There’s no avoiding the fact that mesomorphs have things a bit easier than others. Their metabolisms are relatively efficient, they carry functional – if not athletic – muscle mass and are essentially ready to take on whatever fitness goal they please with minimal foundational work. But remember, while there are undoubtedly some people who look lean and fit with zero effort, they are the exception to the rule. Most individuals who present a more-mesomorphic body composition have developed it as a consequence of numerous factors over their entire lifetime. And for formally endo- or ectomorphic individuals who have improved their lifestyles, diets, and fitness, hard work and discipline are the biggest factors of all. A mesomorphic body type indicates a client is ready to transition to more advanced forms of power, athletic, and sport-specific training. Comparatively, diets for mesomorphic bodies should be tailored specifically to health and fitness goals. Protein should be consumed anywhere between 1.2 and 2.2 grams per kilogram body weight depending on the intensity of the exercise program, with remaining calories coming from a blend of healthy carbs and fats. Then, if changes in body composition are still desired, the daily calorie load can either be increased or decreased to gain or lose weight, respectively.
YOUR BODY TYPE IS NOT A LIFE SENTENCEThe observable somatotype represents the current sum of their physical, dietary, and lifestyle choices up to that point in time, combined with a variety of uncontrollable factors influenced by both genetics and the surrounding environment. For example, at one extreme end of the spectrum, a person who has easy access to high-quality food, makes habitually healthy diet choices, is free of chronic disease, and consistently trains at progressively higher intensities will always have a more functional, muscular, and leaner body composition. On the flip side, someone who always sits all day and eats a lots of excess calories from junk food will undoubtedly develop the “soft roundness” stated in Sheldon’s original classification of endomorphs.
But remember, a body type is not a life sentence. If it were, personal trainers and nutrition coaches would all be out of jobs. The fitness industry, at its core, is all about helping people learn to use tools they can control (i.e., improved lifestyle, diet, and exercise techniques) to overcome challenges presented by genetic and environmental factors that they otherwise have no agency over. Body type will shift based on lifestyle, activity, and diet modifications. This notion is made clear when looking at average physiques of elite athletes in different sports, where consistent training and diet standards lead to similar average body compositions grouped across the somatotype spectrum.
HOW TO TRAIN ENDOMORPHS
Training endomorphs should predominantly focus on fat loss techniques until a desirable body composition and functional cardiorespiratory efficiency have been achieved. Resistance training should be used to strengthen muscles and stabilize joints to support more-efficient movement elsewhere in life, but this population tends to need cardiorespiratory improvement and fat loss above all. In the gym, the majority of training sessions focused on metabolic conditioning. Use short rest periods, circuits for resistance exercises, lots of plyometrics (within client tolerance), and use as much additional time as possible for steady-state cardio. Consistent anaerobic and aerobic training will help endomorphic bodies increase their metabolic efficiency and boost the body’s daily energy requirement. Additionally, recommend that primarily-endomorphic clients increase their non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) factor as much as possible, moving more during times of the day when they’re not in the gym. Commitment to a less-sedentary lifestyle overall is the most important thing for this population to begin overcoming their metabolic challenges. Due to those slower metabolisms (regardless of the underlying cause) and a surplus of stored energy (body fat), nutritional solutions for primarily-endomorphic individuals should focus on techniques to maximize fat loss while still supporting, and even building, the existing lean muscle mass. To accomplish this, a diet that is both low-calorie and high in protein is ideal. Diets containing daily protein of as much as 2.2 grams per kilogram body weight (and sometimes even higher) have been shown safe and effective for supporting existing muscle tissue during times of calorie restriction and weight loss. After ensuring that daily protein requirements have been met, the remaining pool of calories can come from whatever blend of carbs and fats the individual best tolerates. Some may tolerate a very low-carb “ketogenic” diet that helps them preferentially burn even more fat throughout the day, while others will experience hypoglycemia and its associated nauseating symptoms without enough carbohydrates in their diet. This rings especially true during workouts, where carbs are important to fuel the higher intensities needed for cardiorespiratory improvement. But regardless of whether carbs or fats are the preferred source of energy, the most important thing is to determine the client’s total daily calorie requirement and keep food intake a bit lower (with still-ample protein) so that the body remains in a negative energy balance with as little muscle catabolism as possible.
