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Body Composition Terminology Guide

The world of health and fitness has evolved with all kinds of technical jargon and terminology that can require a guide to get a handle on things. It can become confusing and terms like Lean Body Mass and Lean muscle can get mixed up. Body composition analysis allows an individual to understand their body in a much clearer way with insight into the body’s health. Here we break down this technical terminology to get a basic understanding of how it is relevant to the body’s health. Think of this as a combination glossary, and action guide.

11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 Body Composition Terminology Guide

Guide to Basic Body Composition

Percent Body Fat Body/Fat Percentage

  • Percent Body Fat is a reflection of how much of the body’s weight is made up of fat.
  • It is calculated by dividing the weight of body fat mass by total weight.
  • It helps to track progress whether trying to lose weight or gain muscle.


  • This percentage can be applied to set percent body fat ranges.
  • The healthy ranges are around 10-20% percent body fat for men and 18-28% for women.

Lean Body Mass/Fat-Free Mass Guide

Lean Body Mass is sometimes used interchangeably with Fat-Free Mass.

  • Lean Body Mass is the weight of everything in the body that is not fat.
  • This includes muscles, organs, bones, and body water.
  • Lean Body Mass is not the same as muscle.
  • Lean Body Mass is a collection of different types of body tissues that includes muscle.


  • Lean Body Mass plus Body Fat Mass make up entire body weight.
  • If the Lean Body Mass value is in pounds subtract this number from total body weight to get an approximation of Body Fat Mass.
  • Divide this number by body weight, results are percent body fat.
  • Lean Body Mass is closely related to the total number of calories the body needs every day.
  • The Lean Body Mass forms the core of the body’s metabolism, and this number can be used to help determine unique dietary needs.
  • No more basing nutrition off the 2,000-calorie diet. This is a poor one-size-fits-all approach to food intake.

Skeletal Muscle Mass Guide

  • Skeletal muscle is one of four major muscle types and governs all the movements that are consciously controlled. Everything from texting to deadlifting a barbell.
  • It is the muscle group that grows/builds when exercising.
  • Increased Skeletal Muscle Mass translates into increased strength.
  • When trying to build up the body and grow in size, this is the value to track and watch increase over time.
  • However, muscle is not just for strength.
  • Muscle is made up primarily of protein and can act as protein storage.
  • When the body is under severe stress like a traumatic injury, the recovery process is triggered and needs added protein, up to four times the amount.
  • When the body is not able to get the proper amount of protein from a normal diet, the body begins to get what it needs from the protein storage/muscles.

Basal Metabolic Rate/BMR

  • The Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR, is the number of calories that the body needs to maintain Lean Body Mass. It is a significant component of overall metabolism.
  • An individual with more Lean Body Mass will have a higher Basal Metabolic Rate.
  • This is the reason why a 250-pound athlete needs to eat more than a 150-pound sedentary adult. Because the athlete has more Lean Body Mass.
11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 Body Composition Terminology Guide
  • BMR can help make a healthy diet plan designed for fat loss or muscle gain by helping understand how much energy/calories from food the body needs.
  • Multiplying the BMR with activity factor will estimate Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE.
  • Using the TDEE as a baseline an individual can develop a nutritional plan based on body composition goals.

Body Water Guide

  • Body Water includes all the water in the body. This means everything from:
  1. The water in the blood
  2. Water in the organs
  3. The water inside the bones

Body water can be subdivided into two types:

  • Intracellular
  • Extracellular
  • Intracellular means inside the cells and includes the water in the organs, muscles, composing 2/3 of total body water.
  • The remaining 1/3 is extracellular outside the cells and includes the water in the blood.


  • When the body is generally healthy it maintains a healthy balance of intracellular to extracellular water with a ratio of around 3:2.
  • When the balance becomes unbalanced or falls apart water monitoring becomes important.
  • For example, individuals with severe health problems, like kidney ailments/failure, are unable to rid the body of extracellular water. This causes a buildup of water and requires removal through procedures like dialysis.

Dry Lean Mass

  • Lean Body Mass includes everything thats not body fat and includes body water.
  • When all the water has been taken out what remains is known as Dry Lean Mass.

Lean Body Mass – Body Water = Dry Lean Mass

  • This amounts to the protein content of the muscles and the mineral content of the bones.
  • Most Dry Lean Mass will be found in these areas.


  • Water monitoring can help track real, physical changes in the body.
  • Lean Body Mass contains body water, and body water levels can be influenced by different factors like a recent workout or being low on carbohydrates.
  • Changes in body water are considered technical changes in Lean Body Mass.
  • When building muscle, the body is actually building new physical protein stores and reflects in Dry Lean Mass.
  • An increase in Lean Body Mass can signal muscle growth, or not.
  • However, an increase in Dry Lean Mass is a more favorable indicator that there is muscle growth.

Visceral Fat

  • Two major categories of body fat.
  • Subcutaneous fat is the fat under the skin and is the type that can be seen.
  • The second type is called visceral fat.
  • This fat collects inside the abdomen and wraps around the internal organs.
11860 Vista Del Sol, Ste. 128 Body Composition Terminology Guide


  • Just because it cannot be seen does not mean it is not there.
  • If it is there it is something definitely worth knowing about.
  • This is because visceral fat is not just extra pounds but an active organ that secretes harmful hormones into the body that triggers never-ending inflammation.
  • The more visceral fat, the greater risk of inflammation.
  • Inflammation over time places added stress on the heart that can lead to cardiovascular problems.

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Hopefully, this guide has clarified some of the common body composition terminologies. This is a basic overview designed to provide essential information about body composition and how it applies. A general understanding can help in making healthy lifestyle choices, like deciding to lose weight or dietary adjustments.

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The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, and sensitive health issues and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Our posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate and support directly or indirectly our clinical scope of practice.*

Our office has made a reasonable attempt to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research study or studies supporting our posts. We also make copies of supporting research studies available to the board and or the public upon request. We understand that we cover matters that require an additional explanation as to how it may assist in a particular care plan or treatment protocol; therefore, to further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900. The provider(s) Licensed in Texas& New Mexico*


Westerterp, Klaas R. Exercise, energy balance and body composition.European journal of clinical nutritionvol. 72,9 (2018): 1246-1250. doi:10.1038/s41430-018-0180-4

Borga, Magnus et al. Advanced body composition assessment: from body mass index to body composition profiling.Journal of investigative medicine: the official publication of the American Federation for Clinical Researchvol. 66,5 (2018): 1-9. doi:10.1136/jim-2018-000722