How to measure body fat levels?

When we want to lose weight, we most often focus on the numbers on the scales. Meanwhile, weight loss is not always related to the decrease of fatty tissue in our organism and this is what we should care about most. It is thus worth focusing not only on controlling our weight, but also the content of fatty tissue in the body. How can we do this?

Body fat norms

Before I move on to the methods of measuring fatty tissue, I would like to stop for a while on how much body fat our organism should contain?

It may seem that the less body fat we have, the better. In a sense, this is true. However, we need to remember that our goal is not lowering our fatty tissue level to extremely low level, as our organism also needs it. 

The level of fatty tissue is largely dependent on our age and sex. We need to remember that women have naturally higher body fat level that men. It is said that maintaining health, a man can reduce his fatty tissue level to around 5% while as far as women are concerned it is around 14%. Therefore, as we can see, the difference is quite substantial.

On the other hand, the fatty tissue level of around 25% and more is already alarming in case of men and when it comes to women, the disturbing level will reach around 32% of body fat. We consider here the issue of health and not body aesthetics. For example, women who practice sport at the age of 25-29 would have an ideal level of body fat between 18,9 and 21,9% while in case of men this rage is between 12,8-16,4%.

Methods of body fat measuring

WHR Ratio - waist to hips ratio

Measuring WHR ratio - woman on the photo doesn't do it probably! The lower measurement tape, should be put on hips, rather than on middle of belly.

One of the simplest methods that we can apply at home without having advanced and expensive equipment is waistline measurement. What we thus need is only a measuring tape.

Inserting an outcome of our waistline measurement to the body fat calculator will allow us to calculate our body fat level. Apart from providing our waist circumference, we also need to choose body weight and sex. Remember, that such a measurement is not sufficient to receive a trustworthy result. However, it is still beneficial to measure your waist.

Skinfold caliper– measurement of skin-fat folds

Doctor nutritionist measure body fat with caliper.

Our skinfolds may be measured by means of a skinfold caliper. We can buy it for a little amount of money, however it is worth investing in a more expensive and complex versions. Cheap skinfold calipers are made of plastic, crack easily and it is hard to measure adequate skinfolds using them. In order to measure our body fat, we need to choose from 3 to 7 places and measure our skinfolds.

One of the methods assumes the following measurements:

  • in case of men these are chest, belly next to the navel and thigh

  • in case of women these are triceps, belly next to the navel, hip and thigh

From each of the parts we need to read the results in millimeters and place to the formula. It is one of the most accurate methods used to measure body fat as long as we have an appropriate instrument and have a measurement proficiency.

Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA)

Digital machine uses bio-electrical impedance to give you a complete picture of your body composition such as weight, lean body mass, fat mass, body water.

This method consists in body composition measurement by means of a special scales equipped with sensors which transmit the flow of an electric current through body tissues. Various tissues show different electric resistance. The cells containing more water conduct electricity easier while the cells containing less water (e.g. fatty tissue) resist more.

Apart from body fat level, such devices also show our metabolic age, water level, lean body mass, muscle mass, fat content of internal organs, bone mass and caloric needs.

The choice of such scales is quite diversified. Basic models may be bought for several hundreds GBP, but we should not count on such a machine to give us a meaningful result. More expensive, professional models may indeed provide approximate scores. However, some important rules have to be followed, as ignoring them may influence the results. The measurement has to be made on empty stomach or a few hours after eating. We need to take care to be properly hydrated. In case of dehydration the fatty tissue level will be higher than it is in reality. On the other hand, if we drink too much water shortly before the examination, the body fat level may be lower than actual.

Measurements on such scales may be a good way of results control. It is however important to make these measurements always in similar conditions.

Other less known methods of body fat measurements

We should point out hydrostatic weighing and DEXA method here.

Hydrostatic weighing consists in diving in a water tank. On the basis on the quantity of water poured off the tank body density and body fat content are calculated. Dry weighing is compared to weighing in water. The lighter the person in water in comparison to dry weight, the more fatty tissue he or she has. Reportedly, this is one of the most reliable tests of body fat level. Unfortunately, this method is expensive and not easily available.

Tags: BIA, Bioelectrical impedance analysis, body fat, caliper, DEXA, fat burners, fat loss, fatburner, how to measure body fat level, hydrostatic weighing, WHR, yohimbine

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