Have you ever wondered why one of your friends or neighbours belonging to the same age, having the same height and weight as you, looks leaner? When you go shopping, have you noticed how the same person buys size M clothing but you might have to ask for a size L for the same clothes? Body Composition is the answer to your confusion.
What is Body Composition?
Body composition is used to describe the percentages of fat, bone, water, and muscle in human bodies. Two people of the same sex and body weight may look completely different from each other because they have a different body composition.
In physical fitness, body composition is used to describe the percentages of fat, bone, water and muscle in human bodies. Because muscular tissue takes up less space in the body than fat tissue, body composition, as well as weight, determines leanness.
What is Body Composition Analysis (BCA)?
With the number of people who are overweight or obese continuing to grow, Body Composition Analysis is gaining more traction as the best measure of assessing health-based on body size. Unlike weight or Body Mass Index (BMI), Body Composition Analysis determines how much of your body is and isn’t fat. The non-fat part of your body is called lean tissue, which includes your muscle, water, bone and organs. Lean tissue is known as metabolically active tissue, the tissue that burns calories all day.
Why Do We Need To Measure Body Composition?
Health practitioners universally agree that too much fat is a serious health risk. Problems such as hypertension, elevated blood lipids (fats and cholesterol), diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, respiratory dysfunction, gallbladder disease, and a myriad of other health problems are all related to obesity.
This has highlighted the importance of knowing a person’s body fat for short-term and long-term health. It’s common to assume that having as little fat as possible is healthy. However, being thin does not automatically reduce one’s health risk. Being thin refers to weighing less than the recommended values in age-height-weight tables. Leanness, however, refers to the muscle, bone, and fat composition of one’s body weight. Being lean intrinsically indicates greater muscle mass development than thin.
Benefits of BCA
As you now know how BCA can help understand differences between thinness, leanness, overweight, and obesity, here are some more points to know why it is important to know a person’s body composition for them & their health care providers:
- It provides baseline data for nutritional counselling & treatment of obesity
- Helps devise a precise plan for muscle gain & fat loss
- Helps monitor body fat loss & muscle growth due to diet & exercise
- Gives an idea about metabolic rate & hydration levels
- Gives an idea of fat distribution throughout the body, which can provide some insight into possible hormonal imbalances
- Tells us about visceral fat rating which is the most dangerous kind of fat
- Can measure bone health and determine your chances of getting osteoporosis
- Helps identify personal long term health risks
How Do You Measure Body Composition?
There are several ways to get an estimate of your body fat percentage at home, at the gym, or from your doctor. Here is what you need to know about commonly used methods:
- Body Circumference Measurements: Measuring the circumference of certain body parts is a simple method of body fat estimation. This method has been in use for a body fat calculation that simply requires an individual’s age, height and a few circumference measurements. This method is easy and affordable. But Body circumference equations may not be accurate for all people due to differences in body shape and fat distribution.
- Skinfold Calipers: Calipers are used to measure the thickness of two layers of skin plus the subcutaneous (that right under the skin) fat at four to six locations around the body. The most common locations are triceps, shoulder blades, abdomen, calves and love handle areas. Skinfold calipers are very affordable, and measurements can be taken quickly. The method requires practice and basic anatomy knowledge.
- Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis: Although the name might sound a bit intimidating, Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) puts the buzz in body composition measurement with its internal electrical calculations. Subject either stands on a scale like device or holds an apparatus with outstretched hands and pushes a button. Button sends a very small current of electricity through that specific part of the body. Fat acts like the rubber insulation on a wire while muscle, bone and water all conduct electricity well. The larger the drop in current, the greater the body fat percentage. BIA is a quick procedure and BIA devices are incredibly mobile. However, beware of accuracy as water and electrolytes both positively affect current flow, so dehydration will cause body fat to be overestimated.
There are more ways to assess body composition but they need either medical setting or expensive machines. They are not easily accessible and quite expensive, like:
- Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry
- Hydrostatic Weighing
- Air Displacement Plethysmography
- 3D Body scanning
- MRI & Spectroscopy
- Isotopic dilution
Bottom Line: For almost all methods, it’s best to perform your measurements in the morning after an overnight fast, after you go to the bathroom and before you eat anything or begin your daily activities. Assessing yourself the same way each time will reduce error rates and make it easier to tell if you are making progress.