Let’s face it: the journey to achieving health and fitness goals can be long and difficult.
While many people want to be the fittest, strongest, and healthiest versions of themselves, dramatic body composition changes rarely happen immediately, which can be discouraging. It can also be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you’re used to focusing on weight-only goals.
In this article, we’ll outline seven of the most common mistakes that can get in the way of your quest to improve your body composition, plus how to avoid them!
Why body composition goals are so important
Body weight is one of the most basic metrics we use to judge our fitness. It’s also the most popular metric, perhaps because it’s so easy to track — and, unfortunately, obsess over!
However, if you’re looking for a way to improve your total health and wellness, you should consider making body composition goals in addition (or even instead of) weight management goals. This is sometimes referred to as body recomposition.
Your body composition takes into account several factors that contribute to your total body weight, such as your muscle mass, body fat mass, and percent body fat.
Making body composition goals, rather than losing weight alone, means building or maintaining lean muscle mass, which has been linked to protection from diseases like cancer — and even a longer lifespan!
Furthermore, paying attention to your body composition can also help you to better understand your overall health and health risks.
For example, making body composition goals instead of weight goals can prevent the “metabolically obese” scenario, when you’re technically a healthy weight but still have more body fat than is optimal for your health.
7 Common Mistakes to Avoid While Improving Your Body Composition
1. Underestimating the importance of your diet
Many people think that the best way to accomplish a fitness goal is to exercise and hit the gym. This is especially true when it comes to body recomposition, since your objective is usually to increase your muscle mass, which requires working out.
However, it’s just as important to pay attention to your diet as it is to refine your exercise routine if you want to attain your body composition targets.
While exercise can certainly help you build lean muscle mass, your body needs adequate nutrition so that your muscles can recover, repair and, ultimately, grow. Another point: exercise can burn calories, which is important for burning fat, but that calorie deficit can easily be canceled out if your diet isn’t portion-controlled.
So, to ensure that you’re making body recomposition progress in a timely manner, it’s a good idea to pair your workout routine with a diet that is tailored to your goals. This has been proven to lead to better and more consistent results.
A 2012 study focused on post-menopausal women found that introducing the participants to a weight intervention involving exercise alone led to an average 2.4% weight loss, while an intervention that focused on diet alone led to an average 8.5% weight loss.
However, a two-pronged intervention that included both diet and exercise led to an average 10.8% weight loss over twelve months!
Similar results were seen in the participants’ body composition measurements, including their waist circumference and body fat percentage.
2. Focusing solely on calories
On a related note, if you’re trying to change your body composition, it’s important to take a holistic look at your diet and consider factors beyond just the number of calories you eat every day.
If you’re coming from a mindset where you’ve only ever focused on weight loss, you might be familiar with the old mantra: calories in versus calories out. This idea comes from the fact that your body uses calories for energy. If you consume more calories than you use, your body then stores the excess in your fat tissue to be used later on.
On the other hand, a deficit of calories means that you have to burn through the stored calories in your fat tissue for energy, ultimately leading to weight loss.
So calories are important, especially when it comes to managing your body fat.
However, when it comes to body recomposition, it’s also essential to focus on your diet quality so that your body has all of the building blocks it needs. It’s especially important to look at your protein intake, as an adequate protein intake is necessary for building muscle.
Eating a high-protein diet while in a calorie deficit can lead to better diet quality and reduced loss of lean body mass, helping you to tackle multiple body recomposition goals at once.
3. Not having a workout plan for building muscle
Body composition goals generally involve building muscle in addition to losing fat, which means that you need to have a workout plan that adequately addresses both targets. In many cases, this means implementing a combination of various workouts into your day.
Cardio-centric aerobic workouts may be good for losing weight since they often require massive amounts of energy and thus can increase your calorie deficit. But cardio alone usually isn’t enough to build significant muscle mass.
Instead, the best way to build muscle is toincorporate heavier resistance-training exercisesinto your routine, alongside your cardio. Muscle growth, which is also known as “hypertrophy,” requires repeated stress to your muscle fibers via heavy resistance.
