What is Body Composition? The Definition, Guide and Test

Body Composition

Globally, there are currently more people that are obese than are underweight. There is now more demand than ever for weight loss treatments, medications and more. But, before taking medications and beginning treatments, people need to understand what their body is made up of before looking to lose weight.

What your body is made up of is more important than what you weigh. What is inside your body is what can have a detrimental impact on your health.

Weighing yourself on your bathroom scales can be discouraging, especially if you are working hard and seeing no change. However, body weight is not the most important aspect of being healthy. It is also not how you assess your body composition, which is the most important and effective reading to assess what your body is made up of.

If you are putting in hard work with your diet and exercise but not seeing much change on the scales, your body composition may still be improving. 

Most people familiarise weight loss and body improvements with your weight and BMI, and often dismiss composition, which is actually a much more important and accurate metric. It allows an individual to know what their body is made up of and whether it’s fat mass, muscle or body fat they need to improve. 

Improving body composition is a better way of inhibiting health issues such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and more. Today, you will find out more about body composition, why it is important to measure, how to measure it and more:

What is Body Composition?

Body composition is a way in which you describe what your body is made up of. It is mainly composed and measured using the two types of fat, fat mass and nonfat mass

Fat mass is associated with all the tissue in your body whilst nonfat mass is everything else, such as muscles, organs and bones. Measuring your body composition is a much more accurate measure than your BMI as it measures body fat mass, muscle mass and body fat percentage.

The body is composed of water, fat, protein and minerals. The body is divided into fat-free areas which make up your body composition. Body fat is the most varied component of the body, which is made up of essential fat and stored fat. Fat in the bones, liver, kidneys, intestines, muscles and lipid-rich tissues is known as essential fat or non fat mass, which your body needs for normal bodily functions. 

Whereas stored fat, known as fat mass, accumulates in adipose tissue, which is what cushions and insulates the body and is located around the internal organs. Stored fat acts as protection for the body, as it lies just under the skin, but is the one you want to keep balanced to prevent any health concerns. 

Stored fat is essential to be used as energy, but excessive stored fat can cause detrimental impacts and increase the risk of chronic diseases such as heart failure, diabetes and obesity issues.

The fat in your body is not all measured to find out your lean body mass, it is only a small percentage of essential fat that is measured with your muscles, bone marrow and internal organs, to find your lean body mass.

To get an accurate reading of your body composition, you need to estimate your body fat but first, understand the most important things to consider that can affect your body composition in the first place:

Here is a quick video explaining what is The Body Composition :

The most important factors to consider

Body composition is made up of several different factors, all of which can play a role in affecting your body composition. It is not only your body fat that can be a cause of an unhealthy body composition. Whilst body fat is the most important factor, there are more things to consider and be aware of which can affect your body composition. This includes:

Weight 

Being overweight can have a big impact on your body composition. Weight loss can help improve it, but what the scales read does not necessarily reflect a healthy body composition. A healthy weighted person could have a worse body composition that someone considered overweight.

Body water 

Maintaining the right amount of water and fluid in your body is key for body composition. The body is made up of around 70 percent water, which is good for a healthier body and composition.

Body fat

Body fat is considered to be the number one things dieters wish to decrease first, however body fat does play a role in keeping our body healthy and protected against disease. Body composition will allow you to assess if you need to decrease body fat or not.

BMI

A person’s body mass index (BMI) depends on their weight and height. A healthy BMI does not reflect a healthy body composition, just like your weight, but plays a more important role than weight and is just as important to keep balanced as body composition. However, both measure different components of the body.

Lean mass

To measure your lean mass, you need to measure your overall body fat. Lean mass is made up of muscle mass that does not involve fat. Muscle mass weighs more than fat mass, and plays a role in affecting body composition.

Visceral fat rating

Visceral fat plays a key role in developing health conditions, especially those linked with obesity. Visceral fat is fat which is stored around the waist deep under the skin. Too much visceral fat will mean your fat is close to your organs which will increase blood pressure. To assess this, a body composition measurement is key and if it is an issue, it must be improved as quickly as possible.

Muscle mass

Muscle helps burn energy and fat and plays an important role at maintaining a healthy body composition. The more muscle mass you have, the quicker energy and fat will burn. Muscle mass measurements include smooth and skeletal muscle as well as the water in the body. 

Bone mass

Bone mass measures the overall bone density. It is important to maintain healthy bones and body composition measurement methods can help attain a reading to see if bone density is at a healthy level. 

