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Several techniques can estimate body fat composition: Skin-fold measurements; bioelectric impedance tests, which use a small electrical current to estimate the amount of water in the body and then extrapolate a fat figure; and tests based on displacement of water (hydrodensitometry) or air (the "Bod Pod"). DXA is probably most common in research, because MRI and CT [which can also determine body composition] are so expensive and inaccessible.
Editor's note (2/22/10): Professor Mourtzakis wanted to emphasize the risks associated with an extremely low body fat: "While it is possible for some athletes to reach 2 percent body fat, I would certainly not support this approach for athletes.
When those stores deplete, your body has to use something else—this could be fat, but it could be protein.
People don't always appreciate how difficult it is to lose fat without losing protein.
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Having won six medals in his career, Seattle-based speed skater Apolo Ohno stands to make U. Winter Olympic history if he wins another one in upcoming short-track competition—the 1,000-meter race this weekend or the 5,000-meter relay on February 26.
It takes a long time to achieve and maintain these low levels of body fat. Is it safe for them to get down to 2 percent body fat?
Athletes have to take in adequate amounts of protein to maintain muscle mass, and they still have to take in adequate amounts of carbohydrate to maintain optimal training intensities.
Ohno is now 65 kilograms of almost pure muscle: only 2.8 percent of his body consists of fat. is 22 percent for men and 32 percent for women, although most experts believe a healthier body-fat content is 15 percent for men and 22 percent for women, according to , a book by nutritionist Covert Bailey.
It really depends on the sport an athlete is involved with.
For example, snowboarders probably have a normal amount of fat, whereas long-distance and endurance athletes [like speed skaters, cross-country skiers and biathletes] likely have less. Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry [DXA—the same technology used to measure bone mineral density], magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography are highly precise—[each] can measure fat to within 2 percent accuracy.
For athletes to maintain a high level of performance and low body fat, it means they have to a have a really good balance in their diet in order to maintain their health.
Should athletes continuously strive to lose body fat?
Elite athletes, of course, are expected to be slimmer than the rest of us. Ohno's fat level, though, is down there even for an athlete. After all, fat is crucial for normal physiology—it helps support the skin and keep it lubricated, cushions feet, sheaths neurons, stores vitamins, and is a building block of hormones.