Embracing Your Design
Have you ever looked in the mirror and wished your body was a different shape? Who hasn’t?! We all seem to possess an intrinsic need to compare our bodies to others’, and we’re usually dissatisfied with what we’ve been given. “I wish I was thinner. I wish I wasn’t so scrawny. I wish I didn’t have such broad shoulders. I wish my thighs weren’t so big.”
You know your body better than any other person and you are also your toughest critic.
Sometimes, we are blind to our genetic “gifting” because we have placed a particular body type on a pedestal. Everything in you wants to look like a tall, slender model, but you’re 5’ 2” and pack on muscle just by looking at a dumbbell. So, do you give up? Do you throw in the towel, thinking “well, I’ll never look like that, so whatever”? Goodness, no! ("Pete the Cat" anyone? Just me? Nevermind...)
You need to learn more about how you have been designed, your uniqueness, and your capabilities. Once you understand your own body, you can create a very realistic set of expectations and goals. And you can pursue what “peak fitness” means for you, individually.
You may have heard these words before: endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph. These are general categories of body structure as well as muscle and fat storage and distribution, called somatotypes.
An ectomorph tends to be naturally thin with skinny limbs. Think of marathon runners. These types of people are more naturally inclined to endurance exercise, have a high metabolism, have an easier time staying thin, have a more petite bone structure and generally don’t struggle with their weight. They can be tall or short, but are typically slim. Ectomorphs have a harder time building muscle mass.
Mesomorphs are generally muscular and compact. Think of soccer players, bodybuilders and sprinters. They pack on muscle easily, have a relatively easy time controlling body fat levels, have a medium to large bone structure and tend to be naturally strong. When they slim down, their muscles really “pop”.
An endomorph is naturally inclined to being broader and thicker. For endomorph athletes, they excel as powerlifters, football players, and throwers. They typically have a slower metabolism, have a harder time maintaining healthy body fat levels, and carry most of their weight around their midsection. When they lose body fat, they sometimes still feel stout.
Can you be a combination?
Absolutely. You may find that you don’t really fall into any specific category. You could be ecto-mesomorph, where you are athletic looking yet still on the thin side, especially in your arms and legs. You could also be endo-mesomorph, heavily muscled yet carrying extra body fat around the midsection.
Which one is best and can I change my type?
It’s too hard to say that any of these somatotypes are the best. We initially might want to be an ectomorph because they’re thin and don’t struggle with weight, but they also have a hard time being strong and feeling athletically competent. Ectomorphs may hide behind their lean appearance and neglect proper nutrition and physical activity, creating a very unhealthy body on the inside.
A mesomorph type sounds the healthiest, being relatively lean and maintaining muscle mass, but this is a tough one for women, especially. We’ve learned that there isn’t anything glamorous about bulging muscles, so the difficulty with this type is certainly aesthetics. Also, similar to the ectomorph, the mesomorph can “get away” with eating less healthy because their elevated metabolism created by muscle mass will burn off a lot of extra calories. They may have a false sense of health.
Many will despise the fact that they’re an endomorph, having a very difficult time losing body fat and feeling lean. However, there are many men and women endomorphs who have dialed it all in for their body type and feel powerful, strong and healthy. They may not be petite, but who cares?
Your somatotype can certainly be altered by your lifestyle – how you train and how you eat. You could be a genetic ectomorph or endomorph, but because you’ve eaten and trained well for years, you begin to resemble more of a mesomorph. Or on the flipside, you may be an ectomorph or mesomorph, but because you’ve neglected a healthy lifestyle your body type begins to look and behave more like an endomorph.
What should you do?
Ok, so now you should have a good idea of your beautiful design. How have you been built? Are you ecto-, meso-, endo-, or somewhere in between? Instead of loathing and fighting against your own body’s design, let’s work with it, to make it the healthiest it can be.
Recommendations for Ectomorphs
Fortunately for you, you probably have a fast metabolic rate and higher carbohydrate tolerance. Your training goals should be to gain muscle mass to support your slender bone structure. You probably feel the most comfortable going for a long run, but you really should spend some time with weights, gradually getting pretty heavy to encourage muscle growth. You don’t need a lot of extra calorie expenditure through high intensity cardio.
