Whether you are a seasoned athlete with very low body fat, or someone just looking to lose some weight, many people want to attain and maintain a very ripped and shredded physique. While this may be aesthetically pleasing, how realistic is it to maintain a low body fat level for a long period of time? If you have seen male body builders with pictures of videos of themselves at 8% body fat or females at 15%, it is usually for a short period of time as they have conditioned themselves and gone on a strict diet to obtain this super low body fat percentage.
Usually after the show, they will be a little looser on their diet and gain some body fat back during the “off season”. The reason for this is that sustaining this level of body fat requires a lot of compromises in life, such as not being able to enjoy dining out with friends, drinking alcohol, and revolving their lives around maintaining that level of body fat. Also having a really low body fat percentage can have negative effects on your heart health, immune system, and fertility.
Let’s examine different levels of body fat for men and women. The body requires essential body fat to function properly and without this fat, a person would not be able to live. In women, this level is 10-13% and for men it is 2-5%. If you ever hear someone say they are below the essential fat levels, they are lying and it is not realistic to have a body fat level this low. Athletes are considered at 14-20% (women) and 6-13% (men). This is the most desirable level for people to achieve in terms of aesthetics. Examples of this would be competitive body builders, or people obsessed with living a healthy lifestyle. This requires many life sacrifices and spending time in the gym almost every day. A fitness level is 21-24% (women) and 14-17%(men). Most people who work out and have some control over their diet are able to sustain this level of body fat easily without many sacrifices. This would require something strength training a couple days a week and a couple days of cardio, with a diet focusing on high protein consumption, with carbs and fats being normal at approximately 40% and 20%, respectively.
The next level is acceptable which falls between 25-31% (women) and 18-24% (men). This is a healthy level of body fat that a majority of people should aim to maintain. Anything above these fat levels would be considered as obese for each gender. If you are in the acceptable range, have no fear, you are well within the acceptable body fat levels of a healthy person. If you fall in the obese range, it may be time to make a change. Try to add some activity to your life such as walking or cycling, as these are low impact exercises that can help you to burn calories without putting a lot of stress on your joints and body. Consider adding some light resistance training and examining the foods you are consuming. Try to reduce added sugars, especially from drinks and sweets, and learn about portion control as obese people are likely to be overeating. Focus on being in a caloric deficit and stay consistent while watching the fat on your body disappear!
In conclusion, find a body fat level that you can sustain. Don’t compare yourself to the pictures you see online, as they are probably well conditioned athletes when they were looking their best, not how they look year around.