What Does Your Body Fat Percentage Mean?

by Randell Allen on December 9, 2010

what does your body fat percentage meanYour body fat level or body composition is the amount of lean mass compared to the amount of fat mass making up your total body weight. Your lean mass is not just your muscle mass, but also your bones, organs, and nervous tissue. Fat mass, also known as adipose tissue, equals your total weight minus your lean mass tissue.

While there is currently no official correlation between lower body fat levels and health, a body fat percentage over 25% for men and over 32% body fat for women is considered obese (women are generally higher in body fat due to childbearing and hormones).

Obesity is correlated with high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.

Lowering your body fat percentage through diet and exercise may reduce your chance for  disease considerably.

There is a certain amount of fat desirable for health known as essential fat. Fat protects the organs of the body, regulates body heat, hormone production and acts as a major energy source. The amount of body fat essential for health is determined by your sex. For men essential fat is 3-5% body fat and for women 8-12%.

Male athletes tend to participate at 13% body fat or lower, and women athletes approximately 20% body fat or lower. Lower levels of body fat  are associated with an increase of athletic performance. Male professional bodybuilders compete at 3% to 5%, and female competitors 8% to 12% body fat.

How to Calculating Body Fat Percentage

Person A weighs 200 pounds with 25% body fat.

To figure out the body composition ratio multiply 200 (total weight) * .25 (body fat) = 50 pounds.

50 pounds represents the amount of fat mass for person A.

200 total weight – 50lbs (fat mass) = 150 pounds lean body mass.

NutritionX Commentary:

Randell Allen is a nutritionist and Los Angeles personal trainer and the creator of NutritionX. NutritionX Los Angeles offers individualized weight loss-fat loss, muscle gaining, and sports nutrition programs. You can click here to learn more nutritionist Los Angeles.

Body fat testing is an effective approach to monitoring your weight-fat loss efforts. Using a scale will not indicate how much of your weight loss is muscle, fat, or water.

A skilled professional using body fat calipers, hydrostatic weighing, or Dexa cannot only effectively track where your weight loss is coming from in terms of lean mass compared to body fat, but also provide addition motivation for helping you reach your goal.

Most of my clients say that knowing they are going to get tested increases their motivation and adherence to their exercise and meal plans.

There is no proven direct correlation between body fat levels in health. In other words, a women measuring at 25% body fat may not be any healthier than a women at 20% or 29%. However, high body fat levels are extremely dangerous, especially when fat starts to accumulate in the abdomen area, also know as visceral fat. There is a direct correlation with abdomen fat and heart disease.

Reaching athletic levels of body fat percentage is more of an aesthetic goal than means of measuring heath. The amount of exercise and diet manipulation associated with low body fat usually means that you are attempting cultivate healthy food and exercise habits, which is a positive.

What does your body fat measurement mean? For a person with a low percentage of body fat, it probably means you value your appearance, nutrition and exercise. For a person on the high end of the spectrum, it means it may be time to reevaluate your habits in terms of food choice and exercise.


  • Do not rely on your bathroom scale only when measuring your weight-fat loss efforts
  • Make sure you find someone who is experienced with body fat calipers for accuracy
  • Hydrostatic weighing or Dexa are two methods you may also consider- Check your local listings

At NutritionX we use a Skyndex caliper, a non-invasive method of testing that measures the amount of subcutaneous fat (level of fat directly under the skin). Through testing we can determine your relative starting point (lean mass to body fat ratio).


"Physiology & Psychology: Performance Benchmarks -- Body Composition". Retrieved2007-11-01

Durnin, J. V. G. A. (1974). "Body fat assessment from total body density and its estimation from skinfold thickness: measurements on 481 men and women aged 16–72 years". Br J Nutr 32: 77–97.

Gallagher D, Heymsfield S, Heo M, Jebb S, Murgatroyd P, Sakamoto Y (2000). "Healthy percentage body fat ranges: an approach for developing guidelines based on body mass index.". Am J Clin Nutr 72 (3): 694–701

ACE Personal Trainer Manual 2010 (Forth Edition)

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