Women are genetically engineered to carry more fat on their bodies than men. The body fat percentage of a healthy, active woman is 18-20%, whereas this figure is 10-15% for men. This is because, physiologically, women’s bodies naturally like to prepare to nourish a growing baby, and our fat reserves help us do that. Women begin to develop these precious fat reserves during puberty.
Women don’t just carry more fat than men—fat is also distributed differently throughout the body. While fat distribution is different for everyone and has roots in where your ancestors lived, women tend to store their fat in their hips, buttocks, thighs, and lower abdomen. The fat needed for pregnancy and nursing is stored in a woman’s thighs. In fact, gluteofemoral fat—that which develops on the butt and legs—is actually a sign of strong metabolic health, regardless of how it makes you look in your jeans. Women also store more subcutaneous fat—fat that’s under the skin and provides a layer of insulation over the muscles, and that also gives women’s bodies their softer curves—than visceral fat. Visceral fat is more of a health risk, as it builds up around internal organs instead of between the skin and muscle.
It’s true—women actually burn fat more efficiently than men. Women’s bodies make more triglycerides than men, but this doesn’t have much effect on serum levels. That means that fat is being used more efficiently by a woman’s body than it is by a man’s. The hormones that make a woman a woman play a part in fat metabolism, too, creating more omega-3 fatty acids faster than men.
All of this means that women carry more fat, but they tend to carry it in a healthier, more easily managed way than men. We bet you didn’t know that!
Men, take notice. Men’s bodies are more apt to store excess fat in the upper body, especially in the abdominal region. This is what creates that glorious beer belly effect so many men struggle with. Men also tend to lose fat more efficiently not through exercise, but through diet. Fewer calories in means fewer stored in fat reserves.
While women are more likely to develop subcutaneous fat, men are more prone to storing visceral fat—the stuff that coats your internal organs. This tendency to store visceral fat, along with less-efficient fat burning than women, means that men are actually more prone to fat-related illnesses and conditions, like heart disease and diabetes
It’s safe to say that the hormones our bodies come with have a great deal to do with these differences. Looking even deeper than this, our differences come from the genes imprinted on our DNA, genes that have been passed down from ancestors over thousands of years.
So, what does all this mean in the long run? Well, for the women reading, it may mean coming to peace with 18-20% body fat. You are naturally made to carry more fat, and to carry it in a healthy, happy way—even when the kids are grown and gone. If you really want to lose it, forget the diets and denial programs. Eat a wholesome, healthy diet and go for the gym instead.
And for men in the audience, you might be thanking your lucky stars that you were born without a body that’s constantly preparing itself for the miracle of childbirth. But the tendency to store more visceral fat means that men should be especially careful to eat a wholesome, balanced diet and have regular doctor visits to make sure blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar are at healthy levels.
Instead of comparing ourselves, we can celebrate our differences and take mindful steps to stay healthy and active.
What is the ideal body fat for men and women?
What are good base lines for percentage of body fat in both men and women?
Some images of what different body fat percentages look like. Everyone seems to have their own opinion as to what percentage of body fat in men and women is “Good”, as you can tell from the many different answers you find online. I will leave it up to you to decide.
How do I reduce body fat properly?
Losing body fat can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Knowing the difference between misinformation and what really works will help get you there.
Losing body fat is not the easiest of propositions; just ask anyone trying to lose that last ten pounds. It often seems as if the more persistent a person is, the harder this stubborn body fat is to lose. Whether your goal is to get into top shape for a bodybuilding contest or to look good for the beach, fat loss is arguably the biggest incentive to train.
Whether your goal is to get into top shape for a bodybuilding contest or to look good for the beach, fat loss is one of the biggest reasons to train.
WHAT TO DO AND WHEN
Some of the tips above will be more effective for someone just starting out, while others are more for people who are experienced and looking to get really lean for a bodybuilding contest. And some tips—like drinking a lot of water—are important for anybody who wants to lose body fat.
Here we’ll give you more specific tips so you can take the right steps for where you are in your weight loss journey.
SIGNIFICANTLY OVERWEIGHT STAGE: GETTING STARTED
If you have a significant amount of body fat you want to lose, like 40 pounds or more, the best strategy is to lose weight slowly with a realistic, long-term approach.
