Understanding Body Composition

Understanding Body Composition

Body composition is the proportion of fat and nonfat mass in your body. Learn what a healthy body composition is, how to measure it, and how to change it for the better.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • - What is body composition?
  • - What is body fat percentage?
  • - How to measure body composition
  • - What is a healthy body composition?
  • - Which factors affect your body composition
  • - How you can improve your body composition

What Is Body Composition?

Your body is made up of two types of mass that include body fat and non-body fat. Body composition is the proportion of both kinds of fats. To understand body composition, you need to understand these two types of fats.

  • Body Fat is accumulated in muscle tissue present under your skin or around your organs. It’s essential to maintaining your overall health. Good body fat helps protect internal organs, store the fuel to turn into energy, and regulate vital body hormones.
  • Nonfat Mass is the water, muscle, bone, tissues, and organs body fat. It’s also known as lean tissue. This mass burns calories for energy, whereas fat does not.

It’s critical to your health to maintain certain levels of body fat. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has created a body fat chart for both men and women. Women are required to store more fat than men due to the way their body functions in certain areas.

Category Men Women
Essential Fat 2%-5% 10%-13%
Fitness 14%-17% 21%-24%
Athlete 6%-13% 14%-20%
Acceptable 18%-24% 25%-31%
Obesity More than 25% More than 32%

Healthy body fat for men and women:

Age Men Women
20-39 8%-19% 21%-32%
40-59 11%-21% 23%-33%
60-79 13%-24% 24%-35%

What is Body Fat Percentage?

Body fat percentage tells you how much of your body weight encompasses fat. Body weight percentage, which is nonfat, is mass with no fat. For optimal health, your body fat percentage should have increased lean body mass and less body fat. Body fat percentages differ in both men and women.

How To Measure Body Composition

Body composition essentially tells you what your weight is made up of. It’s more accurate and informative than just looking at your weight in pounds or kilos, because it breaks your body down into its components, so you can see whether you are healthy, rather than just how much you weigh. A body composition test or scale will tell you the fat percentage of your overall body weight.

Here are some of the ways you can measure your body composition:

Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis

Most of your body’s water is stored in your muscles. In bioelectrical impedance, analysis electrodes are placed on your skin, then used to detect the body’s response to small electrical currents, determining voltage. The more water there is, the lower the impedance. That means muscular individuals will have low impedance. This allows the BIA device to determine body composition. BIA devices differ in accuracy, complexity, and cost.

  • Accessibility: BIA devices are commercially available for purchase, but they aren’t all made equally - be sure to purchase one with high accuracy ratings.
  • Why You Should Use It: It’s quick and easy to use. It’s more affordable than a DEXA scan, and more accurate than skinfold measurement. Most importantly, it gives you a full breakdown of your body composition - beyond weight - so that you can get your health in hand the right way.

Skinfold Measurement

A skinfold caliper assesses the thickness of different skinfolds to estimate overall body fat. This measurement is based on the assumption that body fat is distributed equally throughout the body. In skinfold measurement, four skinfolds are measured:

  • Suprailiac skinfold
  • Subscapular skinfold
  • Triceps skinfold
  • Biceps skinfold
  • Accessibility: Skinfold measurement devices are easy to purchase.
  • Accuracy: The accuracy depends on the skill of the individual measuring the skinfold.
  • Why you should consider it: It’s quick and affordable.
  • Why you should avoid it: Accuracy can be hard to achieve, and knowledge of basic anatomy is required.


DEXA is an abbreviation for dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. A DEXA scan is among the most accurate tests to determine body fat and muscle distribution. Along with tracking changes in your weight, it determines the amount of fat you are gaining or losing. It’s noninvasive, quick, and more precise than a standard X-ray.

  • Accessibility: Not at home - DEXA scans can only be performed at licensed labs.
  • Accuracy: High - error is between 1 and 2%.
  • Why you should consider it: The scan provides a detailed snapshot of your body composition, including the way your weight is distributed between bone, lean tissue, and fat.
  • Why you should avoid it: DEXA scans are expensive. As they must be performed outside of the home, they can’t be used as a regular body composition monitoring tool.

Hydrostatic Weighing

Hydrostatic weighing - also known as hydro-densitometry or underwater weighing - breaks down body composition with density. It weighs you while you are submerged in water, after exhaling all of the air from your lungs. Any air remaining in your lungs after exhalation is also assessed and measured.

