Somatotypes

A little while ago I was complaining to my hair stylist. I was complaining about the fact that for the past four weeks I hadn’t been consistent in my workouts because of a serious chest cold that just wouldn’t go away. You remember that nasty chest cough that everyone had in December? During cardio (or really just laughing) would send me into a flurry of deep chest coughing. I could still do weight training, but I thought it wouldn’t be so considerate to be at the gym hacking away spreading my germs everywhere, so I focused on performing light weights at home. 

My biggest complaint was that I was losing weight. And that made me annoyed because I knew I was losing lean muscle mass, not body fat. And that muscle was hard earned. For the past year I trained 6 days a week, lifting 6-12 reps for 3-5 sets, twice a week per body part. 

So here I was in my stylist’s chair complaining about losing weight because I wasn’t exercising. I said something like, “you know when you stop working out and you start losing weight, isn’t that annoying? Knowing you are losing precious muscle mass?”

My stylist contemplates this, and then replies, “no, I don’t know what you mean. I don’t lose weight when I don’t exercise, I gain. Also, I gain muscle very quickly, and it’s hard to lose it.”

A lightbulb went off in my head. Oh yes! That is right! I had just learned in my Precision Nutrition course about the three different body types, or somatotypes: Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph. Remember learning about those in high school biology class?

The above is a perfect example of the different somatotypes. I am an ectomorph and I am assuming my stylist is a mesomorph. 

Let me explain some of the differences.

Note: My 14yr old daughter Gwyneth who is a wonderful artist drew the illustrations for those of us who are visuals learners 🙂

Ectomorph’s are normally light and lean, and have longer limbs. They are often endurance athletes, and their metabolism is often on the higher side. They fidget, and are often “busy” personalities.

Mesomorph’s normally have medium builds and are naturally muscular. They have a normally functioning metabolism. They can build muscle fairly easy, and are athletic by nature. 

Endomorph’s are heavier, usually have larger bones, and shorter limbs. Their metabolism is slow and their body loves to store fat. 

Knowing our somatotype can be very helpful when trying to get healthy. 

My body just can’t keep a lot of muscle on it. Which is pretty frustrating as a personal trainer, but if I can embrace this I can work with my body better, becoming healthier and create a functional body where it thrives. Same with a mesomorphic body, being naturally muscular and athletic, that body’s training and nutritional needs will be different than ectomorphic and endomorphic bodies. Endomorphic bodies can also thrive, given the right energy needs it needs to lose body fat and gain muscle. 

Also, in terms of our nutritional choices our percentage of macronutrients will be different depending on your somatotype. 

Ectomorphs tolerate carbs well, so a higher carb, moderate protein, lower fat diet works best for them. Mesomorphs generally do best on a balanced mix distribution of carbs, protein, and fat, so the “Zone” diet -40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat- works well. Endomorphs generally do the best on a lower carb diet, so lowish carbs (25%), higher protein and fat works well for them.

Seven years ago, I tried low carb (under 100g of carbs), and being a Ectomorphic body type that needs a higher percentage of carbohydrates to function properly, the low carb diet completely messed up my thyroid function, whereas an endomorphic body may thrive on a keto diet as their carb needs are much less.

Being Precision Nutritional Level 1 Certified (Pn1), I can help guide you to discovering healthy food choices and appropriate exercises for your unique body type to thrive. Making lasting changes is hard, and that is where being Pn1 certified shines, their coaching model is the BEST for creating lasting behaviour changes to create the healthy body you want. 

What’s the best diet? Paleo? Vegan? Keto? Atkins? Zone? The list goes on…

I often answer “the best diet is the one that you can maintain long term.”

This is such a complex discussion. And really there is no right answer as to whether there is one diet that works for all people. Well….maybe one right answer: whole foods. Selecting most of the food you eat from whole sources, meaning minimally processed, feeds your body the nutrients it needs and keeps it healthy.

The reason that no one diet works for everyone is that people are diverse. Every body needs different macros (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) depending on several important aspects.

