Why Body Fat Percentage Matters

Why Body Fat Percentage Matters


In changing rooms and on social media, body fat percentage is a fitness buzzword. But how much does it really matter? SLMan asked a pair of pros for answers. From why it’s impossible to spot-reduce fat to the benefits of interval training and a high-protein diet, here’s what they had to say…

So what exactly is body fat percentage?
“It’s a measurement of your body’s composition. Your total weight is made up of fat, muscle, bone, and water. It can be hard to measure accurately, but if you have access to the right equipment and know-how, you can get a better idea of whether you’re carrying too much (or not enough) fat compared to just weighing yourself. Body fat percentage is important because too much stored fat is associated with a handful of health risks. And because not all fat is visible, your body fat percentage may be higher than you think. Also, when it comes to looking trim, shedding some body fat can make your muscles look more defined by reducing the mask of subcutaneous fat that’s hiding them.” – Alasdair Fitz-Desorgher, Openfit trainer

“Your body fat percentage is a better indication of health compared to the traditional measurement of BMI. In fact, body fat percentage is one of the most standard measurements of overall health. Higher levels of body fat can lead to metabolic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.” – Jo McLelland, co-founder of Body Society

Tell us more about the different types of fat…
“The two men should focus on are subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous fat is stored directly under your skin, and excessive amounts of it are what most people associate with being overweight. Visceral fat is more insidious. It’s stored deep in your abdomen where it surrounds organs such as the liver, stomach, kidneys and intestines. This kind of fat is ‘metabolically active’, secreting substances that can negatively impact your health. Your genetics will dictate how readily you store each kind of fat – and, in the case of subcutaneous fat, where you store it – but on average men tend to have more visceral fat than women. Unless you have a beer belly, that visceral fat can be hard to see, but it should never be out of mind because of the health risks it poses.” – Alasdair

“If someone has high levels of visceral fat, they will most likely have a beer belly. Subcutaneous fat, however, is the deepest layer of your skin. It performs essential roles for survival such as temperature regulation, protecting bones and muscles from damage, hormonal passageways and energy stores. If someone with a high level of subcutaneous fat consumes more calories than they burn, their body will start to store visceral fat, which can be unhealthy.” – Jo

"Remember to increase your protein intake when trying to lose weight as this will help repair and build muscle."

Which kind of fat is easier to lose?
“It’s impossible to target specific areas of fat – spot reduction is a myth – so if you’re trying to get rid of ‘love handles’ or belly fat, you still have to lose overall body fat. However, your body will favour burning visceral fat first as it’s easier to access and metabolise. Visceral fat tends to burn off faster than subcutaneous fat, so if you’re on a new weight-loss regime, don’t be disheartened if you don’t see visible changes straight away. Subcutaneous fat is a bit more stubborn but it will burn off too.” – Alasdair

What is a healthy body fat percentage?
“A healthy body fat percentage for the average male is 14-24%, though most athletes will be a bit lower. Anything under 6% is considered too low in men, as some fat is necessary to maintain normal bodily functions.” – Alasdair

Is it true you need to have low body fat to see your abs?
“Yes. Three things affect the visibility of your abs: muscle size, body fat percentage and genetics. Having visible abs requires more than just building up your rectus abdominis (i.e. the six-pack muscle). No matter how many crunches you do, if the muscles are hidden under a layer of subcutaneous fat, you’ll never see them. Visible abs have a genetic element too; some people naturally store more fat on their bellies, so some people need to get their body fat percentage lower than others to show their abs. You can’t change your genetics, but training your abs and reducing your body fat can help make your abs pop. For men, a body fat percentage of about 15% or less will typically expose the abs.” – Alasdair

