What body type are you?

The guiding principle behind the YBP philosophy is that we are all different. We all learn differently, are suited to different jobs, some creative, some more academic. We all like different foods, movies, art, sports, and so on. Some believe in different deities and have specific ways in which they worship them. Some people choose to eat a diet that avoids certain foods for their own personal reasons, whether that be religious, ethical or simply health related. We are all different shapes and sizes, with different length limbs, different colour skin, eyes and hair. There is not a better or a worse, it is what it is, we are what we are. We believe the secret for all of us is to be proud and be the healthiest, happiest and best version of us that we can be.

When it comes to exercise and nutrition the body type you are will determine largely how you should eat and exercise to achieve your own personal results. The type of muscle fibre a specific body type has, their metabolism speed, as well as that person’s specific goal, will govern how that person should be training and eating. How many calories, and the macronutrient ratios (fat, carbs and protein) someone should consume per day depends on that person’s body type, weight, age, height, daily physical activity level and goal.

Then we have all the other variables that need to be considered when creating a truly personalised programme for someone. Injuries, postural issues, exercise ability level, sleep, stress, digestive wellness, immunity, liver function, hormone balance, psychology, pregnancy, current diet plan, allergies and intolerances to name a few. Now it gets easier to see why generic one size fits all programmes will rarely work in the long term.

All this information allows us to build the perfect, bespoke programme. How many reps and sets should be performed, how long should the rest periods between sets be, what should the tempo of the exercise be, the actual exercise choice, the combination of exercises, the frequency, the ratio of resistance to cardio, the intensity and the monthly schedule. Then there is the nutrition plan, should you be eating 3 or 7 meals a day, how many calories, what percentage of carbs, what type of carbs, how many carbs!!

You will get results by exercising regularly and eating a well-balanced healthy diet, but you will get incredible results following a tailor-made plan suited to you. When we talk about results, we don’t just mean the aesthetic change, but also the change in fitness, strength, flexibility and general health. The starting point is which body type you are?

Somatotypes

In the 1940s a man called William Sheldon proposed that there are three main somatotypes (body types): Ectomorph, Mesomorph and Endomorph. However, the idea was not new. The philosopher Plato mentions it in the republic as far back as 380bc. We don’t all necessarily fall neatly into one body type. You will not get a mix of the Ectomorph and Endomorph, as they are at the opposite ends of the scale, however it is possible to be a mix of the somatotype next to yours. For example, an ectomorph could have mesomorph characteristics and vice versa. Likewise a Mesomorph and Endomorph may share common traits.

Two of the biggest factors that differentiate the somatotypes are muscle fibre and metabolism. Why we have different muscle fibres is hard to say, although I believe it to be a result of necessary changes brought about through thousands of years of evolution. Depending on where our great ancestors lived, how they lived, what they ate and how often, must have had an affect on the way our bodies function today. There were not only many different tribes but also different species of man 200,000 years ago. Before the agricultural revolution 12,000 years ago homo sapiens were nomadic. They would have lived very diverse lives, spread over many different continents and terrains, living on different foods and in different temperatures. Some may have had an abundance of food living in the forest eating plants and small animals, while others would have had long periods without, relying on the occasional mammoth. Thousands of years of evolution, living without much food for weeks on end would have affected their biology. The metabolism slows, we would hold onto more of the life preserving fat. We may have hunted certain prey that would have needed explosive movements, leading to the endomorph body type. Conversely, we may have chased prey in packs like dogs for miles, and had plenty of food, which would have required a different muscle fibre type and resulted in a faster metabolism. The climate would have also had an effect on fat storage as it also acts as an insulation. Over the past 10,000 years the human population has exploded, we now cover most of the planet, living similar lives and eating similar foods in relation to our ancestors. Tens of thousands of years of evolution can’t change in just a few thousand years, we are programmed to eat and function a certain way. Even recent studies have shown that indigenous people who eat a western diet, such as the intuits and aborigines, become depressed and suffer from diabetes respectively.

