In this episode, we debate the use of body composition testing in sports. We explore why the use of this standard practice is now being rethought, how it’s been used effectively, what some alternatives are, and provide practical advice for your performance program to consider.
CONNECT WITH THE PARTICIPANTS
- Katie McInnis – Major League Performance Dietician, Texas Rangers. Email: KatieMcInnisphd@gmail.com
- Linda Steinhardt – Sports and Eating Disorder Dietician, KP Nutrition Therapy. Email: email@example.com Instagram: Linda.Steinhardt_rd
- Emma Ostermann – Supervising Consultant US Human Performance, Fusion Sport. LinkedIn: Linkedin.com/in/emma-ostermann Twitter: @elostermann20
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Katie McInnis 0:00
Not only is it intimidating for athletes to speak up and say, Hey, I’m not comfortable with this. It’s also difficult as a practitioner to say, oh my gosh, we have this robust sports science department and they really need these numbers, but this is not best for some of our athletes.
Emma Ostermann 0:19
Welcome to the Vanguard roundtable podcast where we discuss the latest trends driving the human performance industry forward. I’m your host, Emma Ostermann. In this episode, we debate the use of body comp testing. We explore why the standard practice is now being rethought how it’s been used effectively, what some alternatives are, and provide practical advice for your performance program to consider. Today’s roundtable guests include Katie McInnis, Major League performance dietitian with the Texas Rangers. Linda Steinhardt, sports and eating disorder dietitian with the athlete Edge program. The views expressed today are those of the individual guests do not necessarily reflect the position of featured sport or the guests organizations. Now let’s get to the episode. The Vanguard roundtable podcast is brought to you by fusion sport maker of Smartabase, the premier human performance optimization platform for elite sports teams and military organizations. Clients are racing to build their human performance analytics team to help make data informed decisions better serve their customers and give them a competitive advantage. That’s why we’ve published our latest guide to building your human performance analytics team. This is the first comprehensive resource specifically for human performance leaders in sports and military environments. In it, you’ll find tips and best practices from practical templates, tools, and examples to help you build and evolve your analytics team. To download your free copy of building your human performance analytics team. Visit fusionsport.com/resources. Linda, Katie, welcome to the Vanguard roundtable podcast. Before we dive into today’s questions, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Linda Steinhardt 1:53
Yeah, so my name is Linda Steinhardt. And I actually grew up playing volleyball. And so that’s kind of how I got into the sports world. I played volleyball at the University of Missouri and actually originally, majored in marketing. Kind of shortly after realized that wasn’t very fulfilling. And I kind of grew up around sports, seeing various levels of how nutrition played a role or negatively impacted athletes and felt that it’d be really fulfilling to kind of go back to school to become a sports dietitian. So that a fellowship at UNC worked in private practice for a bit and now export vacation at an eating disorder treatment facility for athletes in Denver, Colorado.
Emma Ostermann 2:36
Perfect. Well, thank you for joining us, Katie.
Katie McInnis 2:39
Yeah, so Linda, and I kind of have similar backgrounds. I was also a two sport college athlete. And my first career was also in marketing. I worked in the NFL for a few years. And the exact same story just wasn’t super fulfilling. And my mom was a sports dietitian. And so I kind of was looking at what she did. And I was like, I think that’s what I want to go back and do so did my PhD at UT and also worked as a sports dietitian there for about eight years up until last August. And then I recently accepted a job with the Texas Rangers as the major league performance dietitian. So I’ve been here for a little under a year doing that now.
Emma Ostermann 3:20
Excellent. Katie, and Linda, thank you so much for joining us today. We’re excited to talk about this really important topic and can’t wait to see what the conversation leads us to. But Katie, I’m going to turn this first question over you. Bonnie come testing has been a standard practice for so long. Why is it now being questioned? Okay.
Katie McInnis 3:38
So I think, I think right now, it’s just kind of the perfect storm for it. So body composition has been used for decades, we have decades and decades of body comp data and sports like football. But I think now it’s become very commonplace in almost every sport, especially at the collegiate level. So I think it’s just become an even more so common practice. And so anytime you have more people involved in something, I think you hear more diverse perspectives about the technology or whatever it is that you’re working with. I think right now also, there’s a huge push for mental health, especially in athletes in collegiate settings, and which is wonderful, it gives them a little bit more power to speak their voice. And so I think with the body comp testing being more mainstream, plus this big push to treat athletes like people and protect mental health, we just saw a different perspective of body composition testing, kind of over and maybe in the past year or so. So, kind of with both of those things happening there’s been a little bit of question of you know, is this still what’s best for the athlete and wind and I talked about this all the time that you know, I have feet kind of in both camps where the researcher side love As the data, but the human, the person who’s worked with eating disorders and body dysmorphia and athletes, says, Hey, we might want to check this. And so I think right now, people are becoming vocal about, hey, maybe this isn’t something that at least a subset of the population loves. And now as practitioners, it’s our job to kind of take a look of, you know, what is this? What is the risk that we’re imposing on the athletes versus the reward? And I think anytime you implement something in an athletic population, you really have to weigh those two options of what you know, first, do no harm. So if the if there is a lot of risk, is it something that we want to continue? Or can we adapt it and make it better? Because we always want the reward aspect of that ratio to be higher than that risk?
Emma Ostermann 5:47
Absolutely, absolutely. Linda, I would love to hear your thoughts as well.