While it’s tempting to go all-in to try to lose fat faster, crash dieting and intense training aren’t the best options.
Intense training would put too much strain on your organs and joints, especially if you’re not used to being active.
And while crash diets—where calories are severely restricted—might seem like they work great in the beginning, they’re called “crash” diets for a reason. They’re hard to stick to, and the initial weight loss comes right back when you realize it’s impossible to keep eating such a small amount of food.
Instead, keep your plan simple, realistic, and effective:
- Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, and make sure you’re getting protein at every meal.
- Exercise moderately with aerobics/cardio (walking, easy cycling, etc.) and light weights with many repetitions, like 15 per set or more.
MODERATELY OVERWEIGHT STAGE: READY TO WORK HARD
At this stage, you still have around 20 pounds of fat you want to lose. For this stage it’s good to gradually lose body fat through a combination of low-intensity and high-intensity training, coupled with a sensible eating approach.
training, coupled with a sensible eating approach.
- Make sure you include lots of produce, protein, good fats, and complex carbs in your diet.
- Exercise moderately with both cardio such as walking, cycling, and rowing, and strength training with moderately heavy weights that you can handle for 8-12 repetitions per set
- Incorporate the occasional HIIT session after the first few pounds are lost. Once a week is enough at this stage.
SMOOTH STAGE: THE LAST 10 POUNDS
This stage would probably be regarded as normal and healthy, but there is an absence of muscle definition due to a thin layer of fat. An off-season bodybuilder is usually at this stage.
To drop additional fat to reveal a muscular physique, use the following methods:
- Train aerobically with one moderate-intensity session and four HIIT sessions per week.
- Weight train all muscle groups using 8-12 repetitions.
- Stagger calories: three lower-calorie days followed by two higher-calorie days.
- Eat a ton of vegetables. Pack your plate with them.
IN-SHAPE STAGE: GETTING READY TO COMPETE
If you only have 3-4 pounds of fat to lose in order to reveal a ripped, muscular physique, do lots of HIIT to really rev up your fat burning.
For the out-of-shape beginner, HIIT might be overkill, but for people who are in-shape and advanced, it’s great because it takes advantage of your already efficient fat-burning abilities. HIIT sessions can be done five times a week, independent from any other form of training.
Here’s your full program to burn remaining visible body fat:
- Do five HIIT sessions per week.
- Strength train at least 3-4 days a week, using 8-12 repetitions per set pushing the intensity
- Stagger calories: have three lower-calorie days followed by two higher-calorie days
ADDITIONAL FAT-LOSS TIPS
Drinking alcohol is one of the worst things you can do when wanting to lose weight. It will not only add empty calories but will lower testosterone levels for up to 24 hours (testosterone helps to burn fat). Alcohol will also reduce the amount of fat burned for energy.
MAKE A PLAN
Making a plan is super important. Having specific goals and tracking your progress will help you keep going and stay accountable. And sticking with your plan week after week is what’s going to get you results.
GET A PERSONAL TRAINER
A personal trainer can add help to motivate and inspire you to lose body fat. Having someone on hand to lend support and expertise can really make the difference for those who are struggling with their weight-loss efforts. The best personal trainer is one who doesn’t just have a lot of knowledge, but who listens to your individual needs to help you succeed.
USE A FAT-BURNING SUPPLEMENT
Fat-burning supplements can cause fat to be burned at a faster rate. But it is important to realize that these are supplements that can help only if they are used in conjunction with an adequate diet and training regimen. You still have to do the work!
THE MOST EFFECTIVE FAT-LOSS METHODS
An extremely lean physique is needed for bodybuilding purposes, while a smaller amount of fat loss is often all it takes to reveal a nice “beach body.” The best ways to lose fat often depend on how fit you already are, so plan accordingly.
The following methods can be used together or separately, depending on your goals and where you’re starting from. Later we’ll show you what specific steps you should take depending on how much fat you have to lose.
START WITH EASY WORKOUTS, THEN RAMP UP AS YOU LOSE FAT
If you’re severely overweight, start with low-intensity cardio and weight training to avoid putting your body under too much stress. As you get used to working out and start losing fat, gradually up the intensity of your activities.
