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How to Improve Body Composition, Based on Science
How to Improve Body Composition, Based on Science

Health & Fitness

How to Improve Body Composition, Based on Science

How to Improve Body Composition, Based on Science

A lot of folks feel anxious about getting on the bathroom scale.

It can be incredibly disheartening to put in the effort to exercise and eat well, only to find that the number on the scale remains unchanged.

Even if the number on the scale isn’t budging, your efforts might still be yielding results, particularly if you’re engaging in regular exercise. Your body composition could be experiencing positive changes despite the lack of weight loss.

This piece will elucidate the concept of body composition and provide evidence-based strategies for enhancing it.

While the scale indicates your weight, it doesn’t reveal the composition of your body.

Body composition encompasses all the components within your body, divided into various compartments. The two main compartments typically utilized are fat mass and fat-free mass.

Fat mass represents the entirety of fat tissue within your body, while fat-free mass comprises all other components, such as muscle, organs, bone, and fluid.

If both components undergo simultaneous changes, there may be no discernible alteration in overall body weight.

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For instance, when you begin exercising, you might add two pounds of muscle during the initial month. Concurrently, you might shed two pounds of fat because of increased calorie expenditure from exercise or alterations in your dietary habits.

Because your fat-free mass has risen by the equivalent amount that your fat mass has declined, your overall body weight remains unchanged.

If you fixate solely on the scale reading, you might feel disheartened or frustrated, thinking that your regimen isn’t effective.

This illustrates why understanding your body composition proves far more valuable than simply being aware of your body weight.

How Can You Assess It?

Numerous techniques exist for evaluating your body composition. Some are straightforward and user-friendly, while others are more sophisticated and intricate.

Typically, the most precise techniques are costly and primarily employed in research or medical facilities.

Nonetheless, there are basic techniques available for home use that can provide insight into whether your body composition is progressing.

Tracking Body Circumference

One method involves monitoring the measurements of various body parts.

You might have had your waist size assessed using a flexible tape measure during a visit to the doctor.

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At home, you can also monitor the girth of other body areas, such as the hips, arms, legs, or chest.

You can take these measurements using an inexpensive, flexible tape measure.

Although alterations in circumference don’t precisely indicate changes in fat mass or fat-free mass, they can offer some insight. For instance, reductions in waist circumference often indicate a decrease in abdominal fat.

On a per-gram basis, fat occupies more volume than muscle. Consequently, a reduction in waist circumference may occur when fat is lost, even if overall weight remains constant.

Engaging in weightlifting exercises, if your arm circumference increases, it could signify muscle gain in your arms.

Certainly, it’s crucial to maintain consistency in your measurement technique each time to ensure more precise and reliable results.

Taking Progress Pictures

Taking progress photos is another widely used method to obtain an overview of changes in your body composition.

Frequently, it’s challenging to discern changes in your body on a daily basis.

Yet, capturing images of your body every few weeks or months can serve as a method for evaluating the alterations in your physique.

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While it doesn’t provide precise data, this approach can offer a rough indication of variations in your size and body contours.

Devices That Measure Body Composition

Besides these straightforward techniques, there are also devices available for purchase that assess body composition.

A lot of these devices utilize a technology known as bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA).

BIA involves transmitting minor electrical currents through your body to gauge its resistance, which is then utilized to estimate your body fat percentage.

Although it’s satisfying to have a numerical representation of your body fat percentage, numerous of these devices lack precision.

In reality, studies have demonstrated that the typical handheld BIA device underestimates body fat percentage by 8–10% when compared to more precise research instruments.

Moreover, variables such as food and fluid consumption prior to using these devices can lead to inaccurate results.

If you opt to utilize a BIA device, ensure to do so in the morning before consuming any food or beverages.

How to Improve Your Body Composition

Your body composition is made up of fat mass and fat-free mass.

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You can improve it by decreasing body fat, increasing muscle or both.

Any of these changes will lead to a decrease in your body fat percentage, which is viewed as a single number that describes your body composition.

Most people know that diet and exercise can affect body weight and body composition.

However, their impact on body composition isn’t always simple.

Nonetheless, a good place to start is with some basic principles of nutrition and physical activity.


Begin by assessing your calorie intake. While not the sole determinant, calories are among the most crucial considerations. Put simply, consistently consuming more calories than your body expends leads to weight gain, typically in the form of fat. Conversely, consistently consuming fewer calories than your body expends results in weight loss.

It’s also beneficial to examine the types of foods you tend to overindulge in. Often, these are processed foods like ice cream, pizza, and chips, which are highly rewarding to the brain. These foods are calorie-dense and tend not to provide lasting satiety due to their low protein and fiber content.

After evaluating your calorie intake, consider whether you’re consuming adequate protein and fiber. Protein is essential for everyone, with increased needs if you’re active or aiming for muscle gain or fat loss. It’s more filling than carbohydrates or fats, and your body expends more calories digesting protein. Fiber also offers numerous health benefits and enhances feelings of fullness after meals. Plant-based sources like beans, whole grains, nuts, and vegetables are rich in fiber.

For adults under 50, men are recommended to consume 38 grams of fiber per day, while women should aim for 25 grams. Shockingly, less than 5% of individuals in most age groups in the United States meet their recommended fiber intake.

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Monitoring your calorie, protein, and fiber intake is a fundamental step toward improving your body composition and overall health.

Physical Activity and Exercise

Physical activity and exercise play pivotal roles in enhancing body composition. They not only elevate calorie expenditure but also foster optimal muscle development. Given that body composition can be refined by reducing fat mass or increasing muscle mass, this aspect is crucial.

Muscles require stimulation through exercise, particularly resistance training, to grow and fortify. However, various forms of exercise have the potential to aid in fat loss. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, engaging in 150–250 minutes of exercise per week may result in a modest amount of weight reduction. For instance, if you exercise five days weekly, this equates to 30–50 minutes per day. Nonetheless, they suggest aiming for 250 minutes or more per week to achieve significant weight loss.

While these guidelines primarily address body weight, it’s essential to recognize that certain types of exercise concurrently build muscle while facilitating fat loss. This underscores the importance of considering body composition rather than solely focusing on body weight.

Other Factors

Various factors beyond diet and physical activity may influence body composition. Evidence suggests that individuals experiencing poor sleep quality tend to have less favorable body compositions compared to those with better sleep quality. However, it remains unclear whether improving sleep quality enhances body composition or vice versa.

Nonetheless, it’s advisable to assess and potentially enhance sleep habits. Alcohol consumption is another factor impacting body composition, as it adds to calorie intake and can lead to fat accumulation. Research indicates a correlation between high alcohol consumption and obesity.

Moreover, some factors affecting body composition, such as age and genetics, are immutable. However, since these factors cannot be altered, it’s advisable to concentrate on modifiable aspects like diet, exercise, and sleep quality.

The Bottom Line

Relying solely on the scale provides limited information about your body, indicating only your overall weight. For a more comprehensive understanding, consider factors like body composition, which encompasses fat and muscle mass.

Tracking body composition can be achieved through simple methods like measuring body part circumferences and taking regular progress photos. Although devices are available for this purpose, many lack accuracy.

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Improving body composition involves various factors including nutrition, exercise, sleep, and others, making it seem complex at times. However, focusing on fundamental principles discussed here can initiate progress in the right direction.


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