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InBody Blog

Your Metabolism and Your Body Composition

By Fitness, Health, InBody Blog
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on October 5, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on February 10, 2016

You probably don’t think about your body composition when you’re thinking about your metabolism. But you should.

You probably think about it in terms of speed: “My metabolism is fast” or “my metabolism is slowing down.”  If that sounds like you, you’re not alone: simply googling the word “metabolism” yields 4 articles in the top 10 all based around boosting/increasing your metabolism for weight loss.

People are naturally afraid of their metabolism slowing and the weight gain they know comes with it. To some extent, those worries are well-founded.

Metabolism is linked with weight gain and loss because of its a biological process involved with energy and calories.  

The Mayo Clinic defines metabolism as:

…the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. During this complex biochemical process, calories in food and beverages are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function.

Notice how it doesn’t mention anything about the speed you process your food. That would be digestion.

In medical terminology, metabolism is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is the minimum number of calories your body needs to perform basic bodily functions. BMR is usually expressed in terms of calories.  Your Basal Metabolic Rate also has another interesting quality: the more Lean Body Mass (which includes muscle, water, and minerals) you have, the greater your BMR will be.

When we talk about metabolism, we should always start the conversation with how many calories your body needs. But because your BMR and Lean Body Mass are linked, that means any conversation about metabolism becomes a conversation about your body composition.

Your Body Composition Is Linked To Your Metabolism

Why is it that some people seem to be able to eat whatever they want and never experience any weight gain, while other people – even skinny people – feel like whenever they have one bite of dessert it instantly goes to their waistline?

The reason is that metabolism can vary in size.

Take a look at these two body composition profiles, and see if you can spot the difference.

Beyond the obvious differences in weight, the Person A has a much smaller Basal Metabolic Rate than the second.  This means Person B needs more calories than Person A in order to provide their body with the necessary energy to function without losing weight.  Because the BMR is bigger, the metabolism is “bigger.”

Greater than height and gender, the most important factor playing into BMR is the amount Lean Body Mass each person has.  That’s because, as research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states, the more Lean Body Mass you have, the greater your Basal Metabolic Rate will be. That is why strength training for muscle gain, which in turn will increase your lean body mass, is recommended as a way to increase your metabolism.

This is why people who are big or above average in weight can eat more than people who are smaller.  Their body literally requires them to eat more to maintain their weight, and specifically – their Lean Body Mass.

OK, you say, but these two people are very different in body weight – of course, the second person will have a bigger metabolism.  Take a look at the two people below, who we’ll call “Jane” and “Sarah”, two individuals who are similar body in age, height, weight, and gender.

Despite being similar in age, height, weight, and gender, these two people have very different body composition profiles.  As a result, they have different Basal Metabolic Rates. Although Jane has a body weight within the normal range (identified by being near the 100% mark), her body composition is defined by having more fat mass and less lean body mass and skeletal muscle than Sarah.

The person below has a lower body fat percentage and more Lean Body Mass – which is why when looking at this person, you’d describe them as “lean.”  Again, because this person has more than 10 pounds more Lean Body Mass, her Basal Metabolic Rate comes out over a hundred calories greater than the person above.

Metabolism and Weight Gain Over Time

Image Source: Flickr

Let’s take a deeper look at what you might call a “slow” metabolism. Far from being an issue of fastness or slowness, weight gain is almost always the result of a caloric imbalance that goes unchecked over a long period of time.

But first, something needs to be clarified – your Basal Metabolic Rate is not the only factor that plays into your overall caloric needs, and it’s not the total amount of calories you need in a day.  There are two other major influencers, which are:

  • Your energy level – how active you are
  • The thermic effect of food – the energy your body uses to digest your food

These taken together with your Basal Metabolic Rate provide your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). This is the number of calories your body burns in a day.

BMR is a necessary piece of information to estimate TDEE. Although they’re not exact, equations exist for estimating your TDEE based on your activity level and BMR. These are based on multiplying your BMR with an “activity factor” – a number between 1 and 2 – that increases the more active you are (and decreases when you are less active, regardless of your appetite).

To take a closer look into metabolism and weight gain, let’s take the two people whose body compositions we’ve looked at above, Jane and Sarah, and see what could happen in a real world example and accounting for diet and exercise.

For this exercise, we first need to estimate TDEE for Jane and Sarah, using their BMRs as a guide.  Based on Jane and Sarah’s compositions, it would be fair to assume that Jane does less exercise/is less active than Sarah, so we’ll assign an activity level of “Sedentary” for Jane and assign “Lightly Active” for Sarah.

Using these numbers and multiplying it by the appropriate activity factor, we can estimate Jane’s TDEE to be 1573 calories and Sarah’s to be 1953 calories, a difference of 380 calories.

Notice how although the difference in BMR was a little over 100 calories when activity levels are factored in, the difference in actual caloric needs becomes magnified.

Now that we have an estimate of the calories Jane and Sarah will need/burn in a day, let’s give them calories to take in. Let’s put them both on a diet of 1,800 calories a day – the estimated caloric intake suggested by the USDA for sedentary women between the ages of 26-30.

Assuming that Jane and Sarah both follow the 1,800 calorie diet perfectly without any extra, high caloric snacks or treats, Jane would end each day with a calorie surplus of 227 calories/day. Sarah would end each day in a slight calorie deficit of 153 calories a day.

When you are in a caloric surplus – taking in more calories than you use – and live a mostly sedentary lifestyle, you will experience weight gain, specifically, fat. An extra 227 calories a day might not seem like a lot at first – that’s about a single soda -, but over time, a surplus of 227 calories a day becomes 1589 extra calories a week and a surplus of 7037 extra calorie a month: roughly 2 pounds of fat gain per month.

calorie surplus

Bottom line: despite being the same height, same gender, similar weight, and similar ages, because of the difference between Jane and Sarah’s body compositions, Jane will experience weight gain over time while Sarah might experience some weight loss (because of her calorie deficit), even though their diets are the same.  That’s because the differences in their caloric needs, although seemingly small at first, increase to significant differences when allowed to persist over time.

It’s not about their age or anything else; it’s about their body compositions determining their metabolism/caloric needs.

Making Your Metabolism Work For You

Because your metabolism isn’t something that slows down or speeds up depending on things like age, this actually gives you some control over it.  With the correct exercise and dietary plan, you can make your metabolism work for you

  • Improve and increase your metabolism

It all goes back to improving and maintaining a healthy body composition.

Because your body needs more energy to support itself when it has more Lean Body Mass, working to increase your Lean Body Mass can actually increase your Basal Metabolic Rate, which can have a huge impact on your TDEE once you factor in your activity level.

  • Avoid a decrease in your metabolism

For many people, simply maintaining their metabolism or avoiding a “slowdown” (which as we’ve seen, is a myth right up there with muscle turning into fat) is an important goal.

How can you avoid a decrease of your metabolism?

In short: by maintaining the Lean Body Mass that you already have.  That means maintaining your Skeletal Muscle Mass.

Your Skeletal Muscle Mass isn’t the same as your Lean Body Mass, but it is the overall biggest contributor to it. It’s the muscle that you can actually grow and develop through exercise, and increases/decreases in SMM have a strong influence on increases/decreases in Lean Body Mass.

Skeletal Muscle Mass is best developed through strength training and resistance exercise along with a proper diet.  A regular exercise plan that includes strength training and resistance exercise will help you maintain your Skeletal Muscle Mass.

This can be especially important as you age.  As people become older and busier, activity levels tend to drop and a proper diet can become harder to maintain as responsibilities increase.  Poor diet and nutrition can lead to loss of Lean Body Mass over time, which leads to a decrease in overall metabolism – not a slowdown.

  • Balance your diet and with your metabolism

The example of Jane is a good example of a well-intentioned dietary plan that doesn’t match the metabolism of the person practicing it.

Even though Jane has been led to believe that 1,800 calories is right for her based on age and gender, her metabolism doesn’t require that caloric intake, and she will end up gaining weight despite her efforts to eat a healthy diet. In the end, she will probably end up blaming her “slowing metabolism.”

It’s examples like Jane’s that show how important understanding the link between metabolism and body composition is.

How much Lean Body Mass do you have?  What might your Basal Metabolic Rate be?  These questions should be answered first before starting any weight loss or diet program, as well as conversations about metabolism.

The first step is always to get the information you need to get the answers to these questions by getting your body composition accurately tested.  Your metabolism and your body composition are strongly linked, so in order to truly understand your metabolism and weight, you must get your body composition tested.

How to Use BMR To Hack Your Diet

By Diet, InBody Blog, Nutrition
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on March 15, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on October 16, 2015.
  • Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories you burn at rest.
  • The safest way to handle a caloric reduction for fat loss is to reduce your intake by something marginal and being consistent.
  • To optimize your BMR for lean body mass gain, you need to exceed the number of calories you require each day.

When people decide they want to get into shape, the first thing they typically do is sign up for a gym. They start off with great excitement, vowing to hit the treadmill or weight room every day.  They keep this up for a couple of weeks, but when the changes don’t come, the enthusiasm wanes. Every day becomes three times a week. Three times a week becomes “I’ll go when I have time.” Before they know it, they’ve given up.

Sound familiar?

The reasons for giving up a fitness program are many, and not seeing results fast enough is one of the most common reasons to quit. However, many people forget one extremely important foundation for their weight loss program: their diet.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “six-pack abs are made in the kitchen.” It’s true. You can train as hard as you want in the gym, but you can’t out train a bad diet. Regardless if your goal is to gain muscle or lose fat, if you’re not optimizing your meals to reach those goals, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

So how do you optimize a meal plan? There are many factors that go into meal planning, such as the type of nutrients consumed, the frequency of meals, and the selective use of fasting to name a few.  But a great place to start is to determine how many calories you burn a day. And it all starts with your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR.

How Many Calories Do You Need?

You’re probably familiar with the 2000-calorie diet. This is a range set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993 for use on nutrition labels for packaged food.

Nutritional Facts

So what are your actual caloric needs? A good way to start is by using a BMR calculator, which will determine the number of calories your body burns each day to perform its basic, life-sustaining functions. This includes all the involuntary processes in your body such as breathing, digesting food, pumping blood, brain activity, and much more. There is no shortage of online resources and apps that will provide you with a BMR calculator.  Certain medical/fitness devices also feature BMR as an output during body composition analysis. However, there are a few things you should know about metabolism calculations before diving into the first option you find. Your caloric needs can be calculated in a couple different ways and with a few different equations, including the revised Harris-Benedict equation and the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation.  These equations calculate BMR using your weight, with some adjustments for height, age, and gender. However, if you fall outside average assumptions for height, age, and gender (if you’re an athlete, for example), these formulas may not accurately produce your metabolic rate.

For people who do fall outside the assumed ranges for height, age and gender, there is a third option: use the amount of lean body mass you have to determine your metabolic rate. This is what the J.J. Cunningham equation will do.  Using this method as a BMR calculator has a couple of benefits:

  • It won’t give you results that have been influenced by estimations derived from the typical representative member of your age and gender
  • As you increase lean body mass by developing your skeletal muscle mass, your caloric needs will increase, and the Cunningham equation will account for this.

