Fat Loss and Body Composition – Understanding your Weight

The trend of looking physically fit has gained more importance nowadays as compared to the maintenance of a healthy body weight. All we focus on now is the deflection of the weight balance needle towards the left side. Unfortunately, this race has caused a drastic effect on the overall health because we actually forget that the body is not just the unwanted fat but our weight is composed of the muscles and organs and the skin too. Fat loss and body composition is a concept that goes hand in hand. The body composition is important to understand since besides fat, there is the healthy weight of the muscles, the appropriate size of the organs, and the thickness of the skin that matters for a healthy life and it definitely matters more than the blindfolded weight loss tricks.

Key Measurements in the Body Composition Test

The body composition report (1) is based on various tests which indicate the content of various body components and if there increase, decrease or condition depicts any unlevelled incongruity. The body is composed of essential and non-essential fat, muscles, water weight, and bones, skin, and other organs.

Losing Fat vs. Losing Weight

The analysis of body composition makes it clear what proportion of the body content makes the skin, muscles, bones, and organs and what weight of the body is fat which should be reduced. Focusing on the overall weight reduction can lead to a decrease in the lean weight of the body and decrease the size of your muscles which is not a healthy approach towards weight reduction. Losing fat especially which is under the skin is the key. Essential fat surrounds the organs of your body and actually plays a protective part for you by acting as an energy reserve for the organs when needed and keeping the energy levels for the organs to normal.(2)

Muscle Loss

When you increase the intake of calories and high-fat food, your body starts to store fat globules in your body in the adipose tissue under the skin. When the fat deposits are increased the body adjusts its proportion and balances the fat and muscle content by decreasing the muscle mass. The inactivity of the muscles causes muscular atrophy(3) and the destruction of the cells causes the loss of muscles. The muscles if not used properly, become useless to the body, and to conserve energy the muscle cells are broken down for energy.

Water Loss

An adult human body is made up of almost 60% – 80% of water. There is more water content in males as compared to females because of the greater muscle mass. (4) You usually develop water weight because of the increased salt intake, imbalance of electrolytes, drinking water more than required, sleeping less than the adequate hours, and stressing more. All these factors if controlled well can easily help in maintaining the water content of the body.

Fat Loss

The usual way to estimate the weight of fat in your body (5) is by subtracting the lean muscle weight of your body from the total weight of the body. Fat accumulation when in excess starts surrounding around the vital organs mainly the liver and heart. This gives rise to a number of diseases and ultimately can be life-threatening. Fat under the subcutaneous tissue is something in your hands and can be effectively reduced through an active lifestyle however the fat around the organs is very difficult.

Why you should focus on fat loss and not weight loss?

The key to improved body composition is to keep the ideal body weight while losing the fat in the adipose tissues under the skin. Experts are of the opinion that even gaining weight in terms of muscle mass is better than losing the muscle mass along with the fat mass. Increased intake of protein is an easy way to regulate and enhance your muscles. (6) The muscular mass of your body is not only the active energy reserve in the form of glycogen but also gives you the perfect body shape by toning the muscles and bringing you in an outclass body shape.

How does your metabolism change with weight loss?

People usually believe that decreasing their food intake and controlling their diet will lead to effective weight loss. Reducing the food intake gives a signal to your brain that the body is under stress and the energy requirements of the body need to be covered through reserves. The body goes into a slow metabolism. (7) form because there is no food to process and catabolize. The more healthy food intake, the better is the rate of metabolism. The body trains the processes to spend less energy and store more calories for future crises. This is how the metabolism slows down and the body actually starts gaining weight in the long run instead of losing weight.

Signs you’re losing water or muscles instead of fat

If you start losing muscles or water weight instead of losing the fat mass, there are going to be some serious clinical presentations and you can detect them easily. The major signs and symptoms of muscle mass reduction are as follows:

  • You feel strained more often during activity
  • Tiredness, lethargy
  • Quick weight loss
  • Weakness in the limbs

The signs of water weight loss are as follows:

  • Dizziness and dehydration
  • Pale and dull skin, hair and nails
  • Lack of sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fever and sometimes fainting

Both muscle and water weight loss is signified by the fact that the fat mass of your body remains unchanged.

How to measure fat loss

If you know your body composition already, you can easily calculate the fat mass you have. A regular test or analysis conducted using one of the following methods will help you know the measure of fat loss.

Hydrostatic Weighing

Hydrostatic Weighing (WH) (8) is a method based on Archimedes’ principle that uses displacement values of the body in the air and in water. The subject is made to sit on land and then in a water tank with the subsequent weight measuring on a scale. The test is based directly on Archimedes’ principle and the method is considered reliable.

