Body Composition: What it is and Why You Should Care

A Post About Measuring Body Composition and Types of Body Fat by Brackenfell Personal Trainer, Kevin Anderson

                       bmi-comparison

There’s an enemy in your bathroom. It’s called a bathroom scale, and it may be the single most dangerous saboteur of your fitness and health goals. Why? Because your bathroom scale can never give you a reliable indicator of your body composition.

Body composition crash course

When you step on a scale, the number that you see is a sum total of everything in your body. This includes bone, water, fat tissue, muscle tissue, tendons, ligaments, and organs. Clearly, some of these things are critical for life and health, like your muscles and bones.

Building muscle is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Muscle not only gives you energy and increases your metabolism, but it also promotes the removal of glucose from your blood. This in turn lowers your risk of developing insulin resistance and diabetes. You should also note, that a kilogram of muscle is significantly smaller than a kilogram of fat…

 Fat vs Muscle1

Increasing bone density is also a critical part of being healthy. Healthy bones are denser than unhealthy bones. They are stronger, less prone to fracture and produce healthy amounts of blood cells. They also weigh more than unhealthy bones.

But other components of your body composition can spell danger, such as excess fat tissue.

And it gets even more interesting. Even the tissue that can present problems, such as fat, is not all equal. Your body stores two main kinds of fat: subcutaneous and visceral.

  • Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat directly below your skin. It is that ‘inch you can pinch.’ The most common places for this fat are your abdomen, thighs, hips and buttocks. Subcutaneous fat can be further divided into 2 categories (layers)
  • Superficial Adipose Tissue (SAT): This thin layer of fat is not a threat to your health. Rather, it is stored for quick energy should you need it.
  • Deep Adipose Tissue (DAT): This deeper layer of fat is metabolically active, and is strongly related to insulin resistance.
  • Visceral fat is stored deeper within your body. It is the fat that accumulates in and around your organs. Visceral fat is dangerous because it increases your risk of serious diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease insulin resistance and cancer. Unlike SAT, which is largely inactive, visceral fat acts like a gland, secreting hormones and chemicals that destroy health. By the way, DAT acts just like visceral fat, and it is a very good indicator of visceral fat levels!

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But wait, there’s more!

Suppose you have been following a careful weight training program for a week. You have lifted weights for three days, been careful to eat a balanced diet and have even done some cardio intervals. You drank your water and got some great nights of sleep. You can hardly wait to get on your scale after the week is over. It’s going to be great this time; you just know it.

But to your horror, you realize that you have not only NOT lost any weight, you have actually gained one kilo! The typical reaction is to panic, get discouraged and maybe even cut back to an unhealthy number of calories.

frustrated_woman_scale

However, there is a simple explanation for the weight gain. As you have lifted weights over the last week, you have created micro tears in your muscles. These micro tears are part of the building process—as the muscles heal, they get stronger. But in the process of healing, they are slightly inflamed which means they are retaining water. Once they are healed, the water gain will dissipate. So you haven’t ‘gained weight’ at all!

The trouble is that your scale can’t tell you this. In this case your scale is painting a good situation in a negative light. But it can work the other way too. Your scale can make you think everything is okay, when in fact it isn’t.

One example of this kind of false security is the skinny fat situation. Some people look fine on the outside and even the scale tells them they are a healthy weight, but lurking inside their bodies is unseen visceral fat—that fat that causes disease. Skinny on the outside but fat on the inside. This is a dangerous situation, but once again the scale can’t detect this condition.

The solution

By now you may be wondering what to do. After all, if both outward appearance and the scale are unreliable indicators of body composition and therefore health, what is left?

Body Composition Analysis measures the proportion of the various components of a person’s body and generally divides them into 2 – 3 major categories:

  1. Lean Mass
  2. Fat Mass
  3. Water

There are a number ways to measure body composition, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The “gold standard” is considered to by hydrostatic (underwater) weighing. For obvious reasons, this is very inconvenient, timely and generally expensive to have done. On the flip side, you can buy a R900 scale that gives you your estimated body composition using bio-electrical impedance. Unfortunately, these scales are very inaccurate.

Most personal trainers, including this one until now, use skinfold calipers to measure body composition. Of all the methods, this one is probably the most ideal/accurate when done by a trained professional. However, there is still a sizeable margin of error, especially with larger individuals.

Plus, all of these methods only tell us about the SAT subcutaneous fat, not DAT (which is also a good indicator of visceral fat).

What is left is a diagnostic tool that CAN discern between the different types of body composition.

 BodyMetrix-in-Hand

You can use the BodyMetrix System which uses ultrasound to accurately measure body fat (both SAT & DAT), track muscle gain and fat loss and best of all, it requires no pinching or letting all your air out underwater!

 

GREATEST VICTORIES ARE BORN IN THE HEART

Kevin Anderson – Owner of ForeverStrong Personal Training Services

 

Kevin Anderson is the President & Chief Fitness Officer of ForeverStrong P.T.  He also runs an at-home training program – Fitness 2 Go – providing the same great high-intensity intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts for all fitness levels as his personal training sessions…

Kevin is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a certified Metabolic Training Expert, a Yoga and Pilates Specialist and spinning instructor.

Kevin has been helping clients achieve their health and fitness goals since 2010.  To contact Kevin for training, education or to have him speak at an event please email foreverstrongpt@gmail.com

 

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