Somato-what? What You Should Know About Your Genetic Body Type

When it comes to describing the female body society, and the fashion world in particular, has no lack of labels: waif, pear-shaped, full-figured, plus-sized, athletic, even “boyish” (note to the editors of Harper’s Bazaar: YOU ARE F*CKING RIDICULOUS for that last one.). And guys aren’t off the hook either. Flip through a men’s magazine and you’ll be bombarded with words like “dad bod”, swimmer’s build, tapered, hefty, cut, shredded or even (gasp!) skinny (which is now an insult).

The list goes on and on and many of these labels do little to promote positive body image and a healthy lifestyle. Headlines and “how to” guides focus on “transforming” your body through supplements, pyramid schemes or fashion (spend enough $$$ and maybe you can trick the world into seeing past your curves, flat chest, or whatever it is you may wish to “transform”).  

Science also classifies our bodies into genetic categories. Naturally we fall into one (or a combination) of these three “somatotypes” based on body structure, muscle and fat storage and distribution:

  • Ectomorph: Naturally thin with skinny limbs, thyroid dominant and fast metabolic rate
  • Endomorph: Naturally broad and thick, insulin dominant and slow metabolic rate  
  • Mesomorph: Naturally muscular and athletic, testosterone and growth hormone dominant

What does this mean? If I’m lucky enough to be born a mesomorph does it mean I can eat and drink whatever I want, sit on my ass all day and still look like David Beckham? No. And the reverse is true. Many an endomorph (including yours truly) have shed their natural “thickness” for a more lean and athletic physique through nutrition and exercise.

Knowing your natural body type can help guide you toward the right exercise and nutrition plan to help you naturally become more healthy and fit. For instance, if you are predominantly an endomorph (naturally broad and thick) and you would like to lean out a bit, you may need to increase the percentage of your daily calories coming from healthy fats to as much as 40% and keep your carb intake lower at around 25%.

On the flip side, if you’re an ectomorph (naturally thin with skinny limbs or what the editors at Harper’s call “boyish”) and you’d like to add a little more muscle or tone you may need as much as 55% of your diet to come from carbs and only 20% from fat. Checkout this article from the amazing folks at Precision Nutrition for more recommendations on how to eat for your body type. And if you really want to learn more consider working with a nutritionist or fitness professional.

Bottom line: What we put in and on our bodies should make you feel beautiful, strong and healthy. They should showcase your body and make you feel confident and sexy whether you have your “ideal” body type or are a work in progress. Regular exercise and a healthy diet designed to your body type and fitness goals have countless benefits (longer life, better posture, stronger bones, improved mobility and flexibility, self confidence, improved mental state). Hell, it literally even makes you smarter. So while, to a certain extent, we’re dealt the cards we are given, get out there and stack the deck in your favor.