Everything You Need to Know About Body Fat Percentage

What the #$%@ is body fat percentage?

What’s a good amount of body fat to aim for?

How the heck do I figure it out how much I have?

Body fat is an incredibly tricky subject – it’s tough to calculate, tough to track, and most people are way off in their estimates of what they think their body fat percentage is.

As Kanye West once famously declared, “that right there could drive a sane man berserk.”

Luckily, you’re reading Nerd Fitness, which means you’re smart, funny, good looking AND modest.

You also understand that this is one of those things that you should probably know something about.

And since we’re talking about a dry, relatively scientific subject here, you’ll be rewarded with cute animal videos at the end of each section so you don’t fall asleep or get bored. Because I’m nice like that 🙂  

A quick note: I bet you’re reading this because you’re interested in LOSING body fat – crazy guess, I know!

If you have been struggling with your weight (and having too high of a body fat percentage) for a while, I know how frustrated that can be. There’s so much trial-and-error that goes into losing weight, and it’s tough to know if you’re doing the right thing!

We’ve been helping busy people like you get in shape through our popular 1-on-1 Online Coaching program, and it might be something for you to consider if you’re looking for expert guidance, instruction, and accountability (and no judgment)!

If you’re interested, you can schedule a free consultation with Team Nerd Fitness to see if coaching is a good fit for you by clicking on the image below:

Fair warning: lots of half-naked people of all different levels of body fat in this article!

What is body fat percentage?

body fat tape measure

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.

Both men and women carry different amounts of body fat percentage due to…you know…being different.

A super ripped male body builder who is minimizing body fat percentage could have a percentage down as low as 3-4%, while a super ripped female bodybuilder who is minimizing body fat percentage would only get as low as 8-9%.

A male athlete could be in fantastic shape and have 10% body fat, while a women at comparable  level of athleticism and appearance might be at 18-20% body fat.

To take the comparison to the other end of the spectrum, an overweight male at 30% will look vastly different than an overweight woman at 30%.

Feel free to take a break with this video of a lion cub hanging out with a puppy and a rabbit.

What do these amounts look like?

Below, you’ll see images of what people look like with different amounts of body fat.


Male Body Fat Pictures and Percentages 3-10%

Male Body Fat Pictures and Percentages 15-30%


Female Body Fat Percentages 11-18%

Female Body Fat Percentages 20-35%

A quick note: your body fat percentage is just the amount of body fat  you have; it has nothing to do with the amount of muscle mass you have, which means you can have two people with the same amount of body fat percentage that look WAY different from each other.

Are you surprised about what you thought and what the actual percentages look like? If so, don’t worry about it – most people have no idea what their body fat percentage is, and will often over or underestimate it pretty dramatically.

We’ll get into what’s a good number to AIM for, and how to measure it next.

After you watch this video of a baby sea otter trying to sleep on mom:

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:



Essential fat













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 in times of peril, and more.

“Essential fat” means the minimal amount of fat required for survival – Anything less than this amount would mostly likely result in organ failure, but even approaching this amount of body fat is dangerous.

It’s for this reason that bodybuilders, who can minimize their body fat to the “essential fat” level only do so when prepping for a show – during the rest of the year they maintain a higher body fat percentage so that they can stay healthy and function properly.

If you are looking to have that “ripped” look (dudes) and “toned” 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.

Now, I’m going to GUESS you’re reading this article because you’re interested in reducing your bodyfat percentage.

If that sounds like you, and you want to skip the confusion, remove the guesswork, and just be told exactly what to eat and how to train your goals, check out The Nerd Fitness Academy, which has helped 35,000+ students reduce their body fat percentage, get strong, healthy, and happy.

Let’s get back to goal setting. For starters, you need to determine what’s an optimal goal for you:

  • If you are trying to look like Ryan Reynolds or Jessica Beil in Blade III, 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).  NF team member Staci trains much better at 20% body fat than at 15% body fat.
  • 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, lookin 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.  Your results may vary!

Hey, you’re still awake! You’ve unlocked the “cute baby pigmy goat jumping around” video:

How do you calculate your body fat percentage?

tape measure and body fat caliper

This question I get asked above ALLLLLL others.  

