There's so many names thrown around that are used to describe the female body, from comparisons to fruits, being pear or apple-shaped, having a peach booty or an hourglass figure, and the list goes on.
Perhaps one of the most buzzing systems to categorise human body types is by somatotypes. Aiming to describe the genetic physical predisposition and build of an individual, this classification places the human body into one of the three basic body types, known as endomorph, mesomorph or ectomorph.
So, what are the ins and outs of somatotyping, and could it be just the secret we need to unlock our full potential by eating and training a certain way? Let’s dive right in and find out!
The Somatotypes Theory
Developed in the 1940s by American psychologist William Sheldon, somatotyping aims to categorise the human physique as combinations of 3 fundamental elements - 'ectomorphic', 'mesomorphic' and 'endomorphic'. Dr Sheldon described physical traits of the three basic somatotypes as follows:Ectomorph
- Petite frame and bone structure
- Narrow shoulders
- Small chest
- Naturally lean
- Fast metabolism
- Difficulty gaining weight and building muscle
- Medium frame
- Athletic build
- Prominent muscle definition
- Natural strength
- Predisposition for building muscle easily
- Larger bone structure
- Rounder body shape
- Minimal natural muscle definition
- Higher body fat % and harder time losing it
- Slow metabolism
Even within the original system, it’s acknowledged that trying to describe an individual by a single somatotype would be an oversimplification in most cases. Instead, Dr Sheldon considered each individual a combination of the above, with some traits being more dominant than others.
So, how does the 80-year-old theory hold up today, and more specifically...
Should you eat and train for your somatotype?
One of the main reasons somatotyping lives on in the fitness world is because it’s often speculated that one can tailor their nutrition and training to their natural somatotype and achieve superior results. It’s not rare to come across statements along the lines of “mesomorphs respond quickly to weight training”, or “endomorphs should eat low carbs to lose weight”.
But is there any scientific merit to such claims? Unfortunately, the answer is not really.
Interestingly, in its original form, the theory was largely aiming to predict human temperament by assessing someone’s body type - very little to do with fitness and dieting! This approach has been quickly identified as a hoax and rejected by the scientific community many years ago.
The heavily modified version of somatotyping, refined and developed by Sheldon’s assistant Barbara Heath (and later Lindsay Carter and Rob Rempel), is still featured in scientific literature - however, it’s not used to prescribe lifestyle modifications. Instead, it usually describes body type differences between different sports, in a quest to explore the link between one’s build and athletic performance.
And describing vs prescribing a lifestyle are 2 different things entirely!
As such, somatotypes provide very little insight into how an individual will respond to a certain training and nutrition protocol. We simply cannot determine that just by assessing someone’s baseline appearance!
For instance, despite the assumption that those with highly “ectomorphic” traits and low baseline muscle mass should find it very difficult to put muscle on, research shows that this is most definitely not a hard rule, and sometimes those with the lowest muscle mass have the greatest muscle gain potential.
Likewise, while body composition plays a large part in determining nutritional requirements, adhering to a certain diet or macronutrient split shouldn’t rely solely on the body type classification.
If not somatotypes, then what?
If your somatotype doesn’t determine your ideal lifestyle, then what does?
Don't get us wrong - it can be fun to explore different somatotypes and where you may fall between them! But the truth is, instead of giving too much power to any single factor - being that body type, family history, or someone else’s progress - it’s important to acknowledge that what’s best for you at any given time, depends on a large number of factors, such as:
- Current body composition
- Activity levels
- Preferred training styles
- Nutritional needs, including any special requirements
- General health
- Goals you are looking to achieve
- And so much more!
And as these factors may change over time, so can your approach to training and nutrition. For example, completely different strategies can be applied if you’re looking to improve your strength or change your body composition, and neither of those goals are “right” or “wrong” just because you match a certain somatotype.
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