Once you have your BMR in hand, you’re ready for the next step.

Total Calories and Dieting

Remember, your BMR is just the number of calories your body burns at rest and does not account for the calories you need to walk, talk, exercise, etc. When thinking about your caloric needs for a meal plan, you’ll need to convert your BMR to your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). You can do this by multiplying your BMR by a factor that represents your estimated energy level. Those conversions are:

TDEE Maintenance Chart based on activity level

So, let’s take the example of a 171.1-pound male with 133.6 pounds of lean body mass and assume he is moderately active. Using the Cunningham equation, this person would have a BMR of around 1,679 Cal/day. Multiply that by the appropriate conversion, and you get 2,602.45.  This is how many calories this person needs to maintain his weight.

When trying to improve your body composition and body fat percentage, you must reduce fat mass and gain lean body mass. That’s why it’s very hard to change your body composition.

This also means that your diet must also match what your current goal is – losing fat mass and/or gaining lean body massThis is incredibly important. People who don’t do this often end up sabotaging their goals by setting fitness and meal plans that are at odds with each other.

The most classic example is this: “I want to get in shape, so I am going to diet (eat less) and work out more (increase energy use).”

This isn’t a bad plan – if you’re looking to lose fat. If you’re looking to build muscle and get stronger, it’s very unlikely that you will achieve this by eating less than your TDEE while increasing your activity level beyond what you’re is accustomed to.

Using BMR to Optimize your Diet for Fat Loss

Body fat percentageThere is a lot that goes into any meal plan, and it can get complicated quickly. From a dietary standpoint, you can count on one thing: if you want to lose fat, you need to run a caloric deficit. That means you need to take in fewer calories. If you’ve found your BMR and converted it to TDEE, you know what your body requires in a day to stay the same. That’s your starting point. You need to consistently consume less than your TDEE if you want to lose weight.

How many calories do you need to take out of your diet in order to lose weight? Theoretically, any amount that is less than your normal TDEE can cause you to lose weight; it just depends on how quickly you want to see results.

A lot of resources will tell you that you need to subtract 500 calories from your diet each day to lose one pound of fat per week. This is based on the premise that one pound of fat represents 3,500 calories, and that by reducing your caloric intake by 500 over 7 days, you’ll reach a weekly loss of 3,500 calories or a pound of fat. You may have heard this rule before.

However, hard-and-fast “rules” like these are tricky because although they’re usually based on facts (caloric reduction does lead to fat loss), they may not be advisable, recommended, or safe for everyone. Someone with a TDEE of around 2,600 calories might not have many problems dropping to 2,100, but someone whose TDEE is 1,400 will probably have significant difficulties living a normal life and exercising while consuming 900 calories a day for any length of time.

The safest way to handle a caloric reduction is to reduce your intake by something marginal – 200 or 300 calories a day, for example – and be consistent with this for a week or two. After a week, have your body composition analyzed to ensure you aren’t losing lean body mass. If you see your fat mass begin to drop, you can see by how much and adjust your caloric needs accordingly.

How can you cut calories safely? The first thing to do would be to cut any unnecessary snacks and treats in your diet – soda, chips, chocolate, alcohol, etc. Depending on how much of these existed in your diet before, this simple step might be enough to cause you to lose weight without making any other changes!

But what if you were already eating clean? Where do you cut calories on a clean diet? If you’re in this situation, you need to make sure that you are cutting calories from nutrient sources that you can afford to cut from. One nutrient group you should be careful to not cut too much from (if at all) is protein.

Protein helps ensure your weight loss is fat mass and not fat free mass or lean body mass.  Find out how much protein should you eat for your body here.

One way to do this from a dietary standpoint is to consume foods that are low in calories but high in protein.  Here are a couple of foods to consider:

  • Tilapia, one fillet: 111 calories/22.75 grams of protein.
  • Greek yogurt, 170g container: 100 calories/17.32 grams of protein
  • Boneless skinless chicken breast, 3.5 ounces: 165 calories/31 grams of protein

With proper caloric restriction, nutrition, and exercise, you’ll start to shed off the fat while retaining as much muscle as possible.

Using BMR to Optimize Your Diet for Lean Body Mass Gain

If your goal is to build lean body mass, then your caloric needs and dietary goals are going to be different than if your goal is to reduce body fat. Some aspects of the diet will remain the same. You still need to eat clean and avoid unnecessary calories like in the fat mass diet described above. But you’ll need to exceed your daily caloric needs if you want to gain lean body mass. Additionally, strength training is going to be much more important – it’s not like you can just eat your way to lean body mass gains!

Start with your BMR and convert it to TDEE by multiplying it by the factor that best reflects the amount of physical activity you have in a week. For the sake of consistency, we will use the previous example (1679 Cal/day) and exercise factor (x1.55) to produce a TDEE of 2,602.45. This is the amount of calories that must be exceeded in order to have enough energy to produce the desired results.

How much should you increase your energy intake by in order to gain lean mass? According to research, you need to consume approximately 15% more calories per day than what is required to maintain your body weight (that’s the TDEE).  So in this example, this individual should look to increase their caloric intake to about 2992.3 calories which, for convenience’s sake, could be safely rounded off to an even 3,000 calories/day.

How should you be adding these extra calories in your diet? The study cited above suggests that to maximize lean mass gain while minimizing fat mass gain, the increase in calories should be made up of both protein-rich foods and carbohydrates.

However, a word of caution about protein. Before you conclude that you’ll just increase your diet with nothing but protein, consider this: there is a point where eating more protein won’t lead to a measurable increase in lean mass. In a 2006 study of collegiate level athletes, no benefit in muscle or strength gain came from protein consumption that exceeded .9 g of protein per pound of body weight.

While protein is important, caloric intake is arguably more necessary. In the article cited above, the athletes consumed their required protein amount but failed to consume the total amount of calories appropriate for their fitness level, which led the authors to comment:

The low energy intakes observed in this study confirm previous reports that have shown that collegiate athletes generally do not meet their nutritional needs, specifically as it relates to energy intake. Caloric intakes of strength/power athletes should exceed 44 – 50 kcal·kgBM·day-1, however, the caloric intakes reported in this study (33.0 ± 5.5 kcal·kgBM·day-1) were below these recommended levels and likely impacted the ability of these subjects to make significant gains in lean tissue accruement.

Bottom line: you need to exceed the number of calories you require each day if you are trying to gain lean mass.

Final Thoughts

plate of fruits

As with any dietary plan, you will expect to see changes over time.  All this hard work has to produce results, right? So, how long will it take to see results? Unfortunately, that is going to vary for each individual. A good rule of thumb is to weigh yourself every 1 – 2 weeks.  If you are looking for a more precise analysis, you should get your body composition measured as well. Another important factor to consider: your BMR. Since your BMR is closely linked to your lean body mass, any changes will affect the number of calories you burn.

For example, if your plan is to gain lean body mass, and over a period of time you are successful in doing so, your energy needs are going to increase. This is why it is so important to be measuring body composition.

Conversely, if you lose some lean body mass as a result of going on a strict caloric deficit diet, your BMR will decrease. If you lose too much lean mass, but don’t take that change into account, you might take in more calories than you need, which could sabotage your goals.

Finally, a diet is much more than creating a calorie deficit. It’s important to use a BMR calculator or body composition analyzer to understand how much energy your body needs. Without this information, you won’t know how much food you need to add or remove to your diet in order to achieve your goals. With this information, you’ll see quicker results and reach your goals faster.

Does Muscle Turn Into Fat?

By Body Composition, InBody Blog
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on July 31, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on November 13, 2015.

I used to be fit, but then I stopped exercising and it all turned to fat.”

Sound familiar?

It doesn’t seem like it should make sense – that muscle can turn into fat – but everyone’s seen the retired professional athlete who got really fat.

Well, here it is in black and white (and in bold): No. Muscle does not “turn into fat.” Period.

There is no process in the human body by which muscle  – which is made up of mainly protein, amino acids, and water – transforms itself into adipose (fat).  The human body, no matter how amazing it can be at times, cannot magically turn one tissue into another.

So then, what’s going on?

It’s Not Magic – It’s Body Composition

The illusion of “muscle turning into fat” becomes believable for many people when they don’t see their weight change over time, yet see themselves get fatter.  While muscle turning into fat is a myth, the possibility of your body fat percentage rising over time definitely isn’t, and that’s what’s actually happening.

So what’s actually happening? It is simply a negative change in body composition.  

Specifically, it’s a loss of Skeletal Muscle Mass combined with a gain of Fat Mass occurring at about the same rate, at about the same time.  How does this happen, and how can you avoid this? Let’s take a closer look.

Here’s what a 7-pound decrease in muscle and a 7-pound increase in fat would look like in someone who weighed 261.9 pounds with a body fat percentage of 13.0%:

Results completed on the InBody 570.

Notice how as Lean Body Mass drops, Skeletal Muscle Mass drops with it.  Because the Lean Body Mass decrease matches the Fat Mass increase, this person’s weight doesn’t change.

However, this person’s body fat percentage increased from 13.0 to 15.7.  The increased body fat percentage combined with the lack of body weight change creates the illusion that muscle is transforming into fat, when in reality it’s just an increase in body fat disguised by no change in scale weight due to muscle loss.

How do things like this happen, and why does it seem to happen to people who are or used to be very fit?  It starts with muscle loss.

Muscle Loss

Although you may not realize it, you “lose muscle” every minute you are alive.  That’s because your muscles, like any other tissue in your body, depends on cell turnover and protein synthesis.  This means that your body is continually breaking down the protein in your muscles and rebuilding them. You want your body to do this – it’s part of what’s keeping you alive!

Skeletal muscle can be grown and developed through proper nutrition – which includes consuming sufficient protein to provide the necessary amino acids – and through physical activity.  The converse is also true: if you become less physically active and/or your diet can no longer support the development of increased muscle tissue, you will enter a catabolic (tissue-reducing) state known as muscle atrophy.

Muscles that are partially used – using less than 20% of their maximum force – will start to atrophy over the long term.  Complete disuse is even worse:  muscles that are completely unused, such as when someone is bedridden and performs very little movement, can degrade by about 1/8 of their strength per week.

Of course, if you don’t have any major health complications, your muscles are not going to degrade at such a significant rate as someone who is bedridden.  However, if your body was used to operating at a high, athletic level and you suddenly stop exercising, your body won’t see any reason to maintain your muscles at that level and will begin to atrophy.

And what takes its place instead? Fat!

Same Diet, Different Lifestyle

But where does the fat come from?

The same place it always comes from: an energy surplus – caused by eating more than you’re burning.  Although for many people this isn’t exactly news, it can catch people by surprise, especially people who are used to being athletic and fit.

Athletes require massive amounts of energy in order to perform at a high level. And this energy demand requires large amounts of all major macronutrients.  In order to get that energy, they need to eat – and eat a lot. According to an interview given by Susan M. Kliner, a nutritional consultant for the Seattle Seahawks, NFL quarterbacks required somewhere between 4,000 to 6000 calories, spread out over about 6 meals per day in order to be in ideal playing shape.