  • Accessibility: Not at home - typically available at medical centers, universities, and fitness facilities
  • Accuracy: High - error is around 2%
  • Why you should consider it: Accuracy
  • Why you should avoid it: It can be difficult to be submerged in water. As hydrostatic weighing must be performed in specialized facilities, it can’t be used as a regular body composition monitoring tool.

What Is A Healthy Body Composition?

Ideal or healthy body composition refers to the percentages of body fat, total water, bone mass, and muscle mass in your body. Different factors impact body composition, including age, genes, sex and hormones.

Body composition is vital to health, physical fitness and has a significant impact on quality of life and longevity. Most notably, excessive body fat has been associated with health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular issues, strokes, and more. Speak to your doctor about the ideal body composition for you.

Which Factors Can Affect Your Body Composition?

When you perform a body composition analysis, different factors come into play. Below are some of the prominent caveats that impact your body composition:

  • Age After the age of 30, people tend to lose their lean body mass and gain more fat. After your 30s, your body may begin to lose some cells from different organs such as the kidney, liver, muscles, etc. Moreover, bones may lose their density and become less dense. While all this happens, your body tends to accumulate more fat. However, this situation can be avoided if you continue to have a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet and regular exercise.
  • Gender Another factor that impacts the body composition scale is gender. Women are known to have a higher essential fat storage requirement as opposed to men. This is because hormones in women affect where body fat gets collected. While women’s fat storage percentage is 12, mens’ fat storage need is around 3%.
  • Genetics Some people are born to collect less or more fat. For instance, people with a larger trunk and shorter fingers and legs are likely to have higher body fat than individuals with long trunks, fingers, and legs. Moreover, the genes you are born with have a significant impact on the amount of body fat that gets accumulated. But that does not mean that you have to remain overweight, or you can reverse the qualities that your genes provided you with.
  • Food Intake The body composition scale can be significantly influenced by the food you consume. If you are regularly consuming too many calories against the calories you burn, the body is likely to store more fat. On the other hand, if you consume an excessively low amount of calories, you can lose both body fat and lean body mass. The food you take should be a balance of carbs, protein, and fat to maintain adequate body composition.
  • Physical Activity Your diet and physical activity go hand in hand in maintaining a healthy body composition scale. Excessively exercising without consuming adequate calories will result in the loss of muscles along with fat. And only consuming calories without any activity can lead to excess accumulation of fat. Therefore, you need to consume a healthy amount of calories to ensure a healthy body composition. The kind of physical activity you perform also has a significant impact. If your aim is to reduce body fat while building a lean body mass, then you should consider weight resistance exercise.
  • Alcohol Consumption According to a study, 3% of the alcohol you consume turns into body fat. The study revealed that for every 24 grams of alcohol, the subject consumed only 0.8 grams of fat reached to the liver. Both alcohol and carbohydrate suppress the oxidation of fat. This is because our body first metabolizes alcohol and removes it from the body, and then breaks down carbohydrates against elevated insulin.

How Can You Improve Your Body Composition?

In the quest to obtain improved results on the body composition calculator, there should be a strict change in your lifestyle. You can get the best body composition scale level by focusing on your diet and physical activity.


Eating the right foods at the right time in the right portion is imperative to achieve the ideal body mass with nutrition. When you have a clean diet encompassing low-fat fresh food, you will see a drastic change in your body fat and weight. Moreover, you will be more active and get adequate sleep. Your diet should include fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, lean meats, whole grain bread, whole grain rice, oatmeal, etc. Along with knowing what to consume, you should also know what to strictly avoid. Steer clear from sugar, salt, processed food, preservatives, energy drinks, etc.

Body Composition Exercises

To get the desired results on the body composition test, you need to create a balance between diet and exercise. Following are somebody composition exercises that will help you get the desired results:

  • Burpees
  • Pushups
  • Interval Training
  • Weighted Squat Jump
  • Explosive Lunge Jump
  • Sit-Ups
  • Planks
  • Yoga
  • Swimming

Merely exercising will not give you the results; you need to combine it with a nutritious diet.

The Bottom Line

Maintaining a good body composition impacts our overall well-being. The excessive fat that we carry around can pave the way for many illnesses. Therefore, you should focus on losing body fat while gaining lean muscle mass. This will help in reducing the risk of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, a healthy body composition reflects a lean and toned body, alleviating your self-esteem.

Considering the benefits body composition has on your overall well-being, it is important to maintain it. And for that, you need to be mindful of what you eat and include exercises as a part of your lifestyle. Instilling healthy habits will help you retain adequate body composition as you grow older, and this can be significantly helpful in staying away from diseases.

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