Muscle fibre

As mentioned, the type of somatotype a person is determines the type of muscle fibre that body type predominantly has. There are three muscle fibre types:

  • Type 2a fast twitch

  • Type 2b fast twitch

  • Type 1 slow twitch.

Understanding how each muscle fibre works allows us to work out how we should train them. The three muscle fibre types prefer to use different fuels in different energy systems. This is covered in detail in the energy systems article. In short, the body uses different systems and fuels for different exercise intensities and durations.

Fast twitch type 2b - found predominantly in Endomorphs, uses the fastest energy system called glycolytic system, which relies on generating ATP (energy currency) fast. It is anaerobic respiration, which means it does not require oxygen, the limiting factor, and is best for short explosive movements.

Fast twitch type 2a - found predominately in Mesomorphs, uses the oxidative glycolytic system, which requires oxygen to convert glucose to ATP. These muscle fibres also produce fast movements, although not as fast as this is a slightly slower process.

Fast twitch muscle fibres are only recruited when the force demands are too high (too heavy, too explosive) for the slow twitch fibres to meet. The fast twitch fibres can generate higher amounts of force faster than slow twitch, although they are also quicker to fatigue due to the build-up of lactic acid. The type of explosive fast movements these muscle fibres excel at need a quick fuel source. The fuel source that is the quickest to break down is glucose from glycogen (stored glucose), rather than fat which takes too long. It is for this reason that fast twitch muscles have larger glycogen stores than slow twitch. As they use anaerobic respiration they do not use as much oxygen, so they are low in capillary density. For the same reason they have lower myoglobin concentrations (a red protein that contains haem, that carries and stores oxygen in the muscle). It is the haem that makes the muscle redder in colour (also why fast twitch muscles are whiter than slow twitch). Fast twitch muscle fibres have higher cytoplasmic glycolytic enzymes to fuel glycolysis, the anaerobic energy system. Mitochondria are organelles found found inside the cell, their job is to breakdown fat for energy in the presence of oxygen. This allows the muscle to oxidise (break down) fuel over a long period of time. This ability to convert fuel into ATP energy is what leads to mitochondria often being referred to as the ‘powerhouse’ of the cell. Being a muscle type that does not use much oxygen, fast twitch have low mitochondria density within the cell. Phasic (quick contraction, high power, low durability) postural muscles like abdominals and gluteal muscles have higher fast twitch fibres. It is these muscles that determine the size and definition of a muscle.

Slow twitch muscle fibres - are at the opposing end of the scale. Mainly found in Ectomorphs, slow twitch muscle fibres have high concentrations of the organelle mitochondria, found inside the cell which break down fuel in the presence of oxygen. Unlike fast twitch muscles, which rely on a limited fuel source (glucose), slow twitch muscles rely on our huge energy resources (carbohydrates, fat, protein), allowing long duration activities. These fibres have small glycogen stores as they use a mix of fuel sources, although predominantly fat. Steady state (not low intensity) cardio helps increase mitochondrial levels. They are slower to contract and cannot create the same amount of force as their fast twitch counterparts however they do not tire as easily, hence the name slow twitch. These muscle fibres are the first to be recruited during any movement, only giving way to the fast twitch muscle when the force required is too great. These slow twitch muscles rely heavily on oxygen to produce energy, they have high capillary density and have higher concentrations of myoglobin (a red protein that contains haem, that carries and stores oxygen in the muscle). The haem makes the muscle a redder colour than their fast twitch counterparts. The capability of these muscles to utilise oxygen, allows them to generate large amounts of ATP, although slower than the fast twitch muscles. This suggests they are better equipped for longer duration type activities as opposed to short explosive exercise that requires little or no oxygen. With this in mind, this body type is better working at a steady state for a longer period of time rather than HIIT (high intensity interval training). However that doesn’t mean it should be low level cardio (see our energy systems article for more in-depth information on this). Tonic (slow contraction, long durability) postural muscles like the iliopsoas, soleus and calf muscles are higher in slow twitch fibres. It is now easy to see why ectomorphs excel at endurance type sport rather than power sports.

