If you are the kind of person that is serious about building muscle and getting a six-pack for once in life, then the supreme factor that will get you there is maintaining an ideal body fat percentage for abs which is not only healthy but also allows you to maintain your muscle and six-pack abs for as long as you want.
If you are not seeing clear results doing all your ab exercises and wondering where you are going wrong or thinking why your belly fat isn’t going down, you’ll learn about the one crucial factor that most people miss or aren’t thinking about while attempting to build a better physique or desiring to see their abs in the mirror.
Everything About Body Fat & Its Role In Seeing Abs
When you are unhappy with the way you look or lack self-confidence in social situations, the one thing that most people know causes low self-image is their body weight, or some refer to it as the unwanted fat they so want to get rid of but dread the idea of doing so or have no idea where to start.
Maintaining a healthy body fat percentage where your abs are visible is not as hard as many believe it to be. If you know the right way, have the willpower to stay consistent, trust the process and persevere even if you find it hard initially, you can 100% be the proud owner of abs and be in the top 5% of all people out there who will ever have a six-pack in their lifetime.
This brings us to the big question which is –
What is body fat and why is it important for abs?
The right way to define body fat is the excess energy or the extra calories you consume from all the foods in your daily nutrition which your body saves and stores as fat.
In simple terms, if you eat too much food than what you burn each day, your body will store all that extra energy in the form of fat scattered across different areas of your body.
The main reasons for an increase in body fat are just two:
- Decrease in physical activity or resistance training.
- Increase in the regular intake of high-calorie foods and drinks.
When we talk about body fat, we are not talking about any specific area of the body. Most people think it is their belly where all the unwanted fat is stored. This is certainly a widely believed misconception.
The common misconception among most people is that all body fat is bad or eating a high-fat diet is what makes someone store all that body fat and look fatter. This is obviously not true. Eating fat won’t make you fat but eating in a daily and regular calorie surplus definitely will as this is the main reason why people get fat and are on their way to obesity if this nutrition approach is unchanged.
Don’t lose hope or think that your options in getting to a healthier, leaner self are limited just by looking at all the excess visible fat on your body through years of poor diet choices or simply a lack of exercise.
To understand body fat better, there are three categories into which it can be divided:
- Essential Body Fat – Necessary to survive and maintain bodily functions.
- Reserve Body Fat – Saved by the body as energy to break down and burn when you miss a meal or when food isn’t available for longer periods of time to keep functioning.
- Storage Body Fat – The amount of harmless fat stored just under the skin that you can pinch or squeeze is called Subcutaneous Fat, which is in excess of essential and reserve body fat. The majority of all fat on the body is subcutaneous and is normal and healthy up to a certain level.
Although having too much of any kind of fat can be harmful to your health and increase your risk of developing certain health conditions, there is one in particular called Visceral Fat which is dangerous to your health. Visceral Fat is the other type of storage fat deep inside your skin and surrounding your organs which is hidden and mostly accumulates in your abdominal area, responsible for all your belly fat and expanding your waist size.
Having a high body fat percentage increases your risk of storing more visceral fat and thus increasing the chances of developing serious health issues, so the best lifelong approach is to remain at a healthy body fat percentage all year round. This is the kind of fat that everyone should prioritize getting rid of to live a long, disease-free, and healthy life. This way you do not have to worry about any underlying health issues while feeling and performing your best at all times, in all situations.
It is only when you minimize the levels of subcutaneous and visceral fat in your body by improving your daily nutrition that your abs will begin to show. It has also been proven by multiple studies that in order to progress and change, one has to understand how calorie intake and calorie expenditure influence your body weight and body fat so as to regulate them according to your goals.
Primary Fat Storage and Fat Loss Areas
Because of gender differences in body fat distribution, fat gets stored differently for both men and women which is common knowledge and also well-established through various studies.
In men, the primary area of body fat storage is the trunk and the abdominal or belly region (the potbelly) responsible for the apple body type most commonly found in males.
On the other hand, the fat distribution in women is relatively more in the hips, thighs, lower abdomen, and arms in comparison to men, giving them a pear-shaped or Gynaeoid body type (curvaceous hips with a tapered, small waist) found most commonly among females. Another study results show that women in the age group of 30-79 store fat mainly in the abdominal area, similar to men in the same age group, making them so-called upper body obese.
Fat Accumulation – When men start storing body fat, the fat starts adding in an ascending way starting from the lower belly, moving towards the mid-abdomen or love handles, working its way up to the upper abdomen, going up to the chest and upper back and as they get fatter, it moves to their face and neck. This fat deposition in men gets worse as they keep adding fat which is then stored everywhere on their body, the higher their body fat levels go.
Women store fat generally in their hips, thighs, and lower abdomen which helps them during pregnancies and lactation. As their body fat increase, women start to add cellulite which they can rid of with good nutrition and regular exercise.
Photo Credit: by macrovector
This fat deposition cycle in men reverses as they start losing fat with improved nutrition and the addition of weighted training or any form of exercise.
Fat Loss – In men, fat loss slowly starts to first begin from the chest, moving towards the upper abdomen where the two-packs start to become visible and then towards the middle abdomen with noticeable four-pack abs and going lower and lower as their body fat percentage keeps decreasing. Finally, the abs underneath all that fat will become visible with the gradual reduction in body fat.
In women, the most difficult areas for shedding fat are the same areas where they mostly store fat which are the pelvis, buttocks, and thighs as this fat is necessary for pregnancy. While the fat loss in women depends majorly on heredity, the primary areas that begin to slim down are the arms and face followed by the abdominal as these areas impact childbearing the least.
From that point onward, you can either choose to maintain your newborn ripped physique using the same nutrition and training approach that got you here or lean bulk to add more muscle and less fat to your athletic frame.
So, What is My Body Fat Percentage?
Body fat percentage is a measure of a person’s fitness levels which is known by calculating the percentage of one’s body weight in terms of fat. The way body fat looks in different people depends on the way fat is genetically distributed in their bodies. Two people with the same body fat percentage can look different because everyone’s body stores fat in different ways depending on their genetics.
A healthy and ideal body fat percentage is different for men as compared to women because women need a higher body fat percentage to carry children along with supporting other hormonal functions.
That said, the average adult healthy body fat percentage, regardless of age, is in the range of 10 to 17% for men and 16 to 25% for women.
How to calculate body fat percentage?
There are numerous ways to measure body fat percentage and the ones I recommend and personally use are the simple, inexpensive, and accurate methods that anyone can use in the comfort of their homes. These two methods have also been proven to substantially improve the estimation of body fatness when used together.
1. Skinfold Caliper Measurements –
This accurately effective method of calculating body fat is known as ‘Skinfold Testing’ and the small tool needed for this method is called a ‘Body Fat Caliper’. In this technique, you pinch your fat in a few places throughout your body using a caliper to take the measurements for estimating your body fat. Using a caliper to take skinfold measurements is the best, easiest, and most frequently used technique to get an estimate of your body fat percentage. The body fat percentage estimates you get using calipers won’t be exactly accurate so do remember to only use these estimates as a guide in dropping your body fat levels.
When you’re self-assessing using the skinfold measurement method, it is of supreme importance to locate the skinfold site accurately for avoiding measurement errors and getting the best body fat percentage estimates. The best skinfold site to use for minimizing errors when using a skinfold caliper is the abdominal skinfold. The best time for measuring skinfold thickness is in the morning on an empty stomach and after using the bathroom.
Keep in mind to use reliable, valid, and precise skinfold calipers from trusted and highly-reviewed brands from Amazon for efficiently assessing your body fat levels.
To know more about accurately taking skinfold measurements and identifying their location, you can check out the detailed instructions from the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
2. Body Mass Index (BMI) –
There is another popular, quick, and easy way of estimating body fat for people who don’t lift weights or have muscles which is called Body Mass Index (BMI). Most of you must be familiar with or have heard of this method at least once.
BMI is a commonly used method used to assess the health of an adult individual based on their height and weight to come up with a value that indicates whether you are underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. Calculate BMI here.
Although using BMI has its limitations (like not taking age or sex into account) and is a poor tracking tool for weight change, one can surely use this method to get an initial idea as to where they stand in terms of their body fat levels.
For people who have muscles, such as bodybuilders and athletes, BMI is an inaccurate method for estimating body fat because these people will be categorized as overweight or obese as per BMI values for the reason that muscle weighs more than fat.
So the skinfold caliper method is a more accurate way to measure body fat for muscular people and BMI is suited better for anyone with higher body fat levels.
Body Fat Percentage for Abs (Men)
For guys to know their body fat percentage, the skinfold caliper method is the recommended and widely preferred method to estimate current body fat levels. Once you have an estimated idea of your body fat percentage using skinfold calipers, you can use the table below to know how much body fat you’ve got to lose if your goal is to get abs or simply lose fat.
|Men Body Fat Percentage / Age||20-29 Years||30-39 Years||40-49 Years||50-59 Years||60-69 Years|
(Increased Health Risk)
|Excellent / Fit / Best for Abs |
|Good / Normal |
|10.6 – 14.8%||14.6 – 18.2%||17.5 -20.6%||19.2 – 22.1%||19.8 -22.6%|
|Fair / Average |
|14.9 – 18.6%||18.3 – 21.3%||20.7 – 23.4%||22.2 – 24.6%||22.7 – 25.2%|
(Increased Health Risk)
|18.7 – 23.1%||21.4 – 24.9%||23.5 – 26.6%||24.7 – 27.8%||25.3 – 28.4%|
(Increased Health Risk)
What’s the body fat percentage for men to see abs?
As we can clearly notice from the above table classifying body composition for different age groups in men, the ideal body fat percentage range for men to see abs is between 8-15%.
To get a ripped core and complete, well-defined upper and lower abs for men under 40 years of age, they must be around a body fat percentage of 10% or lower. However, if one finds it too difficult to maintain a 10% or lower body fat, one can still have abs at a body fat percentage of not more than 14.5% with less developed abdominal muscles and abs definition, but still a healthy, functional core.
Body Fat Percentage for Abs (Women)
As learned earlier, the body fat levels among men and women can vary greatly when it comes to seeing abs. The body fat percentage that women carry strictly differs from men based on their hormonal differences and their child-bearing capabilities. Using skinfold caliper measurements, women can use the body fat percentage chart below to assess their fitness levels and set goals accordingly.
|Women Body Fat Percentage / Age||20-29 Years||30-39 Years||40-49 Years||50-59 Years||60-69 Years|
(Increased Health Risk)
|Excellent / Fit / Best for Abs |
|Good / Normal |
|Fair / Average |
(Increased Health Risk)
(Increased Health Risk)
What’s the body fat percentage for women to see abs?
The ideal body fat percentage for women to see abs is between 14 to 20% as per the study results from the University of Pennsylvania (as shown in the above chart). This body fat percentage is also considered excellent in terms of overall fitness and is a great indicator for women to be in perfect health while also owning a drop-dead gorgeous physique.
The answer to the ideal body fat percentage for men and women comes down to one’s lifestyle goals. The key is to realize that the amount of work and consistency required to get abs will substantially increase, the lower your body fat percentage goes which will also require strict nutrition, no cheat meals, and a rigid lifestyle.
On the other hand, if you’re comfortable and happy with a 10-15% body fat percentage, you will find that you can enjoy your favorite foods and drinks occasionally without having to worry about wasting away all the hard work with your diet and training.
How do I manage my body fat and track progress?
Reducing daily calorie intake is the most important factor for weight loss and decreasing body fat percentage. And if your goal with decreasing body fat percentage is to see abs, you must also add targeted ab exercises to your weekly training routine in addition to managing your nutrition. This way you will strengthen all your abdominal muscles and improve muscle definition even at slightly higher body fat percentages along with the benefits of a stronger and healthier core.
