Are you in the predicament of not knowing how to diet and implement cardio based on your somatotype (e.g. ectomorph, endomorph, etc.)? This comprehensive guide will describe actionable tips for maximizing your muscle building and fat burning potential, regardless your natural genetic tendencies.

Building Muscle & Losing Fat for the Ectomorph (aka “Hardgainer”)

If you find yourself being mocked as a “String Bean” every time you set foot in the gym, don’t worry; there are many strategies that can help overcome your genetic tendency to be slender. Read on to get the skinny (no pun intended) on how to improve your physique.

Determine calorie and macronutrient needs (***Recalculate these every two weeks as you progress)

  1. Determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR) by multiplying your bodyweight (in pounds) with 16
  2. Determine your Total Daily Calorie Expenditure by incorporating your daily activity factor (i.e. extra calorie burn from daily lifestyle)
    • Sedentary—Little to no formal exercise and a desk job Multiply BMR by 1.2
    • Moderately Active—Exercise 1 to 3 times per week and relatively inactive elsewhere Multiply BMR by 1.35
    • Highly Active—Vigorous exercise 3-5 times per week and some activity elsewhere Multiply BMR by 1.5
    • Extremely Active—Vigorous exercise 4-6 times per week and highly active elsewhere (i.e. working construction, manual labor, etc.) Multiply BMR by 1.9
  3. For building muscle, multiply your Total Daily Calorie Expenditure by 1.1

For losing fat, multiply your Total Daily Calorie Expenditure by 0.8

  1. Determine Macronutrient Ratio (as a percentage of your total calorie needs)
    • For building muscle, eat 25% protein, 45% carbohydrate, and 30% fat
    • For losing fat, eat 35% protein, 30% carbohydrate and 35% fat

Example for moderately active 160lb ectomorph trying to build muscle:

  • Determine BMR → 160lbs x 16 = 2560 calories
  • Determine Total Daily Calorie Expenditure → 2560 x 1.35 = 3456 calories
  • Multiply Total Daily Calorie Expenditure by 1.1 for Muscle Building → 3456 x 1.1 = 3801 calories per day
  • Calculate Macronutrient Intake:
    • 3801 x 0.25 = 950 calories from protein = 237g protein (since protein has 4 cals/g)
    • 3801 x 0.45 = 1710 calories from carbohydrate = 428g carb (since carbs have 4 cals/g)
    • 3801 x 0.30 = 1140 calories from fat = 126g fat (since fat has 9 cals/g)

Tips for Ectomorphs

  • Emphasize calorie-dense foods when trying to build muscle
    1. You simply will not gain an ounce of weight without packing in enough calories each day. To make the process of eating large amounts of calories every day a little less strenuous, ectomorphs should put emphasis on foods that are calorie-dense.

 

  1. Examples of calorie-dense foods include: salad dressing, cheese, eggs, beef, salmon, pork, coconut, nuts/nut butters, and granola. Just think, two tablespoons of peanut butter is over 200 calories and will hardly fill you up. There is no excuse to not be eating enough if you eat the right foods.

 

  • Still struggling to eat enough? Drink calorie-dense liquids
    1. Naturally, drinking calories is much easier than consuming whole foods. Take a look at pretty much any weight gainer supplement and you’ll be shocked how many calories they pack. Note though that just because you’re a hardgainer, you should not start making sugar-loaded beverages a staple of your diet. Consider nutrient-dense liquids that are high in protein, like milk, protein shakes, etc.

 

  • When trying to lose fat, keep cardio as low as possible while maintaining consistent fat loss
    1. For ectomorphs, you won’t need to be doing much formal cardio at all until you start to get into the <8% body-fat range. The key is to do as little cardio as possible while still achieving consistent fat loss. Cardio is basically a supplement to resistance training and diet for when you are trying to peel off those last few pounds of fat.

 

  • Keep cardio to a minimum when trying to add muscle
    1. If you have strong ectomorphic traits, it’s quite baffling to think why you want to prioritize cardio (especially when muscle building is the goal). Remember,  cardio, specifically at low/medium intensities is a means of increasing the amount of calories you burn, which is directly antagonistic to most hardgainer’s goals.

 

  1. Contrary to popular opinion, ectomorphs can still do cardio and build muscle. However, these individuals must keep cardio duration reasonable (i.e. 25-30 minutes) and relatively infrequent (maybe 2-3 times a week); intense resistance training should always be the primary focus.

