5 Strategies to Gain Weight the Right Way

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This is a topic that few people talk about and even less understand. Most people (outside of high level athletics) probably think you are crazy as you want to gain weight and muscle mass to increase performance at a time where what feels like the entire world wants to lose weight. 

But before we get into the topic- ask yourself; why do you want to gain weight? Do you want to gain weight as you truly believe that it will increase your athletic performance or perhaps even improve your health or well-being or are you simply trying to gain weight because your coach told you to do so.

If you participate in a sport I want you to take a look at the best players on your team, in your conference or in your area. What do they look like or what physical traits make them as successful? You obviously can’t control physical characteristics such as height or wingspan but you can control total body mass, body fat percentage etc. 

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How far away are you from them? Is there even a noticeable difference? If the answer is no then the reality is that you do not need to gain weight. So maybe, just maybe- your coach or your perception of yourself is wrong. 

If the answer to the question above is yes you now have a target to work towards. But how can you reach that target and how long will it take? In this article I will provide tips and insights on how to gain weight as an athlete. So without further ado- let’s get into it. 

Baseline measures

Track your bodyweight upon waking for 3 to 7 consecutive days and find your average body weight. Your weight will fluctuate each day due to food consumption, athletic activity, hydration status, menstrual cycle and how much sodium or carbohydrate you consume on the day prior. For example: 

Day Weight 
1185.6
2184.2
3185

Average body weight = 184.9 lbs 

Now that you know your average body weight the next step in the process is to determine your average daily calories. This can be quite a tedious process if you are new to this idea but it does get easier over time as you’ll find you often eat the same or similar meals on a day to day basis. 

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You will probably be surprised to learn that  you are not not consuming anywhere close to how many calories you thought you consumed per day. Athletes say to me all the time “coach I don’t understand it…I eat all the time but I still can’t gain weight”. Perception versus reality can be a lot different. 

Track your calories for 3 to 7 consecutive days and see how this affects your body weight. No weight gain or weight loss? If so- you have now found what is called your maintenance calories. You can also use a number of different calculators or equations to help estimate your daily calorie requirements. The Cunningham equation seems to be the best choice for active athletes. 

Calorie surplus 

To gain weight each week you will need to be in a calorie surplus. In simple terms this means that you will need to consume more calories than you burn each day to gain weight. Now that you have found your maintenance calories I recommend starting out by adding an additional 10% to this number to find your goal calories per day. For example:

Maintenance calories = 2,400

2,400 x 1.1 = 2,640 calories per day

Start with a small increase (around 10%) over maintenance calories for the first week and evaluate the effectiveness of this new goal. Have you gained any weight? If the answer is no look to bump your calories up by another 5 to 10% the following week. There is no one size fits all approach to weight gain and your result will depend on your training history, genetics etc. 

Macronutrient breakdown

In this section I will share with you a couple of big picture items that you will need in order to accomplish your goal of gaining weight. Once you have found your estimated daily calorie requirements you will need to break down this further

  • 20-30% of your total calories per day should be from fat 
  • Plan to consume at least 1.6 grams of protein per kg body mass per day. This number can range from 1.6 to 2.0 grams per kg but 1.6 grams should be your minimum number. 
  • Your remaining calories should be consumed in the form of carbohydrates

Calorie breakdown and example

  • 1 gram of fat equals 9 calories
  • 1 gram of protein equals 4 calories
  • 1 gram of carbohydrate equals 4 calories 

Let’s continue to breakdown the example of 2,640 calories from above:

30% of 2,460 calories equals 738. 1 gram of fat equals 9 calories so 738 divided by 9 equals 82 grams of fat per day. 

84kg (184.9lbs divided by 2.2) multiplied by 2 equals 168. Therefore, the protein goal is 168 grams per day. [672 calories]

82g fat equals 738

168g protein equals 672 

Total fat and protein calories equal 1,410 

Calories remaining = 2,640 minus 1,410

Calories remaining = 1,230

Calories from carbohydrate = 1,230

Grams of carbohydrate per day = 307

I hope you’re still with me here- now we have our daily summary/goal: 

307g carbohydrate

168g protein 

82g fat

Training Program

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Don’t get too caught up on the details of a strength training program as there are a million different types of programs that can help you work towards your goal of gaining weight. Rather than continually researching for the best program of all time or hoping that the next YouTube video will reveal the secret you’ve been waiting for why don’t you actually just start? Start working towards your goal today and keep the following principles in mind

  • Train 3-5 times per week
  • Choose multi-joint or full body movements where possible
  • Choose 4-8 exercises per day
  • Keep in the range of 3-5 sets per exercise and 6-12 reps per set 
  • Train at at least a 7 out of 10 difficulty 

Evaluate 

Is the program working? Are you gaining weight each week? Did you hit your calorie and training goals every day this week? What can you do differently next week?

Weight Gain Tips

These did not fit in well with the above categories but I feel like they still will have value to you.

  • Decrease calories if you are gaining more than 1-1.5%  body weight each week. You’re probably gaining too much fat mass.
  • Have breakfast every day. Don’t try to catch up on your calories later in the day.
  • Know where your next meal is coming from. 
  • Consume liquid calories; smoothies, shakes, fruit juices and milk are good ways to increase your daily calories 
  • Consume six meals per day; breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as 3 snacks throughout the day. 
  • Limit excess cardio training where possible
  • Sleep 7-9 hours per night
  • Take creatine 

I hope this article helps you work towards your goal of gaining weight. If you think this article could have value for your friends, teammates or coaches please share.