With the month of January drawing to a rapid close, I have heard a lot of discussion about eating more healthy foods, controlling portion size, reducing body weight and regular "weigh ins".

All of these things are essential to reducing body weight, but as we all know (and some of us choose to ignore), our body weight (mass) consists of a number components that influence our weight (known as your Body composition).

Things like:

  • Bone mass
  • Water mass
  • Fat mass (FM)
  • Muscle mass (MM)
  • Other (Organs, connective tissue etc)
Obviously keeping track of what Liver's mass is, is not realistic. What we can more easily measure is how much of your body mass is Fat Mass VS Muscle Mass.

Remember that a reduction in Total Body Mass does not necessarily mean a reduction in Fat Mass, and this is ultimately what the purpose of eating a healthy and balanced diet is all about.

So how do I know how much body fat I have covering my body?

The most accurate methods of getting this value requires expensive medical equipment (Dual-Energy X-Ray) or advanced research equipment (Hydrostatic weighing - image below).

There are a few easier ways to keep track of your body compostion, and although they are not 100% accurate, the important thing is that you are able to track the changes in your body composition on a regular basis.

1: Get your fat percentage measured using skin fold calipers - if done by a trained professional, the results are very reliable.

2: Body Composition monitoring scales - determine body composition using Bio-electrical impedance (a small electric current is run through the body).

I use this system once a week, and it is great because it gives me information not only on my body composition, but on things like my hydration status, my Basal Metabolic Rate (the number of Calories my body needs to function on a daily basis), and many other indices.

Research has shown that people that regularly weigh themselves (not daily), tend to be better able to control their weight than those who do not. Obviously, the reason is that the scale never lies.

Obviously, if you are gaining muscle mass (thanks to an exercise program), then the scale is not telling the whole truth (muscle mass is greater than fat mass), so this is where being able to differentiate between FM and MM becomes so important.

You might be dropping mass (and looking and feeling slimmer), but your bodies Fat Mass might have gone up - not a good thing.

The goal is to get the body fat percentage to a level that is healthy and realistic.

So what is a good fat percentage for you?

There are many different classifications, some for athletic populations, some for non-athletic populations, but at then end of the day, they all deliver the same message that fat percentage is something that we need to be more aware of, not only for aesthetic reasons, but for health reasons too.

Regular monitoring of your mass and your body composition will ensure there are no little "surprises" when you visit your doctor for a check up, or at your yearly medical exam or when the swimming costume gets pulled out for the summer.

James Greenwood is a competitive tri and multisport athlete currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. A level 1 Triathlon Coach, he holds a post graduate degree in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. James is also currently the resident health and fitness programs expert at MyPypeline.com, and has starred in a number of multisport specific fitness videos.
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