What is the best way to measure fat percentage?
Supplements and General Health • • 1 minute to read • By INFS Faculty
Author- Shubham Modi
In order to track and assess the progress and fitness level over a period of time, we often consider the body fat percentage as one of the most important tools of measurement. However, unlike other progress tracking parameters like tracking weight and inches, there are a variety of ways to track and calculate the fat percentage.
Let’s talk about the common methods to track body fat percentage.
- Formula-based online calculators: These calculators are derived after a lot of research, and can give a very basic idea about body fat levels. These formulas are the easiest and most inexpensive way to get an estimate of body fat percentage.
They do have shortcomings, as they track the fat percentage by taking body weight and inch circumference of certain body parts as inputs, and some people are genetically broad, making their fat percentage on these calculators quite high. One more shortcoming is that they can’t track the visceral fat. (Navy Body Fat test or YMCA formula).
- Skin Calipers: It measures a skinfold thickness on certain body parts. This method is also formula-driven, inexpensive, and hypothesizes that body fat is equally distributed over the body.
The limitations stay the same as the formula-based calculators. This tool can give a fair idea about the subcutaneous fat, but can’t give any idea about the visceral fat levels.
Bioelectrical Impedance: This involves running a light electrical current through the body. Since the muscles contain mostly water, they have less resistance to this electrical current than fats, which contain little water. Resistance to an electrical current is known as impedance; hence the name. In simple terms, the less the impedance to the electrical current, the greater the lean muscle mass, and vice versa. It has gained popularity very recently. BIA is easy to measure and can be done fully clothed. It provides instant information about the muscle: fats ratio, is inexpensive, and is easily accessible to the general population. The limitations are still there, as this machine passes an electric current through the body, hydration status can change the numbers on the report easily. Overhydration will show higher muscle mass and vice versa.
DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) : It involves calculating the body composition (bones, muscles, and fats) by using weak x-ray beams. It is probably what is considered a gold standard of fat percentage measurement and also the most expensive one, it is generally used at medical facilities and high-end sports facilities.
As a matter of fact, all of the above methods involve taking in some inputs which are approximations. And even the gold standard of measurement, the DEXA scan, is believed to be inaccurate by ~5%.
As a practical takeaway, when tracking your body fat levels use one method. Hence, more than worrying about which method is best, it is important to be consistent with whichever method suits you, is accessible, and affordable.
Further, we can always look forward to understanding the range of fat percentage we lie in and that can be easily done by looking into a mirror. This will help us in deciding whether to go for a cut or a lean bulk.
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