ECTOMORPH BODY TYPE
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR BODY COMPOSITION
Research continues to prove that physical training and consistent, habitual changes to the diet have a strong influence on improving body composition. Metabolic conditions such as hyper- or hypothyroidism are fully within the realm of modern medicine to manage and improve, and chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes are manageable and can even be remedied in many cases through improvements to diet and exercise routines. Simply type “[exercise/diet] impact on body composition” into your favorite search engine and quickly become overwhelmed with the breadth of research spanning the last century. The human body is highly adaptable and always seeks homeostasis (i.e., equilibrium) within its environment. But it can take a while to break old patterns that the body has gotten used to. This fact – that change takes time and consistency – is more than likely what leads many people to resign to the notion that they are stuck in a somatotype; because change is hard, and it’s often far easier and convenient to chalk one’s body dissatisfaction up to forces beyond direct control. But this is also where Certified Personal Trainers and Nutrition Coaches have the most opportunity to build long-lasting relationships with clients. Muscle is healthily gained at around one pound per month, and fat healthily lost at around one pound per week. After a desirable body composition has been attained through lifestyle modification, physical training, and healthy changes to diet – and, more importantly, when those new habits are adopted and maintained permanently – the new body that is symptomatic of all those changes will eventually become the “new normal.” Metabolisms and appetites adjust to new energy intakes, physical activity becomes a natural part of the day instead of a chore, and someone who was predominately ectomorphic or endomorphic will eventually see themselves displaying far more mesomorphic traits over time.
HOW TO TRAIN ECTOMORPHS
Most ectomorphic clients have developed bodies with highly active metabolisms and “lanky” bone structures, making it hard for them to put on mass and keep it on. For this reason, exercise techniques for hypertrophy and maximal strength should be prioritized, with a greatly-reduced focus on cardio respiratory training to reduce overall energy utilization. After working through the initial level of the building a muscular foundation of pattern movements, Phases 3 and 4 will be of most benefit to average clients in this population. Hypertrophy and maximal strength resistance training are primarily anaerobic in nature and, when combined with longer rest periods, won’t stimulate elevated calorie burn in the moment like more-intense, fast-paced exercise programs will. When paired with a consistently-positive energy balance, this type of lifting will preferentially help ectomorphs build up their body mass. To accompany the mass gain-focused resistance training, ectomorphic bodies should eat a mass gain-focused diet. These individuals tend to burn through energy sources faster than most, so ample calories will be needed. Low-carb, fat-loss focused diets are not recommended here, and in some cases, it may be prudent to recommend that ectomorphic clients even incorporate “mass gainer” nutritional shakes into their diets. And just like with endomorphic bodies that are working to become more mesomorphic, ectomorphs need high levels of protein too. 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kilogram body weight of daily protein has been shown to be optimal for muscle growth, with some individuals requiring up to 2.2. That protein should then be spaced out every three hours so that muscle protein synthesis are maximized all day long. An additional protein shake at night, right before bed to minimize the fasting window, can also be beneficial for maximizing for individuals with difficulty gaining weight.
In the 1940s, American psychologist, William Herbert Sheldon, developed an interesting theory by associating body types with human temperament types. Sheldon proposed that the human physique can be classified according to the relative contribution of three fundamental elements. He called them somatotypes, after the three germ layers of embryonic development: the endoderm, which develops into the digestive tract; the mesoderm, which develops into muscle, heart, and blood vessels; and the ectoderm, which forms the skin and nervous system .
Ectomorphic type is characterized by long, thin muscles and limbs, and low fat storage—usually referred to as slim. Ectomorphs are not predisposed to store fat or build muscle. The mesomorphic type is characterized by medium bones, solid torso, low fat levels, and wide shoulders, with a narrow waist—usually referred to as muscular. Mesomorphs are predisposed to build muscle, but not store fat. The endomorphic type is characterized by increased fat storage, a wide waist, and large bone structure, usually referred to as fat. Endomorphs are predisposed to store fat.
Sheldon’s method of somatotyping was modified by American anthropologists Barbara Heath and Lindsay Carter, based on several tools for precise quantification of shape and composition of human body. The somatotyping is done with anthropometric and photographic methods. The scores of relative endomorphy, mesomorphy, and ectomorphy are calculated based on standard tables and preset equations.
There is evidence that different physiques carry cultural stereotypes. For example, endomorphs are likely to be perceived as slow, sloppy, and lazy. Mesomorphs, in contrast, are typically popular, and hardworking, whereas ectomorphs are often viewed as intelligent, but fearful.
The body type descriptions could be modulated by body composition. Certain diets, exercises, and training techniques may have a role in modulating body compositions. During starvation, an endomorph may resemble an ectomorph, while an athletic mesomorph may look like an endomorph as a result of loss of muscle, and adipose mass, or simply due to the aging process. However, certain characteristics of the somatotype cannot be changed. For example, the bone structure is a fixed characteristic, except for a few changes due to the reduction in the distance between joints due to aging or physical deformities. Even cultural conditions may lead to a tendency to change temperaments. Because of many such limitations, the constitutional psychology approach was not accepted by the scientific world, and is not in use much today. During Sheldon’s time, Western scientists generally may have been aware about the various Eastern traditional ways in which people are classified for the purpose of treatments. If Sheldon would have visited India, or had studied concept of Prakriti in Ayurveda, perhaps constitutional psychology would have gone on a different route. An eminent physician–scientist from India, R. D. Lele has found a correlation of somatotypes with Prakriti, where he links mesomorphs to Kapha, endomorphs to Pitta, and ectomorphs to Vata types. Sheldon’s classification might serve as a basis for Prakriti assessment.