Cardio: Moderate cardio (also known as aerobics) can be really effective for burning fat. Make sure you’re not working too hard—you should be able to carry on a conversation. Start with 30-minute sessions and work up to an hour. Walking is a great low-intensity cardio activity if you’re overweight.
Weight Training: Do weight training along with cardio for the best results, but don’t lift too heavy when you first start out. Pick easier weights and do high repetitions. Do basic exercises that work your whole body.
GRADUALLY CLEAN UP YOUR DIET
You don’t have to cut out carbs or go low-fat to lose weight, but you do need to make sure you’re getting them from the right foods and in the right amounts.
Fats: Too much of the wrong kind of fat will make you gain fat. Cut back on bad fats—especially trans fats found in baked goods and snack foods. But good fats like olive oil, almonds, and avocado actually have a fat-burning effect, so fill up on those instead.
Carbs: Simple carbohydrates, or “bad” carbs, come from a lot of the same foods that bad fats come from: processed snacks and sweets. But there are plenty of sources of complex carbohydrates, or “good” carbs, that give you energy without causing you to store fat the way simple carbs tend to do. Complex carbs include brown rice, beans, oats, and potatoes.
A third type of carbohydrate, fiber, which can be found in whole-grain foods, fruits, and vegetables, is an important one for fat loss because it helps you feel full and pushes fat through the digestive system to be eliminated. Aim for 30-40 grams of fiber every day.
MIX UP YOUR CARDIO SESSIONS
To get the most out of your cardio workouts, find a variety of physical activities you like to do. Walking, cycling, swimming, and even dancing all count. Mixing it up will keep you from getting bored, and each activity will work your body in different ways, which will improve your fitness and help you lose fat.
EXERCISE FIRST THING IN THE MORNING
Exercising before breakfast, or fasted cardio, is popular among people looking to lose body fat. The idea is that since you’ve used up your glycogen stores (from carbs) overnight, your body will turn to stored fat to use as fuel. Give it a shot and see if it works for you.
Working out early in the morning is also great because it’s easier to get it done before other plans get in the way. This is a great strategy if you tend to procrastinate or get “too busy” to work out.
HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is an advanced form of cardio, or aerobics, designed to burn body fat at a faster rate. It’s tough, but very effective for people exercising at intermediate to advanced levels who want to lose fat.
With HIIT, you alternate periods of high and low intensity instead of working out at the same pace for the whole time. For instance, walk for 2 minutes, then run fast for 30 seconds, repeating for 20 minutes.
If you’ve been working out for a while and you’re ready for a new challenge, this guide has all the details for how to start doing HIIT.
STAGGER YOUR FOOD INTAKE
Once you’re pretty lean and trying to get to the next level, you can try staggering your food intake. Eat high calories (1000 or so above normal) for two days followed by lower calories for three days.
After a period of low calories, the body will tend to hold on to fat, so raising the calories temporarily will raise your metabolic rate to burn more fat.
The higher-calorie days are not open invitations to pig out on all manner of forbidden foods. Eat healthy proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, just more of them than normal.
Staggering your diet is best when you’re trying to lose that remaining 5-10 pounds of fat, and in reasonably good shape to begin with. If you’re overweight, the higher-calorie days could stall your weight loss since your metabolism probably isn’t high enough to burn the extra calories.
DRINK AT LEAST A GALLON OF WATER PER DAY
Drinking plenty of water is the easiest thing you can do to make sure you’re losing fat as fast as possible. The actual process of burning fat in your body requires water to work right, so not drinking enough water means you’re not burning fat as efficiently as you could be.
If you’re very overweight or live somewhere hot, you might even need more. Use this calculator to figure out how much water you need every day.
Weight training is a perfect activity for fat loss. Although doing it doesn’t directly burn more fat than cardio, weights will build muscle, and muscle burns fat 24 hours a day. As you get stronger, you will also be able to handle more high-quality training, both in the gym and in your cardio. Strength training also helps your body to generate beneficial hormones that can help burn fat.
The more muscle you have, the better your chances are of losing body fat. Don’t fear getting bulky; muscle is your friend!