Body Fat 101

You probably already know that your health and well-being is closely linked to your body fat, but do you actually know what body fat is? Probably not, which is why this post is entirely devoted to body fat, what it is and how it relates to your health.

What Body Fat Really Is

Body fat is one of your body’s basic components and is essential to staying healthy. Just as your muscle, organs and bones are important to your overall health, so is the right percentage of body fat. There are two types of body fats – storage fat and essential fat. To keep your body healthy and normal, essential body fat is necessary and is stored in your body’s bone marrow, central nervous system, organs and muscles. For men, essential body fat makes up 3% of their body weight and for women that number is a bit higher at 12% due to their sex-specific fat areas found in their hips, thighs, breasts and pelvis. Women need to have more essential body fat in these areas in order to keep their reproductive healthy in good shape.

Storage fat is the kind of fat that many want to lose when they’re dieting and trying to drop pounds. It’s stored right beneath your skin and in various areas inside your body and muscles. This type of fat also includes the really deep fat that protects all of your internal organs from getting injured in an accident. Unlike essential fat, storage fat is equal for men and women. Although you want some storage fat on your body, it is considered “expendable” and causes weight gain. But on the flip side, too little storage fat is just as unhealthy as too much of it.

Healthy Body Fat Ranges

For men and women, each sex has their own range of what’s considered a healthy amount of storage fat, with age a huge factor.

For men 18-39 years of age, they should ideally have between 21-32% of storage fat and women of this age group between 8-19%. Men 40-59 should have 23-33% and women should have 11-21%. Men in the 60-79 age brackets should have 24-35% storage fat, while women of the same age range should have 13-24%. Those who partake in sports will have a lower percentage of storage fat than the average person.

When a person goes above the healthy body fat range for their age group, they are putting themselves at risk for developing conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, gallstones, certain cancers and more. Also, their chances of an early death also increase.

But being below the healthy body fat range is also troublesome. Men that have body fat that’s less than 3% can make him more susceptible to things like chronic fatigue and certain illnesses. For a woman, it can mess with her menstrual periods and compromise the heath of her bones and more.

How Your Body Uses Fat

Fat is an essential part of being healthy and your body uses it in four ways:

  1. It acts as padding and insulation for your organs and nerves
  2. It’s your body’s source of energy and heat
  3. It’s a source of your body’s essential fatty acids
  4. It regulates fat soluble vitamins like A,D, E and K

How Your Body Gains Weight

When you gain weight, you gain not only storage fat, but also lean body mass, which describe the muscles in your legs, arms, back, neck and abdomen. It includes your body’s tissue, heart muscle, water and bone and is essentially what you want your body to keep or expand. How much lean body mass your body has is key to determining your metabolism rate, which is how fast you burn calories. The more lean body mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate is, which is what helps you lose weight.

But when you gain weight, the amount of storage fat is more than the amount of lean body mass, unless you’re part of a specific training program that targets your muscle mass. The extra weight that you gain is about 60-80% fat and about 20-40%lean body mass so extra weight not only increases your fat tissue, but also in your muscles, organs, bones and more.

How Your Body Loses Weight

When you embark on your mission to lose weight, you not only lose lean body mass and storage fat, but also water. Because you lose so much water, it’s important that you stay hydrated. But you also want to preserve as much lean body mass as you can, while focusing on reducing your stored body fat. In the early weeks of your weight loss journey, you should lose at least 75% of stored fat and only 25% of that should be from your lean body mass. Then as you continue to shed pounds, your fat loss should be up to 90% with only 10% of that being from your lean body mass.

When determining what type of program you should use to lose weight, you should find one that not only allows you to stay hydrated, but helps you lose more storage fat, while keeping as much lean body mass as possible. Programs should also promote a healthy, balanced diet and should include types of strength training and cardio. Keep in mind that you should ideally be losing no more than two pounds a week because if you lose too much weight too fast, you will lose more lean body mass then you’d like.