We all come in different shapes and sizes, and while much of that has to do with lifestyle and environmental factors, some of it boils down to the genetic “body type” we were born into.
In the 1940’s, psychologist William Sheldon used his research to categorize human bodies into three different groups or “somatotypes.” Somatypes remain relevant and researched today. Our differences occur based on skeletal structure, hormonal influences, and metabolism (the rate we convert food to energy). While you can’t choose which type you were born into, you can choose a dietary and exercise style that sets you up for the most success when it comes to gaining and maintaining lean muscle and losing fat (which is typically the goal).
You know that friend who can order chicken and waffles for brunch and pizza for dinner but is still skinny! Yeah. This is them. Ectomorphs are categorized as having a lighter, leaner, more narrow skeletal frame, as well as being taller, having longer limbs and smaller joints. They make for great models! They also have faster metabolic rates. While seemingly being able to eat whatever you want sounds like a dream, ectomorphs often have a hard time gaining weight and putting on lean muscle because they wind up having to eat way more calories than they feel like eating to have an impact. An ectomorph can have a hard time fitting in in a world that touts big butts and thick thighs. Ectomorphs will often choose endurance sports or sports where being lighter can be an advantage. Ballet, rock climbing, gymnastics, marathon racing or cycling would be great sports for an ectomorph.
We’ve run across many ectomorphs who because of their “skinny” frame have never exercised. It can feel like they don’t need to because they do not have the discomfort of disliking their scale weight or pants size. However, an inactive ectomorph is likely to become “skinny-fat” which means they will have high body fat percent and very low muscle tone and still experience the same signs of being deconditioned and unhealthy, such as being winded carrying the groceries.
Famous ectomorphs include: Gisele Bündchen, Gwyneth Paltrow, Roger Federer, Michael Phelps
Diet: You may not always feel hungry or you may find yourself working though your lunch break without even noticing, however, stay on top of the timing of your meals, keeping them frequent, maybe every 3 to 4 hours. This will make it easier to keep on lean muscle mass. Be consistent with your meals. Ideal macronutrients breakdown can look like: 50% carbs, 25% fat, 25% protein. Your body type handles carbohydrates well, so they can be a higher percentage of your diet than other body types. This is not an invitation to eat the bread basket at dinner. Pile on high-quality, low-processed carbs like sweet potato, baked potato, rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and whole grain breads.
Exercise Tips: Doing a lot of long duration cardio activities may be tempting because they feel slightly easier for you, however this can detrimental when it comes to putting on healthy weight and lean muscle. Focus on lifting weights and lifting heavy, keeping reps between 6 to 10. Lay off the cardio for building lean muscle.
Mesomorphs are likely to have a more athletic build, broader shoulders and back compared to ectomorphs. They have an easier time gaining muscle mass if active. They typically will make great bodybuilders and excel in sports that require a mix of athletic demands like speed, agility and power. These sports include soccer, basketball, and hockey. Their metabolism is not as forgiving as ectomorphs.
We tend to run into mesomorphs who were former college athletes. While in college and performing at a high level of activity seven days a week, they were strong, muscular, and lean. However, in the post-college life where they are sitting at a desk all day and not adjusting calorie or food choices according to a less active lifestyle, they are now thicker and overweight due to extra body fat on an already muscular frame.
Famous mesomorphs include: Sylvester Stallone, Jessica Biel, Julian Edelman, Dana Lynn Bailey (bodybulding)
Diet: Effective macronutrients may be around 35-40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30-35% fat. Mesomorphs can gain or lose weight pretty quickly depending on how diligent you are with your diet, so just because you’re muscular, don’t think you can eat whatever you want. Stay away from junk food, it’ll catch up to you. However, if you focus on eating clean, whole foods 80-90% of the time, you can get away with some controlled cheat meals one to two times per week.
Exercise Tips: Take a balanced approach to cardio and the weight room. A lot of different training styles will help contribute to your naturally lean muscular physique. Keep your routines fresh by switching between heavy weight/low reps (4-8 reps) and a more bodybuilding approach of moderate weight/more reps (12-15 reps). For cardio, put your athleticism to the test by doing more plyometric style exercises that involve jumping, sprinting, slamming, or CrossFit-style conditioning challenges.
Other words we may use to describe endomorphs might be “full-bodied,” “curvy,” or “big-boned.” These body types tend to have a larger bone structure, a higher body fat percentage, and carry more weight in their lower half. Getting results through dieting may be slightly more challenging or slower. Athletically, endomorphs tend to be naturally strong and make great powerlifters due to increased mass, wider frames, and shorter limbs.
If you’re an endomorph, you’re in really good company! Some famous endomorphs include Marilyn Monroe, Chris Pratt, Russell Crowe, Oprah Winfrey, Brian Shaw (Strong Man pro) and Jennifer Lopez.
You may feel like you clearly fit into one of these categories, however it is also possible to be somewhere in between categories. Aesthetics do not always equate to health. The way someone looks or what category they fall into does not necessarily mean they are healthier than another body type category. There are plenty of endomorphs who may be larger but healthier than their seemingly-skinnier ectomorph counterpart. The goal is to be your healthiest self within your framework.
Diet: Excess calories tend to “stick” a little bit more for endomorphs. Try being a little more diligent with tracking your caloric intake and sticking to your allotted calorie count with the help of food journaling (apps like Lose It! and My Fitness Pal work great). This may also mean that you have a lower carbohydrate tolerance than other body types, so keep them lower. A great time to have your carbohydrates is right after exercise so it is processed by your body more efficiently. An effective macronutrient breakdown may look like this: 25% carbs, 35% protein, 40% fat. This fits really well with paleo or ketogenic lifestyles of eating.
Exercise Tips: Chances are that when it comes to strength training, you’re a lot stronger than the cardio bunnies heading into spin class. Channel your inner powerlifter and strong man by putting yourself on a progressive strength training program and have fun getting really strong. Measuring your success by your scale weight alone could drive you crazy, so measure success in other ways like how strong and conditioned you’re getting and how much tighter you are feeling. Unfortunately, you do have to move more, so to speed up your fat loss you can’t skip your cardio. Consider doing one or two bouts per week of a long duration outdoor walking or incline treadmill walk per week (45+ min) and another day of high intensity interval training (HIIT). You may hate cardio, but it could be crucial to getting results.
While paying more attention to your macros and mode of exercise to better suit your body type can help move the needle in the right direction, remember that there are bigger picture, cornerstones of health that need to be the priority FIRST. We call these the non-negotiables…
You STILL need to be eating healthfully to maximizing your nutrient value from food (vegetables, fruits, adequate protein, minimally-processed food, low sugar)
You STILL have to move! Inactivity (no exercise and sedentary lifestyles) will set you up for poor metabolic health.
If you want to lose weight you STILL have to be eating in a calorie deficit, and if you want to gain weight, you must be eating in caloric abundance, regardless of what your macronutrient breakdown is.
It’s likely that your body type is different then the friends, family or instagram model that wants to give you advice on what you should be doing and how you should be eating. Keep in mind their ideal plan might not be your ideal plan.
Percision Nutrition (PN)
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)