We’re tracking body fat because it is a more accurate barometer of your fitness success. And that’s the goal of The Body Transformation Challenge…your fitness success.
Over the next six weeks, you may see that your jeans are looser than ever, you’re hearing compliments about your buff arms and you’re seeing muscles in new places. But the scale hasn’t budged and your body mass index, or BMI, suddenly places you in the overweight category. What gives?
Here’s the dealio, tracking weight and BMI are not great tools to measure progress, because as body composition changes, the scale may not. Both weight and BMI never take into account body composition, often making an active woman seem overweight – but an active woman has more muscle and less body fat than a sedentary woman.
So what is body fat percentage?
In its simplest form: body fat is the amount of fat in your body, compared to everything else. Everything else includes your organs, muscles, bones, tendons, water, and so on.
When you begin a new fitness program or increase the intensity of your sessions in the gym, chances are you’re losing fat but gaining muscle. And, as you know, muscle beats fat for many reasons. Muscle uses more calories, even at rest, so you gain the potential to boost your resting metabolic rate. And muscles help us perform better, helping us last through Alexa’s STRONG and Guerilla Kickboxing classes!
What’s a good amount of body fat to have?
Here is the generally accepted chart for women and men when it comes to body fat percentage:
|Obese||32% plus||26% plus|
In what I’m sure is news to nobody, body fat is essential to survival – fat protects your internal organs, provides you with necessary energy stores when you need it, and more.
“Essential fat” means the minimal amount of fat required for survival –Anything less than this amount would most likely result in organ failure, but even approaching this amount of body fat is dangerous.
If you are looking to have that “ripped” look, you’ll want your body fat percentage to hover in the “athletes” section.
If you’re just looking to get healthy and look in the mirror with pride, you can aim for the fitness range. Once you get into the upper ends of “acceptable” and “obese,” a decrease in body fat percentage would benefit your health.
Let’s get to goal setting. For starters, you need to determine what’s an optimal goal for you:
- If you are trying to look like Jessica Biel or Ryan Reynalds, good luck! You’ll need to aim for a body fat percentage of 6-8% (men) or 13-15% (women). Note: your athletic/strength gaining performance will most likely suffer at this percentage, and can be really really challenging to maintain. Your call.
- If you are interested in getting that coveted six-pack, drop your body fat down to the 8-11% range for dudes and 15-17% range for women.
- If you are an athlete and interested in optimal athletic performance, aim for a body fat percentage around 15% (men) or 20% (women).
- If you are just interested in looking pretty good and feeling pretty good, anything less than 18% for men and anywhere in the 20-23% range for women should get you the “hey, looking pretty good!” response from your friends.
- Ladies: if you are concerned about menstruation or fertility, it has been said not to drop below 15% body fat. Although I can’t find any studies that definitively refutes or proves this, it’s just something I wanted to point out so you can be aware.
Look Beyond the Scale
Get out of the bathroom and track your fitness progress with these other more reliable indicators of fat loss and muscle-building success:
- Are your clothes looser? Are they fitting better and more comfortably?
- Has your performance improved at the gym? Can you train longer or complete your exercises with more ease?
- Are you finding it easier to carry all 10 bags of groceries from the car? Is it easier to run up the stairs?
- Do you find yourself less exhausted and more pumped when you first wake up?
- How do you appear in the mirror – jiggly all over or firm in parts?
5 Essentials for Healthy Fat Loss
Keep your body fat in check with these strategies:
- Strength train. Adding bodyweight exercises, like wall sits, push-ups, or mountain climbers, into your routine not only makes you stronger and leaner, it also increases your metabolism and helps you burn more fat.
- Eat clean foods, such as whole grains. A 2016 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that people who consume the highest amounts of whole grains have 2.4% less body fat than those who eat the least.
- Don’t forget the cardio. Try adding three or four days a week of cardio into your program to up your energy and blast fat.
- Plan five to six meals a day instead of three large ones, and never skip breakfast.
- Give it some time. Quick results usually don’t last, so go with the slow-and-steady approach to reach your goals, and stay lean.