A healthy weight, body fat level, and abdominal circumference are key markers of health. Use this webpage to understand body composition and how to improve it.

Key Points

Body composition is the proportion of fat and non-fat mass in your body. Most authorities consider body composition a component of health related fitness. It is a physiologic characteristic that affects an individual's ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor. Body composition is not a physical action like other health-related fitness components, but it is an important health marker that highly impacts and is impacted by the other components of fitness. Example if you are heavy it is more difficult to move, but moving through exercise is part of most well designed weight loss programs.

Knowing your body composition is more informative than focusing on your body weight, since it is a measure of both fat and lean weight.

How to Change Body Composition

Make an appointment with us to learn how to improve your body composition (email:fittec@me.com). We have a Fat Loss Program to help you achieve your goals. A great way to start improving your body composition is by improving how you eat. Please see our Nutrition Information Page.

Body Composition Impacts Health

          A high BMI (Body Mass Index) is related to the risk of type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Body Mass Index is a measure of body composition. It is a height to weight ratio. It is something that you can measure on yourself. See right column.

          Waist circumference is linked to risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality. Waist circumference is another measure of body composition and I consider it one of the most important health markers. It is one of the five risk factors for metabolic syndrome. Measuring it is something that you can do on yourself easily with a tape measure. See right column.

          Elevated skinfold thicknesses (fat thickness) and proportionally more subcutaneous fat on the trunk are associated with an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. Skinfold thickness is a measure of body composition that needs to be measured by a professional. It is a double layer of skin and fat that is pinched in a specific way using an instrument called a caliper. We can measure this for you.

Body Composition 101

1. BODY COMPOSITION IS THE AMOUNT OF FAT AND LEAN TISSUE ON YOUR BODY: Body composition is the proportion of fat and non-fat mass in your body. A lower percentage of body fat and a higher percentage of non-fat mass is a common health and fitness goal. Non-fat mass includes muscle, bone, and organ mass.

2. KNOWING YOUR BODY COMPOSITION DEFINES GOALS AND PROGRESS: Knowing your body composition can help you assess your health and fitness level and help determine goals. It is a great measure to have done. Schedule a meeting with us to have these measures done.

3. THERE IS DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TYPES OF FAT ON YOUR BODY - SOME ARE UNHEALTHIER THAN OTHERS - especially BELLY FAT: Some fat is necessary for overall health, which is termed essentail fat. Essential fat helps protect internal organs, stores fuel for energy, and regulates important body hormones. Body fat can be found in muscle tissue, under the skin, and around your organs. Fat found in the muscle is generally not unhealthy. Think of it as an energy store. Fat found under the skin is known as subcutaneous fat, which may impact health negatively if excessive, especially if found around abdomen. Visceral fat is found around your organs. If visceral fat is excessive it is especially unhealthy. This fat is also known as belly fat.

4. LEAN AND FAT ISSUE ARE METABOLICALLY DIFFERENT: Non-fat mass includes bone, water, muscle, organs, and tissues. Some call it lean tissue. The great thing about lean tissue, especially muscle, it is metabolically active, meaning it helps burn calories. Unfortunately visceral fat is inflammatory and causes a whole host of problems. There is some suggestion that it is linked to Covid 19 related deaths.

5. MOST AMERICANS ARE OVERWEIGHT AND ALMOST HALF ARE OBESE: Two thirds of Americans are overweight and have excess storage of non-essential body fat. Unfortunately 40% of them have extremely high levels of body fat and are considered obese. These numbers are not improving despite the US diet and exercise industry being a multi-billion dollar business.

6. BODY WEIGHT DOES NOT GIVE A COMPLETE PICTURE: Weighing yourself is a way to partially measure your body composition, but it is not complete. Body weight cannot tell how much of your weight is comprised of fat and lean tissue. There are other ways to measure body composition that can give you a better idea of where you stand, such as body fat testing with a skinfold caliper or circumferential measures using a tape measure, which was mentioned. One of the reason for testing is that there are many people with healthy weights with high body body fat, while there are many that might be considered overweight because of a large amount of muscle tissue. That is why body weight is incomplete. Therefore have your measures done.

