How to Improve Body Composition

The term body composition usually describes the percentage of fat, bone, and muscle mass in your body. This percentage is subject to many changes throughout the life of a person from conception to old age.

Unlike the widely-known Body Mass Index measure which calculates your weight range based only on two parameters of your weight and height, body composition includes many elements that make up your body.

Here are some of the ways how you can improve body composition.

Lower the Body Fat Percentage

Lowering the body fat can have clear healthy effects on the body. Although fats are the major nutrients for our body along with protein and carbohydrates, having excess body fat can be linked to several health disorders.

How body fat affects our health?

Body fat can have major effects on our overall health. Having excess body fat can elevate the risks of developing hypercholesterolemia, which is a state where the body has abnormally elevated levels of cholesterol. Having elevated levels of cholesterol can lead to increased risks for myocardial infarctions or strokes. (1)

what if body fat levels are too low?

On the other hand, a condition where the body fat is too low may also be dangerous. As far as fat is concerned, one needs to have a minimum amount of it in your body. In addition to reducing your exercise and training performance, too low a body fat level will also significantly harm your health. You might suffer from deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, which can only be absorbed by the body with fat.

Having abnormally low body fat levels puts you at risk of developing more sinister illnesses such as cardiovascular disorders, GIT problems, and nervous system damage. Furthermore, fat is also needed as an energy resource when the body is going through strenuous activity. If your body has abnormally low-fat stores, the body metabolism starts cannibalizing the muscles, which can weaken your body(2)

What is the healthy body fat percentage?

Body fat percentage should be kept within the normal range. If the body fat percentage is too high and the bodyweight is more than 20% of the ideal body weight according to the Body Mass Index, it can be regarded as obesity. The body fat percentage of normal adults is 18%-34% for men and 25%-31% for women. However, many factors affect this range such as diet, lifestyle, and athletics.(3)

Body Fat Percentage vs Body Mass Index

Body Mass Index (BMI) is most often confused with the term body fat percentage. However, both of these terms are very different.

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a commonly used measure by physicians to estimate the total fat content in your body. It is also very easy to calculate. Dividing your body weight by the square of your height gives you the BMI. 

On the other hand, your body fat percentage is essential for knowing the total fat content of your body in relation to other macronutrients. It divides your total weight into two categories: body fat and everything in between. Having a normal amount of body fat is needed for the basic metabolism of the body and helps the body warm itself up.

How to Measure Body Fat?

There are many available methods to measure body fat. Some of these methods are based on biochemical analysis and are difficult to carry out in your home. On the other hand, methods such as calipometry can be conveniently done at home to estimate the amount of your total body fat. The measurement of body fat can be done through advanced methods of biochemistry or a relatively simpler method known as calipometry.

A fat measurement with the caliper can be conveniently carried out by the subject himself or herself as it is not a complex procedure. However, the same procedure when done by a doctor will yield different results due to the accuracy. A doctor has more experience with the measurement process and can therefore determine more reliable values. Finding out your body fat through calipometry is easy, and you can get a caliper on the Internet for cheap prices. (4)

How to Lower Body Fat Percentage?

Improving body composition largely depends on healthy body weight and a healthy body fat percentage. Reducing the overall body fat percentage is advised if a person has elevated body fat. Reducing the total body fat to get rid of unwanted body sags and annoying belly fat does not mean cutting calories radically or starving yourself.

Eating a healthy and balanced diet forms the basis of effective body fat reduction.

Weight Loss vs Fat Loss:

The total body weight of a person can be broadly divided into two main categories. These categories are fat mass and lean mass. Fat mass, as clear from the word itself, consists of all the mass that is composed of fatty structures. The fat mass can be related to your total body fat level. Lean mass is all the body mass that is not composed of fat.

Losing weight can lead to losing the lean mass of the body along with the fat mass. Losing weight and losing only fat are therefore very different things.

Cardio:

Cardiovascular exercise is a very effective way of reducing body fat percentage. Reducing body fat and improving endurance for daily life tasks or sport requires putting a lot of effort into training and exercise. Particularly, cardiovascular exercises such as brisk walking, swimming, and others help burn the body fat more quickly, which helps lower body fat percentage.(5) Cardiovascular exercises can be completed in half the usual time and are much more effective.

Strength Training:

Strength training exercises are also very effective to burn body fat quickly and effectively. Strength training involves all the muscles of the trunk and upper limbs, which puts considerable stress on the fat content and requires a lot of energy. This lowers the total fat content. Depending on the spacing of the hands, you can vary the difficulty and increase the workload for a specific part of the body. This also helps in training and losing fat from a specific part of the body.

High-intensity interval training:

HIIT is a relatively modern training method as compared to other exercises. High-intensity interval training involves short phases of stress imposed on the body, which alternate with short active recovery phases several times. Due to the short training intervals, HIIT takes a tactical approach towards weight loss programs and can save you time compared to conventional training exercises aimed at losing fat and body weight(6).  Bicycle ergometers, cross trainers, treadmills, and rowing machines are mainly used as training equipment. With the help of a pulse device, this interval training can also be completed in the water.  

Resistance training:

Resistance training is also a very useful exercise that you can do at home but also in the gym to burn your body fat quickly and keep your body fat percentages within normal.  This keeps your body fit and strengthens your entire movement and posture sequence. The more regularly you do your training and the associated workouts, the more you benefit from your physical fitness. Expensive equipment does not play a role in resistance training at home. All you need is just a training mat for resistance training. 

