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Fitness & Health

07th Mar 2019

This American football player is 1.6% body fat – we asked a doctor if this is healthy

American football player D.K. Metcalf wowed fans with staggeringly low levels of body fat. We asked a doctor what happens when you get too ripped

Alex Roberts

March is a momentous month in the world of American Football

It’s the time of year when the NFL Combine occurs. This is essentially a scouting event, where the top players from the college game compete in a series of physical tests in order to get scouted by a side from the NFL.

The list of challenges includes:

  • 100kg bench press, as many reps as possible
  • 40 yard dash
  • Vertical jump
  • 20 yard shuttle runs

One player to raise eyebrows this year has been D.K. Metcalf. The 21-year-old plays as a wide receiver for Ole Miss Rebels – the team attached to the University of Mississippi.

Numerous media outlets across the pond claim Metcalf sits at just 1.6% body fat. Despite these extremely low levels, he posted some seriously impressive numbers over the course of the NFL Combine.

He ran the 40-yard dash in just 4.33 seconds.

Metcalf also put up a 40.5 inch vertical leap, and performed 27 reps of the 225 lb (100 kilogram) bench press.

Last year, Ole Miss’ strength coach posted this clip of D.K. Metcalf (first in the footage) performing a 350 lb power clean (158 kilograms).

This lift put him on par with the numbers posted by the heaviest players in the team. Metcalf’s position is wide receiver – essentially the American football equivalent of a winger in rugby.

It usually isn’t normal to hold such low levels of body fat while competing at the top level of any sport. But it hasn’t seemed to hold D.K. Metcalf back.

We asked a doctor whether it was healthy to hold this level of body fat, and what happens when you get too ripped.

Dr. John Rogers is a sports and exercise medicine consultant at the Manchester Institute of Health & Performance.

JOE: When does low body fat normally become unhealthy?

Dr. Rogers: “For men, it’s below 6% and for women below 14%.”

Where do most top professional athletes rank?

“Female athletes usually have a body fat percentage in the region of 14 to 20%. Male athletes tend to have a body fat percentage in the region of 6 to 13%.”

Usually, lowering your body fat reveals abs, but there is more to it than just losing weight. As well as shedding the pounds, visible abs are related to sex, how developed the abdominal muscles are and level of hydration.

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring for Juventus against Manchester United (Michael Steele/Getty Images)

What happens when body fat is too low?

“This can cause multiple serious health and performance related problems which can be summarised by the term Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S).”

RED-S is a recognised condition and is caused when not enough food and drink is consumed to fuel exercise and normal body functions.

In can affect the body in a number of ways:

  • Menstrual function in women
  • Endocrine system (hormones)
  • Musculo-skeletal (bone and muscle)
  • Gastrointestinal (digestive)
  • Cardiovascular system (heart and circulation)
  • Immune system function and growth and development.

Because of this, RED-S has the potential to negatively impact sporting performance.

What is the healthiest way to reduce body fat?

“Ultimately, it’s by consuming fewer calories than we expend on a regular basis i.e. eating less and exercising more.

“Food choices are also important but it is very easy to get this wrong. It is best done by working with a qualified sports nutritionist or dietitian. For a list of suitably qualified professionals who can advise you, visit”

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