20% off £30

000000s
Code:SAVE20
 

20% off £30

000000s

Code:SAVE20

🏷️ Buy 1 Get 1 Free☀️ Summer ShopOffersOffers HubBuy one get one 1/2 priceSave up to 1/2 PriceBuy 1 Get 1 Free25% off Online Only OfferOutletFree gift with purchase1/2 Price2 for £50Short DatedVitamins & SupplementsVitamins & Supplements HubVitamins & Supplements Shop AllCBDShop all CBDCBD OilCBD CapsulesCBD SprayCBD GummiesCollagen & SilicaHair, Skin & NailsShop all Hair, Skin & NailsHair GrowthFunctional MushroomsVitaminsShop all VitaminsMultivitaminsVitamin AVitamin BVitamin CVitamin DVitamin EVitamin KVitamin DrinksMineralsShop all MineralsMagnesiumIronZincCalciumSeleniumChromiumSupplementsShop all SupplementsFibre SupplementsAcidophilus & Friendly BacteriaPeppermint OilGrapeseed ExtractLecithinCollagen & SilicaOmega & Fish OilsPlant Sourced SupplementsSuperfood SupplementsArnicaApple CiderRaspberry KetonesAloe VeraChondroitin & MSMCo Enzyme Q10Evening Primrose OilGarlicGinkgo BilobaGlucosamineGlucomannanSeaweed, Kelps and Aquaceuticals5 HTPSaw palmettoCharcoalWomen's HealthShop all Women's HealthMenopauseMenstrual SupportUrinary Tract HealthPregnancy & ConceptionMen's HealthShop all Men's HealthProstate HealthChildren's HealthConditionShop all ConditionWater RetentionAllergy & Hay Fever CareAnxiety SupportBone & Muscle HealthMuscle Support & Joint PainBrain & Memory SupportWomen's HealthMen's HealthChildren's HealthPain ReliefCold & Immune SupportFatigueDigestive HealthHair, Skin & NailsHeart & CirculationLiver CareMood SupportSexual HealthSleep & RelaxationStress ReliefVisionHerbal & Licensed RemediesShop all Herbal & Licensed RemediesValerianSt John's WortRescue RemedyAgnus CastusAshwagandhaEchinaceaMilk ThistleDevil's ClawGinseng & GuaranaBlack CohoshHomeopathic & Flower RemediesShop all Homeopathic & Flower RemediesRescue RemedyTissue SaltsFlower RemediesHomeopathic RemediesAt-Home TestsVegan Vitamins & SupplementsBuy one get one 1/2 priceBuy 1 Get 1 FreeSave up to 1/2 PriceHolland & BarrettVitabioticsSolgarWeledaNew NordicBioglanBetterYouNatures AidGrass & Co.Nature's WayDairy FreeGluten FreeSesame Seed FreeCelery FreeCereal FreeCrustaceans FreeEgg FreeFish FreeKiwi FreeLupin FreeNew inFood & DrinkFood & Drink HubFood & Drink Shop AllVegan FoodHoney, Jams & SpreadsShop all Honey, Jams & SpreadsManuka HoneyHoneyJams & ChutneysNut ButtersSpreadsPateTeas, Coffee & Hot BeveragesShop all Teas, Coffee & Hot BeveragesCoffee & Coffee SubstitutesMushroom DrinksTeasSuperfood TeasMatcha & Green TeaSleep & Relaxation TeaDried Fruit, Nuts & SeedsShop all Dried Fruit, Nuts & SeedsNutsDried FruitSeedsMixesSuperfoodsShop all SuperfoodsSuperfood PowdersMaca PowderGoji BerriesBaobabMoringa PowderFlaxseedSpirulinaChia SeedsSnacksShop all SnacksProtein BarsLow Calorie SnacksChocolate, Cakes & BiscuitsSavoury SnacksSweet SnacksSnack BarsCrisps & ChipsFlapjacksPopcornFood CupboardShop all Food CupboardHoney, Jams & SpreadsBreakfast CerealsSuperfoodsApple Cider VinegarCondiments & SaucesTinned FoodsRice, Pasta, Pulses & GrainsBreakfast CerealsShop all Breakfast CerealsCereals, Bran & FlakesGranolaMuesliOats & PorridgeBreakfast BarsDrinks & JuicesShop all Drinks & JuicesKombuchaNatural Energy DrinksJuicesSoft DrinksWaterAlcohol Free DrinksCookingShop all CookingCooking IngredientsApple Cider VinegarCondiments & SaucesSoya & Meat AlternativeSoup & Ready MealsRice, Pasta, Pulses & GrainsHerbs, Spices & SeasoningGravy & StockHome BakingShop all Home BakingBaking MixesBreadFlourSweeteners & Sugar AlternativesEgg SubstitutesDairy AlternativesShop all Dairy AlternativesOat, Rice & Hemp DrinksSoya DrinksNut DrinksCoconut DrinksNutritionally Complete FoodBuy one get one 1/2 priceSave up to 1/2 Price25% off Online Only OfferHolland & BarrettNaturyaHeath & HeatherPukkaGrenadeMeridianTwiningsBionaNakdHuelGluten FreeDairy FreeEgg FreeWheat FreeMilk FreeMustard FreeCelery FreeFish FreeSulphites FreeCrustaceans FreeNew inSports NutritionSports Nutrition HubSports Nutrition Shop AllProteinShop all ProteinClear