We all know that our bodies are made up of muscle, bone and everyone’s favourite, fat. We’re probably also all familiar with fitness related metrics such as body mass index (BMI) and % body fat.
But have you ever had yours measured? Or maybe I should say, measured accurately? Do you know what your body is actually composed of?
I had my body fat measured years ago with the highly technical ‘calliper’ method but last week I had the opportunity to have it done properly and had a full body composition scan done. The scan I had done is called a DXA Scan and measures the grams of lean tissue, fat and bone while producing an x-ray type of image.
And it was so interesting.
Solana and I headed into downtown Vancouver last week to visit with Peter from Bodycomp Imaging Inc. and have our scans done. I’ve never had anything quite like this done before so it was cool that he walked us through the whole process and explained both how the scan works and how the results are calculated. I won’t go through all the details but let me just say that it was pretty interesting.
When it was my turn, I hopped up on the table and laid still for a few minutes while the machine did the scan. From watching Solana have hers done, I knew that the image of my body was slowly showing up on the screen and I had to laugh when she commented on how ‘not straight’ my spine seemed to be.
Anyhow, once the scan was done, the report was generated and Peter started going through all of the results with us. There were tons of interesting facts and figures all about the makeup of different parts of my body and how they relate to other things but here are the biggest takeaways for me…
1. What am I made of anyway?
I’ve never really had any idea of what the proportions of fat, lean muscle mass and bone would be in a typical body. So just from a pure interest’s sake perspective, I found these results pretty interesting. Turns out, the I’m approximately 66% muscle and lean mass, about 4% bone and 29% fat.
2. % Body Fat
I was kind of nervous to find out my % body fat because I definitely have my flabby spots and know that i’m not terribly muscular or strong. I don’t always make the healthiest food choices and so I was really worried this would be reflected in this calculation.
According to this scan’s calculations, I have a total of 43.9 lbs of fat which works out to be a body fat % of 29.3. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s not too terrible of a result.
3. I know my body fat % now, so what?
Just knowing this value isn’t the end all, be all, but it can be used as a guide for what direction you might want to take your diet and exercise regime. For sports such as distance running, Peter explained that a leaner body mass, with lower body fat tends to yield a stronger power to weight ratio and therefore help improve performance.
We talked at length about what my goals are and while it’s not really about losing weight, I would definitely be interested in trying to change my composition so that my body fat is reduced and lean muscle mass increases. Hopefully by doing so, I could improve my strength for running and therefore improve my turnover and pace.
4. How does one go about changing their body composition?
This is really not a single, straight forward answer and we talked about all of it for quite awhile. Basically, for my height, weight and composition, Peter was able to calculate what my daily caloric needs are for various levels of activity from being sedentary to extremely active. He also made some suggestions on the proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrates I should be getting in my diet to make up those calories, optimized to burn fat and build muscle.
I’m no stranger to the theory of lower carbohydrate diets and burning fat as fuel instead, but switching the relative amounts of fat and protein I’m eating is quite a big change. It’s only been about a week and I’m only just now starting to get a feel for some of the choices I need to make if I want to try and stay within his suggestion ranges.
5. Body Symmetry
One of the cooler calculations Peter did for us was to compare the relative amounts of muscle and fat across different parts of our bodies – right vs left and trunk vs. lower body. It was super interesting to see how things are distributed.
With all the talk of how dangerous belly fat can be, one of the calculations is the Android/Gynoid ratio which is a comparison of % body fat in your torso to lower body and not surprisingly, my body fat is much higher in my lower body (read: butt and thighs) than in my my torso. I’ve always known that but we’re talking 22% torso vs 36% lower body. That’s a pretty big difference.
My muscle mass is mostly even across my body with both arms and legs having mostly equal lean mass. However, I have a much higher fat % in my left arm for some reason which he thought was kind of strange. If you look at the scan, you can even see it.
Anyhow, the point of checking for symmetry is because having one part of your body significantly lower in lean mass can predispose you to injury, which is a good thing to know so that you can work at correcting it if possible. Maybe I’ll put that left arm of mine on a diet…
6. Bone Density
Peter was also able to determine our bone mass densities which is an interesting value to know because it gives you an idea of your risk of bone fractures and injuries. The scan showed that I have 6.8 lbs of bone in my body which he said is actually very high for my age group. Plotted on a graph of the averages, you can see that my bone density is well above which is a good thing.
Okay, this is interesting and all but now what?
So now that I know all this interesting, detailed stuff about my body…now what? The reason that I wanted to do this scan was so that I would know what my body fat % and lean muscle mass was. As I said, I’m not exactly on a quest to lose weight at this point but I’d sure like to see if I can get stronger and therefore more powerful in my running.
Peter discussed all kinds of changes to diet and exercise that should help build more muscle and hopefully reduce some fat. Mostly in terms of adjusting the proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrates that make up my meals. I’m only just getting started but will post more about those plans in the next while. If you’re interested in having the same scan done, check out bodycomp.ca and go see Peter.
I am really glad I had the chance to go do this and plan to go back again in a few months to see if any progress is being made. He showed us some scans of an athlete who was going into competitive body building and the scans showed how their body fat and muscle mass changed over time. It was pretty cool.
Anyhow, I’m no bodybuilder but it should be interesting to see if and how things change over the coming months. In the meantime, I’ll be the one in the corner eating avocados. Lots and lots of avocados.