If you look inside most muscle magazines or on your Instagram feed. You’ll see shredded people left, right and centre. But is being shredded synonymous with being healthy? In this article, I’ll answer the question of what is a healthy body fat percentage?
A Healthy Body Fat Percentage Should Be Thought Of As More Of A Healthy Body Fat Range And Quite A Large One
Contrary to popular belief an extremely low body fat percentage is not always better.
And when I talk about low body fat percentages I specifically mean below 10% body fat for males. And below 18% body fat for females.
Yes, this looks cool. But for most people just looking to get healthy Reducing your body fat this low just isn’t necessary. And will include many undesirable consequences. Such as:
- You’ll be extremely food focused all of the time.
- Your training will suffer.
- Your hormones won’t be working as optimally as they could be.
- It’s hard to maintain super lean levels of body fat.
If you want to compete in physique sports. Then getting to this level of leanness can be worth the sacrifice. But for most people who want to lose weight and get fit and healthy, it’s not worth the sacrifice.
A Healthy Body Fat Range For Most People
If you’re just trying to be healthy, fit and strong. Then staying in between the 10-20% body fat range for males is ideal and for females, the 18-28% body fat range is also perfectly healthy.
Contrary to popular belief it’s not unhealthy to be in the high teens of body fat percentage for males and high twenties for females.
But I wouldn’t let your body fat increase any more than this. Because if you do you’ll experience unwanted side effects such as poor insulin sensitivity.
And you’ll just add too much unwanted fat gain which will make cutting down and losing body fat a longer process than it needs to be.
This can be frustrating especially if you like to stay at the lower end of this range.
Body Fat Percentages Pictures
How To Measure Your Body Fat Percentage
My favourite way to do it is by taking progress pictures. This can be a good indicator of seeing how fat your body fat levels are getting.
Another good way to estimate your body fat percentage is using the Accu measure body fat calliper.
Lastly, it also makes sense to take waist measurements as this is a good indicator of fat loss and fat gain. If your waist measurement is increasing you’re gaining fat. And If your waist is decreasing you’re losing fat.
Body Fat For Aesthetics
If you want to get lean and “ripped” then most people need to get below 10% body fat for males and below 18% for females.
You won’t be as strong when you’re this lean (unless you’re on a concoction of drugs). You will be hungry most of the time. And it’s just not that sustainable in the long term for most people.
Body Fat For Performace And Muscle Gain
You can basically gain strength and muscle at any body fat percentage but if you go over the 20% body fat range for males and 28% body fat range for females.
You’ll be gaining a lot of body fat. And if aesthetics/ appearance is your goal. Then you’re just getting further and further away from this goal.
But if you’re not to fussed in letting your body fat percentage creep up. Then you can still gain a lot of muscle and strength.
For example, sumo wrestlers carry the most amount of lean body mass (which includes muscle) in the world. And it’s very common to see male sumo wrestlers go over the 30% body fat range (males).
The More Muscle You Have The Better You’ll Look At A Given Body Fat Percentage
One big mistake I made when I first embarked on my fitness journey was that I wanted to stay fairly lean all of the time. This didn’t help me much.
Because if you stay lean all the time. Then you’ll never gain muscle. This is because gaining muscle requires that you increase your body fat percentage. Albeit only slightly.
And as soon as I came to grips that a muscular and strong 15% body fat percentage was better than a skinny 10% body fat percentage. My performance increased and so did my physique.
This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with being lean. But if you haven’t built any muscle so to speak of and you get lean. You’ll just look skinny and this is a truth that you can take to the bank.
Your Body Fat Set Point (And How It Relates To Body Fat Percentage)
Think of your current body fat percentage as your bodies thermostat.
Hormonal functions are working well at this range (if you’re within a healthy body fat range).
You don’t get too hungry and your body can easily maintain homeostasis.
Although if your calories drop and you lose body fat your body naturally produces less of the hunger hormone leptin.
This increases hunger and encourages you to eat more food.
If you identify with your bodies natural hormonal responses you’ll eat more food and you won’t lose weight. This will lead to you maintaining or gaining body fat.
If you eat more food than you burn or roughly as much food as your body burns. Your body increases leptin production and because leptin is high you don’t feel as hungry.
Other hormones also play a part but know that your body doesn’t want to lose fat or gain fat. It wants to maintain homeostasis.
You can change your body fat percentage set point. In both directions. Your body will adapt to more or less body fat over time. Although if you’re really lean (below 10% for males and below 18% for females your body will fight back to a certain extent and will prefer to be at a slightly higher body fat).
This makes sense evolutionary speaking because body fat is stored energy. And the person who carries more body fat will survive for longer if food is scarce.
The Best Body Fat Percentages To Bulk And Cut
As you now know its not unhealthy to get as high as 20% body fat for males and about 28% body fat for females.
So if you do want to build muscle I’d say that if you’re 10-15% body fat and you’re a man then it’s a perfectly valid option to start to lean bulk up to 20% body fat at the most.
For women, at 18- 23% body fat you can lean bulk up to 28% body fat at the most.
The Best Body Fat Percentage To Look And Feel Your Best
Health should always be your number 1 priority. And if you aim at health you’ll more easily reach your, strength, aesthetics and performance goals.
But if you neglect your health you’re setting yourself up for failure in the long run. So the best body fat percentage is the body fat percentage that makes you feel and look your best. This will be somewhere in the range described.
The Bottom Line On What Is A Healthy Body Fat Percentage?
- For males and females, a perfectly sustainable range of body fat if you want to be healthy is 10-20% for males and 18-28% for females.
- If you want to get lean and reveal some aesthetics then you can lose body fat lower than these ranges. Although it will come with some consequences.
- You can still make progress and build strength/ muscle at higher body fat percentages. But there will be some additional fat gain.
- Don’t get stuck in just trying to stay lean all year round. Because if you’ll do you’ll never build any muscle and strength. This is because adding body fat is inevitable if you want to gain muscle/ get stronger.
- A strong-looking 15% body fat for males and a 23% body fat for females is much better than a skinny body fat with not much muscle and strength.
Thanks for reading. If you need any extra help or want to ask me a question. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.