Body composition is made up of fat mass and fat-free mass, people can improve it by decreasing body fat, increasing muscle or both. Any of these changes will lead to a decrease in your body fat percentage, which is viewed as a single number that describes your body composition. Most people know that diet and exercise can affect body weight and body composition. However, their impact on body composition isn’t always simple. Nonetheless, a good place to start is with some basic principles of nutrition and physical activity.
The core part is the number of calories you are eating. Although they aren’t the only thing that matters, calories are one of the most important factors to consider. In simple terms, if you consistently eat more calories than your body uses, you will gain weight — typically as fat. Likewise, if you consistently eat fewer calories than your body uses, you will lose weight. It can also be helpful to think about the types of food you tend to overeat. Often, they are processed foods, such as ice cream, pizza and chips, that are highly rewarding to the brain. These foods contain many calories and don’t usually keep you satisfied. This is partly due to their low protein and fiber content. After considering how many calories you eat, think about whether you are eating enough protein and fiber. Protein is important for everyone, but you may need more if you are active or trying to gain muscle or lose fat. It is more satisfying than carbs or fat, and your body also burns more calories processing protein than these other nutrients. Fiber also has several health benefits and can increase the feelings of fullness and satisfaction after eating. It can be obtained from a variety of plant-based foods, including beans, whole grains, nuts and vegetables. For adults up to age 50, it is recommended that men consume 38 grams of fiber per day, while women are advised to eat 25 grams per day. Incredibly, less than 5% of most age groups in the United States consume enough fiber.
Keeping your calories, protein and fiber in check is a good place to start if you want to improve your body composition and health.
When people are interested in improving their workouts or training, they often consider what cardiovascular and strength-training exercises they should do. While these exercises are important, another essential factor that can be overlooked is nutrition and how it can affect the workout.
Likewise, when people want to change their body composition, they may look at reducing calories or cutting out entire food groups for a specific diet. And when they don’t have long-term success, they wonder what went wrong. Again, they often overlook the impact that nutrition has on body composition.
If your body composition is above or below average, it will affect your performance throughout the day as well as your overall health. Good body composition impacts blood pressure, resting heart rate, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar. The closer you are to your ideal weight, the easier it is to move around and be active. When you do not have excess body fat, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood, which carries oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and organs throughout the body. Since your heart does not have to work as hard, it can be strong and efficient.
Contrast that with a person who carries excess weight. The heart has to supply blood and oxygen to these areas. Capillaries and veins still have to provide the excess fat and skin with blood to stay alive. To do this, the heart has to beat more times per minute, hour, day, week, month and year, making it more tired. The flow of blood can be disrupted by waste building up in the arteries, veins and capillaries that cause high cholesterol. Plaque build-up, can lead to atherosclerosis or hardening of arteries. Those conditions cause high blood pressure — another condition that slows down the blood flow to the body. And, if a clot or blockage forms, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.
To improve body composition, consistency is key. Eating the right foods at the right times in the right portion sizes, while being consistently active (i.e. burning at least 300 calories per day through physical activity) will be essential.
But between exercise and nutrition, the nutritional part will be the game changer. When your diet is clean and filled with low-fat fresh foods, you will begin to see a loss in body weight and body fat, and have more energy and better quality sleep.
Keys to eating clean include eating fruits, vegetables, lean meats, eggs, whole grain rice, whole grain bread, oatmeal, cereal, etc. Another key is not to add sugar or salt, or consume additional sugars. Also try to avoid food in boxes or bags as well as canisters of protein, electrolyte drinks and carbohydrate-replacement powders that are processed or have preservatives.
Fuel up your body starting in the morning when you wake up, burn some of those calories, fuel up some more, burn those calories and repeat. Doing this throughout the day will help make this a permanent lifestyle change.