Ideal Fat Percentage for Women & Men

The ideal percentage of body fat varies between each individual depending on various factors such as gender, body type, hereditary, age, activity levels and eating habits. Overweight people generally develop a higher body fat percentage due to either a sedentary lifestyle or a regular consumption of more energy than the body requires, often though it is the combination of both these factors over time that allow the body fat percentage to push to high levels.

Recommended Body Fat Levels for men and women:

Males Age Range (years)Too LittleHealthy RangeOverweightObese
20-30Below 8%8 - 19%19 - 25%over 25%
31-40Below 8%8 - 19%19 - 25%over 25%
41-50Below 11%11 - 22%22 - 27%over 27%
51-60Below 11%11 - 22%22 - 27%over 27%
61-70Below 13%13 - 25%25 - 30%over 30%
71-80Below 13%13 - 25%25 - 30%over 30%

Females Age Range (years)Too LittleHealthy RangeOverweightObese
20-30Below 21%21 - 33%33 - 39%over 39%
31-40Below 21%21 - 33%33 - 39%over 39%
41-50Below 23%23 - 35%35 - 40%over 40%
51-60Below 23%23 - 35%35 - 40%over 40%
61-70Below 24%24 - 36%36 - 42%over 42%
71-80Below 24%24 - 36%36 - 42%over 42%

How Fat Cells Work

We all store body fat in different areas of the body. Although where fat is stored mainly depends on genetic factors, men generally have more fat cells around the abdominal area and women usually store more fat around the hips and thighs. A certain percentage of body fat is also stored internally. This visceral fat is also reduced on losing weight much to the frustration of the dieter when they look in the mirror and believe that no progress has been made.

Age is also a major factor for changes in body fat percentage, as we age we tend to store more fat mainly due to a lowered metabolism and changes in hormones. It is interesting to note that the actual numbers of fat cells are established up to the age of around 16 years. After this age an increase in fat storage results in the expansion of each fat cell not an increase in the numbers.

How Breaking Down Fat

Some people who try to reduce stored fat sometimes have an unrealistic estimation about the ideal fat percentage they should aim for, with a view that the lower the better. In fact, it is considered unhealthy to have a percentage of body fat below three percent for men or ten percent for women. The minimum percent body fat considered safe and acceptable for good health is 5% for males and 12% for females, although some people can reduce fat levels much lower without any problems especially if a low percentage is only maintained for a short time.

Tom Venuto often reduces his fat percentage to a very low 3.5 percent however, two possible factors help him achieve this, his genetic potential or low numbers of fat cells and the knowledge he has developed from years of training to strip down the fat percentage.

As much as some wish to rid the body of stored fat it is essential, it acts as insulation and padding for joints, nerves and vital organs. However the average person tends to carry far more than the body requires. The recommended body fat percentage for men and women is shown below.

How can a body fat monitor helps you?

It would be good practice to regularly monitor fat levels as this can indicate if any changes in lifestyle or diet affects your body fat percentage.

There are many body fat monitors now available that can be a valuable tool to help monitor your progress. You will learn very quickly if you are to reach your ideal fat percentage on time and reveal if a lack of visual results is simply due to a loss in visceral fat within the body cavity.

Some body fat monitors use Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) technology. These body fat monitors work by sending a low-level electrical signal through the body from two footpads on the scales. The signal passes more quickly through muscle than fat due to its high water content. The monitor analyzes the readings from this signal with stored personal data (height, weight, gender, activity level). This information is converted to a body fat percentage within seconds.

* Always seek the approval of a qualified doctor or physician before starting any new exercise, all exercises stated above should be performed under the supervision of a qualified fitness instructor.


17 Responses to Ideal Fat Percentage for Women & Men

  1. Anna says:

    Thanks for this article and the charts. A body fat percentage number isn't much good without an understanding of what percentage is healthy and what is not. I do have one note, though... in your first paragraph, you state that no one with an active lifestyle should have more than 25% body fat. I think you meant no MAN with an active lifestyle, since the healthy range for a young woman is between 21-33%. A woman with 25.5% body fat, for example, falls well within this range and would find it hard pressed to find a doctor who would advocate serious weight loss. A drill sergeant, perhaps, or a modeling studio. But not a doctor. ::wink::
    Thanks again for the helpful information!