Metabolism

Metabolism is the bodily processes needed to maintain life. Metabolism happens at a cellular level and is the speed at which our body converts the food we eat into energy and subsequently the speed at which all body processes happen, for example protein turnover.

There are several factors that may determine the rate at which your metabolism works. The amount of muscle on the body, the number of calories we consistently eat, eating or missing breakfast, medication, age, hormones such as testosterone and thyroxine, exercise and the types of exercises performed. Studies have shown that the higher the intensity of cardio the greater the metabolic effect. This is due to what is known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). Following exercise EPOC is part of the process that restores and replenishes body energy stores (ATP and creatine) back to a resting state, repairs cells and balances hormones getting back to an anabolic environment. An increased metabolism aids weight management. The body will always protect its fuel stores. From an evolutionary stand point we are programmed to hold onto fat reserves (some body types more than others) for times of famine. Losing too much weight too fast may seem good at first, but the problem is that the body will always go into panic mode thinking that we will starve and reduce thyroid output, slowing metabolism to prevent losing these all-important stores. This is why it is essential to lose weight in a gradual sustained way, to increase or maintain muscle and to prevent the panic reaction. As we have mentioned, there are things that will affect metabolism, however certain body types tend to be naturally faster than others. Ectomorphs have faster metabolisms getting slower through mesomorphs and lastly endomorphs. This doesn’t mean that an Ectomorph metabolism won’t slow or that the metabolism of an Endomorph cannot be speeded up.

Carbohydrates and metabolism

Carbohydrates are stored in the muscle and liver, all body-types have a finite macronutrient storage capacity, endomorphs with more muscle tissue will theoretically be able to store more than an Ectomorph with smaller muscle mass. Regular over consumption at one sitting will cause the muscle storage to become full and the excess will inevitably be stored as fat. This is why we recommend spreading meals evenly throughout the day. This also has a blood sugar balancing and subsequently an insulin balancing effect. The number of meals we should eat per day depends on body type and goal. Eating the correct amount and type of carbs at the right time of day (in relation to your training and daily activity) is also essential. Insulin is a very important hormone when related to fat loss. After we consume food we produce insulin, when we have insulin in our blood fat oxidation is blocked. This is why when it comes to Meso-Endomorphs and endomorphs who generally build and maintain muscle relatively easily, we are more concerned about keeping these insulin levels down rather than building muscle. Fewer meals per day allows insulin levels to drop allowing fat loss to occur, especially once the metabolism has been speeded up through exercise.

How to work with your metabolism

When on any programme the calorie deficit or calorie surplus should be minor. We don’t want to send the body into a panic. Gradual decreases or increases will have an effect without the over-reaction. We have a natural point that our weight, muscle mass and metabolism is set at and to move this set point needs to be a gradual and sustained process.

At YBP we would rather ‘up-regulate’, boosting the metabolism, boosting thyroid out-put, boosting testosterone and human growth hormone output. This approach is preferable to down regulating, cutting calories (too far), which reduces thyroid output, increases cortisol which further effects thyroid output and contributes to muscle breakdown, again slowing metabolism. The hormone cortisol in small amounts is necessary and is essential, however chronic raised levels are damaging. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone (breaks tissue down), when it is released over time (from stress, under-eating, over exercising, lack of sleep etc), the body panics as is doesn’t want to lose its life preserving fat stores. The body then up-regulates fat receptors around cells in an effort to increase fat storage, especially around the abdomen area. It is chronic release that causes this, chronic under-eating, stress, lack of sleep and so on. Short term stress tends to create weight loss.

Meal planning and timing

The number of meals to eat per day is dependent on goal (3 to 5 on fat loss, 5 to 8 on muscle gain), and whether a person is an ectomorph, mesomorph or endomorph.

