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What Is Body Composition?

How Fat is Fat?

One of the first comments I hear from my clients when assessing goals for a fitness program is "I'm too fat", I need to lose weight. This is a valid goal to lose weight, however, what is an optimal amount of weight and what is too fat.
In our endeavor to beat the buldge, more often than not we lose site of what the ultimate goal should be. To improve on our current health status and decrease the risk of certain health conditions associated with obesity. To make the necessary lifestyle changes that will enable us to sustain the benefits recieved thru an active lifestyle. After all that is ultimately what we want, to improve our lives and make healthier food choices.

The answer to the question of how much weight to lose and what is to fat depends largely upon an individuals body type. Genetics play a major role in how we lose and gain weight.Certain genetic factors can be altered, although not entirely.


Fat plays a major role in our health. Fat provides protection for our internal organs, provides energy for daily activity, provides essential fatty acids necessary for proper functioning of cell membranes, skin, hormones and the transportation and storage of fat soluble vitamins, vitamins A,D,E and K.

Fat is calorically dense, providing twice as many calories as carbohydrates. Fat is a useful source of energy for low to moderately intense aerobic exercise lasting 30 minutes or more. Fat provides 9kcal/gram as opossed to carbohydrates 4kcal/gram. One pound of fat equals 3,500 calories.

High fat diets should be avoided as they have been associated with health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and certain forms of cancer. Limiting dietary fat is the first step to weight loss. Consuming nutrious foods is essential to good health and weight loss.

How Do I Know If I am Fat?

Determining body fat percentage is the first step to determining just how much weight needs to be lost. There are several ways to determine body fat percentage. Some more accurate than others. When we discuss body composition, we look at two elements, fat free mass and fat mass. Fat free mass consist of the skin, bones and organs of the body. Fat mass consist of the adipose tissue.Body weight has usually been assessed without concern for the body composition. Meaning a well developed bodybuilder may be considered overweight while another individual would be considered normal weight while having a higher body fat percentage. When a weight loss program consist of dieting and weight training it is not uncommon for a person to lose weight and gain lean muscle mass without seeing a change in total body weight. Body composition measurement will show the decrease in body fat stores. So dont be discouraged by the body weight measures alone.

Types of Body Composition Assessments.

There are several types of body composition assessments used. Some more accurate and expensive than others. Here are a few of the assessment test available.

Hydrostatic Weighing: The individual is seated in a chair connected to a scale in a tank of water. The density of the body is calculated from the ratio of normal body weight to underwater weight. The body fat is calculated from the density. Hydrostatic weighing is accurate and considered the "gold standard" for assessing body composition.

Anthropometry: One of the easiest and least expensive ways to assess body compositon. Anthropometry consist of skinfold calipers and circumference measurements. Circumference measures can be easily used to assess body fat. A cloth or plastic tape measure is required and exact anatomical lanfmarks must be used. The tape measure should be held firmly about the body without causing an indentation to the skin. Skinfold calipers work on the theory that 50% of body fat lies beneath the skin. Measuring the skin thickness at specific sites and adding the results. The results are then compared to a chart to find the body fat percentages.

BMI: Body mass index consist of measuring a persons height in inches and weight in pounds, then utilizing the BMI chart to calculate the BMI number. This number corresponds to a scale to determine body fat. This system is fast and easy, but should be used in conjunction with other forms of body assessment.

When measurements are taken using either of the methods mentioned, the results can be near accurate. The results can assist you and your trainer in setting realistic weight loss goals. General body fat percentages are listed below. These general percentages are only a guide.

                 WOMEN%-                MEN%
Essential fat    10-13%-               2-5%
Athletes         14-20%-               6-13%
Fitness          21-24%-               14-17%
Health           25-31%-               18-24%
Obese            32 and higher-        25 and higher

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