Building Muscle & Losing Fat for the Endomorph

If you find that you have a rather large bone structure and easily put on body-fat (generally in the trunk area) then the unfortunate truth is you have endomorphic tendencies. That being said, don’t get too frustrated about the circumstances as you can certainly still develop a lean, muscular physique. Endomorphs just need to be extra diligent about keeping nutrient intake in-check and staying consistent in the gym.

Determine calorie and macronutrient needs (***Recalculate these every two weeks as you progress)

  1. Determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR) by multiplying your bodyweight (in pounds) with 13
  2. Determine your Total Daily Calorie Expenditure by incorporating your daily activity factor (i.e. extra calorie burn from daily lifestyle)
    • Sedentary—Little to no formal exercise and a desk job Multiply BMR by 1.2
    • Moderately Active—Exercise 1 to 3 times per week and relatively inactive elsewhere Multiply BMR by 1.3
    • Highly Active—Vigorous exercise 3-5 times per week and some activity elsewhere Multiply BMR by 1.4
    • Extremely Active—Vigorous exercise 4-6 times per week and highly active elsewhere (i.e. working construction, manual labor, etc.) Multiply BMR by 1.7
  3. For building muscle, multiply your Total Daily Calorie Expenditure by 1.1

For losing fat, multiply your Total Daily Calorie Expenditure by 0.75

  1. Determine Macronutrient Ratio (as a percentage of your total calorie needs)
    • For building muscle, eat 30% protein, 40% carbohydrate, and 30% fat
    • For losing fat, eat 40% protein, 25% carbohydrate and 35% fat

Example for highly active 170lb endomorph trying to lose fat:

  • Determine BMR → 170lbs x 13 = 2210 calories
  • Determine Total Daily Calorie Expenditure → 2210 x 1.4 = 3094 calories
  • Multiply Total Daily Calorie Expenditure by 0.75 for Fat Loss goal → 3094 x 0.75 = 2320 calories per day
  • Calculate Macronutrient Intake:
    • 2320 x 0.40 = 928 calories from protein = 232g protein (since protein has 4 cals/g)
    • 2320 x 0.25 = 580 calories from carbohydrate = 145g carb (since carbs have 4 cals/g)
    • 2320 x 0.35 = 812 calories from fat = 90g fat (since fat has 9 cals/g)

Tips for Endomorphs

  • Emphasize nutrient-dense foods
    1. For people who tend to easily overeat and/or put on body-fat rapidly, the best thing to do is emphasize foods that are rich in nutrients (especially micronutrients and fiber) but not excessively high in calories.

 

  1. Essentially this means eating mostly whole foods that are more satiating than “empty-calorie” foods like butter, vegetable oils/dressings, full-fat dairy, candy, dark chocolate, etc. Some examples of nutrient-dense foods are things like: sweet potatoes, yams, oats, lentils/beans, whole-wheat pasta, lean animal proteins, low-fat dairy, eggs, fruit (in moderation), and of course vegetables.

 

  • Keep some cardio (preferably “High-Intensity Interval Training”) in your regimen when trying to build muscle
    1. While ectomorphs can get away with not doing much cardio at all, endomorphs can stand to benefit by doing a few sessions of cardio every week while trying to gain muscle. Reason being is that cardio, especially high-intensity interval training (HIIT) helps to boost mitochondrial biogenesis and oxygen consumption when at rest; in turn, this means your metabolic expenditure increases and you will stay leaner while you put on muscle.

 

  1. Implement maybe 1-3 HIIT sessions per week based on how quickly you gain weight. A HIIT session can be as quick as 15-20 minutes if done properly and hard enough. For example, try starting out with something like hill sprints:

 

  • Find a hill that is about 50-60 yards long
  • Sprint as hard as you can to the top of the hill (should take about 10-15 seconds)
  • Walk slowly back down to the bottom of the hill for “active recovery”
  • Catch your breath and repeat ten times

 

If you want to incorporate some low-intensity cardio to burn off a few extra calories that’s fine. Just don’t go overboard as eventually low-intensity cardio will actually downregulate your metabolic rate and inhibit muscle growth. You should be doing no more than 2 to 3 30-minute sessions of low-intensity cardio per week when trying to add muscle.

 

  • Up the cardio a bit more when you trying to shed fat
    1. For endomorphs looking to get very lean, it is more prudent to increase cardio frequency rather than aggressively lower calorie intake since there will come a point where you will be borderline starving yourself just to keep losing fat.

