importance of body composition measurement at athletes and
Elena Ortansa, Gurău Anca Ileana
Institute of Sport
Summary: assessment of body
composition is an
essential measure of health
and fitness both for athletes and the general population. The body
composition is a factor contributing to sport performance. The body
fat varies with age and sex and the desirable body fat of athletes
can vary depending on the sport, training level, energy intake. At
non-athletes the assessment of body composition is important in order
to appreciate the nutritional status and monitoring the treatment.
words: body composition, lean body mass, body fat.
body composition is a factor contributing to sport performance.
Assessment of body composition is an important component of the
ongoing monitoring of athletes interested to improve their
two-component model of body composition divides the body into fat
component and fat-free component. The total amount of body fat
consists of essential fat (fat in the marrow of bones, in the heart,
lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys, muscles and central nervous system)
and storage fat (fat that accumulates in adipose tissue, located
around internal organs and subcutaneous). The relationship between
subcutaneous fat and internal fat may not be the same for all
individuals and may fluctuate during the life cycle. Lean body mass
represents the weight of our muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons and
internal organs. Lean body mass differs from fat-free mass. Lean body
mass includes a small percentage of essential fat (essential fat in
the marrow of bones and internal organs) (8).
this lean body mass, the component that can change the most is muscle
are several approaches to body composition assessment. Underwater
weighing and DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) are the only
body fat testing methods that have been scientifically validated and
thus, are considered the “gold standard”, but they
and impractical for most people (6).
sports practice, assessment of body composition is based on skinfold
test. The skinfold method of measuring body fat is practical,
economical, accurate and non-invasive (2). Results come close to
underwater weighing and DEXA, but the technique requires much
practice to obtain accurate results. In this respect, INMS has an
experience for more than 40 years and the method proved its validity.
Measurements are taken with a caliper at several body sites. Results,
expressed in mm, are put into a formula to calculate body fat and
lean body mass percentage.
fat percent varies considerably with gender, age, athletes and
non-athletes.A certain amount of body fat is necessary for health and
body functioning. Essential fat is necessary for bodily functioning
and the essential fat of woman is higher than that of man.
health body fat in adults’ non-athletes is 12-18% (10-25%)
and 16-25% (18-30%) for women (9).
body fat percent for elite athletes varies largely by sports: 6-13%
(19% throwers and harder categories) for men and 12-19% for women.
in athletes’ body weight and body composition are correlated
state of training, training level and caloric intake.
studies have suggested that percent body fat is inversely related to
maximal aerobic capacity and to distance running performance and lean
body mass seems to be positively related to performance in sports
where the ability to generate maximal aerobic capacity is required.
most sports the athlete will try to keep his/ her levels of body fat
to a minimum.
overweight (body-building, canoe) is not a problem if there is very
good lean body mass and low fat tissue. The athletes who has a very
good lean body mass is able to have a high level of subcutaneous fat
(rugby, throwers in athletics), but this growth mustn’t
with high level of blood lipids and cholesterol (4).
especially female swimmers, have % body fat higher than long distance
runners or cyclists.
sports as gymnastics, distance running, jumping, etc the athletes
must be underweight with good lean body mass and few body fat.
ideal body weight and body composition are essential in artistic
gymnastics, because the exercises are made against gravitation.
the body composition and body fat is important for weight category
sports (as judo, wrestling, boxing, weight lifting) in order to
choose the realistic weight category. If an athlete already has low
body fat, then significant weight loss could only be achieved by loss
of lean body mass, which can compromise strength and endurance
sports such as gymnastics, diving, figure skating are in essence
weight category sports, as a low body mass and an ideal body
composition are requirements.
weight and body composition give us useful information for
training and nutrition.
of body composition is also useful in childhood and adolescence in
order to appreciate nutritional status and monitor corrective
BMI is used to estimate one’s normal weight. But, body weight
BMI do not give information about body fat (7). Some well-trained
people with muscle mass may have a high BMI score but very little
body fat. There are people who are at the standard weight for
age-sex-height (or under this weight), but they have too much fat.
There are also people (especially women) who have
very low body fat tissue that is harmful for women.
has shown that beginning about adulthood lean mass get down and fat
tissue get up. Even people who maintain their standard weight lose
muscle tissue and gain fat due to sedentary lifestyle of too little
exercises and too much fat in the diet. Using proper exercises and
diet program it is possible to build muscle tissue in adults and
size of adipose tissue mass depends of the number and the size of
lipid-filled cells. An increase in adipose tissue can occur by an
increase in the number of adipocytes (hyperplastic growth) or by an
increase in the size of adipocytes by lipid accumulation within the
cell (hypertrophic growth). Hyperplastic growth occurs in childhood
pre-adolescence and adolescence, and once new adipocytes are formed,
they remain throughout life. This increased number of adipocytes has
negative far-reaching consequences.
is a chronic disease more and more frequent in childhood and
adolescence due to incorrect diet and insufficient physic activities,
and the over-weight child is predisposed to obesity in adulthood. It
is the quantity of adipose tissue and not just total body weight that
defines obesity (1). Obesity is now recognized as a major,
independent risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
is very important to keep a good weight and body composition during
of body composition is important to monitor the effect of diet and/or
exercise on muscle tissue and fat. Persons who lose weight on a
typical fad diet lose as much or more muscle than fat. Other times,
even if someone starts on a good exercise program combined with a
proper diet, their weight is not changing in first weeks-months, but
they were replacing fat with muscle. The benefit of exercise during
weight loss diet is that it results in preservation of fat-free mass
and allows fat loss that is equivalent to or greater then weight
way to reduce properly is through exercise combined with a proper
well-balanced diet (in any case by starvation) and by monitoring
periodically body composition (body fat percentage).
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