Body type eating: Find out whether it's right for you. | Precision Nutrition

Body type eating:
Find out whether it's right for you.

By Ryan Andrews

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Body type — whether ecto, meso, or endomorph — can determine what sports suit you best, as well as what you should be eating to fuel your activities. Yes, it’s true — those darn ectos can get away with a little extra pasta!

What is eating for your body type?

Many people think that “body type” just describes the way someone looks. In fact, your body type can also provide information about how you respond to food intake and about your hormonal and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) characteristics.

Physique characteristics can thus be linked to metabolic differences between individuals. Once someone establishes their body type, they can then adjust nutrient intake to maximize body composition and health related goals.

There are three general categories of body types (somatotypes): ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.

Very few people fall perfectly into one of the three categories. People are often a mix of characteristics. Additionally, years of training and good nutrition can change the outward appearance of one’s body.

For instance, a bodybuilder might be mistaken for a “natural” mesomorph when in fact, s/he is really an endomorph who’s trained and dieted hard; or an ectomorph who’s spent years guzzling protein shakes and doing the power lifts.

An ectomorph who’s gained a little weight around the middle from a sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition might assume they’re more endomorphic.

However, most folks can find their general tendencies in one of the three groups.

Ectomorphs are thin individuals characterized by smaller bone structures and thinner limbs. Think of a typical endurance athlete. They tend to be thyroid and SNS dominant with either a higher output or higher sensitivity to catecholamines like epinephrine and norepinephrine. This profile is linked to a fast metabolic rate and a high carbohydrate tolerance.

This group generally does best with more carbohydrates in the diet, along with a moderate protein and lower fat intake. A nutrient distribution for this body type might be around 55% carbs, 25% protein, and 20% fat. (But don’t drive yourself crazy with the math. Just think “higher carbs and lower fat.”)

A group of ectomorphs doing what they do best
A group of ectomorphs doing what they do best

Here’s what that might look like using our portion control guide.

Ectomorph men begin by eating:

  • 2 palms of protein dense foods at each meal;
  • 2 fists of vegetables at each meal;
  • 3 cupped handfuls of carb dense foods at each meal;
  • 1 thumb of fat dense foods at each meal.
Diet_Men
Portions for ectomorph men

Ectomorph women begin by eating:

  • 1 palm of protein dense foods at each meal;
  • 1 fist of vegetables at each meal;
  • 2 cupped handfuls of carb dense foods at each meal;
  • 0.5 thumb of fat dense foods at each meal.
I Type_Diet_Women
Portions for ectomorph women.

Mesomorphs have a medium sized bone structure and athletic body, and if they’re active, they usually have a considerable amount of lean mass. Many explosive athletes like wrestlers and gymnasts fit these criteria. Mesomorphs tend to be testosterone and growth hormone dominant. This profile leads to a predisposition for muscle gain and the maintenance of a lower body fat.

Mesomorphs typically do best on a mixed diet, consisting of balanced carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. A macronutrient split of 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 30% fat can work well.

Reggie Bush

Serena Williams

Here’s what that might look like using our portion control guide.

Mesomorph men begin by eating:

  • 2 palms of protein dense foods at each meal;
  • 2 fists of vegetables at each meal;
  • 2 cupped handfuls of carb dense foods at each meal;
  • 2 thumb of fat dense foods at each meal.
V Type_Diet_Men
Portions for mesomorph men.

Mesomorph women begin by eating:

  • 1 palm of protein dense foods at each meal;
  • 1 fist of vegetables at each meal;
  • 1 cupped handfuls of carb dense foods at each meal;
  • 1 thumb of fat dense foods at each meal.
V Type_Diet_Women
Portions for mesomorph women.

 

Endomorphs have a larger bone structure with higher amounts of total body mass and fat mass. Football lineman and powerlifters are frequently endomorphs. They tend to be naturally less active. Where the ectomorphs tend to burn off excess calories with near constant movement, excess calories in endomorphs do not seem to cause that same increase in expenditure. This means that excess calories are more likely to be stored as fat. This profile leads to a greater propensity for energy storage, including both lean mass and fat mass. This can also mean a lower carbohydrate tolerance.

Endomorphs typically do best on a higher fat and protein intake with carbohydrate intake being controlled and properly timed (e.g., after exercise). So that’s what we recommend: more fat and protein, less carbohydrate.

