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Understanding Body Fat Percentage for Men and Women

There are various variables to consider when calculating body fat percentage. Factors such as body type, heredity, age, lifestyle and gender changes the significance of the body fat percentage number. For instance, the range for a healthy body fat percentage in women tends to be higher than that of men as women need more body fat. And 2 men with the same body fat percentage does not equates to both having similar physical appearances, as they would possess different muscle mass.

What is body fat and how does is accumulate in our body?

Body fat is the amount of fat in your body, excluding your organs, muscles, bones, tendons, water and any other body components.
The energy or calories our body needs comes from what we eat and drink. The food we consume supplies the calories which is converted by our bodies to produce the energy our bodies demand. If we supply our bodies with more calories than required, those excess calories that are not burned by activity will be stored in fat cells. Over time this stored fat accumulates and become excess body fat.

Essential and non essential fats

Fat is needed in your diet for example, to make hormones, and for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. So, it is important to keep healthy fats within your diet.
While bad fats can wreck your diet and increase your risk of certain diseases, good fats protect your brain and heart. In fact, healthy fats, such as omega3s, are vital to your physical and emotional health. Understanding how to include more healthy fat in your diet can help improve your mood, boost your well-being, and even trim your waistline.

What is body fat percentage?

Body fat percentage is the percentage of your weight that is made up of fat. It encompasses both storage body fat and essential body fat.

Body fat percentage formula

(1.20 x BMI) + (0.23 x Age) – 5.4 = Body Fat Percentage

(1.20 x BMI) + (0.23 x Age) – 16.2 = Body Fat Percentage

Optimal goals

For men:

In general, men have a higher lean tissue to body fat than women. The reason for this is due to the reproduction roles where women would need more body fat percentage.

The ACE chart below shows the ranges for men:

Category Percentage
Essential fat  2-5%
Athletes  6-13%
Fitness  14-17%
Acceptable  18-24%
Obesity  >25%


The ideal body percentage for a man is based on their stages of life and can be classified into the categories as below:

Age Percentage
20-39  8-19%
40-59  11-21%
60-79  13-24%

For women:

There are undoubtedly differences between men and women in relation to body fat percentage ranges. The body fat of women can be grouped into the categories of athletes, acceptable ranges and age. These categories will determine what their ideal body fat percentage should be.

Category Percentage
Essential fat 10-13%
Athletes 14-20%
Fitness 21-24%
Acceptable 25-31%
Obesity >32%

The ideal percentage for women based on their age can be broken down with the appropriate measurement and guidelines that has been suggested by Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital as below:

Age Percentage
20-39 21-32%
40-59 23-33%
60-79 24-35%

Difference between BMI and body fat percentage

Body Mass Index (BMI) is based on the measurement of your weight and height. From that digit, we could deduce if you are underweight, normal, overweight, or obese. However, the BMI does not accurately determine the percentage of body fat or your overall health status as only two things are being taken into consideration, which is your weight and height. Thus, BMI is not an accurate indicator of health.

BMI calculator:
Your weight (in kilograms) divided by your height (in meters).

Based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Sources, the total number of your BMI will provide an indication of your body health range:

Category BMI
Underweight  18.5
Normal or healthy weight  18.5-24.9
Overweight  25-29.9
Obese  30 and above

Hence, there is a need to calculate your BMI correctly in order to avoid being categorised in the wrong category  The BMI can be calculated manually using the calculator or simply using the trusted online BMI. Bear in mind that these online BMI may not be as accurate as you perceived, so it is important to get the BMI through trusted resources only.

Methods of calculating body fat percentage

There are several ways to calculate your body fat percentage, including bioelectrical impedance analysis, skin-fold methods and other anthropometric methods, or methods involving the circumference of various body parts.

Physical appearance and measurements

By having an accurate progression of pictures from week to week and comparing a picture of yourself, you can determine somewhat closely what your body fat percentage is. Compare the photos week to week to see if you can notice more definition in your muscles, as that happens when you start to reduce your body fat percentage!
So look in the mirror, and compare your progress photos: do you like how you look and are you heading in the right direction?

Fat calipers

The method of using skinfold calipers is popular for assessing body composition. The method involves having a certified trainer or other trained professionals to take the measurements and calculate your body fat percentage. If you are confident enough, you can even DIY!