Linda Steinhardt 5:50
Yeah, I mean, I’ll just echo things that Katie said, too, I think in the past year to athletes, I’ve really been speaking up. And there’s been more things in the media about athletes experiences with body composition testing, and perhaps some of the different experiences or perceptions that they might have about it. And then I think to, you know, when practitioners see that, that puts them in a position to start having thoughts about like, okay, what are we doing at school? Or how is this helpful? Is this helpful? And I think that can be a hard spot to be into in terms of perhaps feeling like vulnerable as a practitioner, when you’re questioning something that has been so normalized for a really long time. So I think we are in this sort of point in sports, nutrition and sports world, in general, where it’s kind of like, okay, what do we do with this thing that has been here for so long? Now that athletes are questioning it, practitioners might be questioning it. And really kind of diving into the nuances of it, I think it’s really helpful to figure out what’s the best.
Katie McInnis 6:51
And I think we’re also seeing just from the practitioner side, and the sport science side, there’s so much more data being gathered and body comp is such can be such an exciting piece of that puzzle. So like Linda said, as a practitioner, it’s not only is it intimidating for athletes to speak up and say, Hey, I’m not comfortable with this. It’s also it’s also difficult as a practitioner to say, oh, my gosh, we have this robust Sports Science Department, and they really need these numbers. But this is not best for some of our athletes, some athletes thrive on it, but some of them are not. So how do you find that balance of the sports science, the strength coaches all get what they need to do their job and the dieticians but also, you know, we got to remember that these are people first before their athletes, and that’s a really difficult balance to find. So I think Linda highlighted that really nicely.
Emma Ostermann 7:43
Absolutely. And I think that, you know, just coming in with my background, my coaching background and expanding conditioning, I think one of the things that we were always talking about was, like, who should hold that data? You know, like, who like who should own it? Meaning does that come from the strength conditioning coach, knew how to use it to track for, hey, is the program that I wrote? Is it doing what I need it to do? Or is that coming from the dietician, say, saying, like, Hey, this is part of like, the medical data that should be housed here. And I think we start thinking from that perspective, it starts opening up a whole other conversation into like, how this should be approached. And Katie, to your point of do no harm for the athlete. And I think that’s, that definitely speaks volumes when it’s Hey, all of us need to start speaking and having this conversation. And I think you guys both touched on it. But what rule does the athletes play in the pushback on body contesting? I know you we, we’ve touched on it, but now the athletes are being more vocal? Where do you see that shift has come from?
Linda Steinhardt 8:50
Yeah, you know, I think there were there been a couple articles that have really kind of like, blown up, and I think given more attention to this topic, and I think as not only practitioners healers, but athletes, dinos, you know, I imagine a lot of athletes can identify with those stories or those experiences. And so I think in some ways, it’s a little bit of a trickle down effect of like, wow, other people have my same experience. Katie, and I got the opportunity to do some research around this and kind of hear athletes experiences and so hopefully, we’ll be able to, you know, share more of that. And I think that athletes feel more comfortable sharing their own voices and, and having practitioners really take that into consideration when they’re making decisions about that. So I think it’s been kind of a process of more athletes speaking out over time. And then then finally being heard a little bit more and practitioners kind of questioning some of the normalization of some of these signed contracts, and other things as well.
Katie McInnis 9:53
Yeah, I think what you said about practitioners hearing it so I think, like, like you said, his articles were really powerful even As someone who’s I’ve been doing body comp testing for over a decade, including my research, and, you know, you hear things kind of in passing of like, Man, I don’t want to do this or like, you know, I just didn’t eat last night. So this would be a better number. And but you know, it’s always a lot going on. And so sometimes it’s kind of easier to miss. So I think when these articles come out, you’re like, oh, wow, there really is a subset of people who this really does harm to, it’s so important for us to listen to that. And I’ve, I was very much on one side of the perspective at the beginning of like, No, I want these numbers, like, not only does it show value of what we do, but it also shows performance value, it shows values for the strength and conditioning coach, we can link this to metrics of performance, especially, you know, I’ve worked in football for about five years, and there is really good body comp data. But now kind of hearing these stories and you know, with these big articles coming out those little kind of one off things of like, oh, I don’t want to do this, that really now opens up a door for the practitioner to say, can we talk about this a little bit more about why you are uncomfortable doing this? And is there anything I can do to make it better? So, you know, they I think they just kind of open that door. But as people who are doing this, and using this data, I think it’s really our job to open it further for discussion. So they do feel more comfortable. You know, speaking up about this doesn’t sit well with me. And again, not everybody feels like that. I think that’s the cool thing of Linda’s research and what we talked about when we were going through the study of how we thought the data was going to be bimodal have some people really disagree with it. And some people really got benefit from it. But I think as our like you said, as practitioners, we have to listen to the people who are actually in it and be flexible in our approach to that.
Emma Ostermann 11:54
Absolutely. Absolutely. And we I know, we touched on it, you know, whether it’s a strength conditioning coach, the dietician, whoever it might be. And Linda, I’m gonna, I’m gonna pose this question to you first, but can you talk about some of the considerations for practitioners when deciding if they should use body contrasting? Linda?
