I'm always surprised by just how skinny high school boys are nowadays.
I look around and see skinny guys all over the place. Now don't get me wrong, being thin certainly beats being obese, as we all know the health risks of obesity are a big problem (no pun intended) in our country.
Yet if you're a male high school athlete who competes in one or more team sports, there's certainly such thing as being too skinny for your own good.
You can tell me all about how good you play and how being thin doesn't affect your game. I'm not buying it. Being lanky and underweight can not only affect your performance, but the way you carry yourself, as well. And if you want to play in college, a solid frame is going to impress recruiters.
Many skinny athletes take a "woe is me" attitude when it comes to gaining weight. They're convinced it's simply impossible. Fear not, however—many a strapping, well-built athlete was once a skinny dude, and you can follow in their footsteps.
First thing's first: you have to eat. And I mean really, really eat. Save that "I'm not hungry" nonsense for someone else. Teenage athletes need to put down a serious amount of calories to gain weight.
How much should you eat? My recommendation is at least 20 times your body weight in calories per day. That may sound like a lot, but it really isn't. If you weigh 140 pounds, you need to eat at least 2,800 calories per day.
What you need to understand is that the teenage athlete burns a ton of calories. Not only are you constantly training, practicing and playing, but your body burns extra calories at rest because you're still growing and developing. If you don't consume enough calories, it will be impossible to bulk up. Muscle mass cannot appear out of thin air.
Most skinny guys aren't used to eating a lot, so to hit my calorie recommendation of 20 times your own body weight, you'll likely need to start drinking some of your calories. This doesn't mean guzzling Coca-Cola—it does mean finding a quality high-protein weight gain shake. If you tolerate dairy well, you can mix it with milk to increase the calorie count. When you're "not hungry," drinking your calories is going to be a whole lot easier than eating them.
Next, you need to add a large amount of healthy fats to your diet. Healthy fats will not make you fat, but they will help you bulk up in a smart way. The easiest way to eat more healthy fats is mixed nuts and trail mix. Both of these are super convenient and tasty and will deliver plenty of the healthy fat you need to slow down your metabolism and get bigger. If you like avocados, those are another terrific option for healthy fats.
Third, you cannot miss a single meal. And you ideally need to eat four meals a day. Most skinny teen athletes skip breakfast and end up only eating two meals a day. You've got to eat breakfast! I know you say it's hard with school and practice, but you can do it. Drink a shake after you wake up and throw some peanut butter on a couple pieces of toast (peanut butter is your friend). A healthy breakfast can take just a couple minutes, but over time, it will transform your body for the better.
You also need to get in the habit of bringing extra food with you to school. If you buy lunch, you can still do so, but you need a way to fill in extra calories throughout the day. Bring some nuts and maybe a protein bar. Drink extra milk with lunch. Joe Thomas had a hard time bulking up in high school until he started bringing a loaf of bread with him everyday along with some peanut butter, jelly and milk.
"You have to find other times in the day to put calories in your body that will help build muscle and gain weight," Thomas told STACK in 2015. "My tip is take a full loaf of bread, make every single slice into a PB&J, cut it in half, and then every hour between meals have half a PB&J and drink some whole milk. You'll definitely gain weight."
After school but before practice, eat again. Have a piece of fruit or a bar, or both. If your only option is pizza, eat some pizza! It may not be the most ideal option, but getting calories in you is the most important part.
When you go home for dinner, don't just push your food around your plate. Clean your plate. Then, a snack and a shake before bedtime. If you're able to follow that plan, hitting 20 times your body weight in calories won't be so hard. And if you feel like you can eat more after you reach that goal, do so. As long as your diet isn't made up mostly of fast food and candy, more calories will help your effort.
Then you need to lift. Make sure you hit the weight room at least two or three times a week, lifting your upper body hard one day and then your lower body hard the other (and maybe doing a full-body workout if you go a third day). I have plenty of articles on my author page that detail the exercises and workouts you must do to gain muscle.
Gaining weight doesn't just happen through hoping and wishing. But if you make a real effort, it will happen. Nothing I've written in this article is ground-breaking, and that's because there's no magic bullet for bulking up. Eat enough and lift consistently. That's the only "magic" formula.
Don't fool yourself—so many high school athletes would play and feel better and be more resilient against injury if they gained 15-20 pounds of muscle.
Take a look in the mirror and be honest with yourself. If you know you need to put on some size, take accountability. No one can make it happen but you.
Photo Credit: vitapix/iStock
- The Ectomorph Workout Program: Building Muscle for the 'Skinny Guy'
- What Young Athletes Get All Wrong About Trying to Gain Weight
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