Category

Body Composition

Body Fat % Doesn’t Always Give A Complete Picture 

By Blog, Body Composition, Fat mass, Fitness, Muscle
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on August 16, 2020for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on September 5, 2015.

If you’re using body composition tools like calipers to measure your body fat percentage to assess your health, then you’re already ahead of most (like those who are still using BMI).

But be aware that body fat percentage doesn’t always paint a complete picture when it comes to body composition. What’s more, decreases in your body fat percentage don’t always mean fat loss.  That’s because body fat percentage is a simple equation of your fat mass divided by your total weight.

Body Fat Percentage = Fat Mass / Total Weight

In some ways, body fat percentage is the most basic of all body composition results, because it only requires your Fat, Fat-Free Mass (or Lean Body Mass), and total weight.

While fat and fat-free mass are enough to give you a body fat percentage value, it isn’t always enough to explain changes in body fat percentages or give enough information to determine whether your body fat levels are healthy. You will get much more context about what your body fat percentage means if you look at it alongside things like Skeletal Muscle Mass. These are the muscles in your body that you can grow and develop through exercise.

Without assessing your amount of Skeletal Muscle Mass, your body composition assessments are going to be incomplete.  You won’t be able to fully understand the changes in your body fat percentage, and you may also be misled by what your body fat percentage means.  Here are a few examples:

1. You’re Working Out, But Body Fat % Doesn’t Change (or increases)

This situation can occur when you are working out to gain muscle in order to improve your physique, but you aren’t seeing the changes in the mirror that you hoped to see as quickly as you’d like. When you check your body fat percentage, you don’t see any change despite a month of hard workouts. What’s going on?

The first thing to check is to see if your weight has changed. It probably has. If your weight has increased but your body fat percentage remains unchanged, this likely means that your SMM is increasing at the same time as your Fat Mass. As you increase musculature, fat gain can occur due to the caloric surpluses required to increase SMM. This is a well-recognized phenomenon and is commonly referred to in gym-speak as “bulking.”

 

Additionally, situations can occur in which after initial drops in body fat percentage, the percentage rises right back where it used to be after a couple months.  Why?

This is because your body has entered what is referred to as an anabolic state – the condition in which your body increases muscle production.  Your body will require more calories than what you’re used to in order to build more muscle than it had before.

Not all of these calories, however, are going toward muscle development.  Being in a calorie surplus can lead to fat gain as well, which can cause an increase in body fat percentage.

2. You’re Losing Weight, But Your Body Fat % Doesn’t Change (or increases)

Similar to #1, this situation also involves little or no change in body fat percentage but instead of occurring due to anabolism, this time, catabolism is the driving force behind the change.

In catabolism, the body is focused on reducing tissue, not building it.  In order to lose weight, especially fat, the body should be in a catabolic state; in order to be in a catabolic state, the body needs to be in a caloric deficit (taking in fewer calories than needed).  In gym speak, this is referred to as “cutting.”

If you observe that you’re losing weight, but you don’t see the results in the mirror that you’d like to see and notice that your body fat percentage is unchanged, this is because your SMM and Fat Mass are actually decreasing together.

 

Why would Skeletal Muscle Mass decrease when you’re trying to target body fat only?  Although there isn’t a singular cause, the majority of the time this is caused by improper training and diet.

Most weight loss is a combination of body fat and skeletal muscle.  That much is unavoidable. For this reason, preserving or even increasing muscle becomes a priority when encouraging the body to enter a catabolic state.  This means ensuring your nutrient intake is balanced while engaging in some kind of resistance or weight training.

Many people neglect these important precautions and cause their body to metabolize muscle as well as fat.  Depending on how much muscle is lost, body fat percentages can drop extremely slowly, stay the same, or in extreme circumstances, increase.

3. Your Body Fat Percentage is Acceptable, But You’re Underweight

At first, this doesn’t seem like it makes sense – how can you be at a healthy body fat percentage, but not be healthy overall?  Simple: you’re underweight.

Underweight individuals may have enviable body fat percentages which can lead some people into believing that they are healthier than they actually are. However, if you are underweight, this means that you don’t have enough muscle mass.  Being underweight doesn’t get as much popular attention as being overweight does, but over time, being underweight can lead to the development of osteoporosis, which is diagnosed when a person has low bone density.

Not having enough muscle mass will also become problematic if you get sick.  When you become sick, the body’s need for amino acids to power its immune and recovery processes increases, and it will look to your muscle mass for those amino acids.  Essentially, your body will start to break down muscle in order to fight and recover from disease, and if you’re underweight with a healthy body fat percentage, you won’t have enough muscle to easily fight off illness.

4. Your Body Fat Percentage is Acceptable, But You Have Muscle Imbalances

Even if you are at a healthy weight and have an acceptable body fat percentage, only having Fat and Fat-Free Mass as results can hide potential issues. Because Fat-Free Mass is a catchall term for everything in your body that isn’t attributed to fat, an absolute value for Fat-Free Mass can’t describe how well developed this mass is in terms of your overall body composition.  In order to see that, you would need to take a closer look at how this mass is distributed segmentally.

Specifically, people can have well developed Lean Body Mass areas in some parts of their bodies but not in others.  Some people prefer developing upper body muscle while neglecting lower body muscle development. Others may have what’s referred to as a bilateral imbalance, which occurs when one side of the body is stronger than the other.  Here’s what that looks like from a body composition analysis viewpoint:

In this example, this person has almost one pound of muscle difference between their right and left arm.  Although this might seem more of an aesthetic problem, significant muscle imbalances such as the one shown above can also contribute towards injury.  Shoulder muscle imbalances in volleyball players, for example, have been shown to increase the onset of shoulder pain and injury.

It’s Just One Number

Although your body fat percentage is a very significant and useful number, relying on any one number, even an important number like body fat percentage, will never provide you with a complete picture about your overall health.  While body fat percentage is a very good way to assess your weight, it only takes Body Fat (and by extension Fat-Free) Mass and Weight into account.

In order to maintain your weight and understand the changes that your body experiences over time, including your change in body fat percentage, you will need more specific values than just Fat and Fat-Free Mass.  If you don’t compare your body fat percentage to Skeletal Muscle Mass, you won’t be able to:

  • Understand increases and decreases in body fat percentage
  • Maintain a healthy body fat percentage in respect to a healthy weight and muscle mass level
  • Determine if your muscles are balanced

Your body is a very complex system of many components all working together. That is why it is very important to get as much information as possible in order to understand your weight and your health properly. Calipers are a good a start, but in order to assess whether you have a healthy body composition try devices like a DSM-BIA device, that will go beyond body fat percentage and give you your muscle mass and body water results.

Cardio V.S Weights

Cardio vs Weights vs Concurrent: What’s better for body composition?

By Body Composition, Fitness, Muscle, Nutrition

Highlights

  • Aerobic Exercise- the ultimate exercise for increasing heart health, vascular health, and metabolic rate.
  • Resistance Training- the best training for gaining muscle strength and function. 
  • Concurrent Training- get the best of both aerobic and resistance training. 

When you think of exercise, what immediately comes to mind?

Going out for a jog? Loading up weights at the squat rack? Or maybe both?

All of those classify as exercise, but they serve different purposes. If you want to increase your squat 1-repetition maximum by 50 pounds, a daily cycling class won’t get you there.

It’s clear that your body adapts differently to different types of exercise, but how does that happen and what does it mean for your health?

This article will break down the benefits of different fitness regimens: aerobic, resistance, and concurrent training. In the process of reading this article, you will soon discover that your fitness goals can be achieved with some basic exercise physiology background!

What is Aerobic Training?

Aerobic exercise stimulates the heart and breathing rate to provide your muscles with oxygenated blood. The energy that powers such exercise is produced in muscle cells primarily via an oxidative pathway, meaning oxygen is required.

That explains all the heavy breathing when you go out for a run, doesn’t it?

That oxygen is delivered via blood being pumped from your heart, through your arteries, and returning to the heart through your veins.

So, it’s apparent that aerobic exercise primarily works two systems: energy production in your muscle cells and blood delivery in your cardiovascular system.

So how does this help you?

Does Aerobic Training Strengthen The Heart?

Aerobic exercise trains the heart to be stronger and more efficient at circulating blood. With aerobic exercise, the chamber of the heart (left ventricle) that pumps blood to the rest of the body literally gets larger and squeezes out more blood per pump, which means its stroke volume is increased. This results in an improved capacity for cardiac output, which is the quantity of blood pumped by the heart per minute.

If you’ve heard of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart), it may seem counterintuitive that a large left ventricle muscle is a beneficial adaptation to aerobic exercise. But, important characteristics differentiate an enlarged left ventricle due to healthy aerobic exercise training and one resulting from disease.

strong, efficient heart is exactly what you want in order to live a long and healthy life.

If your heart is bigger and stronger, pumping more blood per beat, it doesn’t have to beat as rapidly. That’s why you often hear of elite endurance athletes with resting heart rates in the 30’s and 40’s. This is more important than it may seem: lower resting heart rate is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

All these cardiac adaptations are aided by an increase in blood volume that occurs with aerobic exercise training. Without getting too technical, the expanded blood volume improves the heart’s contractility and filling capacity, allowing it to pump more blood per beat.

Although the heart is a different type of muscle than what’s in your arms or legs, it’s still subject to a related function. It contracts in order to move blood throughout the body. In addition to making it stronger and more efficient, you can also lighten the heart’s load by decreasing the resistance it faces.

How does aerobic training reduce arterial stiffness?

Each time the heart beats, arteries in the body provide resistance to the blood flowing.

The resistance provided by arteries is variable, though. Aerobic exercise training reduces the heart’s workload by reducing arterial stiffness.

When you perform aerobic exercise, your heart rate increases, pushing more blood through your arteries than at rest. The inner wall of your arteries feel the increased blood flow, and through a series of mechanisms, causes your arteries to widen.

As you train and your arteries experience this regularly, they become more effective at expanding. If you don’t regularly do aerobic exercise, your arteries never experience this stretch and they literally stiffen up (it is harder for your heart to pump blood through a stiff tube). Additionally, arterial stiffness is associated with coronary artery plaque development, the stuff that causes heart attacks.

Aerobic exercise also impacts your vascular system by promoting capillary growth. Capillaries are the microscopic vessels where oxygen diffuses from red blood cells to muscle (and other) cells.

Aerobic exercise requires increased oxygen delivery to the muscle to produce energy, so your body grows more capillaries to be able to better handle the energy demand.

How does aerobic exercise affect your metabolism?

Along with cardiovascular adaptation, aerobic exercise substantially impacts your muscles’ energy production system. Once blood delivers oxygen to the muscle cells, they still have to use it to produce energy that powers all the exercise you’re doing.

Aerobic exercise also relies to a great extent on breaking down fat molecules for energy, which can only happen within mitochondria.

Consequently, aerobic exercise training drastically improves your muscle cells’ ability to burn fat by generating more mitochondria and improving their functionality.

High-intensity aerobic exercise also increases your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), resulting in increased calorie burn after training sessions in addition to what you burned while exercising.  However, to maintain EPOC as you gain fitness, make sure to gradually progress your training intensity.

How Does Aerobic Training Impact Body Composition?

People who struggle with being overweight or obese have likely been told that aerobic exercise is a cornerstone of any weight loss routine.

The key to aerobic exercise is that it keeps the heart rate elevated for a continuous amount of time. While this will help to burn calories, it has specific impacts on body composition that people should keep in mind.

study published by the American Physiological Society took a look at the effects of regular exercise in adults. This study lasted eight months and placed adults on either aerobic training programs, resistance training programs, or a combined program. The researchers found that those in the aerobic training program lost more weight overall, including more fat mass than those in the resistance training program. On the other hand, those in the resistance training program gained more fat-free mass, including lean muscle.

To recap, aerobic training causes the cardiorespiratory system to adapt. It maintains heart function and health and keeps your energy metabolism system running.

Aerobic exercise is a jackpot for fitness and a key element of maintaining your health. But it may not get you big muscles or make your body much stronger…what will?

What Is Resistance Training?

 

Resistance exercise is training that progressively overloads your muscles. Some examples of resistance training would be traditional weightlifting, bodyweight exercises like pushups and pullups, and resistance band exercises. These types of exercises are meant to make your muscles bigger, stronger, more powerful, and more functional.

Specific adaptations to resistance training begin within the muscle cells. However, you’ll still get systemic benefits ranging from muscle growth to cardiovascular benefit.

To gain a deeper understanding of the whole-body performance and health effects of resistance training, read into how resistance exercise affects muscle at the microscopic level.

How does muscle adaptation work?

The point of resistance training is to make muscles function more effectively. This all starts with the contractile proteins that act to control muscle shortening and lengthening.

When you do resistance exercise, some of those proteins get yanked apart. That, along with the stress your muscle experienced, is the stimulus for your muscle to rebuild – this time bigger, stronger, or more powerful than before.

After resistance exercise, your muscle synthesizes proteins (this is aided by nutritional stimuli i.e. protein consumption). Special cells known as satellite cells also spring into action to help build up the broken down muscle. They normally lie quietly adjacent to muscle cells, but resistance exercise tells them to get to work.

Satellite cells combine with the muscle cells that were strained and damaged during your resistance training session. In doing so, they lend their molecular machinery to support protein synthesis that leads to muscle hypertrophy.

Resistance training with loads over 60% of your 1-repetition maximum results in hypertrophy of primarily type II fibers (‘fast-twitch’). These fibers are capable of rapid contraction with high force but tire more easily.

These micro-level adaptations matter to athletes and the general population alike. When you make measurable gains in muscle mass, strength, or power, you can thank the protein synthesis and fiber-specific adaptations that occurred within your muscle cells.

How does muscle hypertrophy occur? 

All those microscopic adaptations add up to cause changes that are easier to grasp. Resistance training at the proper intensity leads to measurable muscle hypertrophy. Strength improves in part due to changes to the neuromuscular system. Control over your muscles is typically a balance between competing neural signals. Some of those signals tell the muscle to contract, while others prevent contraction.

Regular resistance training can reduce neural inhibition that normally limits the strength and/or endurance of the muscle.

Muscle accounts for roughly 20% of resting energy expenditure, so it impacts on calorie burn and body composition is meaningful. Not only that, but you can’t increase the mass of most of the other organs that account for resting energy expenditure, like the liver, heart, brain, and kidney. Muscle is different because it hypertrophies, growing larger, and expending more calories.

By packing on muscle, not only do you increase strength, power, and function, but you also raise your basal metabolic rate. And by doing so, you’ll see an increase in your metabolism and an improvement in your health.

Does Weight Lifting Count as Cardio? 

If you’ve ever lifted weights or done resistance exercise, you’ve probably felt your heart pounding with the exertion.

Does that mean you’re getting cardiovascular and metabolic adaptations like you would with aerobic training?

Maybe not.

Resistance exercise does raise your energy expenditure. But it does so differently, and to a lesser extent, than aerobic exercise.

Resistance exercise trains your energy production systems but has less impact on the aerobic energy systems.

Is Resistance Training For Everyone?

Even if you’re not an athlete. Resistance training is important for functional fitness.

Functional strength training is defined as: “Training that attempts to mimic the specific physiological demands of real-life activities.” Unlike more traditional strength training (which focuses on specific muscle groups during each exercise), functional training focuses on whole muscle groups to train the body for daily demands.

A common misconception is that you may be too old for resistance training. But clinical data from a multitude of sources clearly shows the benefits of improving one’s functional fitness level, particularly for older adults.

Functional training such as resistance exercises and bodyweight movements can help you become stronger, more flexible, agiler and better equipped to handle day-to-day feats of strength and athleticism that are often overlooked. Plus, it can help you become less injury-prone.

study recruited seniors who were struggling with their physical abilities and placed them in a resistance-training exercise program. At the end, the researchers observed an increase in their fat-free mass, their muscle mass, their gait speed, and their overall physical capacity. This shows that resistance training not only improved body composition in the elderly but also helped to increase mobility to improve their ability to complete day to day activities.

How Does Resistance Training Impact Body Composition?

study found that regardless of the frequency of the resistance training program, participants increased overall muscle strength. The participants increased lean body composition.

Resistance training is a great way to increase lean muscle mass, and it improves the physical capacity of the elderly, leading to significant improvements in their quality of life. This evidence supports the positive capabilities resistance training has in both building lean body mass as well as maintaining lean mass in aging populations who are at risk of muscle loss.

These adaptations to resistance exercise impact your health and physical performance. Your muscles carry you through the day and increase performance if you’re an athlete.

Breaking down and building up muscle through resistance training is essential to maintaining function as you age. Loss of muscle mass even threatens some people’s capacity to live independently.

In terms of body composition, muscle mass is not only an important component to maintain, but it also contributes to your resting metabolism, helping you maintain a healthy energy balance.

Resistance training benefits the cardiovascular system, but its role is mainly for muscle gain and function.

But, how can you reap the benefits of both aerobic and resistance training? Do you just combine the two however you want?

What is Concurrent Training?

Concurrent training is the combination of both aerobic and resistance exercises within the same training session. Aerobic and resistance exercise impacts your body differently, so it follows that they each cause adaptations via different mechanisms.

How should I order my aerobic and resistance workouts?

In practice, aerobic/interval and resistance training don’t seem to interfere with each others’ adaptations all that much. But, understanding a few specifics about concurrent training will allow you to make good decisions about your exercise program.

The type of aerobic training determines how it interacts with resistance exercise adaptations. While strength and hypertrophy gains could be diminished by adding run training to a resistance program, cycling does not have the same effect.

Why? Researchers aren’t exactly sure. But it may have to do with two factors:

  • Cycling ergonomics are more similar to traditional lower-body resistance exercises
  • Eccentric muscle contractions in running result in muscle damage, while the concentric contractions in cycling do not (to the same extent).

The modality of aerobic exercise (running versus cycling) is important to understanding the effect of concurrent training, but so are frequency and duration. In some cases the more aerobic training you add to your program, the more you may impact muscular adaptation. So pair your training programs correctly; a running program in conjunction with an upper-body lifting exercise may benefit overall, but a running/leg press workout every day could interfere with one another.

And if you’re doing both aerobic and resistance exercise in the same session at the gym, or even on the same day, you’ll want to consider the order in which you do the exercises. It’s basically a matter of prioritization.

If your priority is on building aerobic fitness and performing well in a running race, do your aerobic exercise first in a session, followed by resistance exercise.

On the other hand, if your priority is building strength and muscle, you’ll want to do resistance exercise followed by aerobic.

However, the order probably doesn’t matter if you’re untrained.

The takeaway: if you’re untrained and haven’t set distinct fitness goals yet, don’t worry yet about the order of aerobic or resistance training. Do both and start exercising your way to health!

How do you develop a Concurrent Training program that’s right for you? 

If you’re just going to the gym to stay healthy, the benefit of gaining both aerobic and muscular fitness is well worth it.

To get the most benefit from your hard work at the gym, make sure to use these tips:

  • If your priority is muscle strength and growth, choose aerobic exercise like cycling rather than running to complement your lifting routine.
  • Consume enough protein and carbohydrates to stimulate muscle growth and recovery after workouts
  • If you alternate aerobic and resistance sessions, maximize recovery time between sessions (separate them by at least 6 hours)

Chances are that concurrent training is right for you, so go get started!

A Well-Rounded Exercise Program

As people continue to struggle with obesity and functional fitness as they age, exercise is more important than ever. It is vital to combine diet and exercise to not only lose weight but have a favorable impact on body composition and your lifespan.

Furthermore, it is important to have a well-rounded exercise routine that touches on all types of fitness. Aerobic exercise is effective at maintaining an elevated heart rate and losing fat-free mass. On the other hand, resistance training helps to build lean muscle mass. You can combine the two, with concurrent training, or jump into an explosive HIIT workout when you don’t have much time or need a motivation boost.

With this insight, you will be better equipped to understand why exercise is important for your health (a great motivator), how different types of exercise interact, and which ones are best suited for your needs.

Can Knowing Your Somatotype Help You Change Your Body Composition?

By Body Composition, Fitness

Are you one of those people who exercises regularly, but can’t understand why you don’t look like that person next to you at the gym? Do you get frustrated that your friend seems to be able to eat just about anything and never looks like they gain an ounce? Or how about those lucky individuals who have an outstanding athletic physique without even trying.

We are often quick to attribute these differences to the mysteries of different body shapes or somatotypes but rarely go beyond the basic body classifications to explore how our body types differ. What we should instead focus on are factors we can control instead of our genetics. How about we instead study how each different body types responds to factors like diet and exercise, and how we can work with our body type to effectively change or optimize our body composition.

Let’s examine each different somatotypes, see how you can use an understanding of your genetic predisposition to make better decisions to reach your specific body composition goal.

The Three Somatotypes

A somatotype is defined as a “quantitative overall appraisal of the present shape and composition of the human body.” Classifying different body types based on physique provides three generalized divisions of body typesendomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph. As with anything, it’s rare for someone to fall entirely into one somatotype. You might show a combination of qualities from two somatotypes, such as an ectomorph-endomorph hybrid or an endomorph-ectomorph.

There are countless articles about how having a general idea of where you fit on the somatotype scale can help give you the knowledge you need to make informed decisions in your quest to change your body composition. However, before we examine these claims more closely, let’s take a quick look at the general structures of the 3 somatotypes:

The Shapes

Ectomorphs

That super skinny friend of yours that often gets called a “stick” falls primarily into the somatotype category of an ectomorph. Naturally lean with a tendency towards long limbs, ectomorphs typically possess that slender look no matter what type of diet they consume. A lot of endurance runners and swimmers are ectomorphs. Although ectomorphs may have a decent amount of muscle, due to their long limb-length, they may appear visually to have less muscle development. Similarly, body fat also seems to get hidden by their long, slender figure – meaning ectomorphs seem to get away with a few extra pounds of fat. Because of this, if ectomorphs aren’t taking care of their health, they can become  skinny fat.

Mesomorphs

Mesomorphs are the natural athletes out of the three somatotypes. They are the lucky few, that can achieve a muscular physique without really trying. The physiology of a mesomorph tends to include narrow hips, wide back, and larger frame that contributes to an often muscular appearance. Many professional fighters, wide receivers, and basketball players fall are mesomorphs.

Endomorphs

Endomorphs are the larger structured somatotypes with both wide hips and shoulders but shorter arms and legs. This type of body shape is great for activities that require a lot of strength. When you think of endomorphs, think of rugby props, strength athletes, and powerlifters. Endomorph body-types are even considered to be a contributing factor in race performance in Ironman athletes.

The Composition

Recall the definition of somatotypes as having both a shape and composition component. While your shape may be set from the start, your body composition is not set in stone. So what are the general body compositions for these different somatotypes?

Ectomorphs look lean and often they do tend to get placed into the category of endurance athletes. People with these body types seem to struggle with gaining weight and altering their body composition through lean muscle mass gain. Their efforts in the gym may seem to have little effect visually, even causing frustration when trying to initiate a change.

