Bradley Wiggins, a man startling for winning the Tour de France and being a Brit, and a man of startling thinness. With the possible exception of darts, athletes need to be lean since any excess body fat equates to carrying around the shopping whilst competing; it weighs them down. This said, Mr Wiggins exemplifies athletic leanness to an extraordinary extent. Ideally, men should carry absolutely no body fat on their legs – so take a skin pinch anywhere on a man’s leg and it should only be skin that is pinched. Not skin plus a bit of extra in between. I have been a Poliquin Biosignature practitioner for 6 years and this involves taking body fat readings from 12 different sites, with each site reflecting what is going on in the body. Charles Poliquin has spent years researching this and backing up his findings with blood tests. And this means that body fat on the thighs (back, front or on the bottom) results from the inability of the body to detoxify oestrogens. Excess fat on our thighs and bottom equates to an inability to detoxify oestrogen, and this applies to women too. Men should get rid of excess oestrogens, so they remain men with deep voices and no need for a tight top to hold the budding mammary glands still – chest muscles do not wobble about when jumping up and down. And so a sign of impending femininity is fat on the legs. Clearly, despite the lack of muscles, Bradley is still quite a man.
A body like Wiggins’ exemplifies the endurance athlete, his muscle type being long and lean and suited to long punishing hours in the saddle. At the opposite extreme, pictured to the right, is Chris Hoy, the sprint cyclist. It is possible that Bradley Wiggin’s entire body would fit into one of the legs of Chris’s skin tight cycling kit. The implications of this? Well, we are all born with a predisposition towards endurance, muscularity or strength and its good to honour this and not beat ourselves up about what our body is not built to do. Running offers a good example of this; it seems to me that runners focus on running further and further, with goals or dreams of running marathons or even ultra-marathons. For some, this is ideal exercise. For others it is daft since their muscle type suits short, fast intervals. Looking in the mirror gives big clues. If we see a runner bean staring back, then long distance it is and we have to accept we will never win a Mr/Miss muscles competition. But if, even with little or no exercise, we can see muscles then we should be thinking not of how far, but how fast – and even contemplate field or racket sports. And the same goes for women. Many women fear getting too muscular if they exercise, and for a few this can be a real possibility. However, to get muscular easily involves producing the male hormone, testosterone, and we women do not produce so much of that. 1 But this is no excuse to be weak and feeble with arms like pipe cleaners. One of the best predictors of aging well is not how fit our heart and lungs are but how strong we are.
So athletes need to be lean and men carry no body fat on their legs. Our natural muscularity gives us clues as to what sort of activity suits us best and what we will do well at. This leaves the question of just how thin can we go? Men can go down to 2 – 3% body fat and be healthy provided they look after themselves properly – so eat a diet rich in high quality protein, good fats and good levels of carbohydrate, dictated by body type and activity levels. It is also necessary to supplement well with the best quality supplements. Women naturally carry more body fat than men – presumably to help us survive pregnancy and nursing – and so dropping below 12% body fat, unless extremely well supported by the highest quality nutrition and supplementation, will result in disruption of female hormones and consequent lack of periods, loss of bone mass and so on. For us non-world class athletes, realistic body fat levels: men if under 10% body fat, the abs will show. And men should be lean. For women, the magic ab showing number is 14% – but for most women, a slightly higher level of body fat, 16% is preferable. To get down to these numbers and expect ourselves to be healthy by living on coffee and crisps invites future health problems. To be lean like Bradley Wiggins or Chris Hoy represents a life dedicated to paying attention to our needs of a good training programme with excellent recovery periods2, proper nutrition and good supplementation. Unless you have the high testosterone levels of Usain Bolt, of course, who can thrive on Chicken Nuggets. Usain Bolt is a trifle unusual.
- How much testosterone women produce is very variable – from individual to individual and also age plays a part. But all women are healthier if they produce a decent amount of it, with the physical manifestation being leaner of bum and back of arms – and, of course, stronger. [↩]
- yes, it is a bit worrying that Bradley Wiggins is going straight from winning the Tour de France and into the Olympics. I hope he knows what he is doing [↩]