How do I calculate my body fat?

Too much body fat is bad news for health and performance, so what’s the right amount? Laura Tilt, investigates

(Image credit: Jesse Wild)

When it comes to body fat, less is generally better. Carrying too much fat increases the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes and weighs you down without contributing to forward motion.

In a 2011 study from the Department of Exercise Science at Washington University, scientists examined the threshold at which simulated gains in body fat affected performance.

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BMI Body mass indexEasily calculated; anyone can do itDoes not distinguish between fat and non-fat mass£0Poor; misleading for muscular people
BIA Bio Impedance Analysis, via electric current.Cheap to perform, widely available in home scales e.g. TanitaHydration level and skin temperature can skew resultsScales with BIA ~ £40Anywhere from 2-28%
Skinfold thickness Calipers used to measure skinfoldsIf done correctly by a trained individual, can be preciseImprecise application leads to inaccurate results; requires ISAK-trained tester£50Within 3-10%
DEXA Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometryOften described as the “gold standard”; detailed resultsExpensive£150Within 2-5%
Bod Pod Air Displacement Plethysmography (ADP)Rapid and reliableDoesn’t show distribution of body fat£49Within 1-2%

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Richard Windsor

Follow on Twitter: @richwindy

Richard is digital editor of Cycling Weekly. Joining the team in 2013, Richard became editor of the website in 2014 and coordinates site content and strategy, leading the news team in coverage of the world's biggest races and working with the tech editor to deliver comprehensive buying guides, reviews, and the latest product news.

An occasional racer, Richard spends most of his time preparing for long-distance touring rides these days, or getting out to the Surrey Hills on the weekend on his Specialized Tarmac SL6 (with an obligatory pub stop of course).