Maybe you’re working out steadily, but the scale still shows you gaining weight - or perhaps you’re trying to figure out exactly how healthy your body is before you start on a new diet or exercise regimen. Either way, calculating your body fat percentage is one of the best ways to take stock of where you are in your fitness journey.
Body Fat Percentage vs. Body Mass Index
You might have heard of finding your BMI or body mass index. This common measurement tool is supposed to calculate whether you are underweight, overweight, obese, or at a normal weight, based on taking an average of your height and weight. However, using body mass index as a calculation has come under fire in recent years.
BMI does not account for what percentage of weight is made up from fat and what comes from muscle. Because of this oversight, someone particularly muscular could be judged as overweight or obese by BMI measurements. Similarly, someone slim might be considered normal or underweight, but they might still be at risk for health concerns if they have a higher body fat concentration.
Enter, body fat percentage - this calculation is meant to account for the differences in people’s natural body compositions, workout habits, and diets that BMI ignores. There are many ways to calculate your body fat percentage, including some easy ones you can do at home.
Healthy Body Fat Percentage
While you might be tempted to think otherwise, the ideal body fat percentage is not zero. Body fat is necessary for cellular function, maintaining joint health, and giving you energy, among other things. The human brain alone uses about 1 out of every 3 calories we consume, even in resting conditions.
Because the brain requires so much energy, maintaining a healthy amount of body fat is an evolutionary necessity for our survival, especially in times of scarcity. Most adult men need at least 3% body fat, and women require at least 12% body fat just to function.
Body Fat Percentage: Women
In general, women require a higher body fat percentage than men. However, in all genders, your ideal body fat percentage varies somewhat according to your age, as well as your activity level.
According to this medical body fat chart, body fat percentage for women ranges from:
- Essential Fat: 0-12%
- Athletes: 14-20%
- Fitness: 21-24%
- Acceptable: 25-31%
- Obese: 32% and higher
Body Fat Percentage: Men
In adult men, the body fat percentages are as follows:
- Essential Fat: 0-4%
- Athletes: 6-13%
- Fitness: 14-17%
- Acceptable: 18-25%
- Obese: 26% and higher
How to Measure Body Fat Percentage
The caliper method is commonly recommended as one of the more effective and accurate ways to measure your body fat percentage. You can have a professional do it or order calipers online and measure yourself at home.
Calipers measure the thickness of your body’s subcutaneous fat, or the fat underneath your skin. This method has been in use for over 50 years, with a general accuracy range of plus or minus 5 percent. The three-site method is the easiest to implement at home and is the most consistent measurement method for most people.
The three sites to measure for men are:
For women, the three-site areas to be measured are:
- Suprailiac (approximately one inch above the right hip bone)
First, take a pinch of fat from your body at one of these three sites, and pull it slightly out, away from you. Place the calipers on the fat, about 1 centimeter away from your fingers. Press on the calipers’ thumb pad until the two arrows line up.
Note the measurement on the scale to the right of the arrows (the line markings are generally in amounts of 2, so one less than 20 will be 18, instead of 19). Release the pinch, and move to the next area to target.
Take the measurements, and calculate body fat percentage using the Jackson and Pollock Skinfold Formula, or you can skip learning the equation and simply enter the numbers into an online body fat percentage calculator.
Never take a reading with calipers immediately after exercising, as due to shifting body fluids and water retention, the measurements will be inaccurate.
How to Calculate Body Fat Percentage
Another way to calculate body fat percentage is to use a tape measure. With a soft tape measure, like you might find at a dressmaker’s, measure your waist, wrist, hip, and forearm circumferences at their widest points. Be careful not to compress the areas for an accurate measurement. Then, using your weight and gender, you can find your body fat percentage with an online calculator or body fat percentage chart.
Still not satisfied? At-home methods can sometimes offer varying results. If you’re left wondering, “but what is my body fat percentage really?” after multiple tries, then you may want to ask your doctor’s office or gym if they offer body fat measurement services. For instance, the hydrostatic weight measurement process uses water displacement to find your body fat percentage. It is one of the most accurate methods available, but it has to be done by a professional.
How to Lower Body Fat Percentage
Once you’ve calculated your body fat percentage, you can take steps to manage it. Revive Middle East's supplements offer you many ways forward on your fitness journey. Whether you’re looking to support a healthy diet with Daily Greens, reduce inflammation and recover after working out with Turmeric+, or promote your digestive balance of protein, fat, starches, and fiber with Digest Aid, Revive has a supplement that can help you feel and look your best.