Why do some people seem to be able to eat whatever they want without gaining weight, while others seem to struggle no matter what they eat? Well, body type might play a role.
As many of us know, no two bodies are the same, – in other words, what works for you may not work for someone else. Depending on your body type, certain diets and food combinations can be more helpful than others when it comes to boosting energy levels and helping you reach your desired weight.
Knowing what your body types are can help you better understand:
- Which diet may work best for you
- How to fast the correct way
- How to lose (or maintain) weight
- How to improve muscle health
- How to exercise most effectively
In this article, we'll take a look at how to determine your body type, and dive into how you can customize your diet and fasting plans to best fit your individual needs.
Understanding Each Body Type
In the 1940s, American researcher and psychologist William Sheldon introduced the concept of different body types. His research concluded that the concept of somatotypes is based on the understanding that everyone is born with a specific body type.
Body type, or somatotype, is based on our skeletal frame and body composition. This determines how easy it is for the body to store fat, and whether we are leaner, heavier, or somewhere in between.
There are three main body types: ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs. While there is some overlap, each body type generally has a different ideal way of eating, exercise, and fasting.
For example, someone who is an ectomorph may need to eat more calories than someone who is an endomorph in order to gain weight. And someone who is a mesomorph may need to lift weights differently than someone who is an ectomorph in order to build muscle.
A person's genetic makeup determines the majority of his or her body structure and metabolism, but with consistency and determination, it’s possible to rise above any predetermined factors and achieve the health and fitness level you desire.
What Does ‘Body Type’ Mean?
A person’s body type is determined by the distribution of muscle mass and fat. Some people are long and lean, while others are curvier. Some people have difficulty gaining weight, while others have trouble losing it.
What's Your Body Type?
Keep in mind, you may not fit precisely into one description, of course. Having characteristics of more than one somatotype is very common.
In general, ectomorphs are slim and lean, lacking much body fat or noticeable muscle mass. They tend to have slender waists, narrow hips and shoulders, and long legs and arms. Due to having a fast metabolism, they typically burn calories more quickly than other types, so ectomorphs may also notice they have trouble putting on weight.
Mesomorphs are characterized by a medium frame and muscular build, wider shoulders, narrow waists, and minimal body fat. Due to their tendency to put on muscle more easily by working out, mesomorphs usually require a higher calorie diet. However, if they don't watch what they eat, they can lose (or gain) weight fairly easily.
Endomorphs are the curvier, or round body type, characterized by a wide waist and hips. They tend to carry their weight in the belly, hips, and thighs. Endomorphs can gain weight more easily than other types because they often have a higher percentage of body fat and less muscle mass.
First, it needs to be said, every body type is different. Be careful not to confuse body type with body shape. There are four generic shapes that can help you understand how your proportions are distributed.
Oval or apple - carry weight in the chest and stomach areas and tend to have slender legs.
Pear or triangle - tends to have narrower shoulders than their hips, and carry most of their weight in the buttocks, lower hips, and thighs.
Rectangle - similar hip and shoulder width, and the body tends to be in equal proportions.
Hourglass – smaller waist than the chest and hips, both the top and bottom halves of the body are equally broad.
Keep in mind that it’s very common to fit the criteria for more than one body type and/or shape. For example, ecto-endomorphs are pear-shaped. They typically have slim upper bodies with more fat stored on the lower half of the body. Endo-ectomorphs, on the other hand, are apple-shaped, with more fat stored in the upper body with small hips, thighs, and legs.
Why do men and women gain weight differently?
One of the most obvious ways that men and women differ is in our body composition, and it's mostly thanks to those pesky sex hormones. Women generally have more fat and less muscle than men. This is largely due to hormones, with testosterone helping to build muscle and estrogen promoting fat storage.
While all people have both testosterone and estrogen in their bodies, men produce more than fifteen times as much testosterone as women. This difference in hormone levels leads to the different body compositions we see. Testosterone not only affects muscle growth, but also regulates fat distribution. In men, adipose tissue tends to accumulate around the trunk and abdomen, while in women it carries around the hips and thighs. Women also tend to be curvier due to a combination of larger breasts, wider hips, larger buttocks, and bigger thighs designed for making babies.
These differences in body composition can impact health in different ways. For example, women are more likely to experience issues like osteoporosis, which is linked to lower bone density. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke.
Knowing these differences can help you better understand your own health and how to care for your body. It’s important to remember, though, that everyone is unique and there is no “ideal” body composition for either sex.
Eating for Your Body Type
No matter what body type you are, you should focus on two key aspects: controlling your calorie intake and avoiding processed foods. Eating healthy fats, proteins, and carbs in moderation will help you reach your goals without having to deal with excess weight or feeling fatigued and sluggish. Unprocessed foods such as fruits and vegetables should also be included to provide essential vitamins and minerals.
