If you have ever measured your body fat percentage, you most likely asked yourself: What is a healthy, realistic body fat percentage that I should aim for?
While there is some debate as to what constitutes a “healthy” body fat range, we compiled information from some of the world's most reliable sources. The body fat classification below is mostly based on information from Cosmed, the manufacturer of the BOD POD body composition machine. It is also based information from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, Essentials of Exercise Physiology (4th Ed) by McArdle, Katch & Katch and various epidemiological studies. It is used by Fitnescity, as well as by prominent health institutions in the country, such as Mount Sinai's Metabolic, Body Composition, and Sports Performance Clinic.
This classification applies to individuals 18 and older and is divided in two categories: body fat percentage chart for women and body fat percentage chart for men.
Body Fat Percentage: The Basics
The body fat percentage (BFP) is the total mass of fat divided by total body mass, times 100. Total body fat includes two types of fat: essential body fat and storage body fat.
Essential body fat
Essential fat is necessary to maintain life and reproductive functions. Women have higher body fat and essential body fat percentages relative to men for any given level of fitness. This difference is attributed to physiological differences, such as hormones, ovulation and childbearing.
The percentage of essential fat is 4–5% in men, and 10–13% in women.
Storage body fat
Storage body fat consists of fat accumulation in adipose tissue. The main role of adipose tissue is to store energy in the form of lipids, although it also cushions and insulates the body, protecting internal organs in the chest and abdomen. While some storage body fat is needed, excess accumulation of fat can be harmful.
Body Fat Percentage Charts
Your body fat percentage can indicate whether you fall within the "low body fat risk", "ulra lean", "moderately lean", "excess fat" or "high body fat risk" zone.
Body fat percentage: classification - Women
Under 15%: Low Body Fat Risk.
15%-18%: Ultra Lean.
22%-30%: Moderately Lean.
30%-40%: Excess Fat.
Above 40%: High Body Fat Risk.
Body fat percentage: classification - men
Under 5%: Low Body Fat Risk.
5%-8%: Ultra Lean.
12%-20%: Moderately Lean.
20%-30%: Excess Fat.
Above 30%: High Body Fat Risk.
Digging a little deeper, visceral fat is of particular concern. Visceral fat lies out of reach, deep within the abdominal cavity, where it pads the spaces between our abdominal organs. It is a key player in a variety of health problems — much more so than subcutaneous fat, the kind you can grasp (or "pinch") with your hand.
The good news is that visceral fat yields fairly easily to exercise and diet. However, Subcutaneous fat located at the waist — the “pinchable” stuff — can be frustratingly difficult to budge, but in normal-weight people, it's generally not considered as much of a health threat as visceral fat is.
Looking to measure your body fat percentage? Here are 5 ways to test your body fat.
Get a DEXA Scan (Note: This classification does not apply to DEXA scan results).