Most people who’ve been lifting weights for a while have probably heard that you need to get your body fat down to 6% to see your abs. This is the so-called “holy grail” of body fat percentages, and it’s what most people are striving for. However, what most people don’t realize is that you don’t need to have 6% body fat to look good. You can have a perfectly shredded physique with much higher body fat percentages. If you’ve been having questions like, “Is 6% body fat good?,” “Is 7% body fat ok?” or “is 5% body fat normal?”- then this article is for you.
Body Fat Percentage For Men
The typical body fat percentage for men is between 15 to 20%. This range is considered the “healthy” range, and it’s where most guys should be aiming to be (18).
Anything below 15% is considered “lean” territory, anything above 20% is considered “overweight”.
Now, just because the average guy has 15 to 20% body fat doesn’t mean that’s where you should be. Everyone is different, and your ideal body fat percentage will depend on a few factors (15), such as:
- Bone structure
- Muscle mass
For example, someone who is 6’2″ and weighs 200 lbs with a large frame and muscular build can carry more body fat than someone who is 5’5″ and weighs 140 lbs with a smaller frame and less muscle mass.
The taller and heavier guy can probably get away with being closer to 25% body fat before he looks chubby, while the smaller guy might start to look chubby at 18% body fat.
Of course, these are just rough estimates. The best way to find out your ideal body fat percentage is to experiment and see what looks best on YOU.
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Body Fat Percentage For Women
The typical body fat percentage for women is between 24 to 30%. This range is considered the “healthy” range, and it’s where most women should be aiming to be (18).
Anything below 24% is considered “lean” territory, anything above 30% is considered “overweight”.
Just like with men, the average woman’s body fat percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. Your ideal body fat percentage will depend on a few factors (15), such as:
- Bone structure
- Muscle mass
For example, someone who is 5’5″ and weighs 140 lbs with a smaller frame and less muscle mass can carry less body fat than someone who is 5’2″ and weighs 120 lbs with a larger frame and more muscle mass.
The taller and heavier woman can probably get away with being closer to 30% body fat before she looks chubby, while the smaller woman might start to look chubby at 22% body fat.
Women generally store more body fat than men for several reasons (13). For one, women have more essential fat, which is the fat that’s necessary for things like reproduction and hormone production.
Additionally, women tend to have less muscle mass than men, so they need a higher body fat percentage to look “toned” and not too skinny (20).
Of course, these are just rough estimates. The best way to find out your ideal body fat percentage is to experiment and see what looks best on you.
What Single-Digit Body Fat Percentages Look Like?
Having said all that, let’s take a look at what different body fat percentages look like.
This is important because a lot of people seem to think that they need to have 6% body fat or less to look good. In reality, you can have a shredded physique at much higher body fat percentages than that.
For men, 5 to 8% of body fat is considered “absolute physique”, which is the lowest body fat percentage that is still physically possible.
At this body fat percentage, you’ll be very lean and shredded. Your abs will be visible, and you’ll have very little body fat anywhere else on your body.
For women, 10-12% of body fat is considered “absolute physique” territory. Just like with men, you’ll be very lean and shredded at this body fat percentage.
Your abs will be visible, and you’ll have very little body fat anywhere else on your body.
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Should You Strive For Single-Digit Body Fat Percentages?
Now that you know what different body fat percentages look like, you might be wondering if you should strive for a single-digit body fat percentage.
The answer to this question depends on your goals, as there are pros and cons to having a very low body fat percentage.
Pros Of Having A Single-Digit Body Fat Percentage
6% body fat may be ideal if you are:
- A competitive bodybuilder
- A fitness model
- An athlete who needs to be as light and lean as possible
For these people, having a single-digit body fat percentage is necessary to achieve their goals.
Additionally, if you have a lot of excess fat to lose, then getting down to a lower body fat percentage may help you see and feel the results more quickly.
This is because when you have a higher body fat percentage, you have lower muscle mass and strength (23).
As you lose body fat and get leaner, this insulation is lost and your muscles become more visible.
Lastly, having a low body fat percentage can be beneficial for your health. This is because excess body fat is linked to a whole host of health problems, including (19):
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
So, if you’re carrying around a lot of excess body fat, then getting down to a lower body fat percentage can improve your health.
