I’d love to say that body fat percentage (BFP) has never bothered me, but that would be a lie.
It’s not a subject that I particularly obsess over, but one that definitely intrigues me.
I asked the question, “What is the lowest body fat percentage?”
I researched the answer, and to my surprise I found information that evoked just about every emotion in me.
I was happy to discover that my own body fat percentage is typically always in the fitness range, although I have occasionally made it into the athlete range (little old me, an athlete, who knew).
I discovered the story of the man purported to have the lowest male body fat percentage ever who tragically died at the age of 31.
Then there is the story of a woman with a rare congenital disease, who was cruelly bullied at school and horrifically vilified in a YouTube video.
I’d like to share everything that I’ve learned with you.
Plus, I would hazard a guess that as you’re here reading an article about body fat percentages, you would also like to know about ways to potentially reduce BFP.
Not to worry, I’ve got you covered.
What is the Lowest Body Fat Percentage?
My curiosity got the better of me and I had to know about the lowest body fat percentages ever recorded, but I wasn’t ready for what I was about to be greeted with.
The lowest body fat percentage range (according to official charts, measurements, etc.) is known as “Essential Fat” and shouldn’t be below 2% for any human being.
Basically, this is the minimum amount of fat that an individual requires to survive, and anything lower would typically lead to organ failure.
So, when you come across stories of people who have dipped below the “essential fat” figure it can certainly pull on your heartstrings.
Firstly, there’s the late Austrian bodybuilder, Andreas Munzer, who was known for his extremely low levels of body fat.
Andreas was someone who admired and aspired to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he eventually met his hero at the 1996 Arnold Classic.
Andreas claimed a number of top 10 spots in some of the most famous bodybuilding competitions, including Mr. Olympia and the Arnold Classic, even coming 1st in the Heavyweight category of the World Games in 1989.
Andreas was admitted to hospital in March 1996 after complaining of stomach pains for many months previously.
The Doctors decided to operate to stop bleeding from his stomach, but shortly afterwards both his liver and kidneys failed.
Two days later Andreas died at the age of 31.
His autopsy revealed over 20 different drugs in his system, his liver contained numerous tennis ball-sized tumours and his heart weighed 636 grams, almost twice that of an average man.
His body contained almost no fat beneath the skin and it is claimed that this is the closest that anyone has ever been to 0% body fat.
Lizzie was born with a rare congenital disease known as Marfanoid-progeroid-lipodystrophy syndrome.
This condition means that her body breaks down the protein intended to build fat cells.
Simply put, Lizzie is unable to put on weight, irrespective of what she eats, and she has never weighed more than 29kg (64lbs) her entire life.
In fact, Lizzie typically eats anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 calories a day, which must be consumed in small meals and snacks, but she’ll never put on weight.
Just reading Lizzie’s story of how she was bullied at school brought tears to my eyes, but nothing could prepare me for what she had to endure in her teenage years.
A video posted on YouTube in 2006, when Lizzie was just 17 years old, dubbed her the “World’s Ugliest Woman”.
Can you even begin to imagine how that feels?
Her misery didn’t end there, as many of the comments to the video included some of the most disgusting things you could ever say to another person.
I feel loathed to say it, but one commenter basically told Lizzie to “Do the world a favour and put a gun to your head.”
Lizzie is a far stronger person that I could ever hope to be and the video and the comments inspired her to become a motivational speaker. She has spoken out against bullying and remains an eternal optimist.
Lizzie you truly inspire me to be a better person.
Here’s Lizzie giving a TED talk @ TEDxAustinWomen Talk in 2014.
Although the video has nothing to do with body fat percentages, I feel her talk, “How Do YOU Define Yourself” is something everyone should see.
Thank you, Lizzie. Now back to body fat percentages.
The Body Fat Percentage Chart
What is Body Fat Percentage?
Body fat percentage is basically the amount of fat in your body in comparison to everything else, such as your organs, muscles, tendons, bones, water, etc.
As you can see from the chart above (and the examples below) men and women have different amounts of body fat percentage, for no other reason than we’re different from each other.
