Eat Quality Calories for Healthy Weight Gain

Get better at the sports you play and the life you lead at STACK. Improve your training, nutrition and lifestyle with daily

It's natural for athletes to constantly seek ways to gain an edge over their competition. One way to gain it is, well, to literally gain it. Adding mass to your frame can translate to more strength, speed and power—as long as your training program and diet are balanced, says Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition for the University of California, Davis. Below, two experts weigh in with eating advice for healthy weight gain.

Putting on lean mass can improve performance. But many athletes mistakenly believe that protein is the only nutrient they need to pack on weight. Applegate says, "that's the biggest misconception. Even though muscle is made out of protein, you need other nutrients to make that muscle protein, to build the tissues muscle is made of."

First, you need quality carbs, your body's biggest energy source. Second, Applegate says, is protein. Third, you need micronutrients such as iron and zinc and vitamins like B, thiamin and niacin. The combo of macronutrients [carbs, protein, healthy fats] and micronutrients [vitamins and minerals] is what allows you to gain healthy weight.

Note the emphasis on healthy. You can easily gain weight by eating chips and cookies and drinking fruit drinks, all of which are loaded with calories. But the weight you gain from these sources will be fat mass, not the lean mass you  need for speed and power. Focus on quality calories, not what Applegate refers to as "poor quality calories."

Instead, turn to foods like whole grains. "Brown is better," says sports nutritionist Cheryl Zonkowski. Brown rice, brown pasta, brown bread—all are calorically dense and healthier than white bread, she says. If you don't feel comfortable with whole grains, she recommends "something in the middle, like honey-wheat or honey oat." And speaking of bread, sandwiches are an easy way to add calories to your diet. Zonkowski recommends PB&J along with a caloric beverage.

Milk and 100-percent juice are "easy ways to add a couple hundred calories," Zonkowski says. A glass of low-fat milk adds approximately 105 calories to a meal, as opposed to zero if you drink water. Or, try a glass of a 100-percent juice blend, which typically has more calories than a single juice. For instance, Welch's White Grape Orange Mango 100-Percent Juice packs 150 calories per cup compared to 100-percent orange juice, which has approximately 110-120 calories.

Other foods for quality weight gain: starchy veggies, like white and sweet potatoes, both of which are good carb sources and are loaded with nutrients—and fruits. Applegate suggests eating at least four fruits a day. She says, "Before you reach for chips, reach for pieces of fruit, because that's what your body needs to put on quality weight."

Compare your fruit options with info from the following chart:

Figs (3 medium)= 111 or 1C dried = 277 


Orange (navel) = 69 


Dates (3) = 200 


Raspberries (1C) = 64 


Coconut (1/2 C shredded) = 140 


Nectarine (medium) = 62 


Raisins (1/4C) = 120 


Peach (medium) = 58 


Banana (large) = 100 


Cantaloupe (1C cubed) = 54 


Grapes (1C) = 100 


Blueberries (1C) = 50 


Mango (1C cubed) = 100 


Blackberries (1C) = 50 


Apple (medium) = 95 


Strawberries (1C whole) = 46 


Cherries (1C) = 90 


Mandarin (medium) = 47 


Pineapple (1C cubed) = 82 


Kiwi = 42 


Grapefruit (pink) = 76 


Plum = 30 



Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock