We are all born with an inherited body type based on skeletal frame and body composition. Somatotyping illustrates three distinct body shapes based on fat and muscle distribution and bone structure. Most people are a combination of these body shapes. Somatotyping has long been used by dieticians and nutritionists, exercise physiologists, doctors and even coaches when it comes to scouting new athletes.
An American psychologist William Herbert Sheldon, in the 1940’s developed somatotyping to categorise the human physique. His early descriptions were associated with physical and psychological traits. The psychological traits have largely been ignored and in the 1960’s Heath and Carter developed the Heath-Carter Formula that uses height, weight and specific body circumferences, bone breadths and skin folds.
The three body types are Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph. Body size and variations in muscle mass has the greatest effect on metabolic rate and their ease of ability to gain muscle or reduce fat.
Ectomorphs: are classically long, slender and thin. They find it hard to gain muscle or fat mass.
With their slight build, power and strength, sports will be more challenging and they are more likely to succeed in endurance sports and gymnastics. Low body fat and overtraining in this body type is more sensitive to lead to amenorrhea or ‘cessation of periods’. Amenorrhea has serious complications such as effecting fertility, reduced bone mass and a reduced sex drive.
– Regular meals and snacks to allow one to meet energy needs
– Regular sources of carbohydrate are important to fuel the body. Low GI carbohydrate, whole food sources such as whole grains, pseudo grains (e.g. quinoa, buckwheat) sweet potato and beans and legumes regularly distributed over the day will help stabilise blood sugar levels and prevent energy lows.
– For athletes involved in endurance sports, regular, easy to digest carbohydrate sources such as gels, sports drinks and lollies during exercise will prevent further muscle breakdown and promote greater performance.
– For weight gain or muscle goals, regular carbohydrate intakes as well as regular sources of healthy essential fats will provide value with their high energy yield per gram. Avocado, extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, nuts and nut butters are nutrient and energy dense sources that can assist in weight gain where a positive energy balance is required.
– Some more refined carbohydrate sources such as white rice and white bread may also add value for weight gain. With a reduced fibre content these foods can help meet higher energy intakes without feeling over full.
Endomorphs: are typically a larger build with a greater bone structure.
They naturally carry a large amount of both fat and muscle easily but struggle to shift fat. Their stature is usually shorter with a thick trunk, arms and legs. Sports requiring high levels of agility or speed will provide challenge. Repetitive weight bearing aerobic activities such as running may also lead to injury with greater impact. Power lifting and other sports requiring pure strength is where the endomorph dominates. A large lung capacity is also often found which is beneficial in non-weight-bearing aerobic activities like rowing and swimming. They can gain muscle mass much easier than ectomorphs.
– A diet bulked up with satisfying whole foods are key for attaining a healthy weight. Foods with a high water content (fresh fruit and vegetables), high in fibre (whole grains, fruit and vegetables) and have a low GI will help promote satiety (fullness) at lower energy intakes.
– In addition, a moderate lean protein diet with a source at all main meals is also shown to help with satiety. Rich sources of protein come from lean meat and reduced fat dairy. For a plant based diet, beans and legumes provide a valuable source.
– A low fat diet will also help meeting nutrition requirements more achievable without contributing to a positive energy balance and weight gain.
– Weight training will provide great value to an endomorphs weight management, helping to build lean muscle and increase metabolic rate.
Mesomorphs: are stereotypically medium in build, have a greater muscle mass and lower levels of body fat.
This body type usually excels in strength, agility and speed making them an ideal athlete in many sports. They can usually sustain lower body fat levels. With a higher muscle mass they will typically have a high metabolic rate and a greater ability to store glycogen (carbohydrate) which can benefit longer duration and moderate to high intensity exercise.
– Although weight is not often a concern, no body type is resistant against a poor diet. Eating from all five food groups in the recommended amounts for age and gender is a baseline recommendation for all body types. With each food group based on nutrients they contain. Following these recommendation allows us to meet our over 35 essential nutrients (bodies key tools) in the right amounts.
– With a high metabolic rate, they can be more resilient to varying ratios of macronutrients. Although a more active mesomorph will have a greater requirement for carbohydrate and protein given their higher muscle mass, fuel uses and protein required for repair.
This method is still today used in sports science and physical education programs of numerous institutions.