Daily calorie intake

What you eat in a day will affect your body composition. Eating the right foods will help maintain and build muscle, whilst the wrong foods will contribute to fat mass. 

Keeping track and on top of these factors can be challenging, but are all a part of maintaining a healthy body composition and preventing any obesity related health conditions. 

For some, certain factors are genetic and cannot be altered. However, most can be improved and worked on, so if genetics plays a role in affecting your body composition then it is recommended to work on the other factors. Here is how to understand if you have a healthy body composition:

Understanding a healthy body composition

Understanding what your body composition should read is important to know in order to assess if you need to change your diet and/or exercise routine to achieve or sustain a healthy reading. 

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) released the following table for understanding a healthy body composition. 

Women Men
Essential Fat 10-13% 2-5%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable 25-31% 18-24%
Obese Over 32% Over 25%

Males and females have different healthy body composition levels as women are more likely to hold more fat mass than men. Males are more likely to attain more lean mass. Males tend to adipose tissue, known as stored fat, around their abdomen and trunk whereas females accumulate it around their hips and thighs. The difference is where the adipose tissue is accumulated, which means males and females measurements and readings will and should be different. 

If you want to measure your body composition, here are the methods to do so:

How to measure your body composition

There are a few effective and accurate methods for measuring your body composition. Some are simple and some are advanced, so depending on your preference, you can pick and choose how you would like to get your body composition measured. 

The most accurate methods are the expensive advanced methods, however there are ways to do it from your home. 

Here are the ways you can measure your body composition.

At Home Methods

At home methods are not recommended as they are not accurate, but they give you some idea as to what your body composition is roughly. 

Tracking the circumference of certain body parts has proven to be effective on athletes, therefore it is effective on each and every regular person. You may have had your waist measured in the past for items of clothing, but with circumference tracking for body composition you should measure your arms, legs, hips and chest too. You can do this by using a flexible tape measure.

This is not the most effective method, but it can help you understand if your body is changing. If your circumference increases or decreases via this method, it will help you understand if you have lost or gained fat mass and/or muscle mass. Fat mass and muscle mass will affect the measurements as both sit above your organs and beneath the skin, which acts as stored fat or new muscle. 

Another method to recognise body changes is through progress pictures. It is recommended to take one before starting your lifestyle, diet and exercise change and then every week to see results.

Skinfold Calipers

Skinfold calipers, also known as skinfolds measurements, are a technique often done at the gym. Many fitness trainers recommend this way as it is easily done as a part of your weight loss program. It is done by using a machine to measure different parts of your body by pinching them to measure thickness of body fat. These measurements are then translated to conclude an overall result. 

Hydrostatic Weighing

Underwater weighing helps understand the total density of the body in a static state. This requires you to be fully submerged in water and the reading is done by measuring the total mass of the object in the air versus the mass in water. This concludes to give a reading of the object’s total volume. This method is one of the most accurate and effective. 

Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)

The BIA method can be done in two ways, handheld or via scales. This non-invasive method uses an electrical current throughout the body, via the hands or feet, to measure the volume of water, fat and lean tissue in the body. The fat, water and lean tissue in the body impede the current differently which helps conclude a reliable reading of body composition. 

Research suggests that the BIA method gives best results when done via machine as opposed to handheld. The results show to be 8-10% more accurate using the scales.

Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA Scan)

A DEXA scan has to be done in a medical environment as it uses low energy X-Ray machines to compose an analysis of the body weight through finding out the density of the bones. Two X-Ray sources are used to get a better reading, as dense bone can block a certain amount of X-ray, therefore using two will show more results. 

Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI)

An MRI scan is used to detect the water content in the body, and the machine works to scan the body in small segments. These small segments help predict the whole body value and work out body composition. It evaluates the skeletal muscle mass and adipose tissue. 

This method takes roughly 25-30 minutes with a further 2-3 hours for the computer to compile and translate the data for results. Since this method uses no ionizing radiation, like X-rays do, it is best suited to children or elderly.

Air Displacement Plethysmography 

Air Displacement Plethysmography is completed using a chamber machine which determines the volume of air in the body and how it changes due to pressure in the chamber. Before getting into the chamber, the weight and volume of the person will be measured to calculate bone density. 