The best specific approach to track and manage progress for weight changes and body fat percentage is:
- Weigh yourself daily, first thing in the morning after using the bathroom. Record these numbers in your phone’s notepad, app, or excel sheet for using them to track weekly averages for weight changes. Follow this technique in the exact same way every week and use the averages to determine whether you’re losing weight or not.
- Eat in a daily caloric deficit of about 20-25% with the right macronutrient ratio (Protein – 40%, Carbohydrate – 40%, Fat – 20%). Increasing protein intake through diet and supplementation helps with weight loss maintenance and ensures that the weight loss is mainly from excess body fat and not any existing muscle mass on the body. To meet your daily protein needs and lowering body fat levels, learn more about the best weight loss protein powders here.
- Weight train 2-5 times a week preferably using heavyweights with a workout routine focused on building muscle and getting stronger. Cardio workouts (low to high intensity) can also be included as a part of your exercise routine to increase the number of total calories burned. Remember, that any form of regular exercise (whether it’s weight training, sports, or cardio) will positively affect your goals for weight loss and lower your body fat percentage to a point where you can see your abs.
- Take skinfold caliper and waist measurements using a measuring tape every two weeks. Over the course of several weeks, you should see a drop in your body fat percentage and average body weight illustrating that your technique is working.
In the circumstance where you don’t like the idea of tracking calories for everything you eat and you just want to lose your body fat to become healthier, you’ll most likely be focused on losing fat and gaining muscle. This is what every fitness enthusiast (both men and women) desires. An always effective way of achieving this is through the exact approach mentioned above.
Even if aren’t enthusiastic about weight training or exercise for some reason (not recommended), simply eating in a daily calorie deficit will jumpstart your weight loss efforts and once you see some progress in reducing your body fat percentage, you can later start adding some exercise or weights (highly recommended) to help tone your body and look great.
The longer you can follow this approach and the more consistent you are with your goals, the faster you can change your body fat percentage to a point where you can clearly see your abs in the mirror and several inches dropped from your belly. Which makes all the effort you’ve put in really worthwhile where you finally get to be in the best shape of your life.
Always keep in mind that the best diet or training program for weight and body fat management is the one that can be followed in the long term.
One of the core ideas here is that it is possible to get down to a lower body fat percentage using the right nutrition mostly containing healthy foods and regular exercise of any kind.
Talking about the importance of healthy weight loss foods, they don’t always have to be bland and boring. Losing weight and getting down to a lower body fat percentage is now so much easier all thanks to diet delivery companies that offer the highest quality home delivery meals that are balanced for weight loss.
BistroMD is one of such top-rated USDA-approved diet delivery brands that is focused on the health and well-being of their customers to promote long-lasting weight loss and an overall lifestyle change. If you’re looking for ease of a lifestyle change, the convenience of meals without hours of prep work, and the outstanding taste and quality of all your meals, then do check out BistroMD.
Make The Process Enjoyable
All this information won’t be worth a dime if you dread the idea of the whole process and find it too difficult to follow. If you overthink it and lead yourself to believe that it’s too big a routine/ habit change to lower your body fat percentage for abs to show, you’ll find failure even before you start.
This is why it’s so important to start small and include foods in your nutrition that you absolutely love to eat as a reward for all your efforts and to satisfy the cheat meal impulse we all have. This makes the process enjoyable, making it easier for you to follow it to a point where it becomes instinctive.
And be a little responsible in choosing healthier food options even when rewarding yourself with adding in your favorite foods instead of going overboard with all kinds of junk foods.
Eventually, you will cut down to a lean body fat percentage and will absolutely love what you see in the mirror. Once you get down to a body fat percentage low enough for abs to show, it won’t take much effort to maintain it as much as it took to get your toned abs. Being there will be one of the most rewarding experiences in your fitness journey and you will thank yourself for not giving up and making it happen.
I hope and wish that the information I shared will be helpful to you in progressing in your fitness journey. If you enjoyed this post, please leave your experiences and comments below.
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