Have you tried a body composition scan service? Was it worth it?
January 14, 2019 9:32 AM   Subscribe

After years of exercise and diet tweaking and smashing headlong into the plateaus associated with altering one's physique, I'm considering going to one of those full-body scan places that measures body composition, does metabolic and cardiovascular testing, etc., in the hopes of getting a better understanding of what I'm doing right and what I should change.

I'm a female of average size and shape who works out regularly but isn't entirely happy with the result. Part of this is due, I believe, to not being certain of the best way to go about achieving my goals, and the uncertainty causing a knock-on effect of then questioning my approaches and psyching myself out because why bother working so hard if I'm not even doing it right?

Another part of the frustration is that I'm interested in muscle gain and fat loss, and for obvious reasons that's the sort of thing that's nearly impossible to measure with your standard bathroom scale. Casual internet research seems to indicate that body composition scans are the best for doing what they say on the tin, and I'd be willing to invest in a couple before/after sessions to measure progress if it would give me a clearer picture of what's going on. (Being armed with more evidence than just what I see in the mirror would make it loads easier to push through the frustration when those inevitable plateaus hit, rather than assuming they're just evidence I'm doing something wrong and my approach has failed.)

The place I'm looking at also offers a Resting Metabolic Rate Test and a V02 Max Test which I'm also considering, as I have a feeling my metabolism may be a bit fiddly and my calorie intake off as a result (serious sport + crash dieting in pre- and early-teen years) and my stamina has always been abysmal (a lifelong issue which I always assumed meant I just had to harden the fuck up, whereas recently it was suggested it may actually be an asthma or haemoglobin issue*), but also simply because feeling more educated about how my body is working would help me work more efficiently.

Has anyone ever tried one of these services, or has a better understanding than I of the science behind them and whether the results are accurate/useful? If it clears up some of the mystery, allowing me to get a better handle on my routine and to eat/work out/rest more efficiently I'm willing to spend the money and give it a try, but if this is just the latest scheme to profit off the health trend, or if it's a load of vaguely novel information that isn't really applicable to real-word approaches, I'd rather not bother.

*I do plan to look into this more seriously, but as I'm not in my home country right now and I'm generally not keen to go up against the US healthcare system unless absolutely necessary, assume this is something that is on hold until I'm back in the Nordics.
posted by myotahapea to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, I've used BodyComp Inc., and after the scan they gave me a cool report detailing bone density, muscle and fat percentage, along with distribution (like whether you carry more fat around your belly or legs than your arms or butt). I've used it twice and the information written in the report matched up with how I perceived my athletic performance to be at each time.

The easiest way for me to determine whether I'm making progress in my fitness goals is by seeing how much weight and how many sets x reps I'm able to do. If you currently do resistance training or cardiovascular training you would be able to see your performance trends by means of observing the improvement in poundage or mileage or time. Once you have that down, then I'd think paying money for these services can be fun and useful for you and other folks who enjoy getting more data.
posted by Iron Carbide at 10:43 AM on January 14

I get this for free as a part of my gym membership (link is not from my gym, though). I've done it a few times as baselines and to measure progress as I engage in a fitness routine. Perhaps it's because I'm not paying for it, but I haven't found it to be that helpful in terms of informing what I need to do in any more of a minimal way. It did confirm the data I get from my fitbit is fairly accurate, so that was helpful. I think it might be useful if you really know NOTHING about fitness but I don't get the impression you are there. I'm also happy to share my results from the assessments I've done so you can see what you're exactly what you're getting. Perhaps it also depends on the person doing the assessment and how much they can do with the info it spits out. I've never really interrogated the person about what X or Y data means in the report because I have enough knowledge that there really isn't a point.

You don't really need a body composition scale -- there are formulas for calculating body fat percentages from measurements. Combining that with the scale can give you a pretty decent sense of what's going on. I have used a spreadsheet I created that calculates this when you put in weight and measurements over time (MeMail me if you need explanation, I made it for myself so I didn't put any of that in). If you do go drink a lot of water prior to the appointment so you are well-hydrated.

tl;dr: I probably wouldn't pay for this and would use money toward a fitbit or similar and personal training session to talk with a trainer about specific goals, or a coaching program. MeMail me if you want the sample results.
posted by emkelley at 12:45 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I have tried BodySpec once (on a lark), and it's roughly what IronCarbide describes -- muscle / bone / fat, broken down by body part, all of these with histograms / recommended ranges. Apparently my right leg is more massive than my left, and my left arm is more massive than my right, but all these asymmetries are well within the tolerance of the machine.

I got to ask silly questions like, "if I don't poop before the scan, what does that mass count as" (answer: lean muscle, but it shouldn't be a significant amount).

I think to get any value out of this, you have to do it at a regular interval and try to keep the same routine, and even then, I'm not sure what it would tell you -- you can get stronger without gaining mass or losing fat, etc. MeMail me if you'd like a copy of my report!
posted by batter_my_heart at 2:04 PM on January 14

I got a DEXA scan and found the results interesting - it confirmed what I had suspected about myself (which was that despite my relatively low weight for my height, my body fat percentage was on the higher side, explaining why I felt squishier/less "lean"-looking than others with my same stats). From what I researched ahead of time, they are pretty well-backed by science (their primary use is looking at bone density for patients where that's a concern).

If they were available where I lived, I would sign up for one of the subscription models where you get 4 scans a year for a cheaper price or something, to be tested regularly. Although DEXA is likely the most accurate method that we have available to us widely, it still isn't perfect, so viewing the stats as trends over time is going to be more useful. Your body fat may or may not be exactly X%, but knowing that it's X-5% one year later is useful information.

There is still a margin of error on DEXA though, so within a few percentage points it could just be fluctuation (so you may have to keep it up over a long period of time, as most people aren't able to add muscle mass in large percentages in a short period of time). One note to keep in mind is to do the tests with as many of the same inputs as possible - e.g. always schedule them at the same time, in the same outfit, with the same food/water prior, etc. That will help minimize any extra variation.

Also, depending on the price, I'm not sure it would be worth it - it was available to me for $40 so it wasn't a big deal, but for $150-200 like I've sometimes seen, I don't know that I would do it. At that price, I'd rather just use calipers or something to measure body fat (which are less accurate/more prone to human error, but if the same human does them each interval then again you can have at least a good picture of trends over time).
posted by jouir at 2:34 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I got a DEXA scan in November and plan to get another in February to track progress.

I thought it was cool because it basically gave me a detailed baseline of where I was in terms of body composition, and when I do it a second time I'll be able to see how effective my current workout plan it and adjust further. My fitness goals right now are largely about increasing muscle mass so that details breakdown by body part is particularly useful in this regard.

I haven't done BMR or V02 tests, but a lot of times providers give you mad discounts if you buy a bundle package. I'd recommend looking at Groupon, Gilt, and Yelp to see if there are any active coupons -- and also make sure to buy at least a package of two DEXA scans because otherwis you just get a baseline and don't see how your body is changing based on your actions.
posted by aaanastasia at 8:13 AM on January 15

I had a DEXA scan done mostly for kicks last year and it didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, but it did give me some numbers. I got my body fat percentage, lean mass, and bone density, as well as an estimate of my total daily energy expenditure. I think it's most useful for high-level athletes and bodybuilder/physique competitors at lower body fat levels, because these people really need to have their nutrition dialled in to maintain or achieve those bodyfat levels. I think the average person would benefit more from scrutinizing their diet more closely and taking another look at their training plan. A body composition scan will not tell you when to rest or how to train. It can vaguely direct your nutrition, and tell you if you have muscle imbalances.

People over at r/xxfitness regularly post DEXA scan results, so you can see what sort of information you get (and what actions they plan to take as a result.)

The other indices may be more useful, I have no comment on those.
posted by invokeuse at 7:58 AM on January 16

Right, so, I decided to give it a go.

I would agree with the commenters who state it isn't necessary, but personally I found it quite useful, and would likely file it under the 'worthwhile splash-out' category.

I went for all three -- body composition, V02 and RMR -- and got a good amount of information out of them, some of which was surprising.* The body composition was likely the 'least useful' of the three: my body fat percentage guesstimate (based on those visual charts available online) was pretty accurate and it was novelly interesting to learn the slight imbalances in muscle mass, but knowing my visceral fat levels and bone density were great was reassuring. I find having hard numbers for lean/bone/fat mass to be satisfying.

Personally I found the latter two tests to be the most useful. I apparently have a faster than average metabolism and 'superior' cardiac strength, which are the opposite of what I assumed based on experience, so this knowledge is helpful for tweaking approaches in the future (e.g. my stamina issues may still have a physiological origin but it's also possible that they're due to simply not training properly). The tests also told me my body prefers fat over carbs as fuel, which helps meal planning. And having hard data about how many calories my body burns at rest and target workout zones/aerobic vs. anaerobic thresholds is eliminating some of the uncertainty and second-guessing about caloric intake goals and what types of cardio to do.

For someone like me, who is impatient, likes facts and numbers, doesn't deal well with uncertainty, and is bolstered by reassurance (essentially these tests told me that, excepting the within-acceptable-limits-but-too-high-for-my-preference body fat percentage I'm in excellent health within the given parametres) this was both useful and motivating. For others who already know some of this data or aren't as numbers- and results-oriented, it may not be as worthwhile.

*Possibly-important caveat: With the exception of an ophthalmologist for an acute corneal injury I've not been to a doctor for over a decade, so it's possible that those more diligent about this sort of thing would already know some of the info I got out of my tests.
posted by myotahapea at 10:03 AM on January 21

« Older Reusing things around the house   |   NYC in the cold with a tween Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments