You might be blessed with a body that packs on muscle just by looking at a weight machine!
But for most men, it will take a little more work that involves eating the right diet and exercising in a way that works for your body.
Muscle building is an intricate and complex physiological and biomechanical process. Although we’re not going to get too science-y it’s a good idea to get to grips with the fundamentals so you can understand what to expect from your body (and how to supersize your gains no matter your body type).
So we’re exploring how to build muscle based on your body type…
The mechanics of muscle-building…
Understanding the fundamentals of building muscle before we get into body types and how they impact it is essential.
You probably already know that exercising creates trauma in the muscle fibers by generating tiny micro-tears.
Post-workout, your body repairs and replaces damaged muscle fibers via cellular processes, fusing them to form new muscle protein strands. The repaired muscle fibers are thicker than the original, causing muscle growth or hypertrophy.
Muscle growth occurs when the rate of muscle synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle breakdown. It makes sense, and it’s why working out can increase muscle mass.
However, contrary to popular belief, this does not happen when you are actively lifting weights but when you are resting.
So, it’s important to remember that while your aim might be building muscle, this is done via repair - not damage. Hitting the gym non-stop and expecting your body to repair your muscles and grow might not actually be the right move for you.
How quickly can you build muscle?
Under normal circumstances, you can gain around 1-2 lbs of muscle per month. If you’re just starting out, you’ll see muscle growth in around eight weeks; if you’re more experienced, then you might see changes quicker (around 3-4 weeks).
And although different body types will find it easier or harder to build muscle, these timescales are realistic for all somatotypes.
Body type impacts how you should train and eat to achieve these results.
Somatotypes: does body type matter for building muscle?
In the early 1940s, Dr. William Herbert Sheldon back developed the concept of somatotypes to characterize an individual’s psychological state based on their anatomy.
And while this theory of associating the human physique with personality characteristics has been largely discredited, the bodybuilding community has adopted somatotype classifications as a way to physical deviations in male bodies.
An adult male can be grouped into one of the three human body types:
They might sound like something out of Alien, but they help you understand how your natural body functions and how to manipulate diet and exercise to achieve your desired physique.
There are, of course, only three, and the human body comes in all shapes and sizes, so their application is limited. And most people are a combination of more than one body, with a dominant type and aspects from multiple.
However, it is a rough guideline that will help guide your training and nutrition if muscle-building is your aim.
What is an Ectomorph?
An ectomorph is generally tall and slim with long limbs and narrow shoulders - think about someone like Matthew McConaughey or Bradley Cooper.
These features characterize them:
They have incredibly quick metabolisms, meaning they can eat practically anything they want and will not gain weight. While this might sound like a dream in some respects it also makes it very difficult to gain muscle mass.
You might have heard the term “hard-gainer", used in the bodybuilding community to describe someone who tried hard to gain muscle but finds it difficult.
As a result, ectomorphs will have the hardest time adding muscle mass; however, losing weight is not going to be an issue for them.
How to build muscle if you are an ectomorph
Although cardio may come easily to ectomorphs, they should avoid doing too much if they aim to build muscle.
However, they also need to avoid long hours in the gym as too much exercise can increase their metabolic rate even further. So, ectomorphs should limit their workouts to 45 minutes max, 3-4 times a week.
In addition, Nader from TGFFitness suggests that ectomorphs focus on compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses that work multiple muscles at once and promote overall muscle growth. Avoid classic bodybuilder moves that isolate sections of the body (ie. biceps curls).
However, as ectomorphs have such a rapid metabolism their focus needs to be on diet, and increasing the number of calories that they consume - which can be a challenge.
You’ll have to track calories to ensure you are eating enough by calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) then add at least 250-300 extra calories per day.
So if your TDEE is 2500 calories, then you should be eating around 2750 - 2800 calories per day to increase your muscle mass.
One of the reasons that ectomorphs struggle to gain weight is that they struggle to eat as much as they need to, but this can be circumvented by choosing calorie-dense foods and eating frequently.
Starchy carbs, lean proteins and healthy gats are the best foods for ectomorphs to build muscle.
How long will it take to build muscle if you are an ectomorph
It’s common to think that ectomorphs will struggle to gain muscle due to their difficulty in gaining weight.However, this is less a result of a genetic inability and more down to the fact that they have a fast metabolism and a generally smaller appetite. Assuming they stick to a strict diet and weight-lifting regime, they can gain muscle quickly and even supersede the average of 1-2 lbs per month.
What is a mesomorph?
A mesomorph generally has a high natural muscle-to-fat ratio which makes it easy to build muscle or lose weight depending on their goals - think about celebrities like Chris Hemsworth or Christiano Ronaldo.
These features characterize them:
Mesomorphs are capable of building muscle much more easily than ectomorphs, so they often require a higher calorie intake (as muscle requires more calories to maintain it), and will have to eat more protein.
The mesomorph has no trouble putting on weight, whether it is muscle or fat. Because of this, mesomorphs need to be the most practiced and organized when it comes to their training and nutrition because the scales can easily tip in one direction or the other.
How to build muscle if you are a mesomorph
Because mesomorphs can easily gain weight and muscle they often go too easy in the gym unknowingly, which means that their nutrition and training plan needs to be more structured and progressive in order to see results.
Nader from TGFFitness suggests that mesomorphs benefit from a varied training program that includes both weight training for muscle mass and cardio for leanness, this will allow them to gain lean weight.
Again, avoid isolated exercises and stick with compound movements like deadlifts and power cleans with a short rest period (no more than 60 seconds).
Mesomorphs will typically do well on a balanced diet of 40% carbohydrates, 30% fat, and 30% protein - slightly higher in protein than other body types due to higher muscle mass.
What is an endomorph?
An endomorph has a shorter stature, a wide frame, and a higher body fat composition - think about Russel Crowe or Chris Pratt.
They typically put on muscle mass easily, but they also have a higher fat percentage, a slower metabolism, and difficulty losing weight.
They are typically characterized by these features:
This type of body is often described as “skinny-fat”, as while they might not have a lot of body fat, they also lack definition.
This body type will have the greatest difficulty getting into shape as they have slower metabolisms and higher body fat, and their body will readily store fat.
How to build muscle if you are an endomorph
Remember you can’t lose fat and build muscle at the same time, so you will need to decide which goal is most important for now.
If you want to build muscle, the good news is that as an endomorph, you will find it relatively easy.
Endomorphs don’t have to hit the treadmill, but they will have to include some cardio alongside weight training. Interval training such as Tabata, HIIT or plyometric training is key for weight loss and metabolism boosting. On rest days endomorphs should keep moving in order to avoid weight gain such as yoga or walking.
However, endomorphs will need to watch what they eat and avoid a calorie surplus - by figuring out their basal metabolic rate (BMR) and total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and burning 250-300 calories more than they consume.
Since endomorphs have a slower metabolism they can process fats more, and should limit carbohydrate intake - around 30% carbohydrates, 35% fat, and 35% protein will suit best.
Get to grips with training for your body type
So, hopefully, the reasons for understanding your body type are glaring you in the face.
If you’re an ectomorph and you’re hitting the gym but eating too little, or a mesomorph hammering the cardio, then you probably won’t see the results you’re searching for.
There is nothing worse than spending hours in the gym only to get nowhere, so as a first step you should figure out what body type you are and ensure that your training and nutrition plan is aligned with that goal.
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