Mesomorphs, on the other hand, have a larger frame that lends to the appearance of a body composition with a high percentage of lean muscle mass and a lower body fat percentage. The result is a more athletic, muscular look.

Endomorphs tend to have shorter, rounder frames, with the appearance of a large amount of both muscle and fat mass. However, due to their stockier features, body fat stored by these individuals tend to be more readily noticeable compared to the other body structures.

Now that we have a better idea of what these three somatotypes look like, let’s see what this really means for your body composition goals and whether or not you can make a difference despite your genetics.

Nature vs. Nurture

Considering somatotypes and body composition often leads to the question: Is our body type predetermined by our genetics or can you impact the way your body looks with my lifestyle choices? Numerous studies have investigated the hereditary implications of body composition and the effect of genetics versus environmental factors. Let’s take a look at what they’ve found.

We know that we inherit our genes from our parents. Studies do show a genetic connection between parents and children (nature)-– also reflected in similarities amongst siblings– with the maternal genes having a more significant impact in many cases.

So somatotype is hereditary, but external factors have an effect as well.

Lifestyle choices, like diet and exercise, both affect your overall body composition and can contribute to that slender or stocky look. There’s certainly a link between diet and body composition, where a diet (or lack thereof) can either promote or hinder your health goals. Similarly, your appearance will also greatly depend on the type of training you engage in and whether your goal is to build strength, size, or muscular endurance.

What does this tell us?

In a nutshell, while your body shape and size may be somewhat set in stone, your body composition is not.

Breaking Out of the Mold

It’s important to remember that somatotypes describe different body types in order to provide general guidelines for health and fitness. Remember, somatotypes are defined as a “quantitative overall appraisal of the present shape and composition of the human body.” While you may be genetically predisposed to have a certain body structure, your lifestyle can impact your body composition and cause your somatotype to change.

Let’s look at the example of the ectomorph. Ectomorphs have been implicated to be better at aerobic exercises like running or swimming. Intuitively, this makes sense. Having longer limbs helps increase stride length and a lower overall body fat percentage helps reduce resistance caused by excess body fat. Races have actually introduced the concept of “Clydesdale or Athena” runners since lower weight has been attributed to better running performance in marathons. Mesomorphs and endomorphs, on the other hand, may possess shorter limb length that may allow them to engage in more power and strength building activities, contributing to the image of these body types having greater musculature.

Now, let’s say an ectomorph wanted to become a powerlifter and achieve a larger figure, breaking out of his ectomorph shell.  Would he be condemned to the life of an ectomorph or can he still achieve one of the other body types?

Think about it this way: If an ectomorph ate cheeseburgers and milkshakes all day and lifted weights like a powerlifter, would he always look like an ectomorph or would his body shape eventually become more of a mesomorph type shape, or even an endomorph type shape?

The point is, just because you fall into a certain somatotype, doesn’t always mean you’re stuck in what your body type ‘should’ excel at. Take volleyball for example: a study looking at somatotype in elite volleyball players found that players in various positions had different somatotypes.

Furthermore, your somatotype doesn’t limit what you can do to change your body. A study conducted on weightlifters found that there were athletes from all body types scattered throughout the participants. So even if your genetics play a large role in predicting your body frame, you can still engage in the types of activities you enjoy to ensure your genetics don’t decide your overall body composition.

How Can This Information Help You Change Your Body Composition?

Genetics can prevent you from changing your body structure, but your shape doesn’t tell you what body composition you have to have. Knowing your somatotype can allow you to work with your body to make adjustments to factors you can control, rather than working against it and being constantly frustrated by your lack of success.

For example, many NBA athletes start their career with an ectomorphic frame due to their long torso and limb lengths in conjunction with their slender figure. With years of full-body strength training and conditioning, they shift their somatotype to a hybrid ectomorph-mesomorphic body type that makes them ideal bodies for the sport of basketball.

So remember, your body shape can change. Which brings up another important point – monitoring those changes in the long run. As a mesomorph, you may be happy to show off your naturally athletic-looking body at the pool, or as an ectomorph, you may enjoy the way dresses drape your long, slender frame.

But beware: like anyone else, you have to maintain a healthy body composition through healthy lifestyle choices. Despite your current body shape or health, you’re still at risk of sarcopenia (age-related muscle degradation) or fat accumulation due to unhealthy lifestyle choices like a poor diet or lack of physical activity.

Relying on the perks of your somatotype isn’t a long-term strategy for health and longevity. Continued resistance training, even simply once or twice a week at moderate intensity, can help prevent muscle loss related to aging and maintain an optimal body composition.

The More You Know

Understanding your somatotype can be helpful if you’re someone who has struggled to find a form of exercise that complements your physiology. You may be able to develop an exercise routine that feels more natural and easier to commit to if you consider your body structure. However, don’t let your current body structure impact your decision to do something you’re interested in, just because it’s not a perfect fit. While certain somatotypes may correlate with athleticism, there’s no specific gene that determines whether or not someone will become an elite athlete.

In conclusion, having a general idea of your somatotype and understanding your body structure can help you make the changes required to alter your body composition, However, the most effective way to achieve your body composition goals is still testing your body composition and tracking your changes.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to body composition. We come in all shapes and sizes, and discovering what works best with your somatotype will help you take the necessary steps to achieve your body composition goals.

***

Nikita Ross is a Precision Nutrition certified wellness coach and professional fitness writer. She believes that lifting both barbells and books is the key to self-improvement. Please consult to your doctor before you start any type of exercises, and get proper training program from certified personal trainers or coaches.

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on May 28, 2021for general public reference. It was originally published on November 21, 2018 in inbodyusa.com.

Your Body and You: A Guide to Body Water

By Body Composition

When it comes to your health, most of the focus is on body fat and muscle mass, which is important. But not to be overlooked is your body water. Water is a major part of your body: they make up 79% of your muscles , 73% of your brain, and even 31% of your bones. Overall your body weight can be 45-65% water.

Your body water percentage is influenced by your age, gender, and fitness level. Even though you are made up of mostly of water, how much do you really know about the effect this major element has on your body?

Body Water, Defined

Like discussed above, your body water can be found inside not only in your blood, but in your muscle tissue, your body fat, your organs, and inside every cell in your body.  To account for all this, your total body water (TBW) can be divided into two basic groups.

  • Extracellular Water (ECW)

Extracellular water is the water located outside your cells.  The water in your blood falls into this category. Roughly 1/3 of your fluid is attributed to ECW, and this water is found in your interstitial fluid, transcellular fluid, and blood plasma.

Extracellular water is important because it helps control the movement of electrolytes, allows oxygen delivery to the cells, and clears waste from metabolic processes.

  • Intracellular Water (ICW)

Intracellular water is the water located inside your cells.  It comprises 70% of the cytosol, which is a mix of water and other dissolved elements.  In healthy people, it makes up the other 2/3 of the water inside your body.

The intracellular water is the location of important cellular processes, and although it has many functions, a very important one is that it allows molecules to be transported to the different organelles inside the cell.  Essentially, the Intracellular water picks up where the Extracellular water left off by continuing the pathway for fuel to be transported to the cells.

Balance is the Key

When it comes to your body water and you, the most important thing to strive for is balance. Your Intracellular fluid:Extracellular fluid must remain at the same levels with respect to each other.

A healthy fluid distribution has been estimated at a 3:2 ratio of ICW:ECW. If your body water falls out of balance, this can signal changes in your health and body composition. Whether these changes are positive or negative depend on which type of water becomes unbalanced.

Increased  ICW

Having slightly more ICW than normal isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can signal positive changes in your body composition. 

Increased muscle mass is due to the enlargement of the number and size of muscle cells.  When the muscle cells become enlarged, they are able to take in (and require) more ICW in order to power their cellular functions.  Research has shown that resistance exercise can lead to increased intracellular water in humans. Increased ICW as a result of exercise is a sign of increased Lean Body Mass, which is a very good thing and has positive health benefits, including:

  • Increased Energy Use

Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you burn at rest.  It is the baseline for the calories you need every day in order for your body to operate and maintain daily functions.  With increased Lean Body Mass, your energy needs will increase as a result of a higher BMR. If you don’t increase your daily calorie intake, but increase your Lean Body Mass/BMR, you will create a calorie deficit – which can lead to body fat loss.

  • Increased Strength

Your Lean Body Mass is sometimes described as your fat free mass.  Your Lean Body Mass accounts for all your weight due to water, muscle mass, bone, and protein.  One of the easiest ways to influence the amount of Lean Body Mass you have is to increase your muscle mass.  Generally, increased muscle mass leads to increased strength.

  • Increased Immune System

Increased Lean Body Mass through exercise has been associated with increased immune system functionality.  This will help your body fight off illnesses more easily.

Excess ECW

If your ECW increases in relation to your ICW, this is something you should take special note of.  Unlike ICW, you do not want to see your ECW increasing beyond normal levels. Excess ECW can indicate health risks, including:

  • Inflammation

During inflammation, the body sends additional blood flow to the damaged area.  This causes an increase of extracellular water in a particular area. Inflammation occurs when part of the body gets damaged or bruised and is a normal bodily response to injury.  This is called acute inflammation, and is a temporary increase in ECW.

Chronic inflammation, however, is something more serious that isn’t always readily detected. It is marked by long-term swelling/ECW increases caused by cellular stress and dysfunction. Chronic inflammation can lead to serious diseases if allowed to persist over time, including renal failure, cancer, and heart disease. including renal failure, cancer, and heart disease.

  • Renal Disease (Kidney Failure)

One of the kidneys’ major functions is to filter your blood and remove toxins produce in the body.  One important substance that the kidneys filter out is sodium, an element that is found in salt.

When your diet includes more sodium than your kidneys can filter out, which occurs in people who have failing kidneys, your extracellular water levels will increase.  In some cases, this increased extracellular water shows in visible swelling throughout the body and is a condition known as edema. Edema can cause additional strain on the body by contributing to weight gain, blood pressure, and other complications.

  • Unhealthy Fat Mass Levels (Obesity)

Obese individuals are characterized by having too much body fat, which among other things, leads to body water disruption due to excess ECW.  This is because excess visceral fat can trigger production hormones that can lead to the disruption of a bodily system called RAAS.  This excess ECW causes stress in the body due to its effects on the internal organs, which can exacerbate obesity and cause a dangerous cyclic effect.

Determining Balance

Since it’s so important to keep an eye on your fluid balance, you’ll need to know how you can determine yours. There are two major methods to measure and determine your fluid levels.  These are the dilution method and the BIA method.

The dilution method involves drinking a known dose of heavy water (deuterium oxide) and allowing it to distribute around the body.  Once the water has had time to settle, the amount of heavy water is compared with the amount of normal water. The proportion will reflect the amount of total body water.  To determine ECW, sodium bromide is used instead of heavy water.

The dilution method is recognized as a gold standard for measuring total body water; however, these tests would need to be done at a hospital under the guidance of a trained physician.  This test takes several hours to complete during which any fluid of any type going in or out of the body has to be carefully recorded.

For these reasons, you’re unlikely to have this test performed unless your doctor needs to know your total body water with absolute certainty because of a serious health complication.

The second, more accessible method to determine body water content is bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA).  For most people who do not have serious medical issues, this method is much more practical than the dilution method.

A small electrical current is applied to the body, and the opposition that current experiences (impedance), is measured.  From that impedance result, a BIA device can report your body water percentage. Advanced BIA devices are able to reflect the difference in Intracellular and Extracellular water as well, which can reveal the ICW:ECW balance.

