How To Lower Your Body Fat Percentage

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You don’t want to lose weight necessarily, do you?

The important thing is that you improve your body composition, which means that you increase the amount of lean tissue that you have and decrease the amount of body fat that you have. So we’re going to focus on increasing muscle and decreasing fat.

I’m going to go through how to lower your body fat percentage, no matter where you’re starting from.

And at the end, I’m going to share an important warning about fat loss.

Your Lean Body Mass

Now, when you’re improving your body composition, it refers to increasing the amount of lean body mass that you have.

Your lean body mass is equal to your body weight minus your body fat.

LBM = Body Weight – Body Fat

So let’s say that you weight 200 pounds and you’re about 20% body fat. That means you have about 40 pounds of fat and your lean body mass is 160 pounds.

Essential Fat Levels

We all have a certain amount of essential body fat for men. It’s about three to 5% for women, maybe 10 to 12%.

Using A Calorie Deficit To Lower Your Body Fat Percentage

Now, in order to start to decrease fat, we need to produce a calorie deficit. And that simply means that you’re burning off more calories than you’re taking in. Now you can actually track and monitor your calories with an app like myfitnesspal.

And what you want to do is reduce those calories about 250 to 500 calories from what your maintenance level is.

Now, most of these apps have a way of estimating the amount of maintenance calories that you would have. There’s several different types of equations. There’s also a really simple method. You just multiply your weight in pounds by 13, and that would give you your approximate maintenance calories or what we call total daily energy expenditure TDED.

How To Get Into A Calorie Deficit

So going approximately 250 to 500 calories lower than that each week will help you lose about half to one pound a week.

Now, of course, this is just a rough estimate. Everyone burns calories at a slightly different rate. If you’re much heavier, you’re burning off more calories. If you have a larger percentage of muscle, you tend to burn off more calories as well. And remember that when you’re using a calorie counting app to measure your calories in food also varies a little bit.

So it’s not going to be exactly what you’re entering, but that’s fine. You’re just trying to do a rough estimate, seeing how that turns out and then making adjustments as necessary.

What If You Don’t Want To Count Calories?

Now, calorie counting isn’t for everyone in the long term, but it does provide a good food education and increases your awareness of calories. You’ll develop a better idea of which foods will get you closer to your goal.

If you don’t want to count calories at all, there are habit based changes that you can make that will naturally reduce your calories. I created an entire video about losing weight without counting calories. So there’s a lot of good tips in there.

Safely Lowering Your Body Fat Percentage

As you’re losing weight, you want to lose half to 1% of your body weight per week to maximize muscle retention.

So if you’re 200 pounds, one to two pounds per week, because while you’re losing weight, you want to hang on to as much of your muscle as you can.

Maintaining Your Muscle Mass

Let’s talk about the other side of that to lower your body fat percentage. You want to maintain your muscle or work to build more muscle. If you just try to diet really hard or do tons of cardio, then you will lose weight, but you’re probably going to lose some muscle mass as well.

Skinny Fat

Then you might find yourself in that skinny fat category where you have a higher percentage of body fat than we might expect for your body mass index, your BMI. So you’re not considered overweight, but you’re carrying a bit too much body fat for the sake of your health and perhaps for what you want in terms of appearance as well.

Building Muscle

In order to build muscle, you need to do strength training two to five times per week.

This stimulates your muscles to grow, or at least prevents you from losing muscle, which is something that happens naturally as we age, if we don’t do anything about it, it’s important to do progressive resistance training, which means that you’re increasing the weight as you get stronger or moving onto more challenging exercises, your muscles will adapt over a period of time for beginners. This can take as long as three months for more advanced trainees. This can happen after just four to six weeks. So as your muscles adapt, make sure that you’re making just enough of a change to continue to stimulate those muscles to grow.

Body Recomposition

And it seems like a good time to talk about body recomposition, which is when you’re gaining muscle and losing fat. At the same time, we used to think that body recomp was only possible for beginners, but now it appears there’s a lot more situations where you can build muscle and lose fat at the same time.

It seems likely that body recomposition is possible for anyone who has taken a break from the gym (perhaps because of an injury or illness). Anyone who hasn’t been training optimally for muscle growth. And for me, that’s probably the vast majority of the people in the gym. A lot of people don’t know what they’re doing, or they’re not training correctly and progressively. Then anyone who’s overweight or obese or just carrying extra body fat. They have those energy stores to use up.

