The Important Role of Body Fat Percentage When Gaining Weight.

Measure your body fat percentage.

Why is it important to calculate your body fat percentage when you’re on a weight gain program? Surely it’s something only overweight dieters and fanatical bodybuilders should concern themselves with. Not necessarily…

Whether you’re goal is to lose or gain weight calculating and controlling your body, the fat percentage will be at the very heart of your success. If you have ever followed a strict exercise and nutrition program, you’ll understand what key role motivation plays. As with any fitness test, this is one of the most powerful qualities of calculating body fat percentage. Imagine this quick scenario.

body fat

John follows a sound training and nutrition program designed to increase his lean muscle mass. After six weeks or so of dedication and determination, he notices his body weight has changed only slightly if at all… Arrgh!

Not getting discouraged, John has his body fat percentage measured. Before he started the program, John weighed 150lbs with a body fat percentage of 15%. After six weeks, he weighs 152lbs, but his body fat percentage has dropped to 12%. The result?

Over 6lb of highly motivating muscle gain (1lb a week is the upper limit of what you can expect when gaining weight) and over 4lbs of fat loss.

The point is this would not show up on the bathroom scales. They give a very limited and often inaccurate picture. Measuring your body fat percentage is the only way to tell if your weight gain program is effectively increasing your lean muscle mass without an associated body fat increase.

So what other benefits does knowing your body fat percentage gives you? Let’s look at the long term picture and consider your general health and well being…

Studies are showing that a typical person living in the western world steadily loses muscle and gains fat starting at age 20. So even if a person maintains a steady weight throughout their life, there’s a good chance their body fat percentage increasing and their lean tissue mass is decreasing.

Traditionally aging and all it’s physical detriments was seen as inevitable. Not any more. Most gerontologists (gerontology is the science of aging) agree that simple lifestyle changes can have a dramatic effect on the aging process. The loss of functional strength, increase in body fat percentage, decrease in bone density, reduction in flexibility and decline in aerobic power are all under our control…

Measure your body fat percentage regularly, and old age won’t creep up on you. You’ll be able to see, first hand, the changes occurring in your body and, if you choose, you can do something about it.

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.

Body Fat Percentage for The Average Population
AgeUp to 3030-5050+
Females14-21%15-23%16-25%
Males9-15%11-17%12-19%
Average Body Fat Percentage of Athletes
SportMaleFemaleSportMaleFemale
Baseball12-15%12-18%Rowing6-14%12-18%
Basketball6-12%20-27%Shot Putters16-20%20-28%
Body building5-8%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 two 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 body weight, 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.

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