For some of you this is going to be old news, but for some of you, this might bring a bit of an understanding as to what your "essence” is and your body-type. There are three body-types that are well known in the world of fitness, physique, and nutrition. They are ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. In this blog post I will give you some information on each of these body-types, and what they mean in relation to your health and fitness.
By and large your body-type is the result of your genetics, bone-structure, and also on some levels your training and nutritional history. For the most part ectomorphs are ectomorphs for life, and this rings true for the other two as well. However, with extreme dedication it is possible to slide the scale a bit here. Each of the body-types will naturally respond a bit better to different nutritional and training approaches.
The body-types are the same for male and female. I apologize to my female readers that I have only provided male illustrations. These body-types will hold true for both males and females and as you read through the article you will be able to identify people in your life who fit these body-types from both the females and males in your circle.
These people are also known as hard-gainers, bean-poles. scrawny, naturally skinny, etc. Generally speaking these folks have a hard time gaining weight and have a naturally high metabolism. Not very strong, but can probably run forever. If they stop lifting weights, they’ll lose weight. The generally have narrower shoulders, and skinny waists to boot. These people are not necessarily weak, but it would be a bit of a stretch for an ectomorph to end up with the physique of a strong-man. Endurance athletes can be examples of an ectomorph build. It is also more common here for tall-people to be ectomorphs but that definitely does not mean that short people cannot be ectomorphic.
It is most natural for this body to burn energy.
For these folks to gain weight and put on muscle, it will take dedication because they are going to have to eat a lot. Generally speaking, for an ectomorph to gain significant muscle they are going to need to utilize carbohydrates as their main source of fuel, and also eat a lot of protein to support muscle-gain. Their macro-split may look like 55% Carbs, 25% Protein, and 20% Fat. They will also have to end each day with a caloric surplus which means they are taking in more calories than they burn in a day. This can lead to a lot for a small person if they are training to put on muscle.
For training, these people will want to focus on hypertrophy and strength training with a focus on high intensity and low volume. If these people do too much “cardio” or “high intensity” training they will not be able to put on weight or gain muscle.
At their best, these people can have quite nice physiques if they can manage to put on some muscle, because it will be relatively easy for them to maintain a low body-fat which will show off the muscles they do have. Athletically their strength to weight ratio can make them effective. Both of these are generalizations and of course there are exceptions to be found. Given our societies demands on women to look a certain way, this would be the most advantageous body-type because they do not have to work very hard to have that skinny-figure. Most men however are going to feel small or not masculine enough as an ectomorph.
At their worst, these people are going to be “skinny-fat” meaning that they will have small arms, small shoulders, no chest, and a fat gut, with skinny legs. They might look “skinny” in clothes, but on the beach you’d wonder how the beer gut and utter lack of muscle is possible.
These are the natural athletes. They are naturally muscular, well-built, well proportioned, and fall in the middle of ectomorphs and endomorphs. Strong and athletic. Think an NFL running back for an extreme example or a female bob-sledder. They have broad muscular shoulders, and proportional solid legs. Without touching a weight, these guys/girls will look like they spend time lifting weights. Generally speaking for males this would be the ideal body-type, and for females, some may think its too muscular.
It is natural for this body to build/retain muscle.
Mesomorphs can have a fairly balanced approach to training because pretty much anything they do will only enhance their affinity for building/retaining muscle-mass. In terms of nutrition, for maintaining a lean-muscled look they can have a balanced nutritional profile but will still be able to handle a decent amount of carbs because of their muscle-mass. The most advantageous macro-nutrient split for them is going to be something like 40% carbohydrates, 30% fat, and 30% protein. To perform well they will need to get in enough calorie to support their muscular frame. A caloric deficit will likely drive these folks crazy and to not performing well, whereas a caloric surplus will lead to them gaining muscle which may or may not be desired given their sport.
In my experience mesomorphs at their worst are going to end up nearer to the endomorphic side because they will be used to eating lots and if they gain fat it is going to be covering a lot of muscle so they will end up thick. At their best, like I mentioned earlier you can think of NFL running backs, female bob-sledders, etc. People whose physiques are quite awe-inspiring.
These are the husky, big-boned folks, who have large frames and high body-fat. These people are going to have to watch what they eat, and need to exercise. Being endo-morphic is not necessarily an indication of obesity, but it certainly can be. These are people who gain weight when they don’t exercise and have low metabolisms.
It is most natural for this body-type to want to store energy in the form of fat.
Think of shot-putters, line-men in football, for examples from sports. Endomorphs are very strong, but probably do not have the best endurance. For these people to optimize their body-composition they are going to have to limit their carb intake greatly, and focus on fat as their main fuel-source. The most advantageous macro-split for these folks is going to be 25% carbs (or less), 35% protein, and 40% fat. If an endomorph really needs to lose weight they will have to try and face a caloric deficit each day, meaning that they are burning more calories than they are eating. This can be really tough, and takes a lot of dedication. Exercise is greatly important for these folks. Depending on where they are at, just getting moving might be where things start. But, these people will benefit from a wide array of training methods from weight-training to pilates, to endurance focused training. But, the training has to be strenuous enough to burn significant calories.
At their best, these people are powerful athletes and can have a curvy, voluptuous figure. At their worst, they are simply obese. Society is not the kindest to the body-type, however generally speaking we are more accepting of male endomorphs than female endomorphs.
Sliding the Scale
I mentioned earlier that it is possible to slide these scales a bit. Although genetics is going to play a large part here for a lot of people, ones' training/nutritional history can also greatly influence it.
Ectomorphs- through years of weightlifting and eating a lot of good food they will be able to pass as mesomorphs to people who didn’t know them before. However, it is a bit of a stretch for a true ecto to become an endo. I am an example of sliding the scale from ecto to meso. Although my frame will always remain small, my bodies default mode is to now retain muscle no matter what I do. But, trust me, it took years of dedication. Puberty is slightly involved in these photos below but you can see I had started sliding the scale during my junior hockey days. This is the result of lifting heavy 5-6x/week and force-feeding myself to the point of waking up at 3am in the morning to have a "gainer" shake. The first picture is at the age of 18, and the second one is the age of 20.
Mesomorphs- Let’s be honest, they don’t really need to change. But, if they misbehave they can slide either way as well. If they starve themselves, they will retain their athletic bone structure, but could lose enough muscle mass to appear ectomorphic. If they over-eat and stop exercising, it is possible for them to become endomorphic.
Endomorphic folks, if they train hard, and begin eating well, they can definitely move towards the mesomorphic, as a lot of endo's also carry a fair bit of muscle. But, just like with the ecto’s turning meso, it will take years of hard work and dedication for the endo to pass for a meso. But it is certainly possible. It is quite unlikely for an endomorphic person to turn into an ectomorphic person however, just based on bone structure.
I think it is important for people to know about these body-types because an awareness of them can bring a bit of relief in the sense of being comfortable with your essence. Play to your strengths and be the best you. Also these different body types are going to respond differently to different types of training and nutritional profiles. If you are an ectomorph who is trying to put on muscle, but you are smashing a few 10km runs a week, and eating "keto" you are not going to reach your goals. If you are an endomorphic woman trying to lose some lbs, but you are eating a lot of carbs because you think high-fat eating is unhealthy and you are only doing yin-yoga, you will not lose weight.
Where do you fall in the three body-types, and can you identify any changes you can make based on this awareness? There is a lot of great information out there for how to train and eat for each body-type and I encourage you to do some more research on your own or shoot me a message.
Grit Human Performance