Forget setting that same old weight loss resolution this year — 2023 is all about improving your body composition!
While health and fitness goals are often centered around a single number on the scale, aiming to improve your body composition may give you a more holistic and trackable picture of your health. Here’s why setting body composition goals should be at the top of your New Year’s resolutions list in 2023, plus how to make it happen.
What improving your body composition means (and why you might want to)
Your body weight can be an excellent indicator of your general health status. However, knowing your weight on its own isn’t always enough to give you the big picture on your overall health and fitness. So, to get a better grasp on what’s going on with your health, you might consider making goals based on your body composition instead!
Body composition takes into account the physical factors that contribute to your overall fitness beyond the scale. Some valuable measurements which you might track while improving your body composition include:
- Percent Body Fat
- Muscle Mass
- Body Fat Mass
Being aware of these body composition markers can give you a better idea of your fitness level — and as it turns out, it may also have several other advantages for your health and well-being.
Why improving your body composition should be one of your fitness goals
More targeted improvements for your overall health
Knowing your body mass index (BMI) has historically been one of the go-to ways to gauge one’s risk for chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. However, improving your body composition has several advantages over knowing your height and weight alone when it comes to understanding your health status.
There’s plenty of evidence that your body composition can play a huge role in your risk for various diseases. For example, both high body fat percentage and low muscle mass have been associated with a variety of chronic conditions, including problems with liver function and cardiovascular health.
What’s more, keeping track of your weight alone isn’t always a fail-safe way to gauge your own risk for chronic illnesses. For example, some people can be considered “metabolically obese.” They technically have a healthy BMI and body weight for their height, but they are still at risk for certain chronic conditions since they’re carrying excess fat tissue and have low muscle mass. On the other hand, some athletic people with plenty of muscle can be perfectly healthy, but are technically considered “overweight” or “obese” based on their BMI alone, since muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue.
Gaining muscle in addition to losing body fat can also have a distinct advantage when it comes to your metabolism. For example, recent studies on mouse models have found that increasing muscle mass led to improvements in insulin and appetite.
On the other hand, someone who focuses on weight loss alone can actually inhibit their metabolism if they lose too much weight too quickly, since it’s likely that they are also losing muscle mass in addition to fat.
Better physical fitness
You may see some improvements in the gym or during your workouts if you improve your body composition, which can further enhance your results and lead to a positive cycle in the long run! Gaining muscle can lead to better strength and agility, while your body weight can influence your speed and endurance. By improving your body composition, you may ultimately find yourself performing better, feeling stronger, and moving faster.
Finally, setting goals based on your body composition rather than your weight may promote a more balanced mindset toward improving your body and your health, since you end up focusing on the most important tenets of fitness — i.e. adequate exercise and optimal nutrition intake — rather than fixating on one number on the scale.
For example, focusing on weight loss at all costs can sometimes cause people to eat far too few calories, which means that they ultimately end up hurting their health in their quest to achieve their goal weight. Studies have found that weight loss interventions that focused primarily on calorie restriction and total body weight often led to major reductions in muscle mass, in addition to fat tissue. What’s worse: in those diets that focused purely on weight, the lost weight was often quickly regained.
But you can’t starve yourself to improve your body composition, since that would lead to a loss of muscle in addition to fat. So by focusing on your body composition metrics, you may end up implementing healthier, longer-term lifestyle interventions.
How To Improve Your Body Composition In 2023
Ready to shift your fitness focus? Here’s how to approach body recomposition going into the new year.
Eat the right number of calories for your needs
Even though focusing on weight loss alone generally means looking only at calories, it’s important to note that for both weight loss and body composition goals, your calorie intake definitely matters, since it plays a huge role in how your body burns fat tissue. In fact, your calorie intake is the most important factor to pay attention to when it comes to weight loss. But in the case of body composition, the important thing to remember here is that you should be eating the right number of calories for your needs, and not just the smallest number of calories possible.
Calories are units of energy from food that are transferred to your body every time you eat, and those calories are then used by your body to fuel all of your movements and normal bodily functions. If you eat as many calories as you burn during the day, your weight and body composition stay stable.