ProteinWhey ProteinMass GainersVegan ProteinDiet ProteinCaseinSports SupplementsShop all Sports SupplementsTestosteroneSports CollagenBars, Drinks & SnacksShop all Bars, Drinks & SnacksEnergy BarsEnergy DrinksProtein BarsProtein ShakesProtein SnacksNutritionally Complete FoodMeal Replacement ShakesPre Workout & EnergyShop all Pre Workout & EnergyPre WorkoutAmino Energy DrinksAmino Energy PowdersIntra WorkoutKetoPost WorkoutAmino AcidsShop all Amino AcidsAmino Energy PowdersAmino Energy DrinksBCAAL-LysineGlutamineCarnitineArginineCreatineShop all CreatineCreatine PowderCreatine CapsulesRehydrationShop all RehydrationElectrolytesEnergy GelsVegan Sports NutritionShop all Vegan Sports NutritionVegan ProteinVegan Protein BarsVegan Pre Workout & EnergyVegan Amino AcidsVegan CreatineSports AccessoriesShop all Sports AccessoriesBottles & ShakersFitness EquipmentFitness GoalShop all Fitness GoalRecoveryMuscle & StrengthLean MuscleEnergy & EnduranceDiet & Weight LossSave up to 1/2 PriceBuy one get one 1/2 price2 for £50Optimum NutritionPE NutritionUSNApplied NutritionGrenadePhDSiSFoodspringHuelYfoodDairy FreeGluten FreeSugar FreeSoya FreeCelery FreeCereal FreeCrustaceans FreeEgg FreeFish FreeKiwi FreeNew inBeautyBeauty HubNatural Beauty Shop AllAromatherapy & HomeShop all Aromatherapy & HomePure Essential OilsBlended Essential OilsBase & Carrier OilsHolisticSkincareShop all SkincarePremium SkincareFace CareBody CareSun CareTanning & BronzingEye CareLip CareFoot CareHand & Nail CareSkin AilmentsSkin OilsCBD BeautyHair Skin & NailsWashing & BathingShop all Washing & BathingShampoo & ConditionerBathing AccessoriesShower Gel & Body WashDeodorantDentalHand WashSoapBath Soak & OilBody ScrubBath Bombs & SaltsFeminine CareIncontinence SupportHair CareShop all Hair CareShampoo & ConditionerHair ColouringHair MasksHair Oil & SerumHair Spray, Gel & MousseHair AccessoriesMother & BabyShop all Mother & BabyBaby Skincare & ToiletriesElectrical WellnessSexual WellnessSave up to 1/2 PriceBuy 1 Get 1 FreeBuy one get one 1/2 priceDr OrganicFaith in NatureWeledaNaturtintTisserandSukinMiaromaQ+AEthiqueSo EcoAlcohol FreeParfum FreeParaben FreeSLS FreePalm Oil FreeGluten FreeCelery FreeCereal FreeCrustaceans FreeEgg FreeNew inCBDWeight ManagementWeight Management HubWeight Management Shop AllFat Burners, Binders & Appetite SuppressantsShop all Fat Burners, Binders & Appetite SuppressantsFat BurnersFat BindersAppetite SuppressantsSlimming TabletsShakes & Weight Management ShotsShop all Shakes & Weight Management ShotsMeal Replacement ShakesDiet ProteinDiet Food & DrinkShop all Diet Food & DrinkDiet FoodLow Calorie SnacksSlimming TeaExercise SupportShop all Exercise SupportFitness EquipmentMeal Replacement ShakesDiet ProteinProtein BarsSave up to 1/2 PriceBuy one get one 1/2 price2 for £50Optimum NutritionGrenadeHolland & BarrettUSNPhDPulsinEat WaterNatures AidNew NordicSlimExpertDairy FreeSugar FreeGluten FreeWheat FreeNew inVeganHealth & WellnessShop all Health & WellnessJoints Bones & MusclesGut HealthHair Skin & NailsStress AnxietySleep & RelaxationBuy one get one 1/2 priceBuy 1 Get 1 FreeSave up to 1/2 PriceHolland & BarrettWeledaVitabioticsDr OrganicSolgarNaturtintOptimum NutritionNew NordicHeath & HeatherBioglanDairy FreeGluten FreeParaben FreeSLS FreeAlcohol FreeParfum FreeSugar FreeWheat FreeSoya FreeEgg FreeNew inShop for your WellnessWomen's HealthMenstrual HealthMenopauseJoints, Bones & MusclesGut HealthHair, Skin & NailsImmunitySleep & RelaxationFood & DietChildren's HealthStress ReliefHealthy HeartEnergyLow Mood & DepressionConcentration & AlertnessEye HealthSexual HealthLearn about WellnessWomen's HealthPeriods & Cycle HealthMenopauseJoints, Bones & MusclesImmunityGut HealthFood & DietSports & FitnessSleep & RelaxationHair Skin & NailsAll articlesHealthFood & nutritionGut healthImmunityJoints, bones & musclesWomen's healthWellnessHair & skinMental wellbeingSeasonalSleep & relaxationSports nutritionRecipesAll recipesGluten freeLow sugarVeganDairy freePodcast

