In This Article
People seem to describe body shapes all sorts of ways these days—apple, pear, lanky, athletic, stocky, voluptuous—the list could go on and on. And, to a certain extent, it seems pointless, and potentially emotionally damaging, to categorize your body’s shape. After all, our bodies are simply our bodies, and putting too much stock or thought into their appearance is completely unnecessary. Everybody and every body is unique, beautiful, and uniquely beautiful. But, as it turns out, there is some value in considering your somatotype when it comes to your approach to diet and fitness.
What Is a Somatotype?
A somatotype is a category describing the general shape of a human body, and typically includes endomorphs, ectomorphs, or mesomorphs.
The somatotype approach to wellness goals aims to tailor nutrition and exercise advice for an individual based on their body type or shape. While it’s not a universally-accepted approach to body composition, fitness, and weight goals, some fitness and nutrition experts say that considering your natural body shape, fat distribution, and metabolic tendencies (which are all encapsulated in somatotypes) when trying to get fitter can help you have greater success. So, we reached out to a few wellness pros to give us the details on somatotypes and what the science says about how each body shape should best approach their nutrition and exercise habits.
Keep scrolling to learn about endomorphs, mesomorphs, and ectomorphs and the best diet and exercises advice based on your body type.
Meet the Expert
Benefits of the Somatotype Approach
Marsac says it’s helpful to consider your body type in your weight loss and fitness goals because diet and exercise recommendations for optimal health are not one size fits all. “Each body type reacts and responds differently to calorie intake and exercises,” she explains. “Knowing which approach to take will help a person create a realistic plan and be more successful at achieving their goals.”
Byrne agrees that while the somatotype approach to guiding your dietary and exercise behaviors isn’t foolproof, it does help customize the approach to your body composition goals. “Where body type considerations are important is in choosing the optimal diet and training plan to reach your individual goals,” he says. “An awareness of your body type characteristics will reduce some trial and error and allow you to start losing weight and improving your fitness with tried and tested methods that you will likely respond better to.”
“[The] endomorph body type is defined as having a higher body fat percentage with less muscle mass,” says Marsac. Endomorphs also tend to be shorter, with a somewhat round build, and a slower metabolism.
“These body types tend to be more sensitive to caloric intake,” explains Marsac. Byrne adds that endomorphs typically have a lower tolerance for carbohydrates, meaning they are more susceptible to weight gain with even a relatively minor caloric surplus. According to Marsac, “Dietary recommendations for this body type would be to consume a calorie deficit with adequate protein.”
Our experts say there are a few reasons why adequate protein intake is so important with body composition goals. “Protein is more satiating, meaning you’ll be less likely to snack on carb-rich, sugary foods, and it will also help you to better manage total daily calorie intake as you’ll have fewer cravings,” explains Byrne. Marsac adds, “Adequate protein is required not only to maintain current muscle mass, but to build muscle mass, allowing for ‘body recompositioning,’ or reducing body fat percentage while building muscle.” She recommends endomorphs consume between 1.6 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to diet and exercise, so our experts say there’s some flexibility in your macro ratio, or how you divide your daily calorie intake among the three primary macronutrients—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Marsac says once protein needs are met, and the percentage of the total daily calories to hit those needs is calculated, the remainder of the calories are partitioned between carbohydrates and fats, but again, the specific ratios may vary somewhat. “While it’s recommended to consume a balance of both, if a person notices side effects such as nausea or lightheadedness, their body is requiring more carbohydrates, yet some people feel more satisfied eating higher fats than carbs. That’s okay, too,” she says. “They do not have to be consumed in equal amounts, as long as the total of both does not exceed the reduced calorie goal.”
And, Byrne tends to recommend that endomorphs prioritize fats over carbohydrates in this split because of the propensity of carbohydrates to cause weight gain for this somatotype. “Carb intake should be focused around your workout window (before and after training),” he advises. “This encourages your body to utilize the carbs for energy and reduces the likelihood that you will store them in adipose tissue as excess body fat.”
Exercise goals for endomorphs involve building muscle and burning fat because increasing lean body mass will increase metabolic rate, helping you burn more calories throughout the day, even at rest. “Most endomorphs will respond better to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and weightlifting to burn body fat and build muscle mass, which will help to display a leaner physique,” says Byrne.
Marsac says in addition to strength training, “aerobic exercises, especially those that target body fat—HIIT, speed training, metabolic conditioning training—are also beneficial.”
Byrne notes that endomorphs tend to carry more body weight, regardless of their body fat percentage, “due to having a wider frame, more muscle mass, denser bone structure, and also more body fat.” Therefore, he recommends they engage in joint-friendly, low-impact forms of cardio. “Even when performing HIIT-style training, it’s good to opt for cardio options like yoga, Pilates, cycling/spin, swimming, ski-erg, and rowing,” he says. “It is also beneficial for endomorphs to keep their heart rate up when performing resistance training to stay in a fat-burning state, and therefore, circuit-based training is something many endomorphs respond very well to.”
Because endomorphs are often striving for a daily calorie deficit, exercise can be used to keep energy expenditure high. “Most endomorphs will benefit from more training sessions each week (4-5) with each session being a shorter duration (20-30 minutes),” advises Byrne. “This should be supplemented with additional activities to keep energy expenditure high and can include a daily step target or sport-based leisure activities.”
Byrne describes ectomorphs as naturally skinny, with less body fat, smaller bones, and a narrow structure. They tend to have a lankier, more wiry build, a fast metabolism, and struggle to put on muscle.
