5 Ways to Measure Body Fat Composition

measure body fat

When you’re getting started on your fat loss journey, it is recommended to track your progress through different methods.

Weight loss scales are popular, along with tracking circumference of different body parts, particularly the waist and hips. To really get to the nitty gritty details, we should be measuring our body fat levels because it will provide greater detail on what our exercise and food selection is currently providing for our bodies.

In this post we explore 5 of the best ways to measure body fat composition. Comparing these instruments individually will allow us to answer questions such as which is the most accurate and reliable to use?

1. Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)

omron body fat composition scales

OMRON and Tanita are some of the various BIA scales available for general use. They are generally inexpensive and easy to use, but if looking for more accuracy or more information (printouts, physiological details besides body fat percentage) then they can get pricey.

Pros

  • Ease of use and little skill needed on practitioner’s end
  • Inexpensive
  • Non-invasive

Cons

  • Must follow protocols to receive proper accuracy according to instrument
    • Hydration level, pre-exercise levels, same relative humidity and barometric pressure in area, etc.
  • Accuracy that BIA devices are dependent on many variables, which may be difficult for most people to adhere to before taking the test.

2. Skinfold Calipers

Skinfold-Calipers

With various calipers (Accu-Measure or Baseline Calipers) measurements are recorded according to their respective formulas, and a body composition score is developed.

Pros

  • Accuracy
  • Ease of use (quickly performed depending on accuracy of persons recording)

Cons

  • Depending on method and who performs the measurement, may provide different variables if not consistent
  • Accuracy dependent on initial bodyweight (as overweight persons may have too much fat to be “pinched”)
  • Over time (and dependent on increasing frequency of use), calipers may need recalibration.
  • Invasive (dependent on comfort level of persons)

Further, it should be noted that with different calipers come different formulas and algorithms that must be used for within their respective counterparts.

3. DEXA

DEXA bodyfat

Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry known as DEXA is mainly known for measuring bone mass density. (This test is specifically used in women who are at risk and to diagnose osteoporosis.) It is a device that involves an X-ray machine that compartmentalizes the body into fat mass, lean body mass, and bone mass.

Pros

  • Accurate
  • Low prep time

Cons

  • Expensive – approximately $250
    • Covered by insurance (only if you have a predisposition for osteopenia or osteoporosis )
  • Difficult to find; most universities and colleges may have one
  • Not recommended for measurements over time

4. BodPod

bod-pod

The BOD POD uses air displacement to measure your body composition and resting metabolism rate. Using a 2-compartment model system, it can determine fat mass and lean body mass dependent on correct and accurate use.

Pros

  • Accurate
  • Non-invasive
  • Quick testing

Cons

  • Accuracy dependent on adhering to protocols (clothing, facial hair, body temp. etc.)
  • May be difficult to locate a BodPod
    • Athletic facilities or universities/colleges may have said instrument

5. Hydrostatic Underwater Weighing

Hydrostatic Underwater Weighing

Using a 2-compartment model as well (which comprises fat mass and lean body mass), this method utilizes Archimedes’ principle, stating that a buoyant force on a submerged object (you, a rock, anything really) is equal to the weight of the fluid that is displaced by said object.

Pros

  • “Gold-standard” in body composition measurements
  • Most accurate when adherence to protocols are followed (exhalation of breath, previous meal or food intake, etc.)

Cons

  • Difficult to come across
  • Costs approximately $10 to $70
  • Must adhere to protocols (breathing out full amount of air)
    • Otherwise may produce inaccuracy

In Review

After comparing the pros and cons of several different methods to measure body fat levels, hydrostatic underwater weighing provides the most accurate prediction, despite cost and ease of use. If one has the funds, accessibility, and desire to frequently check their body composition levels, then underwater hydrostatic weighing would be the main option here.

On the other hand, if we are looking for an inexpensive, and quick self-testing method, any skinfold pinching caliper instrument (preferably the AccuMeasure BodyFat Calipers) will provide this, at a cost of a slightly higher margin for error if the skinfold pinching method is not perfect.

Quick Tips on Self-Use Body Calipers

  1. Be assertive in pulling the site to get the measurement – not so aggressive that pulling your skin hurts, but enough to feel the skin displace from its original spot.
  2. Be sure to let the measurement “settle” after pinching with the calipers, as the initial measurement will be different after about 2 to 3 seconds after “settling” around the site or skinfold.
  3. Use the correct formula according to your choice of calipers! This simple tip will save you error from as little as 1-3% to as big as 5% or higher!

Even with all of these methodologies outlined, we must recognize that there is still a margin for error found in all methods chosen. This margin of error can be significantly reduced or increased, depending on the skill level of the practitioner when adhering to specific protocols.

What method do you use currently for measuring body fat composition?

References

http://ddr.nal.usda.gov/dspace/bitstream/10113/47357/1/FNI89000257.pdf

http://www.ajcn.org/content/57/5/605.short

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10702771

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11346675

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15059287

amanda-russell

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