Every New Year, and at various other times of the year, people decide to lose weight. While this is an awesome endeavor, weight loss is not the key to a leaner, fitter you. Getting rid of body fat will get you into those new clothes, and provide you with better health at the same time.
The human body is made up of muscle and fat. (There are other components, but they’re contained within the muscle and fat). Your body composition will determine how well your clothes fit, and how good you look in your underwear. Muscle looks better than fat. Body fat, on the other hand, covers the muscle with a soft cloak that tends to round out, and even hides the muscle so that our body has a softer shape, rather than an athletic, lean look.
Most people are so busy watching the numbers on the scale that they lose track of how much muscle they have, and what the actual benefit is of getting rid of body fat. The scale doesn’t tell you how much of the weight is fat, and how much is muscle. Even the new scales that have a body fat percentage function will not tell you precisely, but they will give you an estimate, so you can track your fat loss progress. So how much muscle do you have, and conversely, how much fat do you have?
If you step on the scale and it tells you that you weigh 175 pounds, and your body fat percentage is 25 percent, then you have 44 pounds of fat under your skin. It’s easy to lose weight…in fact, there are ways to drop 10 pounds over a weekend using diuretics to dehydrate, but that weight will magically reappear when fluid intake is increased. Losing body fat is much more difficult, and keeping it off is the real challenge.
When you lose weight, you want to preserve the muscle, and lose the fat. The reason is this: muscle is the body’s furnace, therefore the more muscle you have, the bigger the furnace. This translates into your body’s ability to burn fuel (calories), so a lean, muscular body will burn more calories at rest than a body of the same weight with a higher fat percentage.
So how much fat should you have? Women tend to have about 5 percent higher fat levels than men, due to hormonal influences and average about 23 percent. The average fat level for men is approximately 17 percent. It is also no surprise that our muscles shrink as we age, resulting in a higher percentage of body fat, even if our weight stays the same. These are averages and not optimal levels.
To reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease, and many other health issues, and to keep that chiseled athletic look, men should strive for a body fat level of 10 to 14 percent, and women should try to maintain 16 to 20 percent. A formidable goal perhaps, but the rewards more than justify the struggle. Better looks, better fitting clothes, and more importantly…better health.