There are seven main methods that you can use, each with varying levels of accuracy and cost: 

1) Take a Look – This might be my favorite method, although it requires a trained eye and isn’t exact.  By having an accurate list of pictures and comparing a picture of yourself, you can determine somewhat closely what your body fat percentage is. Make sure to note the difference in the two men, both at 10% body fat further down the page.

2) Body Fat Calipers – Pick up a set of calipers for $5. Pull the fat away from your muscles, pinch them with the caliper, take the measurements, and look at a chart to figure out your body fat percentage. Some recommend using one test site, some multiple.

In my experience, I have found that these calipers tend to slightly underestimate body fat percentage (mine tell me that i’m 9 or 10% when I’m really 12%, and Staci’s say she’s 17% when she’s more like 20%), but are surprisingly accurate considering how cheap they are. However, as long as you’re tracking the same area and under the same conditions, you can track overall trends in how the measurement changes to make sure you’re on the right path.

3) The measurement method – By taking measurements (like the US Navy measurement or the YMCA measurement), you can calculate your body fat percentage. I have found, as have others, that this method isn’t incredibly accurate as it can very easily overestimate your body fat. Considering it only takes a few points of data, this is not surprising.

4) Body fat scales and monitors  – An electrical current is sent through your body and uses “biometrical impedance analysis.”  I don’t really like this method, as I find the number that it spits out can be horribly inaccurate. Because they send an electrical current through your body, the amount of water you are carrying can drastically adjust this number too.

5) The Bod Pod – The method calculates your body fat percentage by using air displacement to measure your body mass, volume, and density.  This is also pretty darn accurate, but also pretty darn expensive at usually around $75 per session. Find a bod pod location by putting in your location in the right hand column.

6) Water displacement – Although very accurate (within 1-3% percent), it’s expensive, tedious, and a huge pain in the butt.  If anybody has any experience with a water displacement test, please share your story in the comments.

7) DEXA Scanning– This is considered the most accurate method, as it actually takes a full dual X-ray of your body composition and gives you numbers. You can get this done at a health facility, and involves you lying on an X-Ray table for about 10 minutes. It’s typically expensive, anywhere from $50-150 per session depending on where you are located.

VERY IMPORTANT: If you are going to start testing your body fat percentage, do whatever you can to test yourself under the same conditions each and every time.

For example: every Monday morning, on an empty stomach, while drinking a single glass of water. This way, even if you’re not getting the correct body fat percentage (due to user error), you’ll at least get a consistent incorrect body fat percentage and can calculate how much you lost or if you are progressing in the right way.

“Steve, just tell me the best method!”

If you have the money, and you have a Bod Pod center close to you, then I’d say this would be the best combination of practicality and accuracy.

If you don’t have the money, then I would go with a simple body fat caliper, along with the “take a look” method.

Take a photo of yourself each week and compare the photos week to week to see if you can notice more definition in your muscles (which happens when you start to reduce your bodyfat percentage!).

Here’s the thing with body fat percentage: although it’s fun to know and fun to see it getting lower as you get leaner, methods to track it can often be inaccurate. Take multiple tests with your preferred methods and understand that even then it might be off by 1-3% in either direction. So, track overall TRENDS and go off how you look, and that will get you 95% of the way there.

It comes down to this: Look in the mirror: do you like how you look? Awesome.   Do you NOT like what you see?  Follow the advice in the next section.

Another section, another reward.  You’ve unlocked the “baby otter attacks a stuffed animal walrus” video:

What’s the best way to lower body fat percentage?

Alrighty! Let’s say you’re interested in dropping your body fat percentage, like my childhood friend Saint above.

Staci here also followed the principles of Nerd Fitness to get her results and significantly reduce her bodyfat percentage:

I’m sliiiiiightly biased, but both Saint and Staci, along with 35,000+ other students, reduced their bodyfat percentage by following the methods in the Nerd Fitness Academy.

As you’ll read below, the biggest piece of the puzzle to getting to a low body fat percentage is having the right nutritional strategy, the right mental attitude, a supportive network of people to help you, and a plan to follow.

We know how tough it can be to change your diet. If you’re not sure what to eat, or you’re sick of trying a diet only to give up a few weeks later, I got you covered.

It’s something I’m really proud of, and I know it’s helped a lot of people: our 10-level Nerd Fitness Diet Cheat Sheet. Pick the level you’re comfortable with, stick with it for at least 2 weeks, and then level up when ready and follow the next level! Simple.

