If you’re a skinny guy or gal struggling to gain weight…
Or a “fluffy” one struggling to “shift” fat…
Or somewhere in between…
This is going to be the most important fitness article you read.
And I want to start it with some good news:
Your genetics can’t stop you from getting the body you really desire.
Now, if you were to tell me your goal is to be an elite, competitive weightlifter or bodybuilder or physique competitor…that would be another story.
In those cases, genetics are hugely important.
Yes, steroids are involved and yes, training experience and methodologies matter…but the biggest and strongest guys and gals in the world were abnormally big and strong their entire lives.
For example, let’s look at Ronnie Coleman in his prime:
Equally flabbergasting, though, was him in high school:
Yeah…that’s basically a college linebacker that ran around murdering kids half his size.
And here’s a shot of him at just 25, which, according to him, is around when he started using steroids:
As you can see, Ronnie’s body was just programmed to be freakishly big and strong.
If you or I were to go back in time and live exactly as he did–start training at the same age, do the same workout routines, follow the same diets, take the same drugs, everything–we would never even come close to his “final form.”
Hell, I’m not sure we would even reach his 25-year-old physique.
My point is this: at the top, where everyone works smart and hard, genetics determine who’s truly great and who’s not.
That doesn’t mean that us mere mortals are screwed, though.
Your genetics will influence how quickly you can reach your goals but aren’t going to keep you small, weak, and fat.
And in this article, you’re going to learn the three major body types, how to determine which you (primarily) are, and how to approach dieting and training for maximal results.
Let’s get to it.
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We may all be created equal in a higher, spiritual sense, but not a physical one.
Some people have narrow shoulders and hips, small joints, “stringy” muscles, and long limbs.
Others have wide shoulders, narrow waists, and rounder looking muscles.
Others still have a large, blocky look, with wide hips, thick joints, and shorter limbs.
Some people stay skinny and lean no matter what they eat…some gain muscle and strength fairly easily without gaining much fat…and others gain both muscle and fat quickly and struggle to get really lean.
Well, these basic traits describe the three basic body types: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.
Some people’s bodies have all the hallmarks of one type and little else but more common is a predominant type with “shades” of others.
For example, I’m predominantly a mesomorph with some ectomorphic “shading.”
So, let’s take a look an in-depth look at each body type and see what we can learn.
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The ectomorph is distinguished by the following characteristics:
- Narrow hips and shoulders
- Very small/thin wrists and ankles
- Low amounts of body fat and muscle (skinny and lean)
- Thin, “stringy” looking muscles
- Long limbs
- Struggles to gain weight (both muscle and fat)
- Loses weight easily (ditto)
The ectomorph is the classic “hardgainer.”
He or she has been skinny and lean his or her entire life and (seems to) have a very hard time gaining muscle, strength, or fat.
Many people think the ectomorph is #blessed365 because he can eat “whatever he wants” without getting fat thanks a fast metabolism.
While that may sound fantastic, there are several things to consider…
Many ectomorphs don’t eat as many calories as you (and they) might think.
I’ve worked with hundreds of dominant ectomorphs and I can tell you this: Many tend to eat just one large meal per day with some snacks thrown in.
That one large meal might contain a couple thousand calories but total daily intake is usually within a normal to slightly-higher-than-normal range.
That said, I’ve also come across a fair number of ectomorphs that do maintain weight on a lot of food. You can read more about this here.
Many ectomorphs struggle to eat enough to gain weight and muscle.
I’ve worked with at least 50+ skinny guys that had to work up to eating 4,000+ calories per day just to gain 0.5 to 1 pound per week.
If that sounds orgasmic to you…give it a try for a week and see if it still turns you on.
Unless you have the appetite of a Tyrannosaurus rex, you’ll basically feel like you’re force feeding yourself every day.
Now imagine you had to do that seven days per week, week in, week out. Yeah, it sucks.
The Best Type of Diet for Ectomorphs
If your body falls squarely in the ectomorph category, you’re probably struggling to gain muscle and weight.
First, you should know that there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with your body. You just have some genetic programming that makes building muscle and strength harder than it should be.
Eat enough food and train properly, though, and you’ll make progress like everyone else.
Now, as you know, you’re going to have to eat a lot of food. Likely more than you want or are used to.
The reason for this is your body’s ability to build muscle is strongly affected by how much food you eat.
Eating enough protein is important but isn’t enough.
If you want to build muscle as quickly as possible, you need to eat enough calories as well. Undereat and your body won’t be able to build much muscle.
The reason for this has to do with energy balance, which is the relationship between how much energy you eat and burn every day.
