Breaking Down Body Composition: What You Need to Know and The Role of Muscle Mass

When it comes to health and fitness, we often hear people talk about body fat percentage as the primary metric for analyzing body composition goals. While body fat percentage is certainly important, it’s just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding how different types of tissue are distributed throughout our bodies.

In addition to body fat, our body is made up of skeletal muscle mass and dry lean mass. Skeletal muscle mass includes not only the muscle tissue itself, but also the water content within the muscle. Dry lean mass, on the other hand, refers to all the tissue in our body that is not fat or water. These three components together make up our body composition.

When we say that someone has an unhealthy body fat percentage, what we’re really saying is that the distribution of fat mass relative to that of muscle mass is out of proportion. For example, a person who is classified as overweight or obese has a higher percentage of body fat relative to their total body weight, which can negatively impact their health and increase their risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

To address this issue, some people need to focus on losing body fat, while others need to focus on building muscle mass. Some may need to do both simultaneously to achieve their ideal body composition.

The American Council on Exercise provides guidelines for healthy body fat percentages based on age and gender. For men, a body fat percentage of 6-24% is considered healthy, while for women, the healthy range is 16-30%.

Oftentimes, clients ask me where they should be or what a good goal would be for them. What we aim for is better, so, if we’re currently at 42% we set a short to medium term goal for under 40%, if we’re currently at 33% we get under 30%, and then we reevaluate and so forth. 

In addition to body fat percentage, it’s also important to track other metrics such as muscle mass and strength, cardiovascular fitness, and overall health markers like blood pressure and cholesterol levels. By taking a comprehensive approach to fitness and health, we can ensure that we’re not just focusing on one aspect of our body composition, but rather working towards a balanced and healthy overall state.

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