  2. Preeti says:

    Agree Anna, women with 25.5% body fat should not be doing serious weight loss.

  3. Terri says:

    Anna and Preeti - I would disagree here. I actually have been going to a trainer for about 2.5 months now. I am 46 and I started out at 25% body fat I am short at 5'1" I weighed 130 when I started with him. I am now at 123 and am at 19% body fat. I didn't lose that much weight but have lost fat and gained lean muscle. I am not skinny by any means as you can tell by my weight. I know women that are 5'6" that weigh the same as me. I feel much healthier and toner and no longer have muffin top ;) . As long as you eat healthy with appropriate foods, do cardio and weights is key to lowering body fat you will be in a good place.

  4. Preeti says:

    Hi Terri, yes agree with you. It's that we don't want to scare women into going into serious dieting because they're at 25%; though a well balanced diet of exercise and good food will put you on the track to losing weight.

    Fantastic results you have!

  5. Connie says:

    I believe your chart for women is flawed. You show the same ranges for healthy and overweight and perhaps the obese is incorrect, as well. I'm not sure.

  6. Preeti says:

    Hi Connie, You're right. We have to fix the table to reflect the correct numbers.

  7. sarah says:

    Yes, it looks like you have the same values listed for both men and women in the obese column. The values for women should be much higher than the men's.

  8. begum says:

    Agree with Preeti. Am 23% at 5-5" with a BMI of 17.8 (reading at my local gym)weighing at 48kg but a trainer at the gym said that the fat percentage reading was average and that is concerning in that I thought I was 'in good check'! Table does need to be revised. B

    • begum says:

      Begum again: The table is seriously flawed. I have lost a kilo since my last 'weigh in'at the gym(work stress!) but have increased a little more resistance training with light weights. My BMI now reads 16.9 and body fat percentage is 16.6% (from 23.8%!) and I agree with BJ in that the significant drop in my body fat due to my increased fitness even though I am not particularly lighter.

  9. BJ says:

    Yeah, Anna is inaccurate. If you are fitness and you maintain the same body fat regardless of the chart then something is wrong. All charts are done for non-athletes / non-fitness. Once you move to the realm of fitness then you should have lower numbers for a 'norm'. Fact, most doctors know nothing about nutrition or fitness. I have only met one sports doctor that actually knows the mechanisms of why BMI fails, the chart above misleads, cholesterol numbers are almost meaningless, and they prescribe vitamins without any knowledge of aminos. If your doctor is two to three years behind in nutrition and health then you may as well be 100 years. If he does not know things from berkley labs blood tests to find cholesterol types [meaning if you have the best cholesterol numbers in the world but have the LP(a) cholesterol type - you are at the up risk boundary] to understanding that the amino acid Lysine is necessary to absorb calcium [meaning taking calcium is almost meaningless unless your body has the catalysts to absorb it]. Terri is accurate. If you do strength training BMI is worthless. You can have 0% bodyfat, run a million miles an hour, etc. and BMI will show up as obese. BMI is 'only' useful for someone who does not physical activity at all (and I mean at all). BMI 'does' work for models for instance but not fitness instructors as much and definitely not bodybuilders. ALL advanced bodybuilders [women and men] are classified as obese on BMI. Yeah, all.

