Feeling lost in the great wide world of muscle gain and weight loss? Finding out your body fat percentage can help make things more clear.
There’s so much information out there that it’s easy to be overwhelmed from the beginning. It can make losing weight or toning up seem downright impossible.
We’re here to help with the rundown on body fat percentage. What is it? How can you calculate it? What’s a healthy percentage?
We want to make sure your journey is smooth sailing, so we’re going to go over all of those burning questions for you right here.
Table of Contents
What Is Body Fat Percentage?
Your body fat percentage is actually pretty straightforward. It’s a formula that calculates the difference between fatty and muscular mass in your body.
Knowing your percentage, or an acceptable goal to aim for, is a great place to start. This can help fight against conditions like heart disease, sleep apnea, and diabetes, among others.
With pregnancy, a high percentage can cause high blood sugar, and can even increase the risk of an emergency c-section delivery.
Before starting any health or fitness journey, it’s good to be aware of your body and what’s going on with it. Noting discomfort, your body mass index (BMI), and your body fat percentage will help you figure out what needs some overhaul.
How to Calculate Body Fat Percentage
As tempting as it may be to estimate it just by looking in a mirror, it won’t be accurate. You can be considered “overweight” for your demographic, but have a low body fat percentage, and vice versa.
Luckily, there are tools out there to make this process easier for you:
- Skinfold calipers.
- Body circumference measurements.
- DXA scan.
- Body fat calculators.
A skinfold caliper is a small device used to measure the thickness of four skinfold areas. These areas are your biceps, triceps, your subscapular, and your suprailiac fold.
We are all familiar with the first two, but what do those other fancy terms mean?
Your subscapular is the spot just under the lowest point of your shoulder blade. Your suprailiac fold can be found right above the upper bone of the hip (think: “love handles”).
Scheduling an appointment with your general physician is optimal. For the measurement, you’ll need to sit or stand upright, in order to best grab at your folds.
Body Circumference Measurements
This is perhaps the easiest of the methods mentioned, but not without error. The optimal place to take your body circumference measurement is at the waist, though for women the hips are usually included.
To do this, you simply need two hands and a tape measure.
To find your measurements, start at the top of your hip bone and wrap it around the circumference of your waist. You’ll want to be sure the tape measure is level with your belly button to get the most accurate reading.
Make sure the tape measure isn’t crooked or twisted, and don’t hold your breath while measuring. To get the most accurate reading, take the measurement right after you exhale.
Getting a DXA or DEXA scan isn’t totally necessary, but it can give a helpful visual of your body composition.
This stands for “dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry”. These scans are used to show your bone density, but can also pick up the amount of fat inside your body.
This does require professional-grade medical equipment, so you’ll need to schedule an appointment with your doctor to get a referral.
Body Fat Calculators
If you’re not a math whiz and need help crunching numbers, a quick Google search will bring up several calculators for you.
Enter the information it asks for and the computer will analyze your data to give you an accurate reading. A few examples include:
These calculators will require your gender, age, weight, and height, as well as measurements for your waist, hips, and neck.
What’s a Good Percentage to Aim For?
Although the word “fat” has a stigma around it, it’s essential to have some on your body, to help regulate your body temperature. The minimal amount needed for women is about 10-12 percent and men around 2-4 percent.
Too low a percentage can lead to nutrient deficiencies, increased risk of fractures, dehydration, and starvation.
For athletes, it’s good to have between 14 and 20 percent fat for females and 6 to 13 percent for males. But not all of us are athletes, so what are the other numbers?
If you consider yourself “fit,” you should aim for 24 percent fat and under as a female or 17 percent and under as a male. If you aren’t, the acceptable body fat percentage for females caps off at 31 percent and 25 percent for males.
How to Improve Your Body Fat Percentage
If you’re worried about your body fat percentage, there are things you can do to bring it to a healthy level. Here are our recommendations:
- Get plenty of exercise. We know it’s important, but find something you don’t dread, or pick up a new activity with friends. Your body will thank you.
- Consider a low-carb diet, like paleo, keto, or whole foods. (We have meal plans to help with this!) Eating healthier will give your body the essential nutrients that it craves. Leaving out the junk food will significantly help.
- Reflect on your lifestyle. Are you sleeping enough? What’s your alcohol intake? Small things make a difference.
- Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated will help curb cravings and also keep your body functioning properly. A good goal to aim for? Take your bodyweight (in pounds), divide it in half, and drink that amount of water in ounces per day .
What’s Your Percentage?
Now that you know how to calculate your body fat percentage, it’s time to take those measurements and hit the road to a healthier lifestyle.
We hope our guide has been informative for your journey — try out one of the methods listed and let us know how it goes. Comment below with any questions or concerns, and we’ll help you along the way.
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