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Man doing lift exercises for strength training

Curious about body changing composition? You’re not alone. It’s common to wonder how to shift your body composition, especially if you’re looking to decrease body fat and increase muscle. 

Read on to learn more, including expert-approved tips for improving body composition to help meet your health goals. 

What is Body Composition? 

Basically, body composition (or “body comp” for short) tells you what you’re made of. As the term implies, body composition details what the body is composed of. This includes two main categories of tissue, namely fat mass and fat-free mass. 

Fat mass, as you might have guessed, includes fat tissue (a.k.a. adipose tissue). Fat-free mass, sometimes called non-fat mass, includes anything that isn’t fat such as: 

  • Bones
  • Fluids
  • Hair and nails 
  • Ligaments and tendons
  • Muscles
  • Nerves 
  • Organs 

Since a common bathroom scale only tells you what you weigh as a whole, more complex tools and techniques are used to find exact measures (like body fat percentage). Our beginner’s guide to body composition can answer your common questions about how to measure body composition and interpret basic results. 

4 Ways to Change Body Composition

Now that you know what body composition is, you’re probably asking, “how can I change it if it’s not in my favor right now?” Like body weight, body comp changes during different phases of life. While there are factors (like genetics) that can’t be controlled, there are many aspects that can be altered. 

Keep reading to find ways to utilize diet, exercise, and other factors to build a more balanced body. 

Work with a Body Composition Expert 

While plenty of “body comp coaches” and so-called gurus exist, dietitians, doctors, and related health professionals are the true experts. Usually, you can request a referral for a body composition test from your dietitian or doctor. Generally, health experts who work with athletes are also familiar with many measurement methods, since athletes are more regularly tested for body fat percentage than the average individual. 

Working with an expert can help you identify body composition changes that aren’t reflected by stepping on the scale. For example, a dietitian may be able to help you identify an increase in muscle mass and the benefit of increased energy, even if the number on the scale stays the same. An expert can also help you understand healthy ranges to stay within for you personally.

You Guessed It — Exercise

No surprises here, but exercise is key to maintaining a healthy body weight and weight distribution. Exercise, especially strength training, helps to build the body’s amount of lean muscle mass. This type of mass is a type of non-fat tissue in your body that is key to helping you thrive and push your fitness limits each day. 

Plus, physical activity is key to burning fat while gaining muscle. In other words, exercise literally changes how your body is composed, and ensures that muscle is being built while fat is being broken down. 

Eat Enough 

Ironically, when you’re not eating enough, the body may actually decide to store more fat. While intermittent fasting has been all the rage in the fitness world lately, it’s important to acknowledge the significance of eating enough. Getting enough calories without excessive consumption ensures the body stays out of survival mode (where it wants to hold on to fat). 

A well-balanced diet, and working with a dietitian to help design one, can help you achieve your ideal body composition. Feeling fueled and energized can also help you achieve other healthy goals, like regular exercise. 

Pair Protocols Wisely 

Working on your body composition will likely require a wellness regimen, rather than employing a tip or two from time to time. In other words, you’ll likely have to combine several healthy habits to create a lifestyle conducive to keeping you in shape. 

For example, many people use both diet and exercise to help keep them on track with their health goals. The amount to which you “need” to work out may depend on other factors, such as how much you eat, how much you sit at your job, or how active you are during your leisure time or hobbies. 

Maybe you have diet and exercise down, but struggle with sleep hygiene or stress. Since many different daily activities can affect the way your body stores fat, you’ll want to pay attention to symptoms and address them (using the help of experts as needed). 

The Last Word on Ways to Improve Body Composition

Luckily, since there are many factors that affect body weight and composition, there are many ways to change body composition in a positive way. Diet and exercise rank among the top tactics, and working with an expert can help you to identify other areas of improvement (such as sleep, stress, or hormones). 

Feeling overwhelmed while starting a series of healthy habits? Remember, changing your body composition is a journey, not a single event. Keep up the good work, and know that while it may take a couple months to see the results you desire, it will be worth it. 


Corleone J. Body Composition: What It Is and Why It Matters. Published November 2022. 

MacPherson R. How to Improve Body Composition With Nutrition and Exercise. Published January 2023. 

Stephens A. Change Body Composition in a Healthy Way. Accessed May 2023. 

Tinsley G. How to Improve Body Composition, Based on Science. Published October 2017. 

Vanderwall C. CPE Monthly: Assessing and Monitoring Body Composition — Learn About Different Methods of Monitoring Body Composition for Weight Management Throughout the Life Cycle and How to Apply Them to a Variety of Patient Care Settings. Published September 2017. 

Annika Weeks

Annika Weeks ("Anni") is a registered nutrition and dietetic technician (NDTR). With expertise as a health professional and experience as a patient in the healthcare system, she hopes to bridge gaps by creating more credible nutrition, health, and wellness information online.