An ectomorph is one of three different body types that clients may have. Understanding your client’s specific body type can help determine the type of training and nutrition they need.
While it’s common for clients to have characteristics of multiple body types, most will fall into one primary body type. Here’s what to consider for training and nutrition if your client trends toward an ectomorph body type.
Body type, also called somatype, is the underlying physique of a person’s body, such as its structure and muscle-to-fat ratio. The three different body types are ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph:
Endomorph Body Type: higher body fat percentages, a pear body shape, more likely to store fat
Mesomorph Body Type: commonly thought of as the "V" shape frame in the torso, gain muscle more easily, has a fast metabolism
Ectomorph Body Type: tall and lanky, has difficulty putting on weight, likely has a high metabolism
William Herbert Sheldon originally coined somatypes and tied psychological traits to each of the different body types (1). Sheldon believed the endomorphs were smooth-shaped and sociable, mesomorphs were muscular and assertive, and ectomorphs were slim-figured and quiet. However, this psychological connection has since been discredited.
Would you consider your body type long, lean, and tall? If so, then you most likely have an ectomorph body type. Ectomorphs are typically thin, which is often due to a high metabolism. Adjusting one's diet and training regimen for the ectomorph body type is helpful for changing body composition.
There is not one workout plan that fits all ectomorphs, though this body type has common traits that can help you tailor workout programs appropriately. Ectomorphs burn lots of calories without having to perform immense amounts of cardio. On the flip side, it's challenging to gain weight and pack muscle mass.
If you consider the typical basketball player, these athletes almost always have an ectomorph body type. This body type, paired with high levels of activity, makes it hard to gain body weight and build muscle mass.
As ectomorphs age, their metabolisms begin to slow down. With being unable to maintain adequate amounts of muscle tissue, they experience a drastic increase in body fat mass. Their lean build, long limbs, and small muscles promote weight loss but make weight gain difficult. So, how do you eat and train with an ectomorph body type?
Just as there is no one perfect diet for everyone, there is no one perfect diet for each specific body type. However, some clients may respond better to a diet geared toward their body type fitness goals.
If you have an ectomorph body type and you’re trying to gain muscle, your goal should be to eat more. A diet higher in carbs and with a greater calorie intake is the first step toward muscle gain for an ectomorph. Of course, consuming whole foods and ensuring that you eat adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals is important. Foods play a huge role in gaining muscle.
Ectomorphs should aim to eat at least 50-60% of their calories in the form of carbohydrates. A diet consisting of complex carb sources like oatmeal, rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, beans, and whole wheat bread is important. In addition, lean protein sources are essential. At least eight ounces of protein sources such as meat, seafood, poultry, and dairy must be consumed at each meal.
However, don’t just rely on eating more at each meal. Consider including two to three high-calorie snacks throughout the day. This should be in addition to approximately three or four main meals. This ensures your body is in a calorie surplus, which increases weight gain and builds muscle.
Relying on just eating more is not always enough for ectomorphs. Nutrient timing around workouts is another important aspect of an ectomorph's diet. To overcome their high metabolism, an ectomorph should consume a meal 1-2 hours before the workout. This provides the body with plenty of energy to fuel the workout. This also eliminates the chance of entering into a calorie deficit.
Lastly, add an intra-workout or simple carbohydrate supplement for workouts that last more than an hour. Directly after the workout, consume a meal or calorie-dense protein smoothie. Include both carbohydrate sources and protein sources post-workout. You must replenish glycogen stores with carbs and consume protein for muscle repair.
Ectomorphs have a light build, small joints, and not a lot of muscle mass. Therefore, hypertrophy training is best for building muscle and packing on weight. Hypertrophy training helps clients isolate muscles and break down muscle tissue at a greater rate. With consistency and proper nutrition, the muscle will repair, increasing total lean body mass.
During hypertrophy training for ectomorphs, focus on using high intensities and high volume. Lifting heavy weights for a lot of reps is important to stimulate muscle growth and protein synthesis. Aim for 3-5 sets per exercise and incorporate 5 total exercises. As you progress through each set, increase the weight and decrease the reps. Use the progressive overload for most workouts each week.
You can train every muscle group twice per week and include a combination of compound exercises and isolation exercises. Ectomorphs should still include cardio for health benefits, but it’s crucial to use low-intensity sessions only. Do not overdo it and burn excess calories that could be used for gaining muscle.
Remember that clients can have characteristics of each body type. There are many factors that go into adjusting diet and training. Some of which can be influenced and others that are out of your control. Make certain that you are training clients safely and effectively based on their specific body type, fitness level, and physical abilities.
Love working out and want to help people achieve their fitness goals? Check out ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer course to expand your knowledge of the science behind training and nutrition.
Nickerson, C. (2022). Sheldon's Constitutional Theory: Somatotyping - Simply Psychology. Simplypsychology.org. Retrieved 30 August 2022, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/sheldon-constitutional-theory-somatotyping.html.
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