Linda Steinhardt 12:12
Yeah, I got I think there are, I think there’s so many. And I’m interested to hear and Katie posts too. But the things that come to mind, for me initially are that I think there, there is a known risk in research that when we put a hyper focus or hyper awareness on someone’s body, that puts them at risk for disordered eating, eating disorders, reds, poor mental health, being preoccupied with their food choices or their bodies, right? Which if we’re just talking about performance, like that’s not helpful for performance. I think we look at the error rates of body composition testing and say, Hey, are we actually adapting this in a correct manner? are we controlling for the things that could impact their rates? I think we look at is this impacting the way athletes feel about themselves? So kind of briefly, I’ll share, I think it was like 70% Plus, said, of athletes in that region, or research said it moderately or significantly impacts the way they feel about themselves, or the way they think their coaches feel about them, which is huge. Gosh, other things are, what are practitioners using it for? So could we make the same recommendations? Hey, without a body contest? And what recommendations are being made from those body podcasts and numbers? And then I think too, right? Like what our athletes getting out of it? So our athletes, saying, oh, cool, I’m experts in body fat, and I’m gonna I need to eat less? Or what are how are they perceiving those numbers? And I think, oftentimes, it’s hard, right? collegiate sports dietitians or sports science, people are really busy. And so sometimes we do the test. And we looked at the numbers, and we said, here are your numbers, and then that’s kind of it. And so if that’s the system in place, really assessing like a is that helpful? Just for performance sake, A and B is harmful? is another way not helpful, but it’s harmful? So I think there’s a there’s a lot there, but I’ll kind of pause and see what your thoughts are.
Katie McInnis 14:17
Yeah, you touched on a lot of good things. And I know in our initial discussions about doing this podcast, one thing that I wanted to touch on was as a practitioner, understanding what error rate means and how you affect that as a human being, how the technology has the inherent error rate, and that inherent error rates of technology are posted if you follow a very specific protocol. If you do not follow that protocol, those error rates can skyrocket. So even with when we’re looking at skinfold caliper test, it’s up to a 10% error rate of if you have someone who’s unskilled Now if you’re ISEC certified, there’s up to 90% agreement again, it can be pretty good but That’s years of training and I guarantee you 90% of the people or maybe even more who are doing those don’t have that. That certification because it’s very difficult and time-consuming to get. So you know, I bring this up when I talk to young dieticians, I’m like, Well, what are you using these numbers for, and they’re like, Well, I even though it’s not super accurate, I’m following trends. And as I’ve, because I was, I was a DEXA technologist at UT for a long time. And I’ve done 1000s and 1000s of these. And I’m like, you can’t actually detect a trend when there’s up to a 10% error rate when we’re not following these protocols. And unfortunately, we had a wonderful Sports Science Department. But unfortunately, the reality of a special an NCAA athlete’s schedule is you can’t follow you’re not a laboratory rat, so you can’t follow those protocols. And so let’s say we have an athlete who follows the protocol for their baseline, and then the next three or four times they don’t, we could just be seeing a 10% shift in body fat that is, I’m not gonna
not correct. And so when people say I’m following trends and making recommendations off that I’m like, you can’t follow a trend when you’re not following a protocol and the error rate is so high. And so we have to understand that so that way, as practitioners, it’s our job to interpret and safeguard that data and make it understandable for the athletes. So if I can’t say that I’m following this protocol, I’m hesitant to even give a trend because I’m not confident that I’m actually even able to detect a trend. So that’s something that I think is so on, not understood enough by practitioners of what this data actually means. And that’s not a that’s, you know, young dieticians, I’ve mentored a lot of them coming through body comp testing. And it’s okay if you don’t know those, what that means. But it is your job to understand that before you talk to athletes and, and interpret it. So I think, really understanding the inherent technology and what it can and can’t do and how those results can be interpreted is so imperative. And then like Linda said, following up with the athlete to make sure that they actually understand what you’re talking about. So I’ve been in consults, where I’ve done an assessment of the athlete, and I’m like, Oh, I don’t think you’re going to be able to really handle these numbers. Sometimes these numbers can carry a lot of weight. So we’re just going to talk about other things. And following up and making sure that they feel heard and their questions are answered. And like Linda said, I think sometimes that’s challenging, because, I mean, there was one year at UT, where we had two DEXA technicians, and one was our director who had a department to run. So I was doing 1000s of dexus. And there just wasn’t enough of us to be able to do that in a situation like that. Had I had the maturity and knowledge kind of now that that I didn’t, then, you know, that’s, that’s not what’s best for the athlete to take all these numbers, and then maybe do a quick run by of like, the it looks good. And then they’re sitting there and they’re like, Well, what is what is good? Or what is what is bad? Or, you know, they can’t You can’t do like a quick Oh, yeah, like you, you’re Excellent. Okay, you might need to lean out a little bit with no follow up or explanation, because I think that can take someone with a very healthy body image, and really start to skew them on that side of, like, Ooh, maybe I do need to, like pay more attention to these numbers. It wasn’t a thought before, but they said this in passing. And I’ve seen that happen in practice where a dietitian was on the run and just said, like, oh, like, ya know, you need to lean out and tried to do like a quick consult in front of people and ended very poorly. And, again, that’s just the nature of the beast of NCAA athletics, sometimes, but the I think, really, really, truly understanding what you’re doing, understanding the shortcomings of that being transparent about the shortcomings, and then follow up an explanation and making sure that you’re seeing it in a way that they hear it in a supportive manner versus a judgmental manner. And that’s, that’s why a lot of that’s why at University Texas, we had a policy that coaches were not allowed to discuss body comp, and I’ve worked with some wonderful coaches who understood this data just as well as I did and really knew their athletes. But the weight it carries coming from someone with a coach in their title versus a dietician or a physician. When you put that coach in there, everything is weighted really heavy. So if you’re in an institution where you’re trying to consider what protocols to do, keep in mind that if even with even with strength coach, you guys are really seen as these are the people who are going to help me perform my best. And what they say carries a lot of weight worse for us. I mean, I think my job is important. But I’m ancillary staff and support staff. I don’t have that coach in front of my name. And so I don’t think those conversations carry as much weight when we do have those follow ups.
