We teach high school and college athletes how to eat for health and fuel performance. We specialize in helping athletes gain lean mass the right way and dial in their nutrition around games and training with custom plans. individuals that want to improve their athletic performance, energy, mood, health, and overall quality of life.
“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!
“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).
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 low-cost, high-calorie, and quality options. 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!)
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 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.
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)
Looking for a healthy meal and snack ideas but don’t know how to cook? No problem! I would personally recommend these options that you likely saw on my grocery haul thread on Twitter .
Another great resource is my “put down the phone and pick up breakfast post?” If you have time to scroll social media you have time to eat breakfast! Many of these items and ideas are great for the pantry at home for your high school athlete or for your college dorm!
English muffin cut in half with sliced avocado paired with 3/4 cup Greek yogurt and mixed blueberries and raspberries.
A glass of Fairlife chocolate milk or plant-based alternative + Kashi cereal
See grab-and-go options that can be prepared ahead of time.
Protein smoothie bag (Prepare the night beforehand with frozen berries, spinach, chia seeds, and whey protein powder and place in zip lock baggie) Pour into blender with milk and add Greek Yogurt the morning of and blend!
Microwave egg omelet in a glass bowl with spinach, kale, bell peppers + banana, and low-fat milk.
Fully loaded with sour cream, cheese blend, and chives, topped 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese. Pair with a slice of Ezekiel toast topped with avocado, and a microwavable egg. Here is an example Recipe
Grilled chicken salad
2 oz of pre-grilled chicken added to a bed of spinach + romaine + ½ cup black beans/chickpea mix + mixed cheese blend, 1 sliced hardboiled egg, 1 tbsp. sunflower seeds with a dressing of choice. Highly recommend Bolthouse Farms Greek yogurt as a healthy dressing.
Riced veggie tacos
Frozen bag of riced veggies cooked in the microwave that can be topped with edamame, salsa, in a whole-grain tortilla, shredded pre-made pulled pork, cheddar cheese blend with avocado slices.
Snack pairings (snacks should contain protein and carbs) for athletes and for less active days protein + a plant/healthy fat).
Whole meals first supplement second. Supplements are meant to satisfy small gaps in nutrition and to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Good nutritional habits must be established first. For additional guidance to ensure your athletes are meeting their protein and carbohydrate needs check out this article. No supplement can replace whole foods. See pantry staple ideas for athletes here!
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, CISSN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and performance coach. She utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. She partners with parents, sports performance staff, and special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance and lifestyle plans. Wendi provides virtual services including telehealth but is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wendi works with clients of all levels and ages across the US as well as Canada and the UK. You can find more about Wendi and scheduling an appointment here.
What can hiring a sports nutritionist offer your program? Learn more here.
Testimonials of Wendi’s expertise from colleges, coaches, parents, young athletes, and high school administrators can be found at the testimonial link on her website. You can also follow Wendi on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagramfor more nutrition information.
CREATINE MONOHYDRATE IS SAFE, EFFECTIVE, AND BENEFICIAL FOR TEEN ATHLETES. Read on to learn more…
17-year-old, Jenkins comes strutting out of the weight room after he just crushed a workout living his strongest, healthiest, and injury-free life. While walking out of the weight room Jenkins is using Nutrition with Wendi’s recommended “25-50-30 rule” and is downing a shaker bottle with chocolate milk and creatine paired with a banana. Jenkins is a smart kid and has focused on proper sleep, hydration, eating well, and managing his stress while training hard.
Ever heard this crazy misinformation before? Yes, me too. It has spread like wildfire. It is even more gut-wrenching when it’s spread by doctors, trainers, health care professionals, influencers, or random people on the internet that know very little about science, sports performance, or even what creatine is. Insert facepalm. Good news! I am here to dispel those myths and provide the science to help combat the misinformation that is so toxic.
Creatine is one of the most effective ergogenic aids for adult athletes and is safe.
But what about youth athletes? I have had several high school coaches and concerned parents of youth athletes ask me questions like, “Is creatine safe for my kids? Should my female athletes be using creatine?” In almost every conversation, my first response is, “It depends.” Just like any other question I get, nutrition-, health-, fitness- or performance-related, it should be individualized.
