Body composition is an important factor in overall health, and this can sometimes be forgotten in pursuit of the ‘holy grail’ of weight loss. Attaining, or maintaining, a healthy weight is a worthwhile goal, but losing weight via an extremely restrictive diet which will be impossible to maintain over the long term is, in my humble opinion, no way to live. It will undoubtedly result in weight loss, but it may also reduce muscle mass as well as fat and that is not a desirable outcome.
We have all seen friends, colleagues, and relatives who have taken action to lose weight with noticeable results. Some of them look healthy and well, but others look gaunt and depleted. The answer, as with most things in life, is moderation and balance and, particularly in the case of large weight loss, we need to be careful not to lose our all-important musculature along with the fat.
What is Body Composition?
Body composition is the ratio of fat to lean mass, including muscle, bones, and organs, and is evaluated using a body fat percentage. A fit woman may have a percentage between 21-24%, and a fit man generally falls between 14-17%.
There are many ways to measure body fat, and the most simple is to invest in some scales which include this function. Scales can’t measure in the most scientific way, but they provide a reasonable level of accuracy, and that is good enough.
Cardio Exercise for Body Composition
So what is the best way to ‘burn’ fat? Aerobic, or cardio, exercise will certainly help by increasing heart rate and breathing. But it’s not necessary to exercise to the point of breathlessness every day. In fact, you’ll burn the highest percentage of calories from fat at a moderate intensity.
As your fitness level improves, you may want to include harder workouts in your exercise schedule. Higher intensity workouts burn more calories, but a smaller ratio of fat. So to really maximize fat loss, combine high, moderate, and low-intensity workouts to ensure that your fitness programme is balanced.
Strength Exercise for Body Composition
There will be noticeable changes to your body composition if you include strength training in your programme. And the great thing is that you don’t need to worry about buying a lot of specialised equipment or joining a gym. You can do simple, and very effective, strength training workouts at home, or outdoors using only bodyweight. For example, lunges, squats, planks, and press ups are all absolutely fantastic for building strength, and the permutations are endless.
Some of my female clients have expressed concern about including strength training in our programmes because they fear ‘bulking up’. But the fact is that it takes a lot of strength work in conjunction with a strict diet for either a male or female to gain bulk. Women also don’t make enough of the hormone testosterone to build the muscle mass that a man might doing the same workout.
So, the important message is that gaining, or maintaining, a healthy weight is important, but it’s equally important to ensure that, in losing weight, you maintain your body’s musculature. If you are consistent in your training, and it is appropriate for you, then you should start to notice changes in your body composition within weeks. Of course, none of this will be possible without understanding, and adjusting your diet to ensure fat loss.