Is 5% Body Fat Dangerious?

  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jun 16, 2007 3:52 PM GMT
    I have read alot on this topic, but I wanted feedback from others.
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    Jun 16, 2007 5:24 PM GMT
    sp. dangerous

    Found this but wanted to get real life opinion.

    Description Women Men
    Essential fat 12-15% 2-5%
    Athletes 16–20% 6–13%
    Fitness 21–24% 14–17%
    Acceptable 25–31% 18–25%
    Obese 32%+ 25%+
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jun 16, 2007 6:30 PM GMT
    Not only is it not dangerous, on overseas flights, if you crash into the ocean, you are a designated floatation device.

  • atxclimber

    Posts: 480

    Jun 16, 2007 6:39 PM GMT
    I'm curious about this too. I've heard as high as 6% is "essential" and it's dangerous to drop below.

    My question is, how can you tell if you are missing essential fat? If I dropped below my essential body fat levels, would I feel really sick, or turn a pale shade of green or something? Or is it just "It'll have negative health repercussions later in life"?
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    Jun 16, 2007 6:40 PM GMT
    to get below 5% body fat is nearly impossible
  • atxclimber

    Posts: 480

    Jun 16, 2007 6:46 PM GMT
    Chungo: I have a female friend who spends most of her time well below the numbers for female "essential" body fat. She's usually around 8 or 9%. She's also a personal trainer, triathlete, etc. So I've always wondered if she's doing long-term damage to herself, because she doesn't look unhealthy (just, hey, really thin with lots of muscle definition.)

    Also, I bet I could get below 5% body fat in 3 months if I kept working at it.

    I won't, because I'm getting pretty tired of sugar-free popsicles, pickle spears, and not drinking any alcohol, and also I think I'll be quite happy at 7-8%. But if I were a bit more neurotic than I am now, I could see it happening.
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    Jun 16, 2007 7:01 PM GMT
    ill be honest I am around 6 and gettting any lower while maintaining lean body mass is hard. I can eat 1600 calories a day but then I am just dumping off muscle as well as fat. getting 5 and under is very hard to do healthily. and if your femal friend is around 8% body fat she probably suffers from amenorhea, meaning she does not menstruate which is considered not very healthy, which is a classic sign of anorexia. she is probably also burning alot of muscle including heart muscle and can lead to a heart attack.
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    Jun 16, 2007 7:26 PM GMT
    I have two friends, one gay, one straight, that have been water/pool tested at 4% body fat. The former is a weight trainer, but has a distant background as a road cyclist/skier, and the other is a runner, and a real good one at that. Both have vascularity and incredible definition, without looking emaciated. In fact, the only way to get definition, in my opinion, is to have a body fat considerably under 10%.

    As to what is healthy and what isn't, we'd need a medical professional to comment. Let's say you have a body fat of 5%, though, and you eat a healthy balanced diet. I don't see why there would be a health risk. And unless you are doing no cardio, and if you are leading an active life, you would not need to be on 1800 calories a day to maintain that. My friend Tim (the former) eats more than that per day...and he can be on a calendar (and, actually, was).

    John
  • GQjock

    Posts: 11648

    Jun 16, 2007 7:39 PM GMT
    we have this growing aversion to anything that's called "fat"
    whether it's in our foods in our bodies...anywhere
    but fat like protein and carbohydrates and minerals and so forth are all parts of our bodies and are all needed to a certain extent
    ...we need a certain amount of fat in out body to provide certain functions...most hormones are generated from fat molecules...a lot of our cell walls or membranes are made of fat molecules too
    there are also essential fatty acids that we must get in our diet for our bodies to function which are linoleic and alpha-linolenic,
    when you go so low in overall bodyfat % you're not getting sufficient supplies of fat for health to be sustained
  • atxclimber

    Posts: 480

    Jun 16, 2007 7:45 PM GMT
    GQ: Yeah, I mean, that's certainly the high-level explanation for it. But what I'm wondering is, what're the actual negative results of having a body fat percentage too low? I just googled it and there're observations like, hey, some essential fat is in the heart and bone marrow itself. So I could see how burning that would be a pretty bad idea. But are there immediate, visible problems? Given the variable ranges I've heard, everywhere from 3% to 6% for guys -- and it seems like you want to stay at least 1% above the minimum to be safe, since why risk having your body digest your heart? -- I'm just curious how you can know.

