How many of you want to see your abs?
Well, the good news is that everyone has them. The bad news is that they’re often covered up by a layer or two of fat.
In today’s article you and I are going to cover:
- What body fat is
- How much you need to live
- How much you need for performance
- How much is too much
- What the heck it’s actually for
- How to lose it
- How to figure out how much you have
- And the differences between men and women and how the genders store body fat
In the words of Matthew McConaughey, “Alight alright alright.” Let’s jump into this bad boy.
Table of Contents
WHAT THE HECK IS BODYFAT?
The sciencey name for body fat is adipose tissue with individual fat cells called adipocytes. Adipo means fat and cyte means cell. It makes sense right?
Adipose tissue or body fat on your body is a combination of stored fat and essential fat that you need to survive. It protects your organs, provides you with energy, and helps your brain function properly. It also is the main source of energy to keep you going; breathing, maintaining body temperature, digestion, number two-ing :), while you’re at rest and during low-intensity exercise/movement.
Ok, put on your laboratory coat here comes some science. I’ll make it quick, try not to fall asleep on me.
One pound of fat is about 450 grams (453 to be exact). However, fat cells are not entirely made of fat as they contain other substances as well. It’s pretty safe to assume that the other substances make up about 10 to 15% of body fat. That would mean that the actual “fat weight” is 400 grams (450 x 10% = roughly 400 grams)
Because body fat provides you with 9 kcals of energy, one pound of fat is equal to about 3,500 calories of energy (450 grams x 9). This is why you often hear that you’ll have to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound. However, that’s not always the case – you can read a little bit about that in this post but more on that later.
One way your body uses fat for fuel
Fatty acids get broken down by a process known as beta-oxidation. When large amounts of fatty acids are broken down your body has no real need for them. They then turn into ketones that your body can use for fuel, in particular your brain.
So yes, carbohydrates are very important for energy (especially if you’re an athlete) but not as important as you’d think. Fat is actually the body’s preferred source of fuel over the course of a day.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF FAT?
There are two primary types of fat, visceral and subcutaneous.
is the unseen fat that surrounds your organs. It has been shown to contribute to various health risks including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even dementia.
Is the fat just under the skin. When you think of love handles or bingo arm this is the type of fat you’d be referring to. It’s the type of fat that moves as you move. When you sit it may form those rolls over your midsection. This type of fat is the kind that you can grab with your hand. It’s much more difficult to “burn” than visceral fat and is often called the “stubborn” fat.
Both types of fat can be harmful to your health but visceral fat is the one that you should be most concerned with as it’s possible to have visceral fat without being obese.
BODY FAT, MEET BRAIN. BRAIN, MEET BODY FAT
One of the most interesting and important things to understand about body fat is that it isn’t just a dormant storage deposit for calories. Body fat is actually now being considered an active organ that secretes various hormones into your blood stream and sends multiple signals throughout the body.
One of these is leptin – a hormone that influences appetite and hunger. Leptin can reduce your appetite by sending signals to your brain letting you know that you don’t need to eat.
If you are overweight there is a good chance you have high levels of leptin which means your appetite should be reduced. However, often this signal has a tough time finding it’s way to your noodle.
High insulin acts as the scapegoat for this. In this study Dr. Lustig notes that insulin can block the leptin signal being sent to your brain letting you know you don’t need to eat. Thus, the brain has no clue that there is plenty of energy on your body to operate effectively and continues to “be hungry.” (1)
Failure to listen to leptin signals can also be related to the following factors:
- Environment: Size of dishes, packages, and various containers
- Tastes: Sweet, savory, fatty, salty, etc..
- Textures: Crunchy, creamy, tough, or chewy
- Sight: Colors, looks appetizing, packaging
- Emotion/Memory: A particular memory with a meal/food or the way a certain food makes you feel. Stress, anxiety, desire, discomfort, pain, happiness, excitement, etc…
- Smell: Cinnabon anyone, Mrs. Fields, enough said right.Social: Eating with family and friends, cultural traditions, peer pressure.
- Habits: Eating to fast because you are rushed, drinks on the weekends with friends, a certain breakfast every morning, eating in front of the TV, dessert after dinner.
- Physical: A growling stomach, irritability if you go too long between eating, headaches.
- Mental: I need this food, I want this food, I’m supposed to eat this food. Not eating mindfully and enjoying and actually taking time to savor and enjoy a meal.
You can read more about hunger and the hormones that influence it in this post.
WHAT IS BODY FAT PERCENTAGE?
