How to calculate your body fat percentage

There are many ways to track the progress you are making with diet and exercise. This can be visual, noticing how your clothes fit, the energy you have, or the numbers on the scale. But there is one type of measurement that is critical to determining how your body composition (fat-to-muscle ratio) is changing, that is, what your body fat percentage is. By calculating and tracking your body fat percentage, you can better understand exactly what is happening to your body as a result of your workouts and regimen.

In this article:

  • Why is body fat percentage important?
  • How to calculate body fat percentage?
  • What is the recommended body fat percentage?

 

Why is body fat percentage important?

Body fat percentage is important because it gives a better idea of ​​body composition than the weight you see on the scale. If you’re working to build and maintain muscle mass, you’ll want to know if you’re gaining muscle or fat when the scale shows an increase.

If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s a good idea to monitor your body fat percentage to make sure you’re losing fat and not lean muscle mass. Body fat is a good indicator of health, and more body fat is often associated with greater risks of obesity and related diseases (1).

 

How to calculate body fat percentage?

Although body fat percentage is a primary method of tracking both your health and your progress in the gym or sport, there are a few different ways to measure it. They differ in their accuracy and accessibility. However, if you learn one method and manage to use it correctly over time, you can understand how your body fat percentage changes. Here are some examples of some of the ways to measure body fat.

Caliper for measuring body fat

Body fat calipers are the most affordable and fastest way to get good results. You can do the measurement yourself, and calipers are readily available. The key is to learn the right way to measure.

There are several formulas for calculating body fat percentage based on skinfold caliper measurements. The easiest way requires you to use the device to measure the amount of body fat in three areas of the body.

Body measurement locations vary for men and women. It is best to measure each point twice and take the average value.

Our calipers come with all the instructions you need to make easy measurements. Body points to be measured and calculation equations can be found on the American College of Sports Medicine website (1).

 

 

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Body weight scale

Body weight scales that calculate body fat may be even easier to use than calipers, but they also often have measurement inaccuracies.

They work by conducting a bioelectrical impedance analysis. This is done by sending a slight electrical current (which you won’t feel) through the body and measuring the speed of the current to determine the percentage of body fat compared to lean muscle mass.

This method is based on the use of current that flows faster through muscles because they hold more water than through fat, which holds less and makes the conductivity of the current lower. However, for greater accuracy, it is recommended that you do not eat or drink before the measurement, do not exercise within 12 hours, and do not consume alcohol or caffeine in the previous 48 hours (1). Of course, meeting all these conditions can be difficult.

Body circumference measurement

Another method of self-calculating body fat is to use a regular tape measure and measure your waist and neck (for men) or hips, waist and neck (for women).

Write down the resulting numbers, and with your height in mind, you can calculate your body circumference, which corresponds to a certain percentage of body fat. You can use many online calculators that are based on the Katch equation, or simply record the values ​​and watch them change over time. You can also include the circumference of your hips, forearms, and upper arms to measure changes in values ​​over time (2).

Hydrostatic (underwater) weighing

If you work in a research lab, you may have access to a way to measure body fat that is calculated based on your total body volume or the amount of water you displace when submerged in it. This measurement is processed using an equation to calculate body fat percentage.

But this method is probably not available to most of us.

Plethysmography

Another laboratory method of calculating body fat is based on the amount of air we displace. In this method, a person stands completely still in a closed device for about 10 minutes. This type of measurement is considered the most accurate measurement currently available, but most people do not have access to the specialized equipment needed to perform it (1).

Ultrasound

Ultrasound machines can perform medical tests, such as MRIs and CT scans, to visualize the amount of body fat in relation to lean body mass. Although quite accurate, this equipment is not often used for this purpose and is definitely not something you can do on a regular basis.

 

What is the recommended body fat percentage?

Recommended amounts of body fat depend on several factors, primarily age and gender. Women anatomically have a higher percentage of body fat to support pregnancy. On the other hand, the ratio of fat mass to lean mass in each person’s body changes with age. The American College of Sports Medicine lists detailed tables for each gender and age group, but we’ll compare the recommendations for 25-year-old men and women.

 

Body fat percentage in men

These recommended percentages correspond to a 25-year-old young man and may vary by age.

   Recommended Body Fat Percentage for Men 
Minimum body fat percentage  4% to 6%  
Sportsman  7% to 12%  
Fitness enthusiast   12% to 15%  
Acceptable rate   16% to 19%  
Obesity  20% or more  

 

Body fat percentage in women

These recommended percentages correspond to a 25-year-old young woman and may vary by age.

   Recommended Body Fat Percentage for Women 
Minimum body fat percentage  11% to 14%  
Sportsman  15% to 16%  
Fitness enthusiast  16% to 20%  
Acceptable rate  21% to 24%  
Obesity  25% or more  

 

Conclusion

While there are many different ways to measure your body fat percentage, you often have to make some trade-offs in terms of accuracy in favor of convenience. For measuring at home, it is suitable to use a caliper, which is one idea more accurate than a regular meter. Tracking your body fat readings over the long term can give you more detailed information about your progress than just your weight.

 

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