A major reason why high-performance athletes like NFL quarterbacks require so many calories is that they typically have higher-than-average amounts of Lean Body Mass as compared to average people at the same height.  That’s significant because as Lean Body Mass increases, Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) increases. BMR is the number of calories a body needs at rest, not including what is needed for movement and digesting food.

Here’s an example of someone whose body composition falls into the athletic profile:

The Lean Body Mass, SMM, and Basal Metabolic Rate was measured using the InBody 570.

Notice the high values for Lean Body Mass and Skeletal Muscle Mass.  This contributes towards the BMR value of 2,602.

However, BMR is not the total calories you need a day.  A more appropriate number is the Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), of which BMR is one part.  In order to calculate TDEE, you’ll first need to determine BMR and then multiply it by a factor determined by how active you are.  

Professional football players would fall under “extremely active” as their full-time job involves very high amounts of physical activity.  Taking the BMR in our example and multiplying it by 1.9 would result in a TDEE of 4,943.8, consistent with the statements made by Dr. Kliner.

Extremely Active: 2602 (BMR) x 1.9 (Activity level) = 4,943.8 (TDEE)

What’s important to remember is that this number is the amount of calories that this individual needs to consume maintain his weight due to his Lean Body Mass, and critically, at his current activity level.

What would happen if this person stopped being so active and took an office job – jobs that are typically sedentary?  TDEE would plummet quickly because the activity level would drop significantly.

Let’s say that this individual decided to continue being active while working at this office job and worked out enough to be classified as “moderately active.”  Assuming that BMR remains consistent, this person’s TDEE would be 4,033.1. That’s a difference of 910.7 calories, or eating approximately 22 strips of pan-fried thick cut bacon on top of what you usually eat.

Extremely Active: 2,602 (BMR) x 1.9 = 4,943.8 (TDEE)

Moderately Active: 2,602 (BMR) x 1.55 (Activity level) = 4,033.1 (TDEE)

Caloric Surplus: 4,943.8 (Old TDEE) – 4,033.1 (New TDEE) = 910.7 calories

In the example above, if this person continued to eat at the same level they did when they were extremely active, they would be in a caloric surplus of 910.7 a day, or an extra 6,374.9 calories a week.

What happens when the body remains in a caloric surplus for an extended period of time? Fat gain!

So tying it all together, it isn’t that your “muscle turns into fat.” From a body composition standpoint, here is what is happening:

  • Your Lean Body Mass is decreasing due to a skeletal muscle mass loss
  • Your Skeletal Muscle Mass is decreasing because of disuse. Your BMR decreases accordingly.
  • Because activity level has dropped, your TDEE has also dropped.
  • Energy intake remains consistent, not accounting for TDEE drop. Caloric surplus created.
  • Caloric surplus leads to Fat Mass gain.

Now that we know what is happening, how do we make sure it doesn’t happen to us?

Who’s At Risk and What They Can Do

People who are at risk for gaining large amounts of fat are, somewhat ironically, people who are at their fittest right now.  That’s because when you’re at your fittest, the amount of nutrients you are consuming is necessary fuel to help the body recover after a tough workout.  You’re in balance.

The problem is, people become accustomed to eating a certain amount of food, especially when they have lived a certain way for many years.  They develop a mental understanding of how much they can eat, and they often order and/or cook portion sizes that match this mental understanding of how much food they need.

Although it is a challenge, here are three steps you can get back on track.

1. Test your Body Composition

Testing your body composition regularly is the best way to ensure that you’re staying at the level you want to be.  

By tracking your body composition, you will be able to track Lean Mass and Fat Mass gain or loss.  With that kind of information, you’ll be able to make the changes you need to ensure that you stay as fit and healthy.

2. Change your Diet

You must adjust your diet to match your current activity level, or you will risk running a caloric surplus. That change might be more than you’d expect, too.

A great way to optimize your diet is to use BMR which will make sure you are getting enough nutrients to fuel muscle growth, but also lose that stubborn belly fat.

3. Find an activity that fits your new lifestyle

Find new ways to increase your activity level that works with your current lifestyle.  Although you may no longer be performing at high levels every day, you can find new ways to be active on a schedule that works for you.

Two days of strength training a week has both great physical and mental benefits.

Remember the key is to maintain the balance between food consumption and exercise intensity that fits your current lifestyle. Once you achieve that balance, you lose the extra fat start getting your old athletic body back.

Lean Body Mass and Muscle Mass – What’s the Difference?

By Body Composition, InBody Blog
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on August 24, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on September 24, 2015

Consider the following three statements:

  • “I’m not working out to get huge; I just want to build strength and put on five pounds of lean muscle.”
  • “My goal is to workout more and put on a healthy five pounds of muscle mass before next season.”
  • “I’m going to add more protein to my diet and hopefully gain 5 pounds of lean body mass by the end of the month.”

In each one, someone wants to gain five pounds of something but is using three different terms.  Are these three ways of saying the same thing? Can they be used interchangeably? Or are they different?

Let’s get one thing out of the way: “lean muscle” is a bit of a misnomer.  Although there are indeed different types of muscle, from a biological point of view, there is no such thing as “lean muscle”. The word “lean” is usually meant to suggest the absence of body fat.  But here’s the truth: all muscle is “lean muscle”.

What about Lean Body Mass and Muscle Mass?  Both of these exist. However, they are two very different parts of your body composition, and in order to understand your weight, health, and fitness goals properly, you’ll need to understand the differences between them.  Let’s take a look below.

Lean Body Mass vs. Muscle Mass

lean muscle mass woman

Lean Body Mass (also sometimes known as simply “lean mass,” likely the source of the word “lean muscle”) is the total weight of your body minus all the weight due to your fat mass.

Lean Body Mass (LBM) = Total Weight – Fat Mass

LBM includes the weight of:

  • Organs
  • Skin
  • Bones
  • Body Water
  • Muscle Mass

Unlike lean muscle, Lean Body Mass correctly uses the word “lean” as it describes the entire weight of your body minus fat.  This is why it is also known as “Fat-Free Mass.”

Because your Lean Body Mass comprises so many parts, any change in the weight of these areas can be recorded as changes in LBM. Keep in mind, the weight of your organs will not change much. Bone density will decrease over time, but it won’t significantly affect the weight of your LBM.

Two major areas to focus on with Lean Body Mass is body water and muscle mass.

When people talk about gaining muscle by eating more protein or muscle building workouts, what they’re really talking about is gaining or building their Skeletal Muscle Mass.  This is because of the three major muscle types – cardiac, smooth, and skeletal – skeletal muscle mass is the only type of muscle that you can actively grow and develop through proper exercise and nutrition.

But Skeletal Muscle Mass is one part of your Lean Body Mass. Another major influencer is water and this can be a problem when people use muscle gain and “lean gains” interchangeably.

The Problem with “Lean Gains”

Because an increase of Skeletal Muscle Mass is an increase of Lean Body Mass, people will lump them together as “gaining lean mass” or “lean gains.”

lean body mass gains

However, it doesn’t work the other way: an increase of Lean Body Mass is not always an increase in muscle.  That’s because body water makes up a significant portion of your Lean Body Mass. To illustrate this point, here’s a body composition analysis of a 174.1-pound male.

inbody body composition analysis
Body Composition Analysis taken using the InBody

98.1 (Total Body Water) + 35.5 (Dry Lean Mass) = 133.6 Lean Body Mass

Water made up more than 55% of total body weight, which is normal for healthy adult males.

Notice how from a body composition standpoint, Lean Body Mass is made up of three components, two of which are water.  Everything else is grouped together in what’s called your “Dry Lean Mass,” which includes your bone minerals, protein content, etc.

Muscle gains definitely contribute to LBM gains, but so does water, which can fluctuate throughout the day depending on hydration status, diet, and physical activity.

It’s also important to note that muscle itself contains water – a lot of it.  According to the USGS, muscle can contain up to 79% water content.  Research has also shown that resistance training promotes the increase of intracellular water in both men and women.

All of this points to two main problems when talking about “lean gains”:

  1. Big Lean Mass gains, when it occurs quickly, are largely increases in body water
  2. It’s difficult to say with any certainty how much any gain in Lean Body Mass is due to Skeletal Muscle Mass without using the right tools

How to Measure Your Lean Body Mass and Muscle Mass

inbody muscle fat analysis

Body Composition Analysis taken using the InBody

Since there’s a significant difference between Lean Body Mass and Skeletal Muscle Mass, how is it possible to know how much of each you have?

Let’s start with what not to do: do not try to use a scale to calculate changes in Skeletal Muscle Mass.

It’s a popular method to estimate muscle gain using a combination of the number on the scale and advice from fitness magazines.

The problem with using a scale to estimate progress is there are so many factors that can influence an increase in body weight, a few of which include:

There is only one way to calculate what is happening to your Lean Body Mass: getting your body composition analyzed.  Without testing your body composition, there will be no way to know what any gain or loss in your body weight is due to.

Most methods of body composition analysis will at the minimum divide your body into Lean Body Mass (this may be referred to as Fat-Free Mass) and Fat Mass.  These methods include:

  • Skinfold calipers
  • Hydrostatic Weighing
  • Air displacement plethysmography

Each of these has their pros and cons, and accuracy may vary depending on a number of factors unique to each testing method.

For more in-depth body composition analysis, you would need to look to two more sophisticated methods: dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) and Direct Segmental Multi-Frequency bioelectrical impedance analysis (DSM-BIA). Not only will these methods tell you how much fat you have, but they will differentiate your skeletal muscle mass from your lean body mass.

So, Lean Body Mass, Muscle Mass, Lean Mass, Which Is it?

Back to our originally three statements: which is correct to say?  Let’s review:

  • Lean Muscle: You should stop using this term because it is misleading.  All muscle is “lean muscle,” and it is a confusing mix of two real terms: Skeletal Muscle Mass and Lean Body Mass.
  • Muscle Mass (or Skeletal Muscle Mass): Yes, it is likely true that if you’re performing resistance training/weight lifting workouts and adding enough protein to your diet, a percentage of the change is likely due to muscle mass development. But remember that skeletal muscle mass is part of LBM. Things get tricky when you start putting numbers on your muscle mass gains. Everyone’s body composition is different, and the proportion of your skeletal muscle mass to Lean Body Mass will not be the same as someone else’s. This makes accurate estimations even harder unless you have access to sophisticated tools that can differentiate between LBM and SMM.
  • Lean Mass (lean body mass):  This is probably the best and safest term to use to describe your gains.  When you use this term, you’re telling people that you have gained weight from muscle and water, not body fat.

However, that’s all you can really say.  Because of the nature of Lean Body Mass, it is very hard to say how much of the gain is due to water and how much is due to muscle (which is largely water to begin with). A gain of 5 pounds of LBM is not 5 pounds of pure muscle,

When it comes to tracking your muscle gain (or fat loss), it all comes down to what tools you’re using to measure your progress.  If all you are working with is a weight scale, then all you will ever know for sure is your weight is increasing or decreasing. It would be hard to differentiate the weight gain from water, muscle, or body fat. If you are serious about accurately measuring your muscle gain and assessing your health, go get a body composition analysis. Then – and only then – can you tell people that you gained five pounds of muscle with confidence.

