Extremely Low Body Fat as a Performance Decrement

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Over the past couple years I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon that I don’t have a research-based physiological explanation for. I’ve noticed that people tend to perform better at slightly higher body fat percentages. Not big or fat by any means but slightly higher than rock bottom, paper thin-skin body fat values. In fact, other than some rare cases, most athletes don’t seem to perform there best when at their lowest body fat percentages. This seems to be especially true for activities placing a premium on strength or low end power. To throw out some observational estimated figures, I’d say that 7-10% body fat appears to be the sweet spot for performance and better for performance than 4-6% body fat (the lower limits of what is physiologically possible). Is this because peak performances usually occur during times when training volumes are lower…which when combined with unmodified caloric intake lends itself to increased body fat values? Or could it be that slightly higher body fat percentages facilitate more efficient neural transmissions? Perhaps it’s because achieving extremely low body fat percentages requires what is essentially a slight starvation that in turn affects performance. I’m not exactly sure but I’ve seen this phenomenon enough times in athletes I’ve worked with to question the usual paradigm that athletes should strive for the lowest possible body fat percentages. Ultimately it doesn’t matter because repeated real-world performance improvements trump scientific explanation. I guess it’s just another example of optimal being neither minimal or maximal.
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Mike Young

Mike Young

Founder of ELITETRACK at Athletic Lab
Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology from Ohio University, an MSS in Coaching Science from Ohio University & a PhD in Biomechanics from LSU. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Level 3 coach by USA Track & Field, a Level 2 coach by USA Weightlifting.
Mike Young

@mikeyoung

@AthleticLab Owner. Fitness coach for @NorthCarolinaFC & @TheNCCourage. Former MLS Fitness Coach. Sport Scientist. Entrepreneur. Coach Educator.
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Mike Young
Mike Young
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