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Body composition changes in female bodybuilders during preparation for competition


Objective: To determine anthropometric and body composition changes in female bodybuilders during preparation for competition.

Design: There was an attempt to match subjects in the control and experimental groups for height and percentage body fat (%BF) for the initial test of this longitudinal study.

Subjects: Five competitive bodybuilders (-X±s.d.: 35.3±5.7 y; 167.3±3.7 cm; 66.38±6.30 kg; 18.3±3.5 %BF) and five athletic females (-X±s.d.: 30.9±13.0 y; 166.9±3.9 cm; 55.94±3.59 kg; 19.1±3.3 %BF) were recruited from advertisements in a bodybuilding newsletter and placed on sports centre noticeboards.

Interventions: The following measurements were conducted 12 weeks, 6 weeks and 3–5 d before the bodybuilders' competitions: anthropometric profile, body density by underwater weighing, total body water via deuterium dilution and bone mineral mass from a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan. A combination of the last three measurements enabled the %BF to the determined by a four compartment model.

Results: A significant (P≤0.001) 5.80 kg body mass loss by the bodybuilders as they prepared for competition was primarily due to a reduction in fat mass (FM; −4.42 kg; 76.2%) as opposed to fat-free mass (FFM; −1.38 kg; 23.8%). The decreases in body mass and FM over the final 6 weeks were greater than those over the first 6 weeks. Their %BF decreased (P<0.001) from 18.3 to 12.7, whereas the values for the control group remained essentially unchanged at 19.1–19.6 %BF. These body composition changes by the bodybuilders were accompanied by a significant decline (P<0.001) of 25.5 mm (76.3–50.8 mm) in the sum of eight skinfold thicknesses (triceps+subscapular+biceps+iliac crest+supraspinale+abdominal+front thigh+medial calf).

Conclusions: Although the bodybuilders presented with low %BFs at the start of the experiment, they still significantly decreased their body mass during the 12 week preparation for competition and most of this loss was due to a reduction in FM as opposed to FFM.

Sponsorship: Australian Research Council (small grants scheme).

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2001) 55, 268–277

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Guarantor: GE van der Ploeg

Contributors: GEP and AGB recruited the subjects, collected and analysed the data and helped to write the paper; RTW conceived the study, secured the research funding, supervised the project and wrote the paper; JD conducted all the anthropometric measurements; BEC supervised the DEXA scans; FL supervised the deuterium assays.

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Correspondence to RT Withers.

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van der Ploeg, G., Brooks, A., Withers, R. et al. Body composition changes in female bodybuilders during preparation for competition. Eur J Clin Nutr 55, 268–277 (2001).

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  • four-compartment body composition model
  • dual energy X-ray absorptiometry
  • somatotype

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