Sarcopenia: What You Need To Know

By Health, InBody Blog
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on November 4, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on September 12, 2017.

It’s no secret that we’re living longer now than ever before. The average life expectancy in the United States was 78.8 years of age in 2015, up from 76.8 in 2000.

While living a longer life sounds great in theory, its only great as far as your health and body allow it.

We often focus on proper nutrition and physical activity as a way to prevent chronic diseases such as Cardiovascular Disease or Diabetes, but we sometimes neglect the importance of nutrition and exercise on our body composition and how that impacts our long-term health and functional ability.

As we age, our body composition begins to shift, physical activity tends to decrease, and this leads to a change in our body composition. Coupled with a change in diet (or a change in our nutrition status as a result of a medical condition), muscle mass begins to decline, and we become susceptible to accidental injuries, chronic joint pain and decreased tolerance to surgery.

After the age of 50, there is a 1-2% annual decrease in muscle mass. An average 5-13% of elderly people aged 60-70 years will be affected by clinically significant muscle loss. Once you hit 80 years old, that number increases to 11-50%.

Why do we care? Because loss of muscle leads to decreased functional capacity in adults and is associated with numerous amounts of health risks and a decrease in quality of life decreases.

Let’s take a closer look at why being aware of the risk of sarcopenia is so important, and how you can combat it.


What does Sarcopenia even mean?

Sarcopenia refers to a clinically significant loss of muscle mass and strength resulting from “normal aging”. It is not solely the result of disease, but rather, is part of the natural aging process. This is not to be confused with cachexia, which describes the uncontrolled loss of muscle mass and/or body fat mass. While cachexia is most often thought of as a case of malnutrition due to health conditions such as cancer, sarcopenia focuses on changes in nutrition and physical activity that causes a progressive loss of muscle mass. This is important because sarcopenic individuals can maintain their fat mass, which can also lead to a “skinny fat” body composition. The condition of sarcopenic obesity has greater health consequences, as we will describe later.

Historically, scientists and doctors believed that this muscle loss and its resulting consequences (balance issues, change in walking performance and a decreased ability to perform activities of daily living) were inevitable, but experts agree if we stay on top of our activity and body composition, we might just be able to fight this slow loss of muscle mass and strength.

It’s no secret that as we age, not only do we tend to gain more fat, but we also begin to lose muscle mass.

Studies have shown that older adults between the ages of 60-69 years old have 14 and 13 pounds less lean body mass respectively than men and women 20-29 years old, despite being more than 8 to 12 pounds heavier.

So what’s going on?

What causes sarcopenia?

To reiterate, sarcopenia is thought to be part of the normal aging process but the process is more complex than that.

Causes seem to be multifactorial and include age, inadequate nutrition (such as decreased protein intake), hormonal changes, increases in pro-inflammatory proteins (proteins that our body makes, not the ones that we eat), decreased physical activity, vascular (circulatory) diseases, etc.

Let’s break this down further.

While we do know that sarcopenia is often related to aging, we also know that there are many other factors that contribute to the progressive muscle loss that characterizes sarcopenia. Some of these factors are not directly related to our diet but may exacerbate the muscle loss or cause it to progress more quickly.


One study found that the prevalence of sarcopenia increased from 4% of men and 3% of women aged 70-75 years old to 16% of men and 13% of women age 85 and older. This may be related to the changes in activity, so we are still learning if we are able to prevent this “aging-related” muscle loss.

Hormonal Changes

Hormones are chemicals produced by the endocrine system that help control major bodily function. As we age, hormone production changes which play a huge part in the aging process, as they are involved in the development of muscle mass and strength.

Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone but affects the health of both men women. The production of this hormone plays a central role in the risk of sarcopenia. Testosterone helps to increase muscle gain and also activates satellite cells, which support increased function. When testosterone begins to decline with age, we not only get a decrease in protein synthesis but also decreasing ability to produce  satellite precursor cells which are essential for muscle repair.

Diminished intake of protein and creatine

Many seniors are at risk of malnutrition because a variety of external factors that affect their ability maintain good nutrition. Malnutrition is defined as a state of lack of uptake or intake of nutrition which can affect body composition negatively. These complications affect not only our diet/exercise but how our body responds to our diet and exercise.

An important nutrient that elderly people may not be getting enough of is protein. Trouble chewing, high food costs, are trouble cooking are all factors that limit elderly people access to protein. Inadequate protein intake can progress sarcopenia.

That because protein requirements for the elderly population may even be higher than a younger population. This is due to age-related changes in the metabolism of protein, including a decreased response to protein intake. This means that an older population needs to consume more protein to get the same anabolic effect.

Decreased physical activity

Physical inactivity is one of the primary factors in the progression of sarcopenia. Regular resistance exercise can help to maintain muscle mass and also build muscular strength. Elderly people tend to be more sedentary than younger populations which can exacerbate the effects of sarcopenia.

Decrease in motor neurons

Aging is accompanied by a loss of motor neurons due to cell death, which leads to a parallel decrease in muscle fiber number and size. This decrease in muscle fibers leads to impaired performance, a reduction in the functional capacity and a decreased ability to perform everyday tasks.

Increase in Pro-inflammatory Cytokines

Poor diet and exercise are also known to promote the storage of visceral fat. This type of fat tissue produces proinflammatory cytokines which can accelerate muscle breakdown and thus, worsen risk. Obesity and muscle weakness are both associated with high levels of these pro-inflammatory cytokines. Central obesity, made worse by decreased muscle mass seems to play a role in the progression of sarcopenia.

Disease-related malnutrition

Disease-related malnutrition is different than the previously related malnutrition because this type of malnutrition is directly triggered by sickness or illness.

When an individual suffers from a health-related disease or is provided long-term hospital care increases their risk of malnutrition. A few of the conditions are provided here as an example.

Cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) tend to have onset during middle age, but the elderly population is most negatively affected. Elderly patients with these conditions undergo significantly greater wasting than those who are younger.

A decline in insulin-like growth factor or the development of insulin resistance also seems to accelerate the development of sarcopenia. Thus, both common health conditions such as diabetes and more severe conditions such as heart failure all contribute to larger losses in muscle.

What does this all mean?

While some of these changes that occur within the body are expected with older age, the importance of proper diet and physical activity cannot be underscored enough; the better you treat your body, the more likely you are to prevent progressive muscle loss. Additionally, a healthy diet can prevent the storage of harmful fat mass, which may increase health risks.

Sarcopenic Obesity

You may not have heard the term sarcopenic obese, but you’ve likely heard the term skinny fat. A person who is “skinny fat” may be a normal weight but has a metabolic composition similar to someone who is overweight or obese.

A person who is “skinny fat” has lost muscle mass and gained or maintained fat mass. This can be the result of an improper diet coupled with physical inactivity.

Because sarcopenia is most commonly the result of improper diet/exercise, a person of any age can be sarcopenic obese, especially if they neglect their nutrition and exercise. This is why it’s so important to focus on body composition and not just weight.

How do you know if you’re sarcopenic? You’ll want to determine your body composition using a medical body composition analyzer and keep an eye on how it changes over time. If you find that your lean body mass is decreasing while your fat mass is increasing, you may be experiencing increasing your risk for sarcopenia or sarcopenic obesity.

How can you fight Sarcopenia?

While there is currently no cure for sarcopenia, there are multiple things you can do to ensure to preserve muscle. Similar to wearing sunscreen, it’s important to take these preventative measures. If you are already experiencing muscle breakdown, these factors might help delay its progression.

1) Strength Training

While we know it is important to exercise for your physical health, it is important to begin strength training( such as resistance training, bodyweight exercises, etc) at a young age to keep muscle mass high and decrease the likelihood that muscle will begin to break down prematurely

Resistance training has been shown to be effective at preventing or delaying sarcopenia, even in a very elderly population. Research has shown that resistance training elicits muscle hypertrophy as well as changes in neuromuscular function. These changes in muscle mass and nervous system function lead to an improved ability to perform those functional activities that may become more difficult with older age. If you are worried that your body is too old to cope with resistance training, remember that there is no age limit. If you are worried about injury, train under the supervision of a accredited fitness professional and stay within your ability level.  

2) Increase Protein Intake

Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue. The current Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for protein is set at 10-35% of your daily energy needs. For those who already have signs of impaired muscle size or function, adequate protein intake is even more important to allow for optimal protein synthesis in the body.

The good news is that protein supplementation alone may slow muscle mass decline, but when coupled with theproper amino acid balance and creatine, it can also enhance muscle strength.


3) Increased Amino Acid Intake

Studies suggest that amino acid supplementation may improve outcomes for people with sarcopenia.. A popular supplement is essential amino acids, which are amino acids that the body cannot make on its own and can only be obtained from dietary sources. Leucine, an essential branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) has been shown to preserve lean body mass. Leucine seems to stimulate muscle protein synthesis in a similar way in both young and elderly populations.

4) Monitor Your Hormone Levels

As mentioned earlier, hormones can play a significant role in the progression of sarcopenia. Stay on top of your hormones by having your doctor check your levels during your annual visit.

As it currently stands, Hormone Replacement Therapy is not yet recommended for the treatment of sarcopenia but may become a feasible treatment option in the future.

5) Watch Your Vitamin D Levels

Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to be correlated with muscle loss in women regardless of body composition, diet and hormonal status. The research suggests that avoiding Vitamin D deficiency is not just important for bone health, but also in the avoidance of aging-related muscle loss.


Wrapping It Up

There are so many changes that come with aging, but decreasing quality of life doesn’t have to one of them. By focusing on resistance training, consuming adequate protein, and amino acid supplementation, you can improve the quality of life and functional ability by lowering your risk for developing sarcopenia. Regular body composition checks will create a more accurate picture of what is really going on with your muscle mass. By focusing on body composition rather than weight, you can better understand the changes that are taking place in your body.



For more information on InBody products which show the index for sarcopenia, please click here.


Alix Turoff MS, RD, CDN, CPT is a Registered Dietitian and NASM Certified Personal Trainer. She sees patients privately and also works as a freelance consultant and writer.

Your Body and You: A Guide to Segmental Analysis

By BIA Technology, Body Composition, InBody Blog
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on September 14, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on June 14, 2017.

A few days ago, you stepped on the bathroom scale, and you’re stoked to see your weight is going down. People have even started complimenting you on how strong and lean you look!.

The effort you have put in the past six months, weekly meal plan and thrice-a-week HIIT sessions, have finally paid off!

But this week, you step on the scale again and the numbers are higher than the last time. You check your body mass index, and it’s gone up! Plus, you have a bloated belly to boot! You freak out and wonder what’s going on.

Sounds familiar?

Whether you’re a professional athlete training for next season or a self-proclaimed newbie who simply wants to get fit and healthy, an in-depth body analysis of your body composition is crucial in helping you track progress and maintain your goals.

