Metabolic testing for athletes and couch potatoes

Also see:
Women: Running into Trouble

Volume 76, Number 32 | January 3 – 9, 2007



Marathoner Yuen Chun undergoing metabolic testing to improve her stamina and speed, as fitness expert Marco Ferdinandi, standing behind her, monitors the test.

Metabolic testing for athletes and couch potatoes

By Judith Stiles

During the holiday season, yummy Christmas cookies, roast beef, plum pudding, Hollandaise sauce, fruitcake and chocolate truffles certainly delight taste buds around the world. However, they leave many a waistline in a woeful bulge, prompting new year’s resolutions galore. If January is the designated time to turn over a new leaf, it also might be a good time to give metabolic testing a try, to discover not only how one’s body burns calories, but how to efficiently exercise in order to build greater strength and speed.

At Velocity Sports Performance Center, at 133 E. 58th St., Yuen Chun and Cindy Sirko, two female athletes from Greenwich Village, decided to measure their metabolic rates with the common goal of improving their fitness. Both women are the same age, 49, and play sports. Chun is a serious runner who trains for several marathons a year, and often chooses the hills at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx as her workout site during the week. Her mission is to improve overall fitness but, more important, build speed, strength and endurance. Sirko, a former softball player, now a soccer goalie, is recovering from an ankle injury that has impaired her mobility during games, making her fitness issues more complex. Her goal is to improve overall fitness, but also to gain a better understanding of how her metabolism functions during rest, as well as while exercising.

To begin the test, Chun decided to test her metabolic rate at rest, that is, how efficiently her body burned calories while sitting for 10 minutes. She donned a purple mask with tubes that measured her oxygen intake and carbon dioxide release, which translated into fat and carbohydrate burning. The mask was hooked up to a computer program that processed information about her breathing in order to determine her metabolic rate at rest, a.k.a. her R.M.R. The program showed that if Chun, for example, sat at a computer all day and did not exercise, in order to maintain her current body weight, she would need to burn 926 calories per day.

The program, appropriately named New Leaf Metabolic Testing, can also design a program that specifies precisely how much exercise and diet a person needs daily for healthful weight loss.

However, Chun was most interested in the second part of the test, which measured how efficient her caloric utilization was during different phases of running, called the “five zones.” With the same purple mask, she tested her breathing while running at different speeds on a treadmill. Going from walking, to running slowly, then fast, New Leaf measured her heart rate and created a chart that revealed how efficiently her body used energy at different speeds.

Surprisingly, Chun was told that running at higher speeds for longer periods of time was not going to make her a stronger, faster runner. In a nutshell, the recommendation was that in order to improve her speed and endurance, she should train at a lower, more moderate speed for a longer period of time. This was the first step in a long-term program for Chun that would help her achieve her goals.

“Many athletes think they can improve by training hard at higher speeds, but they are overtraining, too hard and too often,” said Marco Ferdinandi, the fitness expert who enthusiastically monitored the tests. Ferdinandi — who is certified as a trainer by the National Strength and Conditioning Association — added, “Besides improving the way an athlete trains to reach maximum fitness, our program takes the guesswork out of nutrition.” He emphasized that if an athlete eats the proper fuel mixture, such as a Gatorade shake with banana, right after a sporting event, it will greatly improve recovery. However, he added that every body is different and it is important to find the right fuel mixture that works for each individual.

Next, when Sirko tried the metabolic test at rest, she learned that if she sat at a computer all day without exercising, she could take in 1837 calories without a weight increase, in contrast to Chun’s number of 926 calories. In other words, Chun’s metabolism needed less fuel to remain at her current weight. Although Chun is a long-distance runner, one shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that the caloric difference is because Sirko is a goalie, who can relax and stand in goal, while teammates run up and down the field, sweating up a storm. Sirko is quick to point out that a goalie’s body is constantly on high alert, often in a nervous state, which burns a lot of fuel in a different way from a runner who is often jogging along in a more relaxed state.

By the time Chun and Sirko left Velocity, they had a thorough understanding of their current fitness, and the mystery of their personal metabolisms had been explained in simple terms. They went home to start the new year with a specific program, tailored to their individual needs, in hand. Now the trick is to implement the plan and stick to it. Good luck, ladies!

For more information on Velocity Sports Performance Center, visit



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3 Responses

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  1. Albie says

    Thanks Rob. That’s a seriously lowered Metabolic Rate for Chun. Surely it can’t be healthy according to Ray Peat ? Is there more data available for REE of athletes vs normal healthy people. It would be interesting to see what the ranges are in a population.

  2. Team FPS says

    Hello Albie. I don’t have additional RMR athlete data unfortunately. This article caught my eye because it’s easy to see that the “couch potato” had essentially twice the resting metabolism of the marathoner.

    I haven’t met an athlete (including myself – collegiate and professional wide receiver) or an exercise enthusiasts as yet that started with an optimal temperature and pulse rate. I use resting temperature and pulse rate along with caloric intake to determine the intensity of the RMR. These additional resources can help you discover more on the topic.

    Metabolism, Brain Size, and Lifespan in Mammals

    The hypothyroid athlete

    Components of Daily Energy Expenditure

    rethink how you exercise: An interview with Rob Turner – Part 1

    Exercise and Effect on Thyroid Hormone

    Body Temperature, Metabolism, and Obesity

    Ray Peat, PhD on Thyroid, Temperature, Pulse, and TSH

    Temperature and Pulse Basics & Monthly Log

  3. Albie says

    Hi Rob

    Thanks for the references. I have been reading Peat for about a year now and think I have printed about all his articles out and reread them often. Your Ray Peat page is ofcourse also a gem and huge resource. I was just amazed to see for the first time how low an athlete’s RMR can go/be and that will explain why so many people exercising too much can experience difficulty losing more weight or pick it up so fast when they stop exercising ! High Metabolism is the key here and so few people understand this. You get so many athletes bragging about a resting pulse of 32 but I wonder if they know how low their metabolism are ?