Weight gaining tips for athletes

What and How Should Athletes Eat to Gain Weight?

Nutritional needs can vary based on each individual, but not everyone has access to the cutting-edge tests that will tell you your exact bio-makeup.

 It doesn’t matter if you are a superstar athlete, a mother, a 12-year-old, an 80-year-old, an office employee, etc., eating healthy transcends all phases of life because we all come from the same species and need proper fuel to grow and mature physically.

As an NBA strength coach, we all got together years ago and did a book on strength and conditioning. The chapter that I was assigned to focus on was nutrition. 

I say assigned because within the group of strength and conditioning professionals, no one wanted to tackle that beast. Fine with me, and now I will tackle it again and give you a few takeaways from that to set the tone for the rest of the conversation.

  • Eat a hefty protein diet: Eat more of it than you drink (as a supplement). Hefty is roughly 2 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight.
  • Do not be afraid of fat: A good source of energy, but don’t make it the cornerstone of your diet.
  • Sugar is not your friend: Only in an urgent situation of hypoglycemia.
  • Do not be afraid of carbohydrates: The carbohydrate debate is often misguided. Sugar is a carbohydrate and not your friend. Green beans are a carbohydrate and they are your friend. If it is a simple, refined, fiberless, nutritionally empty sugar carbohydrate, that’s what gets you in trouble. Nice try– but Oreos have no fiber!
  • Eat nutritionally dense foods: Not necessarily calorie-dense foods.
  • Ask yourself: “Am I fueling my body or feeding my face?” Likewise, “It is your all-the-time habits that will make or break you, not the once-in-awhile thing.”
  • More water! We are usually low on water intake.
  • Moderation: Keep things like caffeine, alcohol (if you are of age), and dark chocolate in moderation.
  • Grocery shop wisely: Buy foods that will fuel your body, not feed your face.
  • Eat a rainbow of colors: If you are lost about fruits and vegetables.

Weight Gain for Athletes

Many high school athletes (particularly football players) ask, “How can I put on more weight?”

 The most common trigger of that question comes from a coach telling the player that they need to gain X number of pounds by next season or weigh X pounds by next fall. That can be okay if it is a realistic and smart number.

The worst thing an athlete can do is put on bad weight (body fat) or bulk up too much for it to be athletic or effective. The way you can tell extra weight is not effective is by your speed. 

If it slows you down, it is not worth it. 

For example, New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, in 2017, bulked up and ended up falling into the injury loop. The nutritional, calorie increase approach must be in conjunction with a sound strength program.

A Strong, Fast Athlete Plays Bigger

Even if you are a single-sport athlete, like football, a player who only wants to play football should become as athletic as possible so your coaches have to put you on the field. 

Maybe you become great at playing multiple positions and playing both ways (offense & defense). A strong, fast athlete plays bigger. It also means that you can make athletic plays, do things other players can’t, and make plays that have to be made.

Eating Right for Weight Gain

  • Eat right: No junk. A good mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Probably what you have heard before, but make sure you are eating RIGHT.
  • Calorie balance: If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. The less quality of calories, the more fat your body will store. We want to load as many nutrients into those calories as possible.
  • Focus on good calories: The body will use different types of calories in order based on how readily available they are. Eating junk food interrupts the benefits from all that work you just did in the gym.
  • Limited options: If you are limited on your options, just use these principles to guide your decision-making. Don't starve yourself just because you don’t have perfect options available.

Weight Training for Weight Gain

  • Workout hard, but smart: If you lift weights 4 days a week, bumping that up to 7 days per week isn’t the answer. Lifting 2-3 times per day isn’t the answer either.
  • Focus on large muscles: Putting on weight will naturally involve the large muscles starting with the legs. Building size in the legs can mean good weight gains.
  • Maintain speed: Size and weight cannot compromise speed.
  • Back muscles: Your lats are the largest muscles in the upper body. Think in this order when training the upper body: back, chest, shoulders, arms. Every upper body lift goes through the arms. Work them, but not first.

Nutrition is a field we keep learning about, and it is a constant debate amongst professionals. This should serve as a good baseline to form your thoughts on nutrition and what questions to ask next.


Recent Posts