Bringing Yourself Back Into Balance

Maintaining a balanced ratio of approximately 3:2 is ideal for optimal health.  If you find that this ratio is beginning to fall out of balance, there are some things you can do.  Fortunately, these tips aren’t anything you already haven’t heard before: maintaining a healthy diet, staying hydrated by drinking enough water, and exercising regularly.

Avoiding excess ECW is ideal.  From a dietary standpoint, one simple change that can work to reduce excess ECW is reducing the amount of sodium (salt) in your diet. Sodium is located primarily in your ECW, and when excess sodium is introduced into the body, the body’s natural response is to draw water out of your cells at the expense of your ICW.  Reducing your sodium intake has a number of positive health benefits, so this tip can be considered simply a best practice for optimal health in addition to being a tactic for reducing high ECW.

On the flip side, increasing your ICW can be achieved by increasing your Lean Body Mass/increasing muscle mass through exercising.  As the muscle cells increase in size, they will require more water to maintain their function. Exercise has the additional benefit of combating obesity, and as fat mass is reduced, ECW increases due to obesity will decline over time.

As you can see, body water can be an important indicator of your overall health.  Without a healthy ICW:ECW ratio your body will begin to have problems.

The best thing you can do for proper body water balance is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If you can achieve a healthy lifestyle, your body water will fall into balance naturally.  The first step would be to find out where your body water levels are today, so you can start planning for a healthier life now.

 

How to Stop Overeating Once and For All

By Body Composition, Diet, Nutrition

At dinner last night, one slice of chocolate cake somehow turned into half a cake…

Today, you stuffed yourself with five buttery rolls at the office potluck. That wouldn’t have been so bad if you didn’t eat three plates of food.

We’ve all been there, and we all know how those post-binge episodes go — from guilt to frustration to promising yourself that it’s going to be the last time you stuff yourself with unhealthy food! (Not to mention the dreaded food coma…)

You thought you’ve overcome overeating for good, yet it turns out that you’re back to square one when it comes to getting your cravings under control.

Why is it so hard to break out of this cycle?

Is there a way to kick this ceaseless habit for good?

Does it have to do with self-control and having an endless supply of willpower?

Or is there some otherworldly, mystical force that you need to tap on in order to break free from binge-eating episodes?

To help us figure out if it’s sorcery or science, this article is divided into two parts.

First, you’ll learn about the possible reasons why it’s so tempting to finish a large box of pizza all by yourself. Second, you’ll discover how to put an end to compulsive overeating and finally take your body composition goals seriously.

With obesity affecting more than one-third of the U.S. adult population, getting out of the binge-diet cycle remains a puzzle to many.

To have a greater understanding as to how overeating happens, it makes sense to initially get a grasp of how our appetite, or the desire to eat, works.

Understanding Overeating

How Appetite Works

It’s worth noting that appetite is a tad different from hunger. Think of hunger as a need to eat while appetite is more like a desire to snack mindlessly even after you had lunch.

At a fundamental level, hunger and appetite are both influenced by a network of pathways involving the neuroendocrine system. Appetite regulation, satiety, and energy balance involve the following:

The smart folks over at ASAPscience simplified the science of hunger and cravings in a two-minute video below. It talks about the body’s hunger-regulation system and why we’re tempted to go for second helpings.

In essence, high-calorie foods rich in fat and sugar were extremely desirable to our hunter-gatherer ancestors for survival because they were scarce. However, this instinct for fatty and sugary meals still remain even though these types of food are now available 24/7.

Eventually, the continual intake of high-calorie fat and sugar-laden food overrides the human body’s natural hunger regulation system, leading to habitual overeating.

In a nutshell, the more you gorge on food laced with too much fat and sugar, the more likely that you’re going to get addicted to it.

On Homeostatic and Hedonic Hunger

portion control

Another way of understanding appetite is to look at it from the perspective of eating for two main reasons— as a response to hunger (homeostatic) and for pleasure (hedonic).

In a review of studies differentiating the two, the researchers described that homeostatic hunger is the result of the prolonged absence of energy intake or the food itself, while hedonic hunger is strongly influenced by the availability and palatability of food in your environment. Furthermore, a 2016 study found out that intense feelings of pleasure derived from palatable foods (hedonic hunger) predicts the likelihood of losing control when eating among female college freshmen.

 

Why You Really Overeat and Binge

indulgence in ice cream

At first thought, it seems like putting an end to overeating is simply a matter of telling your brain to stop consuming food. Yet we all know that it’s not that easy, right?

Your brain may be the main driving force behind your cravings, but it’s not acting alone.

The frequency and the amount of food you finish is also influenced by a complex interaction of the following factors:

1. Genetic Influences

Your gut, hormones, and brain may be working together to control appetite, but your genetic makeup also has a say as if you’re the type to overindulge.

For instance, a London study on children revealed that genetic influences on weight and abdominal fat accumulation are high in children who are born since the onset of the childhood obesity epidemic. Furthermore, there is evidence indicating that specific genes can possibly impact your likelihood of frequent LOC (loss of control) eating episodes.

2. Environmental Influences

Environmental factors also contribute to the rise of food cravings. These factors include the atmosphere of the room and the presence/absence of distractions during meals. This also applies to social and cultural cues. Remember a time when you overindulged because everyone seems to be in the mood for feasting?

Finally, child feeding practices by parents during the first years of childhood tend to impact one’s eating behavior later in life. A review of studies on the parental influence on eating behavior revealed the following interesting findings:

  • Restrictive feeding practices by caregivers are associated with overeating and poorer self-regulation of food intake among preschool-age children.
  • Restricting access to palatable snacks and desserts like cookies in children may be counterproductive because it will eventually promote their intake.
  • Higher levels of parental control and pressure to eat healthily were associated with lower fruit and vegetable intakes and higher intake of dietary fat among young girls.

3. Psychological Influences

Did you know that not sleeping enough or getting stressed over finals week could lead to you reaching out for the cookie jar 5x a day when we’re not actually hungry?

It turns out that your appetite and hunger regulation is also influenced by these behavioral factors.

In fact, evidence from longitudinal studies suggests that chronic life stress may be linked to weight gain, with a greater effect seen in men.  Furthermore, your work schedule can also impact how much you eat. A study revealed that shift workers may be particularly vulnerable to the tendency to eat the largest meals in the evening as they remain awake longer during the times when you naturally feel hungry for high calorie sweet, salty, and starchy foods.

 

Your Action Plan to Curb Overeating (Without Depriving Yourself)

Whether it’s stress or social pressure that’s driving you to overeat, we all know how frustrating it is to realize that you gave in to your cravings (again!). The good news is you can do something the next time you’re about to open your third bag of chips.

For a start, consider the following easy yet sustainable solutions to put an end to overeating, minus the horrible feeling of self-deprivation.

1. Learn to recognize the difference between homeostatic and hedonistic hunger.

As mentioned earlier, you can eat because you’re hungry but you can also eat for pleasure.

It can be a struggle to figure out the difference between the two because it requires you to be more mindful and listen to your body. As a result, misinterpreting these signals can lead to overeating.

While these cues will differ from one person to another (as well as depend on the time of day), you can learn to recognize your motivation for eating and adjust your eating habits by asking the following question:

Am I eating as a response to a physical cue (e.g. growling stomach, headache) or am I eating because I am feeling stressed, anxious, or overjoyed?

Whether you’re stressed about deadlines or bummed about your annual employee performance review, talking to a friend or journaling may be more helpful than emotional eating.

2. Be mindful of your “food environment”.

food environment

Your “food environment” may be divided into two parts:

  1. Your social interaction and the overall atmosphere of your environment
  2. How your food is served

To help promote a positive food environment, consider the following best practices:

  • Keep an eye on your portions.

Before eating two bagels in one sitting, savor one piece instead. Furthermore, you might also want to use smaller plates and bowls to avoid taking in too much when you’re in a buffet. Research reveals that larger plates can make a serving of food appear smaller, and smaller plates can lead people to misjudge the same serving size of food as being significantly larger.

  • Press pause (whether on your TV or phone) until you’re done with lunch or dinner.

When you’re distracted, you tend to eat mindlessly. As a result, you’ll be less sensitive to satiety cues because your brain is paying more attention to other things.

  • Be like the Okinawans in Japan by only eating until your 80 percent full.

Known for having one of the longest life expectancies in the world,  Okinawans call this practice as “Hara Hachi Bu”, and this can be a useful guideline to help stop overeating.

  • Eat slowly.

A Greek study found that eating at a slower pace tended to increased fullness and reduce hungry feelings in overweight and obese participants.

Surround yourself with people who are taking steps to eat more mindfully.

Whether it’s your co-worker who’s into calorie counting or your brother who’s a geek when it comes to meal planning, being around others who eat mindfully will help reinforce your own good habits and perhaps teach you some new tips and tricks as well.

3. Make tiny adjustments to your daily habits that may impact your eating behavior.

Curbing overeating is not about making massive changes in your life but rather making tiny adjustments to your daily habits.

Going on a “healthy” detox diet or juice cleanse right after binging may help your weight loss temporarily, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. Instead, you’ll likely end up going through the same cycle of overeating, feeling guilty, restricting yourself, and giving in again to cravings. That’s why making smaller healthy changes is more effective for changing your lifestyle permanently.

These are three examples of tiny adjustments you can make to your daily habits.

  • Stop skimping on sleep, pronto.

As mentioned earlier, lack of sleep can lead to eating more and sabotage your weight loss efforts. Are you struggling to get a good night’s sleep? Establishing a consistent bedtime routine may be a good start. An irregular bedtime schedule is linked to poor sleep quality.

  • Eat breakfast when you can.

There may be some exceptions (like when you’re doing intermittent fasting), but skipping your morning meal usually leads to overeating because you end up feeling famished throughout the day. On the other hand, a healthy high protein breakfast has been shown to stabilize blood sugar levels, increased satiety, and reduced hunger cues.

  • Do whole food swaps instead of cutting out certain foods entirely or adopting crazy diets.

Remember how high-calorie food that’s loaded with salt and sugar tends to encourage overeating? That why food choices are important. By opting for whole food alternatives, you will eventually reduce your cravings for unhealthy sweets and salty treats.

Don’t just adopt the latest trending diet and toss all the junk food residing in your fridge right away. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 80 percent of your daily meals from whole food sources and devote the rest to the not-so-healthy food items. And when the craving hits reach for a healthy snack like fruit or nuts. By doing so, you won’t feel deprived, which in turn can lead to another binging episode.

Special Note on Food Addiction

A lot of people can relate to overeating (because it happens to the best of us too!) but food addiction is a different story. If you feel that your binging episodes has turned into more than just a bad habit that you can change, seek professional help.

The Takeaway: Mindful Eating Can Go a Long Way for Your Body Composition

mindfulness with food

If you’ve noticed, the majority of the points discussed in the action plan has something to do with mindfulness.

Recognizing if you’re truly hungry or simply eating as a response to stress or other environmental factors requires constant practice and a heightened sense of self-awareness.

The idea of mindfulness may sound like a meditation fad or just another self-help woo-woo. However, mindfulness-based interventions in addressing compulsive overeating and other obesity-related eating behaviors have gained popularity recently. In fact, a systematic review of related studies on the topic supports its efficacy.

Overall, beating overeating and taking your body composition seriously begins with this single step—uncover the reason behind your binging habit. Keep in mind that you need to know the “why” first before diving into the “how” of putting an end to your tendency to overeat. Once you figure out your “why” the benefits are tremendous: a healthier relationship with food, weight loss, and a better sense of control. Good luck and here’s to a happier more mindful life.

