Recently I’ve gotten quite a few questions about gaining weight for an athlete. The athlete wants to put on 10, 15, or even 20 pounds (ideally muscle) and just can’t seem to move the scale. I’ve been there as an athlete. I’ve also seen mixed results, doing really well with it once and not doing anything once. Looking back and knowing what I know now, it is easy to see why.
You may have heard it before, but it bears repeating: weight gain (you may have heard weight loss) is a matter of calories in vs. calories out. In all reality that’s all there is to it, unfortunately life isn’t often that black and white.
The first thing I would have someone do is answer this one question: what has your weight been doing over the past 1-3 months (do you even know?)? That will be a good indication of what your eating habits have been like. If an athlete comes in and says weight gain has been the goal, but the scale hasn’t moved in the last 6 weeks, or worse the athlete hasn’t been checking, something’s wrong.
Here’s the deal, especially when it comes to weight gain, the scale tells you one thing: how much food you’ve been eating (as far as calories) vs. how much activity you’ve been doing. If the scale doesn’t move, you’ve been eating enough food to sustain your current weight with your current activity level. You have 2 options: increase the food intake or decrease the activity level. If I’m working with an athlete, and the goal is muscular weight gain, a decrease in activity level is either not advised or not possible.
Weight (and muscle) gain, then, comes down to increasing the food intake. You can do this two ways. The first is to track your calories and increase by 300-500 calories per day. This can be very effective, and work well for people. The key with this is being honest and as precise as possible with the tracking.
If you’re like me, calorie tracking doesn’t work. Maybe it’s really hard to track amounts or it’s easy to forget or it just takes too long to enter everything into the system. The second option is to make a habit of eating more.
If the body weight of an athlete hasn’t changed in a while, the athlete has been eating roughly the same amount of food over that same time period. Therefore, that athlete has probably built some habits, both in the form of number of meals and the amount of food for each meal. If that athlete can add food to that, weight gain has to happen. It can either mean adding a little bit to every meal or adding in another whole meal (or more likely a snack).
It can be as simple as an extra glass of milk or a spoonful of nut butter to every meal, or a handful of nuts or trail mix along with a protein shake and/ or piece of fruit as a snack. The key is to make it habit (aka every day!).
With either of these options the key is to continue to check weight. How do you know if your making progress unless you check? If weight gain isn’t happening, you have to add calories (aka food). If weight gain is happening, awesome, now keep checking and keep going until you hit your goal. As you gain weight, you will more than likely have to add more calories to continue to see progress.
If I were to recommend weight gain goals per week, too much over 1 pound per week may lead to higher levels of fat gain. It is totally up to the athlete, and you will definitely add muscle if lifting heavy and gaining over a pound per week, however you will more than likely see more fat gain than desired.
In a world of a lot of gray, a little bit of black and white can make life easier. Just remember: keep checking weight! If you don’t know where you are you have no way of knowing which direction you need to go. Check your weight, add some calories and make it a habit, and re-check your weight. That’s going to get you going in the right direction a lot faster than just “eating a ton of food.”