We all need body fat, it contains essential nutrients – the problem is, most of us just have too much of it.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
The widely used body mass index (BMI) provides a measure that allows for an estimate of healthy weight of an individual based on their height. While BMI largely increases as adiposity increases, due to differences in body composition other indicators of body fat give more accurate results. For example, individuals with greater muscle mass or larger bones will have higher BMIs.
Body fat percentage is a great measure of fitness level since it is the only body measurement which directly calculates a person’s relative body composition without regard to height or weight.
Women, during the course of their life may need to sustain an embryo and then a baby from their own energy reserves. So they accumulate more body fat than men as some of it is stored energy to help nourish a child through its development. This is not to say that men don’t also use body fat as stored energy. Men just need less of it.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), body fat standards can differ based on age, gender, race, ethnicity and even activity level. However, to simplify the various standards, ACSM offers the version as shown below. The leanest athletes typically compete at levels of about 6–13% for men or 14–20% for women. Bodybuilders may compete at ranges even lower than these levels.
There are a number of methods for determining body fat percentage. This includes the more traditional, but less accurate, methods such as measurement with calipers or through the use of bioelectrical impedance analysis.
Then there are very precise methods, which are also very expensive costing upwards of several hundred dollars. These include whole-body air displacement plethysmography, near-infrared interactance and dual energy X-ray absorptiometry.
Fortunately, advances in technology are offering additional options.
Scales that measure body fat do this by sending a low electrical current through one foot and reading the current with a sensor under the other foot. Most of this current will flow through your “lean mass” as this is the most conductive, so none of the current will actually flow through your fat content.
Your percentage of fat is then estimated, and highly dependent on variables such as level of hydration, bone density, etc. The accuracy of body fat measurements provided by scales should therefore be taken with a grain of salt as they can be inconsistent and inaccurate at the best of times.
Essential reading: A roundup of the best smart scales on the market
Most smart scales measure more than just body fat. They measure weight of course, calculate body mass index (BMI), and some calculate lean mass, water weight and various other metrics. Equally important, smart scales also have the ability to track and store data which makes the job of keeping track of your progress that much easier. Much easier than writing everything down yourself.
For most people smart scales should provide a sufficiently precise estimate of body fat. For those more serious about their health and fitness, or for the gym rats among us, there are a couple of other interesting options worth trying out.
When you think of fitness trackers, Skulpt products don’t readily come to mind. That’s because they’re a different breed, that measure metrics that you wouldn’t normally capture with more ‘traditional’ activity devices. Rather than monitoring daily activities, such as steps taken and distance traveled, Skulpt Chisel measures muscle quality and body fat percentage.
The gizmo follows in the footsteps of the original first generation Aim device. The Aim was brought to life after a successful Indiegogo campaign back in 2014. That campaign set out with the goal of raising $100,000 in funding, but by the end raised four times that amount.
Just like the original, Chisel has 12 sensors on the back with optimized configurations and frequencies. These send a small current past the subcutaneous fat and through the muscle fibers, picking up thousands of data points per second. The technology then evaluates the flow of that current to measure the fat percentage per muscle, and rates that muscle’s fitness.
Chisel measures 24 different muscles on your body, providing the fat percentage and the MQ value for each individual muscle. The 24 muscles are (both left and right side): abs, biceps, calves, chest, forearms, glutes, hamstrings, lower back, quads, shoulders, triceps, and upper back.
Is it perfect? It would be a stretch to say it is. You’ll find the little gizmo iz very sensitive to where it’s placed on the body. But with regular use, this tracker will give you better insight into your fitness and enable you to measure the results of your workouts more precisely. This will help you to understand where exactly you are losing fat and gaining muscle. Then when you head off to the gym, you’ll have a much greater understanding on which muscles you need to place most focus on.
An option in the making is called Bello. A crowdfunded project, the gizmo automatically measures fat volume around your waist with medical-grade accuracy.
It does this with near infrared spectroscopic technology and records it in the accompanying smartphone app. The company says Bello measures lipid, water, oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin making it the first portable device that can directly quantify lipid underneath the skin.
The FDA-approved product is going for around $190 on Indiegogo (50% off final retail price) which is not exactly cheap. Delivery to backers is expected this Summer.
Whether you opt for a smart scale, Skulpt Chisel or Bello, monitoring your body fat percentage is much better than just keeping tabs on your weight. Weight alone is not a good indicator of health because it does not distinguish between kilograms that come from body fat and those that come from muscle.
We are very excited where this technology will lead us and look forward to further innovative products in this area.
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