Assessing vs guessing: PN measurements


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“Often, we beat ourselves up because we think we’re not making progress (in all areas of our lives). Yet, the truth is, in almost every case, we’re making tons of progress. We just haven’t tracked it, and so we don’t realize it.”

-Jeff Smith (Creator of 2X+1)

Are You Making Progress?

Yep, that’s always the big question. In fact, that’s the reason we here at Precision Nutrition do what we do. We’re here to help folks answer yes to the question.

“Yes, JB, I am making progress.”

…music to our ears.

Yet changing our bodies and our health can take some time. And when we really want to see these changes quickly, it may seem like forever.

As a result, it’s easy to start thinking we’re making no progress at all. And it’s even easier to start believing that we’re making no progress if we have no way of knowing what’s happening.

This is where measurement comes in.

You see, you’ll have no idea whether any program or lifestyle is working for you unless you measure the important variables and keep track of what’s happening to these variables over time.

I know, I know…you already know this stuff.

But the key question is this: are you doing it?  If not, you’d better read on.

What to measure

Throughout the Precision Nutrition program, we included several sections devoted specifically to measurement including what to measure, when to measure it, how often to measure it, etc.

(Most of this information is contained in our Precision Nutrition Measurement Guide.)

We also devoted an entire section (The Individualization Guide) to using these measurements to inform future changes in your nutrition plan. In other words, what to do if your measures change in a positive or negative direction.

We include these for good reason. We here have built our reputation on results. And we believe the fantasic results we’ve helped clients and athletes achieve are a direct result of our assessment methods.

So, what are these measurement methods?

Well, we regularly assess 4 main categories of client progress; 5 if they’re a physique competitor:

1) Body composition and skinfolds
(mm measures, %fat, %lean, etc.)

2) Body part girths
(thighs, waist, arms, etc.)

3) Athletic performance measures
(strength, speed, power, endurance, etc.)

4) Blood variables
(cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, etc)

5) Visual progress
(progress photographs)

So, how do we measure these and how often do we measure them?

Well, I can’t cover these methods exhaustively here – after all, we devote an entire 40 page manual – The Precision Nutrition Measurement Guide – to the process in Precision Nutrition.

Yet I can give you a quick overview.

How and When To Measure

For starters, here’s a chart of what we measure and how often we measure it:

You’ll see from the chart that we measure certain variables daily, others bi-weekly, others monthly, and others annually.

Of course, this system isn’t arbitrary. These timelines are based on the minimum time necessary to see a marked and/or meaningful change in each of the variables.

So, what should you be measuring during each of these intervals?

Well, for starters, you’ll need a reliable weigh scale, a measuring tape, and a set of skinfold calipers. These will help you collect your body weight, body girth, and skinfold/body comp data.

Body weight and body girth is easy to measure – just step on the scale for weight and wrap the measuring tape around the body parts you want to assess for girth. Skinfold/body comp data is a bit more complicated. Yet if you purchase a set of skinfold calipers, they typically come with instructions.

Beyond weight, girth, and skinfolds, you’ll also want to come up with some subjective and objective markers of stress/recovery. These measures will give you some indication as to whether you’re stressing your body too much with too few calories or too much exercise.

In measuring stress/recovery, we prefer to use a combination of both objective and subjective measures including: resting heart rate, appetite ratings, fatigue ratings, sleep quality ratings, and more (including a POMS analysis).

Beyond stress/recovery, it’s important to also come up with a way of measuring your strength, endurance, and/or sport performance. To measure overall strenth, power, and endurance we use tests like 1RM/3RM, % of RM tests, and V-max/T-max tests as a basline. For athletes, the tests get more sport specific.

Finally, beyond performance measures, you’ll want a way to test your blood including: your cardiovascular risk profile, your liver function, your kidney function, your thyroid function, your overall hormonal profile, your carbohydrate tolerance, your prostate health (for men), and your general blood profile.

Of course, this will involve your doc. Yet it’s important for you to approach him or her with a system for regular measurement, emphasizing the variables most important to you.

In the end, this measurement system discussed above can help you proactively take control of the three most important areas you can hope to impact with a good exercise and nutrition program:

  • Your health
  • Your body composition
  • Your performance

Why measure all this stuff?

Now, based on the post above, you may be asking yourself “why would I want to measure all these data”. Well, here’s why.

A) If you want to really change your body in a big way, you have to do what the pros do. Think about it. If there is one difference between professionals and amateurs, in almost every walk of life, it’s that the pros pay close attention to the details.

What’s the old carpenter’s saying? “Measure twice, cut once.” Stopping to ensure you make the precise cut, every single time, is the difference between the master craftsman and the weekend handyman.

And the great tailors, the ones who make the $5000 suits, what do they do? They bring you in on at least three separate occasions to be fitted perfectly. If you have ever wondered where the extra $4500 goes, go watch one of these tailors work sometime – the detail that goes into their work is absolutely astonishing.

Investment bankers have huge amounts of data available to them when they make their investment decisions.

Professional musicians record themselves so they can hear the minute differences from one performance to the next.

Athletes in every sport have access to a mind-boggling array of statistics, from times to averages, and every percentage imaginable in between.

Name the profession. Name the job. In every single case, you will find that the part-timers tend to “eyeball it” — but the professionals know for sure. As a colleague of mine likes to say:

“If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing.”

Also, until you can quantify something — until you can measure it precisely — you don’t really know it, and you can’t reliably change it.

The more you measure, the more you track over time, the better you’ll know your body, and the better you’ll be able to change it. And if you’re serious at all about doing so, you better be measuring everything you can.

The Precision Nutrition Tracker

Now, I want to let you in on something.  We’ve now made available our Results Tracker.

That’s right – the very program we use to quantify and track the results of our clients and athletes is now available to anyone reading this post. So if you have an interest in using our automated Results Tracker to help you monitor your progress, click here to find out more about it.

However, before getting too carried away, I want to make sure that you understand one thing. This article isn’t really about the Results Tracker. The Results Tracker is just a tool to help you do what I’m urging you to do – which is measure your progress. And whether or not you use the Results Tracker, we want you to come up with some sort of system for measurement and tracking.

You can track these data with a pen or pencil and calculator. You can use a spreadsheet and some custom-made graphs. Heck, you can use a sundial, an abacus and some twigs to draw in the sand.

Whatever your method is, it’ll get our thumbs up as long as you’re consistently measuring your progress. You need to know what you’re doing is working and to what degree. Without that knowledge, everything you do is a shot in the dark.

Learn more

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