineral density compared to age marched sedentary controls. A similar long term effect is seen in older female athletes who have experienced amenorrhoea of more than 6 months duration. Even after retirement and resumption of menses pre-menopause, irreversible loss of bone mineral density (BMD) is seen. Professor Kuh argued for specific and personalised recommendations to individuals to support successful ageing.

From a personalised medical perspective, what about hormonal changes associated with ageing? Although in men testosterone levels decline with age, nevertheless the change is more dramatic in women at menopause where the ovaries stop producing oestrogen and progesterone. This results in increased risk after the menopause of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and stroke, together with other vasomotor symptoms and mood changes. With increased life expectancy comes an increasing number of women with menopausal symptoms and health issues which can negatively impact on quality of life. What about hormone replacement therapy (HRT)? HRT improves menopausal symptoms and reduces the risk of post menopausal long term health problems, provided HRT is started within ten years after the menopause. After this window of opportunity replacement oestrogen can actually accelerate cell damage. As with any medical treatment there will be those for whom HRT is contra-indicated. Otherwise the risk:benefit ratio for each individual has to be weighed up so that women can arrive at an informed decision. Regarding the risk of breast cancer, this is increased by 4 cases per 1,000 women aged 50-59 years on combined HRT. This compares to an additional 24 cases in women who have body mass index (BMI)>30 and are not on HRT. This underlines the important of lifestyle which is crucial in all areas of preventative medicine.

What type of HRT has the most favourable risk:benefit ratio? Oral preparations undergo first pass metabolism in the liver, so other routes of delivery such as transdermal may be preferred. There is also an argument that hormones with identical molecular structure are preferable to bio-similar hormones. What functional effect could a slight difference in sex steroid structure have? For example no methyl group and a side chain with hydroxyl group (C-OH) rather than a carbonyl group (C=O)? That is the difference between oestradiol and  testosterone.

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Testosterone
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Oestradiol

In the case of hormones with identical molecular structure to those produced endogenously, there are no potential unwanted side effects or immunogenic issues as the molecule is identical to that produced by the body. Although the oestradiol component in most HRT preparations in the UK has an identical molecular structure to endogenous oestradiol, there is only one licensed micronised progesterone preparation that is has an identical molecular structure. Synthetic, bio-similar progestins have additional glucocorticoid and androgenic effects compared to molecular identical progesterone which exerts a mild anti-mineralocorticoid (diuretic) effect.

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Progesterone
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Norethisterone (synthetic progestin)

With an increasing ageing population and increase in life expectancy, it is important to support successful ageing and quality of life with a personalised and specific approach.

For further discussion on Endocrine and Metabolic aspects of SEM come to the BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance

References

Conference Royal Society of Medicine 17/1/17 “Sports Injuries and Sports Orthopaedics” Session on “The Ageing Athlete”

Optimal health: especially young athletes! Part 3 Consequences of Relative Energy Deficiency in sports Dr N. Keay, British Association Sport and Exercise Medicine

From population based norms to personalised medicine: Health, Fitness, Sports Performance Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine 22/2/17

Optimal health: including female athletes! Part 1 Bones Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine

Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy course. Marion Gluck Training Academy 27/1/17

The British Menopause Society

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists