Metabolic Efficiency Study – The Results!

Metabolic Efficiency Study – The Results!

On December 1st I set out to see what Metabolic Efficiency Training is all about. How to train my body to burn more fat. More detail on my motivations can be found in this post, but I’ve read the book. I’ve taken a webinar on it, I’ve seen the athlete examples of what it can do. I’ve previously tried to incorporate some of the principles and I knew what it involved, I just hadn’t taken the full leap of faith to give it 100%. I mean, how can a girl who’s mom used to call her “starch mouth” cut out grains completely and reduce consumption of starchy foods? So on December 1st, with some help of Kelly Ping, RD, of the UCCS Peak Nutrition Clinic, I set off on a three week study to see what would come of it. Below I share with you how it was done and the results…


  • Eat only fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats
    • Due to the holidays I allowed myself two “deviation” meals per week. Not to pig out, but to enjoy the treats of the holiday season.
  • Eat when I’m hungry and only until I’m satisfied
  • Track all my exercise and food intake in TrainingPeaks
  • Get an ISAK skinfold test before and after the three week study to see if there were measurable changes
  • Weigh myself on my home scale once a week for tracking purposes
  • Blog about the daily food on my personal blog (it’s all there on!)
  • Provide summary posts here on this blog. You can review week 1 and week 2 summaries. 

Caloric Intake:
I was not going to count calories during this study. The plan was to eat when I was hungry and only until I was satisfied. I did have an idea of how many calories I had been eating each day because I entered the foods I ate into TrainingPeaks, but didn’t use the data to determine what or how much I should eat each day. My biggest challenge regarding food was to make sure I had enough of the right foods with me at work so as to not go hungry at 4pm and feel like raiding the vending machine. I kept nuts in my desk as back-up snacks.
Here’s what the caloric intake looked like over the three weeks:

Figure 1: TrainingPeaks graph of caloric intake

The top graph can be considered “net” calories each day. Calories minus RMR (1390 in Training Peaks) minus any calories burned from exercise. From this graph I’m averaging about a 400 calorie surplus for the first half of the study, and then probably a 300 calorie surplus. Although the “surplus” doesn’t take into account any calories burned outside of RMR and specific workouts. Because I lost about two pounds, there really was an overall calorie deficit, and on average I consumed just under 2100 calories a day. Calorie consumption was eerily consistent, and lower days tended to follow higher days. You can probably pick out the days with the holiday parties!

Macronutrient Distributions:
Can you get enough carbohydrates if you cut grains out of your diet? Let’s look at how many calories from carbohydrates, fats and proteins I consumed. When I analyzed this the first week I was a bit low on the carbohydrate intake at about 35%. Bob’s recommendation was to get it closer to 45%. I got closer in week 2 and almost there in week 3.

Figure 2: Week 3, Dec 15 – 21, 2010 Macronutrient distribution

Over the whole three week period of the study the distribution looks as follows:

Figure 3: Dec 1-21, 2010 Macronutrient distribution 

I think because I snacked on nuts often the fat percentage is a little high. Peanut butter was in my breakfast just about every day. Once I started to add a couple extra fruit servings and beans (e.g. black beans, chick peas, kidney beans) to some of the meals I bumped up the carbohydrate intake.

Figure 4: Dec 1-21, 2010 Macronutrient distribution by grams
I’d like to comment the green slice of the pie in figure 4, my fiber intake. About 25 grams is the recommended daily fiber intake, and I easily surpassed that averaging 38 grams per day. It’s easy to do eating a lot of fruits and vegetables!

One would definitely say I am in a transition phase right now. I’m working on getting my book, The Triathlete’s Guide to Race Week, finished and released before the end of the year. This study, that book, and my day job keep me pretty busy. Around the same time of this study I started physical therapy to help me gain range of motion in my shoulders, and I found out I had some muscle retraining to do. We all need a little break from structured training, so this month was it for me! It’s also easier to focus on making one change at a time so that it is easier to build the new habits. 
Figure 5: Dec 1-21, 2010 Exercise Summary
One key of metabolic efficiency training is to keep exercise aerobic, and I did that. All my running was easy and conversational pace. All my swimming was a combination of drills, some freestyle and some backstroke. The bike was easy spinning and the strength training was body weight exercises only. If you look at the totals, I did just under 8 hours of exercise in three weeks. Not exactly ironman training volume yet. The physical therapy is not included in this total, as that is mostly massage and a few strengthening exercises and stretching. 