All of the above methods have been tested and tried by scientists and have proven to be reliable. You can choose which method is best for you and trial it. If you opt for one of the more advanced methods, you can then maintain your reading and results by measuring at home or getting regular appointments.

Once you have a reading of your body composition, you may be wondering how to improve it. Here’s more:

How to improve your body composition

Improving your body composition shows the best results when decreasing muscle and/or fat mass. Any changes in decreasing muscle and fat mass will decrease your overall body fat percentage. However, it is important to know that gaining muscle mass is more beneficial than gaining fat mass. If you are looking to decrease fat mass but lean your body, then it is best to increase muscle mass. 

Your body composition is best improved with a decrease in fat mass. How much fat mass you need to lose will depend on your measurements and whether or not you have a healthy body composition or not. To find that out, use the table provided above.

Whilst diet and exercise can improve a person’s body composition, they are not the only effective methods. Improving your diet and exercise routine is a good place to start, but let’s take a look into all ways in which you can improve your body composition:

Balancing your nutrition

Getting the right nutrients is key for having a healthy body which will help you achieve your goals, especially a healthy body composition. 

The first thing to recognise and set a goal for is your daily calorie intake. Tracking your calories is essential and can be easily done with the use of apps like Noom, which you can read more about here. 

If you are looking to lose weight and fat mass, it is best to have a calorie deficit diet. This means burning more calories than you eat. Regular exercise and a healthy balanced diet will help you lose fat mass. It is obvious that the less calories you need, the less you need to burn. 

A good way to balance your nutrition is avoiding processed foods that are high in fat and replacing them with nutritious fresh foods. High protein, fiber and healthy fat foods are ideal for healthy dieting. They help you feel fuller for longer, are better for you and help you achieve your recommended daily nutrient intake. Swapping out bad foods for balanced foods is the key to eating balanced meals and helping with body composition.

Getting enough of the right exercise

Physical activity and exercise is the most crucial method for improving body composition. To attain a healthy body composition a body needs to lose fat and gain muscle, in recommended amounts depending on the individual. Too much fat loss can cause a person to be underweight, so fat loss needs to be assessed and abided by for each individual. The same goes for weight mass, too much muscle can result in an individual having an unhealthy body composition. Too much weight mass poses less danger, but can put you out of the healthy bracket for body composition. 

High intensity strength training is key for adapting your body composition. Research shows how weight training is considered to be most effective as it will help a person gain muscle mass, which will replace fat mass overtime. Muscle training and activity will not necessarily make you lose weight, but will improve your body composition by being useful for optimal muscle growth.

Fat loss programs are helpful for those looking to lose fat mass. The American College of Sports Medicine states that 150 to 250 minutes of exercise per week will lead to fat loss. If you are looking for significant fat loss, 250 minutes per week is essential. For those looking for long term fat loss and wish to attain results, moderate intensity training proves to be more successful than high intensity training. This is because moderate intensity training is easier to keep up, will improve mood and not overwork the body. 

Improving your sleep pattern

Sleep is not key for improving body composition, however research suggests that there is an association between sleep and a  person attaining a healthier lifestyle to achieve their goals. Poor sleep quality or lack of sleep can encourage a person to diet and exercise poorly. 

Getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night is key for the body to function properly. If you are an early riser, try sleeping an hour or two earlier each night so that your body can get the rest it needs. 

Limiting alcohol consumption

Alcohol has many detrimental effects on your health. Not only can it cause liver or heart conditions, it can play a role in declining your body composition and body goals. 

Many forget that alcohol contains calories, and drinking your calories is an easy way to gain weight and fat mass

Studies show that alcohol consumption is one of the main factors for unexpected weight gain and often leads to obesity. Limiting your alcohol consumption is key for a healthier body and mindset for achieving your goals. 

Other factors that can affect your body composition include age and genetics, which are out of your control. If age or genetics does show to have a significant impact on your body composition, the best advice is to improve your diet, exercise and sleep routine. All of which have shown to have a positive effect on body composition and help inhibit any obesity related health issues. 

If you are questioning what the difference is between muscle and fat and why they are important factors to change for improving your body composition, here is more:

What is the difference between muscle and fat?

The reason you may not notice a change on the scales when you are dieting and exercising is because muscle is weight, as much as fat is. For example, if you are exercising at the gym and gaining muscle mass, this will replace the fat mass in your body. Although you may lose 2 pounds in fat mass, you may gain 2 pounds of muscle mass, which therefore replaces the weight. 

