You may not have won the genetic lottery for a perfect physique, but you can still develop your best body build with the right diet and workout. A noted gastroenterologist and fitness enthusiast reviews the three different somatotypes, and discusses the right workout and appropriate diet to come up with the best version of yourself
By Jun Ruiz, MD
We all dream to have what we envision as the ideal body, especially when we are younger. The reasons may be skin-deep and related to feeling good, self-confident, and having an admirable physique. However, the benefits of having this body we aim for actually run deep. It has numerous health benefits, like lowering the risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancers, and we can excel in sports and recreational activities. A big bonus with a healthier body is that your clothes fit you better, you look dapper, and you can be more adventurous in your fashion tastes.
The ideal body in one’s mind really depends on someone’s goals. However, as we realize, the journey to getting that body is difficult and elusive for almost all of us who are mere mortals. We are not in the same league as those superstar athletes and glamorous Hollywood stars. The reason is we are all unique. We have different bodies, with variable metabolism, individual responses from specific diets and training, and most importantly we have distinctive genetic makeup.
Genes predetermine our body composition. Our bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Through our genetics, we are born with a certain body type. Some are lucky to hit the genetic lottery, but bad genetics is not end of the world. Genetics may provide the template, but our lifestyle choices, diet, training, and activity level ultimately determine our body shape. With proper determination and guidance, we can still work on to improve that body that we are born with through the proper diet, training, and lifestyle.
The somatotypes Some bodies are really efficient in building muscle, while others are not. Some bodies tend to store more energy as fat. An American psychologist named William Sheldon in the 1940s classified body types or somatotypes into three distinct categories. These three body types have found a place in fitness. You will likely fit into one of them:
Ectomorphs stay lean despite hours in the gym, endomorphs struggle to lose weight, and mesomorphs pack on muscle easily. Although these are three distinct body types, there are no hard and fast rules. “The three body types exist but probably never in their pure form,” explains Professor Lars McNaughton from Edge Hill University. Thus, an individual can actually be a mix of two body types, sharing characteristics from both categories.
Genetics pre-determine our body type that is composed of our musculature, bone structure, and density. Knowing your body type will direct the appropriate training and diet that is right for you. With the proper advice from physicians, nutritionists, and personal trainers, we can work on improving our physique and get closer to the body that we aim for. However, we should set our expectations and goals to be realistic. TV and magazine advertisements promoting gym memberships, diet plans, exercise equipment, and supplements can be misleading, and tout testimonies of miraculous transformations of individuals overnight. Not all men are born to build muscle easily like Thor actor Chris Hemsworth and football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Not every woman can aspire to be as sexy as Jennifer Lopez.
• Lean and long, thin build
• Classic “hardgainer” – difficulty in building muscle
• Narrow hips, clavicles, small joints
• Lower amount of body fat
Ectomorphs are thin individuals characterized as having small frames, with long limbs, narrow hips and clavicles, and small joints (wrists and ankles). They are usually skinny or lean, lightly-muscled, and have little observable fat. They have a flat chest, and the small shoulders are narrower than the hips. Fitted jeans usually feel loose around the butt.
Ectomorphs are also called the “hardgainers” in fitness parlance, because of their resistance to weight or muscle gain, despite eating much or spending hours in the gym, respectively. The difficulty in building muscle is related to their fast metabolism, believed to a higher output of thyroid hormone and greater sensitivity to cathecolamines. With bad lifestyle or the aging process, an ectomorph can be “skinny fat,” being low weight and small-sized, yet still have high body fat. Although they appear skinny, they can actually have higher body fat than one might expect.
Ectomorphs have the build of a marathon runner – slim, but short on muscle. Basketball players are typically ectomorphs. Most female fashion models also tend to have an ectomorph body type. Famous female ectomorphs include Natalie Portman and Taylor Swift, and famous male ectomorphs include Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, and Stephen Curry.
Cardio and weight training
Joel Snape, editor of Men’s Fitness UK and fitness writer, recommends that three days of strength training workouts (45 minutes or less) should be coupled with two to three days of lowintensity cardio (at 30 minutes each) for ectomorphs. Moderate and low-intensity bike rides and brisk walks are preferred.
To become more muscular, workouts should be short, emphasize on big muscle groups, and focus on intense and heavy weight lifting. Compound movements, such as the bench press, deadlift, and squat, will involve more muscle groups in one exercise. To illustrate, the bench press works out muscles in your chest, shoulders and triceps using your shoulders and elbow movements.
“Compound movement sets in the eight to 12 rep range and using heavier weights are what you’re looking for,” says English strength coach and personal trainer Will Purdue. He added that three to five sets of eight to 12 reps for each muscle group is the goal. Train one to two body parts per training day to avoid too much caloric expenditure. Working out with a knowledgeable training buddy or hiring a personal trainer improves the chance for success.
With high metabolism, an ectomorph can seem to eat all to their heart’s delight and not gain weight. However, this is not a license to eat unhealthy food. The key is to still eat a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in nutrients. However, with age, their metabolisms will slow down, primarily due to low muscle mass, which can result in an unhealthy gain in body fat.
The best diet for an ectomorph is one that is higher in carbohydrates and calories. British fitness coach Ryan Andrews recommends approximately 55 to 60 percent of calories should come from carbohydrates, 25 percent from protein, and 20 percent from fat. Just think, higher carbs and lower fat. For those planning to gain muscle, he has to take around 3,000 calories a day, including a lot of starchy carbohydrates, and recommends whey protein supplement. Best starchy carbohydrates include oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and potatoes. Protein shakes supplementation can provide the extra boost.