Emma Ostermann 20:10
Yeah, absolutely. And, and that actually just sparked, you know, and just a couple of questions for you both, Katie, you and Linda. One of the things that I think ends up happening is you take this data, right, and you hit the head on the nail, Katie, strength conditioning coaches, or even dieticians can be judged by coaching staff based off body comp testing, if it’s, and now it could potentially lead to you’re looking at like, Is your job at risk? And, and it just plays like a whole other level? So I guess my question would be, how would you approach this testing? When a it needs to be done? Because, hey, uh, coach needs it. It’s part of like, whether or not your job is on the line? And then be like, how would you go about educating the coach to ensure that this, this data that we are collecting is not used in a negative impact? So,
Linda Steinhardt 21:09
I thought about this kind of question quite a bit. And I think it’s really interesting because Katie brought this up earlier development in a way that that can feel sometimes like the way that a dietitian provides value, right? Like, look, I shifted his body composition from X number to X number across the season. And I thought about that. And, you know, part of me feels like that’s not how I would like to provide value. And so that might involve a really hard conversation with the coach of, hey, look like, you know, things that come to mind are the your body composition is going to shift throughout a train cycle no matter what. If you train an athlete adequately and you consistently, right, it’s going to shift probably in an offseason. And so measuring that isn’t going to change that fact. It’s going to provide validation for a coach and the coach, I think you’re cool, or like doing that, right. But are there other ways that dietician can provide value? And can we show that we provide more value than just shifting body compositions and testing those things, right? And then another thing that comes to mind, right, okay, if that’s the way we are providing value, okay, so Katie mentioned, she’s done 1000s of body composition tests. Well, that takes a heck of a lot of time. And so what could we be doing? How else could we be providing value if we weren’t spending time doing that? So in, you know, Katie, and I did a little calculation where if you got to D one school, and it has 500 student athletes, and let’s say they do two taxes per year, which a lot of D one schools do more than two taxes per year. But if you just said two deaths per year, that’s for work, we could have time just doing the taxes, if a doctor takes about 10 minutes, right? That does not include scheduling the taxes, that does not include analyzing the taxes, that does not include getting informed consent from athletes to be able to do the taxes, that does not include following up with them. Right. None of that, for work leads to time, just sitting there and watching the athletes lie on a deck machine. Okay, so I could do a lot more with that time, right, and hopefully provide way more value as a dietitian with that time. And so I think that, you know, to me, that’s a really big case for if I would like to do something different, or I’d like to have a hard conversation with a coach role. Okay, look, I you just, I’m just buying for more work with the time. And so I think it’s hard conversations, but I think it’s really important to be able to show our value in more ways than just reinforcing that hyper focus on what an athlete why competition. I think another thing is educating coaches on that there’s not a body composition, right, like a certain number that predicts better performance. And so oftentimes, there’s pressured on sports vacations to shifts body fat or body muscle up or down. And sometimes there’s hard conversations with like, actually, this is not what would be best would be would be best for this athlete. And so I think that education is really helpful and important, and sometimes those are really hard conversations to have. Yeah,
Katie McInnis 24:14
just kind of what Linda said, I think quantifying performance is really difficult. And body comp testing became something where both strength and conditioning and dieticians could be like, here’s something objective coaches love numbers. Here are some objective measurements of how I achieved a goal with an athlete. But if we look at, you know, all the bandwidth of testing that we have now, when an athlete gets on a Nordborg, or when an athlete does a functional movement screen, that’s not something that challenges body image necessarily now, do they want to do the hamstring strength tests? No, because it’s terrible and it sucks, but it’s not something where they’re probably going in and body checking, and they’re not probably going and manipulating their Food or having severe stress and anxiety about this, this test. And that, you know, the more technology that’s coming out, we’re finding other ways where we can actually look at is the athlete getting stronger as the athlete moving better, without such a hyper focus on what the athlete physically looks like, if you’ve ever done a DEXA, or if you’ve ever done certain types of BOD pods, you get a printout, and it shows your body and I don’t care if you are 2% body fat, it’s not a it’s not a flattering photo. But when you go out and do a pull test, you’re not forced to really re examine what your body looks like. So while I think originally, you know, body comp came or kind of started coming to light, and everybody was doing it, and so more people were like, oh, we need to get on board. We don’t want to fall behind. But it it’s, you know, is this actually giving us the data that we want. Now, Linda and I have somewhat differing views, which I think is wonderful. And why I always love our conversations of I do like body composition manipulation, I think it’s really cool. And I think there is a subset of the population that really does like that. So again, working in football, there’s really good body fat percentage data of like, if you’re running back, you’re between x and y, and you’re going to be more successful in your position than if you are three standard deviations outside of that mean, in a lot of sports, there’s not so working in baseball, there’s not a body comp that a pitcher is going to be better at because they are a certain percent body fat. But you, you know, you take into, like, you look at someone like track athletes, there’s, I can look at a group of track athletes, and I can be like, you’re a high jumper, you’re a pole vaulter, your distance runner, you’re probably not going to have a shot putter that is five, one and in 90 pounds. So there is a little bit of where I understand that body comp can play a role and can affect performance. But is there other ways we could also look at that and measure that of okay, if somebody is a high jumper, and all of a sudden, they aren’t jumping as high as they usually are, they’re a little bit sluggish. Don’t throw them on the body comp right away, like don’t throw them on the DEXA right away, because that’s a really negative way to impact an athlete of okay, I’m not doing well, and they immediately wanted to look at my body. Whereas I’m not doing well, maybe we can do that functional movement screen and say, Is it my kinetics? Or maybe we can do some other sort of strength tests and say, Okay, have I lost a little bit of strength? It’s not necessarily does my body look in a certain way that’s going to prevent me from being good at my sport?
