Leaner Body Fat Percentages in Male and Female Athletes

Women have higher body fat percentages than men, because female reproductive hormones require more fat. Women with healthy weights have between 15 and 25 percent body fat and men in the 10 to 20 percent range. But for an athlete, the optimal body fat percentage may be 10 to 20 percent for women and 5 to 12 percent for men.
The following summarizes the difference between body fat percentage in the general population and what is considered ideal for optimal athletic performance.

Body fat percentage in athletes and non-athletes

Women                                                  Men
Athlete                                           10 to 20 percent                                      5 to 12 percent
Normal (optimal)                       15 to 25 percent                                        10 to 20 percent
Overweight                                25.1 to 29.9 percent                                     20.1 to 24.4 percent
Obese                                              Over 30 percent                                        Over 25 percent
Skaters, gymnasts and dancers, judged by their aesthetic appearance as much as by their physical skill, strive to achieve a minimum body fat. Runners, too, find they run better when their body fat is low – because that means they have less mass to move around. On the other hand, swimmers find that body fat helps them float.
You could have a little bit of body fat. If a woman’s body fat percentage drops below 12 percent of her total body weight, hormone production can be affected, menstruation can be interrupted, and so the risk of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones directly related to hormonal status) is high. A body fat percentage of less than 10 percent in women and 4 percent in men may be indicative of an eating disorder.
Specific body formulations are not recommended for individual sports, but generalizations have been made by observing elite athletes. These generalizations are summarized in the following table.
These are notes, not recommendations. In addition, they are observations in adults and should not be used as standards for adolescents.