Body Fat Percentage – Are You a Lean, Mean Machine?

Body Fat Percentage – Are You a Lean, Mean Machine?

We can be 200 pounds obese person, or we can be 200 pounds lean, very fit muscle-bound athlete. Our 200 pounds can consist of mostly fat, or of pure muscles. Of course, we all prefer that our body consists mostly of muscles, particularly if we are body builders or athletes. Body fat percentage is considered one of the best measurements of a person’s fitness level.

Body fat percentage is the percentage of fat in our body.   A small percentage of fat is essential for our body to function. We need a certain minimal amount of fat to insulate our tissues and organs and to regulate our body temperature. Fat is also the way our body stores energy.  The necessary amount of fat is called essential fat and the minimum percentage for survival is three to five percents in men, and 8-12 percents in women.  A body fat calculator can help you estimate your levels.

How to Measure Body Fat Percentage

There are many ways to measure our body fat percentage, some very sophisticated and precise and other simple but practical and easy to do. Air displacement plethysmography (ADP) is used in combination with Body Mass Index. Shining infra-red light through the biceps and Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry are also used successfully to measure body fat percentage. One of the simpler and popular methods is the pinch test. Skin is pinched by calipers at up to seven points on the body to measure the layer of fat in the skin.

[pel_getmldata healthy=’yes’ numrec=3]

American military measures the body fat percentage as the method of evaluating fitness, by comparing waist and hips circumference to neck measurement, person’s height and few other measurements, in combination with the body mass index.

None of these methods is precise and can be used mostly as an indicator. The methods used are more accurate with average persons than those that are obese or very fit.

American Council of Fitness developed a table which shows the average body fat percentage in women and men, depending on their level of fitness:

Women (% fat)

 Men (% fat)

Essential Fat

10-12%  2-4%


14-20%  6-13%


21-24% 14-17%


25-31% 18-25%


32% plus 25% plus

Why should we know our body fat percentage?

Knowing our body fat percentage, as well as the minimum essential fat percentage can be useful if we are trying to lose weight. Besides knowing how much essential fat we absolutely have to have, we also need to know our lean body mass, the weight of your bones and organs, which is calculated using our height, weight and sex. Adding lean body mass and essential fat, we can find how much extra fat we have and how much weight we can lose without endangering our health. Since our goal is usually losing fat, monitoring our body fat percentage shows us how successful we are. If most our weight loss efforts are through increased exercise, just checking our weight might not be useful. We might actually gain weight, as muscles are heavier than fat.

For athletes, knowing body fat percentage is an important measure of fitness, as it shows how much fat they replaced with muscles. Most athletes have a particular minimum percentage of body fat as the training goal.


HealthStatus has been operating since 1998 providing the best interactive health tools on the Internet, millions of visitors have used our health risk assessment, body fat and calories burned calculators. The HealthStatus editorial team has continued that commitment to excellence by providing our visitors with easy to understand high quality health content for many years.

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