So yeah, that’s I was gonna say, how can we just have really big being creative how else we can we can measure performance. So with I worked in professional rugby for a little bit, as well. And in baseball, in rugby, they wanted to do body composition testing. And I said, Well, let’s try let a year without doing it, and see if we can get what we need without these measures that are already flawed. Let’s be creative, and be really good practitioners and collaborate and say, okay, his velocities dropped. What could this be as a performance team? And if it is, if it is, hey, you know, he’s strong and powerful, but he has put on, you know, let’s just say 15 pounds, then is that a discussion where we look at nutrition, but I wouldn’t go to the athlete and be like, we need to look about we need to look at your body comp, and we need to try to decrease your body fat, it’s a conversation of, hey, we just want to examine some your nutrition is and if there’s anything that we can change nutrition wise to help your performance. So there’s a way to think still prove value and find other performance metrics and other ways to measure it. And then if we do decide to body comp, and we do want to look at that, there’s a really good way and a really bad way to go about that. The bad way is you’re not pitching well, and you gain weight. The good way is you’re not pitching. Well, we examine all these variables that are body focused. And now let’s examine nutrition as part of the performance spectrum. And is there anything that we need to change and even in my mind, if I’m like, Okay, I think he does need to lean out a little bit. I don’t necessarily have to go to that. I can talk about overall nutrition quality, I can talk about timing, there’s other things that I can make it focused on and tie it into performance versus we just need to get this skill weight down.
Emma Ostermann 29:42
Absolutely, absolutely. Katie, Linda, you guys are both provided some really good insight so far. Katie, I am going to turn this next question to you. Can you share some examples of when you’ve seen body comp testing use most effectively while also addressing some of the concerns we’ve
Katie McInnis 29:56
just talked about? Yeah, so like I said I, I, the researcher in me and the scientist in me really loves this data. And I have seen it used in really great ways before. So we had a football player got out even though he’s playing professionally now. So it’s been a while. But he kept having fractures in his split. Every single year, he fractured his foot. And we did, we looked at his diet, we put them on injectable calcium, we manipulated a bunch of different things in the training room, and he kept fracturing his foot. And so we again, what a wonderful sports scientist Travis plant is, and he helped us look at this equation of lean mass to bone mass ratio. And what we found is this athlete was carrying too much lean mass for his bone structure. So by we thought we were doing the best job of getting him stronger, who has a tight end and needs to be solid. But his bone structure couldn’t hold that. And so without body composition testing, we wouldn’t have been able to really put that puzzle piece together. So we backed him off in the weight room, and the fracture stopped. So to me, like, I’m like, wow, that’s a really cool performance metric. And we really help this athletes career because if he kept breaking bones in his foot, it’s pretty important to be able to run. So we really helped the trajectory of his career there. And then I guess, when we were talking about the questions, he was trying to think of specific athletes, and there was a female athlete that I worked with, where I could tell she wasn’t comfortable doing the DEXA. Again, why it’s so important to build relationships with your athletes of she came in, and our Sports Science Room was just this big, open space where you weigh them, and then they get on the DEXA. And it’s not like a bod pod where you begin skin tight clothing, but it’s still you’re in front of a lot of people. And I could just tell she wasn’t comfortable. So I pulled her aside and I said, Hey, I can tell this isn’t sitting well, what’s what is it that’s making you uncomfortable? She’s like, I just don’t want to be weighed in front of people. And so I said, Okay, well, let’s go back in the physician’s room, we’ll do the weight there, and then we’ll, we’ll come back and do the body comp. So we did that. And then when we were doing the review of the results, you know, I said, Hey, I, I could tell that you weren’t comfortable with this process. And so I want to ask you, do you think me giving you these numbers is going to be a weapon or a tool? Do you think it’s going to be something positive? Or, you know, athletes are judged on numbers all the time. So giving you a number could be, could be difficult for you? And she’s like, I don’t I don’t really know. And so I said, you know, well, what if I told you, you were 50% body fat, and I just chose something that was really, really high. And she’s like, oh, and I was like, so even if I told you, you were 12% body fat it can carry on which we definitely learned in the section. But even if I told you a number that was much lower than that, you can still carry that same weight and that same reaction. So I was like, why don’t we just not talk about the numbers today, you think about if this is going to be something that a data piece that you want, and that you can use effectively. But if you think it’s going to cause you stress, just know that I’m watching on, you know, we’re collecting this data, I’m looking at it, I’m analyzing it, and if there’s something that we need to address, I would be transparent, and I would come to you. And you know, she came up a couple days later. And she was like, I saw what this did to some of my teammates who got the numbers. And I don’t think we should get numbers as a team. And, you know, I told her, I was like, I gave everybody kind of the same option. But now you can really see that even if you think you’re in a comfortable spot with it. Maybe your teammate isn’t and she’s like, what were you? What was how much Lemass did you and we didn’t get out percent body fats, but they’re smart, simple ratio. And so I thought that was a really good success because she objectively probably needed to lean out a little bit for her position. But it wasn’t a body composition talk then it was hey, you know, we’re looking at these numbers. This is just one thing that we track, but let’s just talk about nutrition that makes you feel good. And that was really beneficial for her. But same things like we’ve had athletes come back from breaks and the scale weights totally different than when I last saw them over the summer. And you know, sometimes if a coach sees oh my god, you put on 20 pounds. I worked with a coach who was very much on the disordered eating disorder spectrum and would do the eye test.
