Put in simple words, the Body Fat Percentage (BFP) is the total mass of fat divided by the total body mass. It is a standard health measurement usually linked to the Body Mass Index, used to determine how much of the total body mass is fat. It is a very reliable calculation as it measures a person’s body composition without taking weight and height into consideration, and focusing only on the amount of fat in the body to conclude the fitness level of a person.
Read on to learn more about body fat and the correct, healthy management of it.
A brief introduction into body fat
People very often refer to their weight as a way to measure if they have been gaining fat during the holidays or after a period when they ate too much. But it is important to know body fat percentage is not the same as weight, although linked to it.
Your weight is the total amount of body mass, and it comprises everything in your body including water, muscle, bones and fat; while body fat percentage focuses directly on the analysis of how much of the total body mass is fat.
Why is it important to know your body fat percentage?
If you were to tell your doctor you are 100kg, would that be enough for them to know how healthy is your weight? The simple answer is no. The BFP is essential when it comes to measuring your health and fitness level.
To understand why, imagine a bodybuilder and an obese person, both with a weight of 100kg. Even if their scale shows the same number, they have completely different fitness and health levels; the weight from the bodybuilder is coming mostly from muscle, while the weight of the obese person is fat. This is why it is important to know your body fat percentage.
Nobody can have 0% BFP, and it isn’t recommended to maintain a too low or too high fat percentage in the body as it can bring serious health problems in the long term. Keeping a healthy body fat percentage in the body is crucial for keeping your body temperature, healthy joints and protecting internal organs, in addition to avoiding health risks such as diabetes or cardiovascular problems.
What is visceral fat and subcutaneous fat?
There are two kinds of fat, subcutaneous and visceral. Everyone has some fat stored in their body, even people with well toned six-packs, as there is the type of fat that lies under your skin (subcutaneous) and the type that is known as visceral fat, found deeper inside your body covering and protecting your internal organs.
Subcutaneous fat is caused by a mix of a sedentary lifestyle, eating more calories than the amount we burn and having less muscle mass, and it’s exacerbated when people suffer from diabetes or are insulin resistant. Visceral fat is located near our vital organs including the liver, stomach and intestines.
What percentage of body fat is considered healthy for women and what for men?
For women, a body fat percentage of:
10-12% is thought as essential fat
14-20% is thought as athletic
21-24% is thought as fit
25-31% is thought as acceptable
32% or more is thought as obese
For men, a body fat percentage of:
2-4% is thought as essential fat
6-13% is thought as athletic
14-17% is thought as fit
18-25% is thought as acceptable
25% or higher is thought as obese
How to measure body fat percentage?
This is a very comfortable method and probably the easiest one you can do at home. In simple words, this method consists of measuring different body parts and putting them on a formula to get the result (you’ll need a calculator):
% body fat = 86.010 x log10(abdomen – neck) – 70.041 x log10(height) + 36.76
% body fat = 163.205 x log10(waist + hip – neck) = 97.684 x log10(height) – 78.387
There are also plenty of online calculators in which you just need to give the data and they’ll do the calculation for you.
This is an affordable tool that has been used over 50 years to estimate the subcutaneous fat in the body. Just like tape measurement, this method consists of using the calipers to measure different parts of the body with a skin-fold test. Although you can comfortably do this at home, we recommend you to look for online tutorials on how to find the right parts of the body and how to get the most accurate result possible by using the right pinch for the calipers. In addition, any online skinfold calculator will help you analyze the results.
Body fat scales
Scales and other body composition analysis gadgets are very useful to measure your body fat percentage and other health parameters such ass bone density, muscle mass and metabolic age. There is a wide range of options but, their accuracy also varies so we recommend you do your research before buying one to have at home.
These scales work by emitting an electrical current through the body. As fat conducts less electricity than water and muscle, it uses the resistance of that electrical current to estimate the amount of fat stored.
A DXA (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) scan is a method in which you lie on your back for about ten minutes while an X-ray does a complete scanning of your body to measure different components. The radiation on this test is non-invasive and it causes no harm to the body.
This scan will analyze your body fat percentage, bone density and muscle mass in different body regions, helping you understand where your fat is located. The results are very accurate but they need to be performed by a professional at a place that counts with the equipment, so it isn’t a method you can use constantly to track your progress week after week.
Water displacement test
This test consists of submerging your body in water and measuring the amount of water that is displaced to obtain your body’s volume. Then this number is used in different equations to calculate your body density and body fat percentage.
It is a very accurate technique but the method can be challenging for some people. Additionally, special equipment is required so it is only available at medical centers or research institutions.
How can you stay healthy with the help of body fat?
Both subcutaneous and visceral fat can be cause and consequence of underlying health conditions. As visceral fat isn’t really visible, compared to subcutaneous fat, it is more dangerous and it is important to keep an eye on it to prevent heart disease, strokes, cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease.
In order to understand how healthy is your weight at the moment, a good starting point would be to calculate your Body Mass Index, or BMI, with a simple equation that uses your height and weight to estimate your body mass. The Body Mass Index will place you under one of four main weight ranges:
But to go deeper into understanding your health and fitness level, it is important to know where is that weight coming from, which is where the Body Fat Percentage comes into place.
A high body fat percentage and a body that is considered overweight or obese is associated with health risks such as breathing problems, fatty liver disease, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes. While being underweight can lead to malnutrition, decreased immune function, osteoporosis and infertility.
What are the best ways to lower your body fat percentage?
Cardiovascular activity: Doing regular cardio will help you burn calories and be in the deficit needed to lose weight. On top of that, it will be break down fat stored in your body to use it as a source of energy.
Weight lifting: Training with weights will help tone your muscles, but more importantly, a body with higher muscle mass burns more calories and will further help your weight-loss journey.
Tracking your macros: Keeping a healthy balanced diet will give your body the nutrients it needs to function in the right amounts, and will also help you limit the amount of calories you consume.
Sleeping well: Having enough energy for your day will keep you active and, more importantly, will keep your hormonal levels on point (specially cortisol, the stress hormone). This will prevent your body from going into “reserve mode” and storing fat as a way to have more energy to function.
Sport supplements: Together with regular exercise and a well thought nutrition plan, supplements such as Super Fat Burner, Black Burn or many other weight control formulas, help you take that extra step to keep an optimal fat metabolism.
In conclusion, keeping an eye on your body fat percentage goes beyond stepping on the scale and eating less. Although it may seem complicated it is easily manageable with the correct lifestyle changes, and maintaining a healthy body fat percentage will do great things for your body inside and out. Who wouldn’t want to look great at the beach and, at the same time, stay away from the health risks that come along with obesity? Everyone wins!