There are 3 nutrient timing phases. The first phase is the energy phase, where you fuel your body before and during the training session. The second phase is the anabolic (building) phase. This is the hour immediately after training when we are insulin sensitive, which is the optimal time to replenish the body’s energy stores, hence consuming a post workout shake. Whatever the goal, it is important to maintain as much muscle as possible by getting the correct nutrients in this window. Miss it and you will have wasted the opportunity to make the most of the hard work you did during your training session. The third phase is two to three hours after exercise and it’s important to consume some slow releasing carbohydrates and protein in this phase.

The importance of sleep

Sleep is an essential part of any exercise programme. Lack of sleep will affect your energy levels, which are important to train well. Repair and maintenance of muscle happens largely when we sleep, hormones and enzymes are synthesised while we sleep. Hormones such as testosterone and human growth hormones are produced during those sleeping hours. Testosterone is important for bone health, muscle growth and fat loss. Sleeping less than eight hours a night can reduce testosterone by 10 percent.

Protein intake and building muscle

The ratio between protein synthesis and protein breakdown is key to building and maintaining muscle. An Ectomorph has a higher metabolism and subsequently higher protein turnover than the other body types, while an endomorph has the slowest. The benefit of a quicker turnover is a faster recovery rate, one of the reasons an Ectomorph can train the same muscle group more often. The down side is that it is harder to build muscle when the breakdown is faster than the synthesis.

Other factors that influence protein synthesis are eating enough and at the right times. It is not so much the protein eaten that is important rather the carbohydrates, as they have a bigger insulin response. Even moderate insulin release reduces proteolysis (protein breakdown). It has been shown that after three days of dieting protein synthesis is significantly reduced.

Not using muscle will reduce synthesis and lead to muscle atrophy. Proteins become damaged and oxidative stress increases through exercise, which creates inflammation and breaks down muscle into amino acids before subsequently rebuilding them. This is how we become stronger. If we didn’t resynthesise new protein then we would have damaged, weaker muscles. Post exercise synthesis can last between 24 and 36 hours.

Ectomorph

An Ectomorph has a slim appearance, often described as long and lean. They can look wiry or willowy. Female Ectomorphs tend to lack feminine curves, they are often flat chested with a straighter physique, sometimes with long limbs and narrow waist and hips. You may have heard of the term ‘hard gainer’, this refers to this body-type that struggles to build and maintain muscle, due to having predominately slow twitch muscle fibre. Classic ectomorphs tend to have small joints and light bone structure. The stereotypical catwalk models of the 80’s and 90’s are good examples of an ectomorph body type. Famous Ectomorphs include Mo Farah, Natalie Portman, Bruce Lee and Kate Moss.

Everyone has a mixture of different muscle fibres, but the ratio varies within the different body types, but as mentioned Ectomorphs have predominately type 1, slow twitch muscle fibre. This is significant because the type of muscle fibre a person has determines the way their body prefers to train. Training for an ectomorph should be about creating as much muscle as possible, for men and especially woman (who are more prone to osteoporosis). Regardless of the goal (assuming it is aesthetic), an Ectomorph exercise plan should consist of resistance training rather than too much cardio, unless of course they are training in an endurance sport. Using compound exercises and keeping the intensity up will create the correct hormonal response (boosting human growth hormone and testosterone). Although the duration should be no more than 45 minutes, to prevent protein breakdown when glycogen (stored carbohydrate) is depleted. An Ectomorph on a muscle gain programme will be working at a lower rep range to maximise protein synthesis, to recruit as many fast twitch muscle fibres as possible (as they need heavy weights to activate) and to prevent the workout getting too aerobic and subsequently creating a catabolic (breaking down) environment rather than the desired anabolic state (building). Both exercise and increasing muscle, which is biologically active, will help increase metabolism, subsequently burning more fat while at rest. It is important to workout at a higher intensity to create the proper hormonal response, however HIIT (high intensity interval training) should be avoided, working at such a high intensity too often may breakdown muscle as the body cannot utilise fat at such high intensities. Better to work just under the lactic threshold (the fastest pace you can maintain, before the lactic acid builds in the muscle making you slow/stop). At this intensity we are burning maximum fat as well as carbohydrate.