Grab your cheat sheet free, along with 4 other free guides, when you sign up in the box below – I’m confident it can help you reduce your body fat percentage permanently.

We’ve helped tens of thousands of people transform into real life superheroes.

Either way, continue to poke around Nerd FItness – all of our content is focused on helping you get results in a fun, non-condescending, supportive, and (most importantly) effective way.

Also, if you’re willing to put in the time, you WILL get the results you’re after.

Okay, time to watch more cute animal videos 🙂


PS: If you enjoyed this article but need more guidance, check out our 1-on-1 coaching program and schedule a free consultation to see if we’re a good fit for each other!


photo sources: tape measure and caliper, tape measure, weight scale, bunny in scale

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  • Ace

    OMG I really appreciate this post! I tried everything I could before, but when I stumbled upon this post, it truly helped more than the normal advertised techniques…

    You’ve truly given me hope friend! Thank you!

  • farrah

    Thank you so much for this useful article. I am struggling with my weight/fat loss now. I am a female, 33, 5’2”. I started fitness workout about three months ago. I started with 117 lbs and I am 128 lbs now. I am a vegetarian. I’ve cut almost all types of processed/junk/fast food and only eat healthy types of fat and carb. And the only source of sugar i use is fruits. No sweets. Sure I’ve built a lot of muscles, I can feel it and see it, but I also look a little big bigger and heavier which I hate. And the two times they measured my bodyfat at the gym, it came out the same (21%), no drops. What do I do? I am highly disappointed. Help please 🙁

  • danielgrant

    SEO organizations make sure that assured SEO solutions include the Google website owner recommendations. upholstery fabric care

  • sheilzasmith

    Measure your weight by using BMI. This is the best method to measure weight. Very simply your BMI is calculated by taking weight (in pounds or kilograms) and dividing it by height (in feet and inches or metres) squared.

  • Bally Chagger

    A month ago I weighed about 67kg and now I weigh now 64.1kg, my bmi is 24.99, height is 5.3 inches, I’m don’t know what is my body fat percentages I don’t have tools to do it at all.

    Can you work out what my body fat percentage is?

  • Bally Chagger

    I lost 3 Kia in 1 month and I have no ideas what my bfp is?
    Last month I weighed 67kg and was obese, this month now I’m 64.1kg and have no ideas what my body fat percentage is also, how I lost weight is doing extreme long walk which burns colorise, I first do 2 hours walk but this ti,e I walked 5.7km.
    It’s really 45 minutes of walk and burnt 350 kcal by walking, exercise and stretching its now left me some flabby skin which I’m trying to get rid of by burning fat around stomach and stretching.

  • Bally Chagger

    Sorry about my writing I mean 3 kilos in 4 weeks

  • nikole

    I liked this article ! Thorough and lots of humor. “180 pounds of pure cheetos” lol. I laughed at quite a few things in this article. Good read thanks !

  • Brittany

    I am almost underweight (5’7″ 117 lbs) but my body fat percentage is 25%. I would like to lower it to more like 18-20%. Look good in a swimsuit but like I still enjoy a cheeseburger now and then. My issue is how do I lose body fat without losing any weight.

  • Eric Whinnery

    Gotta say, awesome article. Very easy to read and fun, all while being informative. I’ve currently been doing Insanity for around the 60 day mark now, and the calorie deficit thing is finally starting to click with me. I’ve lost 18 lbs this year, and I couldn’t agree more with what you said. I’m considering researching paleo and giving it a shot!

  • hsekhon

    Thanks for sharing this Steve!

    Can you please clarify the bit on fasted state training. Does this only apply to strength training? I came across info during my research on “best time to perform cardio” that aerobic training in a fasted state leads to muscle loss. Does it work differently for anaerobic exercise?

  • Letheria

    This formula might be helpful to some- I graduated from National Personal Training Institute in Orlando FL as a Personal Trainer in four Months. I love fasting Workouts . Keeps my Body fat percentage on track.

  • Dave Miller

    The 3 Week Diet is an extreme rapid weight loss program that can help you lose up to 23 pounds of pure body fat in just 3 weeks!


