Gaining Weight

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You lift and eat, and eat and lift. The scale never moves. For a high school athlete, putting on quality weight takes more than stuffing your face with every piece of grub that comes within three feet of your mouth. It takes planning and consistency to successfully fill out the frame of a busy, still-growing athlete.

Heidi Skolnik, M.S., C.D.N., FACSM, president of Nutrition Conditioning Inc. and nutritionist for the New York Giants, knows that for many young athletes, gaining weight is difficult. Consequently, she developed a helpful approach to conquer the scale and become a force on the field.

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Weight matters: fill out your frame

Click here for a complete list of food suggestions and tips

By: Josh Staph

You lift and eat, and eat and lift. The scale never moves. For a high school athlete, putting on quality weight takes more than stuffing your face with every piece of grub that comes within three feet of your mouth. It takes planning and consistency to successfully fill out the frame of a busy, still-growing athlete.

Heidi Skolnik, M.S., C.D.N., FACSM, president of Nutrition Conditioning Inc. and nutritionist for the New York Giants, knows that for many young athletes, gaining weight is difficult. Consequently, she developed a helpful approach to conquer the scale and become a force on the field.

The struggle

Partly for physiological reasons, it's tough for on-the-go student athletes to put on extra pounds of quality weight. "High school athletes need to realize that a lot of men don't fill out until they are in their early 20s," Skolnik explains. "The 16- or 17-year-old athlete might be getting testosterone, but only low levels of it. Physiologically, it is a struggle to develop size."

The actual growing process also inhibits high schoolers from developing size. Skolnik says, "Growing uses energy and burns a lot of calories. Athletes need a tremendous caloric intake just to maintain weight."

The calorie game

It's a scientific fact that consuming an extra 500 calories a day produces a one-pound weight gain every week, depending on metabolism, fitness level, and frequency and timing of meals. So, theoretically, you could gain 12 pounds in three months. However, for a growing athlete who is trying to increase size, a well-designed strategy is necessary.

You can get the additional calories from any food, but proper distribution of macronutrients helps achieve the ultimate goal—improved athletic performance. To increase size, Skolnik recommends the following caloric breakdown:

• 55-70 percent carbohydrates
• 20 to 30 percent fat (increase to 40 percent with healthy fats for additional calories)
• 15 percent protein

"Protein is often considered a magical ingredient for building lean mass," Skolnik says. "Sufficient protein intake is necessary to repair muscle tissue. Excess protein, though, can slow the body down, because it's not an efficient fuel source. Your body burns extra calories to convert protein to usable energy."

Fluid loss, which leads to fatigue and dehydration, can also result from too much protein. For an athlete trying to gain, she recommends .9 grams of protein for each pound of body weight.

Where do you fit in?

According to Skolnik, athletes trying to gain mass fall into one of two categories:

(A) "These guys always struggle to gain weight or keep it on. They don't focus on food that much, forget to eat, don't have big appetites or get full quickly. These athletes need to focus on eating regularly and with consistency. Most high school athletes fall into this group."

(B) "These athletes are fairly developed and have a lot of lean mass and weight, but want to add a little more. They already eat a lot, but they need to make a few slight changes to gain that last bit. It usually takes longer for these athletes to gain weight, because they are already close to their genetic potential."Chances are you're Type A, so Skolnik provides a strategy to help hard gainers like you beef up.

Let's do lunch

"Guys who have trouble gaining have more work to do when it comes to setting up eating patterns," Skolnik says. The demands put on high school athletes—from practice, training, competition, academics, and family obligations—make remembering to eat and scheduling meals the biggest issues.

Skolnik recommends developing a calorie- intake plan. Eat three full meals every day as well as three snacks—one between breakfast and lunch, another before practice and the last before bed. In addition, consume a caloric sports drink during practice and a recovery drink or bar after practice.

Beyond the table

Skolnik's advice also applies in the weight room. She says, "It is key for athletes to understand that only an appropriate lifting program will increase lean body mass. If the athlete does not train adequately, weight gain will be seen in body fat."

Finally, Skolnik warns against extended sessions of cardio training. "You should do cardio to condition, not burn calories," she says. "You want to be healthy and conditioned, but don't spend too much time on cardio. More specific conditioning—with short bursts and recovery—is a better way to increase mass."

A Sample Eating Plan
(C=Cup, T=Tablespoon)

BREAKFAST:
1C Grape Nuts with 1C low fat milk
1C low fat chocolate milk
1 English muffin with 1 pat butter and 1T jam
1C orange juice

DINNER:
1C minestrone soup
1 chicken breast, breaded, baked
1 hard roll with 1 pat butter
1C peas and carrots
2 baked potatoes with 1 pat butter

SNACK:
1C trail mix

SNACK:
4 fig bars
1C chocolate pudding

LUNCH:
2C spaghetti w/ 1C tomato sauce
2T parmesan cheese
2 slices Italian bread
1 pat butter
1 tossed salad with ½C kidney beans
2T low-fat dressing
1C cranberry juice
1 apple with 2T peanut butter

TOTALS:
Calories—4,790
Protein—196 grams (16%)
Carbs—810 grams (65%)
Fat—104 grams (19%)
SNACK:
1 low fat yogurt
1 banana
600 calories can be added by consuming a sports drink during practice and a recovery shake after practice.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: ATHLETE MEAL PLAN | CALORIES | MEALS