If you feed your body less energy than it burns, you’ve created a “negative energy balance” or “calorie deficit.” This is necessary for losing fat.
A calorie deficit has downsides, however.
- It impairs your body’s ability to synthesize muscle proteins.
That is, your body just can’t add to muscle tissue efficiently when in a calorie deficit.
This double-whammy of reduced testosterone and increased cortisol levels further blunt your body’s ability to build muscle.
- It decreases workout performance.
I don’t need to cite research here because anyone that has restricted calories for fat loss quickly learns this.
People brand new to weightlifting can gain strength while in a calorie deficit but otherwise the best you can hope for is maintenance.
This, of course, isn’t conducive to muscle growth.
These are the three reasons why maximizing muscle growth absolutely requires that you ensure you’re not in a calorie deficit.
And the most reliable way to do that is to slightly overshoot your body’s energy needs and place it in a “calorie surplus.”
This is why it’s often say you have to “eat big to get big.”
That said, you don’t necessarily have to choke down 4,000+ calories per day like the guys I talked about earlier. Chances are you’ll be able to achieve your goals eating quite a bit less.
In fact, it’s in our best interests to work your calories up gradually and use your natural leanness to our advantage.
You see, as body fat levels rise…
Insulin is a hormone that shuttles nutrients into cells.
As the body becomes resistant to its signals, however, its ability to burn fat decreases, the likelihood of further weight gain increases, testosterone levels drop and estrogen levels rise, and protein synthesis rates are suppressed.
As you can see, excessive fat storage while bulking is a triple-whammy of fail: it hinders muscle growth, accelerates fat storage, and makes undoing the weight gain even harder.
And this is why “dirty bulking“–eating everything your convenience store palate desires–is just counter-productive.
Here’s how you do it right:
Maintain a moderate calorie surplus of 5 to 10% when bulking.
You want to maintain a mild surplus because it minimizes fat storage, which in turn increases the amount of time you can remain in a surplus, buliding muscle, before having to cut.
This should allow you to gain 0.5 to 1 pound per week, which is your goal if you’re a man. Women should shoot for about half that.
So, let’s work out your numbers.
Use the following calculator to determine your total daily energy expenditure:
And multiply it by 1.05 for a 5% surplus and 1.1 for a 10% surplus.
If you’re like to learn more about how to turn this into a proper meal plan, click here.
Slowly increase calories if you’re not gaining weight.
I mentioned earlier that you want to gain 0.5 to 1 pound per week (0.25 to 0.5 for women) when bulking.
What should you do when you’re gaining less or no weight whatsoever?
I’ve yet to piece together a holistic scientific explanation for why this is, but my experience working with thousands of people has verified it hundreds of times over.
If you’re gaining strength but not weight (and thus muscle), you’re not eating enough. It’s that simple.
By increasing your calorie intake you’ll eventually bring it into the range that is your body’s “sweet spot” for muscle growth.
Now, I don’t recommend you increase intake willy-nilly. Here’s how you do it right.
1. Keep your protein at 1 gram per pound of body weight.
2. Increase your daily calorie intake by 100 to 150 calories by increasing carbohydrate intake.
That is, add 25 to 35 grams of carbs to your daily intake.
3. If, after 7 to 10 days, your weight is still the same, repeat #2.
Increase daily carb intake repeatedly until you’re gaining weight at the desired rate.
It’s really that simple.
If, in doing this, you find that you’re one of those guys or gals that has to eat a downright Herculean amount of food to gain weight, I recommend that you cap your carbs at about 3 grams per pound.
If you need to increase calorie intake further, start increasing fat intake instead.
Don’t screw it up with massive cheat meals or days.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make while bulking is egregious overeating.
When you’re in a calorie surplus every day and you add a couple “cheat days” on top of it…you can see dramatic spikes in body fat levels.
Don’t do this.
If you’re a guy and you’re over 15% body fat, reduce this to about 10% before bulking. If you’re a girl and over 25% body fat, diet down to ~20% before bulking.
This strategy is ideal for several reasons:
- it preserves insulin sensitivity and hormonal balance,
- it allows you to maintain a calorie surplus for many months before having to reduce body fat levels,
- and it saves you from long, grueling cuts.
Once you reach 15 to 17% (men) or 25 to 27% (women) body fat, stop bulking and start reducing body fat levels.
Regardless of how ectomorph dominant your body is, if you follow the advice in this article, you will gain weight.
Some of it is going to be fat. That’s fine. But you don’t want to get too fat for the reasons given earlier.
That’s why I recommend that, once you reach the body fat ranges given above, you reduce your calorie intake to get back to ~10% (men)/~20% (women) before continuing your bulk.