You know, and so sometimes it’s a way of a coach being like I put on 20 pounds like I can the eye test. Sometimes it’s a way to go in and be like, Look, they put on muscle. This is a good thing like this is They’re stronger now. So it can help in those sorts of ways. But again, I think it’s so important to assess the individual’s acceptance of it. Like working baseball, the guys love numbers, it’s all numbers. Same thing with track, all one on one numbers. And some people use it for, for good and really thrive and helps motivate them and get them towards their goals. But everybody’s not like that. And so again, I always kind of think that do no harm, do no harm. So we got to protect that subset of people who might be at risk of harm, even if 90% of the people aren’t. It’s, you got to really individualize it and really get to know the athlete because they can be a really successful tool. But again, it can also be something super, super harmful. And to me, that risk is very real. And again, does that outweigh the reward of it? I still don’t have an answer for that. Going day to day,
Emma Ostermann 36:01
Katie, that’s those are really interesting examples. And, Linda, I do want to hear, especially with your background, and the individuals that you work with, I would love to hear kind of some of your thoughts and examples that you might have to share as well, Katie?
Linda Steinhardt 36:13
Yeah, yeah. Well, I think first to Katie’s point on, I think we don’t always know, right? Like, who is going to react in a way that the way in which they feel if that’s helpful, right, so Katie, like, maybe the athlete that was more able to be more honest with you upfront, as opposed to some of the athletes who got the numbers and then realize, oh, my gosh, I can’t handle these. And so I think that’s a really big consideration for me is was first do no harm, like, we don’t know who’s going to react poorly to that. And, and for me, I have never found myself, you know, I like data and science and those sorts of things. And I have never found myself really wanting or feeling like I need that information in order to help someone. And so I just haven’t used it. And I have felt pretty solid and being able to help people athletes, right, reach their goals or perform better. Looking at other things. And I think when it comes down to it, if I were to get a body composition number, right, like, I wouldn’t be able to make a recommendation just with that number, I need to ask them a heck of a lot of questions to go on with that. And so can I ask those questions without getting the body composition, composition number and pretty much make the exact same recommendations. And I have felt that that’s been successful for me and my practice? And then kind of the other thing I think about is, do I want the athlete to be motivated by their body competent? And for me, I don’t really want that. And I think about right, if they’re motivated to, you know, decrease their fat mass, or increase their muscle mass, right? Well, the next time they go to get their DEXA, if it’s not that, right, they’re going to feel defeated, they’re going to feel ashamed. They’re going to, you know, what are they going to do? Right? Are they going to change the way they each have body and Mr. Stress? And then what does that mean for them long term, right. So when they finish their sport, is their success or the way they eat? Right, determined by what they think about their body? And long term, right, as a retired athlete, are we potentially setting them up to fear, right body changes that inevitably happen after sport, right? So there’s a lot of research that says weight neutral size, neutral approaches, help people in their transition after sport. And so that’s, you know, even though yes, I want them to be as successful as possible in sport, I also want to think about what’s gonna happen after the finish. And so I think those are some of the things that go through my mind as I’m trying to think about just the risks, I guess, by contacting
Katie McInnis 38:50
Linda, we to be transparent, even someone who does like that data, I don’t need it to do my job. flat out don’t doesn’t help me probably be a little bit more accurate. Does it help me maybe get a better picture of what I’m what I’m working with, potentially, but again, could be riddled with error. And it could be totally misguiding me. So like Linda said, if you have someone who is motivated by body comp, and the number doesn’t go the way that they’re expecting it to go, and they’ve worked their butts off to achieve this body comp, and maybe they were dehydrated, and so it measured them as over fat that I have seen it and it’s super defeating. And it makes them lose a little bit of trust in me, it makes them lose a little bit of trust in the technology. So can we do our jobs without this? Absolutely. If you if you can’t need a little bit more education or a little bit more practice. But I also think Linda and I are fairly seasoned in our careers now. And so we’ve we have a slightly different perspective of like, I’m very confident I can do my job without this data. But you know, when I think back to myself on my first six months on the job, I’m sitting there like, oh my god, I have prove myself that I know things and that I can do things. And so it’s a little bit of a of a different perspective, it’s almost a little bit of a security blanket when you’re at the at the beginning. And but again, now that we’re both more seasoned, and this, our we’re very confident that we can do our jobs without it. And I can, I can look at someone in the way they perform on a court or a field and I’m like, Hey, you might be experiencing low energy availability, or I can see how somebody eats in the dining hall and I can give them some recommendations. So is it? Is it an cool piece of technology? Yes. Is it necessary for dieticians to do their jobs? No, I think probably sports scientists and strength coaches might have a slightly different perspective on that, just