Last updated on September 23rd, 2023.
Metabolism often gets hurled around as the root cause of unwanted weight gain. However, few people making this claim truly understand what metabolism is. Metabolism is the process through which your body converts food and drink into energy. Every person experiences this process differently, with three distinct metabolic types categorizing the broad differences in human metabolism.
The three metabolism types are endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph. In broad strokes, endomorphs are good at storing energy as fat, ectomorphs burn nearly all energy created, and mesomorphs are good at converting energy into muscle.
As each person has a distinct metabolism, it is highly unlikely that any one person will fall perfectly into one of these categories. Read on to find out all you need to know about metabolism and the defining characteristics of the 3 metabolic types.
What Is Metabolism?
Metabolism is the process through which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. During this process, the calories from food and beverages are combined with oxygen to release the energy that your body needs to function.
Many people erroneously believe that metabolism is the sole determining factor of weight gain. While there are some medical conditions that significantly slow the metabolism (Cushing’s syndrome, hypothyroidism) that are associated with weight gain, metabolism itself is all about how your body converts calories into energy and what it does with that energy.
An Example of Metabolism and How It Works
Metabolism has its etymology in the Greek word for “change.” This is appropriate because metabolism is the process through which the body changes food into energy. A simple example of how metabolism works would be:
- The body consumes food and drink at snack or mealtime. This can be considered supplying “fuel” to your body.
- Once in your mouth, the body starts the metabolic process of digestion. This turns the fuel into usable energy for the body.
- Once converted, the body uses this energy to do work. While this would obviously include activities such as walking or exercise, even sedentary bodily functions such as thinking and breathing require energy.
- Any unused energy is stored by the body for future use. This is the part of the metabolic process that people commonly associate with weight gain. However, the body itself will not store fat (energy) if it does not receive excess fuel.
What Are the 3 Types of Metabolism
There are three basic types of metabolism (somatotypes), which will impact how people convert, use, and store their energy from food: endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph.
While these overarching somatotypes have specific characteristics, every person’s metabolism is distinct, meaning that you will likely have characteristics of more than one somatotype.
Use the following breakdown to help you determine how your metabolism may be functioning.
Although this is usually considered the least desirable metabolic type, take heart: up to 70% of the population has endomorph characteristics.
The endomorph has large bones and a higher percentage of body fat than other metabolic types. The endomorph has evolved to be good at storing nutrients–a desirable characteristic in cold, harsh climates where people may be holed up for long periods.
Endomorphs are strong and gain weight more easily than the other somatotypes. Unfortunately, this weight gain, even if muscle, results in a more bulky, less chiseled look.
Therefore, to meet their weight loss and personal appearance goals, endomorphs will need to include more cardio in their workout routine to prevent energy from being stored as fat.
Some other defining characteristics of the endomorph include:
- Round body, with weight concentrating around the hips and midline
- Larger joints and bones than other metabolic types
- Strong lower body muscles, with both fat and muscle gains commonly occurring in this area
- Although more cardio is needed for an endomorph to lose weight, it can be frustrating, because their bulky build can cause fatigue to onset faster than for other body types
The ectomorph is that annoying person who can seemingly eat anything and never gain a pound. However, it can also be very difficult for an ectomorph to gain muscle when they want to, as these people are usually defined by being skinny.
Ectomorphs have evolutionarily efficient bodies. They have adapted to quickly convert fuel into usable energy and do not carry around excess weight that will require surplus calories to satisfy. This metabolic type was useful in hot, open climates where people may have had to walk long distances to find food or avoid danger.
If ectomorphs want to gain muscle, they must eat more frequent meals, consume elevated amounts of protein, and strength train with heavier weights. Specifically, ectomorphs must spend significant time on their lower body to get rid of their “chicken legs.”
Some common distinguishing characteristics of the ectomorph include:
- Thin, lean body
- Flat chest
- Small shoulders
- Little muscle definition
The mesomorph, in the strictest sense, is the metabolic type that most people want to have. However, only about 10% of the population is true mesomorphs.
When thinking about mesomorphs, think about the mythical Greek God physique. Mesomorphs typically have very defined muscles and a low body fat percentage compared to their equally strong peer, the endomorph.
Mesomorphs respond very well to any type of physical activity. It seems like they can do 10 sit-ups and walk away with a perfect set of abs, while endomorphs can do 10 times the amount of work and remain chubby while ectomorphs remain skinny. Characteristics of the mesomorph include:
- Athletic build
- Medium joints and bones, which makes their larger-than-normal muscle structure appear even larger
- Broad shoulders
- Gains muscle easily
- Any fat gain is usually concentrated in the glutes and not the waist
However, all is not roses for the mesomorph. Without physical activity, mesomorphs can become chunky in a hurry. Many times, mesomorphs will take their naturally athletic bodies for granted, which leads to some high school/college sports stars becoming unrecognizable at their 10-year reunion.
How Do You Determine Your Metabolic Type
It is not super difficult to determine your metabolic type without professional assistance.
As mentioned, most people will have at least some endomorph in them. If you have a belly and have to work harder than you would like to meet your fitness goals, then you are probably at least partially an endomorph.
If you are naturally skinny and find it hard to gain weight, then you are an ectomorph.
If you are able to achieve a muscular physique relatively easily, then it is likely you have strong mesomorph characteristics.
However, if estimating your metabolic type is not enough for you, then you will need to have a metabolic test performed. This type of test typically monitors your breathing for 10 minutes to help determine your basal metabolic rate. This is the rate at which your body processes energy at perfect rest, which can give you a more clear indication of which somatotype you tend toward.
Metabolism is the process through which people convert food and drink into energy. To this effect, endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph are the three main metabolic types that use energy in distinct ways. As most people are a combination of two of these broad categories, the aforementioned passage can help you narrow down which metabolic type describes you best!