Beyond BMI: How to Calculate Body Fat Percentage?

Sparshita Saxena, NDTV  |  Updated: July 13, 2017 16:03 IST

Beyond BMI: How to Calculate Body Fat Percentage?

Your small, portion controlled meals are gradually and seamlessly becoming part of your daily routine and your workout regime has begun to show results - you're dropping pounds, losing inches  and your BMI is getting back to the green zone. There's nothing like meeting your fitness goals - when all those efforts finally prove fruitful. When it comes to measuring our fitness, one of the most common methods is to calculate our Body Mass Index (BMI). It has always served as the preliminary guide, almost like one's weight-loss target to fit into that perfect range of 18.5 -24.9. But as much as BMI helps us set a goal, wouldn't you also like to know more about the fat content in your body? Introducing body fat percentage.

Before we go ahead and talk about body fat percentage and how can one calculate it, it is important to understand the difference between BMI and body fat percentage, and how they aid in weight-loss and weight-management.


Body Mass Index is nothing but the ratio of your weight to your height. It denotes whether or not according to your age and height, your weight is normal or not. There is a standard formula to calculate your BMI which goes as follow -


BMI = Weight in Kilograms divided by Height (in meters) x Height (in meters)

Once you put all the figures in the formula, you will arrive at a two digit number. If your BMI is between 18.5 to 24.9, you fall under the normal weight range. Anything under 18.5 would make you underweight, whereas anything over 24.9 will make you overweight. If one has a BMI over 29.9, it is considered as obese.

Body fat is the amount of fat that one has apart from one's bones, water content, muscles and various organs. Your fitness level depends on two components - body fat and body muscle. Two different people of same height and of same age may weigh the same and have the same BMI but their fat and muscle content may differ. One of them may have more of muscle and less of fat and vice versa for the other.

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According to fitness experts, taking just BMI into consideration to access your fitness would be a wrong approach. One can look at BMI for the preliminary weight-loss. After a point of time, one has to give importance to the ratio of fat and muscle in the body. Fitness blogger and creator of a fitness website Nerd Fitness, Steve Kamb nails it when it comes to describing the concept of body fat. "Your BMI isn't directly correlated to your body fat percentage - it only factors in your height and weight.  It will give you the same reading if you're made of 180 pounds of pure muscle, or 180 pounds of pure Cheetos."

Taking a cue from that comment, is it imperative to know whether you just look slim and are predominantly made of Cheetos or if that perfected BMI actually translates into muscles.


      CATEGORIES                    MEN                             WOMEN            
       Essential Fat                2-4%             10-12%
           Athletic              6-13%             14-20%
           Fitness             14-17%             21-24%
           Average             18-25%             25-31%
           Obese        26% and above        32% and above

The table above shows various categories of body fat percentage for men and women respectively. Ideally, those who are into professional bodybuilding have as low as bare-essential body fat. Essential fat level means the minimum percentage of fat that the body should have to function properly. Extreme loss of body fat can have severe repercussions including organ failure. Most sports persons and athletes fall under the second and the third category. Medically, minimum 5% of body fat is essential for a male body to function, whereas for women it should be 12%.

A female body differs from that of a man; a woman needs more body fat for reproductive purposes as compared to a man, that is why you see a difference between the body fat percentage.

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According to Gaurav Sharma, Fitness Manager at Sports Fit fitness centre in Vasant Kunj, Delhi, for an average male body fat% range would be between 11 to 21.9%, for females this would be between 21.9 to 35%. "Some of the recent studies show that the standard BMI range for Asians would differ from the traditional range. For Asians, the standard BMI range would be between 18.5 to 22.5," he shared.

It is important to keep a watch on your body fat content. The more fat content you'll have, more sluggish your organs will become affecting the efficacy of their functioning. A fit and agile body has proper blood circulation and optimum blood supply to various organs, thereby facilitating their efficiency.

