Simple and Practical Weight Gain Tips for Athletes

“How can I/my kid gain weight? We have tried everything and can’t seem to get anywhere.” I get this question and concern daily from coaches and parents. Weight gain is really hard when athletes are young calorie-burning machines!

As always my objective is to provide people with simple and practical tips to achieve their goals!

Here is your, “How to Gain Weight Tip List”

Test don’t guess! Start tracking what you’re eating to know how many calories you’re actually eating each day. Too often teen and college athletes are under-eating without knowing it. What is measured is well-managed. Download a free app to help with tracking calories, protein, fats, and carbs. You can’t gain weight if you’re not eating enough calories consistently to attain a calorie surplus. If you’re unwilling to track calories I recommend the plate method for weight gain. See our weight-gain performance plate here.

The mistake many make when trying to gain weight is not understanding fundamental portion sizes. Weight gain means half your plate comes from CHO and during weight loss, it would be 1/4 the plate (smaller portion = less kcal).

 

Too many teen athletes fail to consistently eat regular meals so this is a super easy place to start. (CLICK TO SEE THE FULL INSTAGRAM POST ON WEIGHT GAIN).

 

 

 

 

Eat breakfast consistently. Nutrients missed at breakfast are often not made up later in the day. Toast, eggs, and peanut butter paired with whole-fat chocolate milk are a low-cost, high-calorie, and quality option.  Try Greek yogurt parfaits with oats, nut butter, and fruit. Avocado egg toast is also super easy and high-calorie. For more ideas check out my Grab and Go Breakfast Ideas 

Eat snacks every 2 hours that are high in calories. Set alarms on phones or create email reminders to snack every few hours. (Weight gain requires eating in a calorie surplus so EAT UP!)

Pack high-calorie snacks. Peanut butter banana bagel sandwiches, trail mix, grab-n-go core power protein drinks, smoothies to store in a Yeti at school, peanut butter oat energy bites, mason jar  protein oats 

Planning ahead by meal prepping on the weekend

    • Grill up a dozen chicken breasts and steaks for the week to cut and portion out
    • Prepare PB energy bites
    • Hard-boiled eggs
    • Grab n Go Whole-fat chocolate milk
    • Oatmeal mason jars
    • Loaded baked potato + cheese + broccoli with butter
    • Greek yogurt parfaits (whole-fat dairy)
    • See my weight gain snacks here!

Special considerations for eating more:

  • Sample Weight gain breakdown
  • Double up on protein servings when dining out (double meat)
  • Add beef jerky, string cheese,  nuts, seeds, nut butters,  avocado, butter, olive oil, cheese, and whole-fat sour cream/Greek yogurt when you’re able for more calories!
  • Sometimes eating a lot of calories can be challenging especially around training. I recommend smoothies. You can consume half in the morning and a half in the evening or afternoon as tolerated. Smoothies are a great liquid vehicle for calories!  (oatmeal, peanut butter, whole-fat Greek yogurt, and whole-fat cow’s milk). See my Chunky Monkey Smoothie Recipe here
  • Recovery nutrition is key for muscle repair and growth. Prioritize a recovery snack or meal immediately post-training. Be sure to include both complex carbohydrates and protein.
  • Vary your protein throughout the day and be sure to power up with protein as part of your recovery snack to achieve a positive protein balance, promoting muscle growth and recovery. See my backpack portable options here! 

“But Wendi, what about nutrient timing?” Great point, please see my 4-2-1 guidance here. Too much fat or too much solid food in the stomach around training can blunt performance.

I emphasize a food-first approach but supplements help supplement the gaps in our nutrition. Supplements like creatine, whey protein, vitamin D, and casein can be helpful for athletes’ muscle recovery, lean mass maintenance, and muscle gain when properly used. Should youth athletes use creatine? Find out what the research says in my blog.

Include a bedtime snack !! Research has effectively demonstrated that consuming casein protein (found in milk and
dairy products) prior to sleep can increase muscle
protein synthesis and facilitate better recovery.

See my recommendations here.

 

SLEEP DEPRIVATION WILL BLUNT YOUR GAINS. SLEEP BETTER WITH THESE TIPS


In closing…

Focus on adding to meals to increase overall kcal. The goal would be to increase a snack or meal by 200-500 kcal for an average weight gain of 1-1.5 lbs per week. If you want to gain you’ve gotta eat!

