I always mention that somatotypes like an ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph are not as important as some people would want you to believe. The reason I do like to characterize body types though is because people share characteristics that are essential for developing a training or diet plan.
If you can relate to one of the three main body types, then you will likely share some of the common issues and strategies that are associated with those body types. One particular issue when it comes to ectomorphs is that they struggle to build muscle.
Testosterone is a key hormone for building muscle, so… Does an ectomorph’s testosterone levels impact their muscle-building potential, and do ectomorphs have lower testosterone levels than other body types?
In this article, I’ll cover ectomorph testosterone levels, how they affect muscle growth if you’re at an advantage or disadvantage compared to other body types, and how you can increase your testosterone as an ectomorph.
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Ectomorph Testosterone Levels
There’s an assumption that ectomorphs and skinny people have lower levels of testosterone which makes it harder for them to build and maintain muscle mass whilst also being easier to lose muscle mass when not training or dieting optimally. The truth, however, is underwhelmingly different:
Ectomorphs have normal testosterone levels when compared to the average population. A lower body fat percentage is more optimal for testosterone production, however, normal does not mean optimal. Ectomorphs in general though do not have low testosterone levels.
There you have it, while it’s easy to say that ectomorphs have low testosterone and use that as an excuse for difficulty building and maintaining muscle mass, it’s not really a viable excuse that you can use.
One point to immediately point out though is that normal testosterone levels are very different from optimal levels. Research shows that higher levels of testosterone have a direct relationship with increased muscle mass as by increasing muscle protein synthesis.
A mesomorphic body type, for example, has higher base levels of testosterone than an ectomorph or endomorph. This is also one of the key reasons why mesomorphs find it much easier to build muscle mass and it’s also a reason why many athletes excel when they have mesomorphic characteristics.
This then leads us on to how an ectomorph stacks up in terms of testosterone production and how their hormonal balance comes into play.
Do Ectomorphs Have Lower Testosterone
As mentioned above, ectomorphs do not have low testosterone levels on average but they also don’t necessarily have a favorable hormonal balance for building lean muscle mass and strength. I’ve previously covered the subject of ectomorphs doing strongman training but this was more focused on an ectomorph’s physical characteristics and frame.
When it comes to muscle growth, your frame plays a part but hormones are also a driving factor and ectomorphs are not in a prime position. While an ectomorph’s testosterone/estrogen levels are seemingly normal, it’s the adrenaline and cortisol levels that are more impactful to their physique goals.
If an ectomorph has low testosterone levels, then this is likely due to other factors and not necessarily their somatotype. Endomorphs and mesomorphs will also have low testosterone levels if you test a large enough group and this is the reason for an average testosterone level.
Ectomorphs do not have a lower testosterone level but if you have common ectomorph characteristics (small bones, narrow clavicle, narrow waist, higher proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibers) and low testosterone, then it’s fair to say you are going to struggle to build muscle mass.
Can You Still Build Muscle With Low Testosterone
If you are unfortunate enough to have characteristics common in ectomorphs and have low testosterone levels (that have actually been tested and not based on opinion) then building muscle is going to be significantly more difficult.
Testosterone is typically referred to as a muscle-building hormone and one of the most popular websites around bodybuilding; T-Nation, is named so because of the impact that testosterone has when building muscle (T-Nation = Testosterone Nation).
To have one of the most recognized publications with the world’s best and most renowned coaches producing content for it, it’s a fair assumption to say that testosterone is not something to be overlooked when building muscle.
The honest answer is that you can still build muscle with low testosterone levels but the progress you make is unlikely to be very noticeable or impressive. Therefore, I’ll list some points to help you improve your testosterone levels as an ectomorph but first, I’ve got one last point to make that many reading this will be wondering…
Can Ectomorphs Have High Testosterone
It’s rare for an ectomorph to have naturally high levels of testosterone but there is also no reason why an ectomorph can’t have high testosterone. There are multiple factors that determine testosterone levels and most people can naturally increase their levels with diet, training, and lifestyle changes.