In fact, just looking at the body examples below you can see that a super-ripped male bodybuilder with a body fat percentage in the 3-4% range is the equivalent to that of a female with 11-12% body fat.
This would also mean that most professional sportsmen would be in superb shape with a 10% body fat percentage, whereas a sportswoman would look equally fantastic and athletic with 17-18% body fat.
However, before anyone starts complaining one way or the other, just compare the opposite end of the scale, i.e. the comparison between both sexes at say 35% body fat.
With that said, it is important to note that your body fat percentage is simply about the amount of body fat you have, and won’t take into consideration things like muscle mass.
Therefore, you could have two people with exactly the same body fat percentage and yet they look physically very different from one another.
The following pictures of both men and women may come as somewhat of a surprise to you, but in truth most of us estimate our body fat percentages completely incorrectly (whether over or under).
Body Fat Percentages For Men
Body Fat Percentages For Women
What 2% Body Fat Looks Like – Helmut Strebl
How To Measure Body Fat Percentage
There are a number of different ways to measure body fat percentage, but in truth many of the easiest and quickest ways aren’t that accurate.
In fact, a quick Google search will reveal various Body Fat Estimate Calculators like this US Navy Measurement one, which will generally overestimate your body fat.
I would hazard a guess that some of you may end up crying yourself to sleep tonight while sobbing, “I’m obese, I’m obese”, when in fact you are anything but.
Most body fat calculators require you to take certain measurements with a tape measure – neck and waist (at the navel) for men, and neck, waist and hips for women.
You’ll then need to add your height and weight and voila! You are given an approximate figure for your body fat.
It doesn’t really surprise me that this method is not accurate, as there are so few points of data required in order to produce an estimate.
I know for a fact that you won’t be able to help yourself and you will have visited the site above for a quick estimate, but please don’t take too much notice of what you discover.
Possibly the least inexpensive and a fairly accurate way to estimate your body fat percentage is by using body fat calipers.
You can purchase a very simple set of calipers for under £5 ($7) and you’re good to go.
However, the accuracy of calipers will very much depend on your own skill levels at performing the skinfolds required, and this could leave you anywhere from 3-5% away from a true figure.
With that said, body fat calipers typically come with fairly detailed instructions and as long as you follow these precisely you should come within 1-2% of a true figure.
One of the most accurate measurements of body fat percentage will be a Dexa/DXA scan.
This will utilise a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) and go far beyond the realms of just taking your weight and body mass index (BMI) into account.
Just a quick note, body fat percentage and body mass index are two completely different creatures.
BMI simply takes into consideration your height and your weight.
Whereas for many of us this may give an accurate reflection of whether we’re fit, average, or overweight, it can also be hideously wrong.
I know that many extremely tall basketball players will have a BMI that claims that they are obese, and yet they still sport a 6-pack.
The Dexa scan is performed at a health facility and requires you to lie on an X-ray table for approximately 10 minutes.
For those that are interested in measuring their body fat percentage (and usually looking to reduce this figure), this will usually require regular measurements, as you make changes to your nutrition and activity levels.
I’m sure you can appreciate that having a regular Dexa scan is not feasible to most, as this will generally run into three figures every time you go for a scan.
Other methods include:
- Hydrostatic Weighing
- Air Displacement Plethysmography (Bod Pod)
- Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) – This is the method used via body fat scales and monitors, which are available to consumers
- Bioimpedance Spectroscopy (BIS)
- Electrical Impedance Myography (EIM)
- 3-D Body Scanners
- Multi-Compartment Models (Claimed to be the most accurate assessment of body composition)
Rather than me going into more detail about these various methods you can read more about them here.
There is of course the good old “sight test”, whereby you compare progressions of pictures of yourself over a period of weeks.
Okay, it may not be the most accurate or give you exact figures, but a trained eye could help you to guesstimate a body fat percentage (based on the images above).
The most important factor about taking body fat percentage measurements is to ensure that you test under EXACTLY the same conditions each and every time.
So, if you choose to take your measurements first thing upon awakening on a Sunday morning (without anything to eat or drink) then you must continue using this same methodology.
This is the only way to get an accurate representation of any changes in body fat percentage.
