Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Somatypes: Why Some People Are Always Lean

Standing next to me in the picture above is my best friend Andrew (at his wedding rehearsal in 2009).  Physically, Andrew is probably similar to a lot of people you know.  He is and always has been a very lean individual.  No matter what he eats, Andrew never becomes fat or even just a little "pudgy."  Throughout his life, Andrew has endured a barrage of comments along the lines of, "you're too skinny," and "you should eat more!"  However, it's not Andrew's fault that he has less body fat than most of us, and telling him to change that is not much different than telling the governor of New York that he should make the state warmer. Andrew was born to be thin.  He is an ectomorph. 


In a previous blog post, I mentioned that genetics have a large role in our body composition through a number of factors.  One of these factors is a person's somatype.  Somatypes are general congenital human characteristics that describe the range of muscle and fat a person can have.  There are three types:
  1. Ectormorphs: have fewer fat cells and skeletal muscle cells. Therefore, they generally don't have the potential to gain a large amount of fat or muscle. Long limbs are common with ectomorphs, too
  2. Mesomorphs: range from slightly underweight to slightly overweight.  Mesomorphs have more fat and muscle cells than ectomorphs. These are the people who could gain or lose 10 lbs. in the few months where you don't see them
  3. Endomorphs: endomorphs have large amounts of fat cells and are typically obese
People are not always completely one type.  Male models with eye-catching six packs and large chests probably have ectomorphic in their body fat but mesomorphic in their muscle capacity.  Large football players, such as offensive lineman, have above average fat mass and muscle mass, giving them endomorphic and mesomorphic tendencies. 

When it comes to the conversation on somatypes, these are concluding points you should keep in mind:
  • As I mentioned in other genetics-related blogs, you shouldn't assume that someone has all the answers because he or she looks the way you want to.  A person's muscularity or thinness might be due to factors out of his or her control.  Choose your trainer/exercise advisor/nutritional counselor largely based on the knowledge he or she has
  • Don't criticize people for being too thin or too fat.  Andrew went through a phase in high school where he wanted to gain weight so badly that he ate a pound of pasta shortly before going to sleep every night.  He did gain a little over 10 pounds but lost it quickly after stopping.  For endomorphs, it can be much more challenging to lose fat.  If you're not an endomorph, you can't relate
  • Regardless of your somatype and physical appearance, you are still subject to the health ramifications of what you eat.  You could be thin but have type II diabetes and unhealthy levels of visceral fat and triglycerides. Eat well and exercise, no matter what your body type is
  • Your somatype is a limiting factor, but it's not an excuse.  Ectomorphs can still build muscle, and endomorphs can still lose fat 

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