***

Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher.  After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.

Are Abs Really Made in the Kitchen?

By Body Composition, Nutrition

There’s an oft-used saying that “abs are made in the kitchen.

The underlying theory, for those who haven’t heard this before, is that what you eat is more important than how much you exercise if you want to see defined abdominal muscles.

How much truth is there to this mantra? Are Instagram perfect abs really made simply by watching what you eat? Or can you just do a thousand crunches a day and reveal your six-pack that way?

In this article, we’ll 1) break down the science of nutrition vs. exercise and how each impacts body composition, 2) look at a few different types of diet plans and their effects on the body, 3) decide whether the saying “abs are made in the kitchen” is fact or fiction.

Let’s jump right in.

Background

The notion of “abs are made in the kitchen” is based on the fact that it is so much easier to gain calories than it is to burn it off through exercise.

 

This makes sense when you attach some numbers to it.

For example, let’s say your preferred exercise routine is swimming a few days a week. On average, you can expect to burn 400-700 calories in an hour.

But if you go home and scarf down a couple pieces of pizza, you can quickly take in the same amount of calories in a matter of minutes.

So from a time/practicality standpoint, it’s much easier to reduce your caloric intake by 400 – 600 calories a day and create the same calorie deficit as swimming/running for an hour.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that creating a calorie deficit through diet has the same effects on body composition as exercise.

First, we’ll look at some studies that weigh in (pun intended) on exercise.

How Exercise Impacts Body Composition

In a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, 320 post-menopausal women ranging in weight from normal to obese were split into two groups. The first were asked to do 45 minutes worth of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise, 5 times a week for a full year (they actually ended up averaging about 3.6 days per week). The second group did not exercise. And neither group was asked to improve nutrition or try portion control.

After one year, the exercise group lost an average of 5.3 pounds of body fat.

That’s a lot of work to lose 5 pounds of fat.

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, may be a more efficient approach to improving your body composition, especially in the abdominal region. One study compared two groups who exercised at different intensities: one that did three days a week of high-intensity exercise and another that did five days a week of low-intensity exercise. After 16 weeks, the high-intensity exercise group lost both more abdominal visceral and subcutaneous fat than the steady-state exercise one.

So it appears exercise, specifically high-intensity exercise, can produce faster results if you want to see those abs.

Next, let’s see what type of impact diet has.

How Diet Affects Body Composition

There are many different diet plans for those hoping to lose fat and/or increase lean body mass. We’ll look at some of the most popular and review which are effective for changing body composition and which need to be studied more.

Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet (or “Paleo” for short), consists of eating foods that are assumed to have been available to humans prior to the establishment of modern agriculture. If the caveman didn’t eat it, it’s out. This includes eating things like lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, eggs, and nuts. It excludes foods like grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, and processed oils.

Paleo is relatively new (in terms of nutrition research) and therefore doesn’t have a whole lot of credible evidence on its impact on body composition specifically. One meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the Paleo to 4 control diets based on U.S. nutrition guidelines.

The researchers found that the Paleo led to greater short-term improvements in waist circumference, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure.

It’ll interesting to see if Paleo proves to be more effective than other diet plans on improving body composition as more studies become available.

Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet (or “Keto” ) consists of eating high fat, moderate protein, and very low carb foods. It’s similar to Paleo but carbs are restricted to 25-50 grams per day.

A 2013 meta-analysis that compared Keto to a low-fat nutritional plan suggests that keto is more effective for weight loss as well as improvement of cardiometabolic health.

Another study that compared the ketogenic diet to a low-fat diet found that Keto was effective in short-term body weight and fat loss. On top of that, it appears that Keto may support preferential fat loss in the trunk area, although this requires further validation.

Finally, a study in which men performed resistance training three times a week and compared body composition effects of keto vs. the traditional Western diet found that the ketogenic group experienced significant fat mass loss, as well as lean body mass gains, compared to the Western diet group.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is based on typical foods and recipes of Mediterranean-style cooking (native to Italy, Greece, Spain, etc.).

This includes large quantities of fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, fish and olive oil. The Mediterranean diet is one of the most studied diets and for good reason: It has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Let’s see what type of impact, if any, it has on body composition though.

One study on 248 healthy women published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the Mediterranean diet could help reduce body fat levels.

Another study in subjects with coronary artery disease showed that adherence to the Mediterranean diet significantly reduced body fat mass and percent body fat.

A meta-analysis published in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders concluded that the Mediterranean diet “may be a useful tool to reduce body weight, especially when the Mediterranean diet is energy-restricted, associated with physical activity, and more than 6 months in length.”

Finally, when researchers looked at the Mediterranean diet’s effects on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor levels in overweight or obese individuals trying to lose weight and compared them to low-fat diets, they found that the Mediterranean diet produced greater weight loss.

Diets: The Bottom Line

Science shows there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to dieting. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed 59 studies with various nutritional recommendations (low-fat, low-carb, etc).

Researchers found that weight loss differences between individual diets were small. Participants were able to change their body composition (lose weight) with both low carb and low-fat diets.

However, getting the right amount of protein seems to be one of the most important things you can do to improve your body composition.

In another meta-analysis of 87 studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets favorably affect body mass and composition.

So it seems the consensus is that eating more protein can also help you preserve lean body mass when dieting.

Now, let’s look at the most effective approach for getting a six pack: combining a high protein/low carb diet with different types of exercise like cardio and strength training. This is where things get interesting.

How Exercise Combined with Diet Impacts Body Composition

According to another study published in the journal Obesity that compared the effect of dieting and exercising (alone or combined) on weight and body composition in overweight-to-obese post-menopausal women, the diet-only group achieved more weight loss than the exercise-only group. However, the greatest effects were seen in the combined diet/exercise group, “where 60% of participants achieved ≥10% weight loss at 1 year.”

Other studies show similar results: a combination of dieting and exercising works best if you want to lose fat (which is how you will see your abdominal muscles).

The question is, are certain types of exercise (resistance training, long duration cardio, etc) more effective than others for improving your body composition?

In a 2015 review published in the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders, researchers analyzed 66 clinical studies and came to the following conclusions:

  1. Exercise in combination with diet led to the most significant changes in body composition.
  2. The combination of resistance training and diet was more effective than endurance training or a combination of endurance and resistance training at altering body composition measures (reduction of body mass and fat mass).

Conclusion

Making adjustments to how you eat can lead to more fat loss in less time compared to exercise alone.

So, the verdict? Abs are made in the kitchen and the gym.

Like anything worth achieving in life, getting a six-pack takes both work and knowledge. Doing 1000 crunches and 1 hour of cardio a day won’t help you see your abdominal muscles any faster if you don’t make the right changes to your diet.

“Spot reduction” is also another myth. You can target your abs and core with resistance training that help with the muscles in that area, but you also need to lose overall body fat to see the definition in those abdominal muscles– and that requires a combination of diet and exercise.

So where do you go from here?

First, determine your body composition goals. If your goal is to lose fat and gain more definition, then you’re going to have to eat at a calorie deficit. If your goal is to increase lean body mass and lose fat, then your diet and exercise regimen may look different.

At the end of the day, the best exercise/nutritional plan is the one you can stick with. Once you find the right approach for you, you can make it a lifelong habit. That’s what will give you your six-pack.

***

Scott Christ is a health and wellness entrepreneur, writer, and website strategy consultant. He’s also the creator of the world’s healthiest plant-based protein powder.

How to Use HIIT to Improve Your Body Composition

By Body Composition, Fitness

If you’ve been trying to get in shape recently and you’ve been scouring the Internet for effective workout styles, chances are you’ve stumbled upon something called HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training.

Over the years, professional athletes and fitness buffs alike have sworn by this training method.

Whether it’s lowering fat mass or increasing muscle gain, you’re probably wondering if it’s the right workout type that will help you attain your body composition goals as quickly as possible.

Read on below for a closer look of this popular workout style and how you can use it to effectively attain your desired body composition outcomes.

The Lowdown on HIIT

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is based on the premise that short, explosive burst of activities can have a huge, lasting impact on your body composition. In a nutshell, it’s not about how long you’re exercising but rather how intense you’re performing the workouts within a certain period of time.

In a typical HIIT routine, you alternate between intervals of quick, intense bursts of exercise and short, sometimes low intensity, periods of rest. Here’s how the American Council on Exercise (ACE) describes HIIT:

Most endurance workouts, such as walking, running, or stair-climbing —are performed at a moderate intensity, or an exertion level of 5-6 on a scale of 0-10. High-intensity intervals, on the other hand, are done at an exertion level of 7 or higher, and are typically sustained for 30 seconds to 3 minutes, although they can be as short as 8-10 seconds or as long as 5 minutes; the higher the intensity, the shorter the speed interval. Recovery intervals are equal to or longer than the speed intervals.

Running HIIT-style involves intervals of 30 to 60 seconds of running near your peak of ability. You follow this almost breathless (but definitely not winded) running with a comparable cool-down period of walking. For instance, you can do a short sprint upstairs and walk back down four times in a row.

While there’s no specific set of guidelines as to how often you should do HIIT,  alternating periods of high-intensity and low-intensity activities at least three times a week as part of your exercise routine is a good rule of thumb to reap its benefits. One study in the European Journal of Endocrinology reported that male subjects following an 8-week HIIT program experienced muscle gain and lost a significant amount of abdominal fat mass, even though the program included no weightlifting.

The great thing about HIIT is you can apply interval training to almost any type of workout — from interval running to doing explosive laps at the pool to your twice-a-week kettlebell routine. This means that you can continuously mix things up in your routine so you won’t get bored and give up on our body composition goals.

HIIT and Its Impact on Body Fat

Let’s look at HIIT’s impact on body fat.

HIIT has been shown to be effective in torching body fat more than other types of exercise. In terms of belly fat, studies found that HIIT workouts help reduce both visceral (fat mass around the organs) and subcutaneous (under the skin) fat.

Another study compared the results between a group of participants who committed to three days a week of high-intensity exercise routine and another group who did five days a week of low-intensity exercise. After sixteen weeks, the researchers discovered that the participants who committed to high-intensity exercise routine for three days a week lost more fat than the group who showed up for low-intensity steady-state exercise.

HIIT’s significant role in reducing fat mass is good news if you’re not seeing consistent results in reducing your body fat percentage (particularly that stubborn belly fat) despite your regular workout routine.

HIIT and Its Impact on Muscle Mass

As for HIIT’s possible role in building lean muscle mass, let’s take a look at the findings of a study published last year in the Journal of Diabetes Research.

The researchers compared the effects of five weeks of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) among overweight and obese, young women in terms of cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and blood glucose.

Participants in the HIIT group performed 60 repetitions of high-intensity interval exercise — at 8 seconds of cycling at 90% of peak oxygen consumption, and 12-second rest on a cycle ergometer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, participants in the MICT group performed continuous cycling exercise at 65% of peak oxygen consumption for 40 minutes.

In terms of lean mass changes, the researchers concluded the following:

“..the MICT group experienced significantly decreased total lean mass (TLM) and leg LM. Meanwhile, TLM and leg LM in the HIIT group were unchanged. ”

Based on the study’s findings, here’s what we know so far:

  • HIIT may not be the most effective workout routine to build lean muscle mass
  • HIIT, however, can help preserve or retain lean muscle mass, while MICT can potentially make you lose lean muscle mass if you’re trying to lose fat mass at the same time

One of the many benefits of HIIT is that it increase the proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers over slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Why is this important? Fast twitch fibers are a main factor of your strength and speed. They are also very important to train in that if you don’t use them, you lose them, especially as you get older. That being said, you can see how important muscle gain is when you are young, in order to maintain your strength and speed (reflexes) as you age.