Do not let what the bathroom scales say discourage you. If you are measuring your body composition correctly, you will notice a change in your body. That is the beauty of measuring body composition over weight or BMI – it allows you to see the positive changes in your entire body rather than no change by weighing it all together. The breakdown of measurements that body composition provides allows you to understand how much muscle mass and fat mass your body has. 

It is important to know that muscle weighs more than fat, simply because it is more dense. Research proves that muscle mass is a vital component for keeping the body healthy. The research study investigates how decreasing body fat mass and increasing muscle mass helps protect the body against obesity related conditions. Therefore, do not obsess over your scales. 

The more muscle you build, the heavier you might weigh for a period of time, but muscle mass is important when decreasing your fat mass. Muscle has many other health benefits such as increasing the body’s metabolic rate and improves bone density. See is as a protector of the body and more muscle will mean a stronger body.

Understanding how much muscle mass, fat mass and nonfat mass your body should have varies from person to person. To measure this you will need to know your body composition, and knowing your body composition is important to understand what your body is made up of and how to prevent any dangers to your health:

What are the dangers of not knowing your body composition?

Research shows that a healthy body composition plays a key role in longer life span, improves self-esteem, mood, energy levels and reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and insulin resistance. Therefore, knowing your body composition can help you live a longer, healthier and happier life. 

A lack of understanding and essential knowledge on body composition may mean you would never think to get a body composition reading. Hopefully, with this information you will now find out your body composition and take the right measures to achieve a healthier body. Complications that a lack of knowledge, measurement and action on body composition can impose include:

  • Early mortality
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Impaired heart function
  • Poor insulation
  • Poor recovery from illnesses
  • Weak muscles
  • Loss of bone density
  • Starvation
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Hormone dysregulation
  • Low testosterone 

Understanding and taking action can inhibit these complications. It’s as simple as getting measured and altering your lifestyle.

With that, you may have some more questions or concerns about body composition, so here the top frequently asked questions which may provide you with the answer you are seeking:

FAQ

What are the three types of body composition?

There are three basic human body types, which are inherited and out of a person’s control. The three basic body types are known as somatotypes. Later on in life you can change the appearance of your body by losing weight and gaining muscle, but you can never change your body type due to your skeleton. The three body types include ectomorph (slender, finds it difficult to gain muscle and is narrow), mesomorph (medium build, wide shoulders and can gain muscle easily) and endomorph (short in height, finds it difficult to lose weight and has a round body shape). 

What is visceral fat in the human body?

Visceral fat is the fat which is stored around the abdomen. It is located near your vital organs such as liver, kidneys and stomach and can cause health conditions if it becomes excessive. This is due to the space between the fat and organs getting smaller, meaning the blood flow becomes more difficult and blood pressure will increase.

What is the ideal waist size for a woman?

Waist size varies between genders. A healthy and ideal waist size for a woman is reported to be less than 30 inches, according to the American Heart Association. If it exceeds that you can seek advice from your doctor or trainer for the best weight loss solution.  

What should my body water percentage be?

The ideal body water percentage differs between genders. For women an ideal water body percentage should be between 45 and 60 percent, whilst for men it is between 50 and 65 percent. 

What percent body fat is obese?

Again, body fat signifies obesity is different for men and women. Men that have over 25 percent body fat is considered to be obese. For women, over 33 percent body fat is considered to be obese.

What foods burn visceral fat?

Eating more protein than other nutrients is considered helpful for burning visceral fat. This includes meat, fish, eggs and dairy. It is recommended to lower your carb intake when trying to reduce and burn visceral fat.

To find out our thoughts on body composition, here’s our conclusive report:

Conclusion

To get an accurate reading and understanding of your body, scales are not the answer. Your body composition assesses your fat mass and muscle mass, along with a few other factors, which conclude if you have a healthy body. 

There are simple ways of improving your body composition once you have had it measured and know which areas you need to improve on. These methods along with maintaining a healthy body composition will improve your health long term and inhibit any harmful health conditions. 

Tracking your body composition with circumference tracking or more advanced methods will help you sustain a healthy level once it is reached. 

Remember that there are many factors that contribute to a poor body composition such as your diet, poor exercise and lack of sleep. Therefore, focusing on these small steps can help manage a healthier body and body composition.

There are additional methods for fat loss as well as exercise, such as fat burner supplements like Forskolin.

If you have any more questions or comments, feel free to share them with us.

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