No two people are alike. The ideal body fat percentage, varies from person to person and it depends on many factors such as age, height, genetics, types of activities, and eating habits; however, there is a percentage (a rule of thumb in a manner of speaking) that is considered healthy and attainable for most men and women. The following chart (from the American Council on Exercise) lays out the ideal body fat percentages for both men and women according to age. Age and gender must always be taken into account, as they a the primary differentiating factors.
Elite athletes fall under the lean category. They have different standards than the average person and therefore comparing yourself is pointless unless you have the same level of physical activity and nutrition, remember, we are talking about training everyday on a strict diet regime. So what about the rest of us who aren’t top-performing athletes? In general, a 30-year old man should ideally fall somewhere between 10-16% (my personal target is to get to 12%), while a 30-year old woman should fall between 18-22%.
Obesity in the U.S. and Europe is on the rise. Men with a percentage of over 25% and women with a percentage over 32% can experience severe health complications. This is clearly a visible unhealthiness. But what about dropping too low? Having a low body fat is equally as unhealthy, just in different ways. Having a low body fat percentage decreases performance and can also cause serious health issues. Unless you are training for the Olympics or some other high-intensity competition, there is really no reason to drop below 8% for men and 14% for women.
Some people continue to blame genetics on their health problems and/or levels of body fat, especially when it comes to weight. Where you store fat on your body can be contributed to your genetic makeup, but most weight gain and loss is linked to your lifestyle. The good news is, if you want to change your body composition you can. You are not confined to your present state of being. The biggest thing you can start to change is your diet. To achieve a healthy body fat percentage you must create the right balance between the food you eat and the energy burned (calories in versus calories out). It’s not about total weight as this can usually give a false sense of healthy versus unhealthy. Underwater weighing, skin fold thickness measurements, bio electrical impedance, general measurements and the body mass index are ways in which you can determine your body fat percentage and start to reach healthy goals. Just remember to always use more than one form of measurement, ideally body fat percentage and measurements.
If its six pack abs you are after then, the ideal body fat percentage for men, is around 12% for basic definition and 9-10% to look ripped.