Most men try to take care of their health and watch their weight, but what many may not realize is that a number on the scale tells you very little about the current quality of your metabolism, muscle mass, fitness level, and many other wellness criteria. This is why it’s important to understand both the science of body composition and the best practices that can get you to an optimal state of health.
In this article from QuickHIT Fitness, we’ll give a basic overview of body composition, then delve into scientifically-backed methods and best practices for achieving the ideal ratio of muscle to fat. For more information on exercise, nutrition, resistance training, and overall functional fitness, please contact our team of health experts at QuickHIT Fitness in Sarasota today.
What Is Body Composition?
In every human body, there are a number of forms that tissue can take, but the most important to monitor when assessing weight and baseline health tend to boil down to two: muscle and fat. It is the ratio of these two body tissues that determines one’s body composition, which also factors in mass from non-muscle and non-fat constituents, such as water, bones, internal organs, etc. Essentially, body composition can be understood as a numerical representation of how much of your weight is attributed to metabolism-boosting muscle, and how much is linked to the quantity of fat and metabolically neutral matter in your body.
Both muscle and fat are absolutely essential for one’s health, but when the ratio between the two becomes skewed — whether fat is too high or muscle content too low, and vice-versa — this is when physical symptoms and medical problems tend to crop up. Fortunately, doctors are now able to use modern technology to measure accurate readings of muscle-to-fat ratios. Not so fortunately, however, these assessments tend to show that the majority of men (and women) in America do not measure up to the ranks of an ideal body composition.
Although every body is unique and has different requirements when it comes to energy intake, physical activity, and genetics, there are certain baseline ranges that medical professionals recommend one strive to stay within. This principle carries over into the concept of body composition, whose recommended ranges vary somewhat based on age, gender, hereditary metabolic tendencies, and exercise habits.
What Is The Ideal Body Composition For Men?
According to most medical professionals and accredited associations such as the American Council On Exercise (ACE), a generally healthy and acceptable body composition for an adult male is 15% fat with varying levels of muscle and non-fat lean mass, which are generally based on height, weight, and other individual factors.
How To Improve Body Composition As A Man
There are many ways to maximize fitness and boost your wellness score when it comes to body composition. You can read more in depth about them below, but in general, best practices for men include:
- Regular exercise that targets both muscular and cardiovascular training
- Eating a balanced diet based around macronutrient and micronutrient distribution
- Getting adequate amounts of sleep
Diversify Your Exercise Routine
The average person is well aware that exercise reaps countless benefits for those who practice it regularly, just as many remain cognizant of the detrimental effects that a sedentary lifestyle can have. When striving to achieve an optimal, in-range body composition, men should aim to balance a variety of physical activities that enhance cardiovascular, muscular, and skeletal strength alike.
Cardio training may be done in many different ways, from running to swimming to rowing. What’s important during all of these pursuits is to achieve and maintain an elevated heart rate for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more (depending on one’s fitness level and stamina). Cardiovascular exercise increases the strength of one’s heart, training it to pump more blood and oxygen in a more efficient manner.
Although cardio can certainly elevate metabolism and contribute to short-term weight loss, it is difficult to reach an ideal body composition with this form of exercise alone. When nothing except cardiovascular exercise dominates your exercise routine, your body can become weaker due to repeated use of the same muscle fibers — namely, those referred to as slow-twitch or Type I.
This is why resistance training is so critical to any balanced approach to fitness. Resistance training, which includes weightlifting, high-intensity interval training, rock climbing, and body-weight exercises, uses Type II, or fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are the kind that support explosive and powerful movements, from lifting a barbell to carrying a heavy bag of groceries from the car to the kitchen.
More importantly for the purposes of body composition, resistance training builds up and strengthens muscle tone. This boosts your basal metabolic rate — the amount of calories you need to survive on a daily basis — and also strengthens your bones. To supplement this increase in muscle mass with a healthy amount of lean mass and essential fat stores, it’s imperative to practice moderate amounts of cardiovascular exercise and to eat an appropriate diet, which we’ll discuss next.
Nurture Your Nutritional Habits
The phrase “balanced diet” can mean a lot of things, and it seems to vary depending on who you ask. But when it comes to body composition and maintenance of an ideal ratio of fat, muscle, and other lean body mass components, a “balanced diet” is really a bit of a misnomer.
What matters more than limiting sweets or cutting back on red meat is the kind of calories you consume. A calorie is not always processed in the same way by your body depending on the source of food from which it comes. There are three macronutrients (primary calorie sources) that any human body needs to function optimally, and especially to attain and maintain a spot in its ideal body composition range. These macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
The intricacies and variations between macronutrients are a bit too complex to adequately address for the purposes of this article, but rest assured that no one “type” of calorie is better or healthier than the other. What matters is consuming appropriate amounts of each, hence the popularization of buzz terms like “balanced intake.” Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats will obviously be consumed in slightly different quantities each day, but as long as you are consuming all of them from quality, whole food sources on a regular basis, the odds of managing a healthy body composition become much easier to achieve.
Depending on your current weight and health goals, your recommended macronutrient distribution may vary. For instance, an athlete needs more protein to repair muscle tissue than a senior citizen whose physical activity is comparatively minimal. But going back to our previous example of an adult male, an average health-conscious man with an in-range body composition should strive for the following macronutrient breakdown:
- 45 to 65% carbohydrates
- 15 to 35% protein
- 20 to 30% fat
Loose — but never obsessive — adherence to these guidelines is a relatively easy (and tasty!) way to maximize your other efforts at optimizing your fat-to-lean mass ratio.
Make Sleep A Priority
In our workaholic culture, it’s all too easy to get caught up with work, social obligations, family, and other distractions, causing our self-imposed bedtime to get pushed to the wayside. But research continues to show in increasing amounts of evidence that sleep is one of the most critical factors in virtually every aspect of our health, including our weight and body composition. When the body is deprived of sleep or does not get adequate amounts on a consistent basis, this activates a stress response in the body, stimulating production of a hormone called cortisol.
Aptly referred to as the “stress hormone,” cortisol is the brain’s way of telling you to fight or take flight in a potentially hazardous situation. For early humans, this was a critical evolutionary adaptation for protecting oneself against predators and destructive natural elements. For us, in our modern and technologically advanced world, it’s become more of a personal health hazard than a lifesaver. This is because cortisol causes the body to slow down metabolic processes and shift into a kind of feast-or-famine mode of functionality. In other words, chronically elevated cortisol levels cause the body to store and hang onto fat — even excess fat — because it believes it’s under attack when in actuality, it probably just needs a nap.
A healthy body composition is nearly impossible to achieve until sleep habits are optimized for health as well. And although terms like “balanced diet” may not tell the whole story, there’s one wellness cliche that we fully condone: eight hours of sleep can’t be beat.
Want To Learn More About Body Composition & Fitness?
If you were intrigued by any or all of the subjects discussed in this article, be sure to reach out to our team of wellness experts at QuickHIT Fitness Labs in Sarasota. From resistance training to customized meal plans and more, we have the solutions and the expertise you need to achieve your body composition goals once and for all. Contact us today to receive your free health consultation!