While HIIT may not be as effective in increasing muscle mass, it does offer potential benefits to achieve that sculpted look.  However, if your main goal is to build muscle mass, bodybuilding or weight training may be your best bet. Here’s an in-depth look between bodybuilding and HIIT to improve body composition. You can note also that both these methods may be used in conjunction to help you to attain your desired body composition.

Additional Benefits of HIIT

Besides helping improve your body composition through fat mass loss, HIIT also provides the following benefits:

  • Short yet explosive bursts of exercise may be more effective in boosting your V02 max— a measure of aerobic endurance— than performing the same exercise at a slower pace. This can help you to use oxygen more efficiently and increase exercise performance.
  • Incorporating HIIT workouts into your exercise routine is more time-efficient. This study reveals that you get the same cardiovascular effects from traditional endurance training in HIIT in just a couple minutes.
  • New research findings published last April concluded that HIIT improves glucose metabolism in muscles and boosts insulin sensitivity among type 2 diabetics.
  • HIIT is perceived as a more enjoyable activity than moderate-intensity continuous exercise. This finding suggests that HIIT will likely promote long-term exercise adherence than other workout styles.
  • In a 2015 study comparing the afterburn effect, also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC, HIIT (as well as weight training) reigns supreme over regular cardio up to 21 hours post-workout. The more oxygen your body requires to return to its resting metabolic state, the more calories you burn. This means that HIIT can help you burn more calories even after a day (or almost) you exercised.

Making the Most of Your HIIT Workout

To help you accomplish and maintain body composition success, there are various types of HIIT methods to choose from — from the Tabata protocol to turbulence training. Plus, HIIT can be applied to almost every workout routine or fitness setup out there. You can do CrossFit, engage in bodyweight workouts, or even do HIIT with Pilates.

Regardless of the workout routine or HIIT method you prefer, you can make the most of your HIIT routine by sticking to the following best practices:

  • Don’t forget to do some warm-up before you engage in explosive, high-intensity moves.
  • Aim for at least three-to-five minute intervals completed at least six times. This interval has been shown to provide long-term sustainable results in a systematic review of studies on HIIT protocols that are most effective.
  • Complement your HIIT routine with other workout styles or training programs such as yoga or trail running to keep things interesting.
  • Incorporate as many muscle groups as you can. Using more muscle groups will help to burn more calories!
  • Use your own body’s cues to gauge exertion level. For example, you’re doing it right if you can say single words in the middle of your HIIT routine but you should not be able to complete whole sentences. So if you still find yourself chatting it up at the gym in between reps and you’re not seeing results, maybe it’s high time to pump up the effort level a few notches.
  • Watch what and how much you eat. The best HIIT routine in the world will amount to nothing in the long run if you’re not mindful of your diet and nutritional needs.
  • If you have existing health issues,  it’s best to consult with your doctor or healthcare professional first before engaging in HIIT.

It’s All About Consistency

To benefit the most from any form of HIIT, build a habit of doing it consistently. Even if you can only spare a few minutes, you can effortlessly incorporate these quick interval workouts to your day.

How about getting off your social media of choice for about half an hour to do HIIT? Perhaps you can do reps with your officemates during lunch hour.

The next time you feel like exercise is a chore or a task that you need to check off your to-do list, introduce HIIT into your workout routine! You might not know it but a quick, fun HIIT sesh may be the missing piece in bidding adieu (finally!) to your current body composition woes.

***

Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher.  After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food. 

Source: https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/how-to-use-hiit-to-improve-your-body-composition/

All About Fiber and Its Dirty Little Secrets

By Body Composition, Nutrition

Ask anyone knowledgeable in nutrition about the benefits of fiber and the positives will trump over the negatives. People claim this type of carbohydrate will help you reduce your risk of certain cancers, lower your type 2 diabetes risk, and help with weight loss as it supposedly reduces appetite and increase satiety. In other words, fiber is magic and should be given the same amount of adoration that we shower antioxidants and the rest of the nutritional superstars with.

Yet when was the last time you fact-checked fiber’s benefits? What if we dig deeper into recent nutrition research to learn more?

In this article,  we’ll put fiber in the limelight and sort myths from facts. While mainstream beliefs will tell you that adding lots of fiber to your daily diet is key to good health, let’s figure out if this advice is scientifically sound, especially when it comes to sustainable weight loss and improving your body composition.

Know Thy Fiber

Before we dive into separating myths from established facts and findings, let’s cover the basics.

Dietary fiber, sometimes referred to as roughage, refers to a broad, diverse group of carbohydrates that we, as humans, cannot digest because we are lacking in digestive enzymes to break them down. For this reason, roughage ends up in your colon unchanged.

So why would something that humans can’t digest turn out to be beneficial part of your diet?

Fibers are inherently unique from each other due to their chemical properties. That’s right, the fiber you find brown rice is different than the kind you find in oats. Scientists categorize dietary fibers based on a specific set of characteristics.

To have a better understanding as to how fiber can possibly impact your body composition and overall health, let’s take a closer look at this indigestible carbohydrate through the lens of its popular methods of classification: solubility, viscosity, and fermentability, and a special note on resistant starch.

Soluble and Insoluble Fiber

irst of all, all plant-based foods are generally a mix of both soluble and insoluble fibers. Think of the soluble fiber as the dawdling sibling while the insoluble type is the speedster in the family. How come?

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and morphs into a gel-like substance when it passes through the gut. Foods high in soluble fiber include apples, beans, blueberries, lentils, nuts, and oat products.

Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water and the term roughage generally refers to this specific type. Unlike its slow solubility sister, roughage does the exact opposite. It speeds up transit time in the digestive system and adds bulk to your stool. This is the basis of the most common health recommendation for eating more roughage: to prevent constipation by helping food move through your system.

Foods high in insoluble fiber include brown rice, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, wheat, whole wheat bread, and whole grain couscous.

Contrary to popular belief, solubility does not reliably predict whether or not a certain type of fiber is beneficial to your health. However, the terms soluble and insoluble are still used by many nutrition and healthcare professionals including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in nutritional labels.

Viscous and Nonviscous Fiber

Another way of classifying fiber is through its viscosity. Certain types of soluble fiber are more viscous, or more likely to form firmer, stickier gels when mixed with water than other types. When you digest food with high-viscous fiber in it, it increases the viscosity of the gel-like substance that passes through your gut. As a result, it reduces your appetite because you feel fuller longer.

Viscous fibers include the following:

  • pectins (abundant in berries and fruits)
  • β-Glucans (Beta-glucans: abundant in barley and oats)
  • guar gum (commonly derived from the Indian cluster bean)
  • psyllium (isolated from psyllium seed husks)

The most frequently cited benefits of fiber (e.g., reduce cholesterol levels, improve glycemic control in type 2 diabetes, improve stool form in both constipation and diarrhea) is directly correlated to its viscosity. Nonviscous food sources tend not to have these beneficial properties. This is incredibly important because the general public tend to lump all types of fiber as one and associate its health benefits to all types too. Until more is known about the beneficial effects of low-viscosity fibers, a good strategy is to learn toward foods higher in viscosity.

Fermentable and Nonfermentable Fiber

If you’re not aware yet, your entire body is host to trillions (yes, trillions!) of beneficial bacteria.  The majority live in your intestines and are referred to as your gut microbiome. Also known as the forgotten organ, these little creatures have a say in your body composition and overall health.

The beneficial bacteria in your gut thrive on fermentable fiber. Not to mention that this wonderful alchemy of fermentation in your gut produces short-chain fatty acids such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate that suppress gut inflammation and can possibly reduce your risk of various digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Majority of fermentable fibers are soluble, but some insoluble fibers are cool with fermentation too. Foods that are rich in fermentable fibers include oats and barley, as well as fruit and vegetables. Cereal fibers that are rich in cellulose (like wheat bran) are nonfermentable.

Special Note on Resistant Starch

Lately, many experts have been encouraging people to add resistant starch to your diet because of its powerful health benefits.

Resistant starch is not exactly a fiber, but another form of carbohydrate (long form of glucose molecules really) that functions like soluble and fermentable fiber. Like fiber, Resistant starch is not fully broken down and absorbed in your small intestine and gut bacteria thrive on it. When fermented, resistant starch produces short-chain fatty acids as well as gases (which in turn can lead to bloating and abdominal discomfort when eaten/taken in excess).

Great food sources of resistant starch to add to your diet include beans, various legumes, green bananas, cashews, raw oats, and cooked (and then cooled) rice/potatoes. The cooling process turns some of the digestible starches into resistant starches through a process called retrogradation.

So why differentiate all the different types of fibers? Because each types will have different effects in the digestive process and having an array of natural food sources (whole wheat, oats, brown rice, starch) in your diet can have a positive overall impact on your health by improving digestion and also feeding bacteria that work so hard to keep you healthy.

Fiber’s Claims to Fame: Legit or Not?

When we talk about fiber and its impact on one’s health, we are often told about the following benefits:

  • Lowers down blood sugar levels
  • Reduces cholesterol levels
  • Prevents chronic constipation
  • Reduces the risk of specific cancers such as colon cancer and breast cancer
  • Help with weight loss and improve weight control

The American Dietetic Association recommends 14g of dietary fiber per 1,000 kcal of food intake or roughly 25g for adult women and 38g for adult men. Food variety in your diet is encouraged to meet one’s daily fiber requirement. Mix it up with whole wheat, nuts, starchy carbs, and vegetables.

Like so much of nutrition, what’s true today may not be true anymore in the next three, five, or ten years. Research findings and conclusions that once seemed valid and well-founded may be revised— or even totally flipped— as new research is completed. The idea that fat doesn’t actually make you fat is a good example.

With that said, let’s figure out the recent science-backed truths of the aforementioned benefits.

Does fiber help in reducing blood sugar and cholesterol levels?

In terms of fiber’s ability to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels, a review of studies on the subject published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics last February revealed the following:

“…high viscosity fibers (eg, gel-forming fibers such as b-glucan, psyllium, and raw guar gum) exhibit a significant effect on cholesterol lowering and improved glycemic control, whereas non-viscous soluble fibers (eg, inulin, fructooligosaccharides, and wheat dextrin) and insoluble fibers (eg, wheat bran) do not provide these viscosity-dependent health benefits…”

With this information, we can see that not all fibers are created equal. If lowering your serum LDL cholesterol and normalizing blood glucose and insulin levels is your goal, adding soluble, viscous fibers to your diet (mainly from whole food sources) would be beneficial.

Meanwhile, resistant starch can potentially lower down blood sugar levels after meals and improve insulin sensitivity.  This means that your body is less likely to store excess glucose as fat. This is good news if you’re currently working to lose fat mass as a priority in improving your body composition.

The takeaway: Not all types of fiber can help control blood sugar and reduce cholesterol levels. To gain fiber’s benefits in terms of regulating blood sugar and lowering cholesterol, opt for high viscous fibers and resistant starches.

Does fiber help with chronic constipation?

How many times have you been told to add more fiber to your diet if you’re having chronic problems in maintaining regularity in your bowel movement?

It turns out that this common advice is not as true as we thought.

In fact, a 2012 study concluded that idiopathic constipation (or constipation of unknown cause) and its associated symptoms can be effectively reduced by stopping or even lowering the intake of dietary fiber.