You need to make sure you fuel your body well with a good combination of protein, fats and carbs. Over half of your diet should consist of healthy carbohydrates, then the other half should be equally divided up between protein and fat. This means when you look at your plate, over half of it should be filled with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, then fill the other half up with protein and healthy fat. You can certainly eat a serving of whole grains with every meal. As always, pay attention to portion sizes for your gender (more on that in this portion sizing article). Need some ideas for how to put this into action? Click here for an ectomorph specific meal plan.
Recommendations for Mesomorphs
Don’t be ashamed of your muscles! A mesomorph will tend towards either being chubby or muscular, depending on how fit they are. There is not much chance of being very slender, so you might as well be muscular! You most likely have a moderate to high metabolic rate, and you tend to be testosterone and growth hormone dominant, making it much easier for you to build and maintain muscle mass. You will feel the most comfortable in your body when you focus on encouraging muscular strength and a low body fat percentage. You probably don’t like distance training, so don’t force it! You will feel the best with sprinting and a variety of resistance training. If you do have some fat to lose, focus on high intensity resistance training, or circuit style strengthening. This does wonders for burning fat while building and maintaining your muscle mass.
Mesomorphs have a moderate tolerance for carbohydrates, so they can eat one or two servings of starchier carbs per day (whole grains and sugary fruits). Their overall carbohydrate consumption should not be near what an ectomorph’s is, but approximately 40% of a mesomorph’s diet can be carbohydrates. The rest should be equally divided between lean protein and a variety of healthy fats. Practically speaking, if you’re a mesomorph, you should be focusing on eating lots of lean protein, fresh vegetables, healthy fats, and some fruit and whole grains daily. Click here for a mesomorph specific meal plan to help implement these principles.
Recommendations for Endomorphs
As an endomorph, your goal is probably to lose body fat, especially in the central region of your body (abdomen, hips, back). This is a little harder for you, since endomorphs tend to have a slower metabolic rate and are insulin dominant (meaning sugars get shuttled into storage quite quickly!). Don’t fret! You just need to train and eat for your body type. It simply won’t work if you train and eat like an ectomorph, or even a mesomorph. Endomorphs are more inclined to being very strong and powerful, so foster that! Lift heavy weights and lift them quickly. The benefit of doing strength and power based training is that it burns A LOT of calories, leading to fat loss. Circuit style resistance training that greatly elevates your heart rate is a phenomenal way to lose body fat, too. So don’t feel like you should be out there running marathons with the ectomorphs. Embrace your natural abilities and focus on being leaner and stronger.
Because of your slower metabolic rate and insulin dominance, you should be a little more careful with the carbohydrates. The majority of your diet should be fats and proteins (and actually a little more fat than protein, believe it or not!). Only about 25% of your diet should be carbohydrates, and it’s best if the majority of this comes from vegetables. Starchier carbohydrates (grains, sugars, and even sugary fruits) are going to have a heyday in your body, so limit them as much as possible. Focus on combining the powers of training and lean eating to help you achieve a healthy body fat percentage (18-22% for women). You will feel awesome when you’re in that zone! Putting this into practice can be difficult. For help, click here for an endomorph specific meal plan.
I find that it’s enlightening to know my own body’s design. It’s not by mistake, so why should I loathe it?
Personally, I am a solid mesomorph. I wish I tended toward the ecto-mesomorph side, but it’s just not me. I look at a dumbbell and a muscle bulges. I have been called “man-arms” before (which was a little scarring as a highschooler), but I’m ok with it now. I notice that if I neglect my strength training, instead of losing muscle mass, I just plump up. There’s no “long and lean” here, friends. It is what it is.
And I’m glad God chose to design me this way. He’s good at what He does, so I won’t wish for something different.
I hope you can feel the same.
It’s important that you understand your own frame and work on being the healthiest version of you.
It’s going to look different for everybody. Your training may look different from someone else, and your plate of food may look different from someone else. Stop criticizing your own body and start embracing what you’ve been given.