Experts no longer believe that a mesomorph body type (or ectomorph or endomorph) is absolutely unchangeable. Rather, it's the sum of your lifestyle choices up until now. But that body type can also give you valuable clues to how your body may respond to your food choices.
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What Is a Mesomorph?
For some people, the idea of "body type" refers only to your general shape. You might classify it in terms of fruit (an apple shape if you're bigger around the middle; a pear shape if you're bigger at the hips than the chest) or in terms of geometry — rectangle, square and triangle-shaped bodies are all fairly self-explanatory.
But as the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) explains, in the early 1940s Dr. W.H. Sheldon named three somatotypes, or body types: endomorph (rounded and soft), mesomorph (square and muscular), ectomorph (thin and fine-boned). Sheldon held that not only were these body types unchangeable, they even directly influenced a person's personality.
While a few of these ideas have held up over time, experts now acknowledge that nobody is hopelessly predetermined to be either fat, muscular or thin. Instead, the NASM explains that we are all constantly in flux between Sheldon's three somatotypes — it might help to imagine them all on a spectrum that you can slide along in either direction.
Most important, you have the power to make choices that mold your body in the direction you want. As the NASM explains, "The observable somatotype represents the current sum of their physical, dietary and lifestyle choices up to that point in time, combined with a variety of uncontrollable factors influenced by both genetics and the surrounding environment."
The Mesomorph Diet
What does being a mesomorph female have to do with choosing your diet? First off, keep in mind that it's rarely as cut and dried as saying you are just one body type. As the American Council on Exercise (ACE) explains, most people exhibit a combination of at least two somatotypes, with one type being more dominant than the other.
And given the amount of research on body somatotypes for other purposes (especially relating to prevalence of disease), there's shockingly little clinical research on how somatotypes affect your diet choices and vice versa.
However, the typical characteristics of a mesomorph body type can give you a few clues about what kind of fuel your body needs to stay healthy. Do any of these sound like you?
- "Has an athletic body and builds muscle fairly easily."
- "Naturally muscular with a moderate frame ... well-proportioned with wider shoulders and a narrow waist, and typically has low body-fat levels."
- "Medium bone structure with shoulders wider than the hips ... developed athletic musculature ... efficient metabolism; mass gain and loss both happen with relative ease."
Those definitions, which come from the International Sports Sciences Association, ACE and NASM, respectively, are all ways of describing the mesomorph body type for both women and men. Mesomorphs also tend to put on muscle and lose fat easily.
It's worth emphasizing that while this combination of body characteristics may be partly genetic, it's also the result of a series of life choices — so if you don't see yourself reflected in these descriptions, every day is an opportunity to start making lifestyle choices that steer you closer to your goals.
To paint the answer in broad strokes, it makes sense for an athletic body type to start by eating like an athlete: Get enough protein to, at a minimum, maintain your current muscle mass. Then focus on getting the remainder of your daily calories through a blend of nutrient-rich, minimally processed foods.
Read more: Mesomorph Diet and Exercise
Protein and Carbs for Mesomorphs
The NASM recommends that a mesomorph diet should focus on preparing yourself to reach health and fitness goals. They boil things down to a relatively simple recommendation of 1.2 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight, with the rest of your daily calories coming from a mix of healthy fats and carbohydrates. Then, if you're looking to gain muscle or lose body fat, you can tweak your daily calorie load to reach your goals.
For the sake of perspective, in a June 2017 position stand published in its own journal, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) — which does not break its analysis down in terms of somatotypes — recommends that an intake of 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, per day, is adequate for most people who want to build or maintain muscle mass.
If you'd like to become more muscular or athletic in build, the ISSN also notes that a diet that focuses more on protein than carbohydrates, when paired with the appropriate stimulus from resistance training, will result in better growth.
But that doesn't mean you should cut out the carbs entirely. Your body needs a certain amount of carbs for fuel, and this becomes even more important if you're an endurance athlete. The ISSN recommends that endurance athletes get from 6 to 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight, per day.
Macronutrient Balance for Mesomorphs
Even if you've identified yourself as a mesomorph, there's no getting around a certain amount of trial and error to find the perfect diet for you. After all, every human body is subject to a myriad of factors that can influence your body composition.
Not all of those factors will be under your control. For example, you can't change your genetics, and most environmental factors around you are also beyond your control. But you can find a lot of balance in your life — and work toward or maintain a mesomorph body type — with the nutrient choices you make.
Of the limited clinical research on nutrition and somatotype, a small study of 148 Polish women, published in the December 2017 issue of Anthropological Review, gives a solid clue that dietary balance may in fact be an important goal for mesomorphs. In that study, researchers found that it was the endomorphs, not the mesomorphs, who showed the statistically greatest intake of both protein and fat.
This is one reason why getting personalized advice from a registered dietitian or sports nutritionist can be so helpful. But if you're working on your own, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Dietary Guidelines, 2015-2020, gives you an excellent place to start. They recommend the following range of macronutrient intakes for adults, expressed as a percentage of your total daily calorie intake:
- Protein: 10 to 35 percent
- Carbohydrate: 45 to 65 percent
- Fat: 20 to 35 percent
These ranges offer a lot of wiggle room for customizing a diet to include favorite foods — or at least, healthy versions of your favorite foods — and accommodate the already-discussed ISSA and ISSN recommendations for protein intake.
Healthy Habits for Everybody
Whether you're already in possession of a mesomorph body or working your way toward one, the HHS provides some key recommendations to steer everybody toward healthier eating patterns. These include eating a variety of vegetables from all the subgroups — aim for a rainbow of different colors, along with starchy vegetables and legumes.
You should eat plenty of fruit too — preferably whole fruits as opposed to juices that make you miss out on all-important fiber intake — and grains, of which at least half should be whole grains. In fact, if you want to make a quick, effective fix to your diet, cutting out refined grains and other highly processed foods is a great first step.
Supplement that with high-quality protein from a variety of sources, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and soy, along with healthy oils and fat-free or low-fat dairy, and you'll be well on your way to a healthy, balanced diet for any body type.
From there, you can tweak macronutrient composition and specific foods to find out what best serves your body and your fitness goals. Keeping a daily diary of your food intake, physical activities and how you feel physically is one of the most useful ways to reach that goal.
Physical Activity for Mesomorphs
Your choices in the kitchen have an enormous effect on both body composition (the overall ratio of body fat to muscle) and overall health. But your choice of physical activity also has a big impact on your body composition. As the American Council on Exercise explains, resistance training is a critical part of working your way toward a more muscular build.
In one possibly useful study, published in the May 2018 issue of PLOS One, researchers evaluated 36 healthy, physically active men for resistance training performance on heavy lifts. They found that about one-third of strength performance is predicted by your somatotype, and that the mesomorph body type correlated with better power output, bench press and back squat results.
But because your dietary choices and exercise habits can affect your body type, is this a case of the chicken or the egg coming first? It's impossible to say. The one thing that's certain is that the more muscle you build, the easier such lifts — and any number of life tasks, from carrying groceries up the stairs to lifting your grandchildren or just getting out of a chair — will become.
Chances are, if you're a mesomorph, you may already be physically active. But if you're not, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends training all your major muscle groups at least twice a week. You should do that training on nonconsecutive days to give your muscles adequate recovery time in between workouts.
That could mean training all your muscle groups on one day, then resting for at least a day before you do the same thing again; or you can do a "split" by training different muscle groups on different days. As long as each major muscle group gets addressed at least twice a week and then gets at least one rest day before another high-intensity workout, you can switch things around to your heart's content.
The CDC also recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week. This is strictly for maintaining good health. If you want to lose weight, you may need to do at least twice that much, as well as watching your overall calorie balance to be sure you burn more calories than you take in.
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "How to Train & Diet for Your Body Type"
- American Council on Exercise: "How to Eat and Train for a Mesomorph Body Type"
- International Sports Sciences Association: "Women and Protein — an Essential Guide"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Position Stand: Protein and Exercise"
- Anthropological Review: "Somatotype, Diet and Nutritional Status of Women"
- Department of Health and Human Services: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations"
- Department of Health and Human Services: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Recommendations of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- PLOS One: "The Influence of Somatotype on Anaerobic Performance"
- American Council on Exercise: "7 Techniques for Promoting Muscle Growth"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?"