Ectomorphs are characterized by a small frame, long limbs, and a fast metabolism. This makes it easy to get lean while having a seemingly endless supply of energy. However, such metabolisms can also slow down with age, resulting in excess body fat at which point you might have to change with less emphasis on carbohydrates.
Moderate protein, lower fat, higher carbohydrate diet.
If you’re an ectomorph, you may have difficulty gaining weight, and find that you lose weight easily. The ectomorph diet is all about fuel: you need to eat foods that will give you the energy you need to build muscle and maintain your energy levels throughout the day.
The best diet for ectomorphs is higher in carbs and calories. Each meal should include protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. For example: 50-60% of calories from carbs, 25% from protein and 25% from fat.
Lean proteins, like grass-fed beef, chicken, wild fish, eggs, and legumes, are ideal for building strong muscles, while complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, oats, and quinoa, are perfect for sustaining energy levels. In addition, eating enough healthy fats, including nuts, seeds, and fish, will help your body absorb key vitamins and minerals and promote hormonal balance.
You should focus on eating high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods. Good sources include:
Meat and Fish
- Seafood (wild-caught salmon, trout)
- Lean steak or beef
- Old-fashioned or steel-cut oats
- Brown rice
- Green beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potato
Nuts and Seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
A sample ectomorph meal plan might include:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with banana and nuts
Lunch: Tuna sandwich on whole wheat bread
Dinner: Turkey burger with sweet potato fries and mixed greens
Snacks: Trail mix or protein bar
If you’re an ectomorph and looking to tone up, you’ll want to pay special attention to your workout routine. Use these tips to make the most of your workouts and see results.
Prioritize resistance training
Since ectomorphs can have a hard time adding muscle mass, it’s important to focus on resistance training. This type of exercise helps to build muscle and can be done using weights or bodyweight exercises. When resistance training, ectomorphs should focus on higher repetitions with shorter rest periods in order to maximize muscle gains. Aim for 8-12 reps with 30-60 seconds rest between sets.
Don’t forget about cardio
While cardio isn’t the best way to build muscle, it’s still important for overall health and weight management. Ectomorphs should aim to incorporate moderate-intensity cardio workouts into their routine 2-3 times per week.
Eat enough calories
In order to gain weight, ectomorphs need to make sure they’re eating enough calories each day – aim for around 250 calories more than what you normally eat. If you find that you’re still not gaining weight, try increasing your calorie intake even more.
As a mesomorph, you have a naturally muscular build and are able to add muscle relatively easily. However, you also tend to put on fat more easily than ectomorphs and may struggle to maintain leanness if you don’t eat carefully. The key for a mesomorph diet is to emphasize protein and vegetables while limiting simple carbs and unhealthy fats.
Balanced amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
The mesomorph diet is all about eating in a way that helps you maintain your muscular physique while also keeping your energy levels up. If you fall into this category, your diet should consist of equal parts protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Aim for about one-third of your calories from each macronutrient to help maintain balance.
Protein (⅓ of plate) fuels muscle recovery and repair. “Start thinking about protein as being the center of each of your meals”, says Dr. Carolyn Dean, a medical doctor and naturopath and author of the bestseller ‘The Magnesium Miracle’. It’s your basic structure after all. It doesn’t matter how much carbohydrate or fat you consume – you need muscle to expend that energy. This is why people who have little muscle tone can eat a high-calorie diet and yet feel lethargic all day.
Find healthy choices in high-protein sources like eggs, white meats, fish, beans, lentils, and Greek yogurt.
Fruits and vegetables (⅓). Choose whole foods with their skins rather than processed fruits and vegetables with added sugar and salt. The fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals are vital to immune and muscle health.
Whole grains (⅓), such as quinoa, brown rice, and oats, contain slow-releasing carbohydrates that can help you stay full while preventing hunger cravings later in the day. Simple carbs such as white bread, pastries, candy, and other sweets should be limited for every body type, including mesomorphs. These foods can quickly raise blood sugar levels and lead to fat storage. Instead, focus on complex carbs such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans which provide lasting energy without the drawbacks.
Healthy fats are just as important, but it’s choosing the right ones that matter. Coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), avocado oil, and nuts and seeds like almonds or walnuts are all good choices.
A sample mesomorph meal plan might include:
Breakfast: Omelet with veggies and fruit
Lunch: Grilled chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread
Dinner: Lean steak with sweet potato and broccoli
Snacks: Yogurt or protein shake
If you have a mesomorph body type, you’re probably already aware that you're able to put on muscle fairly easily. You may also find that you have a naturally athletic build and tend to lose fat quickly. In order to maximize your workouts, it's important to keep a few things in mind.
First, focus on exercises that are geared towards building muscle mass. This means incorporating both weightlifting and resistance training into your routine. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts and cardio exercises are important in addition to exercises that build muscle strength. For best results, alternate between this type of workout and moderate cardio like walking fast, jogging, or riding a bike.