In the first chapter of the Precision Nutrition‘s “The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition” textbook for my Level 1 Certification I am currently enrolled in, it gives an excellent and explained overview of several ways that people are diverse. Allow me to paraphrase…

Body Type – some of us are tall and thin, some short and stocky, and some in between. The amount of calories you can eat per day depends on your body type. Taller and thinner people often can eat more calories, while shorter and stockier people often cannot.

Fitness Level – our activity level, plus what type of activity we do, governs the amount and type of food we need. Weight lifting requires more protein, long distance cardio requires more carbs, and sedentary lifestyles require less calories.

Dietary preferences and exclusions – we all have a vast range of likes and dislikes, plus allergies and restrictions due to health and/or religion.

Budget – healthy food often costs more. Strangely, the more a food is processed, the less it costs. I could never really figure that one out, perhaps because it has less real food in it (i.e. cellulose wood pulp, which is used as a filler in shredded cheese products).

Organic/Conventional – in terms of availability, not every region has organic produce or grass-fed beef.

Nutrition Knowledge And Diet History – our past experiences and knowledge governs our present thought systems concerning food. Also, I have noticed that many people think they eat healthy, but in reality, when I look at their food log/daily choices, it’s not so. We all come with different ideas on what eating “healthy” means.

Time – minimally processed, whole food often takes more time to plan and prep.

Ethnic Background And Heritage – the culture we live in dictates the food available around us.

Age – as we age, our metabolisms change (as we age we lose lean muscle mass, and the less muscle mass you have, the less calories you burn at rest). Also food intolerances and appetite change (I know I have gained several new allergies over the years). Even our digestive systems change with age.

Genetic polymorphism is fascinating. How nutrition and cellular interaction slightly varies depending on our unique gene expression. But regardless of our small differences, it’s important to note that nutrients from whole foods fundamentally change how our body works. And interestingly, nutrition can strongly influence our gene expression. Nutrigenomics is a new hot topic that is beyond my scope, but I am sure in a few years we will discover much more about the effects nutrients have on the expression of our individual genetic makeup.

There is so much that is in our control when it comes to our health. There are five statements from the Precision Nutrition text that I think are important to highlight:

  1. Good nutrition asks people to care about their food and eating. Just being mindful of what you are eating is a huge step to eating healthfully. I think that is why the MyFitnessPal app is so successful for people, it brings awareness to how much they are eating.
  2. Good nutrition focuses on food quality. All diets ask you to eat less processed, nutrient-depleted foods.
  3. 3. Good nutrition helps eliminate nutrient deficiencies. Eating whole foods increases the much needed nutrients your cells need to work properly.
  4. Good nutrition helps control appetite and food intake. Often healthy food takes longer to digest, helping us feel fuller for longer. Getting enough fibre from plant foods fills us up (and helps with being regular!)
  5. Good nutrition promotes regular exercise. When we start a diet, we often think about getting some exercise in too. Once we are consistent with exercise, we feel more energetic and strong.

BMR, and Why It’s Important

I am at that age (early 40s) where I have many family members and friends trying to lose weight. It’s definitely tough for us to stay slim as we age. One of the main reasons is that we have been steadily losing precious muscle since our early 30s. It’s called sarcopenia. On average, physically inactive people lose 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade, my 6th edition NASM textbook states 5% per decade. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Your amount of muscle mass pretty much dictates your BMR.

Your BMR (basal metabolic rate) is the amount of energy expended while at rest. Your muscles burn more calories in order to function, meaning the more muscle mass you have the more energy (calories) your body burns. Pretty cool, eh?

So as we age, it’s important that we exercise. Walking and light aerobics are great for our cardiovascular health (which lengthens our life expectancy), plus it will burn a little extra calories. However, it’s only when we add strength exercises that work our muscles that builds muscle on our bones. Strength training is what changes our body composition— the ratio of lean mass vs our fat mass on our bodies.

Another important factor is our TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). 

Your TDEE is the overall number of calories your body uses on a daily basis, and it’s based on your BMR plus your activity level throughout the day. So gardening, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, walking the dog, parking the car farther than usual, and intentional exercise (like going for a run, strength training, HITT class) helps increase your TDEE.

