Ch-ch-ch-changes – understanding your body composition.
A major determinant when it comes to assessing an individuals physical health is not overall weight or even girth measurements, but it is the amount of body fat present. As mentioned in previous articles, the scales do not give you a true representation on what percentage of your weight is fat vs muscle, bone, organs etc. Girth measurements are a good indicator as they give a broad idea of the amount of space certain parts of your body take. But this also isn’t the most accurate method of determining health, as it does not take into account the amount of muscle vs fat in a particular area (e.g. two males can have a bicep measurement of 40cm, but one has built significant muscle around his arms while the other has not).
Tests for body fat percentage (BF%) are the best way to determine the amount of body fat you have. There are a range of methods of testing available and these include skinfold test (less accurate) through to DEXA scans (more accurate).
In looking at body fat, you need to consider if it is visceral fat (fat around your organs) or subcutaneous fat (fat under your skin). Visceral fat isn’t noticeable from the outside but it is associated with numerous health risks. Because of the nature of visceral fat it is more vulnerable to loss1 and this is a good thing. On the other hand, subcutaneous fat is a little more stubborn to lose, but there are less health risks associated with it. Excessive amounts of either type of fat are not ideal.
Understanding what percentage of body fat is ideal for you is dependent on a few factors. These commonly include gender and age, and less commonly height and ethnicity/genetics. There are a range of differing guidelines you can follow, but the ones that break down the body fat percentages for different age groups are more ideal guidelines to follow.
In regards to ethnicity/genetics in relation to BF%, it is important to note that an individuals ethnicity/genetics won’t primarily contribute to the amount of body fat they have, but more so to the distribution of this fat. Depending on your ethnicity/genetics you might be more susceptible to increased body fat around your hips and thighs vs another individual who is more susceptible to having increased body fat around their mid-section. This is why there are so many different body shapes around the world. Although none of us can naturally change our genetics, we can eat and train in a way that will build our assets and take focus away from our perceived weaknesses.
Basic understanding of the role of nutrition in overall health along with participating in consistent, yet simple strength training is a good starting point in changing our bodies composition. If you are after more specific information for your particular needs, you can always visit an accredited dietitian for specific meal plans and a registered personal trainer for specific workouts. It is important to note that while weight training, you won’t be able to ‘spot reduce fat’. This is, if you identify your legs as an area of concern, you can’t just train your legs to make them look ‘skinny’. What you can do is while weight training, give a little more attention to your legs in regards to building muscle in this area. Combined with proper nutrition you will systemically lose fat, and will begin to notice that your legs look more lean.
With all this talk on BF%, it’s important to remember that we all need some body fat to survive. The amount we need isn’t a fixed number as it changes over time. One question we need to ask ourselves is this: “is the amount of body fat that I currently have healthy for me?” When it’s either too high or too low, the associated health risks that can eventuate should be enough of a motivator for us to want to make changes. However, sometimes it simply comes down to our vanity and how we want to be perceived that drives us to make the change. Whatever it is that will motivate you to be the healthiest version of yourself, use it. The person who will get the most benefit out of having a healthy amount of body fat, is you.