Ectomorphs have fast metabolisms which can be a blessing and a curse. In a healthy Ectomorph a high metabolism results in the body storing minimal fat, it increases protein turnover, which speeds recovery, however it also means an Ectomorph struggles to build muscle. A typical untrained Ectomorph tends to look slim and possibly weaker in appearance due to low muscle tone. This does not mean an Ectomorph cannot have a muscular look, with the right training regime and nutrition plan this is totally achievable. They usually have high levels of the digestive enzyme amylase which breaks down carbohydrates making them carbohydrate tolerant and means they can eat the carbs (the right carbs) without the associated fat gain.

For an Ectomorph it is essential to keep glycogen stores (carbohydrate stored in muscle) topped up. Having a faster metabolism means that they will deplete their stores at a faster rate than other body types. Ectomorphs generally have smaller muscles and therefore smaller glycogen storage capacity than other body types, meaning they will deplete their stores relatively quicker compared to other body types. They should be sure to eat small meals and regularly to prevent depleting glycogen stores and subsequently breaking down muscle. Having a steady stream of food going in also keeps insulin levels steady preventing protein breakdown, keeping the body in an anabolic zone.

Mesomorph

A Mesomorph has a naturally athletic appearance and can often look like an athlete even without training (this does not of course mean they are healthy and don’t need to train!). They can be described as naturally lean, muscular and sporty. They have a medium-sized bone structure, large muscles and are generally in proportion. The majority of Mesomorphs have fairly broad shoulders and narrow waists. Mesomorphs can gain muscle and lose fat relatively quickly, therefore it is easy for them to maintain a low body fat percentage, at the same time as looking toned. A Mesomorph body type is built for movement as they are naturally strong and athletic. They tend to have a combination of fast and slow twitch muscle fibre, which tends to make them excel in a wider range of sports. Famous Mesomorphs include Bruce Willis, Denise Lewis, Brad Pitt, Jason Statham and Madonna.

Everyone has a mixture of different muscle fibres (although the ratio varies within the different body types). Mesomorphs have a mixture of all three muscle fibres, although predominately fast twitch type 2a. This is significant because the type of muscle fibre a person has determines the way their body prefers to train. Training for a Mesomorph should be an equal balance between cardio and weights, depending on the goal. A muscle gain programme will be more weight based, whereas a fat loss goal should lean towards cardio. Training for aesthetics is different from training for a specific sport or event, which requires a specific programme. As with Ectomorphs, increasing muscle is a great way to help keep the metabolism firing. If you feel you are getting too muscular don’t drop the weights or intensity, simply change the cardio to resistance ratio, swapping a resistance session for a cardio one.

Using compound exercises and keeping the intensity up will create the correct hormonal response (boosting human growth hormone and testosterone). Although the duration should be no more than an hour, to prevent a catabolic environment and protein breakdown when glycogen (stored carbohydrate) is depleted. A Mesomorph on a muscle gain programme can work at any rep range between 8 and 12. The correct exercise intensity and increasing muscle tissue, which is biologically active will help increase metabolism, subsequently burning more fat while at rest. It is important to workout at a high intensity to create the proper hormonal response. HIIT (high intensity interval training) mixed with some steady state cardio is a great option for this body type. High intensity interval training helps to increase mitochondria (where fuel is burnt to produce energy). The more mitochondria you have, the more fat you can burn. High intensity training will also have the effect of increasing your metabolism, which results in burning more calories over the next 24 to 36 hours. This is why it is important to keep up the frequency of your training sessions, so try not to have than more than one consecutive day off. The HIIT will help the release of fatty acids into the blood stream, however the body cannot use them at this intensity as it takes too long to oxidise fat and the lactic acid (which is important for boosting testosterone and human growth hormone) blocks their entry into the mitochondria. By mixing it with steady state cardio and dropping the intensity to just below lactic threshold this allows those fatty acids to be utilised.

