For most Americans, gaining weight is easy to do. However, for some young and competitive athletes, gaining weight is undesirably difficult. In some instances, such as football or hockey, players must increase weights to protect themselves from injury and to become stronger. In other instances, such as long-distance runners, athletes may not be able to eat enough during the day to maintain their weight because of the increased amount of calories they burn through exercise. By eating nutritious, calorie-dense foods, most athletes will be able to maintain the weight they desire without resorting to unhealthy habits or supplementation.
While protein is required to build strong muscles, it will not help an athlete to gain weight. According to Purdue University sports dietitian Nancy Clark, an athlete requires between 1.6 and 1.7 g protein per kilograms of body weight per day. Most of the time, athletes who are hungry will eat this much and more. Proteins come in the form of dairy products, meats, eggs and nuts. High-calorie protein snacks can be incorporated throughout the day in the form of pretzels with peanut butter, low-fat milk shakes, granola and yogurt, low-fat cheese and crackers or handfuls of almonds, walnuts or peanuts. While these snacks may increase the amount of protein an athlete takes during the day, they are also calorie dense in small packages and allow the athlete eat more without stuffing themselves.
To gain weight, an athlete must eat more calories than they expend in energy. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recommends that athletes eat between 500 and 1,000 additional calories every day. Any additional calories will be stored as fat in the body. This means that calorie counting for an athlete who is trying to achieve weight gain is just as important as it is for those who are trying to achieve weight loss.
Fats and Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates provide quick energy for the body; they are the body's most important source of energy. Between 50 and 60 percent of your daily caloric intake should be in carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are found in pastas, potatoes, whole wheat breads, rice and fruits. Fats or another energy source is used by the body and are also high in calories. However, they should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Foods such as nuts, seeds, sunflower oil, fish, canola oil and olive oil are good examples of these fats.
Keys to Weight Gain
There are specific ways of incorporating these foods into your diet that will help to maximize your weight gain. Consistently eat three meals each day and include high-calorie snacks when you do not meet your calorie requirements in three meals. Some foods are more calorie dense than others, and you should choose those to increase your calorie intake without feeling too full. For instance, corn has more calories than broccoli; cranberry juice has more calories than orange juice. You can also boost calories by drinking milk and juices instead of primarily water. (Reference 1)