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In physical fitness, body composition is used to describe the percentages of fat, bone and muscle in human bodies. Because muscular tissue takes up less space in our body than fat tissue, our body composition, as well as our weight, determines leanness. Two people at the same height and same body weight may look completely different from each other because they have a different body composition.

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Recommendations

The National Institute of Health[1] recommends that a healthy adult male's body should have between 8 and 17 percent fat and a female should have 10-21%. Levels significantly above these amounts may indicate excess body fat. Athletes, leaner individuals, and more muscular individuals will have a body fat percentage lower than these levels. In general, most athletes experience greater performance benefits[2] at body fat percentages between 7 and 19 percent for men, and 10 and 25 percent for women, depending on the sport.[3]

Measuring body composition

Body composition (particularly body fat percentage) can be measured in several ways. The most common method is by using a set of measurement calipers to measure the thickness of subcutaneous fat in multiple places on the body. This includes the abdominal area, the subscapular region, arms, buttocks and thighs. These measurements are then used to estimate total body fat with a margin of error of approximately four percentage points.

Another method is bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), which uses the resistance of electrical flow through the body to estimate body fat.

A technique for measuring body composition has been developed using the same principles as under water weighing. The technique uses air, as opposed to water and is known as air displacement plethysmography (ADP). Subjects enter a sealed chamber that measures their body volume through the displacement of air in the chamber. Body volume is combined with body weight (mass) in order to determine body density. The technique then estimates the percentage of body fat and lean body mass (LBM) through known equations (for the density of fat and fat free mass).

Body composition measurement with Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) is used increasingly for a variety of clinical and research applications. Total body or estimated total body scans using DEXA give accurate and precise measurements of BMD and body composition, including bone mineral content (BMC), bone mineral density (BMD), lean tissue mass, fat tissue mass, and %fat results [4].

These measurements are extremely reproducible, making them excellent for monitoring pharmaceutical therapy, nutritional or exercise intervention, sports training &/or other body composition altering programs. They are also fast, simple, non-invasive, and expose the subject to a level of x-rays lower than that of a cross-country flight. DEXA exams provide both total body and up to 14 regional (trunk, individual arms & legs, android, gynoid, etc) results.

Body Composition is also estimated using cross-sectional imaging methods like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT). Since MRI and CT give the most precise body composition measures to-date, many pharmaceutical companies are very interested in this new procedure to estimate body composition measures before and after drug therapy especially in drugs that might change body composition.

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References

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