Every man has it. Every man needs it. But how much body fat is normal for men?
Body fat percentage indicates how much of your weight is fat, as opposed to everything else, including bones, lean tissue, organs and muscle. Body fat percentage helps you determine your overall fitness level.
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Too high a percentage, especially when that fat is predominantly in the abdomen — typically the case with men more often than women, says Lisa Cohn, RD, of Park Avenue Nutrition in New York City — increases many health risks, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
There Is No Magic Number
Exactly how much body fat is too much is somewhat open to debate. There are no universally accepted norms for body composition, according to the ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription.
There's also no consensus on the percentage of body fat that goes along with "optimal health." Indeed, many factors affect one's overall health beyond body fat percentage, including lifestyle habits, genetics and diet.
Aim to Stay Within a Healthy Range
Still, there is agreement on ranges of body fat percentages that are considered adequate for good health.
It's worth noting that the percentage of body fat in men naturally increases with age. As you get older, extra fat provides energy reserves that can help you withstand disease. Plus, declining testosterone contributes to muscle decline, an effect that's exacerbated if you start to exercise less, Cohn says. Most people, as they age, do tend to get less exercise than they did in their younger days.
The good news? "Exercise supports muscle maintenance and growth at any age," she says.
That said, for men, essential body fat — which is exactly what it sounds like: fat that supports crucial body functions — comprises between 2 and 5 percent of body mass.
According to the American Council on Exercise, total body fat percentage for men breaks down as follows:
- Athletes: 6 to 13 percent
- Fitness: 14 to 17 percent
- Acceptable: 18 to 24 percent
* Obesity: 25 percent or higher
You can calculate your body fat percentage in several ways. While none can pinpoint your exact percentage with 100 percent certainty, procedures done in a professional setting have high levels of accuracy. These include:
Bioelectric impedance: Based on the speed of an electric current sent through your body and your height, weight, sex and age, a device calculates your estimated body fat percentage.
DEXA scan: Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scanners are typically found only in elite medical facilities.
Air displacement plethysmography (aka BodPod): This method, which involves you sitting inside what looks like a large egg, looks at body volume vs. body weight.
Skinfold calipers: The technician (it's advisable to find someone certified by the International Society for the Advancement of Kinanthropometry) measures various spots on your body to determine the thickness of fat and skin. You may be able to access this method at your local gym or health center.
At-home methods, including scales and complicated mathematical formulas, have such a large margin for error that experts deem them pretty much useless.
An easier approach to getting a rough estimate of your body fat percentage may be to check out LIVESTRONG.com's Body Fat Calculator. You'll need to plug in your height, as well as your neck and waist measurements. Measure your waist at its narrowest point, holding the tape measure taut, but not tight. For your neck, take the measurement about an inch above where your neck meets your shoulders.
- The American Council on Exercise: "Percent Body Fat Norms for Men and Women"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Health Risks of Being Overweight"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "National Center for Health Statistics"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 10th Edition"
- Park Avenue Nutrition: "NYC Nutritionist Lisa Cohn & Park Avenue Nutrition"