A person’s body fat percentage will vary greatly based on the person’s natural genetic body shape, and type of exercise the person does. This is a general overview of what I agree with and scientific evidence I have found.
The best way to assess the appropriate body fat for a person is to have an assessment for that individual and a registered dietitian is recommended. Secondly, everyone should be aware of the inaccuracy of body fat testing methods. The best method of testing is to perform a few tests multiple times. One example of an effective measurement is to have a skilled professional take skin fold measurements several times and use the average of all the measurements. Even with this method, the actual results may vary.
What are appropriate percents?
General minimum body fat percent for athletes: 5% for male and 12% for female (these are the minimum percents of fat in the body needed for basic human function–for example, cells need fat for survival). For women, it is especially dangerous to drop to a low percent because it will likely put you at greater risk for osteoporosis later in life. This is largely due to excessive exercise which suppresses the estrogen needed for bone formation and maintenance, and this stress and estrogen suppression will likely cause irregular/absent menstrual cycles.
- If weight loss is the goal, it should be done mostly in the off season and assessed in the off season
- During training, reduction in calories will not improve performance
- If body fat percentage is too low, lean muscle mass will be lost which is necessary for performance and health
- Progress in athletic performance should always be monitored by performance markers, and not by weight gain or loss.
Finally, all food is part of a healthy lifestyle and each individual should be encouraged to be at their healthiest weight.
*Information from the 2009 Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance
**This article is not a substitute for medical advice.