Mesomorphs have a medium metabolic rate, faster than their Endomorph counterparts, which means they have a relatively quick recovery rate, although not as fast as an Ectomorph. As mentioned, this body type can build muscle and lose fat easily when following the correct programme. A Mesomorph can tolerate carbohydrates although the amount will depend on their goal and daily physical activity level. It is worth remembering that you could be an Ecto-mesomorph or a Meso-endomorph, which would slightly change the amount of carbohydrate we would recommend. The amount of meals to eat per day is dependent on goal (4 to 5 on fat loss, 5 to 6 on muscle gain), and whether a person is a mesomorph or closer to one of the other two body types (more if closer to an Ectomorph, less if closer to an Endomorph).

Endomorph

An Endomorph can be described as big-boned, heavy set, muscular (although not well defined in an untrained person), strong and as someone who gains fat easily. Female Endomorphs have very feminine bodies; they look full figured, curvaceous and sometimes pear shaped with wider hips than shoulders. Endomorphs have medium to large bone structures with thick joints and their limbs can often appear short. Endomorphs can build muscle and strength easily and are good at explosive exercises. An Endomorph has a higher ratio of the fast twitch type 2b muscle fibres. Famous Endomorphs include Serena Williams, John Goodman, Marilyn Monroe and The Rock.

An Endomorph has a naturally heavy set, muscular appearance and are good at sports that require agility, strength and speed. They can often look like a 100-metre sprinter, hammer thrower, front row rugby player, body builder or power lifter. Endomorphs can put on fat easier than other body types, however this does not mean they are unhealthy.

As we have mentioned, we all have a mixture of different muscle fibres (although the ratio varies within the different body types), but Endomorphs have predominately fast twitch type 2b. Training for an Endomorph should have a higher ratio of cardio to resistance training depending on the goal. Even on a muscle gain programme one in three sessions should be cardio. Training for aesthetics is different from training for a specific sport or event, which requires a specific programme. Different from the other body types, building muscle isn’t the priority as this should be easy, keeping fat percentage down is more important.

Using compound exercises and keeping the intensity up will create the correct hormonal response (boosting human growth hormone and testosterone). Although the duration should be no more than 80 minutes, to prevent a catabolic environment, and protein breakdown when glycogen (stored carbohydrate) is depleted. An Endomorph on a muscle gain programme should work at any rep range between 10 and 12. The correct exercise intensity and increasing muscle tissue, which is biologically active, will help to increase metabolism, subsequently burning more fat while at rest. It is important to workout at a high intensity to create the proper hormonal response, HIIT (high intensity interval training), mixed with some steady state cardio is a great option for this body type. High intensity interval training helps to increase mitochondria (where fuel is burnt to produce energy). The more mitochondria you have, the more fat you can burn. High intensity training will also have the effect of increasing your metabolism, which results in burning more calories over the next 24 to 36 hours. This is why it is important to keep up the frequency of your training sessions, so try not to have than more than one consecutive day off. The HIIT will help the release of fatty acids into the blood stream, however the body cannot use them at this intensity as it takes too long to oxidise fat and the lactic acid (which is important for boosting testosterone and human growth hormone) blocks is their entry into the mitochondria. By mixing it with steady state cardio and dropping the intensity to just below lactic threshold this allows those fatty acids to be utilised.

Endomorphs have the slowest metabolic rate of all the body types. An Endomorph does not tolerate carbohydrates well, although that is not to say they should be avoided completely. The amount will depend on their goal and daily physical activity level. An Endomorph should eat less meals, they have good fasting tolerance, and having gaps between meals allow the insulin levels to fall, subsequently increasing fat burning.

This article has
been written by
Terry Fairclough