Body Composition: What it Really is and How to Measure it Accurately

In this installment, we will look at exactly what body composition is, specifically in terms of health and fitness and how to best measure it.

Human body composition

Body composition is somewhat of a vague term since technically/scientifically it refers to the complete elemental makeup of a human organism.

For those who are curious as to what chemical elements we humans are composed of, check out the picture below:

Elemental Composition of Humans

However, in terms of health and fitness, it is more appropriate to look at body composition in a more basic, applicable sense.

That is to say that the human body is comprised mainly of adipose tissue, bone, and lean body mass (see picture below).

Measuring/analyzing body composition

There is a myriad of methods to measure one’s body fat and lean mass, including bioelectrical impedance, hydrostatic weighing, or even just simple skin caliper pinches.

However, these methods are all rather unreliable and tend to face shortcomings.

But there is one method that has been revered as the “gold standard” for measuring body composition and that is the dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) route.

This method of measuring body composition utilizes two energetically different laser beams. These beams assess the amount of absorption of each ray by bone tissue.While DEXA scans are highly accurate, they are not as readily available (or cost effective) as less sophisticated methods.

The cost for a DEXA scan generally ranges between $150-$300, but it can vary based on your medical/insurance coverage; and why you are performing the procedure.

Body composition usefulness

It is generally advised that most individuals (especially those who are avid gym rats) have some idea of their body composition; this way they can effectively monitor progress and have gauge of their body fat percentage.

One thing most people seem to fly right over when they set a new physique/fitness goal is the fact that body weight alone is not a sufficient measurement of progress (this is the why the Body Mass Index is a rather misleading assessment of health).

There are few scenarios where someone’s only goal is to gain or lose weight just for the sake of seeing a quantitative change on the scale. 

It is rather more pertinent to focus on lowering body fat and increasing lean mass, regardless of what your overall body mass is.

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