SEE MY TWITTER ACCOUNT FOR PRACTICAL GUIDANCE! 500 KCAL EXAMPLE MEALS + SNACKS!

Aim for consuming 4,000-6,000 kcal per day if you’re an HS athlete and likely 6,000 + kcal for collegiate athletes. For individual recommendations contact me and let’s create a custom fueling plan that supports weight gain goals.

I have worked with both HS and college athletes for > 5 years now. I spent time at the University of Florida as a sports nutrition intern in 2015 working with football, men’s and women’s track, swim, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, and tennis. I also worked as a performance nutrition assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Stout during my graduate studies. I educated football, gymnastics, hockey, soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball on proper fueling from 2014 to 2016.  Both of these experiences were volunteer and I sought them out because I knew I wanted to help athletes as a future dietitian. These opportunities helped me understand what it takes to fuel an elite athlete with a small budget!

Sleep for more gains..yes sleep impacts our ability to recover and synthesize muscle! Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

Many young athletes also skip breakfast and snacks so it’s more of a willingness than an ability problem with weight gain. If your young athlete won’t listen to you don’t worry you’re not alone! But they tend to listen to me, a former college athlete and total stranger :). I provide meal plans, and performance nutrition guidance for picky eaters and those with food allergies/intolerances. (see my student-athlete nutrition coaching package)

 

 

In good faith, health, and wellness,

-Wendi A. Irlbeck, MS, RDN, LD, CISSN

Competition Day Eating for Athletes: What to Eat and When to Eat it!

 

Practice how you want to perform….(Learn through graphics)

When I played sports in high school and college my coaches would always say, “you perform as you practice.” There’s a lot of wisdom with that! I ran cross country in high school but also played softball. I actually went on to play college softball and wish I would have known then what I know now.

Fueling competition day!

Experiment with your eating schedule on a practice day so you can identify the best strategy to give you energy and peak performance! This is applicable to coaches, parents, athletes of all ages! What we eat directly affects how we perform. Use my “4-2-1” eating schedule with some of these meal ideas to try out for your own fueling plan WITH PICTURES!!

👇 NWW’s🍉rule of👍 : “4-2-1 method”

What are some ideas during half-time??


What are some other meals and snack ideas??

Breakfast ideas (how to create a breakfast habit)

  • Premier protein shake + apple
  • 2 Eggs, spinach, tomatoes, blueberries, whole-grain toast/oatmeal
  • Fruit smoothie with Fair life milk, Greek yogurt, chia, spinach
  • Kodiak Cakes waffle, English muffin, pancakes + hard-boiled egg
  • Greek yogurt parfait + fruit, with oatmeal
  • Oatmeal cup, string cheese, fruit
  • Strawberries, peanut butter toast + Core power protein drink/Orgain protein drink

Smart snack ideas

  • Hard-boiled eggs + whole-grain toast with banana slices
  • String cheese with pepper sticks and hummus
  • Greek yogurt with fruit
  • Beef jerky with cucumbers or apple
  • 2 oz. Deli turkey slices with a pear
  • Protein bar (Quest protein bars, Pure Protein, One Bar, Kirkland protein bar, RX bar)

Lunch and dinner ideas

  • 4-5 oz. 99% Ground turkey, baked sweet potato, 1 cup roasted vegetables + avocado slices
  • Grilled steak, steamed brown rice (1 cup or 1-2 fists), ~ 1 cup roasted vegetables
  • Baked salmon, quinoa (1 cup or 1-2 fists), spinach side salad, ¾ cup pineapple
  • Oatmeal (1-2 cups), toppings of choice (nuts, dried fruit, flax, Fair life milk, cinnamon), fruit salad (1 cup), 4 oz.
  • Egg omelet or frittata with veggies (spinach, onions/mushrooms, sweet potatoes/potatoes in omelet/frittata or on the side), side of melons (1 cup), or berries
  • Greek yogurt w/ oats & berries (try plain Greek and add almond butter)
  • Taco bowl with tofu, spices, corn, lettuce, spinach, peppers, and brown rice

SAMPLE SCHEDULE

*Help your athletes eat every few hours by setting alarms on phones or calendar reminders in email.


BACK TO THE BASICS WITH SIMPLE TIPS!