Creatine, however, is beneficial to all populations according to the science outlined in this article. As a registered dietitian, I strongly promote a “food first” and back-to-basics philosophy. For more information on healthy eating and performance nutrition, see a previous blog here.
I empower anyone working with youth athletes to use the guidance in this article when considering “to supplement with creatine or not.”
CREATINE IS SAFE TO SUPPLEMENT AT ANY AGE GIVEN IT IS THIRD-PARTY TESTED!! Yes, any age! Creatine and Infants – According to researchers, hypoxic ventilatory depression in mice and muscle fatigue in adult humans are improved by creatine supplementation (CS). No side effects were seen with creatine supplementation (equal to a 13.6-gram daily dose in a 150 lb person) (8).
I would still like for all to focus on food first but creatine won’t hurt you it would only help you! It’s amazing how people will feed their kids and themselves with junk food but creatine is off-limits because some doctor who doesn’t understand the mechanism of action said, “no it is a steroid?”.
Blasphemy.. please read and digest all of this data and my points to understand that creatine is safe, effective, and beneficial at any age for any sport male or female!
Creatine Monohydrate 101:
95% of creatine is found in skeletal muscle
The human body needs 1-3 g per day
Most creatine in the diet comes from animal products like meat, fish, & poultry
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound formed by three amino acids, making it a tripeptide (tri- meaning three) of the amino acids L-glycine, L-arginine, and L-methionine. Creatine is assembled in a two-step process that occurs in the kidneys and liver.
Creatine can be consumed via dietary sources, which include foods like eggs, milk, tuna, salmon, herring, cod, shrimp, beef, and pork.
Creatine improves numerous factors including strength, power, sprint ability, muscular endurance, resistance to fatigue, muscle mass, recovery, cognition, and rate of muscle growth. Creatine is one of the most widely studied, proven performance enhancers available that also offers clinical benefits (4).
How does creatine work?
Creatine deposits high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine. This is given to adenosine diphosphate (ADP), regenerating it to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the sole energy carrier in the human body, which can be called “energy currency” for cells to carry out their functions. For example, during conditions of short-term, high-energy demand activities (<30 seconds) with limited recovery time, ATP runs out quickly, which illustrates the importance of creatine stored in muscles in the form of creatine phosphate. This is explained here.
Since creatine phosphate restores ATP, it gives muscle cells the ability to produce greater energy. The greater creatine stores you have, the greater energy your muscle cells can yield during high-intensity exercise, thus leading to increased exercise performance. Even though the most well-documented and primary benefit is higher energy production, this mechanism also supports muscle gain and strength increases, as explained here.
Despite creatine being widely tested since the early 1900s with significant data supporting its effectiveness, it is widely misunderstood by many trainers, coaches, athletes, and concerned parents of high school athletes. Yes, it is 2021 and people still think creatine monohydrate is a steroid due to misinformation generated across social media and the general population (4).
Disregard the false, outlandish, disproven claims. I am referencing the silly fallacies like, “creatine will make you fat,” “creatine will cause liver, kidney, or bone injury,” “creatine will dehydrate you,” or my personal favorite, “creatine is a steroid that will also lead to baldness.” I know. What a bunch of nonsense. I addressed these fallacies in a previous blog, Creatine Not Just for Men or Muscle. Please go check it out if you are a female because creatine can help you improve your lean mass and lose that fat.
Antonio et al. published a phenomenal paper outlining the common questions and misconceptions regarding creatine use available for open access here (1). I highly recommend you read it and share it with anyone who may have creatine confusion disorder. I made that up, but you get my point. Creatine monohydrate is beneficial for many things beyond performance, which is not my opinion but sc!
Potential ergogenic benefits of creatine supplementation in adults (4):
Greater training tolerance
Increased sprint performance
Increased work performed during sets of maximal effort
Increased lean mass & strength adaptations during physical training
Enhanced glycogen synthesis
Increased work capacity
Increased anaerobic threshold
If you’re interested in my opinion as a dietitian and performance practitioner working with several athletes I highly recommend creatine. Creatine is like the Swiss Army knife of supplements! It can do so many things!
