Calculating your Body Fat and Norms

Author: Rod Ferris, CPT (ACE, YMCA), CPAFLA

What is body fat?

Body fat can be expressed as the percentage of a person's body mass that is not fabricated with bones, visceral organs, muscles or water. Do not forget that fat is essential for our hair, skin and vital organs. Fat also helps the absorption of certain vitamins. But consumption of too much fat causes severe problems like heart disease and hypertension.

Importance of Fat

  • It acts as an insulator for our body to protect our body against physical shock
  • Promotes proper cell function
  • Maintains internal body temperature
There are two types of fats are seen in our body. They are saturated fats and unsaturated fats. In addition to the function of protection these fats act as an energy reserve. Sometimes increases in the level of fat causes higher blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, some forms of cancer and heart disorders.

Body Fat Norms

Primarily the body fat percentage depends on the age and gender. Women carry more body fat than men since it is assumed that the female body needs this fat for childbearing and hormonal functions. Therefore the same aged male and female have different healthy body fat percentages. There is no universally accepted body fat percentage norms. Some general norms for body fat percentage is following.

Womens Body Fat Norms

  • A body fat of 10-12% is essential
  • 14-20% is considered a healthy range for athletes
  • 21-24% is normal and healthy
  • 25-31% is considered a tolerable range
  • Anything above 32% is considered obese

Mens Body Fat Norms

  • 2-4% body fat is essential
  • 6-13% is an athletic body fat range
  • 14-17% is considered a normal range
  • 18-25% is above normal
  • Anything above 26% for men is considered obese
The body fat norms may vary depending on the source you visit and it is very much useful to maintain a healthy range. Obese and overweight condition may increase the risk of cardiovascular disorders. For health and well being we must maintain an acceptable range of body fat.


What does percent body fat mean?

Body fat percentage is the percent of body fat that you currently have in your body.

We have put together a scale for you to determine what is a good or a bad bodyfat percentage. Simply look at your sex and then your age and find the percentage below.

Excess Fat

The excess fat in the body leads to obesity, which can cause immense harm to our health.  The increase in the size and number of fat cells leads to obesity. The normal range of fat cells in the body is between 30 and 35 billion. With the increase in weight (pounds), first the size of the fat cells increase and then number. Likewise, when the body weight decreases the size of the body cells decreases, but the number remains constant. 

For more information about losing weight see our weight loss guide.

Male Body Fat Percentages By Age Chart
19-24 < 11 11.1 - 15 15.1 - 19 19.1 - 23 > 23
25-29 < 13 13.1 - 17 17.1 - 20 20.1 - 24 > 24
30-34 < 15 15.1 - 18 18.1 - 22 22.1 - 25 > 25
35-39 < 16 16.1 - 19 19.1 - 23 23.1 - 26 > 26
40-44 < 18 18.1 - 21 21.1 - 24 24.1 - 27 > 27
45-49 < 19 19.1 - 22 22.1 - 25 25.1 - 28 > 28
50-54 < 20 22.1 - 23 23.1 - 26 26.1 - 29 > 29
55 + < 20 20.1 -24 24.1 -27 27.1 - 30 > 30
Female Body Fat Percentages By Age Chart
19-24 < 19 19.1 - 22 22.1 -25 25.1 - 30 > 30
25-29 < 19 19.1 - 22 22.1 - 25 25.1 -30 > 30
30-34 < 20 20.1 - 23 23.1 - 26 26.1 - 31 > 31
35-39 < 21 21.1 - 24 24.1 - 28 28.1 - 32 > 32
40-44 < 23 23.1 - 26 26.1 - 29 29.1 - 33 > 33
45-49 < 24 24.1 - 27 27.1 - 31 31.1 - 34 > 34
50-54 < 27 27.1 - 31 31.1 - 34 34.1 - 37 > 37
55 + < 28 28.1 - 31 31.1 -34 34.1 -38 > 38

What are ways to calculate your body fat (ie. scales, calipers)

There are some beneficial ways to calculate your body fat. They include Bod Pod, Calipers, Body Fat Scale etc.

Bod Pod

Bod Pod is an elliptical chamber that offers accuracy without pain. It is an easy way to calculate body fat. For this first you step in to the chamber and sit for 20 seconds. The chamber calculates air displacement, which can be changed to relative fat when weight is factored in, since muscular people are denser.


Calipers are the cheap and easy test to calculate body fat percentage. Basically, calipers are used to pinch skin in specific areas of the body to get measurements. This measures the subcutaneous fat in the body. It can do it yourself, have a friend do it, or have a professional do it. The most reliable results are performed by a professional, and done by the same professional time after time. You can find Calipers at health stores, GNC, online or at the gym.

Body Fat Scale

This is the least accurate of the three but if you stick to one method of calculation while recording in a workout log you can at least have a baseline to start from. A body fat scale is another way of calculating body fat that works by sending a undamaging electrical current through the body. The amount of body fat is calculated based on the speed of the current, since the current travels through muscle faster than fat. This calculation is just a prediction of body fat due to differences in gender, age, body size, ethnicity and fitness level. See Bios Body Fat Scale.

What are factors that influence increase or decrease of body fat? (ie. Diet, exercise, thermogenic foods, age, sex, thyroid etc)

The factors such as diet, exercise program, thermogenic food items, age, sex, thyroid activity etc affects the increase and decrease in the body fat. Body fat is also influenced genetically, hormonally and by the body maintenance condition. It seems that the fat distribution is influenced by age, genetic inheritance, race, but to a greater extent by gender specific hormones. The break down of the body fat depends mainly on the activity of thyroid hormones.

Women are at a disadvantage, as their physiological processes for example childbearing and hormone functions; require a plus of essential fat, can be called as ‘sex-specific fat’. Thus the total percentage of body fat is higher.  Secondly, women have fewer calories burning muscle than men, which makes it more demanding for the female to achieve a trimmer figure.

For fat burning regular exercising is must. It is allowed to both men and women for proper body functions. The thermogenic foods have the ability to burn more fats.  Chicken breast, turkey breast, game meats (venison, elk, etc), bison, buffalo, very lean red meat such as top round and lean sirloin (grass fed is especially nutritious), almost all types of fish, shellfish and other seafood, egg whites (limit the yolks) etc are examples for thermogenic foods and also those contain lean proteins. For more information about more foods that speed metabolism.

Also see:

BMI Calculation or BMI Charts
Body Fat in the Forums
HIIT: Your fastest way to reduce body fat