  • รัติ พฤษกุล

    It’s very interesting to build muscle gclub . Thanks for the good advice

  • nerdpocalypse

    Yes, all advice right. And the MRI measurement (used in research) is quite close to the calipers.
    And… the working before breakfast (and also right before bed) isn’t necessarily because of fasted state (but, the body isn’t going to both STORE and RETRIEVE calories at the same time…. so… let us not discount the fasted state entirely)
    increasing your calorie burning only works if you are increasing your calorie burning. If you were going to be walking miles at work and take a break to weight lift you might be DECREASING calorie burning rate. But before breakfast and at bedtime your calorie use is at its lowest and exercise changes that the most drastically. I lose a pound (temporarily) overnight every time I do 200+ calories before bedtime:
    1) water loss
    2) glycogen loss
    3) post exercise effect
    4) it really likely works.

  • good topic, very useful Thank you !

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  • Angie

    Body fat percentage is great – don’t focus too much on what the scale does. Instead, focus on how you feel and look!

    Losing weight doesn’t have to take long. If you’re looking for something that works to lose weight quickly and keep it off, I recently discovered The 3 Week Diet online (go to venusfactro.com/try ) on our local news and it really helped me. I went from 195 pounds all the way to 145, so I’m glad I made the change to a healthier lifestyle. If I can do it, you can too! Get up off your butt and do something about your health and fitness! Three weeks from now you’ll wish you have started today… good luck and you can do this! I promise 🙂Text me if you need some help staying motivated! (706) 968-7729 – I might be a little slow at replying but I’ll do my best to be your free personal trainer. We can be here for each other 🙂xo,Angie

  • Sonja

    I need help to lose 60 lb please help me help myself

  • Sameer Scott Aamir

    what is the Calculation of Body Fat

  • จรัญ จอมวงศ์

    i will try do this thank good site


  • Haha

  • Sonia Lulla


    Quoting your text- if you are above 30% body fat, then both your BMI and your body fat
    percentage would tell you that weight loss should be your primary goal.

    When we talk about weight loss, we always purely mean fat loss, right? Im trying to decipher the need for BMI then. Even if I have a “good” BMI, and my fat % is high, weight loss(fat loss) should still be my primary goal.

    Is there something I’m missing?

  • Cara Largent

    Hey guys. After struggling with losing body fat, I finally found something that works. If you want to join me in
    my fat loss journey, check out http://losebodyfat22.blogspot.com and lets lose fat together.

  • Charlton

    I get a hydrostatic buddy fat test(water displacement) twice a year. It’s pretty accurate and always consistent, unlike calipers and electric impedance tests, which give me a different result every time.

    I’ve done everything suggested in this article and I’m stuck at 15% though.

  • Michael Kioto

    i find this nice blog you can check for more info http://fat-melt-info.blogspot.gr/

  • Have you guys tried the Skulpt Aim body fat measuring gizmo gadget thing? I have it and it’s pretty darn cool. They say it’s the closest to a dexa scan because it uses multiple sensors unlike the regular electro-scales. They say that the multi-sensors make it non-dependant on how much water your body has. I got it for 199, but it’s on sale for 129: http://budurl.com/skulpt129promoN
    Worth a look!

  • yeah, no need for BMI. It’s stupid, actually.

  • Teeradet Khaongam
  • Bradley Headstone

    Visit http://korr.com/ to find out how to accurately measure body fat.

  • Ina

    question : I look like my bodyfatpercentage is around 25, but the measurements( tape methode) give me number around 33??? What’s wrong?

  • Aloshan Dookie

    as long as you take BCAA’s

  • Teeradet Khaongam
  • devhinvi

    I have been researching these fitness level estimation strategies for the last few weeks. Latest research has shown that the waist-to-height ratio, as a surrogate for body-fat percentage is a highly correlated with premature death from obesity. In general, your waist size should be less than half height, else you are in trouble! Also, the newer Body Shape Index (ABSI), which includes a measure of waist, age and gender, is an even more comprehensive metric. As this research paper suggests, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0039504, it is much better than BMI, and Waist-to-Height ratio at predicting fitness level. Here’s one calculator for estimating yours: http://deep-calculators.com/body-shape-index-calculator

  • จมาพันธ์ ชูตา

    I was at the gym each day, like so often weight . It’s a bad habit for a healthy you.
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  • จมาพันธ์ ชูตา
  • Really in-depth article, great work. I like the way you clearly defined the body fat percentages and gave visual examples. People get caught up on numbers and forget about the naked eye.