Do this right and you’ll lose all the fat and little-to-no muscle, putting you in a perfect position to continue bulking.
Juggle your bulks and cuts like this until you’ve gained the size you want.
The “fitness model” look most guys want requires gaining 30 to 40 pounds of muscle and maintaining ~10% body fat or less. If you’re new to weightlifting, you can do this in 3 to 4 years.
Girls need to gain about half that amount of muscle and maintain ~20% body fat or less. Again, this generally takes about 3 to 4 years.
You get there by bulking and cutting as laid out in this article. Keep this in mind as well:
You want your bulks to be as long as possible and cuts as short as possible.
The logic here is simple:
The longer you can bulk before having to cut, the more muscle you can build. And the shorter your cuts, the sooner you can get back to bulking and building muscle.
Personally I like to see bulks go for 4 to 6 months or longer and cuts for 8 to 12 weeks.
Now, so far we’ve only talked about calories. What about macronutrients?
First, don’t even think about going low-carb.
When your focus is building muscle and strength, carbs are your friend. In fact, they’re going to comprise the majority of your calories.
Here’s what I recommend:
- 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
This is plenty for muscle-building purposes.
- 0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight.
This gives your body everything it needs for general health.
- The rest of your calories from carbs.
This leaves a large number of calories for carbs, which is going to help you build muscle faster.
And when the goal is fat loss, place yourself in a 20 to 25% calorie deficit and use the follow macronutrient guidelines:
- 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Slightly more protein to help with muscle retention.
- 0.2 grams of fat per pound of body fat.
Slightly less fat because it allows for more carbs without impairing health.
- The rest of your calories from carbs.
High-carb dieting in a calorie deficit helps maintain strength and muscle (and doesn’t impair fat loss).
The Best Workout for Ectomorphs
No matter how good your diet is, you’re not going to see results unless you’re also training correctly.
Here’s what ectomorphs need to know:
Emphasize heavy compound weightlifting in your workouts.
This is the foundation of muscle building for natural weightlifters and heavy weightlifting is especially important for ectomorphs.
In my experience, naturally skinny guys and gals tend to respond very poorly to the high-rep, “pump” style of training.
Push yourself hard in your training but don’t overtrain.
High-frequency workout programs are really popular these days but you have to be careful with this approach.
Your muscles and nervous system can only take so much of a beating every week before your body falls behind in its ability to repair the damage caused by training.
Training frequency alone doesn’t determine much in the way of gains. That is, just because you train a muscle group once, twice, or thrice per week doesn’t guarantee you’ll make progress.
Total weekly volume (number of reps performed) and intensity (load in terms of percentage of 1RM) are more important than frequency.
Get these right and you’ll be in the money.
Training frequency is best viewed as a tool to hit optimal amounts of weekly volume and intensity. And there are many ways to skin, or split, that cat.
You can learn more about determining the right volume, intensity, and frequency here.
What About Cardio?
The general advice to ectomorphs trying to gain weight and size is to do as little cardio as possible, with none being ideal.
I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration.
Yes, everyone, regardless of body type, should limit cardio while focusing on gaining size, but doing small amounts can be beneficial.
And when cutting, low-to-moderate amounts of cardio help get the job done faster without sacrificing muscle.
You can learn more about how much cardio you should do here.
The Best Supplements for Ectomorphs
The vast majority of “muscle-building” supplements are crap.
- Natural hormone boosters do nothing.
- Nitric oxide supplements are over-hyped.
- Protein powder can help you hit your protein needs but isn’t necessary by any means.
The only supplement someone trying to gain muscle should definitely take is creatine. Here’s why.
And as far as fat loss goes, most “fat burner” supplements are junk…but some do work. Learn more here.
The mesomorph is distinguished by the following characteristics:
- Wide shoulders
- Narrow waist
- Thin joints
- Thicker, rounder muscles
- Normal or slightly above normal amount of lean mass
- Gains muscle and loses fat easily
- Doesn’t lose muscle as easily as the ectomorph
If you’re a dominant mesomorph, go give your parents a big hug and kiss because, well, you win.
When it comes to physicality, mesomorphs get to have their cake and eat it too.
They build muscle and strength easily but aren’t predisposed to fat gain…they have a high aerobic capacity…and their naturally attractive V shape–wide shoulders and narrow waists–only becomes more pronounced as they build their physiques.
That said, nothing comes easily. If you’re largely a mesomorph, you get a running start but you still have to finish the race.
The Best Diet for Mesomorphs
True to form, the mesomorph gets to enjoy the most flexible and all-around enjoyable type of diet.
Simply put, the mesomorphic type gets the flexibility of the ectomorph…but generally doesn’t have to eat as much to gain muscle and weight…and sees better results on less food.
