Monday, September 26, 2011

Ideal Body Fat Percentage: Weightloss Vs. Improving Body Composition

You always hear diet books, infomercials, antiquated trainers and even doctors talking about weight-loss.  Perhaps it is your parents, spouse or even you saying they need to lose weight.  It can be convenient to use the term weight-loss, but what really matters most – for both our health and our appearance - is FAT-loss!  This isn’t just as simple as semantics here either: Unfortunately most overweight or out of shape folks only care about what the scale says and if they’re losing any weight…especially women who tend to have only one physique goal in mind – to be skinny!

                I’ve got some bad news for you, which any athlete or fitness-savvy individual already knows: You just might be losing weight without losing any fat at all, due to glycogen-depletion, fluid-loss and muscle catabolism.  Personally, I’ve lost 4 pounds overnight before, and I can tell you that none of that weight was fat-loss.  Starvation-type, dehydrating dieting without exercise, is a sure way to lose mostly muscle tissue and little-to-no fat!
                Now for the good news: You can become leaner – actually lower your body fat percentage – without losing ANY fat.  All you have to do is gain muscle mass!  Think about it.  You gain muscle, so you now weigh more, but still with the same amount of body fat you always had.  Therefore you have effectively increased your lean-body mass.  And it is based on this principle that typical body-mass index, BMI, charts and simple weighing-scales are not particularly useful for fitness progress.  They only provide you with part of the picture…partial, non-specific data. 
                Body fat percentage is calculated simply by dividing the weight of your total amount of body fat by your total body weight and multiplying by 100.  So you can see if you add lean (fat-free) mass to your body, i.e. muscle, your percentage of body fat decreases.  Now of course many people don’t desire to add a bunch of muscle mass to their physiques, and while this is understandable you can not ignore this physiological fact: Lean muscle mass IS primarily what drives your resting metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories while at rest.  And some folks who dread cardio training will find relief in knowing that building quality muscle only requires strength training and ‘clean’ eating.   It is muscle that is the basis for a tone, tight appearance…Stop your obsession with being skinny NOW!
                Now that you understand the principles behind lean-body mass and body fat percentage, and how it is fat-loss and muscle mass that matter most and NOT weight-loss, we can now acknowledge that of course the most ideal physique transformation scenario is to not only gain or preserve muscle mass, but to simultaneously lose fat as well.  This where you have to add in cardio training and fine tune your diet, and for now is beyond the scope of this article.  More importantly the cardiovascular benefits of aerobic training are necessary for optimum health. 
                It is much simpler to track progress by stepping on a scale at home and much more difficult to track body fat percentage.  Perhaps this is why so many folks seem to forget about fat-loss and only concern themselves with weight-loss.  Well I’m here to help you out and get you started and I am including the ‘American Council on Exercise’ body fat percentage recommendations based on your age and fitness level.  This is a much more useful chart than the more common body mass index, BMI, chart.  Also, at most sports’ stores now, you can purchase a home scale for under $100 that not only measures body weight but also provides a fairly accurate body fat percentage analysis using technology called bioelectrical impedance.  Perhaps more important than the initial accuracy of your fat-analysis is the ability you will now have to track trends.  The accuracy is mostly affected by hydration levels as water is the medium for B.I.A. conduction: If you are well-hydrated you will consequently have a slightly lower body fat percentage read-out than if you are dehydrated at the time of analysis. 
'American Council on Exercise' Chart:


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