How much fat is Healthy for me?*

Thursday, 22 March 2018, By Richard Wong

What is a healthy, realistic body fat percentage to shoot for so you can have that lean, toned body you desire?

While there is some debate as to what constitutes a "healthy" body fat range, I have below 2 different types of body fat percentage charts, which I will walk you through along with some insights into how to read each chart.

Ideal Body Fat Percentage Chart #1: ACE

The chart below from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) is one of the most commonly used body fat charts. As you can see, women have a higher body fat percentage relative to men for a given level. Women have more fat because of physiological differences such as hormones, breasts, and sexual organs. In addition, women need a higher amount of body fat for ovulation.

 

BODY FAT% NORMS

 

 

DESCRIPTION

Women

Men

Essential Fat

10-13%

2-5%

Athletes

14-20%

6-13%

Fitness

21-24%

14-17%

Acceptable

25-31%

18-24%

Obesity

>32%

>25%

"Essential fat" is the minimum amount of fat necessary for basic physical and physiological health. There is a lot of controversy over what amount of body fat is optimal for overall health. A research paper by Gallagher et. al. in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2000) came to the conclusion that certain low body fat ranges are "underfat", which implies "unhealthy". According to this research paper, men who are between 20-40 years old with under 8% body fat are considered "underfat", whereas a "healthy" range is described as between 8-19%. For women in this same age group, any level under 21% is "underfat" and 21-33% is considered "healthy".

In my opinion, I think body fat is one important measure of health, but stating a certain body fat level is "unhealthy" doesn't give the whole story. In fact, some overweight people who exercise can be healthier than their leaner non-exercising counterparts. Conversely, to imply that anyone who has a six pack (below 8% body fat for men), is very athletic, and eats well is "underfat", or "unhealthy" is a stretch. We all have different shapes, sizes, and fat distribution profiles, but I think the chart above is a good starting point.

The limitation of the ACE chart is that while it takes into account gender differences, it does not take into account your age, which is exactly why I included the next two charts.

 

 

Ideal Body Fat Percentage Chart #2: Jackson & Pollock

In case you don't understand how to read this chart, just find your age in the left column, then see the corresponding body fat percentage to the right. So, if you are a 30 year old man, a body fat percentage of around 12.7% is considered ideal.

AGES

MEN

WOMEN

20

8.5%

17.7%

25

10.5%

18.4%

30

12.7%

19.3%

35

13.7%

21.5%

40

15.3%

22.2%

45

16.4%

22.9%

50

18.9%

25.2%

55

20.9%

26.3%

You may have noticed as your age increases, your acceptable body fat within these ranges increases as well. Why you ask? In short, these charts are based on statistical assumptions. Older individuals tend to have a lower body density for the same skinfold measurements, which is assumed to indicate a higher body fat percentage. Older, athletic individuals, however, might not fit this assumption because their body density may be underestimated.

Digging a little deeper, there are 3 types of fat: subcutaneous (under the skin), visceral (around the organs), and intramuscular (in between muscle, like a marbled steak). The amount of subcutaneous body fat you have may stay the same, but the visceral and intramuscular fat may increase as you age.

Understanding Total Body Fat Mass

Whilst Body Fat percentage is a common practice to give you an idea of your health and body composition, I think there are a couple of factors that are overlooked. We often look at the percentage and simply think it's better to have a lower percent. Whilst this maybe the case and losing body fat can decrease the percentage, people often overlook that fact that by increasing muscle mass will also decrease your body fat percentage whilst maintain the total kilos in fat that remains on your body. I think it's important to also monitor the total amount of body fat in kilos is important to understand where you are with your health. For example, if a person is 100kgs with 50% body fat. That being 50kgs of muscle and 50kgs of body fat. The person then increases the total muscle mass to 60kgs. Their weight maybe be now 110kgs, 60kgs muscle and 50kgs body fat with a body fat percentage of 45%. Is this total amount of fat still healthy for you? I think not. Especially if that remains as visceral fat around the major organs.

I hope this complete understanding help you with your fat loss goals and your health overall.



*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.

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