To Do-It-Yourself:
Just stretch and pull the fat away from your muscles and pinch them with the caliper. Record the measurements and check against the chart. For this method any inaccuracies will be largely due to the inconsistency of pinching and measuring of the same area so try to be as consistent as possible. Measure under the same conditions from week to week. If done accurately, it can be an inexpensive and accurate method to track your progress.

Air displacement method

Air displacement plethysmography or known better as ADP is a scientific method to measure human body composition. However, based on previous research work conducted by Asian Oceanian Association for the Study of Obesity, the measurement error of ADP is large, and hence not a reliable method for detecting changes in body fat percentage over time.

Water displacement method

This method is based on the Greek philosopher Archimedes’ principle of displacement. When you immerse yourself in water, fat distinguishes itself from muscle and bone because of their lower density level. Basically, fat is less dense than water, so your body weigh less underwater than an equal volume of muscle and bone would weigh in the normal gravity. In order to get an accurate reading from a water displacement test, special equipment are needed and trained professionals that are able to read the results accurately are employed.

Techniques to reduce body fat percentage

There are many methods to reduce body fat and we have shortlisted seven recommendations for you to get started!

Eat a caloric deficit

A caloric deficit in definition means any amount of shortage in calories consumed in comparison to the amount of calories needed for maintenance of current body weight. So in order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than your average consumption in a consistently manner. But if you are strength training, there is a higher chance that you lose not only the fat but muscles as well if you do not eat right.

Consume enough protein, experiment with lower carb or lower fat

The key is to set your caloric intake to be lower than your body needs. Your body would need to burn fat stores to fuel itself, which in turn create the effect of weight/fat loss. As much as we want to lose body fat percentage, it is equally important to build your body muscle in the process. Consuming enough protein will help you to achieve that and will enable you to burn more efficiently with the low carb diet.

Lift heavy things and move frequently 

Strength training will make you stronger and help to maintain the muscle mass that you already have. Heavy lifting develops muscle and burns fat simultaneously. In addition to that, it drives your metabolism into an “afterburner” mode which helps to continue burning calories even after you are done working out.

Incorporate sprints into your off days

Body fat are stored when the fat are not being used accordingly. Find time for active workouts. Weekends or off days are great opportunities to shape your body by running sprints. It is proven to be effective as the extra calories are burned after the completion of your workout results in further fat loss.

Work out in a fasted state, and consider intermittent fasting

Do not eat your first meal until you are done with a workout session. You become more sensitive to insulin and allow the human growth hormone to help you burn fat and build muscle.
If you practice intermittent fasting daily, working out fasted will increase your sensitivity to insulin.

Track your weight regularly

If possible, consider buying yourself a cheap food scale that can measure the number of calories you are eating in a day. By weighting the food, you could take a chance in reducing your body fat percentage since you are able to monitor and calculate your calorie consumption. Being more conscious will definitely help in the long run.

Hire a coach

Sometimes changes require motivation from external parties. One way to get that is to hire your own personal coach. An experienced mentor would know what is best for your body and be able to customise your workouts so you will enjoy a successful, healthy weight loss journey.

Conclusion/Final thoughts

In conclusion, there is a need for in-depth understanding on body fat percentage in order to be able to strategically plan the right methods to get rid of unwanted body fat. It is important to distinguish the appropriate technique that can and cannot be applied in calculating body fat percentage.


Dr Hannah Lo Fui Jun - Dr Hannah Lo pic 1

Dr Hannah Lo Fui Jun

Dr. Hannah Lo Fui Jun is a certified aesthetic physician with over 8 years of experience in the field. She obtained her medical degree (MBChB) from the prestigious University of Birmingham in the UK and is a certified LCP by the Ministry of Health Malaysia. Dr. Hannah is a highly sought-after speaker, and she actively participates in ongoing academic studies to stay at the forefront of aesthetic medicine. Her commitment to education extends to being a trainer for the ELLANSE Train The Trainers program. With a strong presence on social media, Dr. Hannah engages with her audience, sharing insights and expertise to empower individuals on their aesthetic journey.

Dr. Hannah holds certifications such as the AAAM CERT and Medical Aesthetic Certificate, demonstrating her commitment to excellence in the field. Her area of expertise encompasses a wide range of treatments, including skin rejuvenation, facial aesthetics using injectables and fillers, and body contouring. Dr Hannah's particular interest lies in facial anti-aging solutions and post-partum women's health, reflecting her dedication to empowering patients throughout all stages of life.

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