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Cons Of Having A Single-Digit Body Fat Percentage
6% body fat may not be ideal if you:
- Have a fast metabolism and find it hard to gain weight
- Constantly get hungry and have trouble sticking to a diet
- Struggle to see results even though you’re eating healthy and working out regularly
If any of these apply to you, then you may want to reconsider your goal of getting down to 6% body fat.
This is due to the reason that when you have a fast metabolism, gaining weight and building muscle can be very difficult (17).
If you’re constantly hungry, you may find it hard to stick to a diet and may binge eat or overeat (2).
Furthermore, if you’re struggling to see results even though you’re eating healthy and working out regularly, you may want to concentrate on other goals besides losing weight.
Maintaining Some Body Fat Is Key For Your Health
Body fat has gotten a bad rap in the fitness world, but the truth is that you need some body fat to be healthy.
Body fat is essential for (22):
- Hormone production
- Brain function
- Healthy skin and hair
- Insulation and warmth
Without enough body fat, you can run into problems like hormonal imbalances, clear thinking, and dry skin and hair.
So, while you may want to strive for a low body fat percentage, don’t go too crazy and lose all of your body fat.
A good range to aim for is around 10 to 12% for men and 20 to 22% for women, respectively.
At this range, you’ll have enough energy, hormones, and fat to be healthy, yet still see some muscle definition.
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How To Achieve A Lower Body Fat Percentage?
Carrying excess body fat can be bad for your health. So if you want to achieve a lower body fat percentage, there are a few things you can do, such as:
Eat For A Lower Body Fat Percentage
The difference between having a high body fat percentage and a low body fat percentage is mostly diet.
If you want to lose fat, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn (12). You’ll have to go beyond cutting down your portions and be very strict with your diet.
You’ll need to track your calorie intake and make sure you’re in a calorie deficit every day.
Additionally, you need to focus on eating the right foods. Eating plenty of protein, healthy fats, and fiber will help keep you full and lose fat without losing muscle mass (1) (7).
Healthy fats are especially important because they help to keep your hormones balanced (22).
Some good sources of healthy fats include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil
Fiber is also important because it reduces cholesterol levels (14).
Good sources of fiber include:
- Whole grains
Strength Train For A Lower Body Fat Percentage
In addition to eating healthy, you also need to strength train to lose fat. Strength training helps build muscle and burn calories (11).
It also helps boost your metabolism, which helps burn more fat.
Aside from basic strength-training exercises like squats and deadlifts, you can also do HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts to help you burn even more fat (16).
HIIT workouts involve short bursts of intense activity followed by periods of rest.
You can do HIIT workouts with any type of exercise, but they’re especially effective when done with cardio exercises like sprinting.
Supplementation To Lower Body Fat
Using the right supplements can help lower your body fat percentage, especially if you are struggling to lose the last few pounds.
Here are some of the best supplements for lowering body fat:
Carnitine is an amino acid that helps your body burn fat for energy. It does this by transporting fatty acids into your cells to be used for energy production (4).
2. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
CLA is a type of fat that has been shown to help reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass (5).
3. Green Tea Extract
Green tea extract is rich in antioxidants and has been shown to boost metabolism and promote fat loss (9).
4. Fish Oil
Fish oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation and promote fat loss (8).
Caffeine is a stimulant that can help boost metabolism and promote fat loss (21).
6. Protein Powder
Protein powder is a great way to increase your protein intake, which can help promote muscle growth and fat loss (3).
Creatine is a compound that helps increase energy production in your cells. It can also help promote muscle growth and improve exercise performance (6).
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that can help improve exercise performance and increase muscle mass (10).
The Bottom Line
When most people talk about getting down to 6% body fat, they’re talking about getting down to single-digit body fat percentages. While it is true that you’ll have a more shredded physique at lower body fat percentages, it’s not necessarily true that you need to be at 6% (or lower) to look good.
There are a lot of advantages to carrying a bit more body fat. So, if you’re wondering whether or not you should strive for 6% body fat, you’re better off focusing on other fitness metrics.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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- Revisiting the Global Overfat Pandemic (2020, frontiersin.org)
- Sex differences in body composition and association with cardiometabolic risk (2018, biomedcentral.com)
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- The Functions of Fats – Nutrition: Science and Everyday Application (n.d., openoregon.pressbooks.pub)
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