Nutrition:

Having a healthy nutritional routine plays a very important role in maintaining the body fat percentage within the normal levels. Many people just focus on their training to lower their body fat percentage and improve body composition, while ignoring the nutritional routines. Maintaining healthy nutrition along with regular exercise helps you lose that extra fat that hangs from that “love handles”.

High Protein for Muscle:

Proteins are an essential part of our daily diet which play an important role as the building blocks of our body. They are composed of amino acids, which form a vital part of many body systems. Thus, they are essential for the proper and smooth functioning of our bodies.

In addition to the important role of proteins in maintaining the health of the body, they are also widely used for building up lean body mass and improving body composition. Research has shown that the amino acids in the proteins help our bodies build up muscles(7). Having a considerable muscle mass helps improve your body fat percentage, and this technique is widely used by bodybuilders all over the world.

Low Carb Diet for Fat Loss:

Carbohydrates, together with fat, are the main source of energy for our bodies. Having an abnormally high amount of carbohydrates in your diet can put you at a risk for developing several health-related disorders.

Diet plans which are aimed at improving body composition and lowering the body fat percentage are based on the basic idea of avoiding as many carbohydrates in the daily diet as possible. Especially, avoiding simple carbohydrates obtained from white flour products and sugar are preferred. These cause the insulin level to skyrocket so that fat burning is blocked and the storage of energy as fat is promoted. If you eat fewer carbohydrates through a low-carb diet, you will keep your insulin level constantly low and thus enable your body to gain energy from fat (8). Optimizing your meal breaks is also necessary to lose body fat. Having a break between meals also optimize fat metabolism

The Importance of Fiber:

A diet centered on plants offers many benefits for health and the figure. Among other benefits, it optimizes the consumption of fiber, non-digestible carbohydrates (therefore devoid of calories) present in fruits and vegetables, cereals, seeds, and legumes. Research has shown that incorporating (soluble) fiber daily can prevent cardiovascular problems and lower cholesterol (9). This is because fiber influences the rate of absorption of lipids, reducing the amount of fat in the blood. In the intestine, the gel formed by soluble fiber binds to part of the lipids, retains them, and passes them to the stool. Among the fatty molecules, they trap cholesterol in particular, part of which is therefore eliminated. They thus participate in the regulation of cholesterol and have a hypocholesterolemic effect.

Micronutrients:

Eating micronutrient-rich foods can help in lowering the total body fat percentage in individuals. Research has shown that a deficiency of vitamin C in the diet can lead to a reduced rate of fat loss from the body. Thus, loading up on vitamin C through eating foods rich in this micronutrient such as citrus fruits can help pave your way towards a quicker and more efficient fat loss journey.

How can Lifestyle Habits Affect Fat Loss?

Lifestyle changes have a major role to play in your fat loss journey to improve body composition. All work and no play certainly do have major side effects on your health. People who tend to have a sedentary lifestyle without any considerable physical activity can cause significant fat gain due to diminished metabolism in the body.(10)

Maintaining regular and healthy sleep routines helps a lot to lower body fat composition and cycle your routine to include regular exercise. Sleep also regularizes the rates of metabolism, and a healthy body is always dependent on a healthy metabolism. Moreover, hydration is also important to maintain in your journey towards improving body composition.

What Foods Should I Avoid?

Maintaining a good body composition requires some restrictions in your diet. It means that you can not simply munch on large packs of French fries or potato sticks when you are hungry. Eating fat-rich foods and having trans fats and saturated fats as major parts of your diet can lead to increased fat deposits in your body, which means increased body fat percentage. This degrades body composition.

Moreover, experts also discourage drinking alcohol while aiming to lose body fat content. Alcohol is bad for the liver, and having a healthy liver is essential for metabolizing fat in the body (11). Avoiding processed foods and candies is also beneficial as they contain a large portion of simple carbohydrates and sugars.

Monitoring Your Progress:

Tracking your fat loss progress regularly is essential, as this enables you to make early changes to your diet if a particular plan is not working out for you. In this regard, equipment such as body fat scales and online body fat percentage calculators can be of great help.

References:

  1. Abdominal obesity and your health – Harvard Health. Harvard Health. (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021.
  2. 15 negative effects of low body fat. Men’s Journal. (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021.
  3. Ideal Body Fat Percentage: For Men and Women. Healthline. (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021.
  4. How to Measure Body Fat: 6 Methods to Try. Healthline. (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021.
  5. The 14 Best Ways to Burn Fat Fast. Healthline. (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021.
  6. HUNTER, G., FISHER, G., NEUMEIER, W., CARTER, S., & PLAISANCE, E. (2015). Exercise Training and Energy Expenditure following Weight Loss. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise47(9), 1950-1957.
  7. Carbone, J., & Pasiakos, S. (2019). Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit. Nutrients11(5), 1136.
  8. Chawla, S., Tessarolo Silva, F., Amaral Medeiros, S., Mekary, R., & Radenkovic, D. (2020). The Effect of Low-Fat and Low-Carbohydrate Diets on Weight Loss and Lipid Levels: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients12(12), 3774.
  9. Miketinas, D., Bray, G., Beyl, R., Ryan, D., Sacks, F., & Champagne, C. (2019). Fiber Intake Predicts Weight Loss and Dietary Adherence in Adults Consuming Calorie-Restricted Diets: The POUNDS Lost (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) Study. The Journal Of Nutrition149(10), 1742-1748.
  10. 12 tips to help you lose weight. nhs.uk. (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021.
  11. Alcohol and Weight: 8 Ways Drinking Slows Weight Loss. Healthline. (2021). Retrieved 21 October 2021.

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