Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Working your Body Type: Diet and Workout Variations for Endomorphs, Ectomorphs, and Mesomorphs

Do you know your body type?  Do you know how to adjust lifestyle factors based on it?

From experience we know that some people are simply shaped differently, have certain natural abilities and react to foods differently.  In Western science terms we have body and psychological typing. The three main body types... Endomorph, Ectomorph, and Mesomorph are the extreme types and used as a way to help us understand the various poles and triangulate our individual composition which is a combination of a primary and secondary composition. Learning about all three body types will help provide an understanding of why some people seem to loose fat faster than others, while others can gain muscle faster.  The two main differences between the different body types are the physical body structure and metabolism speed.  These genetic fitness factors along with your fitness/body goals, will influence your the exercise and diet choices. I’ll say this right upfront though, body type is not an excuse, you are still in control and can look and feel great with any body type.

Endomorph - the naturally larger, rounder (generally apple or pear shaped), fatter body type with a slower metabolism.  In the extreme endomorph there is a concentration in the abdominal area and digestive system.  The arms and legs are short and tapering, and the hands and feet comparatively small.  They gain weight the quickest and easiest in multiple areas of their body and are challenged to loose and keep fat off.  Typical image issues for endomorphs are that they are seen as unhealthy, lazy, unattractive, and big.  Strength is often their fitness strong suite as they are adept at gaining muscle, which is key in shifting their metabolism and body composition.  They will never be slim per say as nobody can change their body structure, but they do not have to live with excessive body fat.  You can work to lower your body fat set point, increase lean muscle and speed up your metabolism but it will require commitment to consistency in the appropriate diet and exercise for a sustained period of time to make the transformation complete.  It is similar in function to an enzyme where you not only need the right inputs but you need the temperature to rise to a certain threshold before the chemical conversion will take place.  It takes about 3 months or so of consistently raising your temperature to really flip the metabolism switch in your body.

Ectomorph - the naturally skinny body type with a fast metabolism. In the extreme ectomorph the limbs are relatively long, the shoulders droop and the fingers, toes and neck are long, with the ribs often visible and the thighs and upper arms weak. These people have probably been very skinny their entire life and when poor diet and lifestyle creates extra fat, and believe me it still will, it usually sits right on their belly and nowhere else.  This allows them to eat pretty much whatever they want without getting too visibly fat however they struggle to gain any healthy muscle weight. Typical image issues are that they are seen as weak, slight, unattractive and lacking shape “stick”.  Notice that people with two completely opposite body types can have the same feeling of unattractiveness, so Endo’s don’t hate on Ecto’s.  Again, you are still in control, this is not an excuse.  You can work to increase muscle mass and strength and regulate your metabolism but again it will require commitment to consistency in the appropriate diet and exercise for a sustained period of time to make the transformation complete.  See a pattern here?

Mesomorph - the naturally muscular body type with a square shape and more balanced metabolism.  In the extreme mesomorph the chest area dominates over the abdominal area and tapers to a relatively narrow, low waist.  Both the lower and upper arms and legs are well-developed and the wrists and fingers are heavy.  These body types can generally quickly and easily gain muscle and lose fat.  Women are less likely to be strongly of this type but when they are image issues often arise as being too muscular, masculine, “beastly”.  This does not however mean that a mesomorph is muscular with low body fat, it just means they have an easier time maintaining it with healthy diet and exercise, so in determining your primary body type you need to think about your body at your healthiest and unhealthiest points as well as the ease with which your body fat and muscle changes.

See the completed chart and assess yourself. What is your primary and secondary body type?

Now that you know your body type, don't be mad at your genetics, there is a trade off to each type.  You cannot change them, but don't use them as an excuse either.  The only reason your body isn't the best it can be is because of you and you alone. Based on your fitness goals, you can alter each body type in any direction with determination and a diet and exercise program tailored to your needs.  The endomorph can lose body fat. The ectomorph can gain muscle. The mesomorph can do both.  As you get further into your program you might notice some tendencies of your secondary body type.  This just means you will have to fine-tune your diet and workout through your own experience and with the help of a nutritionist and/or personal coach if possible.

Too often our Western health system and the fitness community treats everyone the same, be it sick or preventive care, when we are all different in our genetic make-up, physical composition/shape and mental conditioning.  Only in Eastern medicine do you really see a foundation based on these differences.  The first time I came across this was in reading about Ayurveda, the long time health practice in India.  It starts with a deep assessment of a person’s body, mind, and lifestyle to determine someone’s dosha or make-up, which is a combination of three types that are all based on the attributes of base elements: air, water, fire and earth, which I interpret as genetic code.  This struck me as a more sensible viewpoint and model, however the details and validity of the Ayurvedic prescriptions I cannot vouch for.

Interestingly the man who originally studied body types also created psychological typing and he found that they were correlated to the body types.  If body/psychological typing interests you, here is a website that summarizes the work of William Sheldon, (1898-1977) an American psychologist who devoted his life to observing the variety of human bodies and temperaments. He taught and did research at a number of U.S. universities and is best known for his series of books on the human constitution. http://www.innerexplorations.com/catpsy/t1c4.htm

As far as diet and program guidance for a primary body types here is a quick chart with my basic approach.

Program Variation
Fitness Goals

Body Types Balanced


Fat  Burner
-    Burn body fat
-    Slim down
-    Build strength
-    Tone muscles
-    Get fit


Endo-Meso Combos
-       Calorie deficit
-       Full cardio
-       Higher repetitions
-       Moderate resistance
-       Moderate sets
Muscle Builder
-    Gain muscle size
-    Maintain body fat
-    Build strength
-    Look fit
Ecto-Meso Combos
-       Calorie surplus
-       Limited cardio
-       Lower repetitions
-       High resistance
-       Extra sets
Lean Machine
-    Burn body fat
-    Get ripped
-    Build strength
-    Get super fit
Meso-Ecto Combos
-       Calorie balance
-       Full cardio
-       Low or high repetitions
-       High or mod resistance
-       Extra sets


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