Body Fat Percentage


If you lose some weight, still you may look fatter! This is possible if you lose more muscles than fat. Since one pound of body fat is less dense than one pound of muscle, it takes up more space on your figure than a pound of muscle. Hence losing muscles means you would look more bulky. Let me discuss the issue in more detail.


What is Body Fat Percentage?

Body fat percentage is the amount of fat tissue in your body as a percentage of total body weight. So if your weight is 160 pounds and your body fat percentage is 20, it means that you have 32 pounds of fat (160 × 20/100). And then the rest of your weight (160 - 32 = 128 pounds) is formed of lean body mass.

Or in other way, if your weight is 200 pounds and you have 50 pounds of fat, your body fat percentage is 25 (50/200 ×100), which means you have a 150 pounds of lean body mass.


Composition of our body

Let me tell a little more on body composition. Our body is composed of body fat, muscles and bones. In the physical fitness field the composition is more simplified as fat and lean body mass, where Lean Body Mass (LBM) indicates organs, muscles, bones, tendons and water. So your body is made up of:


1) Body Fat - Indicate the fat in your body.

2) Lean Body Mass (LBM) -Refers to the sum of the weight of your muscles, bones, tendons,  organs, water or in other words the sum of everything other than fat in your body.


What losing weight exactly means!

You can lose weight in different ways. You may lose fat, lose LBM or lose both. In all cases you will lose body weight. Though our main goal is to lose body fat, in many cases we lose LBM, unintentionally. Quick fix or crash diet or misconception of diet leads us to lose precious muscles. So when we are interested to lose weight, our concern should be to lose body fat not lean body mass.


Acceptable range

So the question is what should be considered as ideal body fat percentage or BFP. It depends. There are many factors including age, gender & your goal and remember getting zero body fat percentage isn’t not a realistic goal at all. Your body needs some fat for proper functioning and fat also cushions your internal organs. There is another important point to note, usually BFP or body fat percentage is higher among women and they need it for child bearing and other hormonal functions.


You can easily understand that body builders have very low BFP, but they never try to take it down to zero. Do you know why? Because they know minimum fat is essential. The very low BFP body among body builders you see is only for competition days. During other months of the year they go for relatively higher BFP, because that is healthy and essential for proper functioning.  


It’s only a caution. Most probably low BFP isn’t a concern for you. Instead of it you are suffering from high BFP and that’s because you are reading this article.


Essential fat:

Essential fat is the minimum level of fat essential for surviving. Below this level of fat for long time may lead to organ failure. Even for preparation for body building competition body builders never go below this level. It’s 3% to 5% for men and 8% to 12% for women.


Celebrity like:

If you want to look like Ryan Reynolds or Jessica Beil, your BFP should be 6% to 8% if you are man and 13% to 15% if you are woman. Remember this range of body fat percentage may look attractive but it will affect your athletic performance and it’s very difficult maintain.


Six pack:

For six pack body eye on 8% to 11% for men and 15% to 17% for women.


For athletic performance:

Believe it or not, six pack figure may be nice for showbiz world, it’s not suitable for athletic performance. Men will require around 15% and women will require around 20% fat for optimal athletic performance.


For common people:

If you just want to look good and feel good and if you are man you can try to maintain your BFP below 18% and acceptable range for women is 20-23%. It is said that body fat percentage below 15% among women may affect menstruation or fertility.



Body fat percentage between 18% to 24% among men and between 25% to 31% among women is considered average level.



Body fat percentage above 25% among men and 32% among women is considered obesity. This is clearly unacceptable range and if you are within this range you should take some urgent steps.


I have summarized the above information in the table below:




Essential fat



Celebrity like



Six pack



For athletic performance



For common people to look good

Below 18%






Above 25%

Above 32%



Age factor

You should also consider your age to determine your goal regarding body fat percentage (BFP). I am giving two more tables according to Mayo Clinic:








20-40 years

Below 8%



Over 25%

40-61 years

Below 11%



Over 27%

61-79 years

Below 13%



Over 30%









20-40 years

Below 21%



Over 39%

40-61 years

Below 23%



Over 40%

61-79 years

Below 24%



Over 42%


So determine your body fat percentage or BFP and decide what to do. You always need to remember that your goal is to burn fat not to burn valuable muscle and exercise at fasted state will help you to burn fat easily.


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