Author: Troy Theodosiou

Building lean muscle mass not only improves your appearance, but it also boosts your metabolism, promotes bone health and supports your posture. On the other hand, a high body fat percentage puts you at a higher risk of obesity-related illnesses, whether you’re actually overweight or not. You don’t need to hit a certain body fat percentage to start working on building muscle mass, but your body fat levels will significantly affect the visible results of adding lean mass. The strategy you should take to get to your goal physique depends on how much muscle you need to gain, as well as how much fat you need to lose to look toned.

How much fat you’re carrying has a profound effect on how you look. Excess fat forms a layer over your muscles to erase definition and prevent you from achieving that “toned,” muscular look. A body fat level above 20 percent for men and above 30 percent for women will mean you have a soft appearance, even if you have a lot of muscle mass underneath the fat. As you get leaner, your muscles will become more visible.

* High Body Fat Levels: Typically correspond with an increase in estrogen, an increase in insulin, and an increase in cortisol.

* Optimal Body Fat Levels: Barring any abnormalities, this is the range where most will find their hormone levels balanced and optimized.

* Very Low Body Fat Levels: For most, having very low body fat levels will result in suboptimal hormone levels – such as decreased testosterone and increased cortisol – that will impede long-term muscle gains.

Body fat numbers are not set in stone. Knowing where you currently are is just another measurement you can use to track progress.

For Men
* Bodybuilder About to Compete: 3-4 %
* Really Ripped Ab Look: 8-10%
* Athletic with Basic Cuts: 12-15%
* No Cuts: 15%+

For Women
* Bodybuilder About to Compete: 8-12%
* Figure Competitors: 15-17%
* Toned and Lean: 17-20%
* No cuts: 20%+

These numbers are not the end-all-be-all. Some men have thicker abs then others and their abs may show through the skin at higher body fat. The same goes for women, some women hold fat in areas that are not easily seen while others may read really low but have a lot of fat in one area.