So really the only trainee who won’t be able to build muscle and lose fat at the same time is someone who’s been training consistently and optimally for a long period of time. And they’re already carrying a decent amount of muscle and are very lean. That’s not a lot of people, really.

In other words, most of us are going to be able to improve our body composition in this way.

What To Eat To Lower Body Fat Percentage While Maintaining Muscle

Building muscle requires that stimulus from the weight training, but it also requires the right amount of calories and protein so that those muscles recover and grow. So for an active person to maximize their muscle retention, you want to consume 0.6 to one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. That will help you maintain your muscle mass as you’re in a calorie deficit and losing body fat. Now, you might’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned cardio yet, and there’s an important reason for that. And it’s part of my little warning that I’m about to give you.

Don’t Do Everything At Once!

So if you’re going from fairly sedentary and eating fast food all the time to working out every day and eating nothing but chicken and broccoli, you’re going to have a hard time. The first problem is that you’re not going to be able to sustain changes for a long period of time.

That means you’ll probably stop your plan and revert back to your old habits before you reach your goal. The other issue is that you won’t have any adjustments to make. Once you hit that inevitable plateau in your weight loss, and you shouldn’t expect weight loss to be linear in a downward direction, your body is constantly making adaptations to the nutrition and workout changes that you’re making. So if you start off your plan by doing too much, you won’t leave yourself space to make small adjustments when you hit a plateau.

A Better Plan To Lower Your Body Fat

So here’s what to do. Instead for someone who’s sedentary, I normally start them off doing about two strength training sessions per week. This is to start building that muscle, maintaining whatever muscle is already there. And maybe I just get them to incorporate a bit more walking. So they’re generally more active. This will burn off a few extra calories, but it won’t take away from the energy that’s required to do a really good strength training session a couple of times a week.

After that becomes a habit, after say a couple of months, I might ask them to add another strength training session or a cardio session of about 20 or 30 minutes long. If you’re more advanced and already weight training three times a week or more, then it’s more about refinement of the program. Make sure that it’s progressive and you’re genuinely pushing yourself to get to the next level. And also a modification of the diet so that the calories and macros are a little bit better to optimize fat loss and maintain muscle.

If you’re more advanced and you’re not seeing the changes in your body composition that you’d like, then usually that’s the time to take a closer look at your calorie intake. Are there extra calories sneaking in there that you might not be accounting for.

Strategy For Lowering Your Body Fat Percentage

When you’re looking to improve your body composition, I always believe in focusing first on the nutrition side. Make sure that you’re able to get that calorie deficit.

The weight training will help maintain and build your muscle mass as you go through that process.

The final part will come later on adding a little bit of extra calorie expenditure with some cardio. And that happens as you get a little bit closer to where you want to be in terms of your body fat percentage. Remember that if you are at a very high body fat percentage, it’s going to be quite easy. You don’t have to make a lot of changes in order to decrease your weight and lose body fat.

Strategy For Very Low Body Fat Percentages

But as you get closer and closer, say your 15% or 10% body fat, it’s going to be very, very hard to make further changes. And that’s the point at which you need to be a bit more strict, I guess, because only a certain amount of people are going to get to the point where they’re going to have a very low body fat percentage or even want that for that matter.

Not everybody wants to get under 10% body fat and most people who get to that very low body fat percentage bodybuilders and fitness competitors and fitness models will probably tell you that it’s not really worth it for the longterm. The types of sacrifices that you have to make are not really worth it for a short-term goal, like a competition or a photo shoot. It might make sense.

But otherwise let’s just go for a normal, healthy body fat percentage. So let me know in the comments, what your fitness goals are. Do you have a specific body fat percentage that you’re targeting?

Ivana Chapman

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Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman BSc BA CSCS is a Canadian fitness and nutrition coach, happy wife, and mom to an energetic 8-year-old boy. She is a YouTuber, writer, published fitness model, speaker, 3rd Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, former World Cup Karate Champion, one-time marathoner, and CBBF National level Natural Bikini competitor. She loves weight training and chocolate, not always in that order of preference.
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