The Dangers of a Low Body Fat Percentage
I’m sure most of us would love to be a little leaner and wouldn’t it be great for our abs to finally come out of hiding?
However, the story of Andreas Munzer earlier is surely enough to scare anyone off having too low a BFP.
Even bodybuilders who try to get their BFP as low as possible just before competition (3-4% range) will generally ease off afterwards and allow their body fat to rise significantly during off-season.
In fact, most professional athletes will typically perform better in their chosen sport if they have a 15% body fat for men, and 20% for women.
And mere mortals such as ourselves can look absolutely fantastic with 18% and 22% body fat for men and women respectively.
Nevertheless, there are those that chase almost impossibly low single digit figures, so it’s important to be aware of the dangers this may cause.
One of the biggest negative effects of having an extremely low body fat percentage, as we have seen with Andreas, is the potential for organ failure.
Your cardiovascular system will have difficulty in functioning normally, which may lead to bradycardia (a heart rate that is too slow).
This typically leads to dizziness, passing out, and in a worst-case scenario, cardiac arrest.
The International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance conducted and published a study in February 2013.
The study followed a group of bodybuilders who lowered their body fat in preparation for competition and found that some of their heart rates dropped by as much as 27 beats per minute.
This can often lead to cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death.
The liver and kidneys may find the stress placed on them too much, which can lead to organ shrinkage, and eventually organ failure.
Due to lowered calorie intake in order to lower body fat this will generally lead to a lack of energy.
Having an extremely low BFP will leave you always feeling cold, which is usually caused by thyroid dysfunctions.
This in turn makes it harder to exercise, the muscles are unable to recover adequately from exercise, terrible workouts, dehydration, and always feeling hungry.
This will mean that eventually your muscles become weaker and you’ll be more prone to illness.
Of course, this will mess with your mood, concentration levels and lead to mental fatigue.
A man can expect his testosterone levels to drop and a lower sperm count, whereas a woman may find that her pituitary gland reduces,
This will decrease the production of hormones, which can affect the ovaries, and eventually this may even lead to the menstrual cycle stopping.
Finally, as I’m sure you’re now well aware, having too low a body fat percentage can also lead to death.
I’m not trying to scare anyone here, these are simply the facts about having a BFP that is too low.
So, by all means chase the figures that will eventually get your abs to show, but do so sensibly and with extreme caution.
The Dangers of a High Body Fat Percentage
I don’t feel I need to go into too much detail about the dangers of a high body fat percentage, as most of us are only too aware of the problems that being overweight or obese, or carrying too much fat on our body can cause.
The main issue with having a high BFP is that you’re more likely to develop various obesity-related diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke.
The risk of mortality significantly increases for individuals over 40 with a high body fat percentage.
With that said, the “ideal” BFP differs at various stages of our lives.
An example of this being that a man in his early 20s would be considered slightly overweight with a BFP of 22%, whereas a man in his late 60s would be considered average with a BFP of 24%.
We are now also aware that the most dangerous area of your body to carry excess fat is your stomach, and this can often be a prelude to the numerous conditions I have mentioned above.
How To Reduce Body Fat Percentage
Okay, so I guess it’s time to discuss how to reduce body fat percentage, which will typically mean being a healthier weight.
Diet and Nutrition
Without doubt the first port of call for everyone is diet and nutrition.
Unfortunately, there’s no two ways about it, if you’re carrying excess body fat then you are going to have to start eating at a caloric deficit.
Basically, you are going to have to consume fewer calories than you burn on a daily basis.
Now many of you may assume that if you simply carry on eating exactly what you currently are and then increase your activity levels this will be enough.
This certainly fits into the realms of expending more calories than you’re consuming and you will typically lose weight by doing this.
However, this won’t do much in the way of reducing body fat.
This is often why many people are “skinny-fat”, and I would hazard a guess that they typically spend hours a day doing moderate-intensity steady-state cardio.
Eating whatever you want and doing hours of cardio will generally start burning muscle mass as opposed to body fat. And this is anything but healthy.
This is also why some people appear skinny, but once they remove their clothes they reveal rolls of fat on various parts of their body.