 

  1. Endomorphs may need as much as 3 to 4 HIIT sessions and an extra 2 hours of low-intensity cardio per week during the latter stages of a fat-loss phase.

Building Muscle & Losing Fat for the Mesomorph

If you read the above sections for ectomorphs and endomorphs you will find that the following suggestions fall right in-between those tips. Being a mesomorph is actually quite favorable when trying to build muscle and strength since that is what your body excels at naturally. This doesn’t mean mesomorphs will grow boundlessly despite a sloppy diet and training regimen because they still need to have a concerted plan in place if they want to stay lean and muscular.

Determine calorie and macronutrient needs (***Recalculate these every two weeks as you progress)

  1. Determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR) by multiplying your bodyweight (in pounds) with 14
  2. Determine your Total Daily Calorie Expenditure by incorporating your daily activity factor (i.e. extra calorie burn from daily lifestyle)
    • Sedentary—Little to no formal exercise and a desk job Multiply BMR by 1.2
    • Moderately Active—Exercise 1 to 3 times per week and relatively inactive elsewhere Multiply BMR by 1.3
    • Highly Active—Vigorous exercise 3-5 times per week and some activity elsewhere Multiply BMR by 1.5
    • Extremely Active—Vigorous exercise 4-6 times per week and highly active elsewhere (i.e. working construction, manual labor, etc.) Multiply BMR by 1.8
  3. For building muscle, multiply your Total Daily Calorie Expenditure by 1.2

For losing fat, multiply your Total Daily Calorie Expenditure by 0.75

  1. Determine Macronutrient Ratio (as a percentage of your total calorie needs)
    • For building muscle, eat 35% protein, 40% carbohydrate, and 25% fat
    • For losing fat, eat 40% protein, 30% carbohydrate and 30% fat

Example for moderately active 185lb endomorph trying to lose fat:

  • Determine BMR → 185lbs x 14 = 2590 calories
  • Determine Total Daily Calorie Expenditure → 2590 x 1.3 = 3367 calories
  • Multiply Total Daily Calorie Expenditure by 0.8 for Fat Loss goal → 3367 x 0.75 = 2525 calories per day
  • Calculate Macronutrient Intake:
    • 2525 x 0.40 = 928 calories from protein = 253g protein (since protein has 4 cals/g)
    • 2525 x 0.30 = 758 calories from carbohydrate = 189g carb (since carbs have 4 cals/g)
    • 2525 x 0.30 = 758 calories from fat = 84g fat (since fat has 9 cals/g)

Tips for Mesomorphs

  • Use the “90/10” rule for food choices
    1. For mesomorphs, their diet should be mostly comprised of nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, lean proteins, unsaturated fat sources, fruits and vegetables. However, they can certainly stand to benefit by incorporating some “junk/empty-calorie” foods in their diet if they have a craving or just want to enjoy a sugary treat.

 

  1. The 90/10 rule, in this sense, just means 90% of your foods from nutrient-dense sources and the remaining 10% can come from more traditional “junk” food. This doesn’t mean you have to rigidly practice eating junk every day if you would rather eat wholesome foods. Some mesomorphs might be better off just enjoying a “cheat/free” meal one to two times per week where they simply eat whatever they’re craving (in moderation of course) and don’t track the macronutrient intake.

 

  • When trying to lose fat, keep cardio as low as possible while maintaining consistent fat loss
    1. This applies to both ectomorphs and mesomorphs; you want to do as little cardio as possible while still achieving consistent fat loss. Cardio is basically a supplement to resistance training and diet for when you are trying to peel off those last few pounds of fat. Mesomorphs will have to do a bit more cardio than ectomorphs to get very lean, however.

 

  • Do a few cardio sessions each week when trying to build muscle
    1. Keep 1 to 2 HIIT sessions and 1 to 2 30-minute low-intensity sessions in your training regimen every week. Preferably do the HIIT on days that you do not train with weights and do the low-intensity cardio after 1-2 of your weight training sessions.

 

  1. See the “endomorph” section above for an example of what a typical HIIT session may look like

 

Wrap-up

No matter your genetic makeup and goals, there’s a proper way to diet and train. Naturally, you will have to use a little trial and error along with the tips provided herein; the key is that you’re willing to try new tactics and adapt. If you’re not making the progress you hope for, don’t be afraid to change things up and get out of your routine. By the same token, when progress is going well, stay the course until you stall.