Ideal Body Fat Percentage for Triathletes

Triathlete wearing ti leaf lei, standing on beach, looking outward

If you're a triathlete, you know that extra weight can hinder your performance. When figuring out your ideal body fat percentage, you shouldn't follow the same guidelines as the average, nonathletic person. Additionally, remember that although triathlon-specific guidelines can be helpful, everybody has a different body type. Your body fat needs may not match another triathlete's.

Female Triathletes

Women triathletes should have an ideal body fat percentage of 12 to 16 percent, although it varies by person, according to the website Miss Triathlon. Comparatively, the average woman should have a body fat percentage ranging from 25 to 35. If you're a triathlete, the extra body fat can not only slow you down during training and in a race, but it puts you at a higher risk of developing an injury.

Male Triathletes

Male triathletes need even less body fat than female triathletes. Ideally, you should maintain a body fat of about 5 to 12 percent, compared to 9 to 15 percent for a non-triathlete male. For example, the website Triathlete states that 2011 junior world champion Lukas Verzbicas has 6 percent body fat, which enables him to run, accelerate and climb faster. If he had more fat, it could be considered deadweight, which would only slow him down.

Muscle Mass

For a triathlete, not all weight is the same. While body fat can hold you back, an increased muscle mass will actually give you more speed and strength. Since you'll use a variety of different muscles in a triathlon, it's important to keep a balance. Work out your full body, without neglecting any of the smaller muscles. Strengthen your core. This will result in more power and better, faster races.

Safety Considerations

Dangerously low body fat percentages -- anything below 12 for women and 5 for men -- can put you and your body at serious health risks. Like too much fat, too little fat is bad for you because it increases the chances of getting injured. Additionally, low body fat can compromise your immune system, so you'll get sick more often and have a harder time recovering from previous illnesses.