  • Jdavis

    Those percentages seem really low. Those are for being a good athlete, not being healthy, IMO. Having high testosterone lowers body fat and makes you a good athlete, but doesn’t make you healthier. http://bodyfatprcent.com/

  • จรัญ จอมวงศ์
  • Amin Ansary

    Yes i also agree with you .
    We nee to Calculate our bmi monthly basis its very imprtant for us


  • Travis Zuehls

    For men working out fasted and having a post workout meal immediately after burns more fat and builds more muscle than a workout meal. However, women had better fat loss results from a workout meal then having a post workout meal about 1.5 hours after working out. Lowering your carb intake as dramatically as the article says will dramatically decrease your testosterone which is necessary for muscle growth. Just maintain a balance with your macros at 55% carb 30% fat and 15% protein. Carbs and fat have been proven to be more important for boosting testosterone while protein is necessary for muscle growth, very little is actually needed. The world health org. only recommends .4g protein/lb body weight.

  • walklike

    Andy, I’ve had the same experience (near fainting during a workout, low blood pressure, etc.) . My Integrative Physician said it’s not about blood sugar, it’s is a sign of Adrenal Fatigue.

  • Pascal

    You need to read more of the recent research on this manner. Spewing out dogma without any research or reasoning to back it up is just ignorance.

    The research shows that Fasting is extremely healthy for you, it helps reduce your blood glucose levels and helps you to normalize them. It reduces oxidive stress on the DNA of your cells. It even allows your body to develop BDNF – brain derived neuropeptides, which has been shown to reduce parkinsons and countless other benefits. Know your facts and study up. All these things can be verified with just a few google searches on Fasting.

  • Sherry Lee Ford

    Just wanted to say this article was super helpful to me and well written with it’s humorous undertones! Thanks, I’ve bookmarked your page! 🙂

  • Punjabi Nabu

    It took a couple of weeks to get used to, but I actually feel my workouts increase in a fasted state. Although not truly fasted I use 5000 MG of now sports bcaa’s. Without it I am weak, but this kind does not have any calories. I have dropped my bf% (from 30% to 17%)quickly while only losing a fraction of the performance.

  • Punjabi Nabu

    Show me an actual study. Don’t act like you know what your talking about. I IF everyday and am never starving.

  • mthayer

    Hello, here you can measure your fat percentage using machine learning:

  • Micah James Lewis Snow

    I can’t seem to find a single BF% calculator that I’d call accurate. I tried maybe 5 different calculators, and the lowest one put me at 19.5%. whereas the highest one places me at 38%.

  • LabShape

    Fasting is over 2500 years old fyi 🙂 http://www.labshape.com/intermittent-fasting-2500-years-old/

  • justadudewhowantstogethealthy!

    So recently I have been trying to reduce my bodyfat and Ive crashed and burned following a number of methods including hitting the gym, atkins, GM diet, and a few other that I dont even remember. I have always maintained a decent weight but after high school things started going downhill due to the amount of studying I had to do and the fact that when one is studying for med school you can hardly have a life. Now that I’m nearing the completion of my studies Ive realized a gain of about 30 pounds. I was 5’9 and averaged 195lbs with almost 160 pounds of lean body mass. However after med school at age 25 I’m 5’9 at 225lbs. I bought a fat scale and I see drastic swings in my body fat percentage day by day. I think that’s probably the standard error showing itself as you mentioned in the article. The scale says I have 26.8% body fat. I do lift weights at the gym but only about twice a week. I tried the fasting a working out method however I blacked out which was not a good sign but I realized I went with a very seasoned body builder who was pushing me beyond what I could handle especially since intermittent fasting and paleo was started only a few days before this particular training session. Now that Ive been doing paleo and intermittent fasting for a few weeks and Ive eased into the gym with light weights while listening to my body I think I may be able to pull this off! I wanted to know If I do everything right In terms of caloric restriction and hitting the gym, how long should I give myself before realizing that I’m doing something wrong in terms of decreasing my body fat percentage from 26.8 to roughly 17 which is my current goal.

  • จรัญ จอมวงศ์