Your body fat percentage is the amount of body fat on your body when compared to everything else you own (Organs, muscle, bone, tendons, water, brain, etc…).
Body fat percentage is measured by the amount of fat that you have divided by your bodyweight. For example, a man with 30 pounds of body fat that weighs 180 pounds would be considered to have 16% body fat (30 pounds of fat / 180 total pounds = .166667 or 16%)
I’m sorry for giving you math class flashbacks.
Another way to look at it is like this.
A 180-pound man with 10% body fat carries around 18 pounds of fat on his body. This means that all that other stuff weighs about 162 pounds (180 pounds – 18 pounds of fat = 162 pounds of other stuff).
HOW CAN I FIND OUT MY BODY FAT PERCENTAGE?
There are a few ways you can figure out your body fat percentage.
You can use your before and after pictures to help you estimate your body fat percentage. Snap some front-facing, side facing, and back facing (is that a word) photos of yourself today. Every 30 days snap some more. Keep this process up every 30 days so that you build a little collection for yourself.
While this won’t give you an exact percentage it’s a great way to measure progress and increase motivation. To give you an example of what different body fat percentages look like taking a look at the photos below, this may help you to gauge where you’re at.
You’ll need a set of skinfold calipers to take your measurements. Here is one brand I have used before, and recommend for someone just learning how to take body fat measurements. The Harpenden and Lange models are higher in cost, but perfect for someone who has become skilled (preferably BioSignature certified) at taking skinfolds.
To take your own skinfold measurements, and for the most accurate results, you will need a bit of help. There are a few locations that you will be measuring that can be difficult to get to on your own. No, you won’t be taking any measurements there :). It’s best if you can have a personal trainer or certified BioSignature Practitioner take the measurements for you, as this will give you the most accurate results.
Try contacting a gym, Crossfit, or independent trainers in your area to schedule an appointment with them. Let them know this is something you’d like to keep doing with them for the next few months (you’ll want the same person to do the measurements for the most accuracy). You can also visit this link to find a Biosignature Practitioner in your area.
BODY FAT SCALES
You can buy scales for your home that test your body fat percentage by sending an electric current through your body. Your hydration levels at the time of testing can affect the results, so you may notice big differences if you hop on the scale at different times during the day. If you do decide to use this method for testing, it is very important to mimic the same conditions every time (day, time of day, whether or not you just drank water, etc.).
The bod pod determines your body fat percentage by using air displacement to calculate your lean body mass. This is one of the more accurate methods, but if you are doing it often it can get a little pricey at up to $75-$100 per session. You can find a Bod Pod near you by visiting this link.
This is the method I use most often for clients and myself. It’s pretty darn accurate, but can sometimes be a pain in the butt and a little scary as you will be required to dunk underwater while blowing out all the air in your body. (I promise that it’s not as bad as it sounds.) It can be a little pricey, but they usually offer great package deals. Here are a few links that can help you find a hydrostatic testing method near you: Bodyfattest.com and Fitnesswave.com.
This would be considered the gold standard by most. DEXA scanning takes a full dual x-ray of your body and determines your body composition. It is extremely accurate but can be a little costly as it ranges from$100 to $300 per visit. You can get this done at any health care facility in your area.
I actually just had a Dexa scan done on myself. Check out the goodness below.
I WANT TO SEE MY ABS. HOW MUCH BODY FAT DO I NEED?
In order to see those abs, what should your body fat percentage be?
I bet you were wondering when we’d get to this.
Well, I wish it was just as simple as getting to a certain body fat percentage in order to see those bad boys but your percentage of body fat is just part of the equation. The way your body fat is distributed will also play a role in this.
- Muscle mass
Are also a few of the other factors that may come in to play.
Most health organizations will recommend that body fat for women should never get lower than 10-12% and for men 2-4%. This is known as the essential body fat your body needs to run through some of those processes we touched on earlier.
The chart below outlines the various body fat percentages:
You can view different athletes with different body types and body fat percentages here.
In general, if you want to do bodybuilding shows you’ll need to get to that essential body fat range. If looking like Brad Pitt in Troy (or Fight Club) or Jessica Biel from Blade Trinity than that athletic range will be about right.
If you just want to see some abs around 9-10% for men and 14-15% for women.
However, one person with 10 percent body fat can look entirely different from someone else with 10% body fat. Take a look at the pictures below.
There’s good news in that YOU get to play a big part in building the body that you want.
THE BASICS OF DROPPING BODY FAT
Exercise and eat right. That’s the equation, right?
