Your Ideal Body Fat Percentage

The absolute perfect body fat percentage does NOT exist. Age and gender make a big contribution to the ideal value, but most importantly… Everyone is an individual. Some people might feel and perform better at a higher or lower body fat percentage than others of the same age and sex. And it’s for this reason that ranges and guidelines exist. Have a look at the tables below. The first table gives the ideal body fat percentage ranges for the general population. The second table is the average body fat percentage for different athletes. The important thing to remember is…

Anywhere inside the range is good. Staying below the upper limit should be your target but as you’ll soon see lower is not necessarily better.

Average Body Fat Percentage of Athletes

SportMaleFemaleSportMaleFemale
Baseball12-15%12-18%Rowing6-14%12-18%
Basketball6-12%20-27%Shot Putters16-20%20-28%
Bodybuilding5-8%10-15%Skiing (X country)7-12%16-22%
Cycling5-15%15-20%Sprinters8-10%12-20%
Football (Backs)9-12%No dataSwimming9-12%14-24%
Football (Linemen)15-19%No dataTennis12-16%16-24%
Gymnastics5-12%10-16%Triathlon5-12%10-15%
High/long jumpers7-12%10-18%Volleyball11-14%16-25%
Ice/field Hockey8-15%12-18%Weightlifters9-16%No data
Racquetball8-13%15-22%Wrestlers5-16%No data

Lower is Not Necessarily Better

A certain amount of body fat is vital for the body to function normally and healthy. In fact striving for a body fat percentage that is too low can be dangerous.

Measuring your body fat percentage calculates your total body fat. This total body fat can be split into 2 categories…

Storage Fat – This consists mainly of fat deposited just under the skin or subcutaneous fat. Storage fat for men and women is fairly similar. For the average man 12% of bodyweight is storage fat and for the average woman 15% of bodyweight is storage fat.

Essential Body Fat – For the body to function normally and healthily a certain amount of body fat is required. This is called essential fat. For women the average amount of essential fat is 12% of bodyweight and for men it is 3%. Trying to achieve a body fat percentage that is so low it affects your essential fat stores is NOT a good idea. Even some storage fat is required for good health to protect internal organs in the chest and abdomen.

Aim to stay within the range for age and gender and rest assured you are taking one of the most positive steps to life-long health you can.