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2019 NFL Draft receiver D.K. Metcalf has a crazy body fat percentage: Fact or Fiction?

Are the reports of WR D.K. Metcalf’s body fat accurate or exaggeration?

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The results are in! Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf has a body fat percentage of 1.6% according to several sources. The internet is already in awe on how ripped Metcalf is, which leads NFL fan bases including the Buffalo Bills absolutely drooling over the prospects of Josh Allen throwing bombs to the bona fide stud wide out. As we have seen in years past, the results at the NFL combine do not always equal success at the NFL level.

Body Fat

  • What is body fat?
  • How is body fat measured?
  • How can a low reading, like 1.6%, be measured?
  • How can low body fat affect a person’s health?

Body fat is something every human has in their body. Some have little, some have lots. We see fat in obvious places such as cheeks, buttocks, stomachs, and legs; these places would be known as storage fat. Lesser known areas also include joints, muscle, nerves, organs, and bone marrow; these are known as essential body fat. According to the linked article, essential body fat is between 3% for males and 12% for females due to physiologic differences. So already, two paragraphs in and we are debunking the possibility that Metcalf has 1.6% body fat. The body fat tests, while beneficial, do not show the absolute body fat numbers of a human, but this test should be re-categorized into storage fat testing.

There are various methods to measure for body fat including skin calipers, Bod Pod, DEXA, Hydrostatic weighing, Bioelectric impedance, and visual testing. This site helps break down each of the methods and the pros/cons of each. All of these tests have some margin of error, anywhere between 1.5-5% based on the specific test. In the case of the Bod Pod, the test relies on the use of Air Displacement Plethsymography. Yes, make sure to re-read that last sentence. It’s a doozy. What this means is they use air pressure changes to measure volume within an organ or whole body. This is based on Boyle’s law, which describes how the pressure of a gas tends to increase as the volume of the container decreases. This allows the tester to determine density by measuring for mass which is body weight and then divided by volume which is the air in the chamber allowing for density which determines body composition. The percentage of the body fat is used by determining lean body mass by taking height vs weight and plugging it into an algorithm to determine lean body mass which the pod does. Once the lean body mass is known, the remaining mass is fat weight and that’s how the body fat percentage is known. As mentioned above, there is some margin of error, +/_- 1-2.7% according to the NIFS site.

According to the American Council on Exercise, normal body-fat measurements for athletes are 6-13% from their research in 2010. So looking at Metcalf’s results, let’s round up to 2% for the ease in math. He clocks in at 2% body fat, we have a nearly 3% margin of error which would bring it up to 5% total. Then factor in whether the parameters of the test were followed properly as there are ways to cheat the test, though I’m not sure that Metcalf was purposely trying to do exactly that. According to the standards for pre-testing, no food or water must be consumed three hours prior to exercise performed. Having any of those variables violated could affect the overall results. So after seeing all these variables between margin of error, possible variances of food intake, and intense training could lead the final measurements to be astonishingly low, though he is more likely in the 6% range as suggested at the beginning of the paragraph.

So what does this mean? This means that Metcalf is very lean and still very athletic as evident by the combine numbers. After seeing photos of Metcalf, we know he has been working out and pushing his body to the limit and it’s assumed that he has been doing everything possible to get his strength up and body weight down. However, this is not realistic to maintain.

There have been references showing that Metcalf plays at a higher weight of 240 lbs. So that alone says that there is a 12-pound body-weight difference from the reported 228 lbs. We see all sorts of athletes including wrestlers, boxers, and MMA fighters who have to cut weight to get down to a certain benchmark in order to compete. While they do achieve it, they typically have difficulty continuously maintaining it due to needing food for energy and training. The athlete typically makes weight and then eats the proper foods based on their diet to be ready for competition, which means they are rarely at the weight they actually weighed in at. So we will realistically see Metcalf play at a higher weight than the listed combine weight and—like any human—his weight will fluctuate based on his diet, which in turn will affect the body-fat composition over time. I do expect him to gain weight as he is a large human, but I do not anticipate he binges on Popeye’s, a la Kelvin Benjamin.

Metcalf will have to gain some of his weight back in order to be successful in the NFL. Adipose tissue is meant for energy storage, heat modulation, padding for major organs, and produces hormones. His body, like every other human in history, needs those functions. Depriving himself of all those functions would literally kill him or at the very least harm him greatly. We have seen much written about nutrition in the NFL, specifically regarding the Bills on ESPN. He needs to eat, and eat a lot of specific foods just to maintain his weight in order to ask his body to produce at the highest levels required to play every week. Just like some of the tests at the Combine that are useless, these eye-popping measurements are useless unless he can produce on the field.

Finally, Metcalf will have to have a balanced diet in order to stay healthy and avoid further injury. He sustained a broken foot freshman year and a much-publicized neck injury that ended his 2018 season. I had originally suspected that he broke a spinous process or suffered a clay shoveler’s fracture, which led to eventual surgery. However, Metcalf spoke to Kim Jones and stated that he fractured his C-3 vertebrae, which required surgery.

Photographic evidence supports that he may have had an anterior cervical fusion to ensure proper healing in the area. However, despite the recent release of information, I still question these updates only because the timeline for recovery is tight and would be hard to achieve by normal standards. It’s possible his surgeon was progressive in clearing him earlier—confident that he was able to perform full football activities knowing that he would not have to have direct contact immediately from playing, which led to the altered timeline. There are still more questions than answers at this time from the neck injury standpoint. Regardless of the status of the neck injury, we know that he can still play football due to overall positive outcomes from previous football players such as Peyton Manning.

Overall, D.K. Metcalf will have to gain some weight to play effectively in the NFL to ensure that he stays healthy and has the energy necessary to get through a 16-game schedule. In just under two months, we will know where Metcalf gets drafted and whether he is truly a game-changing receiver or just another David Boston—where his physical traits outweigh his football skills. Hopefully, this will be far from the last time Metcalf causes everyone’s heads to turn in amazement.