Is there an optimal body fat percentage?

Answered on October 09, 2013
Created October 09, 2013 at 12:28 AM

Is there an ideal body fat percentage for each individual? Many idealize sub-10% for men, while average is somewhere between 15-25%.

The reason I'm asking I cut down to below 12%, and my fat loss rate started stalling. I take this to be a sign that my body is telling me not to cut any further. Also, body fat plays an important part in healthy hormonal balance in men and women. And it's also essential for survival in famine - fortunately a rare concern for people on a modern paleo diet.

So, is there a way to determine what's my ideal body fat percentage?

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2 Answers



on October 09, 2013
at 12:47 PM

Fat loss rate is not going to be uniform. The lower the body weight, the less body fat and weight you can drop given the same stimulus. There are dozens of reasons for this.

On to your actual question, "optimal body fat". To what are we optimizing? Health? Longevity? Abs?

With respect to Health and Longevity, The numbers I see most often (in men) is 25 BMI and 20% Body fat [1]. This is actually higher than most people would suspect because 25 BMI is classified as overweight and 20% body fat is not thin. So the question is why would extra body fat be associated with better longevity?

The easy, and lazy, answer is to say, well probably those people are muscular and BMI is not an appropriate measure. But the studies who have looked at actual body fat suggest that carrying extra body fat is healthy. Certainly there is a limit, and it is likely a J-shaped distribution where once you get over the threshold you health will spiral out of control. Still there is a sweet spot for longevity and it is higher than one might think. Yet when we look at modern HG they tend to be very lean. Where is the disconnect?

The second answer, and the one I subscribe to, is that the SAD diet is pretty crappy. And one does not consume enough vitamins/minerals for optimal health until they eat at a caloric surplus. Additionally HG likely use far more energy for their day-to-day tasks. So maintenance of highly nutrient dense food for a HG maybe 2800 calories. Where as I would have to consume 3200 calories to get the same amount of nutrients, yet my maintenance would be 2200 calories. So I am consuming 1000 calories per day extra to get the same level of nutrition.

Adding to the issue is that lean mass requires more effort from the body to maintain that fat mass does. Certainly there is virtually no need for "warriors" any longer, we have eliminated or neutralize any potential predator. So it is very likely that our continued evolution has started to prefer men that fit into the "brainy" niche over those who fit into the "warrior" niche. This could, in turn, increase the expression of people with higher myostatin production. Which would mean that we are evolving into a fatter, weaker human -- but one that can elongate their lifespan.

So the missing knowledge is, whether consuming a multivitamin (or eating a highly nutritionally dense diet) and eating at or below maintenance while maintaining a low body fat would change ones all-death-mortality score. This is a question we currently do not know. What we do know is that some excess body fat increases a person's lifespan.

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=15840860&ordinalpos=3&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum



on October 09, 2013
at 12:36 AM

i would imagine how your doing it is the right way. obviously having too much extra weight causes a lot of issues, i imagine having too few could be an issue aswell.... but if your giving your body everything it needs every day consistantly maybe the storage mechanism is less important?

would imagine its all speculative and personal assuming your not obese as i havent heard/seen anything about it.

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