When you do challenging resistance workouts like weightlifting, your muscle fibers become damaged. However, with the right nutrition (in other words, enough protein), your muscle fibers can rebuild themselves, becoming thicker and stronger, which ultimately leads to bigger muscles.
This phenomenon was highlighted in a randomized trial called STRRIDE AT/RT, which was designed to compare the effects of aerobic training alone, resistance training alone, and a combination of the two.
The researchers found that aerobic training was the best for losing weight, but that resistance training was necessary to increase lean mass in its participants.
4. Not keeping track of your body composition in multiple ways
Traditional body weight scales are the most common tool that people use to keep track of their fitness. However, when it comes to body composition, a traditional scale can’t tell you much about the progress you’re making.
Muscle tissue weighs more than fat tissue but is much more compact in size. So, if you’re gaining muscle and losing weight, your weight may not change (or it may even go up), even if you’re actually getting closer to your body composition goals.
Instead of tracking your health journey using your weight, it’s recommended that you use other means of determining your progress, in order to get a fuller picture of how your body is changing. Here are a few ideas:
- Measure your hip, waist, thigh, chest, and arm circumferences. These metrics can give you a better idea of how effective your training is than your weight alone.
- Discover your body fat and muscle mass percentages by getting your body composition tested regularly, via a BIA scale or DEXA scan.
- Track your daily steps and approximate calories burned with a wearable fitness tracker. Knowing how much you’re moving around may inspire you to get more active!
5. Not setting specific goals
Most people attempting to improve their body composition have long-term goals that they are working toward. However, focusing solely on those big-picture goals can make you feel like you’ll never reach your target.
Instead of setting major goals that might take months or years to complete, some researchers have found that it can be more helpful to set smaller goals more frequently.
For example, if you’re struggling with your motivation, try setting incremental milestones (i.e., losing one percent of your body fat over a month versus trying to lose five percent of your body fat total).
Smaller goals may help you to stay on target more easily and establish a realistic fitness roadmap. Plus, hitting those smaller goals can provide you with bursts of inspiration that ultimately cause you to meet your major goals over time!
6. Ignoring the importance of sleep and rest
Because your diet and exercise are two of the biggest factors that determine your body composition, it probably comes as no surprise that people with body composition goals tend to focus on what they eat and how often they work out.
However, it’s also important to keep other aspects of your lifestyle in mind, like the amount of rest and sleep that you allow yourself.
Sleep is an extremely important component of your health, and it can play a big role in your body composition. For example, your sleep habits influence the hormones that control your metabolism and appetite.
In fact, sleep is such an important factor for your body composition that researchers have found that sleep disruption can negatively influence your body composition progress, even if you’re losing weight at the same time.
In a similar vein, it’s crucial to know when it’s time to let yourself rest. Allowing yourself a couple of days off per week from your workout routine is crucial to avoiding overtraining, which can actually set your progress back.
7. Not staying consistent
Finally, there is nothing more important for reaching your goals (and maintaining your progress) than staying consistent!
We’re often sold the idea that we can make huge amounts of progress within weeks of starting a new exercise routine or diet plan. However, the truth is that accomplishing a fitness goal usually takes months or even years to accomplish in a healthy manner.
Rapid progress can actually be really bad for your body composition, because it can indicate that you’re losing muscle mass in addition to body fat, which is contradictory to most body composition goals.
So, when it comes to improving your body composition, it’s key to understand that fitness is not a short-term goal. You’ll need to stay consistent for long periods of time if you want to make any meaningful progress.
Even when you don’t see huge changes right away, staying on track will eventually get you to where you need to be — without compromising your health in the process.
When you set a body recomposition goal, what it really means is that you’re making a commitment to eating well, exercising right, and tracking your progress for long-term success.
Accomplishing your goal starts with understanding the main tenets of gaining muscle and losing fat, as well as avoiding these common mistakes along the way. Over time, your efforts will pay off!