However, if you eat more calories than you use, the excess gets stored in your body’s fat and other tissues, while if you eat fewer, your body has to burn through those fat stores for energy. So if you’re looking to cut fat, one of your first priorities should be to maintain a slight caloric deficit that allows you to burn through your stored fat tissue but still gives you enough energy to work out and thus maintain muscle mass.
Some suggestions for maintaining a calorie deficit:
- Track your calorie intake daily with a food journal or nutrition app to ensure that you’re at a slight deficit
- Practice eating mindful portions
- Limit your intake of highly processed foods like soda, sugary cereals, and processed carbohydrates like breads and rolls, since they tend to be energy-dense (high in calories) and can increase your calorie intake and thus your body fat percentage over time
- Increase your movement during the day, which requires more energy and thus burns more calories
Focus on your protein intake for muscle growth
Since you aren’t focused on weight loss alone during body recomposition, you’ll want to get your calories from the right sources to promote muscle — and in order to gain muscle, you’ll need to pay special attention to your protein intake.
Protein molecules help your muscles repair and rebuild after resistance training exercises like weight lifting, which means that getting enough protein is crucial for making muscle gains. High-protein diets have been found to be effective both for increasing muscle and losing fat when paired with the proper exercise regimen.
Good sources of lean protein include:
- Protein shakes
- Plant-based protein from legumes, nuts, and seeds
Try intermittent fasting
While your net calorie and day-to-day nutrient intake ultimately matter the most for body recomposition, there’s some promising research that shows that the time of day at which you eat can also play a helpful role in body recomposition.
Intermittent fasting is a dietary strategy that involves restricting your eating to certain times of the day or following a schedule in which you restrict your calorie intake on certain days of the week. Either way, the strategy involves limiting the amount of time that you allow yourself to eat, which ultimately can help with calorie control. There’s some evidence that intermittent fasting can help promote fat loss while still maintaining your muscle mass when paired with the right resistance training regimen.
Incorporate a wide variety of physical activities for exercise (beyond just the gym!)
If you’re aiming to improve your body composition, weight lifting and cardio-heavy activities are probably among the first exercises that come to mind, and for good reason.
After all, resistance training exercises like weight lifting are one of the best ways to build muscle, and they can also be adapted to help burn calories as well to help with weight loss. You don’t have to use weights to get a good resistance training workout, since your body weight can also be a great source of challenging resistance.
To “burn” calories and promote fat loss, you want to add cardiovascular activities to your fitness routine. Running and cycling are enjoyable for many people, and high-intensity circuits can also help improve both your body composition and physical fitness.
But so can swimming, walking, dancing, and yoga — to name just a few other options! As long as you’re moving and working your body hard, you can see body composition improvements from a wide variety of physical activities. Just make sure to be consistent, switch it up, and make sure your workouts are challenging enough to get the most body composition benefits out of them.
Don’t neglect your recovery
The work doesn’t end after you leave the gym and eat your healthy meals for the day. When it comes to gaining muscle and healthily promoting your body composition, your recovery matters just as much if you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of every workout.
For example, your sleep quality determines whether you release important hormones necessary for muscle growth and appetite, such as insulin. Some studies have found that poor sleep quality can alter your glucose metabolism and thus have been linked to the development of obesity and diabetes. In another vein, giving yourself adequate time for “rest days” can also help you recover from big workouts and come back stronger than ever the next time you hit the gym.
Find other ways to keep track of your progress besides weighing yourself
While weight loss tracking requires a body weight scale, body recomposition requires other strategies for keeping track of your progress. Some options include:
- Taking your measurements (the waist, chest, hips, arms, thighs, and abdomen are all good places to track)
- Using a BIA scale, which uses Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis technology to measure body composition metrics like your body fat and muscle mass
- Utilizing a wearable fitness tracker, which keeps track of health and fitness-related metrics like daily steps, approximate calories burned, etc.
If you’re looking to add a more long-term, realistic, and achievable twist to your usual fitness-related New Year’s resolution this coming year, shifting the focus from weight to body composition is a great place to start. By improving your muscle mass and body fat percentage rather than your body weight alone, you can make more targeted improvements to your health, wellness, and strength.