Man, if it was just that simple we’d all look like Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel from Blade Trinity.
Getting super specific about how to drop body fat would be an entire (and lengthy) article. But below I’ll cover some of the basics.
One of the big reasons we’re getting bigger is a lack of movement
All this sitting is literally killing us.
When you were a kid you were most likely always on the go. Running around, swinging on monkey bars, climbing stuff, literally playing what seemed like all the time.
As we get older more and more of our time is spent sitting at a desk. Then you get home, feeling mentally and physically drained and start sitting some more. Life has become extremely sedentary – There’s just not much movement. This is one reason I ask clients to practice 10 minutes of movement every day for a week or two.
Many people drop pounds from this alone.
So that is my challenge to you, every day this week move 10 minutes per day.
- Take a 10 minute morning walk
- Go on a jog with your dog at night for 10 minutes
- Take 10-minute breaks every 90 minutes while at work and walk the stairs, get outside, or try this office workout
- If you want to really challenge yourself try these 10 minute workout ideas.
I know what you’re thinking.
“Is 10 minutes really going to do ANYTHING.”
YES!! Focus on consistency first and results later. If you’re not moving much we need to get you moving more. This is a great way to start CREATING time for your health as opposed to trying to find it.
Once you’ve proven to yourself that you can make time to move 10 minutes every day try adding 5 more minutes to that… then 10 more minutes… keep building upon that momentum.
You can also check out some of the awesome free workouts available on L365:
- Noob bodyweight training
- Incredible hulk bodyweight training
- The DMV workout
- 10 workouts to spice up any routine
Now The Food Thing.
Modern conveniences have made eating pretty easy. Most of us are blessed to have full fridges, cupboards, and pantries. And if we don’t our cars let us run to the market or a window and pick up something fast.
So here’s my challenge to you.
For the next 7 days prepare a healthy dinner. Most people will recommend starting with breakfast but I’ve found that it’s later in the day when you’re willpower gets depleted that you’re more likely to slip up.
Don’t worry about any other meal this week – Just dinner.
Take Sunday and prepare 7 dinners, or if you’d like to prepare enough to get you to Wednesday night and then on Wednesday night make a couple more to get you to next Sunday.
Keep it super simple. If you’re not sure what to make here are three easy recipes that you can rotate. If that’s too difficult just make the same dinner for all 7 days.
- A palm or two sized portions of protein
- 2 fist-sized servings of veggies
- Cooked in 1-2 tablespoons of healthy fat
- Add your favorite spices
Use the habit tracker found here to prove to yourself that you can do it consistently. After that, then try stepping up your game and including a healthy lunch. Keep progressing from there.
DIFFERENCES IN BODY FAT BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
Women generally carry 6 to 11 percent more body fat than men. It’s not fair, right ladies? Dudes have a lower body fat percentage than you and it’s so much easier for them to take it off.
Well, unfortunately, you ladies out there do have some disadvantages when it comes to storing body fat and trying to lose it.
- Biologically speaking and with all things being equal (exercise habits, age, eating habits, etc…) women need fewer calories than men per pound of body weight. This means that your energy requirements from food are less than that of men.
- Giving birth requires that you nourish both yourself and a fetus/baby. Your body requires more stored energy (fat) to effectively do this.
- Some studies even show that climate ancestry may affect body fat. With warming climates storing more body fat in the butt and thighs and colder climates having it more evenly distributed. Also, the hormone estrogen reduces the body’s ability to burn energy after eating.
- You ladies have far fewer levels of the most potent fat-burning hormones testosterone and growth hormone. Luckily, through strength training, you can release more of these and help speed up the fat-burning process. And no, you won’t get bulky.
Lastly, and maybe most unfortunately you girls out there have to deal with far more emotional and societal challenges. The “thin ideal” concept is pushed on young girls and women everywhere you look – from magazine ads to TV commercials, to billboards. Strong is sexy ladies, both mentally and physically.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND A CHECKLIST
I hope that you found this article educational, entertaining, and inspiring. If not, reach out to me and let me know how I can improve it.
I don’t know many people who want to add body fat, so here’s a quick little checklist for keeping body fat levels low.
- Create calorie awareness (Calorie balance is the most important part of weight management)
- Eat protein and veggies with meals
- Eat whole foods more often than processed ones
- Have go-to meals and practice uniform eating
- Build some sort of meal prepping routine
- Eat foods you enjoy and don’t get overly restrictive
Nutrition and dieting are simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Did the getting start diet guide help? If not, don’t hesitate to contact me.