    • Joseph says:

      BJ, you are absolutely right about BMI, though I believe it measures accurately to reflect the minimal recommended physical activity (which is still quite a sedentary lifestyle). It is not uncommon to see advanced bodybuilders weighing 250lbs (at competition) and standing at 5'10", which would classify them as "morbidly obese" by BMI standards. Yet, they will often be around 4% BF. My BMI is very average, and when calculating BF% from BMI, I get 15.5%. That's double my actual BF%, which just goes to show how invalid BMI is as a measure of obesity. It is just a measure of how average one's weight vs. height is. BMI also fails to take into account bone structure and density, another factor in body composition. Some people really DO have "big bones" (as some have smaller/lighter bones, too), which artificially inflate their BMI, though there are less big-boned people than some would claim. Body shape also plays a role. If you are genetically endomorphic, you shouldn't be terribly alarmed if your BMI comes out a little higher than average due to your thicker build. It doesn't necessarily mean you're less healthy. It is most sad that BMI is still the gold standard to diagnose/assess eating disorders because it's just so inaccurate.

  10. Robert Racy says:

    I guessing most women complaining about how unrealistic the weight percentage for women is are fat. LoL

  11. Faith says:

    I'm glad somebody finally admits that BMI is whacked when it comes to "big boned" or muscular types. I am a 44 yr old, 305-lb farm woman with a BMI of 48 (morbidly obese). HOWEVER, I recently contemplated weight loss surgery because I just figured it was now or never. My glucose, cholesterol and, blood pressure are all in the ideal range, snd I found out that my body fat percentage is 28.3% (mid-range of the healthy category for my age) and that my "lean" body weight is around 215 (ideal weight around 228). So I'm not going through with the surgery. Instead, I'm just going to push the feed bag away more often and find a little more work to do here on the farm. Everyone has always said that I'm just "a big built kraut" and don't look as heavy as I am. I've always thought that if I'd ever get down into the 130-ish range that many charts say I should weigh that you would know I was dead.

    Have spent every day of my life since age 4 milking cows, baling hay, diging post holes, and doing most work manually. My diet is heavily based on meat, eggs (about 2 dozen a week), cream/whole milk ("whole" meaning 7% b.f. Jersey milk - not the 4% 'red cap' stuff) and what seasonal fruits and vegetables I grow.

    :-D Guess I'll just have to be happy being a Clydesdale and quit trying to impersonate a racing Thoroughbred.

  12. Lynda Szalajda-Smith says:

    I understand that as we age visceral and intramuscular fat increases. But if you have trained for over 20 years like myself and many others i know , and have managed to maintain or even increase lean muscle, that bf charts are flawed.
    I am now 43 and size 6-8 , American 2-4, I am leaner and lighter than when I was 20 yet every ten years the chart % jumps up, and in turn states I am fatter than when I was in my 20's, though I KNOW I am not.
    I feel as though because I have a good amount of muscle , and have def not atrophied the past twenty years that the table is not accurate for athletes.
    What do you think on this topic??

  13. Christine says:

    I just bought one of those Body fat monitors that using UIA.

    My bodyfat is 33.8% from the reading. I am 5 ft tall and 110 lbs, wearing size 0 dresses. I really don't think the monitor is accurate at all since I have a flat tummy(only 25" waist). Although I have pretty good size breasts,I still don't think they are the reason I have such a high reading on my BF%.

    I also do weight training 2-3 times a week for the past 2 years. Just thinking there must be a better way to measure body fat than the monitor...or I am just too fat(33.8% BF)???

  14. Richard says:

    I'm a 41 year old bodybuilder currently bulking up, which involves adding a large amount of muscle mass and perhaps some fat too because of the large calorie intake. I read that this is a bad idea because gaining fat will increase the number of fat cells, which will make it hard to lose fat later. So it was interesting to read that the number of fat cells is fixed after about 16 years of age.
    I know that the BMI measurement is useless for bodybuilders, due to the much larger than average muscles, so I think monitoring body fat is a much better way to keep healthy.

  15. Laney says:

    I am 5ft 10,(a tall girl) a size 10-12, athlethic build and have been training with kettlebells, weights, cardio, bikram yoga etc for years. I look lean and shapely but according to a body fat reading by a trainer I am 28%. This made me feel very disheartened as I do eat a healthy balanced diet and rarely drink alcohol. I've also lost 6.5 kilos.............hmmmmm....Should I be happy with this??

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