Skinfold Thickness

A skinfold caliper (9) is used to measure the thickness by pinching the skin into the instrument such that the fat under the skin can also be evaluated. The skin all over the body has subcutaneous fat underneath it and this gives a direct measure of the body fat under the skin and adipose tissues.

DEXA Scan

Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (10) is used to estimate the difference in the values of the visceral fat that surrounds your organ and the subcutaneous fat which is under your skin. The DXA scans also provide extensive detail on the bone mineral composition and the lean tissue weight of the organs and the muscles.

Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis

There are certain electrodes in the BIA Analysis method, (11) which are placed on certain points on the body in order to measure the electrical resistance offered by the bones, muscles, fat, and water content in the body. This is how this procedure helps in the analysis of body weight.

Losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time

The process of maintaining the muscle mass, attempting to enhance it, and reducing the fat mass at the same time is termed “Body Recomposition” (12) . When you exercise your muscles daily, the muscular cells need oxygen to work out and meet the demands of energy. The more you work out, the more are energy requirements. To compensate for this energy demand, the body starts to break down the fat globules beneath the skin and use the fat stored to generate energy for the muscles. This is the strategy used by gym instructors and fitness coaches. They train your muscles and target muscle mass increase and fat loss at the same time!

How to lose fat while gaining muscle

This is the strategy used by gym instructors and fitness coaches. They train your muscles and target lean mass increase and fat loss at the same time! Exercise your muscles as much as you can and stretch them to contract the muscle fibers. This will need more energy and hence more fat will be reduced from the surrounding fat depots. Any exercise that builds muscle strength will help, for example, crunches, sit-ups, and push-ups, etc.

Tips to lose body fat while gaining muscle

There are a few tips that will help you lose body fat and gain muscle mass at the same time. Controlling the diet is essential but without physical activity, you cannot attempt weight loss with muscle gain. Strengthening exercises are important to maintain the activity of your body muscles and to help them regulate the metabolic processes for fat reduction. Aerobic exercise accelerates metabolism and helps in fat cut down while fitness exercises activate your muscles so both are important. Always try a different combination of exercises and keep changing the intervals between them so that your body doesn’t get used to it and you get good results.

What should I eat to lose body fat while gaining muscle?

Here are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Eat a big portion of proteins (13) daily
  • Cut down on processed and canned food
  • Eliminate desserts and sweets from your diet altogether
  • Decrease other forms of carbohydrates
  • Incorporate fiber into your diet

Do not forget to keep a track of your progress!

Body composition analyzer keeps a regular record of your body composition by proper analysis and make sure you are aware of which body content you are targeting with your weight management strategy. If your muscle mass is increasing, water weight is maintained and the fat mass is reduced, you know your goal is being rightly achieved. A point to be noted here is that we say “maintain a good body weight” instead of “losing weight” and now you know why! Gaining muscle mass might increase your weight to some extent but it will help you lose fat simultaneously giving you the perfect health you wish for!

References:

  1. Kelly, J., & Metcalfe, J. (2012). Validity and Reliability of Body Composition Analysis Using the Tanita BC418-MA. Journal of Exercise Physiology, Volume 15(Number 6). 
  2. Allison, D. B. (1999b, June 26). Weight loss increases and fat loss decreases. . .International Journal of Obesity. 
  3. Cellular and molecular mechanisms of muscle atrophy. (2013, January 1). PubMed Central (PMC). 
  4. Watson, P. E., Watson, I. D., & Batt, R. D. (1980, January 1). Total body water volumes for adult males and females estimated from simple anthropometric measurements. OUP Academic. 
  5. Thomas, E. L. (1998). Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Total Body Fat. Journal of Applied Physiology. 
  6. Phillips, S. M. (2014, October 30). A Brief Review of Higher Dietary Protein Diets. . .Sports Medicine. 
  7. Trexler, E. T. (2014, February 27). Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 
  8. Hydrostatic Weighing – an overview | Science Direct Topics. (2020). Science Direct. 
  9. Durnin, J. V. G. A. (2007). The assessment of the amount of fat in the human body from measurements of skinfold thickness | British Journal of Nutrition. Cambridge Core. 
  10. Haarbo, J. (1991, July 1). Validation of body composition by dual energy X‐ray absorptiometry (DEXA). Wiley Online Library. 
  11. Kushner, R. F., Gudivaka, R., & Schoeller, D. A. (1996). Clinical characteristics influencing bioelectrical impedance analysis measurements. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 64(3), 423S-427S. 
  12. Body Recomposition: Can Trained Individuals Build Muscle. . . : Strength & Conditioning Journal. (2020). LWW. 
  13. Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training. (2016). PubMed Central (PMC). 

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