What Is a Somatotype?
A somatotype is a category describing the general shape of a human body. The three types are typically endomorphs, ectomorphs, and mesomorphs.
The somatotype approach to wellness goals aims to tailor nutrition and exercise advice for an individual to their body type or shape. While itâ€™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 teach us what the science says about how each body shape should approach nutrition and exercise habits.
Meet the Expert
- Simon Byrne is a certified Precision Nutrition Level 1 coach, a Level 2 fitness instructor, and the owner of Bodies by Byrne.
- Janette Marsac is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and licensed master social worker based in New York City.
Benefits of the Somatotype Approach
Marsac says itâ€™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. â€œEach body type reacts and responds differently to calorie intake and exercises,â€ she explains. â€œKnowing which approach to take will help a person create a realistic plan and be more successful at achieving their goals.â€
Byrne agrees that while the somatotype approach to guiding your dietary and exercise behaviors isnâ€™t foolproof, it does help customize the approach to your body composition goals. â€œWhere body type considerations are important is in choosing the optimal diet and training plan to reach your individual goals,â€ he says. â€œAn 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.â€
â€œ[The] endomorph body type is defined as having a higher body fat percentage with less muscle mass,â€ says Marsac. Endomorphs also tend to be shorter, with a somewhat round build and a slower metabolism.
â€œThese body types tend to be more sensitive to caloric intake,â€ 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, â€œDietary recommendations for this body type would be to consume a calorie deficit with adequate protein.â€
Our experts say there are a few reasons why adequate protein intake is so important with body composition goals. â€œProtein is more satiating, meaning youâ€™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 youâ€™ll have fewer cravings,â€ explains Byrne. Marsac adds, â€œAdequate protein is required not only to maintain current muscle mass, but to build muscle mass, allowing for â€˜body recompositioning,â€™ or reducing body fat percentage while building muscle.â€ She recommends endomorphs consume between 1.6 and 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
Our experts say thereâ€™s some flexibility in your macro ratio, or how you divide your daily calorie intake among the three primary macronutrientsâ€”carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Marsac says once endomorphsâ€™ protein needs are met and the percentage of the total daily calories to hit those needs is calculated, the remainder of the calories can be partitioned between carbohydrates and fats, but again, the specific ratios may vary somewhat. â€œWhile itâ€™s recommended to consume a balance of both, if a person notices side effects such as nausea or light- headedness, their body is requiring more carbohydrates, yet some people feel more satisfied eating higher fats than carbs. Thatâ€™s OK, too,â€ she says. â€œThey do not have to be consumed in equal amounts, as long as the total of both does not exceed the reduced calorie goal.â€
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. â€œCarb intake should be focused around your workout window (before and after training),â€ he advises. â€œThis 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.â€
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. â€œMost 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,â€ says Byrne.
Marsac says in addition to strength training, â€œaerobic exercises, especially those that target body fatâ€”HIIT, speed training, metabolic conditioning training â€”are also beneficial.â€
Byrne notes that endomorphs tend to carry more body weight, regardless of their body fat percentage, â€œdue to having a wider frame, more muscle mass, denser bone structure, and also more body fat.â€ Therefore, he recommends they engage in joint-friendly, low-impact forms of cardio. â€œEven when performing HIIT-style training, itâ€™s good to opt for cardio options like yoga, Pilates, cycling/spin, swimming, SkiErg, and rowing,â€ he says. â€œIt 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.â€
Because endomorphs are often striving for a daily calorie deficit, exercise can be used to keep energy expenditure high. â€œMost endomorphs will benefit from more training sessions each week (four to five), with each session being a shorter duration (20â€“30 minutes),â€ advises Byrne. â€œThis should be supplemented with additional activities to keep energy expenditure high and can include a daily step target or sport-based leisure activities.â€
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 and a fast metabolism, and they struggle to put on muscle.
â€œDue 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,â€ notes Byrne. Marsac says ectomorphs should emphasize protein and carbohydrate intake in their diet to support muscle growth. â€œDaily protein intake should range between 1.8 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. Carbohydrate intake should be around 50% of a personâ€™s daily caloric intake, with the remaining calories from fat,â€ she says. â€œFoods like potatoes, rice, and oatmeal make it easier to consume enough carbohydrates each day.â€ While many people associate only protein with muscle growth, Marsac says you also need carbohydrates, and Byrne adds that a caloric surplus of 300â€“ 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, or LISS, cardio workouts like jogging, cycling, and elliptical trainers. But this doesnâ€™t mean this type of workout is ideal when it comes to reaching body composition goals and putting on muscle. â€œEctomorph body types should avoid excessive cardiovascular activity, like long runs, as this hinders muscle development,â€ advises Marsac.
Byrne says ectomorphs should prioritize strength training to build muscle and keep cardio intensity low to limit caloric expenditure. â€œDue to lower levels of body fat and lean muscle mass, ectomorphs will benefit more from strength-based resistance training and LISS-style training three to four times per week,â€ he says. â€œLISS 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.â€
Byrne recommends two to three 40â€“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. â€œA 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,â€ advises Byrne. â€œThese include squats, deadlifts, lunges, overhead presses, chest presses, and rows.â€
Marsac specifies that this strength training should be focused on muscle hypertrophy. â€œHypertrophy 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,â€ she says. â€œFor instance, on days a person squats, isolation exercises should include leg extensions and hamstring curls.â€
Mesomorphs have a naturally athletic build and tend to put on muscle rather easily.
â€œMesomorphs 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),â€ explains Byrne. â€œMesomorphs, therefore, have more freedom when it comes to dietary choices, but this doesnâ€™t mean they can abuse calories by consuming significant amounts of â€˜junkâ€™ food.â€ 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 mesomorphâ€™s specific sport or athletic goal. â€œProtein intake will likely range between 1.5 and 2 grams per kilogram of body weight to support muscle maintenance,â€ 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 tends 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, upper/lower-body split workouts, push/pull, or even isolated muscle groups. â€œFor 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 three to five days of weight training,â€ notes Byrne. â€œIâ€™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!â€
Marsac adds that a balanced program of strengthening and conditioning exercise is ideal and says that mesomorphs can benefit from some more targeted moves. â€œSince 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.â€
Drawbacks of the Somatotype Approach
Byrne believes the main drawback of focusing too much on your body type is that youâ€™ll neglect the basic training and dieting principles that are universal across all somatotypes. â€œJust 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,â€ he says. â€œAlso, 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.â€
Marsac agrees and believes itâ€™s important not to allow your current or natural somatotype to limit your efforts and health goals. â€œSometimes people think theyâ€™re locked into their body type and â€˜will never change,â€™ therefore they never try,â€ notes Marsac. â€œA somatotype is a reflection of a personâ€™s current physiological state, not a permanent one. Diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits have a great impact on changing a personâ€™s body type.â€
Because of this, our experts suggest that people should 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. â€œGet 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 levelsâ€”regardless of your initial body type,â€ says Byrne.