What is Somatotype Theory?

Somatotype theory was originally developed by psychologist William Herbert Sheldon in an attempt to categorize the different human physiques.  Back in the 1940s, Sheldon came up with the theory that everyone’s body composition could fit into one of three basic categories: endomorph, mesomorph, or ectomorph.

Over the years, scientists have elucidated a number of physical characteristics that make each category unique.  More recently, researchers have also demonstrated that different somatotypes may have different nutritional and training requirements and may be more or less suited for certain sports.  

However, it’s important to point out that experts have come to a general agreement that while there are some exceptions, most people do not fit neatly into just one category.  Instead, you can think of somatotypes as existing on a spectrum, with most people falling somewhere in between two categories.       

What Are the Different Body Types?

endomorph

Endomorph

The endomorph is identified by a relatively large midsection with wider shoulders and hips as well as shorter limbs.  His or her body can generally be described as pear-shaped.  

The endomorph also carries around more body mass than the other body types.  While they may have a considerable amount of lean muscle mass, they also have more body fat.  Endomorphs also have a slower metabolism, which can often make losing fat more difficult.       

Mesomorph

mesomorph

Mesomorphs are primarily defined by a muscular and lean physique — think NFL running back or female UFC fighter.  They have a v-shaped torso with broad shoulders that taper down to a slim waist. Like the endomorph, they carry around a significant amount of muscle mass but mesomorphs are naturally lean, with low body fat percentages and well-defined muscles.  They have little trouble either losing or gaining weight when required.    

Ectomorph

ectomorph

The ectomorph is the last of the three somatotypes.  Men and women with this body type appear slight with less overall body mass and little indication of well-defined muscle.  While they can be lean, they can also appear skinny fat. Ectomorphs are commonly described as “hard gainers”; they have fast metabolisms and may find packing on additional mass more difficult than the other body types. 

Most People Fall Somewhere In Between

If the characteristics of a mesomorph don’t exactly describe your own body, there’s no need to worry.  The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people don’t fit all that neatly into one category.  While you may fall closer to one than the other, chances are your body type is likely a combination of two somatotypes.

Although some people may find it more difficult to gain or lose weight depending on their body type, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.  Developing a sound understanding of where you sit on the somatotype spectrum can help you formulate a clear strategy to achieve your goals, no matter whether you’re trying to build muscle or lose body fat.        

Why Is Knowing Your Somatotype Useful?

Nutrition

Knowing which somatotype your body most closely aligns with can have several advantages.  First, different body types have different nutritional requirements and may be more or less responsive to different macronutrients.  Therefore, knowing where you fall on the spectrum can help you identify the types of foods that work best for your body type.     

Endomorphs typically require diets that are higher in protein and fat but lower in carbohydrates.  Those who fall closest to the endomorphic body type are particularly vulnerable to gaining body fat when they take in too many carbs.    

A good place to start with your macronutrient ratio if you’re an endomorph might be somewhere around 25% of your calories coming from carbs, 35% from protein, and 40% from fat.  Everyone’s body is a little different, so you may need to experiment a little until you find the split that works best for you.  

Mesomorphs often do better with a slightly more balanced macro split.  Unlike endomorphs, those with a mesomorphic body type aren’t as vulnerable to gaining fat from eating too many carbs.  A good starting point for those who fall closest to this category might be somewhere around 40% of your calories coming from carbohydrates, 30% from protein, and 30% fat.    

Ectomorphs generally need more carbs and less fat in their diets compared to the other body types.  However, an adequate protein intake is still required, especially when it comes to building muscle.  A suitable macro split for ectomorphs might be somewhere in the vicinity of 55% carbs, 25% protein, and 20% fat.  

Again, no matter what body type you most closely resemble, you may have to experiment with your diet and macro split until you find what works best for you.  

Training 

Knowing where your body type falls on the spectrum can also come in handy in the weight room.  Different body types tend to respond to weight training in different ways; what works for an ectomorph, for example, may not be all that effective for an endomorph when it comes to making gains in the gym.  

Endomorphs tend to respond better to heavier weights and lower reps in the weight room.  Because they already have a significant amount of muscle mass, building muscle is not necessarily the goal.  Instead, those who fall closest to the endomorphic body type may see the best results through strength training.   

Ectomorphs, on the other hand, may find more success in the weight room by focusing on lighter weights and more reps.  The goal for those who fall into this category is packing on some additional muscle mass. Ectomorphs are likely to see the best results through a bodybuilding-style training program.  

Mesomorphs can be pretty responsive to either style of training and those who are closest to the mesomorphic somatotype may benefit most in the weight room through a combination of both strength training and bodybuilding.   

Athletics

Different body types may also be more or less inclined to excel at certain sports.  While many may associate athletes solely with the mesomorphic body type, there are plenty of sports in which ectomorphs and endomorphs may be successful. 

Mesomorphs are generally pretty versatile and can excel in a number of different sports.  Because they possess a combination of strength, endurance, and quickness, they are well suited in most sports that involve such characteristics.  Mesomorphs are well-represented in most major sports, from football and soccer to hockey and baseball.  

Because they carry around more mass, endomorphs may have more difficult in sports that emphasize speed and agility.  However, endomorphs tend to excel in sports that require a combination of size and strength.  Certain positions in football, as well as sports like shotput, powerlifting, and strongman, tend to be dominated by endomorphs.  

Ectomorphs are most likely to excel in sports that require a smaller body surface and less body mass.  While their lack of size may limit them in some sports, ectomorphs typically dominant sports like long-distance running, cycling, and rock climbing, where a larger body mass is typically not desirable.  

Wrap Up

While most people don’t neatly fit into one somatotype, understanding where you fall on the spectrum can be beneficial in several ways.  

No matter whether you’re trying to gain or lose weight, knowing your body type can help you fine-tune your diet.  On top of that, it can also help help you to identify a training program that will best help you achieve your goals.     

When it comes to athletics, there are sports that favor each somatotype.  Choosing a sport that closely aligns with your characteristics and attributes is the best way to find success.