What is really the ideal body fat percentage?

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Harry Westgate

Level 6 Valued Member
Hello all,

I'm aware that this will vary from individual to individual (and also from sport to sport, since certain sports reward lower BF%s more than others), but is there really an ideal figure for health (i.e. longevity, avoiding illness, etc.)?

Having read and been following Ori Hofmekler's Warrior Diet, he says that any excess 'bulge' is basically just a storage area for toxins. I can't remember the exact words he uses, but it is to this effect, and I figured it makes a lot of sense. He then says that men should have a body fat of no more than 10%, and I think women around 15%.

Speaking as a man, and also being at around the 10% mark (perhaps slightly higher at present; maybe 12ish), when I first read this, I thought that 10% was a pretty low number to maintain for most people purely for health benefits... Don't get me wrong, I think 10% should be achievable by anyone once they figure out what foods work for them, but still, for myself, maintaining 10% year-round means no cheat days at all (I'm one of those people who gains weight just from looking at junk food); no pizza, no cake, no ice cream... You get the idea (and the thought of this makes me sad)... I mean we're only human, so what's wrong with the occasional day or two of eating whatever you want, whenever you want? Before reading The Warrior Diet, if asked about a healthy BF% for men, I'd always have assumed that 15% or less was absolutely fine...

Anyway, I'm rambling a bit now, but I'd just like to hear your thoughts on whether or not a 'healthy' body fat percentage exists and roughly what said number would be?

Thanks!

Harry
 

wespom9

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
I generally think men should stay below 20%, women below 30%. The farther down you go, the higher cost its going to take (cost being exercise more, eat healthier, etc.). Personally I think if a man is under 15 and a woman under 25 that would be ideal, but some people understandably will not be comfortable with the trade off to get that low. Working with lots of clients, I find if they are above the first numbers I mentioned they tend to have a host of metabolic problems, ranging from higher resting BP or HR, blood sugar issues, etc.
 

Harry Westgate

Level 6 Valued Member
Interesting, thanks for the insight regarding those metabolic problems you mentioned! I'll be sure to stay well below those figures then! ;) (Not that I'm worried about getting too fat, given that I exercise well and eat well - it's just something I'd like to remain conscious of! Haha.)
 

Michael Perry

SFG II, SFB
Certified Instructor
Based on absolutely nothing, a few months ago I would have said @wespom9 numbers were high. But, since then a nutritionist told me up to 20% is fine. And btw this is a very athletic nutritionist with a client population of athletes.

Editing to note the up to 20% she indicated was for men.
 
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wespom9

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Here's the cost of getting lean. [Infographic] Is it really worth the trade-off? | Precision Nutrition

I love showing this infographic to clients, even though its geared to athlete, or those who want the six pack. Basically each, box shows good/bad habits that individuals at that body weight do. Example, have 1-2 palms of protein per meal while limiting desserts to 3-5x a week, etc. You can see to get under 20 for men, 30 for women is basically just cutting out the crap, while with each progressive stage it gets tougher and tougher. Now, please don't take these numbers and guidelines as gospel; my bodyfat % is usually from 7.5-10% (I check either every 2-3 months, or at the beginning and end of a program) and I absolutely have a dessert more than once every two weeks, but I find it a very telling infographic that portrays the necessary lifestyle more accurately than other information out there.

Also, lets not forget the average person out there. Those of us on this forum clearly have a commitment to staying in peak physical condition. Do we think that the one in four people who are obese walking around will agree with us on that? Go tell someone who is at 40% body fat they need to get under 15. I think that under 20% for men, under 30% is ideal for women. If someone gets there, then I would encourage them to continue to the 15% and 25% guess. After that, it depends on if it is worth it to you. I believe its Dan John who said once you hit certain strength standards, is it really *worth* it to continue? If it's important to you, then yes. If the cost benefit ratio is not, then more power to you and go accomplish other tasks while maintaining what you do have.
 

