How To Achieve Your Best Body Composition Ever

building muscle general health strength training Aug 24, 2022
 

As a society, why are we still focused on “body fat percentage” when nearly 70% of your body is muscle?

Have you ever thought about that? 

To begin this conversation, I propose we very generally accept that a body fat percentage below 30% is ideal for the avoidance of cardiovascular disease, and body fat related health issues in general. It should also be assumed that having too low body fat is also problematic.

But that doesn’t happen very often. More frequently, the issue at hand is the need to lower one’s body fat percentage for health, aesthetic, or medical purposes. Research has shown without doubt that body fat percentages above ~30% put you at increased risk of disease, and within the category of “obese.” 

 

The mere label of “obese” is enough to demotivate nearly anyone. In fact, I’d argue that’s exactly what it does, and renders it impossible to feel optimistic about changing your health for the better.

After 30 years in practice, I’ve adopted a very different way of looking at this topic. I noticed that when a client was told by her doctor that her body fat level put her in the “obese” category, all it did was make her feel failed.

Humans by nature have a tendency to be scared of “failure” as if it were a reflection of self worth or value. Our greatest fear is that we are not “good enough” and often, we seek proof of that in our interpersonal experiences.

If your doctor labeled you “obese” how would that make you feel? Probably not excited to hit the gym or eat some spinach.

I believe this is the very core of our obesity epidemic. “What you focus on grows, develops, or expands” is a concept that applies here. If you’re interested in the law of attraction or manifestation, you know what I’m referring to. 

 

When you focus on “losing body fat” it’s hard to have a positive outlook. The focus is on “losing” and “body fat” - two things most people would prefer to avoid.

 

This is the first in a series of ongoing discussions that serve as a “call to arms” of sorts, intended to disrupt the health, fitness, and medical communities. My goal? To inspire these related industries to stop focusing on body fat and start focusing on lean muscle mass.

 

In this post, I’m talking about reframing how we approach the topic of body fat percentage, and I’ll be offering a new way to look at it so that you feel inspired to achieve your best body composition yet. 

In the simplest terms, “body composition” refers to how much of your body weight is represented by water, muscle, fat, bones, connective tissues, and organs. 

When assessing body composition -  in general - we focus on 1) lean muscle 2) body fat, and 3) bone. Each is expressed as a percentage of your body weight. 

Historically, the industry standard has always been to present your body composition report focusing on your body fat percentage. The main reason is because research most often looks at your risk of cardiovascular disease as related to how much body fat you have.

Because there is a direct relationship between body fat percentage and your risk of disease, it’s important to be aware of your body fat levels.

That being said, when your body fat level comes to mind, how does it make you feel? In my experience, most people aren’t exactly optimistic or inspired after they learn their body fat percentage.

While standard body fat measurements reflect body fat, lean muscle, and bone, it’s helpful to understand that bone is responsible for a very, very small percentage of your body weight. Therefore, it’s helpful to think of your body composition as 1 part muscle and 1 part fat.

When you regard your body composition this way, you’ll realize that your lean muscle mass will always be the highest number measured. I believe this is the number that matters most, and we should be focused on increasing its percentage.

 

This is a call to arms directed at health, fitness, and medical professionals to adopt a more productive perspective on body composition. I propose that the goal for optimal health should be to achieve a lean muscle mass percentage of 30% or more.

If you are looking to get stronger and leaner, if you're wanting to create a body that is tight and fit and resilient and strong at any size, this conversation is for you.

Rather than talking about body weight per se, or rather than talking about body fat, we're going to be talking about lean muscle mass, how to get it and why it's so important.

What we're talking about today is how to achieve your best body composition yet. We've gotten a little off track to some degree regarding the body positivity movement. The wonderful ideology of body positivity is to encourage you to feel loving and positive about your body. No matter who you are, no matter what size you are. And that is absolutely essential to your happiness; to really and truly love yourself for who you are, love your body for what it does, and love it no matter what.

You might feel a tendency at times to feel down about your body when you don’t reach a goal. Something key to embrace here is understanding that the human body is always in flux. You're gonna be up. You're gonna be down. You're gonna be lean. You're gonna be fluffy. You're gonna be energized. You're gonna be exhausted. And that is just the way of the human body existing here, on earth.

