I've gone back and forth on whether this post should be made, but at this point, I really feel the need to say something.
The man in the following picture has an unhealthy body fat percentage:
Bear in mind that I'm not hating on Chris Pratt; I love him! He's a Guardian of the Galaxy for crying out loud; however he's the one who felt he was unhealthy and not fit at this stage. Honestly, he was correct; he weighed nearly 300 lbs at one point and that simply isn't healthy.
Still think this is some generic, fat-shaming article? Well, what if I claimed that the man in this picture has an unhealthy body fat level too?
Surprised, Darth Sidious?
The truth is that being ripped to the bone isn't good for you. There's no getting around that. I'm not talking about having a six pack or having a flat stomach... I'm referring to the single digit body fat range (9% and lower). I'm talking about the guys you see on Instagram with veins bursting from their chest and abs. I'm talking about men with veins bursting all over their chests and abs, just like Jeff Seid in the photo above.
First off, this low level of fat doesn't even look better. A guy with 12% or even 15% body fat will have a fuller and more muscular look than someone hovering around 7% body fat; this helps beef up the appearance more when you have a shirt on. You'd never know this looking at social media, however, because many athletes and models in the low body fat range are taking steroids that augment their muscle mass and shred their fat to minimal levels. Also, their most ripped appearances are temporary states for their bodies that they reach during photoshoots and such.
But looks aren't everything either. You should be training for your health and longevity as well. If that's the case, then the reality is you never need to go below 10% body fat if you're a man (or 20% body fat if you're a woman). Rather than gaining a health benefit, ridding yourself of that much body fat would actually be a health risk.
These days I'm sitting at 170 lbs and about 10% body fat:
Now maybe I'm wrong; maybe a DEXA scan would pin me at 12% or 13%. If that's true, then it only helps the point I'm trying to make: there's no need to be leaner than this. I have a six pack and can see striations in my obliques; furthermore, my veins are noticeable without ever needing a pump.
Body fat isn't some evil parasite created by the Devil; we have it for a reason. It plays an integral role in the overall health of your body. In today's blog post, I'd like to discuss the specific roles body fat plays.
First and foremost, body fat is crucial your immune system. Fat acts as an organic cushion that prevents disease and infection from spreading throughout your body. Competitive bodybuilders who cut down to the 5% - 6% range might very well find themselves catching colds and other illnesses more frequently than they normally would; this is a clear sign that the immune system is compromised.
Body fat also contributes to healthy hair growth. Ridding yourself of fat too quickly could lead to premature baldness or graying of your hair. If you're lucky enough to have a head shaped well for the shaved look, maybe this doesn't bother you as much; I personally appreciate my hair and want to preserve it for as long as I can.
Your fat also helps promote a healthy level for your skin. Take a look at competitive bodybuilders and look at their faces during competition: they've drained their faces so much that they almost resemble skeletons. I understand some men want a chiseled jawline (I prefer rocking a beard myself), but your jaw will be about as lean as it can get at 10 - 12% body fat.
Body fat is also crucial to temperature regulation in your body. I find myself getting chills more easily than most people, and I attribute it mainly to my body fat. The ideal temperature to me is 80 Degrees Fahrenheit, which would be considered hot by most people. When I jump into a pool, I freeze up immediately and it takes several minutes to adjust. I can't even imagine how uncomfortable it must be at even lower body fat levels.
Your energy levels are also directly correlated with your body fat levels. Most of us live in the real world: we don't make a living off social media. We have real jobs. And as someone who works in a demanding corporate job, I need to emphasize the importance of feeling focused and energetic throughout the day.
Let me give you an example: let's say you're currently at 15% body fat and eating around 2,500 calories a day. You're not as lean as you'd want to be, but you feel fairly alert during the day at work.
Now suppose that, for the sole sake of getting shredded, you manage to get down to 7% body fat and are now eating only 1,500 calories a day. I guarantee you are going to feel WORSE in this situation; your brain will be so shot you won't even know what 2 + 2 is. Furthermore, with this big drop in calories, you might not be taking in as many vitamins and minerals as you normally would be, which further compromises your health.
Unfortunately, this is often how extreme body fat percentages are reached: bodybuilders nearly starve themselves to rid as much fat as possible, especially in the weeks leading up to their competitions. Actors do this as well, but they find themselves feeling weaker than they'd like: Sylvester Stallone was possibly the leanest he's ever been in Rocky III, but he once commented in an interview that the shape came with drastic side effects. Stallone nearly passed out at different points of the day simply due to the lack of energy. You'd never know this by watching the movie, however, since he's pounding Mr. T like it's his job.
My overall message is simply this: keep health as your focus when it comes to body fat. Just like you'll never be the biggest guy in the gym, you'll never be the most shredded either. But you can still have a lean, strong body that will turn heads at the beach. Men who shred down to 10% and women hovering around 20% will have healthy, aesthetic bodies that any normal person would envy. More importantly, you won't feel miserable maintaining a physique like such; your self confidence will match the physical energy that comes with maintaining a healthy level of fat.