BodybuildingSports Science

What Body Type am I – Mesomorph, Endomorph or Ectomorph?

Wondering how the guy on the front page of the latest fitness magazine looks so good and want to have a body just like his? Well, the sad truth is – you may not be able to. This is because your body type will affect many aspects of your training routine, diet and shape. And now it’s time for you to answer the all-important question: “what body type am I – mesomorph, endomorph or ectomorph?”


What Body Type am I – A Brief Introduction

No matter how much you train, eat, or how dedicated you are, it may be impossible to achieve a particular physique. But you will be glad to know (I hope) that it is not your fault. It is likely the fault of your mum and dad, or to put it more scientifically – genetics.

You may have already read a little bit about the three main body types – or to use their proper name – somatotypes. We have conducted extensive research to bring you the most comprehensive overview of the subject to allow you to more accurately answer the question “What body type am I?” and more importantly, we have searched for scientific evidence to support or contradict the claims that people react differently to certain forms of diet and exercise based on their body type.

Some sceptics claim that people are able to transform body type. Even if there is potential to transform between the primary body types (therefore dispelling the myth that you are predominantly one more than the other), evidence suggests that your current body composition indeed plays a part in what kinds of diet, exercise and supplementation you require.

A scientific study compared footballers, kayakers and basketball players to check the influence of somatotype 1. They compared low-level and elite athletes, and the study showed that the morphometric characteristics (posh term for body shape) of the athletes’ body can be used as guiders and markers for the chosen sport and method of training.

Before we delve deeper into the subject, it is worth noting that although there will be perfect examples of each of the somatotypes, it is likely you will be a mix of two or even three of them. In the majority of situations the prominent type should be easily identifiable, providing a great starting point for your training and dieting programme.

The man responsible for categorising the body types was William Sheldon. He also attributed psychological traits. We have decided to include these – although just for fun. Sheldon’s work on the psychological matters was heavily criticised due to his own stereotypical and discriminatory views and so have long been discarded.

The somatotypes can be briefly described as follows:

Endomorph – usually larger, rounder, store fat easily, find weight loss challenging.

Mesomorph – typically have a more muscular and leaner physique. Put on muscle mass and lose fat more easily.

Ectomorph – smaller and leaner, store less fat and find it harder to build muscle.

The Endomorph

If you believe you only have to look at a slice of pizza to put on weight (or actively absorb fat from the air – as my endomorphic partner says) and no matter how hard you exercise the fat stubbornly refuses to budge, you are probably an endomorph. Your tendency to store body fat is higher than other body types and you may find it harder to shift the fat when you do diet and exercise. Your genetics would have been fantastic several trillion years ago when storing fat would have been an evolutionary advantage. Unfortunately, in today’s world, these genes are not as desirable.

William Sheldon described them as enjoying food, people and affection, being prone to complacency and having slow reactions. All nonsense, of course. Laziness is not determined by your body type, but by your character!

How Should I Train?

If your primary goal is to lose weight, you have many options. However, I wish I knew lifting weights would help preserve muscle when I first began exercising. Yes, I got slimmer, and smaller and my BMI was perfect but my stomach would still hang. I didn’t understand it. So if you are looking to lose some weight – no matter what your body type, you need to make weight training the basis of your programme. “But I’ll look like a bodybuilder!” I hear the ladies cry. Don’t worry – your hormones mean less testosterone, and therefore less capacity for building muscle. What you will end up with is that toned look you’re probably looking for. Without weight (resistance) training, you will likely get smaller, yet end up still feeling a little squidgy and podgy – like I did. Of course, if your fitness goal is to get smaller and you don’t like the idea of being toned, cardio will form your cornerstone. Check out the Cardio Series to find some cool exercises you can do to get you on your way.

If looking to gain weight and “bulk” up, you should base your workout around large compound movements – such as squats and deadlifts, performing lower, heavy reps (4-6). To minimise fat gain, some higher volume sets with low rest periods will help burn more calories. Taking part in more cardiovascular exercises will also help keep fat gains at bay. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has been shown to increase fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities2; an example being a reduction in Glycogenolysis. Glycogenolysis is the biochemical breakdown of glycogen to glucose in response to hormonal and neural signals.

In short:

  • Train more frequently to burn extra calories
  • Engage in HIIT cardio work
  • Lift heavy to stimulate muscle growth
  • In addition, include high-volume (higher reps and lower weight), with short rest periods to increase fat oxidisation.

For a detailed training plan, check out this awesome routine.

Are There Benefits of Being an Endomorph?