Sure, nothing beats working with health and fitness pros regularly to help reach your body composition goals. Yet taking a body analysis and understanding the different variables that make up your body composition has its advantages too.

First, it can help you become more objective (no need to freak out when your weight fluctuates!) in maintaining body composition success because you know exactly where you are from a broader perspective. In a nutshell, you get to see the bigger picture through intimate knowledge of the parts that make up body composition.  Second, you’ll gain a more detailed, accurate view and be able to compare what’s working to what’s not. As a result, you’ll know exactly what specific steps or adjustments you can take towards your goal, whether that is to gain more muscle mass, lose fat mass or both.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at one of the most valuable outputs in the InBody result sheet — Segmental Analysis.

What is Segmental Analysis?

Body composition analysis is a method of describing what your body is made of, including fat, muscle, protein, minerals, and body water. In conventional BIA body composition analyzers, the entire body is analyzed as just one section or cylinder. This single-cylinder method results in only one impedance value, which is used to determine the body composition data for a user.

However, because each body part has different volumes, the single-cylinder method results in very skewed data. Segmental Analysis provides body composition data in segments in addition to the usual full body analysis.

For example, the InBody technology divides the body into five segments or “cylinders”:  the two arms, two legs, and the trunk (the area between the neck and legs.)

Anyone can theoretically be underdeveloped/overdeveloped (depending on your body goals) for certain body segments.  The good news is that segmental analysis allows you to identify and compare these segments.

Shown: Body Composition Result Sheet from the InBody 770

In the InBody result sheet, the top bar shows Lean Body Mass (in pounds) is in a given segment. The top bar of the Segmental Lean Analysis compares the pounds of Lean Body Mass in proportion to your height and gender. This top bar can also be used for comparison between segments. An uneven weight distribution between the right and left legs may be a sign of overtraining or injury. Later on, you will see how strength and conditioning coaches use segmental analysis to train their athletes.

The number shown at the bottom bar is the percentage relating the lean mass in the segment that is analyzed to the overall body weight. This shows whether the amount of Lean Body Mass you have in a segment in proportion to your total body weight is sufficient. The 100% = sufficient.

It’s worth noting that the Lean Body Mass being referred to in the results sheet doesn’t refer to how much “muscle” (also known as Skeletal Muscle Mass) you have in each segment. So it would be wrong to call Segmental Lean Analysis a muscle analysis chart. While it’s a given that skeletal gains in a body segment will be reflected as gains in the Segmental Lean Analysis chart, not every gain in Lean Body Mass can be explained by muscle gain. How come?  Because Lean Body Mass also accounts for body water. This makes Segmental Analysis useful not just for tracking muscle, but also for certain injury and disease states (which will be discussed in detail below).

You can learn more about the distinction in Lean Body Mass vs. Skeletal Muscle Mass: What’s the Difference?

In hindsight, your segmental distribution could indicate that you have maintained, developed, or lost muscle/fat mass proportionately. While it’s true that you can’t spot-reduce fat, you can develop or maintain certain muscles in the body by using them more, whether through exercise or your day-to-day activities.

How Segmental Analysis Works: Understanding the Technology

Shown: InBody 770

In order to understand how segmental analysis is measured, let’s go back to the basics of body composition testing first.

There are several ways to track and monitor body composition. Some are quick to perform, others require a lot of effort. Results can vary too, ranging from the most basic to the most complex. Currently, the following methods are most frequently used in body composition testing:

  • Skinfold Calipers
  • Hydrostatic Weighing
  • Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA)
  • Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA)

You can learn more about the aforementioned methods in Body Composition 101: The Beginner’s Guide

Segmental analysis falls under the DEXA and BIA method.

BIA devices range widely in quality, technique, and accuracy. Keep in mind that not all BIA devices will measure impedance in the entire body.  For instance, there are handheld devices that only measure arm impedance and estimate results for the lower body. Meanwhile, there are home bathroom scales that use BIA to directly measure impedance in the lower body but can only make estimates for the upper body.

Modern, medical-grade BIA devices that perform segmental analysis view the human body as five “cylinders” or segments. Accurate and independent measurements of each cylinder are essential for providing analysis not just for each cylinder, but for the entire body.

Direct Segmental Multi-frequency Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (DSM-BIA)

InBody’s signature technology is Direct Segmental Multi-frequency Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (DSM-BIA) which separately measures the impedance of the arms, legs, and trunk.

Although accurate impedance measurement of each cylinder is critical for reliable results, the most important measurement is trunk impedance. Why the trunk?

The trunk contains essential internal organs, and their metabolic characteristics are different from the other parts of the body. In terms of impedance, it is important to precisely and directly measure the trunk because resistance values in the trunk are much lower than those in the arms and legs. This means that the margin of error for trunk measurements must be controlled as much as possible. DSM-BIA helps reduce this margin of error, giving users accurate and not estimated rest results.

How Accurate Is It?

If you’re curious about the accuracy of DSM-BIA in contrast to DEXA (considered as the gold standard in body composition analysis), a Dutch study on middle-aged adults found out the answer for you.

The researchers examined the accuracy of (DSM-BIA) in assessing different body composition parameters among their subjects while using DEXA as a reference standard. And their conclusion?

DSM-BIA is a valid tool for the assessments of total body and segmental body composition in the general middle-aged population, particularly for the quantification of body lean mass.

And while we’re still comparing DSM-BIA and DEXA, it’s also worth noting that DSM-BIA has been shown to be a rapid noninvasive alternative to DEXA in assessing segmental lean soft tissue (LST)  among female athletes.

Another study on obese children revealed that segmental analysis can help determine the right exercise patterns for weight loss and prevention of associated diseases including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Finally, a 2014 review of literature on the role of BIA in clinical status monitoring and diagnosis of diseases stated that segmental BIA is more precise than the ankle-foot method in detecting fluctuation of ECF (extracellular fluids) due to differences in posture. Plus, it provides a better estimation of TBW (total body water) than total body measurements when compared to reference methods.

You can learn more about body water in the context of body composition in Body Water: Percentage and Ratios You Should Know

Who Will Benefit the Most from Segmental Body Analysis?

Segmental body analysis is particularly useful for anyone who wants to measure and track their body composition progress. However, it can prove extremely beneficial for the following groups:

1. Anyone who is trying to build or rehabilitate a particular body part such as athletes and patients with certain disease conditions.

Did you know that the University of Northern Colorado Cancer Rehabilitation Institute (UNNCRI) experienced a massive boost in their patients’ rehabilitation session and retention rates after using DSM-BIA?

By using InBody’s Segmental Lean Analysis and other body composition outputs, the specialists at UNCCRI were able to prescribe more detailed therapies and more precise exercise interventions for patients. As of last month (May 2016), UNCCRI posted an 87% attendance rate – the highest rate in the institute’s 20-year history.

Another noteworthy case study on the benefit of segmental analysis in terms of rehabilitation is Restoration Healthcare’s data-driven approach in helping athletes recover from repetitive trauma issues. The functional medicine practice in Southern California relies on segmental analysis to uncover certain clues, trace the “why” behind the readings, and implement a customized program for their patients.

2. Athletes who want to assess the specific impact of their training regimens.

For instance, the Cirque du Soleil team depends on Segmental Analysis in identifying asymmetries among members, and designing programs to help address these imbalances. DSM-BIA has also helped injured performers quickly recover and get their body back by monitoring specific changes during the reintegration cycle.

3. Sedentary adults who want to monitor and track their diet/exercise efforts.

Upper or lower body imbalances are fairly common in today’s increasingly sedentary workforce, and you’ll likely encounter cases where the upper body is developed, but the lower body is severely neglected.

This unbalanced weight distribution can increase the risk of injury and affect mobility in the future.

4. “Skinny Fat” individuals who want to improve their body composition.

Also known as sarcopenic obese, skinny fat folks have more fat mass than is healthy for their bodies and have low amounts of Lean Muscle Mass. Their relatively overdeveloped fat or underdeveloped muscle mass contributes to their body weight.

Below is an example of a segmental analysis reading of a skinny fat individual:

Shown: Body Composition Result Sheet from the InBody 570

For this person, who is a 5’4” female, 135 pounds is just above her ideal weight, but within what is considered normal (BMI 22.5).  However, it’s clear to see that this person does not have enough Skeletal Muscle Mass and has excessive body fat. If you do the math, this person has a body fat percentage of 35.0%.  This surpasses all upper limits of percent body fat ranges, which are usually around 28%. 

5. Assess Risk for Elderly Individuals

The elderly are at particular risk for not having sufficiently developed Lean Body Mass due to their tendency to lose muscle as a result of reduced physical activity. This affects their ability to complete daily tasks and increases their risk for falls and injuries.

 6. Patients with chronic issues.

Segmental analysis also provides invaluable information that healthcare professionals can use to help patients with chronic medical conditions. In fact, segmental body composition evaluation has been shown to be valuable in the early detection of muscular impairment in patients with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).

By the same token, segmental bioimpedance analysis provides a more accurate data on extracellular volume taken from each segment among end-stage renal patients treated by hemodialysis.

Shown: Body Water Result Sheet from the BWA 2.0 

Putting It All Together

When done properly, Segmental Lean Analysis is one of the most powerful outputs in body composition results. Think of it as a magnifying glass to see if each corresponding segment is in proportion. The analysis makes it easy to uncover problem areas and identify imbalances accurately.

Now that you know how advanced body composition technology can help you stay healthy and feel your best, go get your body composition analysis tested to see what you find out. Just make sure it’s one with Segmental Lean Analysis, so you can see your lean body mass.


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. 

How To Set a Body Composition Goal That’s Right For You

By Body Composition, InBody Blog

Fall is already here and the holidays are just around the corner!

With an ever-growing list of things to wrap up as the year’s last quarter hurrah begins, it’s tempting to hold off on your body composition goals until the New Year.

But why wait for January when you can start making small changes towards a better body composition and reducing your body fat percentage – the real marker of positive change in your health and fitness?

The earlier you tackle your body composition goals, the sooner you can look forward to fitting in that little black dress you’ve been saving. Or transitioning from running a 10K to signing up for a marathon as a way to end the year.

As always, the first step to setting goals is to have a clear picture of where you are right now and where you want to be. Once you’ve taken a step back and considered the bigger picture, you can nail down what needs to be done (and what habits need letting go).

But in order to decide what to do and what to let go of, you need to set an achievable goal. How do you set the goal that’s right for you?

Why Focus on Setting Body Composition Goals Instead of Losing Body Weight

Why make it more complicated with all this talk about body composition goals when you can just focus on shedding the unwanted pounds, right?

Wrong. The truth is that body composition analysis is going to help you get the look you want or the results you crave because it takes into account changes in both muscle and fat. By knowing where you are right now in terms of body composition, you are most likely to achieve the results you’re aiming for.

For instance, when say you want to lose 50 pounds, you’re not really being specific enough about this goal. A pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat. What if a quarter of the 50 pounds you end up losing is muscle mass? Anyone who wants to lose weight is most likely referring to losing body fat and not muscle mass.