Furthermore, the same review of studies which examined fiber’s impact on blood sugar and cholesterol recommended that not all types of fiber can help with chronic constipation. The researchers concluded that large/coarse insoluble fibers are more effective as a laxative. Soluble fermentable fibers (e.g. inulin, fructooligosaccharide, and wheat dextrin) do not provide a laxative effect, and some fibers can even be constipating (e.g. wheat dextrin and fine/smooth insoluble wheat bran particles).

The takeaway: Not all types of fiber can help with chronic constipation. Specifically, fruits and vegetables can increase stool bulk and shorten transit time. Meanwhile, fiber supplements that are effective in treating constipation include cellulose and psyllium.

Fruits and vegetables are good sources of cellulose because this type of fiber is mainly found in plant cell walls. On the other hand, psyllium is isolated from the seeds of Plantago ovata, an herb mainly grown in India. Also known as ispaghula husk, it often comes in supplement form such as granules, powder, and capsules. Psyllium is the active ingredient in Metamucil, a popular supplement to reduce constipation.

Some baked goods and fortified cereals contain this type of fiber.

An important note on this is that sufficient fluid intake is also required to maximize the stool-softening effect of increased fiber intake.

Does fiber help reduce my risk of colorectal cancer (as what most people believe)?

The surprising fact is that much of the research does not support this. Recent findings from large prospective cohort studies and clinical intervention trials do not see an association between fiber intake and the risk of colorectal cancer. In fact,  a 4-year intervention trial found out that supplementation with 7.5 g/day of wheat bran had no effect on colorectal adenoma recurrence.

As for general disease prevention, it’s worth noting that observational studies that identify associations between high-fiber intakes and reductions in chronic disease risk tend to assess only fiber-rich foods rather than fiber itself. As a result, it is difficult to determine whether observed benefits are actually related to fiber or perhaps, other nutrients or antioxidants found in fiber-rich foods. Another point for eating foods that are naturally high in fiber instead of relying on fiber supplements.

Can I rely on fiber supplements to get the same benefits as fiber from whole sources?

To get the full-benefits of fiber, research reveals that fiber-rich foods trump (as always when it comes to nutrition) supplement sources. A systematic review of studies found out that most supplements do not help at all in reducing body weight.

Okay, Enough With the Science! I Just Want to Lost Weight. Can Fiber Help?

Yes. But you have to understand that fiber for weight loss doesn’t apply to all types of fiber.

As mentioned earlier in this article, some fibers are readily fermented by your gut microbiome, most of which are soluble fibers.  Soluble fibers, alongside resistant starch, help promote a thriving and diverse community of gut bacteria. Collectively, they are often referred to as prebiotics (not to be confused with probiotics which are live bacteria). If Popeye thrives on spinach, your gut bacteria thrives on prebiotics!

So what do prebiotics have to do with weight loss and your body composition?

Currently, there is reasonable evidence that increased dietary prebiotic intake decreases inflammation and helps improve insulin sensitivity. It’s worth noting that both inflammation and reduced insulin sensitivity are strong drivers of weight gain and metabolic syndrome.

By feeding your gut’s friendly and health-promoting bacteria with the right type of fiber, you also reduce your risk of obesity or unwanted weight gain. As for fiber’s role in promoting satiety reducing appetite (thus the popular belief that fiber can help with weight loss), research on the subject continues to yield conflicting results.

Conclusion

In summary, fiber’s benefits are wide ranging, but they don’t all come from one food source. In the end, variety is king. Recent findings show viscous fiber types and resistant starch may be the best sources, not just in transforming body composition but also helping you improve in key biometrics like cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Ultimately, getting more fiber in your diet from whole food sources is always better than relying on supplements. After all, nutrition is not about eating more protein, carbs, or any specific nutrient, but it’s the synergy of these nutrients that truly matters. Besides, berries and apples are more flavorful (and more appetizing!) than chewable tablets, right?

***

Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher.  After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.

Source: https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/all-about-fiber-and-its-dirty-little-secrets/

Eating Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat

By Body Composition, Fat mass

If you went to primary school in the 90s, you probably remember this diagram from a nutrition class.

food pyramid nutrition

 

Released in the U.S. in 1992, the food pyramid was designed as an easy way for people to remember which foods they should be getting their calories from and the relative importance of each. Carbs were healthy and good, and so they formed the base; fats were bad and placed at the top. The fat category lumped everything together from healthy fats like Omega-3s and olive oil to saturated fats and sugar. This concept helped trigger the fat-free craze. Although this concept seems pretty normal to us now, at the time in the late 1970s it was actually considered quite radical – so much so that then-president of the National Academy of Sciences, Philip Handler, described the proposed shift as a “vast nutritional experiment.” Essentially, the Dietary Guidelines suggested that people eat less fat and get more calories from bread, grains, rice, pasta, etc. This was intended to protect Americans from weight gain and heart disease. This is why the “high carb, low fat” diet seem familiar and normal to you, and probably why you think eating fat makes you fat.  

What was the result of this recommendation?

Beginning at around the time when the guidelines were first recommended in 1977 and their release to the public in 1980, the percentage of Americans classified as obese increase almost 20% as they followed the government’s advice to cut fat and increase carbs. Why have obesity rates in the United States skyrocketed over the last 18 years? Because the idea that “fat makes you fat” is wrong. Fat is just another nutrient source, same as carbohydrates and protein.  What makes you fat is taking in more energy (calories) in a day than you use. That’s called being in a caloric surplus.

While this might seem like a somewhat challenging thought, fat isn’t solely to blame for weight gain, and it’s not fair to even say it’s a major factor in weight gain.  At fault is a confusing mishmash of terminology, the negative connotation of fat over the past generations, and a pesky little diagram that’s been imprinted in the minds of generations of Americans.

Let’s take a look at how fat got a bad rap to see what you really should be thinking about when you’re trying to lose weight.

Eating Fat Is Not the Same as Becoming Fat

Part of the reason people get confused and think that the fat they eat makes their body store fat is because we use the interchangeably to describe both body fat and dietary fat.

  • Body Fat = Adipose Tissue

The fat that is stored by our bodies is more accurately called “adipose tissue.” Adipose tissue stores are made up of primary adipocytes or fat cells and are responsible, among other things, with storing excess energy for times when you’re not able to give your body the energy it needs in a given day.

Body fat/adipose tissue is essential for survival.  Anyone with a body fat percentage of 0% would not be alive. When you cut your body fat level down to what’s called your “essential fat” – the fat needed to maintain a healthy and functioning body – complications arise.

Take the example of bodybuilders, who in a sense could be defined as “professional body fat cutters”.  When bodybuilders get into competitive shape, they try to lose as much body fat as possible in order to achieve more muscle definition.  Often, this can lead to some health complications that they don’t frequently advertise.

For example, in a 2013 study a competitive male bodybuilder preparing for competition was continuously observed 6 months prior to competing and 6 months after. During that time frame, the bodybuilder was able reduce his body fat percentage from 14.8% to 4.5% by competition time.

In the process of losing all this fat, the researchers observed various complications:

Of note, many of the physiological changes observed including an elevation in cortisol, reduction in testosterone, reduction in testosterone, reduction in immune function, alterations in mood status, and decreases in physical performance and maximal heart rate that occurred during the preparation period are consistent with markers of overtraining.

Rossow, et al (2013)

Contrary to popular belief, the study shows that a very low body fat percentage can disrupt important biological process and can actually be detrimental to your health!

  • Dietary Fat = Macronutrient

The fat you eat is dietary fat and is one of the three essential macronutrients your body can get energy from.

When we talk about calories, we’re actually talking about some combination of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Let’s examine a standard nutrition label. What do you see?

Although they’re not labeled as such, you’ll see the three macronutrients listed there – which we’ve underlined – along with the grams of each.  Each macronutrient contributes a certain numbers of calories to the total caloric content of the food.

  • Carbohydrate: 4 calories per gram
  • Protein: 4 calories per gram
  • Fat: 9 calories per gram

You can actually multiply the grams by the calories and add them together to get the total calorie number listed at the top of the label (this one actually comes out to 232, but the government allows rounding to the nearest 10).

This bears repeating: fat is a macronutrient. It isn’t necessarily bad on its own.  Furthermore, you need dietary fat. That’s because your body can make all the fatty acids it needs, except for two: linoleic acid and linolenic acid.  These two necessary substances have to be found in your diet.

Would you believe that people actually used to eat more fat than they do now and at the time obesity rates that were much lower? It’s true, they did, and it’s true – obesity rates used to be much lower.  So if increased fat isn’t making you fat, what is?

What’s Actually Making You Fat?

Too many calories, probably from carbs.

Eating more calories than your body uses and needs in a day causes you to gain weight, and Americans continue to eat more and more calories with each passing year.

According to the USDA, from 1970 to 2000, the total number of daily calories that Americans ate increased by 530 calories, an increase of 24.5%. During the same time period, the percentage of Americans categorized as obese increased dramatically.

What happened?

Americans started to eat more calories.  This is surprising when you consider that carbohydrates contain less than half the calories (4 Cal) that fat (9 Cal) does, gram for gram. Shouldn’t shifting away from fats and towards carbs just reduce overall caloric intake, just by simple math? It doesn’t work that way if you just eat more carbohydrates. You see, consumption of a high carbohydrate diet can trigger something called “reactive hypoglycemia.This is a condition experienced by people who do not have diabetes and are otherwise healthy. Among its symptoms is a feeling of hunger. 

Guess what’s the best way to make that hunger go away? Eat more carbs – your body will be craving them.  And since carbs were supposed to be the largest macronutrient source anyway, most people didn’t think twice about having a snack that consisted of bread, rice, or something else carb-heavy.

By advising people to eat less fat and eat more carbohydrates, the government actually made the obesity problem far worse.  Recognizing the sharp increase in obesity, the food pyramid was revised in 2005 and ultimately retired in 2011 in favor of what the USDA now calls “My Plate,” which gives people a much better visualization of the relative importance of each food category by showing roughly how much space each should take up on a plate.

 

To be clear, neither carbohydrates nor fats on their own cause you to gain weight – it’s just that you tend to eat more calories when your diet is focused on carbohydrates over fat.  Being in a caloric surplus causes you to gain weight. A carb-heavy diet makes it very easy to be in a caloric surplus.

So I Can Throw Away the Low Fat Options?

If you’re smart about it, yes, but you still have to be careful.

Remember, it’s not the fat itself that’s making you fat; it’s the extra calories that you don’t need that makes you fat.  While it’s very easy to eat extra calories on a carbohydrate-based diet, it’s also very easy to add on extra calories from a fat diet too.

At 9 calories, fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient by far.  This means that if you’re looking to lose fat, the low-fat options are still fine choices – not because of their low fat content, mind you, but because of their lower caloric content.  

The fat isn’t making you fat due to just being fat; it’s the extra calories from fat (as well as all the macronutrients) that is causing you to gain weight.

What this means is, if you are responsible with your diet, you can choose foods that contain fat, guilt-free.  You just need to be smart about your caloric intake throughout the entire day.

For example, if you really like the taste of whole milk and have been forcing yourself to drink 1% milk because you think you’re supposed to, you can drink whole milk guilt-free so long as you know that that whole milk contains 46% more calories than 1% milk and you understand that you’re making a deliberate choice to get more calories from milk than from somewhere else.

This means that if you choose to get more calories from milk (and by extension fat), you have to cut calories elsewhere.  If you’re like most Americans, you can probably find foods containing carbohydrates, that if you’re being honest, you can probably do without.

The current (2015-2020) Dietary Guidelines for Americans agrees, as it does not encourage a low-fat diet any longer.  It even encourages a lower intake of carbohydrates.

