If you’ve kept up with the recent series on muscle mass, thank you for reading! I hope you have learned about the importance of muscle mass when it comes to living a healthy, functional life as well as the strategies you need to take in order to build muscle in a sustainable way. But you may be asking yourself, “Do I have enough muscle mass? Do I need more? How do I measure this?”. These are wonderful questions and ones that so many people struggle with finding the answer. So I want to dedicate the rest of this post to body composition measurements and how to track it over time.
What is body composition?
Body composition is simply an understanding of how much your body tissues contributes to your weight: your fat, your muscle (often referred to as lean mass), and your bones. When you step on the scale, you see a total sum of these parts; but how do you know if the weight you have is in the right proportions for your body or your goals? Is the weight loss you’re seeing from fat loss and not muscle loss? Or is the weight gain you see from gaining muscle or gaining fat? Maybe you haven’t lost any weight, but is it because you gained muscle while losing fat? Getting a better frame of reference of your body composition is the best way to understand what your current weight means for your health.
Body composition can also be a valuable tool to predict future health problems. As I mentioned in previous articles, our muscle mass and bone mass decline with age. Some of this decline is unavoidable, unfortunately; but we can slow it down with attention to interventions like strength training. Since we cannot avoid the decline in muscle and bone mass, we must focus on getting these two parameters as high as possible, preferably BEFORE we start seeing this decline. If we start from a much higher position, then the decline has less of a chance of impacting our future health. For example, if you are a 40 year old woman with low-normal muscle mass and a low bone density for your age, then we can predict very low muscle mass (sarcopenia) and osteoporosis by the time she is 70 years old. But if her results at 40 years old motivates her to a lifelong practice of strength training, then she should see less decline and experience a more vibrant, functional life later on.
You can assess body composition through a variety of ways, but the most accurate version is on a DEXA machine, which we have here at our office. The DEXA machine uses a very small amount of radiation, similar to an x-ray, to give us valuable insights on your body’s ratio of fat to muscle to bone. And knowing this information allows your clinician to target medical recommendations on what you truly need to have healthy life. For example, a 200lb man at 18% body fat has a much different health profile than a 200lb person with 48% body fat. And if you are working on lifestyle changes, you can repeat a body composition scan every 6 months to 1 year to see how these interventions are affecting your muscle growth, fat loss, and bone health!
Here’s a video of me walking you through a sample body composition report:
Here’s the body composition guide that comes with each body comp scan you get:
If you are interested in getting your own body composition scan, please call the front desk to set up an appointment. Each scan is $100 and includes the body composition guide. If you have questions about your results, please contact your clinician to review it with you.
All the Best,
Dr. Troy Jackson