    As for my friend, I'm pretty sure she's not medically anorexic. She has a ton of lean mass (I mean, she's not hulking, but she has muscle mass over her whole body, doesn't look bony at all), consumes plenty of protein, etc. I can't say I've inquired as to her periods, though, although one site I googled said that most women stop ovulating and menstruating when they drop under 15%, which seems pretty high.
  • atxclimber

    Posts: 480

    Jun 16, 2007 7:46 PM GMT
    Also, GQ, looking at your photos I have to say there's a certain irony in you decrying fat-phobia. You're so thin! :)

    Also, I don't have an aversion to fat in food. It's delicious. I love it.
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    Jun 17, 2007 2:19 AM GMT
    3%-4% is essential... 6% and above is considered healthy. You drop below that, and your body doesn't know what to do... You drop below three percent, and you're in bad shape, and your organs have a harder time functioning correctly...

    6% is like professional athletes...

    Honestly, why would someone want to go below that, you aren't gonna be any more defined below six...
  • MSUBioNerd

    Posts: 1813

    Jun 17, 2007 2:56 AM GMT
    I think it's problematic to try to make sweeping statements about what's required for everyone in terms of body fat. I've spent the vast majority of my life well beneath the 10% level. Particularly in middle and high school years, my doctor used to scold me on a regular basis for being beneath 6% from his caliper measurements. After I turned 20 and held pretty much the same measurement, he finally gave up and decided that this was just what my body does, for now. My Dad was much the same way until his metabolism gave out in his early 30s.

    For me, it's not a diet thing, but a freakish metabolism thing; I eat over 3,000 calories a day to maintain a weight of 152 or so on a 6 foot frame. I have a hard time believing that I'm doing substantial damage to my body by having such a low percentage given that it's what my body's maintained normally whether I've been exercising or not, whether I've been paying any attention to my diet or not.

    Fundamentally, a lot of general fitness guidelines need to be understood as guidelines, not necessarily absolutes.

    (And, all the preceding notwithstanding, I'd enjoy having what fat I have be a bit redistributed. It seems crazy to me that I have a low enough body fat percentage to annoy my doctor, yet I still don't have a six pack. Especially when you see them on every guy who shows up shirtless in ads)
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    Jun 17, 2007 4:32 AM GMT
    Do you want to get that low? Would you not consider a guy who was above 5%?

    When I see a guy totally lean and ripped, first I think, "Wow, his muscles look HOT!" But not far behind that is another thought - 'He looks hungry.' Though I don't have an Italian bone in my body (some good jokes can go in here), the little italian grandma in me makes me want to fix them something to eat. I really have empathy and if a guy's hungry, I'll pick up on it.

    Maybe he gets 5% by eating alot and having a super-metabolism. I could deal with that. But it definitely should not be the result of some eating disorder where you are mentally fixated on a look or a body fat %. If you're job is dependent on looking super-lean - like an underwear model, or if you are a pro-athlete and you need to loose those extra 3 pounds before the tour-du-france... it aligns with your more in your life that just strict vanity. Being an insurance salesman and obsessing all day about diet and exercise to achieve 5% *might* be a little out-of-balance.

    I guess I'm trying to point out that having 5% as a goal might be dangerous in that it requires extra energy to acheive and maintain which might be better spent on other areas of your life.

