The Quick Guide To Understanding Body Fat Percentage

Everybody has fat. You do, I do, we all do. However, how  much fat we have can contribute positively and negatively to our overall health and the way we view our bodies. Not to mention our function and ability in daily activities. Before we get into the details of how to calculate body fat percentage and what a healthy body fat percentage is for you, we must first understand why our bodies have fat in the first place and what it is good for. 

What Is Body Fat Percentage

Body fat (BF) percentage is a gauge by which we measure the overall percentage of body fat for an individual’s composition. Body fat percentage is the total weight of body fat in proportion to lean mass, organs, tissues, and water.

Why Is Body Fat Good

Too much dietary fat and body fat can negatively contribute to your health in the form of high cholesterol, artery blockages, and accumulated body fat. However, what a lot of people don’t know is what body fat does for the body in a positive way. Consuming dietary fat in the diet (since your body can’t make this macronutrient) comes in the form of cholesterol, triglycerides, and other essential fatty acids.

Fat promotes energy production, insulates the body to promote temperature regulation, and works to protect our vital organs like a cushion against impact and injury. Fats can also help protein do their job properly and adequately. Aside from dietary fat, the body does store excess calories consumed in the diet as stored body fat. This is where we get the term ‘body fat percentage’, meaning the total overall percentage of body fat stored in the body that contributes to overall weight and aesthetic.

Body Fat Percentage - How To Calculate Body Fat

How do you measure body fat and how do you calculate body fat? Great questions! There are a few different ways to measure body fat, such as pinching the skin, calipers, and other sophisticated (and sometimes pretty expensive) technology such as a DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) scan.These body fat measuring methods will measure the body’s overall fat composition. So if they do that, then how is body fat percentage calculated? The machine will calculate them for you reflected as an overall percentage in relation to the other aspects of your body that make up your overall weight.

Calipers

The most common and cost effective way to measure body fat and calculate body fat is with a pair of calipers. As compared to the other methods below, they’re a little less accurate, but affordable nonetheless. Calipers are a clamp-like tool that you use to take skin fold measurements in order to figure out how much body fat you have. There are specific areas that you measure, like the back of the arm, the stomach, and the legs. You then take these findings and estimate your total body fat percentage.


Bod Pod

The bod pod is usually found at an office or a mobile bod pod truck. If you elect to use this tool of measurement for figuring out your body fat percentage, you’re going to probably have to pay upwards of $75+ to use this computerized, egg-shaped device to measure your percentage of body fat. This method of calculating body fat percentage is very accurate and is easier than underwater weighing and it is a pretty quick process. How long does a bod pod test take? Only about 10 minutes.


DEXA

DEXA stands for Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry and it is used to measure/scan body composition. People do use DEXA scans to measure body fat percentage and this is a very effective (and usually pretty costly $100-$400, can be covered by insurance) method. Basically, DEXA scans look at body fat density in a very quick manner while also taking bone and muscle into account, not just fat.
 The rays emitted from a DEXA scan are similar to an x-ray and it is recommended that you do not do this scan more than every 6 weeks.

Bioeletrical Impedance

This is one of the most common ways to measure body fat and/or receive a body composition analysis. This would be a machine like an InBody scanner that you stand on, hold the handles, and a electrical signal is sent through the body using the electrical charge of water. Since it does use water to base the body fat percentage analysis off of, this type of measurement can be skewed based on the amount of water and sodium content someone’s body has at the time of the measurement.

For example, the more hydrated you are, the easier that signal flows through the body. If you’re over hydrated, the results can be positively changed, but not accurately changed. As long as you weigh yourself on the same schedule and on the same routine, these can be used as a method of measurement (taken with a grain of salt) 

What Body Fat Percentage Is Healthy

Your overall body fat percentage is very reflective of your overall activity, lifestyle, and health level. While yes, as mentioned previously, our body does need fat for several biological functions, however, having too much or too little of it (or anything for that matter) is not necessarily a good thing. Serious health complications can arise and result from too much and too little body fat, so where is the middle ground, and what body fat percentage is healthy?

Body Fat Percentage For Men

Men can tolerate different and much lower levels of overall body fat percentages as compared to women. The lowest threshold for a body fat percentage for men is 3%. Generally speaking, this level of body fat is achieved through rigorous dieting, performance enhancing drugs, and usually for professional bodybuilders.

Body Fat Percentage For Women

Generally speaking, it is not advised to go much lower than 9% as a body fat percentage for women. If the level of fat is to go below that it should be a very small amount of time, for a bodybuilding show or other short term event. The body fat percentage for women is higher than the threshold of body fat percentages for men because women use additional body and dietary fat for hormones, reproductive health, and overall functioning.

Chart For Body Fat Percentage

Age

Body Fat Percentage for Men

Body Fat Percentage for Women

20-39

8%-19%

21%-32%

40-59

11%-21%

23%-33%

60-79

13%-24%

24%-35

** body fat percentage ranges provided by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

Body Fat Percentage: Takeaway

All in all, having a healthy body fat percentage is a good indication of both overall health and your average level of activity. There are a wide variety of ways to measure body fat percentage and it is worth mentioning that men can have a much lower body fat percentage as compared to women. If you're looking to get those abs popping and for a more defined look, then you're not only going to want to strength train, but dial in your nutrition to reduce your body fat percentage.


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