7. MEASURING BODY COMPOSITION: There are many ways to measure body composition such as Hydrostatic Weighing and the DEXA Scan, but those techniques are used in clinical and research settings. Commercially there are scales and devices that use bioelectrical impedance, where an electrical impulse is sent through your body. I would not use these devices. From my experience they are widely inaccurate with large day to day variability (see article). As mentioned I prefer the skin fold caliper technique because it actually measures the thickness of your subcutaneous fat at specific areas across your body. This is typically much more accurate than the bioelectrical impedance measures and gives you a better idea of how your body fat is distributed across your body (see research). Circumferential measures are also helpful, easy to measure, and it gives an accurate measure of muscle girth and waist changes. By knowing your body fat we can also determine your lean mass, also called fat free mass index, which includes muscle mass. Both numbers are great ways to determine if you are improving from a fitness program. Fat free mass index has also been used in testing for perfomance enhancing drugs use.

8. ATHLETES TRIAD: Athletes tend to have very low body fat, but there is a concern if body fat is too low in this group. No one should fall into the essential % body fat value range (10-13% for women and 2-5% for men). The female athlete triad increases the risk of injury and health issues, which includes amenorrhea, eating disorders, and decreased bone mass which increases the risk for stress fractures and osteoporosis. That is why it is important to measure body composition in athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

9. FACTORS AFFECTING BODY COMPOSITION:  Body composition is influenced by diet and activity level, but it can also be influenced by other factors such as Hormones: Many hormones impact metabolism and water retention especially as one ages. Age: People lose muscle mass as they age especially if they are not active. Genes: Our genes impacts us in many ways including weight and how we store it fat. Gender: Women have more body fat, which is related to bearing children and nursing. .

10. RESISTANCE TRAINING IMPACTS BELLY FAT: To change your body composition much comes from changing your diet, but exercise does have a large impact on your composition especially resistance training. It has been shown that resistance training can help you build muscle mass while decreasing stubborn belly fat. Unfortunately you can not spot reduce through exercise. See section below as well as research section.

11. SPOT REDUCTION: Unfortunately you can not spot reduce through exercise or other non-surgical means at any area across your body. In other words you can not work your belly through sit ups and see a reduction in fat there. Rather the hormonal and metabolic effects of resistance training causes a reduction of body fat. Do not be fooled by devices or exercises that claim that they can reduce belly fat.

12. MUSCLE DOES NOT WEIGH MORE THAN FAT: A pound of fat and muscle are the same weight, but muscle is more dense. Fat takes up almost double the space compared to fat. This means your waist circumference may decrease when you lose fat, even if your weight doesn’t change. This commonly occurs when working out.

13. BELLY FAT REDUCTION IS A TOP GOAL: As your coaches this is one area that we would like many of you to make the most progress. That is why measuring your abdomen circumference is one of the first things I do. Please see this article to learn more. Excerpt: Research suggests that fat cells — particularly abdominal fat cells — are biologically active. It's appropriate to think of fat as an endocrine organ or gland, producing hormones and other substances that can profoundly affect our health. Although scientists are still deciphering the roles of individual hormones, it's becoming clear that excess body fat, especially abdominal fat, disrupts the normal balance and functioning of these hormones.Scientists are also learning that visceral fat pumps out immune system chemicals called cytokines — for example, tumor necrosis factor and interleukin-6 — that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. These and other biochemicals are thought to have deleterious effects on cells' sensitivity to insulin, blood pressure, and blood clotting.




How to Change Body Composition

You can improve your body composition by decreasing body fat, increasing muscle or a combination of them both.

There are some things that you can not change when your body composition like your genetics and your age. But there are certainly things that you can change like diet, exercise, sleep, and other health behaviors.

Nutrition Matters when it comes to building Muscle and Losing Fat: I always say to change your body composition starts with your nutrition, specifically the amount of calories you take in and the quality of your diet. When it comes to weight loss I always suggest it is 80% diet to stress how powerful diet is to changing you weight. Successful changers are those who know how many calories they need to maintain. From there you take in less. It sounds easy, but implementing is the hard part. To build muscle it is mostly exercise that matters, but nutrition does matter. Please talk to us about personal strategies to change your body composition.