What is body composition?

body composition scales
Want to know what body composition is and how it can help you better understand your overall health? Read our guide on body composition to see if it can help you monitor your health.
Almost everyone knows roughly what their body weight is or where they fall on the BMI scale, but these factors don’t always give us an accurate picture of overall health. Body composition, e.g. the breakdown of protein, fat, minerals and body water in our bodies can be a better and more useful health indicator. Read all about it in this guide.

What is body composition and why is it important?

First, let’s take a look at Oxford Dictionary’s body composition definition:1 ‘The chemical constituents or tissues of which a living organism is composed; especially the relative proportion of fat and lean tissue in the body of a human or animal.' To put it in simpler terms, our body composition is the measurement of proteins, fats, minerals and water in our bodies.

Why is body composition measurement important?

The diet and fitness world tend to be overly obsessed with weight – focussing on how many lbs people could / should gain or lose. However, body composition proves that weight is certainly not the be-all and end-all when it comes to health and our appearance. For example, two women may have the same body weight but look completely different: one may have more muscle mass and be a few dress sizes smaller than the other woman who has more fat mass. Knowing your body fat and muscle mass percentage can also be invaluable if you are strength training so you can accurately track how your body is changing and becoming stronger, instead of relying on a scale which can fluctuate wildly.

Some other body composition benefits include:

  • Helps you find out if you need to lose, maintain or gain muscle and fat to be healthy
  • Allows you to focus on fat loss not weight loss
  • Helps you to set personalised health and fitness goals

What the scale alone can’t tell you

Most of us have been there when trying to lose weight – we follow a diet to the T and pop over to the gym a few times a week only to see the scales rise, which can kill all motivation and have us heading for the biscuit tin. The fact is: weight can’t tell us everything and can often be detrimental to our own body perception. One week the scale may shoot up for an ‘unknown’ reason because your body is retaining water – a natural reaction to your muscles tearing and growing in size. Also, once that muscle has grown in size – however small it may look - it will naturally weigh more than it did before. This is because muscle tissue is much denser than fat, and growth in muscle size could equal weight gain or maintenance – even if you’re simultaneously losing fat. If you know your body composition and get it checked regularly, weight fluctuations like this are less likely to curb your motivation or hinder your progress because you will have a better idea of what your body is doing on the inside.

How is body composition different than BMI?

