It’s tempting to simply eat with your eyes and misjudge serving sizes, or stay in bed instead of going for an early morning jog. Holding off on things that don’t seem to have an immediate impact at the present is a common, albeit unhelpful, human behavior. The same goes for putting off the idea of getting your body composition measured.
Of course, you want to be healthy and fit too, but there’s too much that’s going on in your life right now (e.g., a growing pile of schoolwork, more responsibilities at the office, a new baby, a bad breakup) that you can’t really be bothered to learn more about body composition analysis. Frankly, having a decent breakfast on most days is already a struggle.
For someone who’s running around like a headless chicken 60 hours a week, devoting a huge chunk of time every day fussing about body fat percentages and lean muscle mass values is out of the question.
And yet, there’s so much you’re leaving on the table by ignoring what’s going on in your body.
To help you get started, read on to to learn why taking your body composition seriously is definitely worth it.
Instead of obsessing over your weight or BMI for enhanced sports performance and better recovery, the American College of Sports Medicine advocates for tracking body composition.
In contrast to stepping on the scale every morning or calculating your BMI, obtaining body composition values is far better for accurately distinguishing between a healthy and unhealthy weight because of its greater ability to differentiate between lean mass and fat mass.
Plus, it turns out that percent body fat is a better screening tool in the prediction of cardiovascular disease —a collective term for disorders of the heart and blood vessels that increase your likelihood of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes— than BMI.
While BMI takes your total body weight and height into account, body fat percentage focuses on the fat portion of your total body weight. Relying on body fat percentage instead of BMI addresses a common issue wherein folks who have low muscle mass may have a higher PBF even with a normal-weight BMI.
To calculate for body fat percentage, you divide your body fat mass by your total weight.
Put simply, knowing your exact body composition values offers you a glimpse of what your existing body weight is made up of. After all, it’s not about how much you weigh or your weight’s relationship to your age or height. It’s more important to learn how much of your weight is made up of fat, water, bones, and muscle.
Now that you’re aware of the rationale behind tracking your body composition, here are some data-backed reasons spelling out the big benefits in the long run if you start by taking that first small step —having your body composition measured.
Besides helping you jumpstart your body recomposition goals, acquiring knowledge of your current body composition values can potentially help reduce your cardiometabolic risk.
How? By figuring out if your body fat percentage levels are within recommended ranges or not.
In a study of 12,386 normal-weight Korean adults, the researchers found that having high body fat percentage is associated with increased cardiometabolic risks (i.e., high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels) even when factoring in abdominal obesity (belly fat).
The study’s finding implies that even if you are within WHO recommended normal body weight ranges, your body fat percentage is likely a better indicator of whether you will develop cardiometabolic conditions later in life.
For the subjects, as far as they knew, they were doing just fine. Their body weights suggested that they were within a healthy weight range and had no reason to suspect that they were at risk for excess fat storage. This is why it’s crucial to monitor your body composition as soon you can — it reveals these silent risks and helps prevent or reduce the likelihood of them happening. Without taking a deeper look into your body, it's impossible to know about these potential risks or complications.
If you’re curious about the normal body fat percentage levels, it typically varies depending on your source but these ranges are recommended:
For men: 10-20%
For women: 18-28%
In a research study published by the Mayo Clinic last year, the recommended body fat percentage range is associated with increased good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL). By increasing HDL, the harmful cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) levels are significantly reduced.
It is worth noting that the researchers set the “healthy” body fat percentage at 5% - 20% for men while 8% - 30% for women.
The relationship between cholesterol and body fat percentage levels implies that most people can worry less about artery-clogging cholesterol in your bloodstream if your body fat percentage is within normal range.
As we wrote in an interpretation of the Mayo Clinic study last year, aiming for a body fat percentage that does not exceed 20% for men and 28% for women can significantly reduce your risk of suffering from issues associated with elevated cholesterol.
Besides reduced risk of cardiovascular conditions, recognizing what you’re made of in terms of fat, muscle, water, and bones is beneficial if you want to reduce your chances of developing diabetes.
In a study of 4,828 subjects aged between 18-80 years in Spain, it was found out that body fat percentage were significantly higher in men and women (with normal BMI) with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes than those with normal blood sugar levels.
Like the aforementioned findings on the relationship between body fat percentage and heart disease/high cholesterol levels, you cannot rely on BMI alone in finding out if you’re specifically predisposed to diabetes.
In their conclusion, the researchers pointed out that body fat percentage assessment is more helpful in diagnosing impaired glucose tolerance( or prediabetes) than BMI and waist circumference measurements combined.
Substantial findings from a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine revealed that a higher body fat percentage is associated with higher all-cause mortality (death), regardless of BMI.
In addition, another study found both fat mass and lean body mass, not just body fat percentage, to be independent predictors of all-cause mortality for both men and women, even after adjusting for factors like age and smoking history.
The numbers on the scale and your BMI say little when it comes to your overall health. You need to rely on a more accurate method of measuring your body composition - both fat and lean body mass - in order to monitor your health risk.
Tracking your body composition regularly and aiming for a healthy balance of muscle and fat has been shown to help boost endurance and shorten recovery periods from exercise.
Published in the Physiology & Behavior Journal last year, a Spanish study carried out on 1,389 adolescents concluded: boys and girls with a higher body fat percentage have lower cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular endurance than those with low body fat levels.
Another study found that individuals with high body fat percentages have slower recovery in lactate levels. It’s worth noting that individuals with higher lactate threshold levels tend to experience delayed onset of muscle fatigue during exercise and are able to exercise for a longer duration and at a higher intensity.
Whether you want to swim farther or increase your kettlebell weight on your next workout, you can give your stamina a boost (and enjoy shorter recovery periods, too) by reducing your body fat percentage.
No matter which of the benefits outlined above looks the most attractive to you right now, tracking your body composition is where it all begins. Afterwards, you can redesign your lifestyle and make adjustments to accomplish your specific body composition goals.
If you want to go further down the rabbit hole on the significance of body composition to your overall health and wellness, hop on to these recommended readings:
Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher. After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.