When it comes to assessing our physiques, we tend to get hyper-focused on the number on the scale. And, while weight can certainly serve as valid measurement of your body’s general health, body composition provides a much more comprehensive picture of your overall fitness.
Put simply, body composition is a measure of how much of you is fat and how much of you isn’t. The part that isn’t fat includes your bones, your muscles and water. Understanding the fat part of the equation—how much you have, where you carry it and your ratio of fat to muscle—is key to understanding your true health and fitness status. So, how do you measure it, and how do you manage it?
BODY MASS INDEX (BMI) VS. BODY FAT PERCENTAGE
Both of these measurements can provide a sense of your body composition, but one has the advantage of being easy to calculate, while the other provides a more insightful assessment.
BMI calculates the relationship between your height and weight and tells you whether you’re underweight, a healthy weight, overweight or obese. While it doesn’t directly measure your body fat, it can serve as a good guiding tool, especially if you take your size and activity level into consideration. The best thing about BMI is that it is determined via a quick and easy calculation using your height and weight. Where it can fall short is when it is applied to professional athletes or people who do a lot of strength training. BMI can’t distinguish fat from muscle, which is why many athletes have BMIs that classify them as “overweight.”
BODY FAT PERCENTAGE measures how much of your weight is fat mass versus lean mass. The average healthy adult body fat range, regardless of age, is 15-20% for men and 20-25% for women. It’s useful to know your body fat percentage if you’re an athlete or someone who is concerned with building lean muscle, or if you suspect you may not be as healthy as you appear. For example, it’s possible to be “skinny fat,” which means you have a normal BMI and don’t look overweight, but you carry more fat than muscle on your body, which is not a sign of good health. The downside of this measurement is that taking it requires a trip to the doctor or the assistance of a trained technician.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR IDEAL RATIO
To attain your ideal body composition, you may need to shed weight via fat loss, not muscle loss. Consuming adequate amounts of protein can help you avoid losing lean muscle mass as you diet and exercise. Regular supplementation with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) has also been shown to help maintain lean muscle mass and support and improve healthy body composition. CLA is a naturally occurring fatty acid that is present in cheese and ground beef. It is sold in a variety of CLA supplement formats, including thermogenic formulas to fuel energy and metabolism and enhance your calorie-burning capabilities. Combining regular strength-training with a healthy diet and the appropriate supplements can support you in your quest to develop your optimal ratio of lean muscle to fat.