Body Fat Percentage Meaning - Is it What You Think It Is?

body fat percentage meaning

By far the most common question we are asked from our clients after they've had a body composition scan on one of our InBody 570's or InBody 770 is ‘What is my body fat percentage?”

Let's just clear up a major misconception right off the bat here. Despite what many clients (and unfortunately some personal trainers) believe, your Body Fat Percentage is NOT a measure of how much fat you have on your body. It is actually a calculation of how much body fat you have COMPARED to the total weight of your body (your scale weight).

As your scale weight is made up of the combined weight of fat, muscle , bones and water, any change in muscle, bone or water will change your overall body fat percentage. Just imagine for a second that your body fat was a large heavy suitcase. If you put that suitcase into the back of a small 2 door mini it's going to take up a fair percentage of the overall weight of the car. Now take the same suitcase and put it into a large 4x4 twin cab ute and suddenly it becomes a much lower percentage of the overall weight of the vehicle. Same suitcase weight, but the percentage of suitcase weight compared to the overall weight drastically changes from vehicle to vehicle.

Whilst not as extreme as the changes from a Mini to a 4x4 ute, changes in overall weight can occur from fluctuations in total body water levels with many causes ranging from hydration levels, your health through to the food you are putting on your plate. (A higher carbohydrate intake will cause to you hold more water).

Muscularity is another important factor that effects body fat percentage. Compare 10kg of fat on a 100kg bodybuilder (10% body fat) to 10kg of fat on a 60kg untrained individual (16.7% body fat). Same amount about of fat, big difference in percentage, not to mention how vastly different it would appear on each individual.

Should we just ignore Body Fat Percentage then?

Yes and No. Yes, it's ok to keep an eye on your own individual body fat percentage as a rough guide of what's going on, keeping in mind the small fluctuations in your % could be caused by water or muscle levels changing. No, we should stop comparing body fat percentages to each other. Most importantly we need to change our way of thinking. Stop thinking that a certain body fat percentage has a particular appearance. We all drive around in different size cars.

What to focus on instead?

Body Fat Mass. This is the actual kg weight of your body fat and is not influenced by your level of muscle or water. Just how much fat you have. If you are focussing on shredding some fat, this is the number to look at.