This body type is characterized by a higher percentage of body fat and a smaller frame. Despite exercise and diet, visceral body fat can make it hard for the endomorph to lose weight and build muscle, as excess weight typically hangs around the stomach and organs, which can contribute to insulin resistance. Success for endomorphs depends on eating healthy, whole foods and exercising regularly.
High protein and fat, limited carbohydrates.
Endomorphs are usually advised to eat a balanced diet that’s lower in carbohydrates. To shed body fat, this type may follow a diet that has a low carb, high protein, and high fat ratio of 20-40-40. If the goal is weight loss, it’s best to stick to a combination of whole food sources from each food group - while limiting simple carbs. There are close similarities between this diet and the Ketogenic, Mediterranean, and Paleo diets. Many report that this approach has helped them lose fat, reduce their waistlines, and improve insulin resistance.
Healthy, nutrient-dense food options include:
Meat and Fish
- Wild-caught Salmon
Fruit and Berries
- Asparagus (cooked)
- Zucchini (cooked or raw)
- Tomatoes (raw)
- Greens (spinach, kale, romaine)
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
Nuts and seeds
- Nut and seed butter
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
A sample endomorph meal plan might include:
Breakfast: Eggs with avocado and spinach
Lunch: Quinoa salad and roasted vegetables
Dinner: Grilled wild-caught salmon with Brussels sprouts and sweet potato
Snacks: Fruit or nuts
If you have an endomorph body type, your main goals when working out should be to build muscle and lose excess fat.
Here are some tips for how to workout for an endomorph body type:
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. Focus on compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once. This will help you build muscle while burning more calories, compared to isolation exercises. Some great compound exercises for endomorphs include squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows.
- Incorporate interval training into your workouts: Endomorphs tend to do better with short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by periods of rest. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts involve short bursts of intense activity followed by periods of rest or light activity. This type of training is perfect for those who want to build muscle and burn fat at the same time.
- Don’t forget about mobility work and stretching: Because endomorphs tend to have wider hips and shorter legs, they may be more prone to tightness in the hips and lower back. Doing regular mobility work and stretching can help prevent injuries and keep your muscles feeling healthy.
Intermittent Fasting Based on Body Type
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a powerful tool that offers a less restrictive way to improve your health and boost energy levels. It can aid in fat loss, reduce insulin sensitivity and inflammation, and provide anti-aging benefits. But did you know that your body type can affect the kind of method that might be best for you?
Let's take a quick look at how each type responds differently and why you may need to adjust your current plan.
Due to their difficulty gaining weight, ectomorphs often benefit from shorter fasting windows and/or higher calorie meals. The ectomorph may find that fasting helps them to manage their weight and gain healthy muscle. A 16:8 fasting period is ideal for this type, adjusting fasting times as needed to prevent excessive fat loss.
Mesomorphs can typically adapt to different IF protocols relatively easily. Fasting or other forms of calorie restriction can be beneficial for this body type and help with weight loss. Mesomorphs generally have a higher percentage of muscle mass, so they may be able to tolerate longer fasting periods while maintaining their muscle. However, it's important to fuel the body properly before and after workouts, to avoid burning muscle instead of fat.
Longer fasts can be challenging for endomorphs since they tend to struggle with blood sugar swings. Shorter 12-16 hour fasts are recommended. This body type may also benefit from IF methods such as the alternate day or 5:2 fasting schedule. On these protocols, you fast for a whole day or consume very few calories.
Exercise is key for any body type, and it’s especially important for endomorphs. Not only will it help boost the metabolism, but it will also help offset any fatigue or low energy levels that may arise during a fast.
Keep in mind: No matter what your body type is, make sure you're staying properly hydrated while intermittent fasting. During non-fasting hours, avoid high-glycemic foods like refined carbs and sugary snacks. Instead focus on complex carbohydrates, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats. This will stabilize blood sugar levels and help prevent intense cravings throughout the day.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day, since dehydration can quickly lead to fatigue and muscle loss. You can also sip on green tea or bone broth for an extra boost of nutrients.
Aim to consume around half your body weight (in pounds), in ounces of water each day. Adding ¼ teaspoon of natural sea salt to 1L of your drinking water is a great way to get those vital minerals back in your system. Another convenient option is to add a teaspoon of ReMyte® to your water - a doctor-formulated liquid electrolyte formula designed to replenish the nutrients you lose during a fast.
More questions? You might be interested in reading our article A Beginner's Guide to Intermittent Fasting.
The Bottom Line
We all come in different shapes and sizes, and each of us has unique dietary needs. Armed with knowledge about the various body types, you can now start planning your exercise and diet routine with greater precision. Whether you're looking to build muscle, lose fat, get stronger, or simply improve your health - understanding your body type can help you make better choices to maximize your results.