A mesomorph may be able to eat 1,000 fewer calories per day than an ectomorph but gain muscle and strength faster.
Furthermore, when cutting, your average mesomorph will also eat less than your average ectomorph, but will be less likely to lose muscle and strength.
So, to summarize for the mesomorph:
- If above 15% (men)/25% (women) body fat, cut fat first.
- Utilize a small calorie surplus to build muscle and a moderately aggressive deficit to lose fat.
- Increase calories gradually to continue gaining weight and strength.
- Bulking periods should be much longer than cutting periods.
- End bulks around 15% (men)/25% (women) body fat, cut back to 10%/20%, and repeat.
- High-protein, high-carb, and moderate/low-fat dieting is best.
Nothing else to it, really.
The Best Workout for Mesomorphs
When we’re talking natural weightlifting, the basics don’t change regardless of body type:
- Emphasize heavy, compound lifting.
- Make sure your weekly volume isn’t too high or low.
- Make sure your muscles are recovering from your workouts.
Check out this article to learn how to build an effective workout routine.
What About Cardio?
Like the ectomorph, cardio should be added or subtracted according to goals.
The Best Supplements for Mesomorphs
Nothing changes here.
The endomorph is distinguished by the following characteristics:
- Wide shoulders, rib cage, and waist (“blocky” look)
- Thick joints
- Shorter limbs
- Higher than normal amount of lean mass and (usually) body fat
- Gains muscle, strength, and fat easily
- Doesn’t lose muscle easily
- Can struggle to lose fat, and especially stubborn fat
Endomorphs are naturally big and strong and generally respond best to resistance training and have the highest potentials for strength and size.
They have no trouble gaining muscle and getting strong but often struggle with body fat levels. They also don’t have the structure for the classic “aesthetic” mesomorphic look.
That said, endomorphs can make great athletes and look fantastic. They just need to work with and not against their genetics.
The Best Diet for Endomorphs
Like the ectomorph and mesomorph, the endomorph’s diet should begin with the same fundamentals of energy balance.
Gaining weight and muscle requires a calorie surplus and losing fat requires a deficit.
Similarly, when bulking, a slight calorie surplus is best and when cutting, an aggressively moderate deficit is ideal.
Where things can differ, though, is in the macronutrient breakdown. And specifically, in carbohydrate intake.
You see, nothing changes in terms of protein and fat needs but “carbohydrate sensitivity” seems to vary more among endomorphs than ecto- and mesomorphs.
What this boils down to something we’ve already discusses: insulin sensitivity.
- After eating a high-carb meal, signs of good insulin sensitivity are muscles that feel “full” (almost like a pump you get in the gym), mental alertness, stable energy levels, and fullness.
- Signs of poor sensitivity are bloat, gassiness, mental fogginess and inability to focus, sleepiness, and hunger soon after eating.
A simple rule of thumb is if you’re responding well to the carbs–both the amount and types–you’re eating, carry on.
If you’re not, however, you’ll likely benefit from a change in either the amount or type of carbs you’re eating or both.
- In terms of type, you’ll likely do better with lower-glycemic carbs.
- In terms of amount, you can first reduce the amount of carbs you’re eating in each meal by eating more frequently. Try to keep it at/below 50 grams of carbs per meal.
If that doesn’t alleviate the symptoms, you can reduce your total daily carbohydrate intake. Cut your daily intake by 50 grams for 7 to 10 days and reassess. (And increase fat intake to hit caloric needs.)
That’s all there is to know.
The Best Workout for Endomorphs
This is where the endomorph shines.
He/she gains muscle and strength faster than average and, based on my experience working with quite a few endomorphs, can often benefit from weekly training volumes that would cause ecto- and mesomorphic types problems.
The bottom line is if you’re an endomorph, you’re going to respond well to weightlifting.
And, like ectomorphs and mesomorphs, you’re going to respond best to a workout program that emphasizes heavy, compound lifting and relegates high-rep, low-weight training to “accessory” work.
What About Cardio?
There’s nothing special to be said here, really.
The Best Supplements for Endomorphs
Nothing changes here, either.
As you can see, most of the advice out there for different body types is really just meant to sell PDFs, pills, and powders.
There are considerable differences between the physical traits and inclinations of ectomorphic, mesomorphic, and endomorphic body types…but not in how they should eat and train to get the results they want.
Remember…your body type is a predisposition, not a predestination.
Regardless of your type, eat right, train hard, supplement optionally and intelligently, and you can build a strong, muscular, and lean body that you can be proud of.
I hope this article helps.
What’s your take on body types? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
+ Scientific References
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