The reason we started this site was to help people get the advice and support they need to help achieve their personal health and fitness goals.
One topic that has a significant amount of information around it, but isn’t often discussed in the mainstream is the impact that your natural body type can have in the pursuit of your health and fitness objectives.
Once you’re able to understand your natural body type and how it can influence the effectiveness of your diet and workout routines, it’s possible to make subtle changes to both your nutrition and training to deliver more effective training results.
This article is designed to give you a solid top level understanding of:
- The different body types,
- How to determine your own body type,
- How your diet and fitness routines might be adapted to better suit your body type.
How did the idea of the three main body types come about?
The idea that we can all be categorised into three main body types is not a new concept. It was actually something that was originally developed back in the 1940’s by William H.
Sheldon as part of a theory he called ‘constitutional psychology’, where he suggested that everybody could be placed into one of three main body types (or somatotypes as he named it).
Over time, this concept has been honed and developed and is now often embraced by dieticians, fitness experts and those in the field of sports medicine to help tailor nutritional plans and training programmes.
By understanding the natural tendencies and body composition of each of the three main body types, plans can be tweaked and adjusted to give individuals a better chance of success.
What are the three main body types?
The three main body types that are commonly used to help tailor diet and fitness plans are ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph.
Each body type has distinct traits that distinguish them:
Ectomorphs tend to be thinner with naturally lean bodies, long limbs, a narrow waist, and a body composition that has lower amounts of both body fat and muscle mass.
They have a naturally fast metabolism and may struggle compared to other body types to gain weight or gain muscle.
Endomorphs are at the other end of the scale. They tend to have a larger bone structure and have a stockier build with broad shoulders, and a naturally slower metabolism.
They may struggle more than other body types with weight loss and shifting body fat, and can gain weight more easily.
Mesomorphs sit in the middle, with a body type that is athletic looking with a medium frame.
They naturally have a body composition that includes moderate muscle mass, moderate levels of body fat, and average metabolism.
How do you determine which body type you are?
Once you figure out which natural body type you have, you’re able to understand the potential physical and metabolic challenges associated with it.
So how do you determine your type?
Compare it to a diagram
There are a lot of diagrams on the internet (such as the one below from muscleandstrength.com) that give an illustrated representation of each of the body types.
From left to right, we have the ectomorph body type, the mesomorph body type and finally the endomorph body type:
One of the easiest ways to determine your type is to take a look in the mirror (or ask a friend or partner) and compare it to the illustration to see if there is a clear ‘type’ that you fall into.
A slight drawback to this approach is that it can be quite subjective and can be open to a little bit of bias! It also might be possible that you don’t clearly align with any of the three illustrations.
Measure your hips, shoulders and the circumference of your wrist
A more objective approach is to take a few comparative body measurements.
One suggestion is that you measure the width of your hips and your shoulders:
- If your shoulders are narrower than your hips you are likely an ectomorph.
- If your shoulders are roughly the same width as your hips, you are likely a mesomorph
- If your shoulders are wider than your hips, you are likely an endomorph.
Another suggestion is that you grip your wrist between your thumb and middle finger:
- If your middle finger and thumb overlap, you are likely an ectomorph.
- If your middle finger and thumb just touch, you are likely a mesomorph.
- If your middle finger and thumb don’t touch, you are likely an endomorph.
Take a quiz
If you’re still not too sure, there is a nice quiz on the Everyday Health website that includes the visual check, the shoulder/hip measurement, the exercise with your thumb and middle finger…as well as seven other questions.
How should I adjust my diet for my body type?
There isn’t any encouragement or supporting evidence to suggest you should have a complete overhaul of your diet after determining which body type you are.
Everyone should be encouraged to eat a healthy balanced diet, with foods from a variety of food groups that provide all the nutrients that the body needs.
However, with each of the main body types exhibiting a slightly different metabolism and producing different levels of insulin, making subtle changes to your diet might be the answer.
Working ‘with’ your body type rather than against it can help you achieve long-lasting fitness and give you that extra nudge towards your weight, fitness and training goals.