“Due to having a faster metabolism and generally higher tolerance to carbohydrate intake, ectomorphs do not tend to easily gain weight or excess body fat. This can be beneficial, but ectomorphs [may] struggle to build muscle mass and increase strength,” notes Byrne. Marsac says ectomorphs should emphasize protein and carbohydrate intake in their diet to support muscle growth. “Daily protein intake should range between 1.8 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. Carbohydrate intake should be around 50% of a person’s daily caloric intake, with the remaining calories from fat,” she says. “Foods like potatoes, rice, and oatmeal make it easier to consume enough carbohydrates each day.” While many people associate only protein with muscle growth, Marsac says you also need carbohydrates, and Byrne says a caloric surplus of 300-500 calories per day will also support muscle development. Byrne recommends a diet where protein and fat each contribute about 30% of the calories, with carbohydrates comprising the other 40%.
Byrne says that the lean, lanky build of ectomorphs, combined with their naturally higher proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibers means they tend to excel at aerobic exercise, and may favor low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio workouts like jogging, cycling, and elliptical trainers. But, this doesn’t mean this type of workout is ideal when it comes to reaching body composition goals and putting on muscle. “Ectomorph body types should avoid excessive cardiovascular activity, like long runs, as this hinders muscle development,” advises Marsac.
Byrne says ectomorphs should prioritize strength training to build muscle and keep cardio intensity low to limit caloric expenditure. “Due to lower levels of body fat and lean muscle mass, ectomorphs will benefit more from strength-based resistance training and LISS (low-intensity steady state) style training 3-4 times per week,” he says. “LISS cardio is needed to keep energy expenditure low (which will then be utilized for building muscle tissue) to burn fewer calories while also ensuring you are still working your cardiovascular system on a regular basis.”
Byrne recommends two to three 40-60 minute LISS workouts per week, which may include jogging, cycling, swimming, or hiking, to name a few, as long as the intensity is kept relatively low. “A full-body resistance-based session should then also be utilized three times per week, with a focus on building strength in compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups,” advises Byrne. “These include squats, deadlifts, lunges, overhead presses, chest presses, and rows.”
Marsac specifies that this strength training should be focused on muscle hypertrophy. “Hypertrophy training consists of both growing muscle contraction fibers and increasing muscle glycogen storage. This looks like compound movements (squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press) followed by isolation exercises of the same muscle group,” she says. “For instance, on days a person squats, isolation exercise should include leg extensions and hamstring curls.”
Mesomorphs have a naturally athletic build and tend to put on muscle rather easily.
“Mesomorphs are considered to be the more genetically gifted of the three somatotypes. This means they can utilize macros optimally to build lean muscle mass while generally gaining or holding very little body fat (by average standards),” explains Byrne. “Mesomorphs, therefore, have more freedom when it comes to dietary choices, but this doesn’t mean they can abuse calories by consuming significant amounts of ‘junk’ food.” Rather, it just means there is more flexibility in the specific breakdown of macronutrient percentages for optimal body composition, and a balanced split among protein, fat, and carbohydrates may be ideal.
Marsac adds that the dietary recommendations should be modified to a mesomorph’s specific sport or athletic goal. “Protein intake will likely range between 1.5 and 2 grams per kilogram of body weight to support muscle maintenance,” she says. Carbohydrates should be increased for those requiring more stamina and endurance, like runners, rowers, or cyclists, and fat should be increased for individuals participating in powerlifting and strength competitions for strength support.”
The naturally muscular build of mesomorphs tend to make them very responsive to strength training. Byrne says they can structure their resistance workouts in any way they see fit, focusing on total-body workouts, or upper/lower body split workouts, push/pull, or even isolated muscle groups. “For cardio, a mix of LISS or HIIT can be used depending on personal preference, but the most noticeable returns will come from a training plan focusing on 3-5 days of weight training,” notes Byrne. “I’m not saying you will develop freakish muscle size as a mesomorph but rather a leaner, more toned physique without needing to spend countless hours on the StairMaster!”
Marsac adds that a balanced program of strengthening and conditioning exercise is ideal, and that mesomorphs can benefit from some more targeted moves. “Since mesomorph body types have a strong foundation, exercises that are beneficial include unilateral work, like lunges, box step-ups, and dumbbell work to address any imbalances.”
Drawbacks of the Somatotype Approach
Byrne believes the main drawback of focusing too much on your body type is that you’ll neglect the basic training and dieting principles that are universal across all somatotypes. “Just because an ectomorph has a higher metabolism, for example, does not mean they are immune to gaining weight and body fat if they consume too high of a calorie surplus,” he says. “Also, people can change their body type through training and dieting, so an ectomorph could become an ecto-meso by building enough muscle mass, whereas an endomorph can become an endo-meso by speeding up their metabolism and nutrient utilization through HIIT-style training.”
Marsac not only agrees, but also believes it’s important to not allow your current or natural somatotype to limit your efforts and health goals. “Sometimes people think they’re locked into their body type and ‘will never change’; therefore, they never try,” notes Marsac. “A somatotype is a reflection of a person’s current physiological state, not a permanent one. Diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits have a great impact on changing a person’s body type.”
Because of this, our experts suggest that people consider their body type when making diet and training decisions, but should not become restrained by it, since body types can change over time to some extent. “Get stronger by lifting weights, consume a calorie surplus/deficit to gain or lose weight, and utilize cardio to increase energy expenditure and you will change your physique and fitness levels regardless of your initial body type,” says Byrne.