The scale doesn’t tell everything. What do you need to know about body composition methods? Are they reliable? Who can benefit them and who not? There are several different ways to measure your body composition. They all tell us much more than just a scale number.
What is body composition?
The body composition analysis tells us what the body is made of; fat, protein, minerals and water. Most people are interested in body fat percentage, bone mass and muscle mass, and also water. Results also show if there are differences between legs or arms. Depending on the occupation and sports background there might be huge differences. But for most people, results should be balanced. Side differences can be a sign of one-sided training or strength difference.
- Advantages: accuracy, reproducibility, fast, can assess BMD (bone mineral density), can assess regional body composition
- Disadvantages: estimation affected by different models/machines, fat mass estimation are influenced by “trunk thickness”
- Advantages: easy to use, low cost, portability
- Disadvantages: body fat % can vary 10% between machines, results depend on hydration, lots of different population-specific equations
- Advantages: cheap, simple, portable method
- Disadvantages: results vary between measurers, body fat % depend on the used equation, difficult if high body fat %, can be uncomfortable, limited results
- Advantages: fast, easy, no physical discomfort, no radiation exposure
- Disadvantages: require skin-tight clothing, can cause claustrophobia, no regional body composition
Who can benefit and who not
Body composition analysis can be widely used, but it’s good to use always the same method if results are compared to others. There can be a lot of difference between methods. Also hydration level can hugely affect the results as well as eating. That why there should always be at least two hours break after eating, before measurements.
Analysis can give valuable information to those who lose weight, try to gain more muscle mass or otherwise following their athletic progress. For people who suffer or have suffered in past some kind of eating disorder, body composition measurement can work as a trigger. Also, for people who have a problem with their self-esteem or appearance, analysis can be skipped if it’s causing too much stress. For those who have a distorted body image, analysis needs to be considered individually.