because, like I know, our sports scientists needed that data to do some of the equations for some of his other hundreds of data points that he that he had, and that were really cool. And I love picking his brain about. But from a dietitian perspective, we don’t need we really don’t need that data. And like Linda said, we don’t know who’s going to react poorly. So there’s been people in my office who are like, Yes, I can handle this number. And I have done harm because I gave it to them. That is also, again, why I think follow up is so tremendously important. Because whether it’s body comp or not, I, I’m positive, I’ve done harm to an athlete’s body image at one point or another by a comment that I’ve made, maybe in passing that I just think through all the way or when I was young and my counseling skills, and don’t have the experience that I did now. But the follow up, at least at least gives them a chance to voice that. And then it gives you a chance to help them through that difficult time. Whereas if I just make a comment, or if I give them the numbers when they said they were going to be okay, and their body cues all looked like they were going to be okay. And then they weren’t. If I don’t follow up with them, they’re going to sit in that and they’re going to stew and they’re going to feel alone, and they’re going to feel more isolated. And but if I come back and I say hey, let’s meet in in three days, and let’s just chat and see how you’re doing. And that gives me the opportunity to say like, Hey, you know, we gave the numbers. You said you were okay. Like how are you feeling about those? So, again, do we need it to do our job? No, but if this is something that’s going to be in practice, that follow up is so important, because you don’t want to give somebody a super weighted number that maybe they don’t understand and then leave them. Even somebody again, that is very confident in who they are as a human being that can feel incredibly isolating, even if you think you’re going to be okay with it.
Emma Ostermann 42:49
Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. And over the past, you know, conversation that we’ve had, it feels like the big thing that I keep hearing is, you know, the education component of it, making sure that we do educate whether it’s, you know, whether it’s the athlete whose data would be we would be taking or you know, even the recipients of that data, whether that’s, you know, the coaches, other practitioners that you’re working with? Yeah, and I think at the end of the day, it’s what question are we trying to answer with it? You know, and I think that’s the biggest one, if we’re just collecting data just to collect data. And then is it a data point that we truly need? Otherwise? What is this going to help? You know, what is that question that we’re trying to try to answer that this, this data is now going to help support? But yeah, definitely interesting, you know, as you guys continue to, you know, just spark new ideas in my head and just completely see it from a different perspective. So, so thank you for that. But
Katie McInnis 43:40
tape is going to change dramatically. The next five or 10 years of how this is handled if it’s if it’s continued. But I think where, because I know, I’d had these conversations before with some of our Sports Science staff of, you know, can we make it because it was, for the most part, it was mandatory? And I was like, Well, can we make it not mandatory, and at least asked like, by an option, and it was like, Oh, well, that wrecks all of my database if I don’t get this data consistently. And so, you know, again, that’s a hard spot to be in as a practitioner, when you have a whole department saying, you are going to ruin all that we have done because we need this data consistently at the same time points every year. But again, I think what it always comes back to is that we’re not a laboratory setting when you’re working with athletes. These are not people who signed up to be in a study who signed up to have all these manipulations done. They are human beings and that needs to be the forefront it needs to be the person before the athlete and the athlete even before the test subject. Like I said, it’s different when you sign up to be in a research study and you subject yourself to it. It’s totally different to be an 18 year old just praying to God you keep your roster spot on And we’ll do anything that people tell you to do. Because if you, if you say no, then you’re worried you’re gonna have to transfer or something like that. It’s a totally, totally different environment. And so we always have to keep in mind, we are working with people, we’re not working with robots. And this is not a research lab. This is their livelihoods and their lives. And like Linda said, what we do in these, keep talking about college, but we do this for years, will affect what, how they, how they feel, how they eat, how they feel for the rest of their lives. And it is our moral responsibility to make sure that we’re doing everything in our power that protects that, and their mental health and their mental well being and their future rather than I mean, I would feel horrible. If I had an athlete came back and was like, Hey, you forced me to do body comp testings, and I have a horrible eating disorder now, and I’m really struggling and can’t get past it. And so sometimes I think about that when I’m like, Oh, I love this data. And it’s like, but what if someone said that that was life changing for them in a negative way? And again, I’m sure it is, I’m sure it is for some people. Is it for everybody? No. And again, some people really thrive on that information. But that would be a really tough pill to swallow for me professionally.
Emma Ostermann 46:20
Absolutely. Linda, I do want to keep the conversation going and pose this next question to you. But if a team eliminates body comp testing, what can they do instead to achieve some of the same desired outcomes? And what might be sacrificed? Linda?
