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Muscle vs. Fat: Measure What Matters

Understandably, many of us measure our weight with a scale. Insurance companies and health professionals have used height versus weight scales (body mass indicators, or BMIs) for years to determine overall health. However, these indicators are not always informative of an individual's overall health because they fail to determine whether a person is muscled or fat. In fact, BMI calculators will inappropriately rate 1 out of 4 as unhealthy.

Start concentrating on your body, not your weight. While on a fad diet, most of the weight loss comes from water and lean body mass loss. An exercise or weight program might be accompanied by a slight weight gain. If you are working hard to get fit and see a weight gain, you might think that your work is in vain, but the truth is, you may be adding calorie-burning muscle!

When determining your overall health or fitness regimen, it's important to consider your appropriate percentage of body fat to muscle mass ratio before establishing a target weight. Someone weighing 200 pounds with a body fat percentage of 25 is carrying around 50 pounds of extra fat. That same person weighing 200 pounds with 10 percent body fat would be carrying only 20 pounds of fat. This is significant in terms of health. Not only would reduced fat levels impact this person's energy levels, mobility and joint stress, but the more favorable ratio of body fat to muscle mass will also increase baso-metabolic rate (BMR) which will allow for a greater number of calories to be burned at rest.

Body fat percentage
Measuring your body fat percentage is a better indicator of health and fitness. It measures exactly what it says, body fat!  Measuring body fat will help determine the composition of your weight loss – the goal is to maximize fat loss and minimize lean muscle loss. By having your body composition measured by a qualified professional, you can better establish goals which are truthful to your overall health.

Skinfold measurement is the most common technique used which usually includes taking measurements at 3 sites on the body. For women, the sites are the back of the arm, the abdomen (side of waist) and the thigh. A caliper is used to lightly pinch the skin and underlying fat. From these measurements, the amount of fat and lean body mass can be estimated. This quick and simple method of estimating body fat requires a high level of skill to get accurate results. Skinfold measurement is not 100% accurate, but having a skilled technician will help produce more accurate results. Your body fat measurement results should be used as a guide to help determine what steps to take in your health and fitness program.

General Body Fat Percentage Categories

Classification

Women (% fat)

Men (% fat)

Essential Fat

10-12%

2-4%

  Athletes

14-20%

6-13%

 Fitness

21-24%

 14-17%

Acceptable

25-31%

 18-25%

  Obese

32% plus

25% plus

By determining your percentage of body fat in proportion to lean muscle mass, you will have a clearer understanding of what you need to do to be fit and healthy. Don't be afraid of the mirror, as it can be a better indicator of your weight than any scale. Most of all, don't get caught in the weight trap, use it only as a guide in your quest towards better health.


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