A person who never seems to gain weight regardless of what they eat may be an ectomorph, one of the three somatotypes into which body types can be divided. Ectomorphs are typically thinner, lose weight quickly, and do not gain much muscle. However, while this may seem like a dream body type for many people, it does have its fair share of downsides.
Characteristics of an Ectomorph Body
People with the ectomorph body type are more likely to possess these characteristics:
- Small, lean frame
- Flat chest and small shoulders
- Lean muscle mass, faint definition
- Find it difficult to gain weight
Ectomorphs have difficulty gaining weight, which can make it a struggle to increase their muscle mass. However, once they gain mass, they can easily return to lean muscle.
Impact of Somatotype
Many people develop workouts and diets that suit their somatotype. While this may be helpful for some individuals, most experts recommend focusing on fitness goals rather than your specific somatotype. Because so many other factors influence a person’s body, anyone can achieve the physique they want to have. While ectomorphs may find it difficult to bulk up, they shouldn’t feel they can’t — just be aware it may take more effort than those with other body types.
Because ectomorphs easily stay thin, they often do not need a special diet unless they want to bulk up. While gaining weight is simply a matter of consuming more calories, gaining weight in a healthy manner is a bit more difficult. Foods that are nutrient-rich and high in calories are often best for gaining weight, especially if they contain plenty of protein. Ideal foods for an ectomorph diet include salmon, red meat, chicken, eggs, nuts, various types of milk, and potatoes. Many people use supplements like protein powder to more easily get the nutrients they need.
Ectomorphs and Obesity
Being skinny does not mean being healthy. Between 15 and 30% of people look healthy or skinny but have a dangerous amount of fat. This condition is normal-weight obesity, which can increase the risk of serious conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Because many ectomorphs believe that they can eat anything they want without gaining weight, they may maintain diets rich in indulgent and unhealthy foods.
Ectomorphs looking to build muscle should focus on simple weight training routines. Use heavier weights and complete three to five sets of eight to 12 reps for each muscle group. Experts suggest using a pyramid rep structure, which involves starting with lighter weights at higher reps. With each set, increase the weight and decrease the reps.
Ectomorphs and Cardio
Most ectomorphs prefer endurance exercises and cardio to weight lifting, which can make it difficult to gain mass. Weight training requires additional calories while cardio burns them away. The key to bulking up is limiting cardio to the amount necessary for general health. 30 minutes three times a week is ideal for most people.
Sex and Inheritability
While females typically have higher body fat percentages than males, there is little research that indicates they are more likely to have a specific somatotype. Studies of athletes at various levels of competition even indicate the opposite. Sex appears to have very little if any effect on adult somatotypes. One study suggests that mothers can pass on their somatotypes to their children, though additional research is necessary to confirm this.
Few people have a singular somatotype. Most have a combination of two, though some may have characteristics of all three. Ectomorph-mesomorphs are leaner than traditional mesomorphs but are more muscular than typical ectomorphs. Ectomorph-endomorphs may lack muscle mass, look skinny, and have a higher body fat percentage. A 2017 study found that ectomorphs and their combinations were the least common body types among test participants.
Ectomorphs as Athletes
While many people consider mesomorphs the best athletic body type because of their ability to easily build muscle mass, this is not always the case. High-level ectomorph athletes exist in many sports. For example, one study notes that athletes with more ectomorphic qualities perform better than other somatotypes in endurance tasks.
Long-Term Effects of Ectomorphy
Ectomorphs who have been thin their whole lives may have more sedentary lifestyles because they do not feel a need to exercise. However, this can have serious effects as they age. A lack of muscle mass in elderly individuals has direct ties to conditions like osteoporosis. Sedentary lifestyles can also increase the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.