Staying fit involves many things, ranging from building muscle, body recomposition, to classical shedding of extra weight. This equally applies to your fitness goals. You may decide to work out for health reasons or just to get your body beach-ready for summer.
No matter what your choice is, the only common factor is that at some point you’ll need to burn a bit of fat. With this perspective, you can set your body fat percentage as an ideal monitor, to enable you to achieve your fitness goals. That said, how exactly do you reduce your body fat percentage? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Body Fat Percentage?
Simply put, body fat percentage is the amount of fat in your body compared to your lean mass. Your lean mass includes your bones, tendons, organs, and muscles. However, body fat percentage charts vary in women and men. These discrepancies are due to the difference in biological makeup of the two genders.
For instance, a male bodybuilder who’s limiting his body fat percentage can go as low as 3-4%. On the other hand, a female bodybuilder can go as low as 8-9% in the same scenario. A male athlete can have a body fat percentage of 10%. A female athlete with similar fitness levels could have body fat percentages of between 18-20% (1).
These kinds of comparisons apply to all fitness levels. Generally, the body fat percentage men can obtain is lower than the body fat percentage women can reach.
What Should My Body Fat Percentage Be?
Seeing as how body fat percentages are dependent on several factors, you may start wondering what the right amount should be. Let’s look at the generally accepted figures for body fat percentages in men and women (1).
Body Fat Percentages For Men
- Men working with only essential fats have body fat percentages around 3%.
- For athletic men, the body fat percentage range is 6-13%.
- If you’re a guy trying to stay fit, your body fat percentages are probably between 14 and 17%.
- The normal body fat percentage in men, on the other hand, is 18-25%.
- Men with body fat percentages of 26% and above are usually considered obese.
Body Fat Percentages For Women
- Women working with only essential fats have body fat percentages of around 13%.
- Athletic women have body fat percentages ranging from 14-20%.
- Women who are generally fit have body fat percentages of between 21-24%.
- For fairly active women but a normal body fat percentage range of between 25-31%.
- The is a body fat percentage of above 32% in women considered obese.
It’s important to note that fats are important for your body. They protect your internal organs, and they are also an alternative source of energy for your body. This is why you should ensure that you always have adequate essential fat in your body.
Essential fat is the least amount of fat that your body needs to function normally. Go below that point or near it, and you’re looking at organ failure. That said, how do you calculate your body fat percentage? How can you make sure you’re within the recommended levels? Let’s find out.
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How Do I Calculate Body Fat Percentage?
Using A Tape Measure
Using a soft tape measure is the most basic way of measuring your body fat percentage. All you have to do is record measurements of different parts of your body. Here’s how that works:
Start by measuring the circumference of your abdomen and neck. Ensure you take the readings of the largest parts in each place. Inviting your friend or family member to help you could make it easier.
To get your body fat percentage, subtract your neck reading from your abdomen reading. This gives you a circumference value.
Take measurements of your neck, hips, and natural waist. Ensure that the readings you take are of the largest parts. Friends and family could help you if you get stuck.
When calculating your body fat percentage, add your hip and waist readings. Next, subtract your neck readings from the sum. This result gives your circumference value.
Calipers are used to perform a skin fold test. In this test, different parts of your body are pinched when measuring your body fat. While there are several approaches to this, the most famous is the three-site approach. Here’s how you do it:
- For men, take readings of the fat in your chest, abdominals, and thighs.
- For women, take readings of the fat in your triceps, suprailiac, and thigh.
Calipers usually come with instructions on how to convert the measurements into body fat percentages. Also, for consistency, take all measurements from the same side of your body. Next, we look at how to decrease your body fat percentage safely and effectively.
How To Decrease Body Fat Percentage?
There are several practices that can influence how fast you can decrease your body fat percentage. This means that there’s technically no one-size-fits-all approach. However, these are some of the best steps you can take to get you started:
Try Strength And Resistance Training
This is arguably the best way to lose weight and gain muscles out there. Strength training primarily targets your muscles. It increases your muscular strength and makes them larger by contracting them against a resistance. A good example of strength training is weight lifting.
Research indicates that strength training has significant health benefits and is effective at burning fats. In this study, strength training decreased visceral (belly) fat among 78 people with metabolic syndromes (2).
