Saturday, February 10, 2018

What Your Bodyfat Percentage Really Means

Bodyfat percentage (or "body composition") is the amount of your bodyweight that is fat mass.  Knowing your bodyfat percentage is critical for three key reasons:

1. To determine your risk for health problems (and what those problems will be)
2. To properly set goals for muscle gains and weight loss
3. To properly track your progress

Aaron Dunn is a PPT physiologist and part of our clinical research team.  He explains it by saying, "We tend to think about our bodyweight and how many pounds we want to lose or gain.  But, bodyweight isn't a very helpful data-point.  By measuring bodyfat, we can actually see when we are losing fat or losing muscle, and we can see when we are gaining fat or gaining muscle. With bodyweight  measurement, it's a guess. That's why gains and losses in bodyweight can be so confusing and mysterious sometimes."

How does a bodyfat percentage help you track someone's muscle tone?

"When a client is interested in muscle toning, they're looking to burn fat from within and outside of the muscles.", explains Dunn.  "They are also looking to gain some muscle in its place.  Each of those events will reduce the client's body composition.  Toning means a reduction in bodyfat percentage, and generally a fairly consistent bodyweight for most."

So, if a client wants to get toned but not lose weight, you track it by checking bodyfat?

"Correct.  It becomes obvious visually, of course, but we can quantify it and set goals like, 'We're at 13% now, and we'll get to 10% in six weeks.'  It's a cutting edge metric that most fitness trainers forget about."

And, how does knowing bodyfat predict health issues?

Dunn explains, "Statistically, high ranges of bodyfat are more associated with heart disease than lower ranges.  For example, over 38% is considered morbid obesity, which means that a person's cause of death will probably be obesity-related.  At percentages around 25% for men and around 32% for women, risk for cardiovascular disease is elevated, and intervention is recommended, but it is not as severe as those in the 38% or higher category."

Is getting down to 36% or 37% much better from a health-risk perspective?

"Yes, 38% is where many studies show a pique, so every bit below that is helpful.  The goal, though, is to reach the healthy ideal of no more than 16% for men, and no more than approximately 27% for most women.  Race and age also influence these numbers, but these are fair and general approximations when we're evaluating risk assessment."

Aren't some people higher than 38%?

"Yes, many.  A lot of clients were 50% or more when they first came to us.  That suggests a very high risk for obesity-related death, so our concern is high.  Thankfully, we don't let anyone stay there for long, and they're always eager to put in the effort, slim down and improve their health stats."

And what would a bodyfat goal be for someone who wants to get very muscular?

Dunn provides a specific insight:  "At around 11-13% for men, or 18-22% for women, we generally see the muscles of the mid-section.  The term 'looking toned' is subjective, and everyone has a different standard, but those are fitness model ranges and common to fit Hollywood actors, too. Getting a man down to 7% or a woman down to 12% is extreme, and requires incredible dedication and an around-the-clock schedule of training and meal planning."

Is any of that helpful from a health perspective?

"No, the very low numbers like these won't improve health.  It's cosmetic 'beach body' fitness, but it's safe and challenging to achieve and maintain.  Most clients are happy reaching the healthy norms or getting a few percent below.  But, goals change and we can take a client as far as they want to go if it's safe!"

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