How I felt:
I made a few comments about this on my daily blog, but I really feel that eating like this is easy to do. My breakfast was the new oatmeal. I actually looked forward to eating my yogurt and fruit mix each day. Meals were not at all complicated to make and shopping was actually easy – I had fewer aisles in the grocery store to visit.
My energy levels were surprisingly high. Even though I lacked sleep, getting about 6 hours most nights when I usually get 8, I wasn’t falling asleep in 2pm meetings. As I increased my exercise volume towards the end of the study, I never felt like I ran out of energy. Granted, all my workouts were an hour or less.

Over the three weeks I noticed my jeans fitting slightly looser and I did think I looked a little bit trimmer in the mirror.

So what happened to my body during the last three weeks? Did I burn more fat?

Skinfold Test
I’ll start with the ISAK skinfold test, where 8 specific sites are measured. The tester measures and marks specific locations on the body. Then the calipers come out and measurements are made. Once one set is taken, another set is taken. If these numbers are within a certain percentage of each other, then the average of the two are taken. If they are too far apart, a third measurement is done. Sites of measurements are:
triceps, subscapular, biceps, iliac crest, supraspinale, abdominal, front thigh, medial calf. Plenty of squeezing going on! Girths of the biceps (relaxed and flexed – yeah!) are made, as well as the calf, waist, and gluteal.
The sum of the 8 skinfold measurements is made. Let’s look at the sum of 8 and the girths

Nov 28, 2010 my Sum of 8 skinfolds was 107.5mm.
My calf girth was 35.3cm, waist 75.8cm, gluteal 100.8cm.

December 21, 2010 my Sum of 8 skinfolds was 101.9mm.
My calf girth was 35.6cm, waist 73.5cm, gluteal 98.8cm.
I realized a 5.6mm reduction in body fat over the 8 locations (there is some error in the measurements, but I can’t quantify that for you. It’s hard to get the exact same location each time, but the measurements were taken by the same person both times, Kelly Ping.) The trend is consistent with my observations of my jeans fitting looser and noticing I look a little trimmer in the mirror. I lost about 2cm around my gluteal area, which is definitely consistent with better fitting jeans!

Weekly Weigh Ins:
Once a week (Wednesday mornings) I weighed myself first thing in the morning, right before I showered. I have a Tanita body fat scale that I use.
Start – Dec 1: 136.2lbs /23.8% Body fat
Week 1 – Dec 8: 135.6lbs /23.4% Body fat
Week 2 – Dec 15: 135.5lbs / 23.6% Body fat
Week 3 – Dec 22: 134.1lbs / 23.0% Body fat

Body fat measurements on these scales aren’t necessarily accurate, but they are good for trends as long as your hydration state is similar. The trend here over three weeks is a good one. Not a drastic loss in weight, but very reasonable over three weeks.

Figure 6: Graph of weekly weight on home scale

Final Remarks:

I would definitely say my body is burning more fat. I ate delicious foods to my hunger and lost about 2 pounds over the three week period. I began to alter my body composition and didn’t have to count calories! I’m definitely game to continue on this path. My energy levels are good and I am enjoying the foods options that I have. I am going to continue on the metabolic efficiency training plan for the next several weeks, and plan on getting tested to find my optimal training zones soon as I begin my Ironman journey. 

Thanks for following along! Please feel free to comment or ask any questions you might have.
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Nicole Odell

  • Sunny
    December 23, 2010

    Thanks for sharing this. I know many people who don't want to do the Paleo diet, but do want to burn energy more efficiently. This sounds like the perfect diet for those people.

  • Mamarunsbarefoot
    December 23, 2010

    Thanks for sharing! I'm looking forward to more following!

  • tribbatical
    December 23, 2010

    I have always found that when I eat more veggies to get my carbs and fewer starches my body responds better – easier to keep the weight and body fat under control. Especially when I limit night time starches. This completely reaffirms that for me and I plan to keep it up! Nice work chica!

  • Nicole
    December 23, 2010

    Sunny – yes, this doesn't have quite the restrictions as Paleo, but seems to work! And when excercise intensity increases, the whole grains come back in to support that.

    Nora – thanks for following!

    Leslie – glad it confirms what's been working for you. And congrats again on IMAZ! 🙂

  • runpdx
    January 5, 2011

    Thanks for the summary, Nicole. I followed your progress, and just ordered the book for myself and Tim. Will be interesting to see how we can incorporate it into our family eating. We're trying to make our diet cleaner without sacrificing energy. This sounds like a good place to start!

  • debinz
    May 14, 2011

    I'd love to read another post on how this has been going for you over the past few months.