Resistance training, on the other hand, preserves your fat-free mass. As a result, the number of calories that your body can burn at rest will increase. Resistance training for 10 weeks can increase the number of calories burned each day by 7% and can reduce fat weight by about 4 pounds (8).
Bodyweight exercises, using gym equipment, or lifting free weights are a few excellent ways to get you started on strength training. If you’ve ever wondered how to decrease body fat percentage without losing muscle, then strength training is your answer.
Start A High-Protein Diet
These macros need no introduction in fitness arenas. They are an effective way of increasing your satiety and boosting your fat-burning capacity (5). Losing weight can be accompanied with loss of muscle. You surely don’t want that. What you really only need is to burn fats.
Protein-rich diets help preserve your muscle mass and metabolism during the whole process. Additionally, they are believed to lower the risk of developing visceral fat (6). Examples of protein-rich foods that’ll help you torch more fats include eggs, meat, and seafood.
Get Enough Quality Sleep
It sounds simple right? Sufficient, undisturbed sleep. However, quality sleep plays a huge role in your quest to reduce your body fat percentage. So, how exactly does that work?
Over the years, multiple studies have discovered a link between getting enough sleep and losing weight. For instance, one study found out that among 245 women, getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night increased the likelihood of weight loss by 33% after 6 months in a weight loss program (7).
Simply put, create a regular sleep schedule. Avoid having caffeine before going to bed and stay away from electronic devices when it’s sleep time. Sure, everyone needs different amounts of sleep. However, you should practice healthy bedtime habits to get a healthy sleep cycle.
Eat Healthy Fats
Wait, what? Eat fats while you’re trying to burn fats? Well, you read that right. As counterproductive as it may sound, healthy fats can play a huge role here.
For starters, it takes a while for fats to be digested. This reduces your hunger and appetite. Ergo, you’ll ultimately reduce your calorie intake. Additionally, certain healthy fats like coconut oil are believed to help with losing belly fat (4).
That said, this only applies to healthy fats. Unhealthy variants like trans fats will increase your body fat, belly fat, and waist circumference (3). However, fats still have a considerable amount of calories. So you should always take them in moderation.
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Try Vinegar In Your Diet
Vinegar is particularly popular for its purported health benefits. Additionally, some believe that it can rev up the fat-burning process in your body. In this small study, it was found that vinegar reduced the daily calorie intake of 11 people by about 275 calories, although the association was not statistically significant (9).
Sure, it’s not the most appealing of things to eat directly. However, it can also be easily added to your diet. For instance, you could use it to make dressings or dilute apple cider vinegar with water then drink it.
So how long does the process take? If you’re new to all this and probably thinking, “how long does it take to decrease body fat percentage by half.” When it comes to losing weight, the timelines for seeing significant results vary among people. All you need is simple consistency and discipline, and you’ll see the results soon enough.
Everyone desires to stay fit. From time to time, we go on quests to lose some weight. However, what losing weight here means is losing the extra fat mass. That’s where understanding what your body fat percentage is can be handy.
There are numerous ways you can use to reduce your body fat percentage. However, the question should never be how to decrease your body fat percentage fast. Instead, you should focus on safety and effectiveness. And that’s what the methods mentioned above will help you achieve.
If you want to do even more for your body, why don’t you supplement a healthy diet with some exercise? Check out this 20-min Full Body Workout at Home.
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!
- Body Composition Information and FAQ’s sheet (n.d., pennshape.upenn.edu)
- Different modalities of exercise to reduce visceral fat mass and cardiovascular risk in metabolic syndrome: the RESOLVE randomized trial (2013, pubmed.gov)
- Effect of trans fatty acid intake on abdominal and liver fat deposition and blood lipids: a randomized trial in overweight postmenopausal women (2011, pubmed.gov)
- Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity (2009, pubmed.gov)
- Normal protein intake is required for body weight loss and weight maintenance, and elevated protein intake for additional preservation of resting energy expenditure and fat free mass (2013, pubmed.gov)
- Quality protein intake is inversely related with abdominal fat (2012, pubmed.gov)
- Relationship between sleep quality and quantity and weight loss in women participating in a weight-loss intervention trial (2012, pubmed.gov)
- Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health (2012, pubmed.gov)
- Vinegar and peanut products as complementary foods to reduce postprandial glycemia (2005, pubmed.gov)