Somatotypes describe how we have a genetic physical predisposition to a certain physic, fat to muscle ratio and stature. As a result, we require different training and nutritional demands. The three different body types are ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. But what exactly do these terms mean? And how does it affect athletic performance and training goals?
Here we look at the different body type categorisations in finer detail, looking at how genetics affect athletic strengths and weaknesses and how different body types can tailor their training and nutritional goals to optimise their physical abilities.
Those with an ectomorph body type are of slight build and possess fast metabolisms. With a low body fat and a smaller build, ectomorphs genetically find it harder than the other body types to gain bodyweight or build muscle mass. An athletic archetype of an ectomorph is the marathon runner.
Ectomorph Physical Traits
- Slight frame and bone structure
- Narrow shoulders
- Naturally lean
- Flat chest
- Fast metabolism
- Finds it difficult to gain weight
- Finds building additional muscle mass challenging
Famous Ectomorph Athletes
- Usain Bolt
- Michael Phelps
- Rafael Nadal
- Bruce Lee
Ectomorphs are genetically predisposed to have the optimum physic for sports like long-distance running and certain field athletics such as hurdles. The ectomorph body type is perfect for any sport requiring speed, however extra attention to strength training would usually be required for competitive and contact sports. Due to their fast metabolism, ectomorphs seeking to gain body weight or muscle mass should focus upon strength and resistance training with minimal cardio.
Due to their fast metabolism and naturally slight build, ectomorph athletes need to pay particular attention to bolstering their calorific intake to fuel workouts, replenish depleted energy stores and aid recovery. With a high carbohydrate tolerance, ensuring a high calorific intake is key to an ectomorph’s optimum athletic performance.
Ectomorphs seeking to increase muscle mass or ‘bulk up’ would benefit best from protein shakes with a high-calorie density – before and after training. The addition of nut butters (peanut butter, almond butter) is an efficient way to bolster protein shakes, delivering highly nutritious calorific density and extra protein.
A mesomorph body type is those who have a medium frame and bone structure. With a considerable level of lean body mass, they are genetically predisposed to an athletic body. Generally, mesomorphs tend to be growth hormone dominant, which makes them physically inclined to easy muscle gain and naturally maintaining lower body fat.
Mesomorph Physical Traits
- Medium frame
- Athletic and toned body
- Muscle definition
- Generally rectangular-shaped body
- Gains muscle easily
Famous Mesomorph Athletes
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Anna Kournikova
- Andre Agassi
- Cristiano Ronaldo
- Venus Williams
The mesomorph predisposition to building muscle means that they respond quickly to training, with physical results appearing relatively quickly. Because of this predisposition, mesomorphs have the best natural body type for bodybuilding and strength-based sports. However, mesomorphs can gain fat with muscular gain, so calorie allowances have to be made to complement their chosen sport or training and cardio should also be practiced alongside weight training.
Typically, a mesomorph diet is mixed – consisting of complex carbohydrates (40%), protein (30%) and fat (30%) – however nutrition would be tailored to best suit the goals and performance requirements of the individual.
In general, mesomorphs have a moderate tolerance to carbohydrates, meaning that they should be called upon predominantly for training fuel and recovery, but not relied upon as a dietary staple outside of training, in order to avoid fat gain without energy expenditure. For example, bodybuilders would choose a much smaller ratio of carbohydrate to protein and fat, whereas mesomorph athletes in competitive sports would possibly need a higher carbohydrate ratio to fuel their cardio.
An endomorph body type is naturally predisposed to a ‘softer’ body mass and a higher body fat ratio. With a slower metabolism than the other body types, endomorphs are insulin dominant, meaning that their body more readily stores energy as body fat. However, endomorphs also gain muscle with relative ease. With the correct training and nutritional approach, endomorph athletes can truly optimise their physic and athletic performance, effectively harnessing their natural strength.
Endomorph Physical Traits
- Soft body with minimal natural muscle definition
- Tends towards a round body shape
- Prone to gaining fat
- Usually, have a larger bone structure
- Slower metabolism
- Finds it more difficult than the other body types to lose fat
Famous Endomorph Athletes
- Jay Cutler
- Wayne Rooney
- Markus Ruhl
Due to their propensity towards a higher body fat ratio, an endomorph workout would benefit most from emphasising cardio in order to minimise weight gain from fat. Weight training is also important in order to build muscle mass, and therefore boost the metabolic rate.
Even those seeking to build muscle need to supplement their training with cardio in order to reduce fat and allow muscle visibility. Professional endomorph bodybuilders supplement their training with cardio, which those from the other body type subsets won’t necessarily require.
Football lineman and professional bodybuilders are often classified as endomorphs. Many endomorphs are predisposed to excellent natural lower body strength, so this can certainly often be used to the advantage of the endomorph athlete (think training that requires a particular emphasis on lower-body strength such as sprinting, squatting and lifting.)
Endomorphs tend to be dominant in insulin, meaning they have a lower carbohydrate tolerance to the other body types and a propensity towards energy storage (e.g additional calorific intake and sugars are easily stored as fat.) With this in mind, endomorphs seeking to enhance their physic and athletic performance would benefit from a smaller proportional intake of carbohydrate and a higher intake of protein and fat.
Ideally, refined carbohydrates should be avoided (e.g cookies, candy, non-wholegrain bread) and complex carbohydrates (such as oatmeal, bananas and sweet potato) used as training fuel. An endomorph diet will need to control calorific intake more so than the other body types, in order to yield effective fat loss results or to avoid fat gain.
Somatotypes in sport
Most people are somewhere in between these three extremes. The best way to see this is by using a chart like the one above. Three numbers are used, one for each body type, with 1 being dissimilar to that shape and 7 being exactly like that shape. The numbers are always in the same order, with endomorph being first, mesomorph second and ectomorph third.