The Worst Habits for Your Body Composition

Shannon Miller

October 29, 2021

When any body composition goal is achieved, nutrition seems to get all the credit. For good reason: proper nutrition helps fuel the body, produce muscle mass, encourage fat loss, and improve many other aspects of our health. However, there are more factors involved in building a health composition that often go overlooked. Read more on the top non-nutrition habits to avoid when focusing on building lean muscle and losing fat mass – some may surprise you.

Stepping on a typical scale reveals one number: a measurement of total mass, including muscle, fat mass, visceral fat, bones, connective tissue and fluid. Unfortunately, it provides no specification on what proportion of that number is made up of which type of tissue. An individual who weighs 180 lbs could have 30% body fat or 13%. A healthy body composition is usually defined by a body fat percentage of between 21-30% for women and between 14-25% for men. This means there is a relatively higher percentage of muscle and skeletal mass compared to body fat, with a very low amount of visceral fat, which is the fat surrounding internal organs that when high, can increase the risk of chronic disease.

Building a healthy body composition takes more than counting calories and macros. So many other factors affect how the body builds and maintains lean muscle mass. Fortunately, many of these are simple everyday habits that can be built over time to develop into a long-term healthy lifestyle.

Poor sleep

Sleep is essential to optimal health – and body composition. Deep, restorative sleep helps the body fully recover and rebuild at a cellular level. Muscle growth and maintenance depend on recovery: muscle fibers that are torn through exercise, especially weight training, are repaired during sleep. In fact, researchers found that individuals who slept at least 8 hours had 40% more muscle mass than those who got only 5.5 hours of sleep. The body typically needs around 7-8 hours of sleep, including high-quality sleep that cycles through 3-5 REM cycles, or at least 90 minutes of deep sleep. Along with poor body composition, chronic lack of sleep also increases the risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic health conditions.

Not enough water

Dehydration is more than just feeling thirsty. Muscles are primarily made of water. Lower levels of water in the body can lead to cell shrinkage and protein breakdown. Proteins are the building blocks of muscles, making them essential to muscle growth. Even slight dehydration can reduce athletic performance by 20%. How much water is enough? Roughly 16 cups for men and 12 cups for women daily is an adequate amount of water to consume, however more may be required with increased activity or exposure to hot climates.

Too much cardio

Though it may sound counterintuitive that too much exercise can be a detriment to body composition, too much of anything is never great. Cardiovascular exercise, or anything that brings the heart rate up and engages the respiratory system for prolonged periods of time, is fantastic for heart and lung health. However, too much can lead to muscle breakdown, especially if the body is not fueled properly. Muscle breakdown leads to less muscle mass in the body, which can lower metabolism. Mix in resistance training at least 2-3 times a week focusing on all muscle groups to maintain muscle mass, and power up on carbs and protein before and after workouts to fuel and repair muscles.

Extreme low-calorie diet

Again, while it may appear that a reduction in calories leads to a reduction in fat, extreme dieting can have the opposite effect on body composition. Diet culture has perpetuated the message that “less is best” when it comes to daily caloric load. However, severely underfeeding the body over time can result in the body possibly holding onto fat and potentially breaking down muscles to use for fuel, since it is not receiving energy through food. A daily caloric intake that amounts to a slight deficit in relation to the body’s resting metabolic rate (the number of calories the body burns each day while at rest) can lead to a gradual reduction in fat mass, while still maintaining muscle mass. (Not sure of your resting metabolic rate? Contact a Composition ID location near you to schedule a simple breathing test to find out).

Understanding what factors can disrupt the journey towards building a healthy body composition can lead to a heightened awareness of daily lifestyle habits that may be inhibiting progress. Fortunately, once we know better, we can do better. By slowly incorporating strategies to enhance sleep, drink more water, add weight training or eat an appropriate amount of calories per day can help support muscle growth or maintenance and overall better health.

Of course, knowing what your body is comprised of is the first step. A DEXA scan can show an accurate picture of body fat, muscle mass, bone density and visceral fat. Get started on your body composition goals with a DEXA scan and consult from our team today!

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