Aiming for weight loss alone may make you look slimmer, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re healthier. Also, you are less likely to have sufficient strength and stamina to push yourself further physically and mentally.

Instead of setting vague weight loss goals, you can be healthier and more physically (and mentally) fit by focusing on long-term fat loss. Building or maintaining lean muscle mass while losing fat mass means lowering your maintaining your body fat percentage within a range you set for yourself.

Let’s take a look at the following five body fat percentage ranges below, including their benefits and potential drawbacks (if any), to better help you understand your current body composition state so you can determine for yourself the goal that’s right for you.

  1. Obese: >25% (Men); >32% (Women)

Physical appearance:

Men and women who fall in this body fat percentage category are obese and more likely to have rounder body shapes. Excess fat will be present in the entire body— often concentrated in the abdominal area, thighs, and hips.

In many men, most of the fat is obvious in the abdominal area, often leading to the appearance of an increasingly protruding belly. Meanwhile, body fat tends to accumulate in the hips and thighs in women. Muffin tops, love handles, and moderate to severe appearance of cellulite is more common in women.

Possible health benefits/advantages:


Possible health issues and struggles:

Individuals within this range of body fat percentage have an increased risk of metabolic or cardiovascular disease. Obesity is also linked to poor self-esteem as well as low energy levels.

Body composition goals to focus on:

If you fall within this body fat percentage category, an effective strategy is to begin losing fat first, while preserving existing Lean Body Mass. People with high body fat percentages tend to have a lot of existing muscle – developed naturally to allow body movement – and preserving this should be a priority. More muscle means a larger metabolism and more strength, which you’ll want to preserve as you lose body fat.

To start losing body fat, consume less processed foods and reduce your caloric intake.  You can experiment with different types of  diets and begin planning for regular physical activity. One study revealed that obese adults can quickly improve their body composition through the following:

  • Reduce daily calorie intake by 500-1000 calories
  • Consume a low-fat (20-25% of calories) and moderately high protein (20-25% of calories) diet
  • Aerobic training 3 to 5 times a week, plus resistance exercise 2 days a week

2. “Overfat” 20-25% (Men); 28-32% (Women)

Physical appearance:

You can’t always tell if you’re overfat by appearance alone, or even by using a scale. That’s why we refer to this body fat percentage as “overfat” instead of “overweight.” Why?

Men and women who fall within this body fat percentage range may not have as much excess body weight as those in the obese category, but still have excess body fat. While it is true that some overfat people will appear so if they are also overweight, it’s also possible to have a normal or average body weight but still have too much body fat. That’s a condition called sarcopenic obesity, what you may know as “skinny fat.”

For men who are overweight as well as overfat, most of the fat is obvious in the abdominal area (beer gut/spare tire/pot belly). There is little to zero muscle definition.

For women, body fat tends to accumulate in the hips, buttocks, and thighs. Muffin tops, love handles, and slight to moderate appearance of cellulite may be visible as well.

Possible health benefits/advantages:


Possible health issues and struggles:

Overfat individuals  are more likely to suffer from certain health conditions.  Like their obese counterparts, possible issues include low energy levels, higher risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease,  poor self-esteem due to physical appearance, and a shortened life expectancy.

People who are skinny fat are also particularly vulnerable to health problems because they have similar body compositions as people who are overweight, but may have very few visual indicators that can warn them of their health risks.

Body composition goals to focus on:

This depends on whether you’re skinny fat or not.

If you’re overweight and overfat, the recommendations for you are similar to that for someone who is obese – work on reducing Fat Mass while preserving Lean Body Mass while you do it.

The first step is to reduce your caloric intake by changing your diet.  You can experiment with different types of diets and begin a consistent exercise regimen. Building the habit of getting enough sleep should also be a priority.

However, if you’re skinny fat, depending on your existing muscle mass, you may opt to work on gaining Lean Body Mass first. You may be able to accomplish losing fat AND gaining muscle because:

  • If you increase your muscle mass, you will increase your Basal Metabolic Rate (i.e. your metabolism) and if you don’t add any extra calories to your diet, you may lose body fat while you build muscle.
  • The effort you put into lifting weights can increase your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, causing you to burn more calories.

Studies have shown that for people in the “overfat” category range, circuit training is one effective option for improving changes in body composition while not making significant changes in overall body weight. That means muscle gains and fat losses are happening at the same time.

3. Average Fitness: 15-20% (Men); 23-28% (Women)

Physical Appearance:

Men in this body fat percentage category are often described as moderately lean and fit. While muscle definition may not be obvious, outlines and striations may slightly appear.  A bit of vascularity may be present in the arms.

For women, this category is neither slim nor overweight. With more body fat around the thighs and buttocks, curves will begin to form in the hips.

Both men and women may have some muscular definition but it may take on a softer appearance. Off-seasoned athletes typically fall in this category.

Possible health benefits/advantages:

People in this category typically enjoy high energy levels, better sleep, and good overall health. They may also look good in tight fitting clothes which in turn leads to better self-esteem. Health issues due to excess body fat are less likely to occur.

Possible health issues and struggles:

Despite general good health, it is easy for individuals with an average body fat percentage to fall into bad fitness and health habits due to the lack of adherence to a strict regimen.

Body composition goals to focus on:

Since this considered a healthy range to be in, slight tweaks to your existing fitness and eating habits may prove to be helpful. As a whole, build habits that are geared towards gaining Lean Body Mass.

Focus more on eating less processed carbs and aim for a slightly higher protein intake after resistance training sessions.

4. “Athletic” Fitness: 10-15% (Men); 18-23% (Women)

Physical appearance:

Men and women who fall in this body fat percentage category have the classic beach body look. They are lean, muscular, and clearly fit. There is little fat to pinch and muscle definition is particularly obvious in the shoulders, arms, and abs. Professional athletes may fall in this category, especially those who move a lot in their sport, like basketball and soccer players.

Vascularity may appear in the  arms but it may not as pronounced in the legs among men. Women with this body fat percentage may have fat in the arms and legs but it’s not as obvious than those with higher body fat percentages.

Possible benefits/advantages:

Besides looking really fit, folks with this body fat percentage tend to enjoy excellent overall health and well-being. There are less cravings due to regular physical activity and strict adherence to a diet that works for them.

Possible health issues and struggles:

Reaching and maintaining a body fat percentage around this range will take work and will require thorough meal planning, lots of attention to diet, nutrition, and an exercise regimen that takes precedence over other activities.

You may have to give up certain sweets, alcohol, and frequent attendance to social gatherings so you can catch up on sleep and eat less junk.

Body composition goals to focus on:

If your body fat percentage already falls in this category and you still want to improve your body composition, consider hiring a nutrition and fitness coach to be within this range consistently.

5. Exceptional Fitness /“Bodybuilder” Range: 3-10% (Men); 12-18% (Women)

Physical appearance:

This body fat percentage category often includes bodybuilding competitors and fitness models. Muscle definition is high in both men and women because there is very little fat at this stage. Bodybuilders, for instance, may aim for the extreme low end of this range on days when they are competing because in order to have a competitive look, they require next to no body fat.

In men, veins may start appearing all over the body, including in the abdominal area. Women in this category may not look as lean as their male counterparts due to the higher percentages of body fat, but will still look incredibly lean, but not necessarily bulky: a common fear many women have when they consider improving their body compositions.

Possible benefits/advantages:

One’s appearance may be a great source of confidence for both men and women. Overall health may be good if diet is mainly composed of whole foods and less junk food, especially towards the upper end of this range. Increased energy levels due to regular exercise are also an added advantage.

Possible health issues and struggles:

This is an incredibly difficult body composition to maintain consistently over time, especially at the lower end of this range. However, this is the look you see often see in fitness magazines and on posters.

Individuals within this body fat percentage range must completely commit to way they eat and exercise. In fact, competitive female bodybuilders have been shown to share the same eating-related habits as those with bulimia. They may shun social events that involve dining out and may not have the time for other activities. Also, women in this category might notice some reproductive and fertility issues.

It’s for these reasons that bodybuilders typically work to get into this range only during competition season. Because of the extreme effort required to maintain this body composition, very few people maintain it year-round.

Body composition goals to work on: 

If you’re at this level of body composition, the goal is is maintenance. Strict adherence to your diet and workout regimen is required, and there may be many tradeoffs required, such as virtually never compromising on your diet and dedicating much of your free time to your personal fitness. Although this is the look you see in fitness posters, on the whole, this body fat range may not be sustainable in the long run.

Men who have less 6 percent body fat and women with less than 16 percent body fat are typically bodybuilders on contest day or fitness models on the day of their photoshoot. Often, they have gone to great lengths such as going on a strict diet and exercise regimen for days.

How Far Do You Want to Go?

So is there an ideal body composition that you should shoot for?

Unless you’re an athlete or someone with health issues, aiming for the following healthy range is recommended:

Men: 10 to 20 percent

Women: 18 to 28 percent

Also, consider the following when setting a body composition goal:

  • Your ideal body composition depends on your current health status as well as the sport or activity that you’re training for. A female marathoner’s idea of what’s appropriate for her is way different from a stay-at-home-mom.
  • Humans are hardwired to have differing degrees of perception. What looks perfectly okay to someone else may appear unacceptable to you. In a study among college males, it was found that men have varying definitions of the ideal body composition. The same goes for women, whose ideal body shape has evolved over decades.
  • The amount of time you’re willing to dedicate to get into a specific body fat percentage category can also influence the way you set your body composition goal. This can take a lot longer than may think, especially if your goal is to have a really low PBF. For example, in a 12-month case study, it took a bodybuilder in his mid-20s 6 months to go from 14.8 percent to 4.5 percent body fat.
  • Sticking to body composition goals involves oodles of persistence and self-discipline. Know what you’re getting yourself into. Want to look like a bodybuilder all the time? You’ll have to center your life around that. For some, that’s ok. For others, the sacrifices required to maintain this body composition are too much.
  • Don’t forget to get some rest. The the quality and length of your sleep is critical for helping you make changes in your body composition. Not getting enough sleep can mess with your hunger levels, lessen the release of Growth Hormone, and promote cortisol – a hormone that discourages muscle growth

What Truly Matters

Everything we’ve discussed in this article are useful guidelines to help you set body composition goals. You can also benefit from working with a fitness and nutrition coach, but you are the best person to  set goals for yourself.  After all, no one knows yourself better than you.

Eventually, it all boils down to what you’re willing to do (and let go of), the specific improvements you want to see, and how far your body and mind can go.

But before you do anything, you need to know where you’re currently at. That means getting your body composition tested. With your body composition results in hand, you’ll be able to set smart goals and create habits that will help you achieve lasting success and enjoy the process along the way.


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. 

Why Tracking Changes in Body Composition Leads To Results

By Body Composition, InBody Blog

How do you track your progress?

Do you keep a log of your maximum lifts and try to set personal records every day at the gym?

Every time you go out to run, do you try to run further than the run before? Do you try to run longer?

