Body Composition Management

If you’re like most people, you exercise and try to eat a healthy diet because you want to alter or maintain your body composition, namely, the amount of body fat and muscle mass on your frame. How can you be sure that your efforts are paying off? The easiest way to verify this is to regularly check your key body composition metrics: weight, body-fat percentage, and fat-free mass index (FFMI). (If you don’t know how to take these measurements, check out this podcast.)

Long-term success at controlling body-fat percentage and muscle mass doesn’t come from checking body composition occasionally; legitimate control requires a consistent feedback mechanism. This article explains how even the busiest people can easily include a body composition feedback mechanism in their fitness regimen.

How Often to Check Metrics

To get the most out of checking your body composition metrics, you should measure them daily, especially if you’re trying to make changes to your physique. If you’re only trying to maintain your current body weight, you can probably get away with just weighing yourself daily, but otherwise, daily checks of body weight, body-fat percentage, and FFMI are extremely beneficial.

The primary benefit of daily metrics checks is that they increase your awareness of bodily trends, which allows you to be much more responsive to changes. For instance, if you gain more weight than desired after a big meal, you’ll become aware of this very quickly and will be able to make more rapid dietary changes to get you back on track.

If you check your body composition metrics only occasionally, it may be weeks or months before you recognize that your physique is changing in an unwanted way, which allows more opportunities for problems to compound. It’s common to hear people who check infrequently say things like “I stepped on the scale for the first time in six months and was shocked that I’d gained fifteen pounds. When something like this happens, people often resort to drastic diet and exercise measures that usually aren’t sustainable.

When and Where to Check Metrics

To create a habit out of checking metrics, measure them first thing in the morning on an empty stomach; use the bathroom prior to checking so that food and liquid don’t skew your weight readings. Keep your scale and body-fat calipers in the bathroom so that you can perform the measurements right after using the bathroom. From there, you can plug your weight and fat readings into an FFMI calculator to quickly calculate muscle mass. This whole process takes only a minute or two, but it significantly increases your ability to make better, more dynamic decisions about managing your body composition.

Interpreting Metrics

The first thing to pay attention to is whether your body weight has changed, which indicates a change in body fat, muscle mass, or both. An increasing FFMI indicates increasing muscle mass; a decreasing FFMI indicates decreasing muscle mass. An increasing body-fat percentage indicates increasing body fat; a decreasing fat percentage indicates decreasing body fat. The takeaway is that body weight tells you that something has changed, FFMI and fat percentage tell you what has changed.

Checking metrics consistently is powerful because it provides real-time feedback about whether your body composition is changing in accordance with your goals. For example, if John’s weight has gone up a half pound during the week but his body-fat percentage hasn’t changed, then he’s probably gained a half pound of muscle. But if his FFMI hasn’t changed, then he’s probably gained a half pound of fat. John can use this information to change his fitness protocol if he chooses. If he wants to lose the extra fat, he could decide to dial back his calorie intake for a few days.

Maintaining a Record

Another important aspect of daily metrics checks is documenting your daily results, which you can easily log in a spreadsheet, notebook, or fitness app. Keeping a record allows you to see trends over time, which is much more important than what your measurements are on a given day. Don’t try to keep track of metrics and identify trends based on memory—our memories are not good at this.

Rather than overreacting to a single day’s measurements, which can fluctuate due to several variables (such as calorie intake, hydration, and sleep patterns), assess the direction that your body composition is trending over the course of multiple days or weeks. For instance, being a pound heavier on a given day doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve gained a pound. But if you’re consistently one pound heavier after a week or two, then you have probably gained weight.

Long-Term Body Composition Management

The secret to getting the most out of checking body composition metrics is long-term consistency, which means making daily metrics checks a lifelong habit. If you pay attention to your metrics only when trying to achieve a certain goal, say, losing ten pounds for summer vacation, then you’re shortchanging yourself.

What most perpetually fit people understand is that a healthy body composition isn’t something you arrive at” at a single point in time. Body composition is always changing, and to be controlled over the years, it must be consistently monitored and managed.

One of the most powerful steps you can take to consistently make the best diet and exercise decisions is to remain aware of your body composition metrics. The formula for success is pretty simple: measure frequently and respond accordingly. When you make this formula a habit, you put yourself in the driver’s seat of your body composition.