Weight management can be an issue for athletes, even with their active lifestyles. While some athletes may seek to lose weight to improve performance, others have trouble maintaining or gaining weight because of a high metabolism or heavy training schedule. Weight gain in the form of muscle mass helps athletes, such as football or hockey players, increase their power and strength in play.
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Athletes often think that their active lifestyle means they can eat whatever they'd like. But too much sugar, saturated fat and refined grains doesn't lead to healthy weight gain. A solid weight-training program combined with increased portion sizes, more healthy, high-calorie snacks and extra protein is the best way for athletes to increase size.
An Athlete's Calorie Needs for Weight Gain
To gain weight, you must eat more calories than you burn. As an athlete, your calorie burn rate is likely higher than most sedentary people your age. Use an online calculator or talk to a dietitian to figure out how many calories you need to maintain your size. You'll have to consider your age, size, gender and activity level.
Increase that number by 250 to 500 calories to gain 1/2 to 1 pound per week. This rate may seem slow, but it's only physically possible to gain a little less than 1/2 a pound of muscle per week. Gaining weight faster means you're putting on excess body fat, which won't help your agility or strength on the track, court or field.
Support Workouts With Nutrition
Eat three solid meals and two to three smaller snacks daily. Plan to fuel before and after workouts -- so if you have two practices a day, you'll need to budget for extra meals. A preworkout meal containing carbohydrates and a little protein gives you energy. Your post-workout meal should also combine carbohydrates and protein. This will replenish your muscles' energy stores and support muscle protein synthesis, the process by which muscles increase in size and thickness.
Your coach can help you design a weight-training program that includes compound exercises to address all of the major muscle groups. Use heavy weights that fatigue your muscles in four to eight repetitions and work up to at least three sets. Keep up this gym routine at least twice per week -- more if your training and practice schedules permit. Leave at least 48 hours between heavy lifting for muscle groups to allow for repair and growth.
Food Choices for Weight Gain
Support a higher calorie intake with increased portions of healthy foods at meals -- think starchy vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, unsaturated fats and dairy. At snacks, reach for calorie-dense foods such as trail mix, seeds, granola and whole-grain crackers with nut butter.
As an athlete, you need more protein than the average person to help you build muscle and recover from workouts. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends you consume between 0.6 and 0.9 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. For a 160-pound athlete, that's between 96 and 144 grams daily across all of your meals.
In addition to eating a few extra ounces of meat, beans or poultry at meals, use pre- and post-workout time to add protein too. Whey protein powder is convenient and helps supply extra calories in a smoothie made with fruit, nut butter and milk. Whole foods, such as canned tuna, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and eggs, also make convenient snacks with a high protein content.
Calorie-Dense Additions to Meals
Consuming a lot of food all the time is a tough habit to sustain. You may be able to settle for slightly smaller portions or fewer snacks if you increase the calorie density of the foods you do eat. Choose thick slabs of whole-wheat bread or bagels instead of thin white varieties. Go for chunky soups over broth, starchy vegetables over green salad and milk instead of water. Spread nut butter on fruit and toast, or stir it into oatmeal. Toss vegetables with olive oil before roasting them, and use oil to coat pasta. Spread guacamole on sandwiches and burritos. Mix dried cranberries and almonds into cereal or salads. Add dried milk powder to liquid milk or smoothies. These additions help you take in enough calories so your body builds lean muscle mass instead of burning it for energy.