How I Got This Body: A Student-Athlete Working With GWU’s Human Performance Lab to Lose Weight and Maintain Muscle

All photographs courtesy of Nicole Messner.

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Who: Nicole Messner, 19, Virginia Tech sophomore
Lives: Leesburg, Virginia
Height: 5’8″
Pounds lost: 20 pounds, while still maintaining muscle
How long it took: “It took about a year to lose the fat while still working out to maintain the muscle. I am still working to maintain a lower fat content while still having a lot of muscle.”

When Messner wanted to improve her performance as a track-and-field athlete by losing weight while maintaining muscle, she turned to George Washington University’s Weight Management and Human Performance Lab. Working with their team, she developed an exercise and nutrition plan by using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, which measures total body composition. 

Turning point: 

“I was a fast track athlete my freshman year and the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, and then I broke my knee. This caused me to stop working out, and I gained a lot of weight in the process. My times junior year of high school were slow, which frustrated me, so I started hurdling because less people were doing it at the time. I knew I had a lot potential, so I decided to commit to a different lifestyle. My mom came home from tennis one day and one of her teammates had been talking about the program. I immediately [was interested] because I wanted to improve my physical appearance and athletic performance.”


“I exercise almost every day, especially during the school year. I’ve always worked out a lot, so I still do similar workouts, but with more weight and different particular exercises. I am also still involved with track, so I do a lot of sprinting workouts and plyometrics.”


“I overall committed to being a healthier eater. [My nutritionist gave] me a lot of pointers as to what types of food I should pair with others, and she has also helped me a lot with specific food that I can incorporate into my diet. I do not regularly meal prep or count calories. I only really use that when I feel that I’m falling off track with my eating and want to get back on track. I regularly eat things that have lots of protein and healthy carbs, and I love fruits and veggies.”

How she stuck with it: 

“I stay committed because [this] is now routine in my life. I don’t tend to get the unhealthy food cravings that I used to get all the time. I’m able to balance out my fitness with my school, work, and social life because I often work out with my friends or teammates or I’ll go in between classes.”

Favorite splurge:

“Bacon, egg, and cheese bagels.”

Changes to her “invisible” health: 

“I used to be tired all the time, but I now am able to pay attention in class more and am not so tired. Also, I used to have elevated triglycerides [a type of blood fat associated with a risk of heart disease, which became high after Messner took Accutane], and they are now back to normal.”

A goal she’s hit:

“Going sub-50 seconds in the 300 hurdles (which was a 10-second drop from my time the season before) and going low-16 seconds in the 100 hurdles (which was a three-second drop).”

How she felt then versus how she feels now: 

“I didn’t really like my body before I started this journey, and I was oftentimes self-conscious and would compare myself to others around me. I am now a lot more confident in my appearance and am just overall more comfortable in my own skin.”

Newfound body love: 

“I now really like my arms, which used to not be toned, and I have also lost a lot of fat in my face, which I love. Also, I used to hate my smile, and I think that’s because I was unhappy in my own skin, so I always forced a smile for pictures. Now I think that my smiles look really genuine.”

To those who want to make a change: 

“When you commit, the first two days or so of healthy eating are really hard. After that, it’s so easy because you’ll find yourself craving unhealthy foods less and you’ll love the way you feel about yourself.”

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Home & Features Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.