Health & Fitness: Is Single-Digit Body Fat Actually Healthy?

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Once upon a time, it was generally accepted that the easiest way to assess what kind of shape you were in was to hop on the bathroom scales. But weight – as understood via the body-mass index (BMI) – is a crude metric. Very tall or muscular people are significantly more likely to be labelled overweight. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson? Clinically obese.

PT and transformation coach Mark Ross explains whether it can ever be healthy to shoot for single-digit body fat percentage. © Getty Images PT and transformation coach Mark Ross explains whether it can ever be healthy to shoot for single-digit body fat percentage.

Which explains why body-fat percentage has become the metric of choice for those looking to track their progress. Your fat-to-lean mass ratio is a far more reliable marker of health. It’s not perfect, but if more than a quarter of your body weight is fat, you’re liable to be at an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Past 28%, things get stickier.

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But how lean can you get before turning translucent? The answer lies in your genes. ‘A healthy body-fat percentage differs for all individuals,’ says PT and transformation coach Mark Ross. ‘Some men can be healthy at a very low percentage; others won’t be.’


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a sandwich sitting on top of a hot dog: People with chronic fatigue syndrome often experience significant weight changes. In fact, patients may experience abnormal increases or decreases in appetite. In an attempt to gain more energy, they may eat fatty, sugary, or high-calorie foods.

While the ballpark for a conspicuously toned physique is somewhere between 5% and 15%, single-digit body fat is considered ‘stage lean’, says Ross – not easily sustainable. Going below your natural level requires a punishing mentality. ‘It’s not achievable without 24/7 effort and full focus,’ he says. Which will squeeze out Deliveroo and work-night pints.

Fat is an organ, and your body needs a certain amount to function. Without fat reserves, your immune system takes a battering, testosterone levels tank and your metabolism stutters. Dip below 5% and you risk nervous system damage and brittle bones. At best.

If you’re intent on achieving visible abs, maintaining 10% to 14% body fat is the best way to balance good health with the aesthetic you’re after. Just remember to enjoy life, too.

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