So, yes you’re going to have to eat fewer calories than you’re burning on a daily basis, but your consumed calories need to come from a nutritious, well-balanced diet.
Therefore, a healthy mix of protein, carbs and fats.
The easiest way to eat to achieve this is to initially up your protein intake.
Aim to eat somewhere fairly close to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (just below this figure is fine).
So, if you weigh 170lbs then consuming around 150g of protein should suffice.
Avoid processed foods and always aim for whole foods.
Cut out things like pastries, cakes, cookies, and sugary desserts.
Don’t be scared of carbs, but stick to complex ones with plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, e.g. whole wheat bread, oats, potatoes, legumes, barley, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, beans, whole wheat pasta, lentils, etc.
RELATED====>My Review of the High Carb Fat Loss Course
Also remember what you drink on a daily basis can potentially push your calorie intake higher (in some cases a lot higher).
I typically only drink water and black coffee now on a daily basis, and even my coffee is only limited to one or two cups.
I do enjoy an alcoholic drink now and then, a couple of beers here, a glass or two of wine there, and perhaps even a splurge/complete blowout once a month, when I don’t really care how much alcohol I’m consuming.
I have been someone in the past who probably had a severe addiction (without realising) it to cola and drank litres of the stuff on a weekly basis.
Plus it’s probably best that I don’t go into my alcohol consumption throughout my late teens, twenties, and early-30s, LOL.
Let’s just say that this boy liked to party.
I’m not going to have yet another dig at moderate-intensity, steady-state cardio.
I’ve had a little nibble at it again above and I have written countless articles about why I think it’s terrible (possibly the article that explains this best will be, “Is Jogging Good For Losing Weight?”), so let’s concentrate on the good.
Strength training, irrespective of sex, age, and even ability is a must.
Again, I’ve spoken many times of how people make many incorrect assumptions about training with weights.
Usually someone will tell you that they avoid barbells and dumbbells because they “don’t want to become bulky”.
Allow me to give you a quick lesson on how to use weights to become bulky.
Train with the biggest barbell lifts until you can perform the exercises to anywhere between 1.5 to 3 times your own body weight (depending on the exercise).
Do this for a couple of hours a day.
Take some form of testosterone, steroid, and human growth hormone supplement to help with recovery, so you can train harder and for longer.
Eat about 5,000 calories a day.
Now unless you follow this regime strictly you WILL NOT become bulky from lifting weights.
So, please stop saying it or even thinking it. Thank you.
In truth, exercising with weights is generally the best way to produce a lean, sexy and athletic looking body.
You can check the section entitled. “What Type of Exercising Should You Be Doing?” in my article Lose Belly Fat Without Losing Weight.
There is a great video by Jeff Cavaliere within that section of my article, although I can see some of you being put off by it.
You don’t have to lift weights as heavy as Jeff (or me for that matter) to be strength training.
To me the term “strength training” is simply about progressing and getting stronger.
So if you can currently only squat 8 times with 10kg, that’s fine.
Next time aim for 9 reps, the time after aim for 10 reps, and the time after that try 12kg for 8 reps.
This is how you get stronger (so please don’t try to squat 100kg if you know this isn’t within your abilities – and even if it was, you still wouldn’t get bulky, LOL).
In order to burn body fat through cardiovascular exercise I prefer short, sharp, intense bouts of interval training.
I’ve also written about this many times before and there are various workouts that are as short as 3,4,or 5 minutes that will have you breathing hard and burning fat.
You can check out my article about Tabata Bodyweight Workouts.
So, there you have it.
My initial aim was to answer the question, “What is the lowest body fat percentage?”, but I felt there was much more to this subject than first meets the eye.
Even with all the information you’ll find in this article I will still say that you shouldn’t get too hung up on body fat percentages.
Yes, BFP may provide a guide as to whether we need to lose body fat (or gain it in some cases), but in truth you will know whether you’re in good shape or not.
As I always say, eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet, ensure you’re active in some way every single day, and there’s no harm in occasionally “cheating” on meals or having a day’s rest, as long as you do this in moderation.
Thank you for reading.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.