From a sports nutrition expert: How to gain “good” weight

By Kelsey Herrick, RD, CSSD, LRD

Trying to gain weight to improve your athletic performance?  Many athletes have a difficult time gaining weight and want to know how to properly gain muscle without gaining extra body fat.  Read on for tips to gain weight and build muscle.

Gaining Weight: Where to Start?

Setting realistic goals for gaining weight and an appropriate timeline is important to achieve your goals.  Changes to your weight are often best done during the off-season, and with a target weight gain should be Herrick_Kelsey-2about 0.5-1.0 lbs per week.

Gaining weight too fast can cause adverse effects such as changes in hormone levels, increases in triglyceride production, greater increases in fat among others.  Your weight gain should be assessed if you are gaining too rapidly or too slowly (working with your sports dietitian, strength coach and possibly even getting a body composition test).

There is no single best weight for a given sport – each athlete has a range of healthy weights.  Remember  – body composition is not the best indicator of athletic abilities, so monitor athletic performance throughout the process.

With the help of an appropriate strength training plan, plan to eat every 2-3 hours. Build a balanced plate and choose quality calories such as:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Dairy
  • Lean meats
  • Healthy fats

Should I eat more protein?

Eating balanced meals that are high in carbohydrates and moderate in protein and fat is essential to build lean tissue.  Remember that excess protein on its own does not build new muscle tissue. You need adequate calories and a strength-training stimulus.

A good target protein intake is 1.2-2 grams of protein per kilogram body weight (or about 0.5 to 1 grams per pound of body weight).  For the active individual, an overall increase in total energy intake and following an appropriate training are key to muscle growth and weight gain.   Aim to increase your calorie intake by 300-500 calories per day – this can be achieved by eating more frequently (more times per day), eating bigger portions per meals, or adding extra snacks to your day.

Don’t forget to include pre and post-workout snacks to help repair and build muscle.  Aim for 15-25 grams of protein after your exercise along with a snack that is rich in carbohydrates – a fruit and yogurt smoothie, turkey sandwich, balanced regular meal such as chicken with rice and vegetables, are some good examples.

Focus on food first instead of just trying to add in a supplement for “weight gain” because you can easily add those extra calories through real food sources. If you decide to use a supplement, consult with a sports dietitian to ensure that you are making a safe choice.

Foods that add extra fuel to your meal plan

  • Add sliced avocado or guacamole to meals, smoothies and sandwiches
  • Nuts and nut butters can be added to toast, fruit, smoothies and make great trail mixes
  • Drizzle your veggies with olive or canola oil. Add oils to other foods too like meat and potatoes
  • Use bagels instead of bread for sandwiches
  • Drink 2% or chocolate milk
  • Add cheese to your sandwiches. If you’re already doing that, try adding another slice

For further direction and tips to help you gain both weight and muscle, set up a visit with a sports dietitian.  A sports dietitian can help to assist you with an individualized plan to meet your goals and improve your performance.