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Body Composition Devices Under Evaluation


Athletes are always looking for an edge when it comes to diet and training.  Technological advances over the past 25 years have led to major changes in the way in which athletes approach their training.  One of these athletes is Stephen Okai of the University of Mobile in Alabama.

Okai is a two-time NAIA All-America soccer player, but the University of Mobile midfielder always is looking for ways to improve his performance. That’s why he volunteered for a United States Sports Academy body composition study.

It meant spending four hours on a recent Friday afternoon at the Academy’s Human Performance Lab where Okai and about 20 of his Rams teammates underwent comprehensive testing to learn detailed information about their body fat and muscle mass. They also received the precise amount of calories they should be consuming to gain muscle or lose fat.

The testing is part of a major study by the Academy on body composition. The sports university is offering more than $500 worth of free testing to about 420 recreational, amateur and elite athletes who are interested in their fitness. All male and female athletes between the ages of 14 and 65 are eligible for testing at the Daphne, Ala., school.

The 22-year-old Okai says he was excited about getting the results of his study.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” says Okai, a junior who is from Accra, Ghana. “I’m interested in knowing the consequences of the supplements we take. It’s definitely worth it to me to find out more about my body.”

Mobile men’s soccer coach Dr. Roy Patton was even more interested in analyzing the in-depth body composition data that each athlete receives immediately following the completion of the tests. Patton, who earned his doctorate in Sports Management in 2002 from the Academy, plans to use the information to evaluate the Rams’ training regimen and to help create individualized programs for his players. The team finished the season ranked No. 4 in the country and reached the Round of 16 at the 2011 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championships.

“This is high-quality testing that will help us reinforce and design our training program,” says Patton, who is in his first year as coach of the elite NAIA team after successful stints at the University of South Alabama and other colleges. “Any coach worth his salt must stay up-to-date with sports science. This helps us and our athletes understand their own strengths and weaknesses.”

The Academy's Dr. Jordan Moon (left) prepares Kyle Buxton (right), a University of Mobile goalkeeper, for the BodPod.

Dr. Jordan Moon, Department Head of Sports Fitness and Health, and Dr. Enrico Esposito, Chair of Sports Medicine, are heading up the Academy research that is examining more than a dozen devices and techniques that measure body composition to determine which ones are the most accurate.

“This data will help those athletes, and athletes all over the world, to choose which devices are more accurate measurements of body composition,” Moon says. “The validity and accuracy of many devices are unknown for most athletes because athletes’ bodies are more developed and different from the average persons.”

For instance, the Mobile soccer players, like other volunteers, go through tests at eight stations. They include devices such as the newest high-tech version of the BodPod Body Composition Tracking System. The BodPod uses the same principle as underwater weighing—the accepted gold standard for measuring body composition. However, with the BodPod no one gets wet because it uses air displacement. The BodPod performs three tests, each lasting about 40 seconds, to glean information regarding body fat and lean body mass.

At another station that is definitely low-tech, researchers take 66 measurements from the shoulder down. The measurements include using a Lange Skinfold Caliper, which is widely used by healthcare and fitness professionals. The calipers measure the thickness of fat and skin that is pinched and pulled away from the muscle. This technique is performed on eight different places on the body: triceps, chest, subscapular, axilla, abdominal, suprailium, thigh and calf.

Besides learning detailed information about their body fat and muscle mass, those who volunteer for the study will receive information on segmental fat and muscle mass, such as the amount of muscle in their legs, arms and trunk, Moon points out. He says the detailed results can greatly assist in determining and developing effective nutrition and training regimens.

So far, the University of South Alabama track and cross country teams both have gone through the testing, as well as triathletes from TeamWorks Community and the Gulfcoast Triathletes. Although mostly local college athletes have participated so far, youths and seniors are sought for the study, too.

University of Alabama sprinter Camilla Armstead says all the testing is invaluable and recommends that others make sure to take advantage of the free testing.

“The testing procedures were very thorough and included some of technology’s most advanced equipment and devices to assess body composition,” says the 21-year-old senior. “As an athlete, this testing is critical to me. I will definitely use all the information to help determine the nutrition in my diet and my exercise routines.”

Slots are filling up fast but more volunteers are still needed to complete the study that ends in April. Groups, teams and individuals interested in their fitness are encouraged to come in for the testing that can be arranged any day of the week at the university’s lab in Daphne.

For more information or to sign up for the Academy’s study, please contact research@ussa.edu or call 251-626-3303, ext. 7155. To view or download a flyer about the study, please visit http://goo.gl/kKNh8.

The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research, and service. Duwayne Escobedo is the Director of Communications at the Academy. He has more than two decades of experience as a journalist. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy, call 251-626-3303 or visit www.ussa.edu


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