When you hear the words “Body Composition” what comes to mind?
Calipers? A scale? Measuring tape? Weight loss or paleo challenges? Body builders?
In fitness, body composition describes the percentages of fat, bone, water and muscle in your body.
A common goal of people in a gym setting is to lose fat and/or gain muscle.
And the methods for getting there are multifold (i.e. dependent on a variety of factors including your training, your nutrition and your lifestyle).
“How can I get the body I want—and how long will it take me,” is a common question associated with these goals that are a tale as old as gym time.
From losing 10-50 lbs to "leaning out" and "toning up," "getting a six-pack" or "bikini body," "building a bigger chest and arms," and dropping X-amount of body fat, many people want it—and want it now.
You see "Success Stories" on countless websites of diet products, magazines, protein shakes and infomercials. Various gyms around town advertise this ploy in their marketing scheme ("Lose body fat now!"). And fad diets are a dime a dozen, promising results are yours for the taking.
So how do you truly get the body you desire? What is the secret? And what is the painless, most efficient and effective way to achieving a body composition you are proud of?
While the answer is highly individualized, here are some key tried and true factors, in the areas of nutrition, fitness and lifestyle, to consider when it comes to improving or changing your body composition (no 10-day Grapefruit diet, or 90-day Get-Shredded video included).
- Results. Nutrition is 80% of your results in the gym. You may have heard this highly-touted statistic before—and it’s true. There is NO getting around it. What you put in your body has an impact on what you are going to get out of it—and your goals.
- First things first. If you are trying to make a change, it is key to first focus on developing healthy habits around nutrition (i.e. no drastic restriction or diets here). Simply focus on quality nutrition and real, whole foods (proteins, veggies, essential fats and lots of water). Throw out the foods in your house that are not contributing to your success, aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily, eat more real food, and don’t worry about anything else. Keep this focus for at least one week, if not a month, before changing anything else. These changes apply for both those of you wanting to drop fat as well as gain mass. You need to remove the offensive foods (i.e. processed, sugar, packaged, trans-fats) from your body in order to start getting the most from your nutrition.
- Phase 2. With some foundational healthy eating under your belt now, you can focus on modifications where necessary for your specific goals.
- Mass Gain: If you’re trying to gain weight or mass, consuming more than you burn is essential. Now that you have some healthy, real-food eating habits under your belt, Do so through dense sources of energy and nutrition (nut butters, avocado, coconut oil, coconut butter, olive oil drizzled on veggies, grass fed butter, ghee, nuts/seeds), along with some more emphasis on carbs, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, fruit, even some rice/quinoa if you tolerate it.
- Body Fat Loss: If you’re trying to lose body fat, you still need plenty of fats, protein, veggies and water, but aim to keep your carbs and starchier carbs (potatoes, rice, fruit, etc.) closer to your workouts/around workouts, and otherwise out of the equation. You want the majority of your carbohydrates to come from fibrous veggies.
- More calories/food. What?! More calories and food for body composition changes? Yes. More quality fuel in the tank will actually keep your body from holding onto reserves and storing fat for later, fearing it doesn’t have enough to potentially sustain it for all its functions. All too often, when people are trying to lose fat in particular (or gain mass for that matter), they short change themselves by eating too little. When you eat less, your body has a tendency to slow its metabolism in order to have enough energy for all times of day since it doesn’t know when its next meal or snack is. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat "six small meals" a day and constantly graze, but be mindful you are eating enough. While we don’t count calories, a baseline of 1800 calories is necessary (for women), 2000-2200 for men, for minimum requirements. These foods should come from real, whole food, quality sources: think grass-fed meat and organic chicken, fresh fibrous vegetables, some fruits, quality essential fats with every main meal. And, something to be mindful of: if you have been eating too little for a long time, expect to gain a little fat when you first start feeding your body what it needs to thrive. Don’t let this freak you out! You are re-conditioning your body to a place where it doesn’t feel the need to stuff every spare calorie into your fat cells to get you through these harsh times of scarce food that have been forced upon it for months or years.
- More is not necessarily better. When trying to drop body fat or gain muscle more exercise or weight lifting is better, right? Not always. In fact, pushing it too hard in the gym can have an opposite effect on your goals. Why is that? Cortisol. Cortisol is our natural stress hormone ("fight or flight" hormone). While cortisol is definitely a normal part of our daily functioning, too much of it from over-exercise can push your body over its edge, causing it to hold onto its reserves in order to have enough energy stores for your next grueling exercise session.
- The right mix. Your body loves homeostasis (the same thing). So if you truly want to see a difference in your body composition, change is crucial. A variety of strength training (anaerobic), walking and low intensity movement (be active daily), and sprinting (higher intensity training) is the ticket to tapping into all your body’s energy stores. Your Central Athlete coach is the perfect resource for helping you find just the right balance with your training.
- Sleep does a body good. If you aren’t getting enough sleep or you are sleeping the wrong hours, you can expect to struggle with fat loss. The research is undeniable, bad sleep patterns can contribute to insulin resistance, making it difficult to tap into stored fat for energy. Poor sleeping has also been shown to spark inflammation and increase cravings, both of which may cause an increase in stored fat and/or inhibit fat loss. Eight hours of sleep is a good target, preferably between 10 pm to 6 am.
- Stress. As discussed in the fitness section, stress (i.e. cortisol) has the predisposition to make our bodies go into fight or flight mode. In doing so, our bodies want to hold on to any reserves they have in order to cope with the stress. Enter: difficulty with body composition changes. Body composition is the least of our body’s worry when it is stressed—and instead of losing fat, our body wants to preserve fat; and instead of gaining the lean muscle we desire, our body is not in a place to build—rather, it wants to merely "get through." Meditation, yoga, fresh air, social connection, healthy exercise, disconnecting from technology—these are just some of the techniques we use to eliminate stress.
- One thing at a time. If you are trying to lose fat and also get bigger and stronger, it’s incredibly difficult to do both at the same time. It’s just how our bodies work. Putting on weight (fat or muscle) requires eating more energy than you burn daily. Losing fat, on the other hand, requires burning more energy than you eat. For most people, the first thing often recommended is to drop your body fat percentage and maintain the muscle you already have. Once you get your body fat percentage down to a specific level, you can then turn your focus to packing on muscle.
- Rome was not built in a day. While it may be tempting to read success stories and testimonials of people who have lost enormous amounts of fat or weight or become "swole" with seemingly no struggle…Remember Rome was not built in a day—and neither was the body you want. Consistency is the key to your success. Stick with healthy habits, continue to stay in communication with your coach, trust the process…and your goals will soon be won.