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The Skeleton Coast Diet Plan: Body Mass and Body Fat Changes on an Arduous Expedition
  1. Lt Col Alastair Nicol1 and
  2. O Donoghue2
  1. 1Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, Headley Court, Surrey KT18 6JW 01372 381016 01372 363849 alastair.nicol700{at}
  2. 2Institute of Sport, PE & Health Science, University of Edinburgh


Objectives No one has ever walked the 500 Km Skeleton Coast of Namibia totally unsupported. Fourteen explorers overcame this by carrying, along with all their other equipment, hand-held pumps to desalinate sea water on a daily basis to produce sufficient potable water. This paper highlights the changes in body mass, waist circumference and body fat in the group on this unique 20 day expedition.

Methods Eight males (mean (SD)) 42.3 (9.7) years, height 1.741 (0.043) m, weight 78.7 (8.6) kg, body mass index (BMI) 24.8 (2.0) kg/m2) and six females (mean (SD) 40.0 (5.3) years, height 1.628 (0.043) m, weight 63.2 (5.5) kg, BMI 23.8 (1.8) kg/m2) undertook the expedition. Average pack weight at the start of the expedition for the men was 32.5 kg, and 26.5 kg for the women. On most days, the team walked for 8 – 10 hours on varying terrain then pumped water for a further 4 hours. Measurements taken included height, body mass, waist circumference and skin-fold thickness at four regions of the body, and were taken before, during and at the end of the expedition. The approximate daily calorific intake for each team member was 2400 – 3000 kcal.

Results Significant decreases in mean body mass (p<0.001, d=0.50) and mean BMI (p<0.001, d=0.67) were observed after the 20 day trek compared to baseline values. Mean waist circumference decreased during the expedition (p<0.001, d=0.67). There were significant reductions in all measures of skinfold thicknesses and overall percentage body fat at Day 13 (p<0.001, d=1.19) and Day 21 (p<0.001, d=1.98) in comparison to baseline values.

Conclusions All participants lost significant amounts of both body mass and body fat, with body fat reducing by over 30%.

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