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How to Measure Your Body Fat

How Many Calories Should I Eat?

In order to determine how many calories you should be consuming...whether your goal is to burn fat or build muscle...you have to know how many calories you burn right now. That seems simple enough, but in order to figure that out you have to know how much of your body is made up of muscle, bones, organs and how much is body fat. The bottom line question: how much body fat are you carrying around?

Calculating Body Fat

How much of your body weight is made up of fat can be determined because fat is less dense than your lean muscle and bone.

Hydrostatic Weighing: this is the most accurate way to calculate how much of your body consists of fat. This involves being dunked into a special water tank and weighed...something that isn’t available to most of us.

Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA): this is another very accurate test, this one using an X-ray to calculate body fat. The equipment involved is extremely expensive and only a skilled technician can run this test.

Skinfold Measurements: using body fat calipers, you measure folds in your skin and the underlying fat. Measurements are generally taken at 7 specific points on the body, most accurately done by someone trained in the process. It is possible to modify this process for home use with your own body fat calipers and a buddy, or modifying the process to take in only 3 measurements.

Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis: this process involves sending a small electrical current through your body. Because the current flows through fat at a different rate than muscle and bone, the speed of the current can be used to determine your body fat percentage. This test is offered by some gyms, fitness centers and doctors’ offices, but you can get a decent estimate from a household scale if it offers this feature.

Using the Body Fat Measurement

The best way to use the body fat measurement is as an estimate and a relative guide rather than thinking of it as a 100% scientific number—especially if you are measuring yourself. As long as you use the SAME method each time and are consistent in applying the method than you can use it to “measure” your progress.

For example, if you use the skinfold measurement method, use the same calipers and measure in the exact same points each time. If you go to a gym for skinfold measurements, it is best to have the same trainer or tech measure you each time.

Similarly, using your BIA scale, stand in the same place and measure at as close to the same time of day as possible, for example first thing in the morning before you have anything to eat or drink, wearing the same clothing each time.

Determine which way you want to measure your body fat. Once you have that number you will be able to calculate how many calories your body consumes at rest and how many calories you need to consume to either burn fat or gain muscle.

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