Centre for Translational Physiology Manager and Scientific Officer Dr Rachael Mason with Phoenix player David Ball during the team's visit to the Centre.
Professional footballers are used to having their fitness assessed, so when three first team players from the Wellington Phoenix visit the University of Otago, Wellington (pre-lockdown) for a state-of-the-art full body scan, they are unfazed.
The three players, David Ball, Callum McCowatt and Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, have been hand-picked by strength and conditioning coach Aidan Wivell to have a DXA or dual energy X-ray absorptiometry scan at the Centre for Translational Physiology (CTP).
The scan will give Mr Wivell far more accurate measurements of the players' body fat, muscle mass and bone density than he can get with the standard seven-point skin caliper test he does regularly on all the players in the squad.
Phoenix player Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi on the scanner.
It's also a whole lot faster. Once the players lie face up on the scanner, the process takes just three minutes.
“Getting changed probably takes longer,” Centre Manager and Scientific Officer Dr Rachael Mason says. “We put them into hospital scrubs because clothing changes the density, and if they are wearing metal, that will appear on the X-ray.”
Each of the players is presented with a full written report after the scan which graphically illustrates the precise location of their bone, lean mass and fat mass in graded colours.
For Mr Wivell, the more information he can get about his players' body composition, the better.
“To perform at a high level they need to have a certain body composition, minimal fat ideally, and muscle mass for power. The more the players know about their bodies, the more they can build on their strengths and work on their weaknesses. Knowledge is power.”
Dr Mason says the information gained from a DXA scan is particularly helpful for players in professional sports teams like the Phoenix as it enables them to monitor potential muscle loss over the long season.
Mr Wivell says ideally he would bring players in for a scan before the start of the season, and then another four times during the season.
“In pre-season, you might see a bit more body fat, a little bit less muscle because they've had time off, and then hopefully see the transition through the season.”
Dr Mason says the scanner has been used in the past by body builders, distance runners and triathletes as well as by those starting on a lifestyle modification programmes who want to track their progress over time.
She hopes to attract other professional sports teams to campus to use the technology in future.
“If it's able to give the teams an advantage that would be great.”
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The Phoenix visited the Wellington campus prior to the COVID-19 lockdown being imposed.