What percent you at bro?!?!?!
There are a lot of misconceptions as far as how percent body fat relates to APPEARING lean or being able to ”see your abs”
The attached photo I am 13.7% bodyfat and my abs are very visible where others can be 5% bodyfat and still appear flabby around their mid section.
How the heck is this possible?
Let’s closely examine what body fat % is actually measuring which is a ratio of fat to non fat. In the fat bucket is essential and non-essential fat and in the non-fat bucket is lean body weight (bone, muscle, water). Here can lie some of the misconceptions. Say you lose 10 lbs in a month, since your calories are lower your carbohydrate intake is likely lower (along with your fats). So of the 10 lbs, 4 of it is fat and 6 is water. This would register as an INCREASE in bodyfat percent because even though you LOST FAT you lost MORE lean bodyweight (in this case water)
What! Darn you math
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE...
Your Body fat % number still isn’t going to say too much about how you LOOK or if you’re going to see your abs. It can serve as a general ball park figure but lets dive deeper and look at the key factors in ones ability to see their abs or appear “shredded”
BODYFAT DISTRIBUTION (bodyshape)
This refers to how your bodyfat is placed over your body. Is your bodyfat stored all around one place or evenly throughout your body. Males sometimes store more fat in their midsection and are leaner in their extremities where females tend to store more fat in their hips, glutes, and thighs and appear leaner around their waist. Often times different fruits are used to show the difference in bodyshape and fat distribution.
Muscle Development the larger and fuller your skeletal muscles the leaner you will appear. Picture 2 identical sized icebergs. One is 75% under water and the other one is 75% above the water. The one above water iceberg is going to look so much bigger. Muscle mass is the same, large and fuller muscles will gently push the fat out of the way and expose themselves creating a leaner, toned look.
SUBCUTANEOUS VS VISERAL
Subcutaneous & visceral fat also know as surface fat & non-surface fat is your fat stored more around your organs and internally or more on the surface of your body directly below the skin. This is a very key factor as subcutaneous fat is what we see as visceral fat is stored underneath the muscles and around the organs.
INTRA VS EXTRAMUSCULAR FAT
This concept resembles the above discussed topic. Here the primary aspect we are looking at is how much fat is stored within your muscles. Think of the difference between a rib steak and a New York stip. Some people store more fat on top of their muscles while others store more inside and throughout their muscles.
STRESS & HORMONES
Burning that candle at both ends, spending WAY too much time in the gym, excessive caffeine intake, lack of sleep, oxidative stress, inflammation, and day to day stress can have a huge impact on water retention and how we look. Oxidative stress and inflammation in themselves can cause a lean individual to look very watery and flat which is why I personally take and recommend NRF1 & NRF2 activating supplements like Protandim.
I just want to see my abs. Tell me what to do!
USE THE APPROPRIATE DIAGNOSTIC TOOL to measure progress!! If your goal is to look ripped then take biweekly progress pictures. If your goal is to perform better then track performance metrics If your goal to FEEL better, then keep a daily journal.
I personally track my progress with photos and strength metrics. If I am looking how I desire and getting stronger then I can care less about a percent number. I also take bi-weekly skinfold caliper reading to measure the subcutaneous fat each week in my lower ab region.
If your goal is to see your abs then depending on the aforementioned topics will dictate how much fat you will need to lose. For some people the amount of fat that would need to be lost in order to see their abs would be very unhealthy (ie if they have a lot of subcutaneous fat, extramuscular fat, lower muscle mass, and an apple shaped distribution) Your body NEEDS a certain amount of fat and once you start to get below that amount survival mode will kick in and fat loss will no longer be realistically obtainable. This number is different per individual.
If you’re working with a coach or have access to an accurate bodyfat diagnostic tool then it can absolutely be a useful tool in formulating your nutrition plan but that’s all it is, a tool not a result. Want to see your abs, take bi weekly picture and use them as your guide!