Linda Steinhardt 46:34
Yeah, back I think, I think a lot of things. I think if we think about that, kind of like opportunity costs, right, we just opened up a lot of time. If you if you put body comes out, I think that gives you an opportunity to have more one on one sessions with athletes and kind of talk through things with them a little bit more. Oftentimes, they think with body composition. You know, that can be a meeting point for the practitioner in the in the athlete, right? So get a body comp, okay, great. Now I can have a session a meeting with you. But primarily, it can often be okay, here’s your body comp, here’s what we’re going to do about it. Right? It’s us telling them, you know, here’s what we learned, here’s what I think you should do rather than, hey, what’s happening for you? How are you feeling about the season your performance? What are you eating? What are the barriers to getting enough to eat? What are the barriers to you feeling confident about the food choices you’re making? Right? So those discussions can happen much more frequently, I think. I think teaching them or helping them figure out right, like what feels good for them in terms of eating, adding some gentle sports nutrition principles as appropriate, right, but really allowing them and you know, a lot of like motivational interviewing, right? A lot of helping them get there. Right, not forcing our opinions on them. And I think that helps create longer lasting relationships with food and eating patterns, rather than, hey, I’m a dietitian, I’m going to tell you what to do. To be good at your sport, right. And I think that it opens up those conversations a lot more, I think, I think about I mean, if we’re talking about college athletes, especially they might be cooking for the first time and I’d be grocery shopping for the first time they might be trying to buy food for the first time. I think that gives us a lot more opportunity to kind of educate there. And although you know, I think, I think sometimes when we are the messengers in terms of body comp information, they can all be scared, right? That’s like coming into our office. So we’re going to tell them hey, like, you know, your X percent body fat rather than can we build a relationship with not based on what their body looks like, or what their body fat percentage is? Okay. And I think that creates room for perhaps a you know, better relationship perhaps, or one that they’re not scared what we’re going to say, right? We’re giving them the space to explore their relationship with food, rather than us telling them what to do. Yeah, I guess he can probably tell from what I’ve said, so far, I don’t see much sacrifice in getting it out, or not doing body cups anymore. But that’s all fine perspective. So
Katie McInnis 49:21
but I think that’s so great. And that’s one of the reasons that I’ve always enjoyed working with you and talking with you is that because we kind of come from different backgrounds, we have really different unique perspectives. And like you, I love what you just said about like, you don’t want to be seen as the person who’s going to give them the scary news. And I haven’t really thought of it like that before. But I always try to be very approachable and you know, relationship building is like my biggest thing and yeah, if I’m the person who’s just giving them scary news, that I’m not going to be the person that they want to come and talk to. So I think that’s A really valuable perspective on that. And, you know, when we, when we talk about body comp in performance, I remember kind of as I grew up as a dietician, it was like, you know, always tie body comp to performance. And it’s like, Well, why don’t we just tie performance to performance? I can, I can watch a basketball game. And if someone is not doing well, I can, I don’t need, I don’t need a scientist to tell me that. I can go on the field. And if someone’s velocities dropped five miles an hour, that’s something I’m automatically going to go and chat with him about and do an assessment about. So I think that, you know, in this day and age, we really want to quantify everything. And again, part of me like the data stuff is so cool to me. But in the end, we know what it looks like when someone’s performing well, and we know what it looks like when someone’s not performing well, the sport science is super cool. But again, I don’t need to know their heart rate variability to see that they’re just gassed on the field. I, that’s part of working in sports and getting to know the athletes. So again, we say, we want to use body comp and tie it to performance. But I think we can tie just performance to performance. And if they’re doing well, great, let’s keep it keep it going and keep them motivated and help you the things that are working for them. But if they’re not doing well, you know, I think there’s a lot of things to be examined and it doesn’t necessarily have to be body focused. And like Linda said, we want to talk about performance, but we want to be approachable practitioners and we want to make sure that we’re you know, not being the people who just deliver the scary bad news.
Emma Ostermann 52:00
Absolutely. Absolutely. Can your point so far in this conversation today have been excellent. And you know, I’ve learned a lot so far and I know our listeners Sherwood and you know, as we kind of as we come to a wrap I know a lot of our listeners would love to touch base with each of you to keep this conversation going. So, Linda, if listeners would like to connect with you what would be the best way?
Linda Steinhardt 52:21
Yeah. Reach out to me on Instagram, I guess might be a good place. It’s Linda.Steinhardt_rd. They can email me too if they like, I’ll throw that out there. Why not? It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emma Ostermann 52:43
And Katie, what would be the best way for listeners to connect with you?
Katie McInnis 52:47
I don’t do social media as well as if you’ve got my social media. You’re just gonna see pictures of my dogs. Emails, probably the best way to get a hold of me and it’s my first name. Last name. So KatieMcInnisphd@gmail.com.
Emma Ostermann 53:06
Excellent. Katie and Linda, thank you so much for joining us today. This is a very important conversation. And yeah, I’m excited for our listeners to Yeah, to listen to it. And yeah, learn as much as I did today.
Katie McInnis 53:17
research coming out because it’s really, really cool.
Emma Ostermann 53:20
Oh, yes. We can’t wait to see the research that that is that is about to come out as well. Yeah. If you found this conversation valuable. Please follow the Vanguard roundtable podcast on your favorite platform, and share with your friends and colleagues. We’ll be back next month. The Vanguard roundtable podcast is brought to you by fusion sport maker of Smartabase, the premier human performance optimization platform for elite sports teams and military organizations. Our clients are racing to build their human performance analytics team to help make data informed decisions better serve their customers and give them a competitive advantage. That’s why we’ve published our latest guide building your human performance analytics. This is the first comprehensive resource specifically for human performance leaders in sports and military environments. In it, you’ll find tips and best practices on practical templates, tools, and examples to help you build and evolve your analytics team. To download your free copy of building your human performance analytics team. Visit fusion sport.com forward slash resources