Body Type & Sport

There are three categories of body that will be referred to in this discussion:

Ectomorphs are ‘slim’

  • A one word definition for an ectomorph is ‘slim’. The classic ectomorph has a delicate build, lightly muscled, small shoulders, narrow hips and pelvis, and long arms and legs. They do not tend to have much muscle bulk, but they do tend to be lean, due to reduced fat deposits.

Mesomorphs are ‘muscular’

  • These guys are more muscular pronounced, which is reflected in more thickness in their muscle and bone structure. Often they have a large chest and shoulder complex which outsize’s their waist.

Endomorphs are ‘curvy’

  • This category is prone to body fat settling in the lower abdomen, hips and thighs. Although they are prone to high fat gains they are possess the most potential for muscle mass gains.

Your genetic make up, outlined in your microscopic DNA which is invisible to the naked eye, predicts what body type you have. That is not to say that with the correct nutrition manipulation and training stimulus that you can not change it in a positive way if your chosen sport necessitates this, to optimise performance levels.

Body type, however, can be a useful guide as to what sport one would be most suited to. As we will learn an ectomorph, which is a label for a ‘slim body’ type, like Peter Crouch’s who is an acclaimed football striker in the UK, is unlikely to excel in the Jerry Flannery’s hooker position in rugby union.


Fig 1 Jerry Flannery, an endomorph body type, in play during a challenge match against new Zealand in 2006

Similar to every body type category, there are genetically predisposed Ectomorph’s, who can see that they inherited their slim builds from their parents and grandparents (such as Masai Tribesmen pictured in Fig 2) and those that choose to attain an Ectomorphic appearance. The latter category may well describe tons of ‘skinny’ celebrities out there like Paris Hilton (also in Fig 2), but as a sports writer for Thera-fitness I am more concerned with how sport performers deal and manipulate with their body types to achieve optimal sporting performance and success in their chosen sports.

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Fig 2 They may lead very different lives, but the Masai Tribe in Africa and Paris Hilton from the US share the same Ectomorph body type.

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Fig 3   These above sports performers can all be considered ECTOMORPHS. They include prior mentioned England striker Peter Crouch, world motorbike champion Valentino Rossi and Irish athlete Sonia O Sullivan (all pictured below)

In Fig 3 we can see sport performers that exhibit Ectomorph body types. These performers seem to have naturally inherited such a body type. If Sonia O Sullivan did not run or Peter Crouch did not play soccer the likelihood is that they would still exhibit a light frame, due to their genetic make up. Peter Crouch is an exception in soccer terms, as the average Premiership Soccer player exhibits a much more Mesomorphic body type (to be discussed later in this review)

An Ectomorphic body, however, arbours well for the athlete involved in endurance type competition. As the key factor here is often production of maximum strength, power and endurance with a diminished body weight. This is known as power-weight ratio. It makes little sense for the long distance runner to add 5kg of body weight, whether muscle bulk or not, if it does not translate to a better performance in races.

For some performers involved in endurance type sport their body Ectomorphic body types come naturally. These performers often report that it is extremely hard to gain weight; hence they are often termed as been ‘hard gainers’.  It is usual for them to approach a sport nutritionalist and claim “I can eat whatever, I like and still wont gain a pound”. Although, they fall into their chosen sport body type category it is essential that they meet the energy requirements of their chosen sports training regime by fuelling their bodies with the correct fuel and in the right quantities. In my experience as a chartered physiotherapist, it is common to relate overuse chronic non-healing injuries to a substantial lack of protein which is required for healing and growth in this body type group.

Other sports performers, who exhibit an ectomophic body type, do not have it so easy. In some cases the sport requires for them to exhibit an Ectomorphic body type, even though genetically they are predisposed to a more Mesomorphic or Endomorphic body structure. This is the case in horse racing. A big part of any jockey becoming a successful professional horse racer is making the weight, staying light enough to ride based on limitations set by racing officials.

Contrary to other sports where athletes are striving to become “stronger, bigger, faster,” top rider John Velazquez said before the races one morning at Keeneland Race Course. “We have to be smaller, skinnier and lighter — and stronger at the same time. There’s a lot of discipline involved, and not everyone can do it.”