Losing weight in a structured way means that once the fat is gone, you will likely reveal a muscular or toned physique that has simply been hiding under the fat; something that an ectomorph would likely take a while of bulking to achieve. There are ongoing debates about whether it is possible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. However, even those who claim this to be impossible concede that – if just starting out, and especially if you have a higher body fat percentage – this is possible – both of which are relevant to the endomorph just starting out on their journey. If looking to gain mass, you will be able to put on muscle effectively, so it’s not all bad.

What Should I Eat?

Well, as usual, this will depend on your fitness goals. If you are bodybuilding and are looking to do a “bulk”, you would ideally try to make this bulk as lean as possible. Your tendency to put on and store fat means that a careless bulk would be detrimental. A lean bulk is advisable for everyone, however, you are most likely to benefit from it. A study on women with obesity3, (who would typically fit this somatotype) concluded that a more carbohydrate restricted diet led to greater weight loss and slightly better body composition change. The study was based on participants with genes associated with obesity, and state that matching the diet based on gene types exhibited better retention of fat free mass. This seems to support other diet recommendations that less carbs are beneficial, but also supports the potential link between gene type and diet suitability.

Click here to find an article dedicated to the endomorph diet

The Mesomorph

Characteristics

You may very well know people who have the classic, and much sought after “V-shape”, yet have never set foot in a gym. If so, it is likely they are a mesomorph. They are the envy of the bodybuilding community as they tend to have the natural shape that many aspire to. So it will likely come as no surprise that arguably the greatest bodybuilder of all time – Arnold Schwarzenegger – is one.

William Sheldon stated that they were inclined towards physical adventure and risk taking. They could be courageous, vigorous and dominant. But remember, this is yet another of Sheldon’s psychological stereotypes that is now disregarded.

How Should I Train?

Mesomorphs classically put on muscle mass most effectively, and lose fat easily, too. Low intensity cardio is more than adequate when cutting. By simply cutting calories and lifting weights a few times week, the weight will drop and muscle mass will not be massively affected. Walking, jogging or a gentle session on the treadmill or exercise bike will see you good.

If bodybuilding, you will likely react well to most kinds of stimulus. Due to your already athletic frame, you can target strength by doing low reps (4-6) on a heavy weight. Make the workouts low volume and high intensity. You will gain strength fast, and pack on mass, too. Remember, you need to enjoy your workouts. So if you are not interested in strength, and performing heavy, low reps bores you, you have the luxury of opting for volume – i.e. higher reps, and lower weights, and your body will still react well and want to put on muscle.

In short:

  • Slower, low intense cardio will be adequate for losing weight – walking, light jogging, or gentle sessions on the treadmill are all fine
  • HIIT will work, but not as necessary as for the endomorph. Remember to enjoy your workout – if you prefer HIIT – then do it!
  • Stick to compound movements, and make heavy, low rep sets the staple of your workout programme.
  • You don’t need to hit the gym 5 or 6 times per week to see results

Want a detailed training plan? The awesome guys over at Cellucor have produced this fantastic Mesomorph Diet & Workout Plan.

Are There Benefits of Being a Mesomorph?

The mesomorph, being the best of both worlds (allegedly), naturally has the higher level of benefits which have been touched on. A more appropriate label would be: are there any setbacks? So here we will cover that issue. And the answer, in a nutshell is: yes. If you are not interested in packing on muscle, but you want to keep in shape and go to the gym and work out, you might be unhappy with the gains you are making. If you are a female frightened of putting on too much muscle mass with a straightforward resistance programme, this fear is more relevant to the mesomorph. But even then, unless you are constantly in a state of progressive overload, you are unlikely to turn into the hulk – even after years of training.

What Should I Eat?

The good news is that you can eat a higher calorie diet, without worrying as much as an endomorph about excessive fat gain. If bodybuilding, we advise to target the higher end of the lean gain spectrum to maximise your body’s natural ability to put on muscle – for example, why put on 1lb of lean muscle per month when your genetics provide potential for 1.3lb? Your body’s ability to lose fat more efficiently means that if you do put on a little too much during a bulk, you can lose it without compromising your gains too much. Many of the people you will see on youtube stating that they always “dirty bulk” (eat what they like) are mesomorphs looking to maximise their ability to synthesize muscle with little regard to the extra fat they might put on. Or they are on steroids – which is usually easy to spot!

If looking to lose fat, you can keep eating your carb rich foods, and so long as you ensure adequate protein intake and fill the rest of your calorie allocation with fats, you should be fine. There are many calculators designed to assist you with establishing your caloric needs. Fitness Savvy have one in development, but for the time being, a simple google search for Base Metabolic Rate is a great place to start.