There is a great book called “Just Your Type” written by Phil Catudal and Stacey Colino that looks in more detail at the dietary choices that you might make based on your body type, that can help you lose fat, shift excess weight, promote muscle growth or gain weight more effectively.
Diet for Ectomorphs
As a broad overview, Ectomorphs are often blessed (or cursed depending on your perspective!) with a high metabolism that can give them the ability to eat whatever they want without gaining body weight.
Whilst this may sound great to many, it can be a source of incredible frustration for ectomorphs that are trying to bulk up who wish there was a way to gain weight easily.
The ectomorph body type can also commonly cause dietary complacency and poor eating habits.
If people equate weight with health so if you can eat whatever you want without putting on weight, why not eat all the junk food you want?
Unfortunately, there’s a term called ‘skinny fat’ which relates to people (often ectomorphs) that have a high percentage of ‘hidden’ body fat even though their Body Mass Index (BMI) looks incredibly lean.
Ectomorphs typically have a high tolerance for carbohydrates and are likely to benefit from a high carbohydrate, high protein diet.
Because ectomorphs often struggle to build body mass, it may also be beneficial to include nutritional supplements in the form of powders and shakes into their diet that can help them gain mass and build muscle.
Diet for Endomorphs
On the opposite end of the spectrum are Endomorphs. People with this body shape find it very easy to add body mass and can often struggle with ‘keeping the weight off’.
Endomorphs typically have a slower metabolism, can be quite sensitive to carbohydrates, and need to more closely watch their calorie intake.
One of the best recommendations for endomorphs is to follow a diet that is lower in carbs, but higher in protein.
It is also recommended that Endomorphs eat smaller meals more regularly, and try to avoid any extreme diets that may slow their metabolism further.
Diet for Mesomorphs
Sitting nicely in the middle of the spectrum are mesomorphs, who have an ‘average metabolism’ and generally don’t have as much of a challenge adding body mass (vs ectomorphs) or losing weight (vs endomorphs).
They are typically the body type group that respond quickest to changes in their diet and exercise routine.
There generally isn’t a need for mesomorphs to follow a specific diet or limit the amount of carbs they consume.
It can be beneficial to ensure that they have a balance across the main macronutrient groups and eat a healthy balanced diet.
How does my body type influence my training?
Being a certain body type doesn’t stop you from pursuing success in any sport or exercise programme objective.
People of all body types are capable of upper body muscle gain in the same way that people of all body types are able to deliver amazing athletic performance in endurance events.
There’s also an argument that regardless of your body type, you should look to vary your exercise programme across cardiovascular fitness, resistance training and cross training.
However, your body type can influence your natural ‘base level’ for certain types of activity, and determines how difficult and challenging you might find different types of training.
Training for ectomorphs
Ectomorphs have fast active metabolisms, combined with a lean frame, and long legs.
This makes them naturally great at a lot of cardio and endurance activities. Many ectomorphs prefer cardio to other types of training.
There’s an argument “why not keep doing what you’re good at?” and double down on the cardio activity, making sure you’re eating enough to avoid a calorific deficit.
However, if an ectomorph is interested in building mass or muscle, it is recommended that they try and avoid activities that might result in a high-calorie burn.
Instead, they should focus on weight training with the intent to gain additional muscle mass.
Heavy weights and smaller reps per set is often recommended as the best way for ectomorphs to gain muscle.
Training for endomorphs
An endomorph naturally has a stocky frame, and there is absolutely nothing wrong in following strength training exercise programmes that are designed to build strength, add muscle, and provide definition.
However, it is possibly more common for an endomorph to approach training with a view to lose body weight and reduce body fat.
For an endomorph looking to lose weight, cardio workouts are often considered the best form of exercise and it is suggested that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and cross training should also be considered.
However, it is also suggested that Endomorphs try and become more active in their daily lives (more walking, standing etc) as this will help boost their metabolism.
Training for mesomorphs
With more of a naturally athletic build, mesomorphs respond more quickly to exercise and can find it comparatively easy to either build muscle and body mass, gain strength or lose weight when they need to.
If they are interested in maintaining their current build, they will most likely stay lean and athletic from an exercise programme that includes a combination of moderate weights with higher reps to strengthen muscles, with moderate endurance training and HIIT workouts.