A nutrient distribution for this body type might be around 25% carbs, 35% protein, and 40% fat. Again, no math gymnastics. Just think higher fats and protein, lower carbs.

Jayne Williams, author of Slow Fat Triathlete

Shot putter Dan Taylor
Shot putter Dan Taylor

Here’s what that might look like using our portion control guide:

Endomorph men begin by eating:

  • 2 palms of protein dense foods at each meal;
  • 2 fists of vegetables at each meal;
  • 1 cupped handful of carb dense foods at each meal;
  • 3 thumbs of fat dense foods at each meal.
O Type_Diet_Men
Portions for endomorph men.

Endomorph women begin by eating:

  • 1 palm of protein dense foods at each meal;
  • 1 fist of vegetables at each meal;
  • 0.5 cupped handful of carb dense foods at each meal;
  • 2 thumbs of fat dense foods at each meal.
O Type_Diet_Women
Portions for endomorph women.

(For more on this hand-size portion idea, including photo examples, check out our calorie control guide for men and women by clicking here.)

In general, we encourage individuals to experiment with different nutritional strategies until they find what works for them. And this is certainly one way to go about doing things.

Still, if seemingly endless trial and error with food intake doesn’t sound like an enjoyable way to spend your weekends, then identifying your body type and eating the appropriate distribution of nutrients might be a smart place to begin.

What you should know about eating for your body type

Regardless of your body type, body composition, or overall health status, your ability to handle carbohydrate-dense foods is greatly improved the more active you are.

This means that the best time to eat a majority of those starchy (or, less ideally, sugary) foods is when you’re most physically active. Depending on your body type, your carb tolerance and needs are different and your strategy should be different to match.

High carb tolerance (and needs)

If you’re the very carb tolerant type (or high carb needs type), eating a greater percentage of carb-dense foods outside the workout window will likely be just fine for you. This means eating more carbs all throughout the day. And you should, of course, ensure you get plenty of carbs around your workout for fuel and recovery. Just think more carbs around workouts and somewhat less carbs at other times. Remember that as carb intake increases, fat intake decreases.

Moderate carb tolerance (and needs)

If you have moderate carb tolerance (or needs), you should likely maintain a moderate intake of carb-dense foods outside the workout window. This means you’d make sure you eat some carb-dense foods around your workout. The rest of the meals would consist of less carb-dense foods and more lean proteins, veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds.

Low carb tolerance (and needs)

If you’re not very carb tolerant (or have low carb needs), your best bet is to minimize carb-dense foods outside the workout window. This means mostly veggies and fruits outside the workout window (along with proteins and fats).

For extra credit

As we approach different stages in our lives, hormones change and our body type can be influenced. This includes stages such as puberty and menopause (as well as the male equivalent, andropause).

Carb-dense foods include whole grains (rice, breads, quinoa, amaranth, millet, corn, barley, etc.), dried fruits, yams, sweet potatoes, potatoes, recovery drinks, sugars, etc.

Summary and recommendations

Carb tolerance/needs: High
Typical body type: Ectomorph
Carb timing ideas: Should include lots of carb-dense foods around exercise. Some starchy, whole grain, minimally processed carbs should also be eaten at other meals. Veggies and/or fruits (~3:1 serving ratio) should be eaten at each meal.

Carb tolerance/needs: Moderate
Typical body type: Mesomorph
Carb timing ideas: Should include carb-dense foods around exercise. Some starchy, whole grain, minimally processed carbs can also be eaten at other meals, though consumed in moderation. Veggies and/or fruits (~4:1 serving ratio) should be eaten at each meal.

Carb tolerance/needs: Low
Typical body type: Endomorph
Carb timing ideas: Almost all carb-dense foods should be included around exercise. Veggies and/or fruits (~5:1 serving ratio) should be eaten at each meal.

All of the aforementioned guidelines are great for muscle gain (assuming overall food intake is high enough), maintenance, and even moderate weight loss/shifting body composition.

For people brand new to the world of healthy eating, don’t worry too much about body type eating. This would be a better place for you to start. For our advanced nutrition readers, take advantage. Establish your body type, implement the strategies, and watch how your body changes.

If you’ve used a strategy in the past and it didn’t work, then don’t do it again. As always, match up behaviors and expectations while utilizing outcomes based decision making.

Eat, move, and live…better.

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References

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