How to Decrease Body Fat Percentage

Three Parts:Decreasing Body Fat with DietDecreasing Body Fat with ExerciseLeading a Leaner Lifestyle

The fitness savvy know that it's not about that number on the scale — it's about your body fat percentage. Fitness is 21-24% for women and 14-17% for men, though we all have our own goals.[1] Whatever level you are at, getting rid of body fat is just plain difficult. But with a combination of diet, exercise, and fat-conscious habits, your ideal percentage can be attained.

Part 1
Decreasing Body Fat with Diet

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    Load up on protein and fiber. You've definitely heard it before: to get rid of that stubborn fat and start building muscle, you need protein. The body can burn protein to survive, but it prefers carbohydrates and fats; so when you feed it mainly protein, it will go for the carbohydrates and fats you already have stored. That and protein builds and repairs muscle!
    • Fish and chicken are great sources of the stuff — you generally want to stick to the lean, whiter meats. Low-fat dairy is good, too, and beans, soy, and eggs are efficient sources as well.[2] A normal person can have as low as 10% of their daily caloric intake from protein, but if you want to blast fat, you're better off at around 25-30%.[3]
    • We are not forgetting fiber! It's slow to digest, helps you lose weight by helping you feel full and it acts like a sponge to water and fat. So add beans, whole grains, brown rice, nuts, and berries onto that list of awesome foods to eat you have going.
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    Know you still need the good fats. Some people believe that a no-fat or low-fat diet automatically makes for a good diet. Well, a low-fat diet, sure, but only if you do it right. You want to stick to the good fats. The good kind (unsaturated; your omega-3s and 6s) can actually lead to fat burn, upping your metabolism.
    • The fats that you should keep in your diet should be from fatty fish like salmon, olive oils, avocados, and nuts. However, just because they're good doesn't mean you should overdo it. Always consume any food in moderation.
    • In case it needs to be said, the fats you want to avoid are the ones that come in packages. That includes the frozen ones! Stay away from cookies, cakes, potato chips, and fast and fried foods. They're just not worth the calories.
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    Plan out your carbohydrate intake. This is where things start to get a little confusing. There are very, very different schools of thought when it comes to carbohydrate. There's the Atkins camp which says no-carbohydrate is the way to go. Well, sure, that'll get you to burn fat, but it's totally unsustainable and anything that recommends you cut out 60% of your body's preferred energy should be questioned. Instead, let's consider some other ideas:
    • Carbohydrate cycling. The science behind it is that you have a couple low-carbohydrate days (about 1g per pound of body weight) that get your body into a catabolic fat burning state. But then you have a day of high-carbohydrate intake, that gets your metabolism running. Without that high-carb day, your metabolism starts shutting down.[4]
    • Timed intake. Complex carbohydrate (brown rice, beans, oats) can be consumed before 6 p.m. (in general, late night eating isn't advised). Simple carbohydrate, however, should only be consumed post-workout. When the body is still reviving from your sweat session, the simple carbohydrates (read: sugar) get stored as glycogen, not fat. Otherwise, they should be primarily avoided.
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    Consider calorie cycling. We've talked about carbohydrate cycling, but there's calorie cycling, too. And it's the same science behind it: if you don't eat enough calories, your body freaks out, starts shutting down and eats away at your muscles. Therefore, when you're on a low-calorie diet, you have to have days of higher caloric intake to keep it going and your metabolism up.
    • 1,200 calories and under is where starvation mode generally starts. If you're interested in calorie cycling, know how many calories your body needs before you start playing around with the numbers. You can have days under this number, but make sure they're not consecutive. [5]
      • This method is good for those who have plateaued. If you have that last bit of fat you want to lose, give this a shot.
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    Eat often. Getting rid of body fat is all about the metabolism, especially when all you have to do is get rid of that last 5-10lb. And to keep up the metabolism, you gotta be eating constantly. But hold it! You've probably heard that eating 5-6 small meals a day is key. Well, it's close. But it's not perfect. Here's the thing:
    • When you eat small meals all the time, your body is constantly producing insulin and never getting to a burn stage. That, and you never really feel 100% satisfied. So instead of eating 5-6 small meals a day, eat three decent ones and two snacks. It's the same idea, but refined for efficacy.[6]
    • Breakfast! Let's say it together: breakfast! It's so important. Your body needs to know that it can start burning calories and breakfast is exactly that flag.
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    Include fat-blasting food in your diet. If you're looking for a quick, easy answer without the work, well, there might actually be one. Obviously you'll see way better, faster results if you're pulling one over on your diet and working out; that being said, there are a few foods that might help you on your path:[7]
    • Almonds
    • Cherries
    • Low-fat yogurt
    • Grapefruit
    • Whole grains
    • Spicy foods

