Back in 1984, there was a study with all the Los Angeles Olympic athletes to determine which athletes and their respective event had the lowest body fat.
I read it on Runners World, so it has to be true. Just like reading anything from The Sun… if it’s in The Sun, it has to be true.
At first glance, people initially thought marathoners were the leanest of the bunch just because they were the “skinniest” of the bunch.
The leanest athletes were based on body fat measurements with 400m sprinters being the lowest group. Yes, hard to believe, even leaner than 100m sprinters or marathoners!
We are looking at body fat percentages here, and in relation to lean muscle mass. One has to just look at Jeremy Wariner (above) and see the perfect body for 400 meters. Of course, strength to weight ratios must also be considered, but I’ll save that topic for another post, along with the famous Weight Vest Study.
So now the general public think Marathoners were skinny, but 400m sprinters are “skinnier”? This kind of absurdity led to interval training being the best (or only) way to lose fat, and all that Tabata protocol hype.
It’s true… 400m sprinters do a lot of interval and circuit training, and it’s not uncommon for a typical 400m recovery workout to be 30 x 100m (or 15 x 200m, or even 10 x 300m, totalling 3000m) of low intensity tempo running. (see my clarification on Tempo Running here, plus other sample Tempo Workouts for Sprinters) Some coaches do a lot of butt-lock lactic-acid medium intensity interval work, but we’ll also save that discussion for another day, because I’ve covered that topic in several short-to-long vs long-to-short arguments.
It’s also true you’ll burn more calories doing 3000m of interval work than 3000m of aerobic cardio running. But that’s the volume x intensity logic, with intervals being higher intensity over easy jogging. Same distance, higher intensity. Plus let us not forget about EPOC: exercise post oxygen consumption.
The Croatian Study
Here is an interesting study with a sample pool of Track and Field athletes from Croatia:
From the Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Zagreb, Croatia, they studied the anthropometric and morphological characteristics of 46 national level track-and-field athletes. Body fat percentage, body mass index and body constitution type were also calculated.
In terms of body fat, we saw measurements from 15 sprinters (5.5%), 13 endurance sprinters (5.4%), 9 middle-distance runners (7.1%) and 9 long-distance runners (6.3%).
I know 5.5% and 5.4% are not statistically significant, especially with 28 sprinters, but for now, this is the best study I could find other than a 1985 copy of a Runners World magazine. If you know of such study, please let me know.
Single digit body fat is ideal, but I’ll bet there are a lot of sprinters, from College to Masters, who are easily double digits.
The Take Home Message
It’s definitely a chicken and the egg situation here. Or Catch-22.
You want your quarter-milers to be super lean, because every non-functional extra pound or kilogram you are carrying is unnecessary weight. 45+ strides in a 100m. 90+ strides in a 200m. Or 180+ strides in a 400m.
So aim to keep your body fat level to the lowest possible, but not at the expense of muscle mass and strength… or sanity, for that matter. DON’T start dieting or going Bulimic on me just because you read this article. Talk to your coach first. Talk to your Mother. And of course, use common sense.
Stay tuned for Part 2 as we attempt to look into the correlation between Body Fat and Sprint Times.
— Roberta Anding (@RobertaAnding) April 21, 2015
— Julia Hubbard (@jules_athlete) April 21, 2015