We often speak with clients about their body composition and how it can be improved. As a part of our Weight Loss Program, not only do we record changes in body weight, but body composition, too. Body composition is a term used to describe the percentages of fat, bone, water and muscle in human bodies. The simplest way to analyze this is by using a two compartment model: fat mass and fat free mass.
Body fat percentage is a measure of your fat v. fat free mass. Fat mass is calculated as the percentage of your body weight that is fat. Fat free mass is made up of everything else- muscle, bones, organs, etc. There is a certain amount of fat that is necessary for our bodies to carry out daily functions. This is called essential fat and is different for men and women. Essential body fat is about 3% for men and 12% of body mass for women. Women’s bodies require more essential fat than men because of childbearing and hormonal functions.
Body fat percentage can be calculated numerous ways, but the primary method we use at Peak is with skinfold measurements. Skinfold measurements are taken at specific locations on the body, then the numbers are plugged into a formula to give an estimated percent body fat. Body fat norms are different for men and women and change with age. It is important to note that these are simply norm charts, but you need to determine what is normal for you. Everybody is different and tracking changes in body composition is a healthy way to determine your own norm!
Be careful not to confuse percent body fat with a BMI measurement. BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a height to weight ratio, measured in kg/m^2. Your BMI categorizes this number from underweight to obese based on your height and weight. While it is a measure of body composition, the primary purpose for BMI is to classify your risk of developing cardiac or metabolic disease based off your score.
If you’re interested in knowing more about your own body composition, ask your physiologist to calculate these measurements and discuss the results!
By Louise Mills-Strasser