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Athletes: Gaining Weight in a Healthy Way

Content by: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD

For some athletes, maintaining adequate body weight and composition may be difficult with the workout and performance requirements. Nutrition is key, and balanced nutrition is necessary to meet your weight goals. Learn more!

Athletes: Gaining Weight in a Healthy Way


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To gain weight you have to eat approximately 500 more calories per day for every one pound per week. Some athletes have to eat far more, sometimes as much as an extra 800 to 1,000 calories per day.

Easy ways to boost your intake include eating:
• An extra snack (peanut butter and banana sandwich with milk before bed).
• Double portions at meals (two sandwiches, not just one).
• Higher calorie foods (grape juice instead of orange juice or water).
• Consider eating foods that stimulate your appetite, or eat smaller meals more frequently.

High-Calorie Food Suggestions:
The following foods can help you boost your calorie intake. By comparing the calorie information on food labels, you can make the highest calorie choices.

JUICE: Grape, cranapple, cider, pineapple. For even more calories, use frozen concentrate and add less water than directed. Drink juice (which is 99% water) instead of plain water to quench your thirst.

FRUIT: Bananas, pineapple, raisins, dates, dried apricots, and other dried fruit. Make fruit smoothies!

MILK: Boost the calories in milk by adding flavorings to make chocolate milk, strawberry milk, or an instant breakfast drink. Prepare a quart at a time, to have recovery drinks ready and waiting.

COLD CEREAL: Cereal that is flaked or in squares is more calorie-dense than puffed cereals. Granola is an excellent choice by the bowlful and as a topping sprinkled on a flaked cereal. Top with slivered almonds, banana, raisins and other fruits.

HOT CEREAL: Cook oatmeal or any hot cereal with milk instead of water. Mix-in powdered milk, peanut butter, banana, raisins, dates, walnuts and/or sunflower seeds.

TOAST: Top with lots of peanut butter (or other nut butters), mashed avocado, hummus, jam or honey.

SANDWICHES: Select whole grain dense breads. The thicker the slices, the better. Generously stuff with turkey, chicken, lean roast beef, cheese, hummus and other sandwich fillings. A peanut butter and banana sandwich is inexpensive and calorie-rich.

SOUPS: Hearty bean, minestrone and barley soups are preferable to broth soups.

MEATS: Select lean chicken, meat or fish. Sauté them in olive oil or canola oil.

BEANS, LEGUMES: Lentil soup, chili with beans, refried beans, bean burritos, hummus and other bean meals offer both carbs and protein and are excellent sports foods.

VEGETABLES: Corn, carrots, peas, beets and winter squash. Top with olive oil, slivered almonds and/or grated cheese.

SALADS: A substantial “sports’ salad” contains cottage cheese, chickpeas, avocado, roasted vegetables, sunflower seeds, chopped walnuts, raisins, flaked tuna, grilled chicken, tofu, croutons and salad dressing (preferably made with olive oil).

POTATO: Top baked potato with cottage cheese, yogurt, lite sour cream, pesto or chili. Boost calories in mashed potato by adding olive oil.

DESSERTS: Frozen yogurt, oatmeal raisin cookies, fig bars, chocolate pudding, apple cake or pumpkin pie. Even blueberry muffins, banana bread and cornbread with honey can double as dessert.

SNACKS: Fruit yogurt and granola, frozen yogurt, cheese and crackers, apple or banana and peanut butter, peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, trail mix, granola bars, energy bars, pretzels, English muffins, bran muffins, whole-grain bagels, peanut butter crackers, milk shakes, instant breakfast drinks, hot cocoa, dates, raisins or thick crust veggie pizza.

NOTE: A peanut butter and banana sandwich is a simple way to consume an additional 500 calories.

Quick Tips!

1. Most athletes eat more protein than they need!
• Extra exercise builds muscle, not extra protein. Manage the amount of protein intake for nutrition balance.
• Consume carbohydrate-rich fruit and juice! The additional fuel is necessary for muscle-building exercise.
• Consider heart-healthy, calorie-dense foods. Peanut butter, other nut butters, nuts, avocado, olive oil and salad dressings made with olive oil are excellent, nutrient-dense choices.

2. With an added 500 to 1,000 calories per day, you should gain weight.
• Be sure to perform muscle-building exercise two or three times per week, so you continue to bulk up.
• If you don’t gain weight after two weeks, look at your genetics and body type and make reasonable adjustments in your expectations.
• You can indeed be an excellent athlete without being bulky! Work on your athletic skills and optimize around being lean, light, agile and quick.

Next Steps:

1. Focus on choosing quality calories to reach your weight goals. Extra calories should some from wholesome foods.

2. Men typically reach peak muscle mass by age 30. Women reach it by mid 20s. Most thin, young adults gain weight with age.

3. Once you have hit your weight goal, remember to pull back on calories. Adjust your calorie needs as your workouts and performance requirements change.

Other Resources:

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