Then there are our food choices. While it’s true that a calorie is a calorie, it’s not that simple. The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy expended above BMR as a result of the processing of food (digestion) for storage and use. Protein uses more energy (calories) to digest than the other macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, alcohol). And while fat doesn’t use the same amount of energy to digest, it doesn’t spike insulin levels, which studies show is an important factor to the weight debate.

Insulin is a hormone that is secreted from your pancreas in response to two macromolecules: glucose (from carbohydrates) and protein. Insulin takes sugar from the bloodstream and helps it enter the cells to be used for energy or to be stored. It also stops glucose from being released by the liver into the bloodstream.

The rate at which ingested carbohydrate raise blood sugar and its accompanying effect on insulin release is referred to as the glycemic index (GI). Carbohydrates are not all equal, they come in different forms: simple sugars (honey, table sugar), starches (oats, whole grains, yams with skin), and cellulose (fibre from the skins of fruits and veggies). When your body consumes too many high glycemic carbohydrates (note: this can also happen when you consume too many calories too many times), insulin spikes trying to stop the influx of sugar in the blood and so puts glucose (energy) into all cells, including your fat cells. This means that if you eat a meal that is high in simple sugars (processed food) your body pumps out insulin in response to hold onto the energy and store it for later. We don’t want that energy stored in our fat cells (making them bigger!) and we definitely don’t want it stored abundantly on our tummy, hips, and thighs!

I was recently listening to a great talk with Gary Taubes and Dr. Mark Hyman. Taubes is the author of The Case Against Sugar. He says that we weren’t designed to eat the amount of sugar we typically consume. His theory is that the overconsumption of sugar is why over the past 100 years people have been getting fatter. It has something to do with the insulin production in our bodies, making it hard for us to lose weight even though we are watching what we eat. About 1 in 3 people in the USA are prediabetic. Taubes highlighted an interesting observation I didn’t connect before: type 1 diabetics (people who don’t produce insulin at all) are very thin even though they eat a lot of food, even 10,000 calories or more, because it’s the insulin production that stores the energy into our fat cells, of which they don’t have any. Type 2 diabetics (those who over the years produced too much insulin and their bodies have become resistant to it) are overweight and have a difficult time losing weight, no matter what they do. He explains that many of us, perhaps even 50%, are genetically unable to eat the amount of sugar we do, which would explain our weight loss troubles.

This is a very complex topic, I have tried to just touch upon the main takeaways. And really what I have presented here only touches the surface of the findings from new research, as health professionals try to figure out what is causing so many people to struggle with their extra weight. But I think we are getting close, which is exciting, and more studies on the effects of insulin may be the key.

Here are some simple things to try:

Strength train 2-3 times a week to build muscle mass. Start with bodyweight exercises first, and then when it starts to feel easy add hand weights to your program. Even better: join a gym and use heavier weights and machines. If you are a woman, please don’t worry about “bulking” up, I try to lift heavy (for example I shoulder press 20lbs for 12 reps) and I find I get thinner, not bulkier.

Cut out processed sugar from your diet. This one is tough, I know! However, eliminating all added sugar will help your weight loss goals abundantly. One of my daughters struggles with insulin resistance, which is the precursor to prediabetes. We cut out sugar last year, and she naturally lost weight and gained more energy, but we think she will always need to watch her sugar intake to stay healthy.

Eat more protein (on average: 1 gram per 1 pound of body weight). This helps keep the muscle you already have, as well as adding more if you begin to strength train. David Heber MD, PhD gives an amazing talk on Doctor’s Farmacy about our need of protein. Note: you cannot gain more muscle if you don’t strength train.

Fill up on veggies. Having 50% veggies on your plate for lunch and dinner helps with a feeling of satiety and adds much needed fiber and micronutrients (vitamins).

Have a small, no/low sugar treat every day. This may seem counterintuitive when dieting but having just a little yummy goodie keeps the cravings at bay. If I don’t have my four squares of dark chocolate a day, I will cheat BIG time later on.