Do you weigh yourself every week, or every day? Or is your appearance in the mirror the final judge as to how much progress you’re making?

People work out for many reasons, and so there are many ways to track progress. Tracking your progress is a very good idea. It helps you stay motivated and keeps you focused on achieving your goals.  However, not all methods of tracking are created equal, and some of them are just plain bad (weighing yourself every day is a terrible idea).

No matter what your goals are in the gym or with your fitness – whether it’s gaining muscle and becoming stronger, getting toned, or simply losing fat – tracking your progress by using your body composition data is one of the best ways to get results. This means tracking your changes in:

  • Body Fat Percentage
  • Lean Body Mass
  • Body Fat Mass
  • Skeletal Muscle Mass

While almost any type of tracking can help you reach fitness goals faster, tracking the changes in your body composition allows you to do some unique things in your training that you can only do with a breakdown of your body composition.

For example…

Tracking Changes in Body Composition Lets You Turn Your “I Wants” Into Actual Goals

It’s so much easier to get results when you set goals, and it’s even easier if you set defined, numerical goals based on your body composition.

What’s meant by defined, numerical goals? Something clear, not something vague like:

  • “I want to get bigger”
  • “I want to lose weight.”

These aren’t goals: these are desires. They express an interest in a general, overall change in body size or shape that doesn’t allow you to measure your progress in any defined, objective way.

How are you going to assess if you get “bigger”? You can eat 4,000 calories a day and get “bigger.” You want to lose weight? You can certainly do that by cutting calories, but did you know you can also lose weight due to muscle loss? You don’t want that.

So instead, let’s take these desires and turn them into goals.

  • “I want to gain 10 pounds of muscle”

Why this is better: It’s safe to assume that in most circumstances, when people want to get “bigger”, they want their muscles to get bigger, not their waistlines.  By defining your goal as being Lean Body Mass gain (muscle is the biggest component of Lean Body Mass) and putting a number to it, you have a numerical goal to work towards.

  • “I want to lose 10 pounds of fat”

Why this is better: Similar to getting bigger, when people say they want to lose “weight”, it’s safe to assume that they really want to lose fat.  You don’t want to lose muscle – muscle is metabolically active tissue that serves many important roles: from maintaining your metabolism to supporting healthy bone density to keeping a healthy immune system.

It’s likely that some muscle loss will occur when you try to lose fat, so by monitoring the changes in your body composition, you’ll be able to keep an eye on this and minimize any losses that may occur by making the necessary corrections in your diet and exercise program.

Tracking Changes In Your Body Composition Lets You Set Reachable Time-Based Goals

Sometimes, you start a fitness journey because you have a special event coming up. Maybe you’re going on a vacation and you want to have a rockin’ body when you hit the beach.  Maybe there’s a wedding coming up, and you want to make sure you fit into a new/favorite dress.

Point is: there’s a deadline you want results by, and you want a solution that will help you get there. This is a really common situation, so common that nearly every fad diet or gimmicky product makes time deadlines a critical part of their marketing. These diets and products all claim to solve an immediate problem, which makes people feel better, and which is why popular magazines just love promoting them (looking at you, Cosmopolitan).

There are no shortcuts to losing weight, gaining muscle in a very short amount of time. But instead, by tracking your progress by tracking your changes in body composition, you can actually set real goals with real results that you can actually achieve.

Let’s build on the goals we made before, this time adding a reasonable time frame.

  • “I want to build 10 pounds of muscle in 5-6 months”

When you try to build develop muscle and Lean Body Mass, there are a lot of factors that go into whether or not you achieve that goal.  What type of exercises you do, the degree to which you properly perform your exercises, whether you lift heavy with few reps or light with many, how often you strength train, how often you rest…the list goes on, and that doesn’t even include proper nutrition.

However, assuming that you do everything perfect and you’re a beginner, experts posit that you can gain roughly 2 pounds of muscle a month with consistent, proper training. If you’re not a beginner, your rate of lean mass growth will be slower as you get closer to your genetic limit for natural muscle development.

Knowing this, if you’re just getting started, you can track your progress every month and expect to see around a 2-pound increase every month until you reach your goal of 10 pounds of muscle by following a challenging lifting program.

Here’s what this can look like over 5 months:

When you use your body composition to track your progress, it suddenly doesn’t matter as much how much you can lift, or how many reps you can do. Instead, what matters is that you’re working towards a physical goal – getting bigger and more muscular – and you’re doing it in a way that you can reliably track towards a realistic goal.

  • “I want to lose 10 pounds of fat in 10-12 weeks”

In some ways, losing Fat Mass is easier than building Lean Body Mass and muscle.  There are many types of exercise that encourage Lean Body Mass development, many workout plans to organize them in, and it requires significant amounts of rest and recovery. Fat loss, on the other hand, requires less arguably less planning and actually occurs faster than muscle gain.

To lose Fat Mass, you need to be in a caloric deficit (taking in less calories than you use) and maintain it carefully over an extended period of time.  This isn’t rocket science, and virtually every peer-reviewed study that includes groups that undergo a caloric deficit experience fat loss. Here are three published in 2015 alone. Hypocaloric diets work.

How quickly can you lost fat? Many studies and health groups, including the Centers for Disease Control, report that by reducing your caloric intake by 3,500 calories a week typically results in a pound of fat loss.

Here’s what that can look like over 12 weeks:

Note: a pound of fat loss, not weight loss.  If you’re just a scale to measure your rate of change, you may experience even more “weight loss,” but if you’re on a hypocaloric diet, especially one that focuses on cutting out carbohydrates, you might experience additional water weight loss.

That’s because water bonds to glycogen at rate of about 4 grams of water: 1 gram of carbs. If you’re much lower on carbs than you usually are, you’ll be retaining less water and weigh less accordingly.

When you use your body composition to track your progress with fat loss, you can account for what’s actually being lost when you see your weight decrease on the scale. This helps you avoid mistaking your weight loss for water weight loss or (hopefully not) muscle loss.

Why is this important to know? If you’re tracking your body composition changes instead of simple scale weight changes, you won’t be confused when you gain a few pounds back after reintroducing carbs into your diet.  You’ll know that this weight is water, not fat.

Also, by being patient and tracking a pound or two of fat loss each month, you can stay motivated by knowing you’re making real changes that will last in your body. Gaining water weight is as easy as refueling on carbs, but gaining actual fat? That requires you to be in a caloric surplus over a period of time.  Eat within your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, and you can expect your fat mass to remain stable.

Tracking Changes In Your Body Composition Helps You Reduce Negative Changes In Your Body

Unfortunately, the truth is that “positive” results– increases in muscle and decreases in fat – usually come paired with negative consequences.

  • Gaining Fat With Muscle

If the results you’re working for are muscle gain, you may end up experiencing some unwanted fat gain as a side effect.  This is due to the nature of the diet you should go on to encourage muscle tissue growth: namely, a caloric surplus.

Getting sufficient nutrients/calories – particularly carbohydrates and protein – is essential for encouraging increased muscle and strength. However, just as eating fewer calories than you use causes a decrease in fat, eating more than your body “needs” will cause a gain in fat over time.

For some people, gaining a little extra fat is not a big concern, but for others it is – especially if clothes start to not fit properly.  By tracking your body composition changes, you’ll be able to track both muscle and fat gain, allowing you to change your diet or exercise routine if you feel that you’re gaining too much fat.

  • Losing Muscle With Fat

The opposite is true when you try to lose fat. With large reductions in fat due to a hypocaloric diet, you can lose Lean Body Mass and Skeletal Muscle Mass.  Muscle is healthy tissue that you should work hard to preserve.

Fortunately, you can minimize the loss of muscle while reducing fat mass by increasing your protein intake and by performing resistance training. In a study of overweight police officers, the group that ingested casein protein supplements and performed regular resistance training experienced less loss of muscle tissue and increased strength vs. the group that simply dieted.

By tracking your body composition changes, you’ll be able to keep an eye on any losses in muscle development.  Just like for people who want to build muscle, if you see that your negative change – loss in muscle – is becoming too great when you track your body composition changes, you can made the necessary adjustments to your diet and workout plan to help mitigate that loss.

Tracking Progress and Setting Reachable Goals Leads to Success

Tracking your progress over time is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your reach your health and fitness goals.  Whether that’s gaining muscle, losing fat, or both, by accurately tracking your progress with something measurable instead of something visual – like a mirror – or unreliable – like scale weight – you will be able to reach your goals faster.

That’s why tracking progress with your body composition delivers results: it offers objective, measurable values in your body that translate into physical results.

With more muscle and less fat, you’ll be stronger, look fitter, and will be healthier. You’ll be able to gauge this progress objectively instead of guessing, and you’ll be able to make smart adjustments in your training as needs be.

Doesn’t that sound nice?

Why You Need to Know Your Body Fat Percentage

By Body Composition, Health, InBody Blog
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on October 1, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on April 20, 2016


Do you know what your body fat percentage is, right now?

What range is considered ideal for your gender?

Or why you should even care?

Your body fat percentage is a value that tells you how much of your body weight is made up of fat.  In terms of your overall health, your body fat percentage can be one of the most useful numbers available to you, more than how much you weigh and even more than your Body Mass Index (BMI).

You might argue that you can just rely on visual appearance, everyone knows what an overweight or obese person looks like. When you get to that point, you know you need to start making a change in your lifestyle. Unfortunately, once you get to the overweight/obese stage your risk for developing health complications will have increased and weight loss becomes difficult.

If you are interested in developing or maintaining a healthy and productive lifestyle, measuring and understanding your body fat percentage is incredibly important.  

Here are three reasons why understanding your body fat percentage can positively impact your life.

#1 Understanding More About Your Weight

Knowing how much you weigh tells you very little because two people can have the same weight but have completely different body compositions and health risks. Your body fat percentage (PBF) puts your weight into context, telling you far more about yourself than how heavy you are.

Here are the body compositions of three types of people, all around the same weight (~154 pounds) and height (5’10”). To make each of these easier to talk about later, we’ll give them each a fictitious name.

Bill has a body weight of 154.0 pounds and a PBF of 28.3%. Notice the large differences between the bar for Body Fat Mass (BFM) and SMM (Skeletal Muscle Mass). Because of this very large difference, Bill likely falls into the category of what is popularly calledskinny fat.”

Ted has a nearly identical weight to Bill – less than half a pound in difference – but has a PBF of 15.6%, almost 13% less than Bill! This is because, unlike Bill, Ted has average amounts of muscle and fat for a 5’10” person.

Within about a pound of both Bill and Ted is Brian, with a body weight of 154.8 and a PBF of 10.1%.  The bars for his SMM and Body Fat Mass are the complete inverse of Bill, who had a skinny fat composition.

Now it’s true that even without these charts, it would be quite obvious to tell skinny fat Bill from athletic Brian just by looking at them.

However, the more extreme examples of Bill and Brian are helpful to illustrate how three individuals with roughly the same scale weight and BMI can have wildly different body compositions— something that scale cannot reveal.

