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Today I would like to talk about body fat and body fat percentage. Body fat seems to get a lot of bad press these days. There are good things and bad things about body fat. Today we will discuss the entire subject in detail and see if we can figure out what is going on in the media.
Let’s get started.
Defining Body Fat
Body fat often gets a bad rap. That is unfortunate, because we need a certain amount of body fat to function in our daily lives. Our bodies stores some of the fat we take in in our cells and uses it for energy, insulation, and protection.
It is when we accumulate too much body fat that there could be a problem. Too much body fat can lead to obesity and obesity-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. We do need to keep an eye on how much body fat we are accumulating, so we can stay at an optimal health level.
But what is the ideal amount of body fat? Well, if you listen to and believe the media, then you will be unable to meet the standard. There is a difference between Body Fat Percentage and Body Mass Index. Keep in mind that two people could have the same mass (weight) but have completely different amounts of stored fat. It is important to know both numbers, so let’s start with body fat percentage.
Figuring out how much body fat we have can be done in a variety of ways. It may not be as easy as looking in the mirror, however. Here are a few ways you can keep track of how much body fat you have accumulated.
The first is the simplest, but also has the greatest room for error. Use a tape measure to take a few measurements, and then plug them into a body ft calculator Be sure you are measuring directly on the skin and not over clothing. Also, the tape measure shouldn’t be compressing the skin at all.
I did some measurements on myself, first over the clothes, and then directly on the skin. Then I plugged the numbers into this calculator.
My over-the-clothes (OTC) body fat percentage was 18.5%.
My on-the-skin (OTS) body fat percentage was 14.5%.
That is quite a difference, as you can see. It even changes the category I am in, based on measuring accuracy.
This calculator also gives a chart of results based on the national average.
OTC – Over the Clothes; OTS – On the Skin
Body Fat (U.S. Navy Method): OTC 18.5% OTS 14.5%
Body Fat Category: OTC Average OTS Fitness
Body Fat Mass: OTC 28.7 lbs OTS 22.4 lbs
Lean Body Mass: OTC 126.3 lbs OTS 132.6 lbs
Ideal Body Fat for Given Age: OTC 20.9% OTS 20.9%
Body Fat to Gain to Reach Ideal: OTC 3.7 lbs OTS 10.0 lbs
As you can see, there is a bit of a change based on how accurately I measured. Here are some photos of body fat percentages on men and women, for your comparison.
Other ways of measuring body fat include:
- using calipers (instructions with the calipers will show you where to measure and will give you a chart to use to get your number)
- using a body fat scale – they use an electrical current sent from one foot to the other. Fat conducts less electricity, so this measurement, along with your height, weight, age, and gender (which you enter into the scale) will provide a body fat number
- use hydro static weight – weighing yourself undressed sitting in a chair submerged in water. This is considered the most accurate measure of body fat, but you will need to go to a special facility and pay for this test
- use air displacement plethysmography – you enter an egg-shaped pod and your body density is determined through weight and volume. Also, very accurate, but very specialized
- use MRI or CT scan – these are the most accurate, but also the most expensive and are rarely used to measure body fat percentage.
The other general measure of fitness is BMI or Body Mass Index. It is probably the least accurate, but the most accessible.
BMI – Body Mass Index
Body Mass Index is a simple calculation of your weight divided by your height. It can only tell you if you are underweight, overweight, or fall in a normal range of weight for your height. BMI cannot tell you how much of your weight is fat.
My Body Fat Index is 23.9%.
Here is a table, for your comparison. Note: it is the same chart for men and women.
Ideal Body Fat
If you look in the chart for my height and weight (5ft 7.5in, 155lbs), you will see that according to the BMI chart, I am on the verge of being overweight. Just one more percentage point, and I will be in the overweight category. That means if I get to 162 pounds, I will be in the overweight category. Now, depending on the day, my weight fluctuates form 153 to 158. So if I gain anywhere from 4 to 9 pounds, I will be considered overweight.
Keep in mind that I am an avid weight lifter, and my goal is to weigh 160 – 165 pounds. Now that weight will be in muscle, not fat, but my BMI will still say that I am overweight. I include a photo of myself for your evaluation.
Based strictly on the BMI, I would be considered normal, but bordering on overweight. I hope you can see that just using BMI is not accurate.
The ideal body fat range for men is 8-19% (of this 2-5% is essential for daily functioning), and for women, the ideal body fat range is 21-33% (of which 10-13% is essential).
Keep in mind that the main function of fat is to store lipids form the body for us to use as energy. Secondary functions of fat are secreting a number of important hormones, providing the body with some cushioning, as well as insulation.
Not enough fat can be just as detrimental as too much fat. We need to keep ourselves in the ideal range so we can function efficiently on a daily basis.
The way that we can keep ourselves as healthy as possible is as follows:
- be sure to be involved in moderate to vigorous sustained (45 minutes) aerobic activity 4-6 times a week
- be sure to do strength training 2-4 days a week (more if you want)
- be sure to eat mostly whole foods like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains
- be sure to keep your portion sizes in check, especially at restaurants
- be sure to discuss your exercise and eating habits with your doctor
What We See In The Media
Unfortunately, what we see in the media is not helpful for our self-esteem or our fitness goals. We are bombarded with photos of athletes and models who do not even fall in the healthy range of body fat. They are usually underweight and below the recommended level of body fat.
Remember the ideal body fat for men is between 8 and 19%. The photos we see in the media are of guys who are between 3 and 10% body fat. That level is quite unattainable for the average guy. Unless you want to spend 4-5 hours a day in the gym and hire a nutritionist to ensure you are getting enough calories (of the correct foods) to build muscle, then don’t make this your goal.
And ladies, the ideal body fat percentage for you is between 21 and 33%. Look at the photos above. What we see in the media are women who are between 10 and 20% body fat. Again, not realistic for the average person. Here are two photos of people with 10% body fat.
Without daily, extended, weight lifting and aerobic exercise, and watching absolutely everything you eat at all times, this should not be your goal!
It is unrealistic!
If we want to be healthy, we need to watch what we eat and exercise regularly.
If we do work out regularly, we may or may not ever see our abs. For men, our body fat needs to be between 6 and 17% for our abs to show (in the above photo, my body fat percentage was 15, and they are still not showing). For women, your body fat percentage would need to be between 14 and 24% for your abs to show. Those are pretty low numbers and would take some serious effort on our part to get there.
We do need to remember that we cannot out-crunch bad eating habits. Abs are made in the gym and uncovered in the kitchen. Eating properly is a must if you want any of your muscle to grow and show.
So there you have it.
Body Fat Percentage and the elusive six-pack. We may or may not ever see our own six-pack. Is it worth trying? I think so. I will continue to work hard in the gym and eat properly, and I do have faith that one day my six-pack will show. It may take a few years, but I’ll get there.
And so will you, if you choose to change your eating habits and work our every day.
Thanks for listening.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
See you in the next post.
Have a great day!