Each fall—prior to the start of preseason training camp—members of the South Dakota State University football team make the trek to Wagner Hall to gather key information about the current makeup of their bodies. Led by Seth Daughters, an instructor in the exercise science program, student-athletes will get parameters on their body fat percentage, lean muscle and fat free mass. This information will help guide the student-athletes in their individualized strength and conditioning plans throughout the season.
“This allows student-athletes to see what their body composition is and if there’s any changes that may need to happen,” Daughters explained. “Specifically for football, a lot of these guys come in and are going to have some sort of body composition change, whether that’s gaining weight as a total or gaining muscle mass as they go into maybe a new position.”
The team is tested through a machine called the Bod Pod, “which is an air displacement test that test’s somebody’s body composition.”
The Bod Pod is an egg shaped, two-chambered computerized machine that measures an individual’s weight and volume. As the individual sits in the Bod Pod, they begin hearing a whooshing and popping sound as the air displacement begins.
“I tell people it’s kind of like how you feel when you go up or down in elevation and your ears pop,” Daughters said. “They’ll hear and kind of feel that sensation.”
Depending on the individual, it will take two or three tests to collect the necessary data. After completing the tests, an individual will receive feedback two or three minutes later with a printout containing their body density and body fat percentage.
“The data we find—the big one that people really gravitate towards—is percent body fat,” Daughters said.
As Daughters, who graduated from SDSU in 2015 with a Master of Science degree in exercise, nutrition and food science, explains, linemen are going to be bigger, which typically means they are going to have a higher percent body fat—but they also have to gain mass to play their position. Conversely, for more skilled position players—like defensive backs or wide receivers—typically they will have lower body fat percentages.
“If their percent body fat is too high, it could impede performance,” Daughters said. “Nonetheless, all positions are looking to have as much muscle mass as possible and so we’re giving them data to determine where they’re at now and where they may need to go with some of their training.”
Testing for student-athletes on the football team occurs twice a year—once before the start of the season and once again in January. For student-athletes getting tested in the fall, it is a great time to gather results from their off-season training and formulate a plan going into the season.
“A big component of it is to make sure they're maintaining during the season,” Daughters explained. “They can then determine caloric amounts that they need to consume from day to day during the season so that they don't lose muscle mass over that competitive season, which if they do is a big performance reduction.”
Daughters, who played tight end for the Jackrabbits between 2008 and 2012, used the caloric numbers he received from testing while as a player to determine how much he needed to eat each day to maintain good body weight in the form of muscle.
“Some of these calorie (counts) we're seeing for athletes are anywhere from 4,000 to 6,500 calories for them to be able to maintain what they have,” Daughter said. “Typically, you need about 500 extra calories per day, over a seven-day period, to gain one pound of lean body mass.”
As Daughters explains, knowing the right caloric number for an individual’s body makes it much easier to either gain or loss weight appropriately.
“Specifically for football, we’re trying to gain as much muscle as possible so that you can maintain the rigors of the season and perform at a high level,” Daughters said. “And then maybe on the opposite end, if I need to lose some body fat, here's the number of calories I need to successfully lose that body fat.”
Exercise science program
During the winter testing period, both undergraduate and graduate students in the exercise science program will get hands-on experience working with the student-athletes and gain experience in body composition testing.
“Anytime we can give the students hands-on experience is great because it prepares them for the workforce in the real world much more efficiently that just a lecture-style class,” Daughters said. “We combine lecture with lab-type settings, but then we also give them this hands-on opportunity with real people and real athletes.”
Students in the program get experience with Wingate anaerobic testing, VO2 max testing and body composition testing with the Bod Pod and skinfold calipers. Students also learn to how interpret, communicate and explain the data, which according to Daughters, is nearly as important as the lab experiences.
“It’s important to be able to talk to somebody about what the data means,” Daughters said. “What does it mean specifically for this athlete? And then what are some steps that can be taken to make changes, if warranted?”
After becoming versed in exercise science data, students will be able to program for an athlete looking to decrease percent body fat or to increase muscle mass, for example.
“It's a great partnership to serve athletics but it also serves our students,” Daughters said. “They’re learning those components from the scientific side and the literature side and then putting it into a real-world perspective.”