Of the three individuals, Bill stands to be the most at risk for health problems because of his high PBF and low muscle mass, but especially so because his weight and BMI are considered normal. Bill may not be aware that he has increased risk for developing health complication, because visually he looks fine.

Without the context body fat percentage provides, it’s very difficult to understand what your weight means when you stand on a scale and whether or not you should consider making changes to improve your body composition.

#2 Helps You Decide on Your Fitness Goal

man stretching

Understanding your body fat percentage helps you decide which of the two goals that reflect healthy body composition changes – increasing Lean Body Mass and decreasing Fat Mass – you should be working on.

It’s difficult to point to any single “ideal” percentage because what may be ideal for a bodybuilder may be different than what’s ideal for a soccer player. For this reason, ranges are used to give people an idea of where they stand in terms of health.

  • For men: 10-20% is considered normal/healthy
  • For women: 18-28% is considered normal/healthy

These ranges may vary depending on who your source is. The American College of Sports Medicine has ranges that may differ from the Mayo Clinic (more on that later in the next section)

Knowing where your body fat percentage falls in these ranges can be very helpful for you to decide how to improve your overall composition.

For example (and this may come as a surprise): many overweight/obese people actually already have a significant amount of muscle development compared to an average person of the same height.

Now, while strength training can be healthy and useful for everyone, a program based on bulking up and developing huge muscles may not be the best method for improving the body composition of someone who is overweight. That’s because the diet that encourages muscle mass growth typically requires being in a caloric surplus (eating more than your body needs to maintain its weight).

This person would benefit from a more conventional weight loss strategy. While it is true that fat loss can occur while strength training and gaining muscle, for someone of this body type, results will likely be achieved faster by a combination of restricting calories, increasing energy use, and weight lifting to maintain – not grow – muscle.

For someone like Bill, who is not overweight but still “overfat,” the opposite advice may apply.

Based on the relative lack of muscle compared to other people of the same height, Bill can likely get the quickest and most positive body composition changes by focusing on strength training to build muscle, not losing fat.

The reason this approach is better for this person and not someone who is overweight or obese is due to the lack of developed muscle.  While an overweight person already has a lot of muscle due to the need to support a larger frame, a smaller person will need to actively work to develop this muscle while maintaining or reducing the amount of fat mass they carry.

#3: Reduce The Risk of Heart Disease

healthy heart pulse

Understanding your body fat percentage has uses outside of fitness, too. Keeping your body fat percentage at a healthy level can help reduce your likelihood of getting serious health risks, specifically, heart disease.

Heart disease is most often caused by a buildup of plaque on the walls of your arteries. This occurs when small pieces of cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) damage your arteries, causing them to harden, forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body.

What does body fat have to do with your heart? Quite a lot, actually.

According to new research published by the Mayo Clinic, having a healthy body fat percentage has a significant effect on your cholesterol levelsincreasing the good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) which helps to remove the damaging LDL and lower overall total cholesterol. This means less artery-clogging cholesterol in your bloodstream, which means less stress on your heart.

To be clear: this research isn’t linking this to overall weight or even total fat mass. These positive effects are linked with the amount of body fat you have compared to your current weight. The body fat percentage ranges needed to have this positive effect have an upper limit of 20% for men and 30% for women.

While the research doesn’t suggest that this is any type of complete preventative for heart disease – many lifestyle factors, as well as genetics, play into whether you will develop it or not – it does suggest that you have some degree of control over reducing your risk factor by maintaining a healthy body fat percentage and consuming a diet that promotes healthy cholesterol levels.

Know Your Percentage to Take Control of Your Health

Perhaps one of the best things about your body fat percentage is that it compares you to yourself.

If you just track weight, this invariably leads to comparing yourself to someone else. Even though there could be significant differences in height, muscle mass, genetics, or other factors, all people hear when they talk about or think about their weight is the number.

That’s what’s so great about your body fat percentage. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh; the only thing that matters is what that weight is made up of. You could be overweight (and even have a BMI that tells you that) but if you’re a woman with a healthy body fat percentage of 25%, why care?

To take control of your health and fitness and gain the positive benefits of living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, the first step is to get your body composition measured.  Find a facility near you that offers body composition testing, get your body fat percentage, and start tracking it to start living better!


Five Things You Didn’t Know About Muscle and Fat

By Body Composition, InBody Blog, Nutrition
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on September 14,, 2018for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on January 27, 2016.

Your body is a wonderfully complex machine.  Without any conscious direction from you, your body manages to convert food into energy, regulate your body temperature, create new cells, remove waste, and perform thousands of other processes to keep you alive and healthy.

Because your body is such a complex machine, a lot of misconceptions and half-truths exist about how it works, especially when it comes to muscle and fat.  This makes it hard to figure out what’s true and what isn’t when it comes to body composition, especially since nowadays there seems to be a supplement for everything and a steady stream of late-night infomercials claiming to have the next greatest invention for fat loss or muscle gain.

To help shed some light on these issues and cut through the clutter, we’ve collected a few key points about muscle and fat for you to take away to help you make the right decisions when you are ready to get healthier and optimize your body composition.

#1: Muscle Isn’t Just for Strong Bodies

Image Source: Flickr

Many people think that muscle gain is only necessary if you’re an athlete.  Why would you need to be stronger if you’re not a competitive athlete? Not everyone needs to fight off an opposing defensive back (or wants to muscular), but everyone needs to be able to fight off infection.

What does muscle have to do with infection? Quite a lot actually.

Protein is a important macronutrient that your body needs in order to function properly. Muscle is made up of primarily water and protein content.  When your body enters a stressed state (becomes sick), your body’s protein demands suddenly skyrocket, up to four times the amount it normally requires in the event of serious trauma.

If your body does not get the necessary protein it needs from your diet, it will look to your muscles – which your body can treat as large protein reserves – and begin breaking them down.  If your muscles aren’t sufficiently developed or underdeveloped, you will have a reduced ability and strength to fight off current infections and may be more susceptible to future ones, especially in serious cases.  According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

If there is a preexisting deficiency of muscle mass before trauma, the acute loss of muscle mass and function may push an individual over a threshold that makes recovery of normal function unlikely to ever occur.


The key takeaway: focusing on muscle gain may pay big dividends down the road with recovery in strength and function.

#2: There’s 2 types of Fat – and one is really dangerous

visceral and subcutaneous fat

Most people know that being overweight can lead to health problems over the long term, but not many people know why.  Current research is now revealing that your fat mass isn’t just empty weight like a bag of sand, but is in fact metabolically active tissue that acts like an organ inside your body.

But unlike the other organs inside your body that are designed to help keep your body in proper condition, excess visceral fat works to sabotage it.

According to Harvard University, fat mass, and particularly visceral (belly) fat, can have significant negative effects on your health.  Visceral fat spreads certain types of chemical called cytokines into the body, and although cytokines aren’t by their nature harmful, the types of cytokines emitted by fat can have serious repercussions on insulin resistance, cholesterol level, and blood pressure.  

Over time, visceral fat can lead to developing serious diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. For skinny fat individuals, they may not be aware their high visceral fat level puts them at risk for these disease because visually they look “healthy” in comparison to obese individuals. In actuality, they share similar health risks. Fortunately, working to reduce fat mass in your body can help reduce some of these harmful effects visceral fat can have.  

#3: “Lean Mass” Isn’t the Same as “Muscle”

Lean Mass. Lean Body Mass. Muscle Mass. Skeletal Muscle Mass.  It can be really easy to get lost in all these same-sounding terms.  Are they all the same?

The most common mistake is when people use the term “lean mass” and when talking about increasing it – “lean gains.”  Many people equate muscle mass with lean mass, which is only partially correct.

While it is true that if you develop your muscles you are developing lean mass, that doesn’t mean that your muscle gains are lean gains.  Lean Body Mass is different from skeletal muscle in that Lean Body Mass includes the weight attributed to muscle, body water, bone, and everything else that isn’t fat.  To illustrate, take a look at the body composition breakdown of this 162-pound male:

Note that this subject has a Lean Body Mass of 128.5 pounds, the majority of which is reflected by Total Body Water.  The actual muscle that people try to develop in the gym – skeletal muscle – only accounts for 73.2 pounds of body weight.

While it isn’t likely that the weight of your organs or bones will change significantly, your muscles and water can change in volume and mass depending on a variety of circumstances.  Because Lean Body Mass includes body water, increasing your weight by hydrating your cells with sufficient intracellular water is also technically a “lean gain.”

Another way of thinking about it: All muscle gains are lean mass gains, but not all lean mass gains are muscle gains.  Get it?

#4: Muscle Doesn’t Become Fat

Admit it– you were pretty sure it didn’t work like this, but you sometimes catch yourself saying that your muscle turned into fat.

Although your body is an amazing machine, there is no process by which your body converts muscle to fat.  Many people comment that their muscle has turned into fat after they stop working out regularly, and it really does seem like that’s what’s occurring – you were once lean and muscular, and now you have less muscle and look flabbier.  But what’s really going on is a change in body compositiona loss in muscle mass that occurs at the same time fat mass increases.

This can happen for any number of reasons. Many people, especially athletes, can experience muscle loss and fat gain in the off-season when they stop performing entirely and continue to eat like they did when they were playing at a competitive level. That’s because the amount of calories you use in a day – your Total Daily Energy Expenditure – decreases significantly if you change your activity level. So to recap, muscle to fat conversion isn’t real. If you are going to be less active, make sure you adjust your diet accordingly.   

#5: Being Skinny Isn’t Great If You Have No Muscle

Image Source: Flickr

When people think of someone with an unhealthy body, they think of someone who is overweight.  So, when people think of someone with a healthy body, they naturally think of someone who is skinny.

Not so fast: just because someone looks like a runway model doesn’t mean they are healthy.  In fact, it is often the opposite. In some cases, people who strive to be skinny – like runway models for instance –  become so excessively skinny that they become severely underweight, lose a significant amount of lean mass, and develop conditions like anorexia. It was for this reason in particular that the French government imposed a ban on hiring runway models with BMIs of less than 18.0 in 2015.

However, not everyone is a runway model, and a much more common condition that some skinny people have that is certainly not healthy is something called sarcopenic obesity, something popularly referred to as being “skinny fat.”  Skinny fat people don’t have healthy amounts of muscle mass, so they can actually have a body fat percentage that is similar to someone who is obese, even though they appear to be skinny.  They often have body composition profiles resembling this one:

Despite having a normal weight (within 15% of the ideal weight for this person’s height), muscle mass is very underdeveloped while body fat mass is quite high.  By dividing fat mass by weight, this person’s body fat percentage would be 36.9%, well over any acceptable range for women – including the ranges set by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise.

End the Confusion

Lots of these myths and misconceptions occur because many people do not measure their weight accurately.

The only way to properly understand your weight is to have your body composition analyzed.  Body composition analysis breaks down your weight into muscle, fat, and body water. Relying on a scale only leaves you in the dark as to why your weight is increasing or decreasing, which can lead you to such thoughts as “my muscle turned into fat” or “is it muscle loss or fat loss”.  To learn more about how understanding your body composition can help transform your health, click here.