William H. Sheldon, PhD, MD, developed the term “somatotype” – which refers to someone’s body type
– in the 1940s. Many nutritionists, exercise physiologists, and doctors use the concept of body types to design effective training and nutrition programs for both fat loss, and to improve athletic performance. A person’s body type generally describes their body structure and muscle and fat storage distribution. Body type can also provide details about how someone responds to food intake and their hormonal environment.
Nutrition programs that are successful in helping one person reach their goals are often recommended to someone else with the belief that the program will work for them too. Unfortunately, this one-size-fits-all approach rarely works due to differences in metabolic function.
Because the physical demands are different between sports, a marathon runner has different dietary needs than a football offensive lineman. Once an individual’s somatotype has been identified their food intake can then be modified to reflect the general food intake guidelines associated with their body type while helping them reach their goals.
Primary Body Types
There are three primary categories of body types: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. Athletes with specific body types often select sports for which their body type is best suited. For example, endurance athletes are likely to be ectomorphs; bodybuilders tend to be mesomorphs; and football linemen are generally endomorphs.
The chart below highlights some of the primary physical and hormonal characteristics of each body type.
|Physical Characteristics of Body Type|
(Endurance athletes, basketball players, etc.)
|• High carbohydrate tolerance
• Smaller bone structure
• Naturally lean & easily maintain low body fat
• Thyroid dominant
• Fast metabolic rate
• High sympathetic nervous system activity
(Bodybuilders, wrestlers, gymnasts, etc.)
|• Moderate carbohydrate tolerance
• Medium bone structure
• Naturally athletic and strong
• Easily gain muscle while maintaining low body fat
• Testosterone and growth hormone dominant
• Moderate to high sympathetic nervous system activity
(Football linemen, shot putters, powerlifters, etc.)
|• Low carbohydrate tolerance
• Large bone structure
• High amounts of total body mass and fat mass
• Naturally less active
• Insulin dominant
• Low sympathetic nervous system activity
Generally, people do not fit perfectly into any one these categories and are often a mix of characteristics. For example, someone might be an ecto-mesomorph with an athletic build but still be thin; another person might be an endo-mesomorph that carries a lot of muscle mass yet still carries extra body fat.
Lifestyle choices can also affect someone’s natural body type to produce a hybrid type. For example, someone could be a genetic ectomorph that has trained hard and eaten well for a number of years that now appears to be more of a mesomorph. On the other hand, someone could be a genetic mesomorph, but doesn’t exercise and eats a poor diet now resembles more of an endomorph.
While all of this may sound confusing, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter all that much. Since there’s no real way to determine exactly how someone’s body is going to respond to a nutrition program in advance, identifying someone’s body type primarily serves as a way of determining a person’s nutritional starting point.
As someone’s body composition begins to change, so do their nutritional needs. Their dietary needs also change depending on where they are in the competitive season. So, a good nutrition program should be flexible (while staying within certain parameters) and adjusted based on the individual. After all, the best training and nutrition programs are the ones that are individualized to the athlete.
Regardless of your body type, adopting a nutrition strategy that’s right for you and your goals can be overwhelming, confusing, and even frustrating. That’s why we’re here to help. Contact us today to learn how an individualized nutrition program would work for you and your goals.
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