When thinking about weight loss, it’s important to remember stepping on the scale is just one tool available to track progress. It’s normal for weight to fluctuate due to a variety of reasons, including how much water you have (or hadn’t) had to drink, electrolyte balance, stress and anxiety levels, hormones, medication side effects, time of day, etc. However, stepping on a scale daily or weekly and looking at trends can help you determine if you’re making progress and shedding pounds.
While weight loss focuses on losing fat and seeing the number on the scale trend downward, body recomposition refers to changes in the body’s ratio of fat to muscle. It involves reducing fat tissue while simultaneously building muscle. In doing so, the number on the scale might not necessarily change since muscle weighs more than fat.
IS THERE A HEALTHY BODY COMPOSITION?
According to the American Council on Exercise, healthy body composition ranges in the following categories according to body fat percentage:
Unlike body weight, body composition is more difficult to measure and isn’t directly tied to a number on the scale. A bodybuilder may register as “overweight” on paper while someone who clocks in as “underweight” may actually have an unhealthy amount of fat mass. Bioelectrical scales, skinfold fat calipers, DEXA scans, Bod Pods and hydrostatic (or underwater) weighing are all methods of measuring body composition but they can be expensive, difficult to access and are sometimes inaccurate. Instead, the easiest way to tell if you are successfully building muscle and losing fat is to look in the mirror. You might notice changes in the contour and shape of different parts of your body and muscles. Your clothes might also begin to fit a little differently. Taking regular progress photos can be another way to track small changes that might not be noticeable at first.
HOW MACROS FIT IN
Whether your goal is weight loss or body composition, both require healthy eating and exercise. If you are already counting macros, you are familiar with the process of breaking down your total daily calorie budget into a ratio of carbohydrates, protein and fat.
MyFitnessPal’s current default ratio is 50% calories from carbohydrates, 20% from protein and 30% from fat.
- If your goal is to lose weight, lower your target carbohydrate intake by 5–10%
- If your goal is to build muscle, prioritize protein by lowering your carbohydrate and fat ratios by 5–10%
As you progress, you’ll likely need to tweak your ratio, which is something a registered dietitian or healthcare professional can help with.
HOW EXERCISE PLAYS A ROLE
For weight loss, 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is recommended and could be as simple as adding more walking to your daily routine. If you’re focusing on body recomposition, prioritizing strength training is especially important to build muscle.
As you start to lose weight and/or gain muscle you’ll have a more difficult time keeping up with the momentum you had when you first started working toward your goal. Don’t be discouraged, plateaus are part of the process. If you’re not seeing results, consider changing your strength-training routine. Try incorporating new moves like pushups, squats or pullups, experiment with pilates or a barre-method workout, or follow a high-intensity interval training plan.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Whether you’re looking to lose fat or you want to build muscle at the same time, both approaches require consuming quality whole-food sources of protein, fat and carbs. Counting macros can help. By nourishing your body proactively for better performance and function, and adding regular movement to your day, you naturally improve your health and feel better, which goes beyond the number on the scale or a body composition scan.