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Fig 4   Frankie Dettori on Mark Of Esteem strides clear at Ascot in 1996.

Frankie Dettori, pictured above in Fig 4, has a racing weight which is typically 8st 7lb. This is achieved through constant dietary manipulation and exercise interventions.  Some jockeys often resort to withstaning from any food or drink on the day of a race to loose the last few pounds, which often leads to dangerous levels of dehydration and reduced strength and performance levels as they are unable to match the energy requirements’ of their sport.

This is the same for any sport that is dictated by weigh classes’, such as is the case with the majority of combat sports. In boxing, similar to horse racing, food intake is monitored carefully by both physiologists and sports nutritionist working with the elite fighters. The energy requirement for boxing, however, is much greater than that for their jockey counterparts and thus, a wealth of knowledge can be gleamed form this group on correct dietary manipulation to perform optimally, but within their weight category.

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Fig 5 Mike Tyson is a typical lean Endomorph weighing in at 102kg compared to lightweight boxer and Ectomorph Amir Khan who is almost half Tyson’s weight at 59kg.


What we can learn from sport performers who have to stay at a certain weight:

These performers are not afraid to resistance train in the gym for strength and power through a combination of lower repetitions and heavier weights, as this does not necessitate a radical increase in muscle mass without a substantial increase in calorific intake. (Refer to article on: How many reps?)

Calculate your BMI and your daily energy requirements. This will lead to an establishment of daily calorific needs and allow monitoring of maintenance weight

Monitor your weight daily.

Monitor you body fat levels weekly.

Eat continuously and throughout the day

Eat smaller meals.

Do daily calorie counts to match your calorific needs.

Reduce saturated fat intake

All the above may seem obvious, but you would be amazed by the number of professional sports performers who fail to adhere to a lifelong adage of ‘moderation’. Boxers like Ricky Hatton often relax after a fight and divulge into fatty foods which may look nice but are loaded with calories and add extra weight to their body. Hatton is than faced with the mammoth task of reducing his body weight drastically through a 12 weeks program before a fight, which includes a drastic reduction in calories whilst at the same time a major increase in training volume and intensity. This ultimately leads to a below par performance, and may have been partly to blame is his defeat against Flyod Mayweather this year, who keeps himself in shape all year round and claimed Ricky Hatton was ‘a fat man with a beer belly’.

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Fig 6 Ricky Hatton in optimal fighting shape to the left and struggling to maintain his fighting weight between fights, far right


Further Key Points if you want to develop an Ectomorph body for your sport:

If one is a Mesomorph/Endomorph body type there are several factors that may influence a transition to a more Ectomorph body type for their chosen sport. It is worth noting, however, that a large frame endomorph may never obtain the lighter bone structure of an ectomorph and may be more realistic centring their goal toward a mesomorph body structure. The following points are working off the presumption that the individual mesomorph or endomorph is overweight.

  • Similar to staying an ectomorph, you need to monitor your diet very carefully. There needs to be a consistant calorie deficit from your maintenance calorific intake. Work out your BMI (Body Mass Index) and work out your daily calorific needs in order to maintain the same weight, than take 200 calories of per day as a rule of thumb.
  • Often people are very keen to get the “quick fix” and loose unwanted weight gain as quickly as possible. It is worth noting, however, that it often takes many years to put on the extra unwanted weight gain, and it would be more realistic to spread out their goals over a longer period of time. Unfortunately, few people wish to hear this and drastically diet, in the hope that they will loose weight instantly. With crash dieting results are often positive, but in most cases short lived.
  • Cardio, Cardio and Cardio. Plenty of Cardio will help shift a few extra unwanted pounds. Training for 35-40 minutes 3-5 times a week, will definitely aid in fat loss. Research has moved on from an approach of slow, easy level endurance training approach to HIIT (High intensity Interval Training) system, in which the bodies’ energy systems are all involved, producing higher calorific burning than slow continuous steady pace.

