Body Fat Levels for both Men and Women


Body fat percentage is a great way to determine health and track weight loss. Average body fat percentages vary between men and women, as well as between different age groups. Below you’ll find a table with the different ranges of body fat for men and women, and illustrations of what these body fat percentages look like. Try to get you body fat percentage measured professionally, or use an online body fat calculator for an estimate of your body fat percentage.

Average Levels of Body Fat for Athletes

10 – 15%
5 – 12%
10 – 16%
6 – 12%
Marathon Runners:
10 – 16%
5 – 10%
Olympic Gymnasts:
11 – 14%
5 – 8%
12 – 18%
5 – 12%
Tennis Players:
14 – 20%
10 – 16%


16 – 25%

11 – 14%

Low to High Levels of Body Fat

Essential Fat:
10 – 13%
2 – 5 %
Lean (Athlete):
14 – 20%
6 – 13%
Average (Fitness):
21 – 24 %
14 – 17%
25 – 31%
18 – 25%





SUPERSKINNY? – Minimum Body Fat

It is impossible to decrease body fat levels to zero. Body fat can be divided into essential fat and storage fat. Essential fat is needed for the body’s hormone and immune systems to function properly and is stored in the body’s major organs such as the heart, lungs, bone marrow and muscles. Physical and physiological health are adversely affected below the level of essential fat. Women carry additional essential gender-specific fat in the breasts, pelvis, hips and thighs, which is a biological necessity for child bearing. Essential fat accounts for at least 10% to 13% of a woman’s and 5% of a man’s total body weight. Storage fat, on the other hand, is used as fuel for the body in times of need and is also required for good health. It is used to protect the internal organs in the chest and abdomen. The levels of this fat fluctuate, as this is the weight that changes during weight gain and loss.

Essential fat and some storage fat is required for normal body functioning. This is particularly true for women, in whom very low levels of body fat may cause a disruption/ loss of the menstrual (amenorrhea) cycle, this in turn resulting in an estrogen deficiency, infertility, hair loss, a decrease in bone density and premature osteoporosis. Generally, any woman who seeks to maintain her body fat levels below 12 – 15 % and/ or trains very heavily will experience this disruption. However, this may also depend on how this body fat percentage was achieved and is maintained. The point of amenorrhea is different for all women, for some it may be at 18%, for others at 16% or 12%. It is important to understand that even with resumption of normal menses, some of the changes that have taken place may be irreversible, such as bone mineral loss (increasing risk of osteoporosis – brittle bones). This is particularly true in adolescence, during which, 60 – 80% of skeletal bone is laid down and consolidated. Low estrogen levels during this time will cause inhibition of normal pubertal growth and development.

Amenorrhea is never healthy, desirable or acceptable. This is a sign that something is wrong. If you stop menstruating after a period of weight loss, it may be that you have gone too far. Try putting on a little weight to see whether this restores your menses and make an appointment with your general practitioner.

SUPERSIZE? – Too Much Body Fat

  • Women are considered borderline at a body fat percentage of 30% and clinically obese at 35%, while men are borderline at 25% and obese at 30%.
  • High levels of body fat are a risk factor for many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain cancers and osteoarthritis.
  • Excess fat hampers sports performance. A high body fat percentage can act as “dead weight”, thereby resulting in decreased performance in speed, endurance, efficiency of movement, agility, balance and jumping ability. However, being overweight should not keep you back from exercising.

About Fat Cells

Body fat is stored in fat cells and everyone is born with a specific number of fat cells. This number does not change. When we gain or lose weight, what does change is the size of these fat cells – they may grow bigger or shrink in size. However, there are exceptions to every rule and there are two instances during which there the number of fat cells can increase:

  1. During puberty when the number of fat cells increase.
  2. Extremely obesity (> 60% body fat/ > than 170% normal body weight), fat cells would have reached their limit in terms of size and hence more fat cells are produced to accommodate the extra fat required for storage.

When adults lose body fat there is a reduction in the size of the fat cells of the body, the only procedure that can reduce the number of fat cells is their surgical removal, i.e. liposuction. However, liposuction does not control the size of the fat cells left behind nor does it guarantee that growth/ re-growth of fat cells will not occur. Therefore, liposuction cannot guarantee the prevention of weight gain. Liposuction/ any type of fat removal procedure is further limited by the fact that only relatively few fat cells can safely be removed and future weight gain will be pushed to the areas of the body that still contain fat cells.  This means you may eliminate the fat cells around your abdomen, but if you continue on a weight gaining diet and storing additional fat your body will add it to areas like the arms, legs, butt and face, (while still maintaining a slim abdomen.)

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Categories Diet, Fat, Health and fitness - General, Uncategorized

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