There is robust evidence to support the effectiveness of creatine in the adult population. Among children and adolescents, there is mounting evidence to support the therapeutic benefits of creatine supplementation as well as clinical and exercise performance. Available studies in the adolescent population involving high-intensity exercise training indicate performance benefits as well as no reported side effects (1,2).
In relation to performance, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) has concluded that creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic supplement available to athletes in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise and supporting lean body mass during training. The ISSN has also concluded CM is safe. (4).
Does creatine work in young athletes?
Regardless of the limited data on the teen population, creatine is likely safe, beneficial, and well-tolerated among youth athletes as evidenced by the available data (2).
Creatine supplementation improved time performance and strength in highly competitive swimmers (2,3).
Should my teen athletes be supplementing with creatine? As young as infancy..yes but 10-12 YO has been pretty standard for young athletes training at a high level.
As always, food first, but creatine can be a safe and effective regimen for young athletes who meet the following criteria (1,5):
Consuming a well-balanced diet
Consuming a diet with a greater emphasis on plant proteins like soy and pea which do not provide creatine like animal proteins
Involved in high-intensity training, and competitive sports which include:
Combat Sports (MMA, wrestling, boxing, etc.)
It is always best practice that athletes of any age fully educate themselves by consulting with a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified sports nutritionist, exercise physiologist, or sports-focused physician before the use of any supplement. Similarly, any products used should be NSF International Certified for Sport to reduce the risk of consuming any harmful or contaminated products. Supplements are regulated but not as heavily regulated as pharmaceuticals. Please see the reasons to use NSF Certified for Sport products in a previous blog.
“The USADA recommends that athletes use only dietary supplements that have been certified by a third-party program that tests for substances prohibited in sport. The USADA is responsible for anti-doping education and testing for athletes in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movements as well as the UFC.”
Therefore, all supplements used should be third-party tested for safety, purity, and compliance. For the sake of convenience and safety, you and your athlete can download the NSF Certified Sport app.
I preach food first, nutrient periodization, quality rest, good sleep hygiene, hydration, and appropriate training, all of which can be better enhanced using creatine monohydrate (CM). Based on the strongest science and studies, CM is the recommended form. CM is used in the studies. Therefore, it should be used in practice as well. I discussed the other forms in my guest appearance on Muscles and Management.
When to use creatine?
Science suggests creatine is most effective immediately post-workout when paired with protein and carbohydrates (7). Creatine consumed immediately post-resistance training is superior to pre-workout in terms of body composition and strength (7). The recommended dose is 3-5 g of creatine per day. Creatine can be used at any time of day. Creatine is safe and effective on rest days from exercise as well as training days. (Click here to follow on Instagram)
While CM is best paired with a carbohydrate-rich source (like oatmeal, whole-grain bread, rice, fruit, smoothies, or yogurt) to draw it into muscle cells, it can also be added to water or other beverages.
A saturated cell is a happy cell! This supports recovery and muscle repair following resistance training.
Most creatine supplements are in powder form and must be used in warm water to support the dissolving process. CM will dissolve slowly in cold water and often ends up in the bottom of a shaker bottle, which won’t do any good if it doesn’t make it into your mouth! Creapure is a great brand to use and offers more explanation on dosing. Check it out here! No, I do not have a partnership or any affiliation with Creapure. I just want to share that they make a great product.
My female youth soccer players have integrated CM post-training with their tart cherry juice and chocolate milk. I have taken time to discuss the safety, use, and benefits with my youth athlete’s parents, coaches, and even their PE teachers. I have 50% of my youth athletes supplementing with CM. CM is always a conversation we have after we wrap up their 6-week Nutrition with Wendi Coaching Program.
Do I need to load using creatine?
No, you do not need to “creatine load”. In fact, many studies use a typical creatine dose of 5-10 g daily or smaller doses like the standard 2-3 g.
However, if you desire to do a loading phase, it would look something like 20-25 g for 5-7 days followed by a maintenance phase of 5 g daily for 4 weeks, 2 weeks off, and then repeat. I do not have any of my athletes do this cycling as it is unnecessary. See the ISSN’s Position Stand for more on this (4).