How do you go about measuring your body fat?
“You can buy scales that measure body fat percentage, but they aren’t as accurate as the professional testing you can have performed at a lab. Many gyms offer body composition testing as well. If you do it yourself, it’s important to weigh yourself at the same time every day, as that will cut down on the natural daily fluctuations in your weight. I recommend weighing yourself in the morning after you’ve been to the loo and before you shower (wet skin can affect the reading), and focus on the long-term trend rather than the day-to-day numbers. However, the most important indication of progress is what you see in the mirror, so don’t worry too much about what the scale tells you. Focus on the long game, and pay the most attention to the visual changes you see when you look at your reflection.” – Alasdair

What’s the best way to lose body fat?
“When it comes to losing body fat, calories are king. Your body stores fat when you consume more calories than you need to fuel it. The only way to reverse the process is to create a calorie deficit. To achieve a calorie deficit, you can either consume fewer calories, burn more calories (e.g. by working out) or do a combination of the two. The latter is the most efficient method for losing fat. For calorie burning in a hurry, it’s worth noting that high intensity interval training (HIIT) can burn as many or more calories in a shorter amount of time than a steady-state workout, such as a distance run or a long bike ride. All movement burns calories, though, so the best workout is the one you enjoy and will stick to.” – Alasdair

“Consistency is key – results don’t happen overnight. Remember to increase your protein intake when trying to lose weight as this will help repair and build muscle. In time, this will boost your basal metabolic rate, i.e. how many calories your body burns at rest. When it comes to nutrition, ditch sugar. It’s hidden in so many ready meals and sauces, so try and cook from scratch where you can. Use whole, organic ingredients and eat a variety of foods.” – Jo


"Remember to increase your protein intake when trying to lose weight as this will help repair and build muscle."

Any other nutrition tips?
“Excess calories from any macronutrient (fat, carbs, protein) can cause weight gain. But it’s important to know protein and carbs contain four calories per gram, while fat contains nine calories per gram, so fatty food will cause you to hit a calorie surplus quicker. To lose fat and stay lean, it’s important to have balance while controlling calories. Your body needs protein to repair cells, carbohydrates for fuel, and fats for hormone production and nerve/brain function, so you need to maintain a balance of all of these while creating an overall calorie deficit. High-fiber foods can also support weight loss, as eating them can help you stay fuller for longer.” – Alasdair

Can supplements help? 
“Some supplements can help you achieve the right balance in your diet. If you’re trying to increase your protein intake without taking on too many extra calories, a protein shake can help you do that. But make sure to check the nutritional information. Some shakes are designed for bulking, so they will intentionally boost the calories with sugars or other carbs to encourage gain weight. Steer clear of diet pills or anything claiming to burn fat – only hard work and careful eating can do that. Any magic quick fixes are a waste of time and money.” – Alasdair

Finally, any special hacks you give your clients? 
“Losing body fat is all about speeding up the metabolism. Try to eat every three hours, which will keep your furnace revved up. Stick to a combination of vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats in portions that are in line with your size and activity level. Always include a lean protein source with every meal – eating protein is like throwing lighter fluid onto the fire. My top tip when it comes to protein is that fewer legs equals better quality protein. In other words, fish have no legs and offer a lean, healthy source of protein; turkey and chicken have two legs and are also healthy choices. Be selective about eating an animal with four legs. Green tea can also help with fat burning as it contains catechins, which stimulate the body to burn calories. Also try to perform intervals when you train, which will keep your body burning calories post-workout.” – Jo

“Consistency is key when it comes to losing body fat. There are no quick fixes, so find a form of exercise you enjoy and one that offers an opportunity to progress. When it comes to diet, it can be helpful to meal prep – that way, you can plan your meals to make sure they’re nutritionally balanced. You also won’t have to think about what to eat each day. The reassurance of consuming homemade, healthy food and the convenience of having it ready to go makes healthy eating much easier to stick to. In short, planning your workouts and meals and sticking to the plan is the best way to get the results you want.” – Alasdair


For more information, visit OpenFit.com and BodySociety.co.uk


*Features published by SLMan are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.


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