Generalizing complex topics can be dangerous.
If someone tells you, "fructose in carbs will make you fat," you may be inclined to believe them just because you don't know any better. However, while this statement can be true, it isn't always so (you still need to be in a calorie surplus to gain fat).
They are generalizing fat gain without providing additional necessary context.
This is what people have done over the years when trying to classify themselves as ectomorphs, endomorphs, and mesomorphs.
These are also known as our somatotypes.
This idea came from Dr. William Sheldon in the 1940s to help generalize people into certain categories to better understand them.
That's about as far as I'm gonna go into the history of it because I'm here to tell you somatotypes are bullshit.
Here's why somatotypes are bullshit
First, a brief rundown of what they are claimed to be.
Ectomorphs: known as "hardgainers"; slender frames; narrow shoulders and hips; very fast metabolisms; small bone structures.
Mesomorphs: medium build; wide broad shoulders; fairly lean with a hard body; can gain muscle easily; muscled arms and legs.
Endomorphs: usually short in height or stature; difficult to lose fat; bulky physique, round body; can gain both fat and muscle easily; wide shoulders and hips.
Now, onto why that is all just rubbish nonsense.
1. You will never fall into only one body-type
Take the famous bodybuilder Lee Priest, for example. Lee was known for being super shredded on stage, but blowing up during the off season and representing the epitome of a "dirty bulk."
Wouldn't you say on the left he looks more like an endomorph and on the right he looks more like a mesomorph?
As another example, let's take a look at pro natural bodybuilder Alberto Nunez when he was at his peak weight of ~230 lbs at 5'9".
Looks like a pretty endomorphic-type person to me.
But if you take a little glance at when he lost some of this body fat years down the road...
This is him at around 160 lbs during his competition prep.
You could make a pretty solid case that he looks more like an ectomorph or mesomorph in these pictures.
The point being -- you will likely never fit perfectly in one body type. And you might even look like all 3 over the course of your life.
2. They encourage unnecessary labeling of yourself
As humans, we love being a part of a tribe or a group.
This makes it easier for us to make decisions and try to distinguish between what is right or wrong (or safe or unsafe).
The problem with calling ourselves one of these somatotypes is it boxes us in to a group.
This can limit us.
If you think you're an endomorph and that you're just "big-boned," you may never put forth 100% effort into losing a lot of weight. This can create a crutch and always give you an excuse to give up when things are going slower than you anticipate.
If you think you're an ectomorph, you may think you're doomed to being the skinny kid forever. Most people aren't going to sympathize with you because you can't gain weight, so you might even feel guilty for wanting to be bigger.
And if you think you're a mesomorph, you'll likely never live up to your true potential. You may make great progress in the beginning, but you're going to eventually have to work smarter AND harder to continue progressing. Something you've likely not had to do in the past, because things come a little easier for you.
Which brings me to my last point.
3. Individual differences absolutely exist
Let's compare the ectomorph to the endomorph.
Why can the ectomorph eat 3,000 calories a day and not gain a single pound while the endomorph can eat 3,000 calories a day and gain 5 pounds?
There can be multiple answers that would take thousands of words to explain, but one of the biggest variants is a person's NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis).
NEAT is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks, and fidgeting.
The research on this shows there are HUGE variations amongst individuals.
Check out this graphic below from researcher James Krieger.
2000 calories per day is no joke.
This means the "ectomorph" could potentially be burning 1000+ calories more than the "endomorph."
It's also been shown that obese individuals sit 2.5 hours more than their sedentary lean counterparts.
These variations largely have to deal with what job you have.
If you're someone who sits most of the day, you're going to have much less NEAT than someone who is a construction worker.
Your parents also make a difference.
In one study, there were 16 non-obese volunteers who were fed an additional 1,000 kcals per day over an 8 week period.
The results showed 2 different outcomes.
1. Individuals who gained less fat:
Ate more food = increased NEAT (activity) to compensate for extra energy intake.
2. Individuals who gained more fat:
Ate more food = minimally increased NEAT, leading to greater fat gain due to poor compensation.
The difference came down to their genetic predisposition.
Here's what to do instead
After reading all that, things can seem dim.
But have no fear, I have solutions. They aren't sexy, but, well, you have no other choice if you want results.
Focus on what you can control, not on what you can't.
No matter your body type, we know what works when it comes to building muscle and losing fat.
To lose fat, you have to be able to sustain a calorie deficit and eat sufficient protein.
To gain muscle, you have to consistently provide progressive overload through increasing volume (total work) and mechanical tension over time.
Your individual differences will make these goals easier or harder, but it is still your responsibility to put forth the necessary effort for personal experimentation.
AKA figure out what works best for you and stop blaming your somatotype.
To help you do this, I highly recommend reading my last blog post on what to do when nothing else is working.
And although somatotypes may sound like a god-send to solving all your fitness problems, they're only holding you back from what you could be.
Until next time.
P.S. I enjoyed watching this video on the subject, which inspired me to write this post. Go check it out.
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