Part 2
Decreasing Body Fat with Exercise

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    Do both cardio and weight lifting. While cardio does burn calories faster than weightlifting, if you want maximum fat burning, you need to do both. If you want to get toned, go for less weight and more repetitions when it comes to strength training. And if you're looking to bulk up, go for more weight and fewer repetitions. But anything is good!
    • Cardio has any number of forms — swimming, boxing, running, and cycling might be some of the most common, but don't forget basketball, chasing the kids around, walking the dog, and dancing! If it gets your heart pounding, it counts.
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    Crosstrain your cardio. There are two things you want to prepare yourself against: plateauing and boredom. They're both terrible in their own ways. And the best way to fight these (if not the only way)? Crosstraining. That basically means you're doing a bunch of different activities, switching it up on your mind and body. Your mind doesn't think, "Aww, man, this again?!" and your muscles don't get used to it and aren't just phoning it in.
    • So Monday you're hitting the pavement, Tuesday you're going for a swim, Wednesday is your day of rest, Thursday is the elliptical, and Friday is cycling. Easy! You could combine activities in one day, too.
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    Time your workouts. Alright, more controversy. There's a whole bunch of stuff out there that'll tell you so-and-so time is best for cardio and so-and-so time is best for weights and then there's others that'll tell you the time that is best is the time that feels best to you. Here's the lowdown:
    • Some people say that cardio on an empty stomach in the morning is best. Your body has been fasting all night and it's going straight to those fat stores. Others say nope, your body goes straight for your muscles.[8] The verdict? Well, if it makes you feel dizzy and nauseated, we're going to go with the latter.
    • Some say that weights should be done before cardio. Cardio depletes your glycogen stores, so when you go to hit the weights, you can't do it. And when you can't do it, you don't build muscle. However, this is more important for the body-building types than the "I just want to get rid of the double wave" types.[8]
    • Others say that you should do them at separate times entirely (cardio and weights, that is). Some say it depends on your goal (weight loss? Then cardio first). Some say it doesn't matter, just DO IT.[9] In other words? Do whatever you think is best — they all have their merits.
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    Go for HIIT. High-intensity interval training is all the rage nowadays. Studies have shown that it burns more fat in less time and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. It jumps up your metabolism right away and keeps it up after, too — so much that the term "after burn effect" has been coined.[10] So even if you have 15 minutes to work out, no excuses!
    • There's no hard-and-fast rule to HIIT. It just involves cycling between low-intensity work and high-intensity work. An example? A 1 minute walk on the treadmill followed by 30 seconds of a dead-sprint. But the ratios are up to you!
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    Make sure you rest. Really. You may feel like a powerhouse that just can't be stopped, but your body needs to rest. Especially if you're lifting weights like it's your job; your muscles need time to repair themselves. So take a day to take it easy. You don't have to sit on the couch all day, but do allow your body to heal itself.
    • Weights should only be done back-to-back if you're working different muscle groups (i.e., legs one day, arms and shoulders the next). Cardio, however, can (and should) be done most days of the week.

Part 3
Leading a Leaner Lifestyle

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    Get some zzz's. Your body needs them to function normally. Studies have shown that people that get less than 7 or 8 hours a night weigh more. The reason? Your hormones. You can eat as healthily as can be, but you can't control your hormones!
    • The culprits are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin tells your body it's full and ghrelin stimulates appetite. When you don't sleep, they get all out of whack; your leptin levels decrease" and your ghrelin levels increase." The result? You eat more unconsciously.
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    Drink loads of water. It's practically the easiest dieting tactic there is. When you drink more water, your body gets flushed of toxins and doesn't want to eat as much. That's aside from the benefits it has on your organs, skin, hair, and nails.
    • Women should aim for about 3 liters (0.8 US gal) a day; men about 4 (that's including the water in food).[11] And drink it cold! Two glasses of cold water can actually spike up your metabolism for about half an hour.[12]
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    Drink coffee prior to your workout. Studies have shown that caffeine stimulates the nervous system and increases our levels of epinephrine. That epinephrine manifests as an adrenaline rush and sends signals to our body to start breaking down fat tissue. Then those fatty acids are free to be released and used up in our blood.[13] If you want to see if it works for you, drink a cup of coffee prior to your workout.
    • It's less effective if your stomach is already full of food, so keep the cup of coffee by itself or with a small snack. And, yes, it's caffeine, that does it, not coffee — but most other sources of caffeine aren't that good for you (read: soda). However, an ounce of dark chocolate wouldn't be terrible and it has caffeine, too!
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    Avoid crash diets. If it's anything that has an end point, it's just not that healthy. Whether you're juicing, fasting, or just cutting out one food group, if it's not sustainable, it's probably not that good. You might see some serious results initially, but in the long-run it messes with your metabolism and ultimately messes you up. So avoid them. Stay healthy and avoid them.
    • A "fit" female has between 21-24% body fat, though acceptable is up to 31%. For men, fit is 14-17% and acceptable is up to 25%. Everyone has an essential fat level (for men it's much lower) that you can never get rid of without hurting yourself.[1] So know what's best for you! And what's realistic.
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    Use several techniques to measure your body fat. There are over half a dozen ways out there to measure your body fat percentage and not all of them are 100% accurate all the time. Always be sure to measure your body fat under the same scenario (Monday mornings, post-banana, pre-workout) and try several different methods.
    • There are calipers, body fat scales and monitors, Bod Pods, water displacement, and DEXA scanning. Generally the more expensive it is, the more accurate it is. If you can afford it, try a couple different things to give yourself an accurate idea.[1] A couple of percentage points is a big deal!


  • Create a routine that you can stick to and enjoy.
  • Sleep, but try not to lay in bed all morning. You'll just feel lazy all day!
  • Join a gym and get a personal trainer. They'll know exactly what you should do to get to the level you want.
  • Essential body fat is 2-4% in men and 10-12% in women.[1]
  • Remember walking is cardio as well — even walking around the house doing things.


  • Avoid working out too hard. Take a rest every other day and avoid skipping workout days.

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Categories: Diet & Lifestyle | Losing Weight