What are Somatotypes?
Have you ever noticed it is harder for you to lose weight than one of your friends who eats similarly?
Or perhaps you have spent years frustrated that you can’t seem to gain muscle. It could be partly due to your somatotype or body type.
William H. Sheldon, PhD, MD, introduced the concept of body types, or somatotypes, in the 1940s. He reasoned that people are born with an inherited body type – that they have a genetic physical predisposition to a certain physique based on skeletal frame and body composition. He proposed that there are common elements among body types that suggests how much muscle or fat you tend to have, as well as how fast or slow your metabolism may be, and thus how easy or difficult it may be for you to lose weight.
Since then, nutritionists, exercise physiologists, and even doctors have used it to help design effective, individualized fitness plans. The gist is that everyone falls, though not altogether neatly, into one of three categories. Keep in mind that these are generalizations, and that most of us have characteristics of two or even all three somatotypes.
Benefits of knowing your body type
Knowing your dominant body type can help guide you toward healthy habits that will work best for your body to maximize your potential, not get frustrated by your limitations, and help you form more realistic goals. If you’re doing the same thing as someone else who doesn’t have your same body structure, you won’t get the same results. It helps to realign your expectations with what is possible for you.
But what exactly do these terms mean? And how does it affect athletic performance and training goals? Some experts say that by pinpointing your body type and understanding its unique strengths and challenges, you can tailor a diet and exercise plan that gets you faster to your nutritional goals and optimise physical abilities for your health and physique.
Those with an ectomorph body type are long and lean, with little body fat, and little muscle. They possess fast metabolisms. With low body fat and a smaller build, ectomorphs genetically find it harder than the other body types to gain bodyweight or build muscle mass. An athletic archetype of an ectomorph is the marathon runner.
Ectomorph Physical Traits
- Slight frame and bone structure
- Narrow shoulders
- Naturally lean
- Flat chest
- Fast metabolism
- Finds it difficult to gain weight
- Finds building additional muscle mass challenging
Ectomorphs tend to respond well to carbohydrates, so you can eat those freely. You’ll just want to choose healthy sources, including fibre-rich fruits, veggies, and whole grains. To optimize your health, reach for plenty of protein, including from lean animal sources and plants like nuts and seeds. Prioritizing protein will help with your muscle-building efforts. For snacks and meals, choose nutrient- and calorie-dense foods like nuts, dried fruits, sunflower seeds, and starchy vegetables, rather than lower-cal choices like fresh fruits and popcorn. Don't skimp on fat, either - make sure that 30% of your calories come from fat.
When exercising, ectomorphs should keep cardio or aerobic training to a minimum while concentrating on muscle-building moves with fairly heavy weights.
Endomorphs, on the other hand, have lots of body fat, lots of muscle, and gain weight easily. An endomorph body type is naturally predisposed to a ‘softer’ body mass and a higher body fat ratio. With a slower metabolism than the other body types, endomorphs are insulin dominant, meaning that their body more readily stores energy as body fat. However, endomorphs also gain muscle with relative ease. With the correct training and nutritional approach, endomorph athletes can truly optimise their physique and athletic performance, effectively harnessing their natural strength.
- Endomorph Physical Traits
- Soft body with minimal natural muscle definition
- Tend towards a round body shape
- Prone to gaining fat
- Usually, have a larger bone structure
- Slower metabolism
- Finds it more difficult than the other body types to lose fat
Endomorphs have slower metabolisms so don’t burn calories as fast as ectomorphs and mesomorphs. Excess calories are more likely to convert to fat. Some believe you’re also less tolerant to carbohydrates, so the best diet for your body type may be one with a higher fat and protein intake and a lower carbohydrate intake to help you lose body fat while keeping your energy level up.
If you're an endomorph, avoid crash dieting. It will only make your body cling to its fat reserves. Instead, adjust your diet so you're eating more frequent, smaller meals, no more than 5 hours apart. Try to eat slowly, and drink plenty of water. Eat lean proteins and high-fibre foods to help you feel full longer. And don't be fooled by the fat-free fad -- you need a little fat to stay healthy.
Endomorphs should do at least 30 minutes of moderately-paced aerobic activity five days a week. Try walking, jogging, bicycling, dancing, or any other activity that gets your heart pumping. When the pounds start coming off, add weight training two or three times a week to tone and strengthen your muscles.
A person who is a mesomorph is said to be genetically predisposed to having an athletic body, with a medium frame and bone structure. They are also thin, but not wiry, and if they work out, they find they build muscle easily. They both gain and lose weight without too much effort.
Mesomorph Physical Traits
- Medium frame
- Athletic and toned body
- Muscle definition
- Generally rectangular-shaped body
- Gains muscle easily
According to the tenets of the body type diet, people with mesomorph bodies should follow a balanced and well-rounded diet that doesn’t cut out food groups unnecessarily - a diet divided fairly evenly between the macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat). Mesomorphs tend to have good insulin sensitivity so they can eat a moderate amount of carbohydrates without wreaking havoc on their blood sugar levels. Genetically lucky mesomorphs may have an easier time than most staying slim and fit, but this can lead to a tendency to assume that they can handle an extra helping of dessert or a hiatus from the gym. But the same rules for health and well-being apply to them as to everyone else.
While mesomorphs are generally strong and muscular, they also run the risk of unwanted weight gain if they get off track with their diet and focus on weight lifting alone. A mesomorph workout must incorporate regular cardiovascular exercise if the goal is to stay lean and slim.
It’s common to feel you fit the characteristics of more than one somatotype. Some people tend to gain fat or muscle more in one part of the body than another. Classic combination somatotypes include pear-shaped ecto-endomorphs with thin, delicate upper bodies and high fat storage in the hips and thighs, and apple-shaped endo-ectomorphs, with high fat storage in the mid-section and thin lower bodies.