There are three basic body types, each with a different tendency for weight gain and weight loss. Understanding our body’s natural tendency can help us find our strengths and understand our struggles. It helps us get to know our body better and allows us to set healthier and more realistic goals.
Below is side-by-side comparison of the three body types.
|Slender, linear physique||Square, athletic physique||Shapely physique|
|Small frame/ joints||Medium frame/ joints||Medium to large frame/ joints|
|Long limbs||Limbs proportional to torso||Tapered limbs|
|Lightly muscled||Naturally muscular||Can be muscular|
|Lower body fat||Balanced body composition||Higher levels of body fat|
|Fast metabolism||Average metabolism||Slow metabolism|
|Lose weight very easily, can find it difficult to gain weight||Losing fat is easy||Lose weight slowly|
|Difficulty gaining muscle||Gains muscle very easily||Gains muscle easily|
Exercise & Body Type
When it comes to exercise, taking body type can be very helpful. If you’re struggling to find activities you enjoy, it can help you zero in on sports in which you are likely to naturally excel. It can also help you adapt exercises and optimize them to suit your body (e.g. long limbs can make certain moves more challenging).
On the other hand, it can also serve to create more balance in your training. Generally, we are drawn to what we’re good at, such as focusing on cardio and skipping strength training, which means it’s easy to end up with a lop-sided workout routine.
Including elements that don’t come as naturally to your body type can create a more balanced workout schedule that addresses your relative weaknesses and doesn’t just build on your strengths – elevating your fitness to higher levels.
Diet & Body Type
If you have implemented basic good diet habits consistently over time, but still struggle to lose weight or are resistant to gaining mass you may benefit from tailoring your diet and exercise routine to suit your body type. However, following a diet for your body type is not necessary if you can lose weight or gain muscle when you want to, and generally achieve the results you expect.
The macronutrient ratios below, are just starting points. It’s best to begin with more carbs (a vital source of vitamins and minerals from whole foods) and, depending on your results, reduce it further if necessary.
Diet & Workout
It can be difficult for ectomorphs to eat healthily, as a poor eating habits don’t lead to substantial weight gain, a key sign for most people to get back on track with a healthier diet.
Furthermore, endomorphic ectomorphs (an ectomorph with endomorphic traits) can suffer with normal-weight obesity and unhealthy levels of deep belly fat. People with this combination of body types have less muscle mass and higher levels of body fat, but a normal BMI (also known as skinny fat).
Because of the normal BMI, this unhealthy body composition often goes unnoticed by health professionals. However, it increases the risk of developing cardiometabolic conditions such as insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.12 Without a balanced diet and exercise, most ectomorphs move towards this combination of body types with age.
Ectomorphs tend to have a higher tolerance to carbs, but may become a little sensitive to carbohydrates with age. Either way, for better health and higher energy levels, shoot for healthy carbs (e.g. fruit, vegetables, legumes, and unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains) and limit highly processed or refined foods. Aim for a macronutrient ratio of about 55% carbs, 25% protein, and 20% fat.34
If your goal is to gain weight eat every 3 hours and stick to healthy, nutrient-dense snacks (e.g. nuts) for extra calories. Endomorphic ectomorphs who want to lose weight can cut back on the proportion of carbs, and increase protein and fat. Use the weight gain calculator to help determine your calorie needs.
Less muscle, long limbs and more slow-twitch muscle fibers mean ectomorphs are great at endurance cardio, but are less strong than the other body types and also more likely to suffer with postural problems.5 While ectomorphs are likely to prefer cardio over weights, strength training is an essential component of any training strategy.
Use some of your cardio workouts to also build strength and power. You can seek out hills if you’re exercising outdoors, ramp up the incline or resistance on the cardio machines, throw in some plyometric exercises, or do a stair climbing workout. Ectomorphs who don’t need to lose weight should still do some regular cardio to maintain cardiovascular fitness and health.
Diet & Workout
Mesomorphs respond quickest to exercise, compared to the other body types, tend to have excellent posture, and are able to easily lose weight.
Mesomorphs generally do well by simply following a healthy, balanced diet (e.g. Mediterranean diet). They lose weight and build muscle easily and often don’t need to follow low-carb or otherwise restrictive diets. Use this calorie calculator to help determine your daily calorie requirements.
If they wish, mesomorphs can tweak things with a diet consisting of moderate levels of carbs, that includes vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Aim for a macronutrient ratio of about 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat.67
Incorporate both moderate-intensity cardio and HIIT workouts. It can be tempting for mesomorphs to focus on short, high-intensity exercise and plyometrics. However, it’s important to include some moderate-intensity cardio, because it is not as taxing and allows the body to recover, while still improving cardiovascular fitness and burning calories.
Diet & Workout
Endomorphs generally need to be more diligent than the other body types when it comes to weight loss, but are often able to gain muscle relatively easily. Therefore, for endomorphs the focus is on improving body composition by fine-tuning diet, performing regular cardio and fast-paced strength workouts, as well as increasing general day-to-day activity outside of scheduled training.
Endomorphs tend to be more sensitive to carbohydrates than the other body types, and often get better results with a diet lower in carbs and higher in protein to help control insulin and blood sugar. Focus on nutrient-dense carbs such as vegetables, and opt for healthy fats and lean protein.
Eat regular meals and avoid crash dieting, which can slow metabolism even further (read more on the endomorph diet). Aim for a macronutrient ratio of about 30% carbs, 35% protein, and 35% fat.8 If you’re not seeing results, you can lower your carb intake. A typical low carb diet has less than 26% of total daily calories from carbs.9
Training should be geared towards cardiovascular exercise most days of the week for weight loss, and to keep weight off long term. Endomorphs do well with a combination of moderate-intensity exercise (e.g. brisk walking) and high-intensity workouts such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Endomorphs should also try to increase NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis), which is the calories you burn outside deliberate exercise, in order to boost metabolism. This involves adding a little extra activity here and there, e.g. standing more, taking the stairs, walking short distances instead of driving, or even pacing while talking on the phone.
It doesn’t sound like much, but NEAT is highly variable between people – it can vary by a whopping 700 extra calories a day.1011 Higher levels of NEAT may also be associated with a lower risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular events, and metabolic syndrome.121314
Accepting Your Body & All It Can Do
One final note. Everyone has the potential to develop a great shape – regardless of his or her dominant body type. Improving health, fitness, and losing weight can be accomplished through a balanced and healthy approach to exercise and eating habits. You just gotta work with what you’ve got.
If you are beautifully curved like Jennifer Lopez or Marilyn Monroe you will make yourself ill to look like Taylor Swift or Audrey Hepburn. Even if this target were reached, it probably would not look good, could be difficult in the extreme to maintain, and would continue to have adverse effects on your body.
And don’t let your body type affect your choice of sport or the activities you choose and enjoy. Some of the greatest sportsmen and women didn’t let their body type stop them. Athletes who, according to conventional sporting wisdom, had no business succeeding in their sport plowed right through those barriers.
Be it tall and lanky Usain Bolt in a sea of mesomorphic sprinters, who changed the limits of what we thought was possible and with it reshaped the scientific view of what constitutes the perfect sprinter.1516 Or the improbability that is Stephen Curry. Seemingly missing the most important gift necessary to succeed, his build is entirely at odds with the taller, heavier body type of previous basketball greats that allowed them to physically dominate the game. Instead he bent the game to his will through skill so sublime it revolutionized the sport.
These legends didn’t just succeed. They didn’t just break records. They changed the way we see things and firmly occupy a place in the pantheon of the world’s most revered athletes. So don’t let your body type limit you, but let it guide you in achieving better results.