"Skin fold techniques, caliper method and electronic scanners are some of the easily available methods to derive your body fat percentage. They are accurate as well. If you aim to lose weight make sure you lose fat and not muscles. Only cardio will make you lose more of muscle, hence your workout regime and diet have an extremely important role to play. Follow a combination of cardio, cross-fit training and weight training with a diet rich in protein but low in carbs," explained Gaurav.

Weight x 24 = calories required per day to maintain your current weight

Weight x 24 + calories burned every day while working out - 300 = calories required (out of which 60% should be protein, 30% carbs and 10% fat).

If you are working out, make sure the last meal of the day is at least a couple of hours before you sleep and should comprise protein-rich foods.


The internet is flooded with pieces explaining the concept of body fat as well as ways to calculate it. From professional services to techniques that can help in calculating it on your own. So, let's take a look at the various body fat calculating techniques.

The Caliper MethodCaliper is a device that helps in measuring the distance between two ends. There are many body fat calipers available in the market that can be used to measure the thickness of fat in your body. Once you arrive at the figure (in millimeters/inches) you can refer to the chart to find the category you fit in. There are various caliper tests that one can take (AccuFitness caliper test, Jackson/Pollock caliper method, etc). Some body calipers come with a body fat% chart that will make it easy for you to assess your condition. AccuFitness body fat% chart is one such chart that is available online and lets you match your figure with the category. Body calipers are used to measure body fat from different parts of body including thighs, chest, arms and waist.

Body fat caliper

Scale Device - There are many body fat percentage measuring scales available in the market that can also measure your weight, BMI, water content, bone density along with your body fat percentage. These work by creating an electric flow and passing it through the body to arrive at various figures. Muscle is highly conductive and has high water content as compared to fat; on this basis, such devices conduct a bioelectrical impedance analysis and calculate the body fat percentage. There has been much controversy around the accuracy associated with such devices as the results may often differ on the body's hydration level.

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The Manual MethodThere exists a number of formulas that claim to give you your body fat percentage figure, however the one I tried seemed to be somewhat reliable as it actually factors in measurements from different parts of your body, your weight and your lean body mass. Here goes the formula:

For menYou would need to know you weight in pounds and waist measurement (in inches)

- (Weight x 1.082) + 94.42 = Value 1

- (Waist x  4.15) = Value 2

Value 1 – Value 2 = Lean body mass (your weight without any fat)

- Your actual weight – lean body mass = Value 3

- Value 3/actual weight x 100 = body fat%

For womenYou need to have your weight (in pounds) and your wrist, forearm, hips and waist measured in inches.

- Weight x 0.732 = Value 1

- Value 1 + 
8.987 = Value 2

- Wrist measurement divided by 3.14 = Value 3

- Waist measurement x 0.157 = Value 4

- Hip measurement x 0.249 = Value 5

Forearm measurement x 0.434 = Value 6

- Add together Value 2 + Value 3 = Value 7

Subtract: Value 7 - Value 4 = Value 8

- Subtract: Value 8 - Value 5 = Value 9

Add: Value 6 + Value 9 = Lean Body Mass

- Body weight - Lean body mass
 = Value 10

- Value 10/actual weight
 x 100 = body fat%


Digital body fat monitor with pedometer 

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Underwater Density Test - Also known as the water displacement test or the hydrostatic testing, the science behind this test is fairly simple. Your muscles and bones are heavier; the more muscles you have vis-a-vis fat, the heavier you will be underwater. The test is conducted by submerging you in a tank of water. The test is considered to be quite accurate, at the same time quite heavy on the pocket as well.

The Dexa Scan - Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry has widely been considered as one of the most accurate ways to determine body fat percentage. Unlike the underwater density test or other hydrostatic tests, the dexa scan looks at the presence of body mass - both fat tissue and lean muscle mass - as well as body minerals. It also helps detect fat distribution in different parts of the body. The test involves taking a full x-ray of your body.


There are many websites where you can enter your figures, along with your age, sex and height and get your body fat calculated. However, results may differ. Just in case you plan to undergo a strict fitness programme or suffer from obesity, getting an accurate estimate of your body fat percentage is imperative. We suggest you get in touch with experts and take standard tests for precise figures.

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