Paul Ryan has two conflicting personas. One is a “policy wonk”, meaning a politics nerd. His second persona is a super-athlete, with the ability to run like the wind, lift heavy weights, and have amazingly low bodyfat. To be specific, 6% bodyfat. I’m no policy wonk, so I can’t comment on the first persona. BUT…I know a thing or two about body fat. I’ve occasionally written about body fat. I’ve also read dozens of academic papers on bodyfat measurement over the course of my PhD program, and had my bodyfat tested by the most accurate available means on two occasions. So let me lend some insight into the issue of “The 6%”.
1. He doesn’t look like other people who have 6% body fat
Look at the picture above, of Paul Ryan. Then look at the picture below. That’s a picture of me, in 2005, before I had a bunch of surgeries and stopped lifting weights. Apparently I was a huge douchebag back then, taking shirtless pictures with my brand new camera phone. I had my bodyfat measured by DEXA (which is basically a big machine that sends many x-rays cutting through various angles of your body), and came out to 13.8% bodyfat. Not too shabby, but not nearly as low as I thought I’d be. DEXA is the “gold standard” of body fat measurement, typically providing much more accurate results than other methods (such as calipers, the BodPod, hydrostatic weighing, home body fat scales, etc).
Check out the next picture. That’s a professional bodybuilder who measured at 6% body fat, with the DEXA measurement verified in a video here. Let’s do a little comparison. Does Paul Ryan have veins sticking out of other veins? No. Does Ryan have slabs of muscle? No, but he is athletic, although admittedly only 165 pounds at six foot two. At any body weight, you have an essential amount of fat cushioning your organs and making up your brain material. The way to get a really low body fat percentage is not just to lower fat, but to have huge slabs of muscle (which makes up “fat-free mass” along with bone, organs, etc). It’s pretty hard to be tall and light like Paul Ryan, and still have 6% bodyfat, because there’s not a huge amount of muscle to add to the “fat-free mass” part of the equation.
2. Paul Ryan lies about athletic stuff
A radio show host recently asked Paul about his marathon time and Paul responded “two hours and 50-something”. Impressive! Later on, we found out that he actually ran it in a little over four hours. Hmmm…weird. Now, you might think that this was a simple slip of the tongue, since the marathon was so long ago. But for anyone who’s actually run a marathon, you’d know that months of training and the excitement of the event itself will burn your time into your brain. And even if it doesn’t you wouldn’t get the time wrong by over an hour. Especially if you’re a policy wonk, memorizing numbers and such. Am I right or am I right?
3. Studies show that Paul Ryan is probably exaggerating
There have been lots and lots of studies using DEXA to study athletes’ bodyfat. I’ll point out one, which you can access here. The researchers looked at 64 elite soccer players in the English Premier league. Keep in mind that these guys are running for hours every day and are unlikely to have much body fat and have a good amount of leg muscle. Anyway, they found the average bodyfat to be around 10.5%. Also, 95% of the soccer players had body fat percentages between around 9% and 13%. Paul Ryan is fit, for sure. But he also is not a professional athlete who is paid to run up and down a long field. And he’s probably quite stressed, which makes one apt to store a bit more body fat. You get what I’m hinting at, right? He’s probably not at 6% body fat. Maybe he had somebody measure him with calipers, which is much more prone to error. Maybe he just made that number up, which isn’t that hard to imagine. Or maybe he is actually 6% body fat, and he’ll produce the records. Yeah right!