Another reason why ectomorphs seem to excel at endurance sports, if not genetically predisposed to this body type, is that their own bodies are unable to cope with the high energy demands placed on the body by the sport.


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Fig 7 Michael Phelps displaying a typical Mesomorph body, with reduced body fat

This is the reason that although Michael Phelps, eight Olympic gold champion in Bejiing Olympics this year, eats 10,000 calories a day, he amazingly fails to show any fat deposit stores on his lean body. His 6 hours of training in the pool consumes these calories and ensures that they are used as muscle fuel through his workouts as opposed to fat storage. Michael Phelps, is not an ectomorph, however, he is a Mesomorph which is our next category of body type.

A sports performer with this body type typically is suited to much more sports including soccer, gaelic football, hurling, basketball, hockey, tennis, golf, cricket, swimming, sprinting and jumping events. This is because this group is often well proportioned and typically muscular. They tend to find it more easier in the gym to gain muscle, but one with this body type must be warned they are also more prone to gaining body fat much easier than the ectomorph.

Key Training Points if you want to maintain a Mesomorph body for your sport:

Of all three body types, most sportsmen who have a mesomorph body types are content with it for sport, as it is the typically body type that produces optimal performance gains in most sports, as previously mentioned.

  • Similar to all body types, in order to maintain your muscle mass you need between a g-2g per kilo of body weight of protein daily. For example if you are 80kg, this would equate to between a total protein serving of 80-160g a day. The higher figure of 160g protein is a realistic and obtainable figure for a high level sports performer.
  • Cardio prescription for a mesomorph, outside their prescriptive programs by their coaches for their chosen sport, may include some light cardio work, as more intense HIIT type training is usually covered in team based training sessions,

The final category of body type is the Endomorph:

Often the stocky endomorph exhibits shorter arms and legs and has a tendency to gain both muscle and body fat quite easily.  In sports such as in the pack in rugby union, superheavyweight boxing, athletic throwers, heavyweight Olympic weightlifting and strongmen competitions are some of the areas where their body types often excel.

Key Training Points if you want to maintain an Endomorph body for your sport:

  • Eat, Eat, and than eat some more.
  • This body group tend to eat vast amounts of carbohydrate dense calories throughout the day. Unlike some elite mesomorph types who may match the endomorphs for calories, there training burns most if not all of it. In the case of the previous example of Michael Phelps.
  • This group therefore tries to limit cardio exercise. Research has shown that cardio exercise can be detrimental to maximum strength gains and hence, coaches often encourage these athletes to avoid excessive cardio type training.
  • It is quite normal for a competitive Olympic thrower to consume 6 or 7 meals a day to fuel his muscle mass, and ensure strength levels are not affected by the energy deficit form strength and power training.
  • Although these athletes may seem muscle bound, they often exhibit extreme flexibility as is the case with the Olympic weightlifters when performing snatches and cleans, and so flexibility training becomes a cornerstone component of their program.
  • They are also surprisingly quick over relatively shorter distances such as 10-50m due to their ability to maximise their bodies’ power output in a short time period.
  • Their training reflects their performance requirements which are often short burst of high intensity training with maximal longer recovery periods.
  • The major exception in this group is the dawn of the professional rugby union hooker. Players like Jerry falnnery (Fig 1) previously mentioned now are faced with the challenge of training for maximal strength during scrums, rucks and mauls, whilst at the same time ensuring they have a base fitness that will ensure they can keep up with the fast moving pace of the modern game.

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Fig 8 Zydrunas Savickas takes his 6th straight Arnold Classic, winning the 2008 Strongman Serbia Grand Prix. The picture on the left illustrates his brute strength.

In conclusion, the first part of any training program prescription is to identifying the physique that is optimal for your sport and position. Next you need to assess your own body type and see where you are in term of achieving that body type. This needs to be realistic, and at the same time ensuring that while you aspire to achieve your optimal body for your sport you continue to meet the necessary energy requirements for both training and competition during this period. Every sport has its own unique set of energy requirements, which will ultimate dictate your training program. Energy requirements will be the next discussion on Strength for Sports at