One of the common questions I get when training young athletes is how should they gain weight? I’m going to go ahead and go on record to say that not all athletes need to be as focused on gaining weight (beyond the natural process of growing) as they seem to be. We have a tendency to want our athletes as big as possible and that doesn’t always make them the best they can be on the field. A fat but a big athlete is almost always not going to be better than a small but lean athlete.
However, there are times when athletes need to gain weight. Between training, practices, and often a high natural metabolism, it can be tough to gain size and muscle mass. The first step in gaining weight is to just eat more and hit the gym hard. That works to a point, but often you get full and you feel like you just can’t eat any more food.
Here are three of my favorite strategies that I’ve used with my athletes to add quality food to their diet and gain good muscle mass as a result.
1. Add something to every meal. Small changes add up over time. So with that in mind, one of the quickest ways I’ve found for athletes to increase their caloric intake is to find two or three small things that they like and add them to every meal. A couple of examples of “add-on” foods might be a small handful of almonds, a slice of cheese, or something to that effect.
None of these things are going to take up much stomach space or really jack up your caloric total but over the course of five or six meals per day can add up to 300-500 calories pretty quickly. The idea is that these additions are small enough so that you don’t even notice them and that they don’t affect your appetite for future meals.
2. Drink your calories. This is one of my old stand-bys. It can be hard to force down a bunch of food meal after meal, day after day. It’s simply a lot easier to drink calories than it is to eat them. Just as it makes sense to remove liquid calories from the diet of those looking to lose fat it makes equal sense to add them to the diet of those needing to add calories.
Get a decent protein or meal replacement powder, add some milk, fruit, almond butter, olive or coconut oil, or most any tasty, calorically dense, and healthy food that can be mixed into a shake. Add an extra shake to your day. Just be sure that you’re putting good stuff into this shake. This is not an excuse to start chugging sugary “weight gainer” shakes or sodas!
3. Have a daily “gotta finish” item. Some people are very goal-oriented and athletes tend to be in that group. So it sometimes makes sense to have a food or drink (see Tip #2!) that your objective is to finish XXXX amount of it by the end of the day. So mix up a big shake and put it in the fridge and start sipping on it throughout the day.
The important thing is to not allow this extra food to take the place of the food you should have in your daily diet. Too often people add this extra stuff too quickly or without much care and find that they don’t eat as much normal food. In effect, they end up replacing calories and staying at the same level which is pointless.
It’s also important to note that when you’re trying to gain good weight it’s important to remember to fuel your body with good food. Too often I see athletes use the excuse of “gaining weight” to justify filling up on all kinds of shit. While I admit that you can enjoy your food and probably be a little freer with your food choices when you’re looking to gain weight that doesn’t mean that good eating and nutrition goes out the window. The reason you’re eating so much is to build a high-performance machine, so don’t try to do that with inferior ingredients!
Try one or two of these strategies if your weight gain is stalled. Done right you’ll grow more muscle, move bigger weights in the gym, and keep your fat gain under control at the same time.