Jim Stoppani explains body fat percentage realities for athletes vs average individuals.

Ronnie Coleman once stated that during his prime he held under 1% body fat. Many accused this as being a lie. That it’s impossible to bring your body fat percentage lower than three or four percent due to vital organ fats your body needs to function. But in the world of extremes such as bodybuilding, there are athletes who truly aim to reach these kind of goals. Is it really possible? In our latest GI Exclusive interview partnered with Barbend, Jim Stoppani debunks the biggest myths about body fat percentage and the real possibilities (and dangers) of extreme fat loss.

In the world of bodybuilding, getting as conditioned and shredded as possible is always the ultimate goal when stepping on stage. The hard work put into sculpting a physique can be shown best without soft fat hiding the “goods” so to speak. But not only is the general act of “cutting” for a competition dangerous, having unrealistic goals of extreme low body fat percentages is unhealthy as well. As an athlete, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look conditioned – but where is the real line? How low can you go and stay healthy?

And even when opening up to the general public – the expectations on how a person “should” look has led to a variety of eating disorders and body dysmorphia. That’s why we connected with Jim Stoppani to talk about the real facts behind body fat percentage, what’s realistic and what myths we can debunk here and now. Let’s jump into it.

What is a normal body fat percentage range?

Body fat percentage is the relative amount of fat you are holding on your body compared to your overall weight and size. That’s why we speak in terms of percentages rather than specific units of measurements. Depending on your height and overall weight – the ideal numbers can be different.

So when it comes specifically to body fat percentage – the healthy amount is often much higher than individuals seem to realize. Jim Stoppani explains that the average healthy range of body fat tends to be somewhere between 15-20%. These values shift depending on if you are a man or a woman. Women tend to carry more body fat genetically.

Jim Stoppani, however, land squarely at 5% body fat typically. This is due to his consistent and fitness focused lifestyle. As you can see, that’s a big gap from the typical healthy average. And it’s this kind of gap that can lead an average non-athlete individual to expect a lower number. Jim Stoppani wants to clear the air for those who focus to heavily on their body fat percentage. If you are in a 15-20% range, don’t worry. You’re not fat. And it’s not a sign, generally, that you are unhealthy.

Could Ronnie Coleman’s below 1% body fat claims be true?

It’s impossible to know whether or not Ronnie Coleman’s past statement about being below 1% is true. However, it is possible despite what many would have you believe. Typically, it’s understood that an athlete cannot go below 3-4% body fat due to the vital fat your organs need to function. This is true. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to bring that percentage lower.

Jim Stoppani explains that Ronnie Coleman, theoretically, could have gotten his body fat down to below 1%. However, to do that he would have had to turn to some serious drugs. No only that, but the very act of burning such vital fat is extremely unhealthy and dangerous. So yes, it is possible. But no, you shouldn’t aim for such a goal.

Jim Stoppani can’t speak for Ronnie Coleman, but he does have a fair understanding about pro bodybuilding. He reminds us that it’s an extreme sport and we’ve seen athletes go to extreme measures to succeed. Ronnie himself shattered the barrier of just how massive and shredded a bodybuilder could be on stage. So it’s not beyond reason to think he would have pushed hard to some dangerous areas to bring his body fat down extremely low as well.

Ultimately, this is all speculation. We can’t determine the validity or the actions of Ronnie Coleman regarding his body fat claims. But it is important to know the truth. While it’s not naturally possible, there are ill-advised ways to bring your body fat below 3%.

When should you worry about having too high body fat?

So how much fat is too much fat? When should you start actually worrying about that percentage number as an average non-athlete individual? Jim Stoppani explains that you should only be worried if you are over 30% body fat. That’s when you are considered obese. Anything below that should not be a worry from a general health standpoint. Unless you are trying desperately to look muscular and shredded – don’t get too bent out of shape over a 16% or 18% body fat level.

Wrap Up

Whether you are a competitive bodybuilder or just a fan, it’s easy to get sucked into the alternate reality of body fat percentages in bodybuilding. However, it’s important to remember that there is a wide difference between average healthy body fat percentages and what pro athletes do (and risk) to be the best in the world.

You can watch Jim Stoppani explain in detail, and debunk some common misconceptions, in our latest GI Exclusive interview segment above.

Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.