And lastly, this is one I suggest all the time: log your food intake. Doing this gives you an idea on what you are eating and how much. Calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

Step 1: weight (lbs) x 10 = BMR

Step 2: BMR x activity factor = TEE . Daily activity factor: very light 1.2 (desk job, not exercising), low active 1.5-1.6 (desk job, light exercise), active 1.6-1.7 (desk job, exercises most days of the week), heavy 1.9-2.1 (physical labour, athlete, vigorous exercise). Example: I weigh 128lbs. 128×10= 1280 calories is my BMR. 1280×1.6= 2048 calories. Which is exactly how many calories I consume daily to maintain my current weight.

Registry Tracks Successful Losers of Weight

Written July 8 2018

As I was studying to take my ACE (American Council on Exercise) Personal Trainer exam to become re-certfied (I let my certification lapse several years ago), I came across really interesting information on dieting.

In ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science textbook, their chapter on nutrition contains a summary of a very enlightening study.

The National Weight Control Registry is a database that tracks successful “losers” of 30lbs or more and who have maintained that loss for over one year. ACE’s book writes that this registry “has uncovered an abundance of tried and true tips to help people lose weight and keep it off”.

Brilliant! As I read this summary I became incredibly excited! What an amazing registry! Simple wisdom, easy to implement, and motivating as it provides confidence that following these tips have helped so many others.

Here are the 10 insights:

  • Control portions: We live in a time where our portions have expanded. Years ago, muffins were half the size, restaurant dishes were smaller, and a coffee only had a splash of cream and sugar, not a 500 calorie mocha with whip cream and chocolate sauce. Successful losers pay attention to serving sizes.
  • Be mindful: people need to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, being mindful of emotional eating. Not eating during boredom, stress, sadness, etc.
  • Exercise: 94% of participants in the registry reported that they exercised. Many exercise at least 1 hour a day.
  • Check the scale: knowing what your weight is, at least on a weekly bases, helps you know if your weight starts creeping up. It’s easier to lose a couple pounds that were gained in one week, than not checking and after a month having gained 10 or more pounds.
  • Eat breakfast: I was very interested when I read this one. I have always eaten breakfast, but my husband has not, and over the years he has struggled to lose weight. His typical pattern: skip breakfast, have a light lunch, and then be so hungry to overeat at dinner. 78% of participants eat breakfast daily, while only 4% never do. (Note: my husband would like to defend himself as over these past 3 years he currently eats breakfast and has lost over 30 lbs 😉 ) 
  • Monitor intake: This one is BIG. And one I have had a tough time convincing clients to stick with. Log intake of food. I have done this off and on for over 20 years. It’s the only thing that truly works to keep the weight off. It gives you experiential knowledge about how much food you really need on a daily basis, which is (sadly) less than most people think they need. ACE states monitoring dietary intake is “one of the strongest predictors of successful and maintained lifestyle change. While some people may find it tedious, keeping a food log is a highly effective and proven strategy”. My Fitness Pal is a very handy app for smartphones that is so easy to use. Creating recipes, scanning food bar codes, and viewing daily nutritional profiles, all at your fingertips!
  • Turn off the TV: Successful NWCR participants watch 10 hours or less of television per week. I would think the reason is that watching more than that would limit your time to do physical activities (and limit your time to log your food intake!).
  • Be consistent and start today: stick to your diet, don’t have a little nibble of cake here and a piece of pizza there. Very strict diets cause people to cheat. Instead, adopt a healthy lifestyle that you can stick to, instead of feeling too restricted and then binging. I love IIFIYM (if it fits in your macros), this link has a great calculator to figure out your individual needs. Using My Fitness Pal app, adding up daily macros is easy and allows for lots of flexibility.
  • Find fit friends: a study of 12,000 people followed over 30 years concluded that obesity spreads through social ties. ACE explains that “the study authors suspect that the spread of obesity has a lot to do with an individual’s general perception of the social norms regarding the acceptability of obesity”. Pick a friend and hit the gym together 😀
  • Be optimistic: ACE states research suggests that people who have “perceived control, positive expectations, empowerment, a fighting spirit, and a lack of helplessness” are more successful at changing their habits and losing weight.