Studies support the benefits of CM supplementation regardless of the dose. However, that does not mean more is better. If you are a vegetarian and new to using CM, you would benefit from saturating the muscles with CM, leading to an acute increase in strength and body weight via water retention. However, please refer to the experts and those I respect most in the field like Dr. Darren Candow, Dr. Tim N. Ziegenfuss, Dr. Scott Forbes, Dr. Jose Anotonio, Dr. Rich Krider, Dr. Eric Rawson, and others who can further provide the research they have been doing for the last few decades.
Please see another podcast in which I had the opportunity to speak about creatine in the youth population via the Big Time Strength podcast.
There is robust literature to support the beneficial effects creatine has on body composition, physical performance, injury prevention, recovery, brain health, and clinical use. Currently, there have not been any negative effects associated with the use of CM in both the adolescent or adult populations. Adolescent athletes under the age of 18, and even children as young as infants, can safely consume CM.
There is zero evidence to suggest CM supplementation would cause harm, dehydration, cramping, or any other outlandish claims that have been disproven by Antonio et al., 2021, and others. Not incorporating a CM supplement would be a disservice to your athletes or even yourself!
Anyone looking to improve their health of any age or activity level can safely consume 3-5 g of creatine monohydrate immediately post-workout paired with a carbohydrate.
By supplementing with creatine monohydrate immediately following training, you’re able to support muscle growth and recovery, injury prevention, and overall health.
Yes, creatine is safe to consume if you are a teen athlete. Yes, you should use creatine monohydrate.
No, creatine is not a steroid. No, creatine will not cause baldness. No, creatine will not dehydrate you. No, creatine will not cause cramps. No, creatine will not decrease your bone mineral density.
If you have a beating pulse, then creatine monohydrate is for you!
Sports physicians, athletic trainers, coaches, performance nutritionists, and others working with youth athletes should provide the best guidance to teen athletes based on the available science to support their principal interests. Kids are going to be using supplements like energy drinks and pre-workouts, which contain dangerous amounts of caffeine. I would rather we provide education on the safety and use of creatine, which is not dangerous but beneficial. I would like to see more people using creatine given the ergogenic benefits and no reported adverse effects. Creatine monohydrate is a safe, effective, and inexpensive way to support health and physical performance! Please don’t let, “Joe Public” from accounting or “Susie Quinn,” on Instagram OR THE doctor’s OFFICE tell you any different.
In good faith, fitness, health, and athletic performance,
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, CISSN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and performance coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. She partners with parents, sports performance staff, and special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance and lifestyle plans. Wendi provides virtual services including telehealth but is based in Nashville, TN. Wendi works with clients of all levels internationally.
What can hiring a sports nutritionist offer your program? Learn more here. Interested in signing up for the NEW and upcoming NWW newsletter? Click here to sign up!
Antonio, J., Candow, D.G., Forbes, S.C. et al. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 18, 13 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
Grindstaff PD, Kreider R, Bishop R, Wilson M, Wood L, Alexander C, et al. Effects of creatine supplementation on repetitive sprint performance and body composition in competitive swimmers. Int J Sport Nutr. (1997) 7:330–46.
Ostojic SM. Creatine supplementation in young soccer players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Feb;14(1):95-103. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.14.1.95. PMID: 15129933.
Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 18 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
Jagim AR, Stecker RA, Harty PS, Erickson JL, Kerksick CM. Safety of creatine supplementation in active adolescents and youth: A Brief Review. Front Nutr. 2018;5:115. Published 2018 Nov 28. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00115
Ostojic SM. Creatine supplementation in young soccer players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Feb;14(1):95-103. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.14.1.95. PMID: 15129933
Antonio J, Ciccone V. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Aug 6;10:36. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-36. PMID: 23919405; PMCID: PMC3750511.
Bohnhorst B, Geuting T, Peter CS, Dordelmann M, Wilken B, Poets CF. Randomized, controlled trial of oral creatine supplementation (not effective) for apnea of prematurity. Pediatrics 2004;113 (4):e303-7.