• Long torso, short limbs
• Broad shoulders, narrow waist
• Strong and athletic build with well-defined muscles
• Gains muscle easily
The mesomorph has a moderate frame and is kind of in between the ectomorph and the endomorph. Mesomorphs have a solid long torso, broad shoulders, a narrower waist, and short yet strong legs. The male mesomorphs have the V-shape torso, with the chest dominating the abdominal area, while female mesomorphs have the defined hourglass figure. They can be lean and muscular simultaneously. Fitted jeans generally feel snug, but not too tight, around the butt.
Mesomorphs are the “lucky ones”. They have a naturally athletic physique and are able to put on muscle easily without putting on too much fat. They have the ideal body type for bodybuilding. They excel in sports that require power and speed. They tend to be testosterone and growth hormone dominant, explaining their predisposition to muscle gain. In addition, they have a high metabolism as well.
Many athletes, like swimmers, gymnasts and soccer players, are mesomorphs who look well-built, even if they do not routinely work out, and they seem to pack on muscle easily the moment they work out. Famous male mesomorphs are actors Chris Hemsworth, Mark Wahlberg, and soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Famous female mesomorphs are Madonna and Janet Jackson.
Cardio and weight training
Mesomorphs have the advantage over the other body types in reaching their goals. Achieving a lean physique for a mesomorph (especially for those who carry higher body fat and for females) requires consistent cardio sessions to avoid putting on too much fat. Incorporating 30 to 45 minutes of cardio exercise three to five times a week is recommended to be part of the exercise routine. Mesomorphs who carry less body fat can decrease their cardio sessions to twice a week.
For optimal results in lowering body fat, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) two to three times a week is recommended by fitness experts, along with one to two sessions of steady-state cardio. HIIT involves alternating short bursts of intense anaerobic activity followed by intervals of lighter activity for recovery. The addition of steady-state cardio avoids overtraining and decreases risk of injury.
“Lifting moderate-to-heavy weights, with eight to 12 reps of three to four exercises for each muscle group, five days a week is ideal” for mesomorphs to stimulate muscle growth, says fitness authors Tiffani Bachus and Erin Macdonald. Basic exercises (squats, lunges, deadlifts, rows, chest press, shoulder press, etc.) with heavy weights, can be followed by isolation exercises with moderate or light weights.
The more varied the training, the better the results. They added that switching up the weight training routine by using higher reps with lighter weights, adding in body-weight exercises, and techniques, such as super sets (alternating sets of different exercises with no rest in between) and circuit training, can work on more strength and stamina.
The daily calorie needs of mesomorph body types are slightly higher than the others, due to their higher ratio of muscle mass. British personal trainer Mark Hughes recommends a diet with macronutrient split of 40 percent complex carbohydrate, 30 percent lean protein, and 30 percent healthy fats. To fuel the workouts, the average mesomorph needs around 2,500 calories a day.
Mesomorphs should mix up their carbohydrate choices to include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, such as brown rice and oatmeal. Healthy fats are nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil. Excellent protein sources include eggs (whole or whites), chicken, fish, and protein powder. The supplement creatine can be helpful as it will aid their recovery from athletic workouts, Hughes added.
• Stocky build and wider body
• Large bone structures, hips wider than clavicles
• Generally softer and rounder
• Struggle to lose weight, and put on fat very easily
Endomorphs naturally tend to have round and soft figures. Endomorphs are usually of a shorter build with thick arms and legs. The hips are wider than the shoulders. Their muscles are not so well defined. Fitted jeans generally feel tight around the butt.
Endomorphs can gain fat very easily, but find it quite difficult to lose weight. They usually have some degree of carbohydrate and insulin sensitivity, and tend to have slow metabolism. Thus, high-carb foods are quickly converted to sugar in the bloodstream and then stored as fat. With a higher body-fat percentage, endomorphs are at a greater risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.
Endomorphs can still succeed in transforming themselves with amazing physiques with regular exercise and proper diet, despite their genetic disadvantage. Famous endomorphs include actors Dwayne Johnson, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce.
Cardio and weight training
“To facilitate the body into losing fat, endomorphs should gear up their intense aerobic exercise by focusing on interval-based conditioning, like HIIT over lowintensity steady state cardio”, say Purdue. Three to five days a week of cardio for 30 minutes is recommended. Choose cardio training that are low-impact and easy on the knees, like swimming, biking, hiking, and elliptical machine. It is important that they train their overall body to see results and not just focus on one area. Spot-reducing fat exercises, like abdominal crunches, do not usually work if you are generally overweight.
Purdue further recommends total-body workout with compound exercises and hypertrophy work (muscle building), focusing on large muscle groups (legs, back). Building muscle is easy for endomorphs, but the extra body fat makes it difficult for them to stay lean. Four days a week of hypertrophy training can be a combination of bodyweight training and moderate-to-heavy weight lifting. Runtastic fitness coach Lunden Souza prescribes 8 to 12 reps and 3 to 5 sets for upper body, while higher reps of 12 to 20 for the lower body. Circuit training with very little rest time between sets is preferred.
Aim for a nutrient distribution close to 30 percent carbs, 35 percent protein and 35 percent fat, says Purdue. Limit your carbohydrates to control insulin and blood sugar, and increase protein and fiber intake. It is recommended to get your carbohydrates from vegetables, and avoid carb-dense foods like, white bread, rice, and cookies.
As an ectomorph, avoid crash dieting as this make your body cling to its fat reserves. Adjust your diet so you’re eating more frequent, smaller meals, and drink plenty of water. Do not take sports drinks, as they are full of carbs.
We have discussed the three body types, primarily determined by genetic factors. Improvement is very possible, but we need to learn that there are the best exercises, there is the right workout, and the proper nutrition appropriate to each body type. Though we may not be able to totally remodel our body type, the goal of coming up with the best version of yourself is within reach.
January 2019 Health and Lifestyle