What is Body Composition?

Woman measuring percentage of body fat on waist
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Body composition refers to the proportion of fat and fat-free mass in the body. A healthy body composition is one that includes a lower proportion of body fat and a higher proportion of fat-free mass. Body composition is one measurement that is used to assess your health and fitness level.

What Is Body Composition?

Your body is composed of two types of mass: body fat and fat-free mass.  

  • Body fat is fat that is located within the body. Body fat can be in muscle tissue, under the skin or around organs. Some fat is necessary for overall health. It helps protect internal organs, provides energy and regulates important body hormones.
  • Fat-free mass includes bone, water, muscle, and tissues. Fat-free mass is also important for the body to function properly. 

Body composition is a comparison of your body’s fat and fat-free mass. When we talk about body composition, we usually refer to body fat percent or the percentage of your body that is fat. The percent of your body that is not fat is fat-free mass (FFM). 

What Is Healthy Body Composition?

If you have good body composition, your body fat percent is in a normal range. You are usually healthier, you move more easily and feel better than those with poor body composition. People with a healthy body composition usually have bodies that look more fit and trim. If you can improve your body composition you can improve your quality of life and overall wellness.  

If you are overweight or obese, you have an excessive amount of body fat. Your body fat percent is too high. Your body composition is unhealthy.

Your body may feel more sluggish and it may not function as well with excess body fat.

Weighing yourself on a regular bathroom scale does not truly assess your body composition because a regular scale cannot tell the difference between how much of your total weight is comprised of water, fat, or muscle.

To know if your body composition is healthy, you should get an estimate of your body fat percent.

How Much Body Fat Should I Have?

There are several different ways to get an estimate of your body fat percent. Many health clubs and gyms offer body fat analysis. You can also get it tested in a doctor's office or use a BIA body fat scale to estimate your body fat percent.

Once you know your number you can compare it to these numbers provided by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) to evaluate your body composition. 

ACE Body Fat Percent Norms for Men and Women
DescriptionWomenMen
   
Essential Fat10-13%2-5%
Athletes14-20%6-13%
Fitness21-24%14-17%
Acceptable25-31%18-24%
Obese>32%>25%
 

Should I Change My Body Composition?

If your body fat percent is too high, you may want to try to decrease it to improve your health. You're likely to enjoy a more active and healthy life if you carry less fat body fat. You may also be able to decrease your risk of disease.

So how do you change your body composition for better health?

You should try to increase muscle mass (or fat-free mass) and decrease fat mass. You can change your diet, start an exercise program or combine both methods to change your body composition and improve your health and well-being.

Sources

Body Composition: NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Dec 2015. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/risk.htm.

Roth, Walton, et al. Fit & Well: Concepts and Labs in Physical Fitness and Wellness 5th Ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill College, 2002.

*Edited by Malia Frey,Weight Loss Expert

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