January 14, 2019
What it REALLY takes to be 6% Body Fat
WRITTEN BY Jesse O'Brien

There is always a sacrifice when it comes to decreasing your body fat, but the amount you are willing to sacrifice will determine which goals are realistic for you. Wanting to make improvements to your health, body composition, performance, etc. must take some degree of change, and the amount of change needed depends on what exactly you want to achieve. Often, understanding what is involved in reaching a specific goal is overlooked—which leads to feeling unsuccessful—even after what feels like putting in the necessary work to get there.

This article will give you the perspective needed to set body fat percentage goals that are realistic to you based upon the amount of sacrifice you are willing to devote to the process.

A common goal in the fitness industry is to get six-pack abs and a defined tapered aesthetic. But what the models on the front cover of the popular fitness magazines don’t promote is that in order to get that specific look, a high degree of social isolation, dietary restriction and intense dedication is required for extremely lean body compositions. That look also comes with a price tag of hormonal disruptions, such as decreased thyroid production and low testosterone, low sex drive, minimal energy and mood swings. To top it off, that specific appearance often lasts anywhere from 24-48 hours with months if not years of preparation in advance.

What does it take to drop your body fat percentage to that degree?

First let’s take a look at what is necessary to drop or maintain your body fat percentage to a healthier appearance of 10-12% body fat for males and 20-22% body fat for females.

photo from www.precisionnutrition.com

  1. Proper food hygiene (sit, chew, breathe, etc)
  2. Eat until satisfied at 90% of your meals
  3. Adequate food portions and calorie intake depending upon the individual’s  total weight and activity levels
  4. One to two fist-sized portions of vegetables 2-3 times per day
  5. Increased food quality
  6. Adequate hydration
  7. Partaking in processed foods, sugar or alcohol once or twice every 7 to 14 days
  8. Exercise: 45-60 minutes 3-4 days per week
  9. 7,000-10,000 steps per day
  10. Sleeping no fewer than 7 hours per night

This external look is one that embodies a fit appearance and good overall health and is relatively easy to maintain once the nutrition, exercise and lifestyle prescriptions become habitual. It does require planning and attention to behaviors and often, coaching or guidance is needed.

But, if you are looking for a more defined look that includes more muscular definition in the midsection but you still value health and life balance, then a bit more sacrifice is required. This look would be somewhere between 6-9% body fat for males and 16-19% body fat percentage for females.

photo from www.precisionnutrition.com

Although there is much more commitment involved than in the example before, achieving and maintaining this body type will still allow for some degree of flexibility around nutrition and training.

  1. Proper food hygiene
  2. Eating until satisfied at 95% of your meals
  3. Adequate protein intake
  4. Increase vegetable consumption to 1-2 fist size portion at every meal
  5. Personalized macronutrients and total caloric intake
  6. Meal timing, caloric restriction, blood sugar management
  7. Processed foods once every 7-14 days
  8. Elimination of alcohol  
  9. Elimination of caloric beverages
  10. Adequate hydration
  11. Daily sun exposure
  12. Intentional exercise 60-75 minutes 4-5 times per week
  13. 10,000 steps per day
  14. Sleep: at least 8 hours per night  

This group requires a high degree of dedication and can cause some limits to social interactions due to the many temptations that socializing brings. Increased time will be needed for training, nutrition, recovery, etc. and nutrition and exercise will need to be a high priority. This means it will be necessary to make sacrifices around how you spend your time, when you get to sleep, as well as the preparation involved to ensure your nutrition is on point 95% of the time.

Having body fat under 6% for males and 14% for females (an appearance similar to elite bodybuilders on contest day and fitness models on the day of their photoshoot) involves the elimination of almost all social situations and even more time dedicated to weighing and tracking all foods with precision. Attention must be highly geared towards diet and exercise and frequently leads to disordered eating and body dysmorphia.

photo from www.precisionnutrition.com

What does it take to reach and/or maintain this appearance?

  1. Proper food hygiene (sit, chew, breathe)
  2. Eating slowly until satisfied at 99.9% of your meals
  3. Following a strict meal plan with predetermined foods and precise macronutrients
  4. Intense caloric restriction
  5. Measuring and tracking all food, every day with accuracy
  6. No processed foods, sugars or alcohol, or once every 10-12 weeks
  7. Proper exercise 45-75 minutes twice per day or 90-120 minutes once per day 6-7 days per week
  8. 10,000 steps per day or more
  9. Daily sun exposure
  10. Stress management
  11. Sleep: no fewer than 8 hours per night

It’s the body type we all wish we could maintain the majority of the time due to the pressures of social media and advertising, but the sacrifice required has to be taken into consideration. The media tells us that unless we have chiseled abs and a tapered aesthetic, happiness and success will be slightly out of reach, but this is far from the truth! In fact, the negative consequences that come with having too low a volume of body fat includes low sex drive, disordered eating, social isolation, amenorrhea in females, low testosterone and more. For females, amenorrhea is one of the initial cues that indicate hormonal imbalance and will affect the ability to reproduce. This is one of the many reasons why adequate body fat in females is extremely important and unfortunately not discussed enough!

Having a goal of decreasing body fat is not a poor goal, but it is necessary to understand the reasons why losing fat is important to you and the amount of sacrifice you are willing to give in order to do so. Once that is established, the necessary systems can then be applied to ensure your lifestyle is adequately aligned and the proper habits are formulated.

If you feel frustrated with the overwhelming amount of information around the subjects of training and nutrition, click the link below to schedule a free strategy session with a Central Athlete coach to learn more! We put the pieces together for you, in a personalized fashion to ensure you walk away feeling empowered, with a tangible plan!

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