Optimizing Your Diet

Ultimately, the only person who has any real influence on how you divide your nutrient intake/calorie limit is you.

A lot goes into planning, preparing, and following a diet. Trying to balance what you like to eat with what you should be eating to maintain a healthy weight and body composition can be tricky. Don’t punish yourself with a extremely low-carbohydrate diet because it will probably be unsustainable. But if you want to make improvements, a good guide would be a diet that is low-sugar and low in saturated fats and high in healthy fats (like Omega-3s) and protein.

When you have a good idea of what your individual caloric needs are, which you can learn by using a combination of your Basal Metabolic Rate and your activity level, this will become a lot easier.

Understanding how fat and the other macronutrients make up these calories will only further ease the problems with designing a nutrient dense balanced diet. Remember, fat isn’t bad on its own.  Focus on building a diet that you actually want to eat, keep it within a reasonable number of calories, add in more physical activity, and you’ll be closer to your weight loss goals than if you simply just reach for packaging that promises “low fat” or “reduced fat” foods.

Source: https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/90571521-fat-doesnt-make-you-fat/

Your Body and You: A Guide to Phase Angle

By Body Composition

When it comes to body composition testing and analysis, most people instantly think of body fat percentages and muscle mass . Yet today’s medical BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis) devices do so much more than just measure body fat and muscle mass.

Body fat percentages are only one part of a complete body composition analysis. For body composition devices using Direct Segmental Multi Frequency-BIA technology (DSM-BIA), you can also measure and track other valuable indicators of your health like your visceral fat, body water distribution, segmental readings, and phase angle values.

Although your body fat percentage can be a strong indicator of your overall health and current state of your body composition, the aforementioned outputs are equally useful metrics that can help predict or detect health issues.

In this article, let’s go beyond the usual discussions on body fat and muscle mass when it comes to body composition. Read on for a in-depth explanation  about your Phase Angle (PhA) – one of the most valuable, and misunderstood, health indicators provided by medical grade BIA devices.

What’s Phase Angle Anyway?

In his book The Water Secret: The Cellular Breakthrough to Look and Feel 10 Years Younger, celebrity dermatologist and skin care expert Dr. Howard Murad writes:

PhAs have given us a remarkable window into how the body responds to changes in health — for better or worse. This explains why people with illnesses such as HIV or cancer, or those who are nutritionally deficient, routinely exhibit low PhAs. As expected, PhAs also decrease with age as your body loses its capacity to repair and return over new cells as quickly as it did in its youth. The true age of a human being can be determined by the changes in the Phase Angle. 

Furthermore, he elaborated:

The Phase Angle goes up when you’re healthy and down when you’re ill. It also goes down as you age. When you increase your Phase Angle, you slow down aging.

Slow down aging, did that catch your attention? But before we get to that, we need to learn the basics of PHa by reviewing the established facts and research.

Demystifying Phase Angle

Your PhA is a direct measurement of your cell integrity and the distribution of water within and outside the cell membrane. In his book Supercharge Your Cell Vitality, author Dr. Greg Barsten refers to PhA as merely a fancy name for cell membrane health.

Cell membranes hold in the important parts of the cell and also regulate what comes in and out. Think of this regulation like a fortress drawbridge.

In healthy humans, the cell membrane consists of a layer of non-conductive (insulator) lipid material sandwiched between two layers of conductive fluids (body water). When there are two conducting materials surrounding an insulator, we often refer to this insulator as a capacitor. That said, your cell membrane is like a fortress with capacitor-like capabilities that not only try to prevent currents from entering the cells but also other unwanted materials like toxins and waste. What this means is that healthy cells (or stronger capacitors) are better at preventing these unwanted substances from entering cells.

How is Phase Angle Measured?

In BIA, PhA is the relationship between resistance and reactance.

To understand these variables, you have to understand what lean body mass and body cell mass means.

Your Lean Body Mass (LBM) is the total weight of your organs, skin,  bones, body water, and muscles. It describes the entire weight of your body minus your body fat.  This is why it’s also often referred to as fat-free mass.

On Resistance, Reactance, and Impedance

Resistance happens when a conductor transfers the energy of (or moves) an electrical current. The greater the conductor, the lower the resistance. In the human body, low resistance is associated with large amounts of LBM. High resistance is associated with smaller or low amounts of LBM.

Body fluids consisting of water and charged ions readily conducts electrical currents. Both extracellular water or ECW (water and ionized sodium Na+) and intracellular water or ICW (water and ionized potassium K+)  provide a conductive pathway. When a person has a lot of lean body mass, they have a lot of body water, meaning greater conductivity of the current and less overall resistance.

It’s also worth noting that resistance in the body is proportional to one’s LBM because water is contained solely within your LBM. The unit of measurement for resistance is ohms.

Reactance, on the other hand, gauges your cells’ ability to store energy. Your body has high reactance if your cells can store energy easily and it has low reactance if it stores energy poorly. Cells that are “healthy” or those with intact cellular membranes hold the electrical energy charge “longer.”

For this reason, your body reactance is proportional to both the amount and strength of the cells in your body. Like resistance, the unit of measurement for reactance is ohms.

Impedance is the sum of resistance and reactance, but when evaluated trigonometrically, the relationship between resistance and reactance creates a ratio. This ratio is your PhA and is expressed in degrees.

You can measure your PhA and cell health using a Bioelectrical impedance device that sends electrical currents is used to assess cell membrane health. Impedance is measured by introducing a small alternating current into the body and measuring the effects on the current caused by the body. In humans, 50 KHz is considered ideal to maximize reactance and determine the point where cells are strongest at resisting the current (thus creating the highest PhA).

As the current travels in your body,  your body water will naturally resist the flow of the energy current as it travels and this is referred to as resistance.  To keep it simple, when the current encounters a cell, the cell wall will cause a “delay” as the voltage builds up enough energy to pass through the cell wall while the current continues instantaneously.  The brief time delay caused by the cells is compared to the amount of water, providing us with a PhA, in degrees. Impedance is a combination of these two values.

Why You Should Care About Your Phase Angle

What does PhA have to do with your overall health?

By tracking your PhA, you’ll be able to gain a more precise picture of your health because it examines cell integrity health and the amount of water inside them.

Based on established research findings, higher PhA values suggest greater cellular integrity and reflects better overall cell health.  A low PhA, on the other hand, is highly predictive of decreased muscle strength, impaired quality of life, and increased mortality in old adults with cancer. Low phase angles tend to be consistent in individuals with malnutrition,  HIV/AIDS infection, cancer (discussed in detail below), chronic alcoholism, and old age.

Thus, keeping your pHa high through healthy lifestyle habits is encouraged.

How do you know if you’re PhA is within normal values or not?

This is where things get interesting.

While it has been shown that certain factors can influence one’s PhA (age, gender, and BMI), it has been shown that there are considerable differences between phase angle reference values across different populations. These differences are not only explained by age or BMI and may be due to differences between impedance analyzers.

In short, PhA values tend to differ based on the BIA device you’re using. In clinical practice, multi-frequency- and segmental-BIA may have advantages over single-frequency BIA in these conditions, but further studies and validation are still required.

Below is an example of PhA reading using InBody’s 770 model.

Phase Angle Reading Example:

Finally, it’s important to note that phase angle is dependent on every person’s individual makeup. To gauge progress, comparing your current phase angle readings to your previous readings is more important than comparing your PhA values with someone else’s.

Your Body Composition and Phase Angle: What’s the Connection?

Can improving your body composition help increase your phase angle values? It sure does.

A 2016 study revealed that age plus a combination of FFM (fat-free mass) and height were the most important variables that influence PhA variability among healthy subjects. The same research concluded that the ECW:ICW ratio may justify the variations shown in PhA when it comes to several clinical situations and severe obesity. When someone has inflammation or edema (causing a higher ECW/TBW), the health of their cells (and their phase angle) will be negatively affected.

Based on the study’s results, you are likely to increase your chances of improving your cellular health and PhA values if you take steps towards improving your body composition, whether it’s through nutrition, exercise, or a combination of both.

Other lifestyle factors that are most likely to impact phase angle variability include but are not limited to:

  • Toxicity exposure
  • Consumption of highly processed meals
  • Lack of quality sleep
  • Stress (physical, mental, and emotional)
  • Lack of consistent physical activity
  • Excess intake of coffee, alcohol, and refined sugar

The same research concluded that the ECW:ICW ratio may justify the variations shown in PhA when it comes to several clinical situations and severe obesity.

In a healthy body, an ICW:ECW ratio of 3:2 is considered ideal. However, certain health conditions like renal disease, chronic inflammation, and even increased body fat mass in obesity (due to disruption of one of your body’s hormone systems (the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system) can potentially cause your ECW to go up.

For instance, patients with symptoms associated with heart failure have a limited ability for the heart to circulate blood, causing edema. Edema is irregular swelling caused by accumulation of fluid in certain tissues within the body. When this happens, PhA values will likely go down because the pressure from excess ECW causes cells normal functions to become compromised. In fact, phase angle seems to be an independent prognostic marker in patients with ADHF (acute decompensated heart failure) because of fluid retention. For the cells to function properly, it’s important to maintain or restore ideal (or near ideal) ECW (or extracellular) balance.

The link between your phase angle values and body composition can be summarized through the following:

Increased phase angle may be a result of:

  • Gains in muscle mass
  • Loss of inflammation and reduction of body fat

Decreased phase angle may be a result of:

  • Loss of muscle tissue
  • Increased inflammation

But wait, there’s one caveat: an increase in PhA is not always a good thing, nor should a decrease in your PhA values always be frowned upon.

Phase Angle: Implications for Clinical Practice

In regards to PhA’s use in clinical settings, research literature and data reveal the following:

A 2012 study found a significant association between low PhA and increased nutritional risk, increased hospital length of stay and non-survival. The researchers concluded that gauging PhA values can help quickly identify patients who are at nutritional risk at hospital admission. This will help save time on the hospital staff’s end (and possibly save the patient’s life)  because they can forego in-depth nutritional assessments by doing a quick BIA test instead.

Another set of studies came up with identical conclusions. This time around, the implications of PhA to a patient’s nutritional status are more specific. It turns out that bioimpedance-derived PhA can be a potential nutritional indicator for patients with advanced colorectal cancer and breast cancer.

Finally, a research paper presented at the 2011 AAAI (Association for the  Advancement of Artificial Intelligence) 2011 Spring Symposium suggested that phase angle is an independent indicator of prognosis in cancer (of most types) because it illustrates cell membrane integrity and function that may not be possible with other approaches that gauge prognosis. In fact, the paper suggested phase angle-based biometric scoring systems for determining prognosis among cancer patients. This is good news because BIA is quick and noninvasive in comparison to tools and tests used in cancer prognosis.

The Takeaway

Your PhA values can clue you in with what’s going on in your body. It can help identify health risks and address existing health issues and help track progress of lifestyle changes (diet and exercise). For most people, it has helped them make data-driven health and wellness decisions.  Medical practices also use it to personalize a patient’s health care plan.

However, keep in mind that your PhA values are only part of the equation when it comes to assessing the current state of your health.

The rest of the body composition outputs (body fat, muscle mass, body water ratio)  are equally valuable so finding a BIA device that can provide more detailed outputs is crucial. For instance, changes in your body fat percentages can be tricky to explain if the only outputs you have are merely body fat mass and fat-free mass values. For more accurate results, make sure you choose your BIA device wisely.

 

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Kyjean Tomboc is a nurse turned freelance healthcare copywriter and UX researcher.  After experimenting with going paleo and vegetarian, she realized that it all boils down to eating real food.

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