What Are “Normal” Body Fat Values?

Being or becoming lean is such a central part of our idea of being healthy that you may wonder whether you’d be healthiest if you simply had no body fat at all. The fact is that some degree of body fat is essential for health. Essential fat stores, for example, form the metabolic buffer that protects us against instant starvation when the calories from your last meal are used up. Men and women are different in both metabolism and hormone balance and this leads to different criteria for what is considered “normal” body fat.

Women

In women, essential body fat is estimated to be 8-12% of body weight. Levels at or below this are associated with cessation of menses and significant health hazards. Body fat stores in the range from 13% to 23% are generally associated with optimal health and athletic performance. Body fat values from 24% to 31% are quite common and, while not optimal, are not associated with increased risk of the diseases of obesity (e.g. diabetes, cardiovascular heart disease, etc.). Body fat results of 32% and above are associated with increased risk of disease.

Men

The “essential” body fat level for men is estimated to be 2-5% of body weight. A result in the range from 6% to 15% is generally associated with optimal health and athletic performance. Body fat values from 16% to 24% are quite common and, while not optimal, are not associated with increased risk of the diseases of obesity (e.g. diabetes, cardiovascular heart disease, etc.). Body fat results of 25% and above are associated with increased risk of disease.

Adapted with permission from Exercise Testing and Prescription by Dr. David Nieman. The body fat calculations found in the Alliance are from the U.S. Military’s AR 600-9 standards.

23 thoughts on “What Are “Normal” Body Fat Values?”

      1. @June – you may want to take a look at the healthy eating article that I posted as well. Avoiding fat may well be counter-productive if you end up substituting carbs (which is almost inevitable). Food quality and moderate quantity is far more important than fat content.

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  5. Good fat is good. Avocados are a great source. Eat at least 1/2 of one each day. Almonds are great also. A handfull a day is all that is required.

  6. After 30 years I am still looking for an actual doctor or endrocrinologist to advise how I can lose weight while having a thyrois problem and being on the highest dosage of thyroid medication feasible without having my thyroid removed. I DO NOT over eat….I rarely have an appetitie. I do not eat fried foots and crave fruits and vegetables. I just started incorporating more meat into my diet this year…..but even though I feel better, I cannot lose weight. PS: I used to be very athletic, still am in many ways. Seems doctors know nothing about the thyroid except how to handle medication for it.

  7. there is an obsession with fat in America. Everyone hates to have fat. Food is described as fat inducing or fat free. Maybe more attention should be paid to variety, eating slowly and enjoying every bite, and washing food down with water between bites.

  8. I can’t seem to get below 14% despite exercising 1 hour a day. I realize that my diet is a major contributor to this, as is my age, but I miss the days when my body fat was around 5% and I was eating anything within reach

  9. Swimming in cold water requires a bit of insulation, especially when temp of water below 60

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