Ways & How

How to Calculate Body Fat Percentage

How to Calculate Body Fat Percentage

Your body fat percentage is the amount of fat in your entire body compared to everything else, such as muscles, bones, body organs, etc. More than body weight, body fat percentage is a more accurate indication of how much fat you need to lose. For example, a male athlete can have thirty pounds of total fat all over his body, but his percentage would still be lower compared to a sedentary female who only has fifteen pounds of total fat. The real goal of any weight loss program is to burn fat without losing muscle mass. By knowing how to calculate body fat percentage, you can track whether your shed pounds are from muscle loss, fat loss, or both. Here are five ways to calculate your body fat percentage:

  1. The Skin Fold Caliper Test – This method is the simplest to do, and considering that a skin fold caliper retails for only about $10, it is easily the most practical. All you need to do to measure body fat percentage is to pinch the fat in several specified locations (usually the upper arm, right above the hip bone, and the middle of the thigh) with your fingers and use the caliper to measure its thickness.

    Readings are in millimeter units; a reference chart lists corresponding age and height values that you can look up to find your equivalent body fat percentage. To be accurate, you should measure fat thickness in multiple sites and take care to use the exact same spot every time. It may help to practice and take an “average” measurement.

  2. The Bioelectric Impedance Analysis – This is the method that is most commonly used for weight loss program assessments in most gyms. All you need to do is step on a scale, which will automatically calculate your body fat percentage. This device is able to measure the proportion of fat to muscle because the lower water content of fat tissue makes it less conductive to an electrical current.

  3. Anthropometric measurements – This method is probably the least accurate but interestingly, it is the method used by the U.S. Navy. Body circumference measurements are taken at key points such as waist, neck, and hips. Body fat percentage is estimated based on a value table for height and weight.

  4. Hydrostatic Weighing – Before the use of the DEXA (see below), this method used to be considered the gold standard for body fat measurement. The subject is submerged in a specially designed water tank and weighed. It operates on the principle that bone and muscle are more dense than fat. Thus, a person with a large percentage of fat-free mass will be heavier in water. A high fat percentage makes the body lighter in water.

  5. DEXA Scan – The DEXA scan was originally used to measure bone mineral density, but it has become the current gold standard for body fat measurement since it can visualize the actual distribution of fat in different body areas. It can distinguish between total body composition, lean muscle mass, and fat tissue mass.

The ideal body fat percentage depends on your age, sex, height, and activity level. That’s because a certain amount of fat stores needs to be maintained to sustain important body functions. A lower body fat percentage is not always better than a higher one. For example, breastfeeding mothers need to maintain a higher body fat percentage, or else the body ends up cannibalizing muscle fibers to compensate for the increased calorie demand. On the other hand, an athlete needs to keep his body fat percentage below the average person in order to maximize his performance. Once you have figured out the best method for how to calculate body fat percentage, consistent measurements at regular intervals will allow you to keep track of how well you are progressing towards your fitness goals.


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