    I think a guy can still look plenty hot enough to get me going if he's in the 10-14% range. Strong arms and legs and built shoulders - you don't have to have the six pack. Not that I'd kick a guy out of bed for it... I may be different that other guys on this site, not sure, but face and mannerisms rate more important for me than definition - in and out of bed.
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    Jun 17, 2007 7:10 AM GMT
    Amenorrhea is a problem in female athletes, but does not directly correlate with a specific body fat: there are some female athletes with a normal body fat with amenorrhea and some with low body fats that do not have it. It is associated with eating disorders but they do not qualify as either anorexia or bulimia, and is also associated with heavy training. In runners studies have shown that at 20 miles/week 20% of the women are amenorrheaic. The amenorrea is usually transitory and goes away with decreased training and or some weight gain. The concern is that this amenorrhea in female athletes is associated with hypoestrogenism and osteoporosis occurs as it does in post-menopausal women. So if a woman athlete were amenorrheaic it would be concerning. Now that is probably more than you ever wanted to know about female reprodutive problems.

    Men can have much lower body with the absolute lowest that would be considered healthy usually noted as >2%. So yes, you could have a person below 5% and still be healthy.

    However, I'm not sure people are any more honest about their % body fat than they are about their weight. When someone tells you their fat are they telling you the truth? Also when did they have the measurement taken -- was it right before a competition when they had been training extra hard or straving themselves? Most people don't get body fat measured on a weekly or even monthly basis. Futhermore several of the most common methods of measuring body fat are inaccurate.

    A body fat only tells you one piece of information, and is probably most useful in telling an overweight/obese person to loose weight/fat. In a healthy male what does it tell you if he drops from 12 - 10% or even say down to 8%? In and of itself nothing, and probably has no effect on his health. Chasing a body fat like chasing any other body number is probably not that helpful.
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    Jun 17, 2007 12:23 PM GMT
    I actually did some research about this a few years ago. There are two types of fat that your body stores. The first is non-essential which, are the fats that come from sources such as butter, lard, etc. The second is essential which, are the fats that come from Omega 3, 6 and 9. These fats are broken down in your body as white fat and brown fat. White fat forms cellulite. Brown fat is a deep layer that surrounds the organs in your body. This fat is meant to protect and insulate vital organs. It's also necessary for proper brain function. Essential fatty acids are also good for your skin, hair and nails. I currently weigh about 165 lbs which is considered normal weight for someone my height according the Body Mass Index. I have dropped down to 155 in the past and my body fat still measured at about 10-12%. I have never had a 6 pack, nor will I ever. I would have to lose and extreme amount of body fat for that to happen.

    Bodybuilder will typically drop down to about 3% prior to a show by not eating any fats and drinking distilled water. As soon as the show is over, they pack on the weight again until the next show.
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    Jun 17, 2007 1:49 PM GMT
    my body fat percentage when I last had it measured on a body fat scale was 6.7% I am personally trying to get below 6% though I already have a six pack. its hard to get below 6% but for me i have to keep low body fat for my six pack because when I gain any fat it always goes straight to my stomach and if i lose it thats where it comes off.
  • atxclimber

    Posts: 480

    Jun 17, 2007 5:36 PM GMT
    dlf: BMI seems like a totally incorrect metric for people who are muscular, since it treats lean and fatty mass as the same thing. If I go by my BMI, I'm overweight.

    Awesome info on the fats, btw, thanks. Now that I think about it, it makes sense that anyone dropping into the single-digits for body fat should be careful to eat sufficient amounts of the good omega fatty acids. Time to bust out the flax oil.
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    Jun 17, 2007 7:20 PM GMT
    Yes, BMI is not the most accurate measure, but can be useful and quick and easy. Taken from the stats you two give, dlf and atx, you two would have BMI's of 25.1 and 23.7 respectively (the calculator I used is from the CDC website with the address here: www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/). Anything above 25 is considered overweight, so just based on that number dlf would be slightly overweight. Again looking at one number by itself in isolation is not particularly useful.