Harry Westgate

Level 6 Valued Member
@wespom9 Thanks for that infographic! If I could like that post twice I would! Guess that allows one, while not being set in stone due to individual differences, to decide on what their priorities really are. For instance, while I take time away from competitive boxing, does it really matter if I don't maintain a super low body fat? Nope. I'd rather stay strong and fit and not have to worry about going out for food and a few drinks! :)
 

Tarzan

Level 4 Valued Member
Does anyone think age to bodyfat % is important ?

When I was younger I'd commit every dietary sin, do minimal exercise and stay around 10% bodyfat quite easily. I'd eat breakfast (cereal+toast), morning tea (hamburger + fishcake) lunch (2 hamburgers) afternoon tea (donuts and pastries etc), dinner (steak + veg) and sometimes go to Mcdonalds and have another meal later (fries, big mac and quarter pounder) & drink coke with almost every meal.

Now (at 47) I don't eat much garbage at all and around 12% BF seems to a number that's a barrier for me. If I want to get below that I have to go into deprivation mode, so I just don't bother.

Now I let it drift up to about 15% and burn the dross off with an occasional extended fast (2-3 days).
 

wespom9

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
I definitely believe so. A physician I've worked with in the past has told me that for every decade after 40, you should add 2% to your "ideal" - so if 20% is ideal for a male, by your 70's its more like 26-28% that is more realistic. This would mostly be due to it simply being tougher to gain/keep muscle mass (sarcopenia for you science geeks out there) as we age, slowing of metabolism, more issues popping up that prevent the same type of exercise (joint/muscle/whatever), more recovery time needed between sessions therefore less overall volume, etc.

@Tarzan that is a great example what you mentioned, the 12% being a barrier. You just get to certain points and have to ask yourself if the next 2% really worth it. Obviously we all know this, but 12 to 10 is way harder to achieve than going 30 to 28.

Edited to say you are welcome for the graphic! Precision Nutrition tends to be very good about their data and message. Lots of high quality info, I highly recommend it.
 

jca17

Level 3 Valued Member
Also as always, genetics play a role. There are people who stay under 10% while eating whatever they want. That probably has to do with "whatever they want" not being as much as another person's appetite, rather than it being the body somehow using up the extra calories from a carefree diet.

This isn't meant to be discouraging, rather, it should be somewhat encouraging that you aren't necessarily doing anything worse than that person, its just the cards that were dealt. You CAN achieve it, but with more effort.
 

Harry Westgate

Level 6 Valued Member
@jca17 Too true. Speaking from my own experience, I can say that the chiselled six pack look for me is pretty tough to maintain, purely because the only place on my body where I can pinch more than about 2-3cm of fat is on my belly :(, and as such I need to be at single digit body fat levels to get there. Guess I was just dealt a bad hand there haha.
 

Abdul-Rasheed

Level 6 Valued Member
I checked my body fat today at the gym, they had an electronic equipment and not a caliper/manual approach. I punched in my height, weight and age, and held it against me ..and it displayed 21.3 body fat; 24.7 BMI. Per the excellent chart above, I got work to do in the diet department, i suppose.
 

rickyw

Level 7 Valued Member
If I remember, most machines you would find at a gym to measure body fat have a pretty wide margin of error...like + or - 5 percent, depending on which machine. A DEXA scan is one of the most accurate methods
 

wespom9

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Golf...baseball....
i think you'd be surprised that even these sports have extremely few guys above this number. Its easy to picture a Fielder or Bartolo, or a John Daly type, but its few and far between. Don't forget too, there are very few positions in ball where you can get away with it, a majority require unbelievable athleticism. Especially golf - Tiger really revolutionized the way these guys train, and nowadays TPI does amazing work with movement based training for golf fitness (They are tied tightly to FMS). You'd be hard pressed to find someone on the Tour who isn't doing a good chunk of training.
 

rickyw

Level 7 Valued Member
@wespom9 you are likely correct. I never really sit down and watch baseball. But every time I see it on the tube, there is always one or two fellas that are definitely over %20...;)
 
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