If you're not going to be 100% consistent with your habits every single day - which by the way is completely impossible - and if you’re not going be 100% consistent with your workouts, stress levels, caffeine, sugar and water intake, with your workouts and your cardio, you can’t expect your body to never fluctuate. 

 

Part of weathering the storms of life is to be okay with your body’s fluctuations. And really, at your deepest core, learning to love, accept, and honor yourself and your body. 

It's also important for your health, vitality, and longevity to become aware of your body composition so you can focus on improving your lean muscle mass percentage.

This is my call to arms for us to change the conversation. I've gotten to the point where I am fed up and frustrated with the emphasis on body fat percentage. Who cares what your body fat percentage is? I want to know your lean muscle mass percentage as it reflects the vast majority of your body weight. 

Your lean muscle mass reflects a lot more of you. In fact, almost two and a half times more of you is lean muscle mass as compared to body fat. Let’s start focusing on the amount of you that is lean muscle mass. Let's optimize that; because wouldn't it be wonderful to wake up tomorrow morning and say, “I’m going to go after 1 more percent of muscle” or “I want two pounds more of lean muscle mass”, or “My goal is to achieve 72% of my body weight in muscle. Wouldn't that be cool? 

 

Increasing your lean muscle mass percentage will improve your metabolism, hormones, energy, stamina, cortisol levels, and carbohydrate metabolism. That’s pretty compelling.

If that’s not enough, more muscle means better insulin sensitivity, improved bone density, and the most powerful way to reduce your body fat percentage (which is a predictor of disease).

When your lean muscle mass percentage increases, your body fat percentage automatically decreases. So if you’re 70% lean muscle mass and in four to six weeks you're 71% muscle mass, that means your body fat went down. Isn’t that a lot more inspiring and fun?

 

The new goal that I propose is to achieve a minimum of 70% lean muscle mass. Once you achieve that, you'll be categorized as “healthy.” 

Your first goal is to achieve 70% of your body weight as lean muscle mass. Then, find the weight or size where you feel happiest, and your lifestyle habits keep you between 70 and 80% lean muscle mass. 

 

Here are three common ways to determine your body composition. 

Home Smart Scale. These scales function just like a bathroom scale, but they also measure your body composition through bioelectrical impedance. It’s not super accurate, but it will give you a benchmark to work with going forward. 

InBody. This is a more sophisticated version of the above, that you’ll find at your local gym or medical office. Again, I don’t love the accuracy of this analysis, but it’s better than nothing and gives you a benchmark to work with going forward.

DEXA. The gold standard and most accurate way to determine your lean muscle mass percentage is a DEXA scan. There was a time when these devices were used only for medical purposes for bone density, or when treating morbid obesity. Thankfully these days you can often find a DEXA scan in your area for a fee. It is a bit of an investment, but one of the best that you can make for your health.

How do you improve your lean muscle mass percentage? Progressive resistance strength training. Here’s how….

Strength training like your life depends on it. Get in at least two strength training workouts per week, ideally three to four. These sessions should be very focused on building strength and muscle mass. In my experience working with women, I’ve found that a “straight set” protocol works best so you can really emphasize increasing your weight loads over time. 

Eat to optimize your performance. This means you pay attention to the foods that you're eating each day, and intentionally eat a balanced amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

Eat to optimize your muscle building. Eat every three to four hours during your waking hours so that you avoid catabolism, when your blood glucose levels get too low.

Use cardio only for health and recovery, not fat burning. Focus on cardio sessions that are no longer than 35 minutes around 70-75% of your theoretical maximal heart rate. Gone are the days of 60 minute mindless cardio. Going out for a leisurely walk with your friend is wonderful for steps and wellbeing, but it isn't necessarily proper cardio where you're getting your heart rate above about 55% of your theoretical maximum heart rate.

When you increase your lean muscle mass, you improve so many aspects of your health and fitness.

I hope this post helps and that you enjoyed it. If so, please let me know in the comments below. 



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