It shouldn’t surprise you that in order to have the body you want you’ll need significantly less body fat than what you currently have on your frame. Some of you might even be astonished to learn you already have plenty of muscle, or just enough, to have a very defined look. However, those excess adipose tissue cells (aka fat) keep getting in the way. So, the question is what percentage of body fat do you need to show off those muscles? Well, it depends on how much you’re willing to sacrifice.


MEN 20+% & WOMEN 30+% BODY FAT

At these percentages you don’t have to change much about your lifestyle, but you’ll never see those abs either. These are the percentages most people currently have and they don’t mind it. They say things like…


“I’m a little husky”

“I’m big boned” (whatever the hell that means)

“Everyone else in my family is like this”

“It’s my genetics”

“I’m a real man/woman”

“I enjoy food!”


Sound familiar? Typically, people with these body fat percentages eat more processed foods, larger portions, and race through their meals. In addition, this same group doesn’t sleep very well, eat foods with little nutritional value, and rarely exercise (not don’t exercise enough to budge the scale). By health standards these people are categorized as “UNHEALTHY.” A more meaningful and “to-the-point” definition would be “obese/morbidly obese.”


However, there are some ‘plus’ sides to having this much body fat. For one, it’s easy to maintain. It doesn’t require much, if any, meal planning or physical work. The tradeoffs are lower life expectancy, decreased energy levels, poor health, and increased use of medications to manage various health issues associated with excess body fat.


MEN 15-20% & WOMEN 25-30% BODY FAT

Now, these percentages are getting us in the right direction and have plenty of benefits compared to the previous group. For example, individuals have better sleep, more energy, and physical activity isn’t as hard or burdensome (due to increased energy levels). In order for this to happen they have to make some tradeoffs.


They eat fewer desserts and less processed foods. In addition, they consume fewer beverages heavy in calories and sugar (i.e. lattes, smoothies, alcohol, soft drinks). The tradeoff involves a little more planning when it comes to food intake, sleep schedule, and physical activity. At these percentages you will look and feel much better. But, you won’t be super lean. For many people, this is sufficient for a happy, healthy life.


MEN 13-15% & WOMEN 23-25%

Now, these is wear definition will start to come in. It’s not guaranteed but it’s a great place for many to begin seeing those muscle lines come out and a little less pudgy. In order to reach these percentages you’ll only eat about 75% of your meals to completion, you’ll focus on eating more nutrient dense foods (i.e. lean meats, whole grains, fruits, veggies, etc.). With the added health boost you’ll have even more energy to workout and move around compared to higher body fat percentages. You’ll workout almost daily for 30-45 min. and get plenty of sleep every night.


By this point you’ll have fine-tuned your meal prepping with even more detail (but not too crazy) and you’ll make working and getting good sleep a priority. This will require some sacrifices such as going to workout after work instead of joining co-workers for happy hour. In addition, you’ll eat even fewer desserts and have less than 5 caloric beverages a week.


MEN 10-12% & WOMEN 20-22%

THIS is where you start having that body people are jealous of at the beach. Abs are more defined, in men and women, fewer food cravings, exceptionally good health, and easier to maintain once you get here. Meal planning will be routine but with a few more restrictions: only eating out/dessert 1-2x week (very small amounts) and only 1-2 caloric beverages per week.


In order to get and maintain this frame you’ll need to perform rigorous physical activity for 45-60 min. 3 to 4 times a week with active recovery days (long walks, hikes, etc.). The point is you still need to keep moving and up your training intensity as well as maintain a healthy diet of lean protein (probably more than you’re used to), whole grains, veggies, etc. At this level you might need a nutrition coach and personal trainer to help you develop and maintain this physique.


MEN 6-9% & WOMEN 16-19%

If you ever get to this level you better be an elite level athlete, such as a boxer, wrestler, or gymnast. I can safely say this is when your nutrition, training, sleep, and life in general will revolve around this physique. This will negatively impact your social life due to very few individual’s who seek this life. You might have to give up other hobbies in order to dedicate more time to your training.


In other words, unless this is now helping you pay the bills, or you’re very obsessed and don’t mind being isolated from society (joking, not joking), don’t worry about ever getting to this level of body fat.



There are only 3 types of people who ever reach this level: bodybuilders on contest day, fitness models on photo shoot day, and people starving in 3rd world countries.


Unfortunately, this is the body fat level most people think you need to reach in order to look like an Instagram model. Yes, those people are very fit and lean but there’s always lighting, tanning, and photoshop to make things more pronounced.

So, which body fat percentage are you shooting for now?



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