Composition of Calories Matters:

     Veggies: A great way to take in less calories is by upping your fibrous vegetable servings. These foods typically have less calories, helps in controlling blood sugar, and are filling.

     Carbs: Understand the carbohydrates that you take in from all foods, including healthy vegetables and fruits, but more specifically look at calories coming from grains and sugars. I typically advise taking in 300-600 less calories from carbs from what you are use to, but never taking in less than 400 calories a day from carbs. Start by decreasing carbs from white breads, white pasta, and white rice. I typically suggest the standard of 40 to 60% of calories in your diet coming from healthy carbs like fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

     Protein: Making sure you have healthy protein at each meal. Protein has been shown to sated people more than some other foods. I typically suggest the standard of 15 to 20% of calories in your diet coming from healthy proteins (what are healthy proteins?).

     Fats: You want to take in healthy fats because they and satisfying and of course nutritious. Healthy fats include nuts, seeds, oils, avocados, and some feel a slight amount of dairy fats. The trick is to understand the caloric value of dietary fats because they are calorically very dense. A small serving has a great deal of calories. Example a tablespoon of oil has 120 calories. In other words oils like olive are very healthy, but loaded with calories. I typically suggest the standard of 25 to 35% of calories in your diet coming from healthy fat.

     Processed Foods: Eliminate when ever possible highly processed foods typically packaged with many ingredients that are removed from their natural source. These foods contain many calories, don’t keep you satisfied, raise blood sugar and unhealthy lipids, and are designed to make you consume more. This is partly due to their low protein and fiber versus high sugar, fat, and salt content (what are processed foods?).

Exercise Matters: Exercise and physical activity are very important towards body composition change because not only do they help burn calories they also help build muscle, which changes body composition.

Exercise works better if you challenge yourself: The two main forms of formal exercise are aerobic and muscular training. Both forms of exercise should be a challenge. In other words to see an effect you need to push yourself harder than what you are use to. When it comes to aerobic exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day has been suggested as the target goal for weight loss. Some suggest that higher intensity is more effective than steady state moderate activity. To gain muscle 2-3 days of resistance training should be undertaken where 1 or more exercises for 1 or more sets are done per body part. Muscles should be pushed momentary failure during resistance training, where 8 to 12 reps is highly suggested.

Please see Aerobic and Muscular Training Information Page for more details or talk to us about your training program.

Limit Alcohol: Research suggests that those who drink high amounts of alcohol have high body fat percentage. Alcohol does have a great deal of calories. There is also suggestion that alcohol is easily converted to dietary fat and that excess alcohol calories are typically deposited around the abdomen (see more at this link).

Quality sleep matters: There is a correlation between lack or sleep and poor body composition, where poor sleep is correlated with increased fat mass and body weight and a decrement of muscle mass. It isn’t certain if good sleep improves your body composition or if having a better body composition improves your sleep.

Bottomline - Lose Fat and Preserve Muscle: According to Willouby et al. 2018 while various weight loss programs have resulted in short term success, many fail to result in long term weight loss. One of the suggested reasons for this lack of long term success is the loss of lean body mass (LBM). It is essential to perserve LBM when trying to lose weight. The best way to do this is to lose weight slowly while trying to maintain and build muscle through resistance training.

Body Composition Research

A study published in a 2013 issue of the International Journal of Cardiology showed that high-intensity resistance training induces faster belly fat loss than cardio activity alone.

In a 12 year study from Harvard School of Public Health, researchers studied the physical activity, waist circumference, and body weight of 10,500 healthy U.S. men aged 40 and over then compared changes in participants’ activity levels to see which activities had the most effect on the men’s waistlines.

The researchers found that a combined program of weight training and aerobic activity led to the most optimal results in terms of maintain a healthy body weight and waist circumference. However, healthy men who did twenty minutes of daily weight training had less of an increase in age-related abdominal fat than those who spent the same amount of time doing aerobic activities.

A 2010 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise showed that post-menopausal women who engaged in regular resistance training experienced less abdominal fat gain than their counterparts who do not.

Body Composition Information Page