    In newborns brown fat constitutes about 5% of their body mass -- mostly concentrated in the neck and upper back. Most mammals have some but is most important in animals that hibernate. It is a metabolically active tissue and plays an important role of thermogenesis in the infant. By the time humans reach adulthood there is only vestigial remains. The cells are still there, but not very active and behave more like regular adipocytes (fat cells). There is interest in brown fat because it is thought that maybe we could stimulate it to become more active and play a role in reducing obesity. The fat stores around the organs is not that different from the subcutaneous fat. The worst is probably that stored around the organs in the abdominal cavity, sometimes called visceral fat (think beer belly as the fat causing that is as much the fat around the organs as that under the skin). Here the fat acts like an endocrine organ pumping out hormones to store more fat, but also hormones implicated with the inflammatory response.
    Essential fats are fats that the body cannot make on its own: omega 3 and 6. The names refer to the carbon where there is a double bond making them unsaturated (meaning you could break the double bond and add a hydrogen to "saturate" the carbon which is what is done in hydrogenated fats). The importance of these fats, omega 3 and 6, really cannot underestimmated. In addition to the antinflammatory and antioxidant effects currently being touted, they are important for the function of cell membranes, and numerous other biological functions as well.
    Sorry for such a long post and have probably bored most of you, but it seemed a few things still needed some clarification.
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    Jun 17, 2007 8:25 PM GMT
    Just gonna pick a little nit by pointing out that there's actually excessive Omega 6 fat in modern diets due to all the polyunsaturated seed oil, i.e., vegetable oil. There's also more Omega 6 in meat when cattle are raised on grain instead of grass. That excessive intake of Omega 6 fats has an inflammatory effect. That's why there's such a focus these days on Omega 3 fats (fish oil, flax seed oil, Omega 3 eggs, etc.), which are anti-inflammatory.

    This article goes into greater detail about Omega 3 and 6 and their prostaglandin pathways.
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    Jun 17, 2007 9:43 PM GMT
    Yes, you right paradox you should look for sources HIGH in omega 3, though many sources will contain a mix of both omega 3 and omega 6 fats (flax seed oil for example). Both omega 3 and 6 are polyunsaturated fats (again the number refers to where that first unsaturated bond occurs). And yes there are definately products from the omega 6 fats that are important to triggering the inflammatory response. There are also omega 6 fats and their products that are anti-inflammatory as well, and along with the omega 3's act to blunt the inflammatory response. You need both in balance, and as paradox has pointed out it is easy to get omega 6 in our modern diet therefore the need to focus on getting sufficient omega 3.
  • MikemikeMike

    Posts: 6932

    Jun 18, 2007 12:40 AM GMT
    0522 Stay the way you are!! Your body looks perfect to me.... Symmetry and proportion count more in my book, under 5% is ok if u are professional body builder or a fitness model-who needs to be 5% b/f or less!!
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    Jun 23, 2007 4:00 AM GMT
    A couple guys at my gym have below 12% BF with one bragging about having 7% (using those electric home machines and I don't think they are accurate) but most of them, especially the 7% guy, have great defination in their muscles but their faces look awful.

    Fat on the face supports the skin with the muscle on the bones. This 7% guy is 31 and looks like he's in his late 50's he so scrawny in his face and neck. I say it isn't worth it. He shows off his belly to anyone who will look at it but from the neck up he's like the living dead. He's one of the few the 'before' picture was better.
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    Jun 27, 2007 3:09 PM GMT
    My friend has around 4 percent body fat and hes never worked out a day in his life. His doctor actually told him he needs to be eating more. However he said hes always been low fat low mass. He has abs but only cause he has such a low body fat. In my opinion he looks like he needs a sandwich. Alot of about body think in my opinion is about genetically what is right for you. If your built to have more body fat dropping below say 8 percent might be unhealthy for you. If your made already small and having a low body fat dropping below 6 might not be as dangerous. Myself both sides of my family have been overweight,my aunt was around 450pounds. And most of my family on both sides have always been overweight by quite a bit, I'm pretty much the only one that has had a normal body weight. I can pretty easily drop down to 10 percent body fat or lower, but I also loose muscle mass. I think my healthy range is around 12 percent. Now if I wanna do alot of cardio its gonna drop alot lower.