How to Track Your Body Composition in the Off-Season
Let me start this article on body composition by saying that hockey performance is not determined by body composition. However, there is an ideal body composition for you to achieve your best hockey performance. The ideal body composition for you will not be the same as someone else’s (certainly not the same as a random celebrity hockey player). You simply need to be aware that your hockey performance may change if you gain muscle mass or reduce your body fat.
If you have experienced a growth spurt (which is also a change in body composition) then you know that your hockey performance changes with growth too! After a big growth spurt you might find that your reach is longer and your stride is more powerful… By tracking your body composition changes accurately you will gain some cool insight into how your body is responding to your diet, your training program, and of course your growth hormones. As a sports dietitian, I am constantly checking my hockey player’s body compositions to see how their body is responding to my nutrition plan. Because measurement tools are needed to track body composition changes, the rest of this article will walk you through the best body composition measurement tools along with some tips and warnings for using that tool.
- Tool overview: Body weight scales range from the super cheap to the medical grade high end versions. Often what changes is the accuracy and precision of the scale. If you want to know if you truly weigh 150 pounds then you want an accurate scale. If you want to know if you weigh 150.25 pounds you want an added degree of precision. Of course professionals love more accurate and precise scales because then we can give you more accurate and precise advice! But for home use a cheaper scale is often okay.
- Best way to use this tool: Scales can track large changes in body composition. Normally you need to see more than 10 pounds difference on the scale to know that body fat and something structural in the body was gained or lost (something structural = muscles and bone). The problem you might face is that weight does not tell you what exactly you gained or lost and it is not a good tool to use alone to track changes in body fat and structure. However, it could be an excellent tool to track if you are hydrated provided your weight has been stable in recent past. Daily and hourly water weight changes in your body will affect your weight on the scale. If you have ever weighed yourself before and after drinking a large amount of water you will see you gained weight on the scale… water weight!
- How often to use this tool: For hydration testing you could weigh yourself every morning after using the washroom. A lower weight than normal may alert you that you are starting your day more dehydrated. For changes in total body composition (fat, muscle, and bone) you could weigh yourself 1 to 2 times per month. If you notice a 10 pound change in 1 month it could be a sign to go see a professional for nutrition, fitness, and general health assessments.
The Wall or Stadiometer
- Tool overview: The wall can be used to measure your standing or sitting height in the same way that a stadiometer is used (that tool you often see in clinics). Height measurements are great to see if you grew of course! If you are aiming to measure your exact height make sure the wall does not have a baseboard so you can align your heels flush to the wall.
- Best way to use this tool: Standing posture is key. You need to always stand with your feet together and make sure your heels, glutes, and upper back touch the wall. Your eyes should be focused straight ahead. Like body weight your height measurement will change over the day. The best time to take your height measurement is first thing in the morning.
- How often to use this tool: Between the ages of 11 and 20 you will want to be checking in on your height at the very least 2 times a year. However, I often recommend girls ages 11 to 15 and boys ages 12 to 16 measure themselves 1 time a month to catch a growth spurt.
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Pearle Nerenberg, MSc., R.D. is Canada’s leading expert on hockey nutrition, and author of the book The Nutrition Edge for Hockey Performance. She co-founded and chairs the Hockey Nutrition Network, an international non-profit organization dedicated to linking hockey players with top sports dietitians who have an expertise in hockey nutrition.