There is however a difference between improving testosterone and having a high level.
How to Increase Testosterone as an Ectomorph
Increasing testosterone as an ectomorph is no different than any other body type. One advantage is that ectomorphs have a naturally lower body fat percentage which is an optimal component for reducing estrogen and being beneficial for testosterone production.
There are a few basic things you can do to increase testosterone. These are not specific to ectomorphs but are general, researched-based strategies that anyone can utilize.
1. Reduce Stress & Cortisol
Stress is arguably the greatest negative factor when it comes to testosterone production and muscle growth for most people. We live in a very busy and stressful society/time period and while the quality of life is arguably better than it’s ever been, more people are stressed than ever before.
Stress raises cortisol levels which in turn, has research to show that increased cortisol is something that destroys testosterone production. A Further issue is that ectomorphs tend to have issues when it comes to the sympathetic nervous system.
This is not an issue in the traditional sense but rather an issue when it comes to building muscle. The sympathetic nervous system triggers fight or flight and ultimately puts your body into a state of stress. Ectomorphs tend to be more receptive to the sympathetic nervous system and find themselves in a stressed state even when not necessarily faced with stressful environments.
This is an issue as it means you go into a stressful state more frequently as an ectomorph. Therefore, it’s not traditional advice you’ll hear but if you want to maximize muscle growth as an ectomorph, you need to place more focus on reducing stress.
Yoga, meditation, stretching, mindfulness, and other practices that you wouldn’t usually associate with building muscle or improving testosterone are actually things that will benefit ectomorphs.
2. Lift Heavy Weights
When it comes to boosting testosterone, research shows that lifting heavier weights is the most effective form of training and even more beneficial is the fact that this is going to help ectomorphs build muscle as well.
There will always be a debate about whether you need to lift heavy, especially as an ectomorph. Many feel that ectomorphs are naturally weak and therefore need to lift heavy in order to grow and build muscle mass but this is not an essential requirement.
Anyone can build muscle without lifting heavy and there’s even a case to make that a lot of ectomorphs do not have the frame or structure to support heavy lifting. It’s very rare that you see an ectomorph competing in strongman and that’s because most are just not well suited to heavy lifting.
Heavy lifting though, doesn’t mean that you need to be lifting the most in the gym. By heavy lifting, I mean you should focus on the heavy compound lifts that use the most muscle groups, recruit the most muscle fibers and give the greatest boost to testosterone production. These heavy lifts include:
- Barbell Row
- Bench Press
- Overhead Press
- Weighted Carry
As these exercises use multiple muscle groups, you’ll be able to lift heavier weights. Instead of trying to curl 60lb dumbbells, add 60lbs to a dipping belt and hit some chin-ups. These heavy lifts and ultimately heavy weights will give you the most benefit when it comes to boosting testosterone and building muscle mass.
3. Optimize Your Diet
A typical western diet is one that is not ideal for muscle growth at the best of times and this factors into testosterone production as well. For optimal testosterone levels, you’ll need to consume foods that improve production and avoid foods that negatively impact testosterone production.
Choosing an optimal diet is a topic too broad to cover in this section but some testosterone boosting foods you can add to your diet include:
- Red Meat
- Tuna (oily fish)
Foods you should look to avoid include:
- Sugary Snacks
4. Testosterone Replacement Therapy
As a last resort, you might need to consult medical advice and consider testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
This would be the last resort for anyone that is struggling to increase testosterone naturally and seeking medical advice, alongside an actual testosterone test from a medical professional should also be your first step if you suspect your testosterone levels are low.
If you’ve been wondering whether or not you’re at a disadvantage when it comes to testosterone levels as an ectomorph and if ectomorphs have lower testosterone than normal, the answer is that both are not true.
By general population averages, ectomorphs have a relatively average level of testosterone and they can be even more advantageous than other body types that carry more body fat (thus impacting testosterone levels).
You can look to optimize your testosterone production just like anyone with basic techniques like reducing stress, lifting heavier weight, optimizing your diet, and as a last resort, consulting a medical professional to discuss TRT