Body fat percentage (BFP) is something that almost every athlete measures on a regular basis. The thinking is that the lower the BFP, the better the athlete. There is some logic to that thinking, but it's not quite correct.
It is true that a low BFP (<13% in men, <20% in women) means that some activities become easier. Activities like running, cycling, jumping etc. where a low BFP means less loading on the muscles.
However, in water-based sports like swimming, a slightly higher BFP gives you buoyancy, and lets you perform better.
Similarly, in long-distance or endurance sports, a higher BFP means access to a larger store of of energy, so will also allow you to perform better.
Perhaps the most important factor of BFP, though, is the increased risk of muscle injury.
One of the functions of body fat is to provide insulation to the muscles. As you can see in the picture above (Cristiano Ronaldo has a BFP of roughly 10%), low BFP leaves the muscles sitting quite superficially to the skin, this makes them highly reactive to the temperature of the air. They cool-down quickly, and become stiff.
If you try to play on cold, stiff muscles, you are are a very high risk of injuring yourself.
Your ideal BFP is up to you, your coach, and your dietician to decide, however, if you do have a BFP of <13% in men, or <20% in women, then there are some extra steps you must add in to your injury prevention plan, if you want to stay off the bench.
Constant warm-up. Do you normal warm-up before any exercise, but also repeat that warm-up whenever the is a break. Jog on the spot while the coach explains the next drill, do some air-squats while you wait for the opposition to take a penalty, do some push-ups during a time-out etc.
Extra-long stretch sessions. Static stretching after exercise should take about 30sec per stretch, and you should be doing every stretch twice. If you have a low BFP, do your stretches THREE times over on each side to make up for the extra tension put through the muscles.
Rug-up whenever possible. All day, every day, stay warm. When you're exercising, wear thin layers instead of exposing skin.
Add those 3 steps to your plan and your BFP should not be a factor in your rate of injury.
For more information on BFP, email me directly via the contact page. For specific information on an injury you have, or for treatment, contact one of my clinics directly. You can find that information here.
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Dr Mitch Clark