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Is 15% a Healthy Percentage of Essential Body Fat for a Male?

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Is 15% a Healthy Percentage of Essential Body Fat for a Male?
A fit lifestyle promotes a healthy body fat percentage. Photo Credit Thomas Tolstrup/Stone/Getty Images

Body fat percentage measures the amount of lean tissue you have in relation to fat, which gives you a better picture of your health compared to your gross weight on a scale. Although no official standards for body fat exist, fitness organizations and medical professionals generally put a man with 15 percent fat into the category of being quite fit. You can drop to a leaner body fat level to look more chiseled and perform better at sports, but such effort isn't necessary for your health.

What Does Body Fat Mean?

Body fat measurements divide your body into two primary weight components: fat mass and other components. Fat consists of essential fat, which supports basic bodily function, and is between 2 and 5 percent in a man, and storage fat, which is what you store in your belly and under the skin. The lean components that body fat measurements take into account are muscle, as well as organ, fluid, connective tissue and bone mass. Having less fat in comparison to lean weight makes you look and feel healthy.

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Maintaining 15 Percent Body Fat

As a man, you'll look fit at 15 percent body fat, but not bodybuilder lean. You don't have to be bodybuilder-diligent about portion control, meal composition and workouts, either. Of course you hit the gym rather regularly and watch what you eat, but you have room for occasional treats and alcohol.

Younger men have an easier time maintaining a fit level of body fat. They haven't started the process of sarcopenia, the natural loss of muscle mass, that begins in the 30s. As you age, your body naturally gains fat when you lose muscle, especially if you don't exercise. Your bones also naturally lose some density, which means you have less lean mass from your bones. A man in his 40s or 50s can certainly maintain 15 percent body fat, but it requires a bit more diligence in terms of workouts and avoiding processed foods.

Managing Fat Gain For Men

Maintain your body fat between the 11 and 22 percent range for good health. When you start to exceed 22 percent body fat, it's time to take action to prevent an excess accumulation of fat that can increase your risk of chronic disease and interfere with your quality of life.

If your body fat percentage does creep up into an unhealthy range, make small changes first to help bring it back to a healthy level. Drink less soda and beer, avoid fast food and sugary sweets, and exercise regularly with moderate-intensity cardio, strength training and yoga for stress reduction.

To drop to 15 percent, you might need to be relatively committed to this lifestyle, but not to the point that it totally consumes your daily life. Four or five good workouts per week and avoiding processed foods should be effective over time to help you lean down.

Getting Leaner Than 15 Percent Body Fat

To become leaner than 15 percent body fat, you'll have to be more diligent in portion control, your meals' macronutrient ratios and exercise habits. Stick to whole foods and eat plenty of protein. At least 0.55 grams per pound of body weight daily helps support efforts at the gym to maintain and build muscle. For a 180-pound man, that's about 100 grams daily.

Also, keep your total calorie intake under control. To lose fat, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn daily; too large a deficit, though, causes your body to eat into your lean muscle and disrupt your body fat percentage. A deficit of just 250 calories per day helps you lose about 1/2 pound of fat per week and preserve existing muscle, as long as you're working out with weights and cardio, sleeping seven to eight hours per night and minimizing stress. Losing about 1 percent body fat per month is safe and manageable for most people.

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