Ideal Body Fat Percentage (How Lean Should You Be?)

The body fat percentage (BFP) of a human or other living being is the total mass of fat divided by total body mass; body fat includes essential body fat and storage body fat.


Essential body fat is necessary to maintain life and reproductive functions. The percentage of essential body fat for women is greater than that for men, due to the demands of childbearing and other hormonal functions. The percentage of essential fat is 2–5% in men, and 10–13% in women.


The body fat percentage is a measure of fitness level, since it is the only body measurement which directly calculates a person’s relative body composition without regard to height or weight. The widely used body mass index (BMI) provides a measure that allows the comparison of the adiposity of individuals of different heights and weights. While BMI largely increases as adiposity increases, due to differences in body composition, other indicators of body fat give more accurate results; for example, individuals with greater muscle mass or larger bones will have higher BMIs. As such, BMI is a useful indicator of overall fitness for a large group of people, but a poor tool for determining the health an individual.

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The percentage of body fat in an individual varies according to sex and age. Various theoretical approaches exist on the relationships between body fat percentage, health, athletic capacity, etc. Different authorities have consequently developed different recommendations for ideal body fat percentages.


There will always be some debates on the ideal body fat percentage. You need to consider if you are a bodybuilder or a runner, a professional sportsman or just an amator, you need to take a look at your lifestyle…However, there are some charts and graphs that can determine your average body fat percentage. Usually, the females have a higher ideal body fat than the males.

This graph from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the United States charts the average body fat percentages of Americans from samples from 1999–2004:



Take a look at the American Council On Exercise chart,  one of the most commonly used body fat charts. As you can see, women have a higher body fat percentage relative to men for a given level. Women have more fat because of physiological differences such as hormones, breasts, and sexual organs. In addition, women need a higher amount of body fat for ovulation.


As you can see, essential fat is the level below which physical and physiological health would be negatively affected. Controversy exists as to whether a particular body fat percentage is better for one’s health; athletic performance may also be affected. The leanest athletes typically compete at levels of about 6–13% for men or 14–20% for women. Bodybuilders may compete at ranges even lower than these levels. Certified personal trainers will suggest to male bodybuilders that they aim for a body fat percentage between 2% and 4% by contest time.

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There is also another chart, that has become an industry standard:  AccuFitness, the maker of the popular Accu-Measure Body Fat Caliper, includes a chart when you buy that caliper.When you buy the product, you also get a chart based on research by Jackson & Pollock (which has become the industry standard).


So, now you know what are the ideals of body fat percentage, but how do we measure them? This one is simple, there are a few methods, ones cheap and easy, and other professionals, a little more expensive. this methods includes: underwater weighing, skinfold methods, ultrasounds, bioelectrical impedance, some formulas and many other methods.

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Prior to the adoption of DXA, the most accurate method of estimating body fat percentage was to measure that person’s average density (total mass divided by total volume) and apply a formula to convert that to body fat percentage.

Since fat tissue has a lower density than muscles and bones, it is possible to estimate the fat content. This estimate is distorted by the fact that muscles and bones have different densities: for a person with a more-than-average amount of bone mass, the estimate will be too low. However, this method gives highly reproducible results for individual persons (± 1%), unlike the methods discussed below, which can have an uncertainty of 10%, or more. The body fat percentage is commonly calculated from one of two formulas (ρ represents density in g/cm3):

  • Brozek formula: BF = (4.57/ρ − 4.142) × 100
  • Siri formula is: BF = (4.95/ρ − 4.50) × 100

However, if you know your BMI, there is another formula you can use:


  • (1.20 x BMI) + (0.23 x Age) – 5.4 = Body Fat Percentage


  • (1.20 x BMI) + (0.23 x Age) – 16.2 = Body Fat Percentage



Well, there you have it! What’s your ideal body fat percentage? What is your real BF? Have you measured yet? Remember that you can measure your body fat, but that’s not always important! You need to be healthy, you need to take care at your lifestyle, you need to keep on going to gym. There are some references on and wiki that u can use!


Written by Valentin Bosioc

Valentin Bosioc - wellness specialist, certified personal trainer, certified fitness instructor, celebrity trainer, Musclemania Champion, Ninja Warrior Semifinalist, world wide motivator!


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