The Ectomorph

Characteristics

In a nutshell, your friend who eats what they like and never puts on a pound, is skinny as a rake (as they used to say – not sure this is even an expression anymore – please comment to let me know. If this is no longer in commercial use, please let us know what terms are socially acceptable in 2017), likely has narrow shoulders and a smaller or more “delicate” bone structure, the chances are they fall into this category. You might also notice – if he or she were to take off their top – that they have visible abs, possibly having never trained them before. This is typically due a lower body fat percentage.

If you are an ectomorph you will find it difficult to put on muscle mass. You will be a “hardgainer”, as they say. A hardgainer is not a branded name of an erectile dysfunction aid, rather someone who finds it “hard to gain” mass. Obviously. You will also obliterate fat at an enviable rate.

William Sheldon’s psychological profile proposed they were inclined to desire solitude and would display tense or anxious traits and would likely be more introverted. All nonsense, as we have already said. But, you know, just making sure you remembered and are not getting offended by it.

How Should I Train?

If you are an ectomorph, I would stick my neck out and assume that your primary fitness goal is not weight loss. If it is, I would recommend seeing your GP before partaking in any weight loss activity. This is always advisable before making any sudden changes to diet and exercise, but none more so than in this scenario. But if you are looking to maintain your current weight and partake in regular exercise or put on some mass, you will need to up your calories to match your activity level. Cardio is not necessary to keep fat levels down, as your roaring metabolism will take care of this. Of course, cardiovascular health is important, and so walking or some low intensity cardio a few times a week is still recommended.

In regards to lifting weights, you want to burn as few calories as possible while working your muscles to a suitable level. Heavy compound movements with long rest times is the most appropriate course of action. However, any weight training programme would suit an ectomorph, providing the diet is on point.

In short:

  • Perform cardio for the health benefits – a couple of times per week is more than adequate
  • Engage in heavy compound movements with long rest periods (3-4 minutes between sets)
  • You tend to recover faster, so you could add an extra resistance session per week  if looking to build muscle, or workout for longer – but ensure you are consuming enough calories to meet the extra workload.

Check out this definitive Ectomorph Diet & Workout Guide for more info.

Are There Benefits of Being an Ectomorph?

If being a superior fat burning machine is not enough, then I don’t know what is. You will naturally lean bulk if choosing to put on mass, and any fat you do put on can be lost so fast it’s not even funny. Not one bit. If you love eating, you can train and eat and then eat some more and eat again. And then again, if you chose. And eat even if you are not training. If you are looking to maintain your current weight, you can eat plenty and do the bare minimum of cardio to maintain a shiny coat and strong teeth.

What Should I Eat?

Everything you can possibly lay your hands on. No holds barred. If it is edible, eat it. If it’s not edible, eat it anyway and see if it helps. The flowchart below should help you decide whether you should eat it or not.

On a Serious note, it might seem like you should eat pizza and ice cream 7 times a week in a frantic effort to put on some weight while training or to just simply maintain, but this will only lead to problems later down the line.

Weight gain supplements are certainly something to consider if looking to cram in some extra calories. They are formulated to help you gain mass without pumping high levels of negativity in your body, which as you can imagine, dilutes the proportion of micronutrients your body is receiving. Treat yourself with take outs so long as you are eating your 5-a-day of fruit and veg, and fill up the rest of your calories with supplements.

Final Words

 

While the debate as to whether body types justify their place in scientific text books seems to rage on, we believe that there is more than enough reasons to initially design your diet and exercise regime around the body type you resemble closest. Much of what you do while on your quest for your fitness goals will involve trial and error. But at least this provides a decent starting point.

Therefore, Fitness Savvy conclude that body types are far from an out and out myth and have filed in our No-Bro Zone.

If this article has helped you answer the question “What body type am I?” – or even if it hasn’t – please feel free to share your experience in the comments section.

References:

  1. Gutnik B, Zuoza A, Zuozienė I, Alekrinskis A, Nash D, Scherbina S. Body physique and dominant somatotype in elite and low-profile athletes with different specializations. Medicina (Kaunas). 2015;51(4):247-52.
  2. Perry CG, Heigenhauser GJ, Bonen A, Spriet LL. High-intensity aerobic interval training increases fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities in human skeletal muscle. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Dec;33(6):1112-23.
  3. A Coletta, B Sanchez, A O’Connor, R Dalton, S Springer, M Koozehchian, YP Jung, S Simbo, M Cho, C Goodenough, A Reyes, R Sowinski, L Wilkins, C Rasmussen and RB Kreider: Effects of matching diet type to obesity-related genotype on body composition changes in women during a six-month resistance-exercise training and walking program. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015; 12(Suppl 1): P16.

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Rob is the founder and CEO of Fitness Savvy. He's online most of the time and happy to answer questions regarding nutrition, fitness and the site in general.

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