BMI is one of the most common methods to assess an individual’s health and is calculated by comparing their body weight and height. You get given a number between roughly 9 and 65 which gets correlated with the following categories:
  • Underweight
  • Healthy
  • Overweight
  • Obese
  • Morbidly obese
Using BMI alone to determine if you’re ‘healthy’ has its fallbacks, namely its inability to identify what your body weight is made up of. Some athletes and naturally muscly people will wrongly be put in the ‘obese’ category as they naturally weigh more due to their increased muscle mass. Also, it’s worth noting that BMI was created on the model of Caucasians, so it doesn’t necessarily translate as well to other racial / ethnic groups.2 In the same way, just because your BMI is in the ‘healthy’ category and you are seen as ‘thin’ or ‘skinny’ it doesn’t mean you are healthier than an ‘obese’ person. Although BMI is a relatively sensible indicator of health, it is totally possible for you to be placed in the ‘healthy’ BMI category, be visibly thin on the outside and be metabolically obese on the inside.3

Does skinnier always mean healthier?

No, being ‘skinny’ does not mean somebody is healthy. Although society tends to demonise ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’ people, ‘thin’ people can also be at risk of conditions seemingly reserved for visibly overweight people like:
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
This is because it’s the visceral fat we can’t see – that surrounds our abdominal organs – which can cause these conditions.4 Someone could simultaneously have a ‘healthy’ BMI, be carrying too much visceral fat and lacking in muscle. What’s more, skinny people are typically unaware of the potential health problems they could face as it will usually go undetected, whereas an overweight person with a high percentage of fat is likely to be more aware of the risk they face.

How can body composition measures help?

Body composition allows everyone to find out how balanced their fat and muscle mass are and identify if they need to make any changes to be healthier.

What body composition method is best?

Here are some of the most popular ways of measuring body composition
  1. Skinfold Callipers: also known as a pinch test, this method is used to estimate your total body fat percentage. The callipers pinch your subcutaneous fat layers to measure the thickness on different points on the body. To get the most accurate estimate, you need to make sure you have a competent measurer. Please note: although this method is accessible for many, it may not be accurate for people whose fat distributions vary.
  2. Hydrostatic Weighing: this method calculates total body fat by weighing you normally and then underwater and comparing the two to find your volume. Most professionals consider this method as one of the best for measuring body composition.
  3. Air Displacement Plethysmography: similar to underwater weighing, this method measures the volume of your body, and consequently your body fat, by changing the pressure in a chamber and noting the differences.
  4. Duel Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA): this highly accurate method involves X-raying the body with two different X-rays to measure bone density, muscle mass, and body fat.
  5. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): this method uses a high-strength magnet to scan the body and measure skeletal muscle mass and fat mass – it can even distinguish between visceral and subcutaneous fat.
  6. Bioelectric Impedance Analysis: you may have scales or machines with this technology in your gym or your weighing scales at home. This method measures how much water you have in your body using alternating electrical currents. It’s not as scary as it sounds, though! This none-invasive method requires electrodes to be placed on a person’s hands, feet or both so a low-level electrical current can be sent through the body – which is affected by the volume of water in the body. The signal also passes through muscle easily but is slowed down by fat – which helps this method measure your body composition.

What is a healthy body composition?

A healthy body composition will be different for everybody, but body fat is one of the most important and easiest factors to manipulate for health, hence why many methods measure this. One person’s ideal body fat will be different to another’s, with variables like age, fitness levels and body goals coming into play. Women also naturally require more fat percentage than men.

Healthy body fat percentage

According to the American Council on Exercise, (the NHS likes to focus on BMI), these are the body fat percentage ranges for different classification groups:5
Classification Women (% body fat) Men (% body fat)
Essential fat 10 – 13% 2 – 5 %
Athletes 14 – 20 % 6 – 13%
Fitness 21 – 24% 14 – 17%
Average 25 – 31% 18 – 24%
Obese 32% + 25%+

The final word

We hope this has helped explain what body composition is, what it means for your health, how to measure it and how it differs from BMI. Please take this advice with a pinch of salt and discuss it with your GP before making any big changes in your lifestyle. Last updated: 20 October 2020  Sources 1 https://www.lexico.com/definition/body_composition 2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2873180/ 3 https://academic.oup.com/bja/article/116/3/319/2566140 4 https://academic.oup.com/bja/article/116/3/319/2566140 5 https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/112/what-are-the-guidelines-for-percentage-of-body-fat-loss

Related Articles

  • Visa
  • MasterCard
  • PayPal
  • AmericanExpress
  • ApplePay
  • ClearPay
  • AliPay
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
Copyright © Holland & Barrett Retail Limited, 2024. All rights reserved. hollandandbarrett.com is a trading name of Holland & Barrett Retail Limited,. Registered office: Samuel Ryder House, Barling Way, Nuneaton, Warwickshire CV10 7RH. Registered in England: company no. 2758955. Registered VAT no. 211727395.