Gaining weight for some people is harder than others. Many refer to this body type as “hard gainers”.
“I eat all the time”
I commonly hear this from the majority of athletes I meet who need to put on weight. I chuckle at this inside since that’s how I was, similar to many weak and skinny high school athletes. Not until I got to the college baseball level did I realize I had no idea how much I needed to eat. In this article I will give you my top three lifestyle and nutrition tips for gaining weight.
Just like lifting weights, you need a different perspective on what “eating a lot” is. There’s a common saying:
“If you want to be strong, don’t be the strongest guy in your gym.”
If you need to put on weight, you should abide by that saying and lift with people much stronger than you. Likewise, you should try eating with them. Your perspective will completely change and more than likely you will reap the benefits.
As I mentioned, when I got to college I was baseball catcher. I stood 6’3” and weighed 165 pounds up next to my three other teammates at the same position all-weighing 200+ pounds. I new I had work to do, so I tagged along with some upperclassmen my entire freshman year.
We ate three all-you-can-eat cafeteria meals topped off with a glass of chocolate milk, one fast food meal, and 3-4 500 calorie protein shakes per day. I put on 40 pounds in a 10-month span. This was definitely not the healthiest plan of action, but my point is that my thought process towards eating changed because of it and it helped tremendously.
Now, I’m not advocating you participate in an eating contest 3-5 times per day with your buddies, but definitely don’t go out to eat with someone on a diet either. There’s a smarter approach. Step one for gaining weight as a “hard gainer” should be:
1. Change your environment and perspective towards what “eating a lot” is.
We’ve all heard that sleep is the time when your body repairs itself from the work you’ve put in. This is true. You must respect that when the engine is running you are depleting your body, and when you sleep, eat, and hydrate you are replenishing it. My next piece of advice is to sleep more.
2. If you’re not sleeping, you’re not trying.
After about three months into my weight gain journey my freshman year I hit a bit of a plateau. I was eating like a maniac and lifting six days per week. I was getting frustrated when it seemed the progress had stalled, even with the consistency with training and eating.
After a conversation with my coach, he recommended more sleep. He told me to sleep as much as possible at night and to add a nap in everyday. I like lifting and eating, but the thought of more was overwhelming. So it was quite the relief when my coach recommended more rest and not more work. I followed his advice and the progress shot up again dramatically for another 3-4 month span.
3. My last tip is to choose more calorie-dense foods into your daily intake.
In the fitness industry you will hear about nutrient-dense vs. calorie-dense foods. In this case, most refer to nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables being low calorie with tons of nutrients. On the contrary, fast food, candy, and soft drinks have virtually zero nutrition benefits along with extremely high calories when compared to the size of the food.
You could eat an entire box of strawberries and it would still be less calories then one snickers bar.
What I’m recommending is to increase your healthy calories through increasing your fat intake. Fat has 9 calories per gram as compared to the 4 that protein and carbohydrates contain. Therefore, if weight gain is something you need, dietary fat is your friend. Less food with more calories equals a win-win. You can search for a previous article I wrote on the benefits of fat in the diet for a more in-depth description on this macronutrient. For the sake of this article, I will give you food choices higher in healthy fats that will increase your calorie intake and help you gain more weight.
For protein we commonly hear chicken and fish being recommended to eat. These are both great choices, however, for the hard gainer you might want to keep chicken to 1-2 times per week and consume more red meat options like steak and high quality ground beef. Again, refer back to my last article on fats to examine the risk/benefit of more saturated fat consumption. This article is geared toward hard gainers, and in that case, more frequent red meat is probably not going to be an issue.
As far as fish goes, make sure you are eating primarily higher fat choices such as salmon. Salmon is a great food choice for just about anyone. It contains high protein with a ton of omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s are essential to your health and cannot be made from other nutrients. Tilapia is a very low calorie fish option and, unlike salmon, has low amounts of fat. Tilapia may be good for weight loss but salmon is your go to if you want to get big.
My last option is fruit and snacks. For many teenage athletes snacks look like a bag of chips, cookies, or candy. This is simply unacceptable if you have big goals as an athlete and care about your health. Replace the junk with things like seeds and nuts and you have a higher calorie option with a ton of great nutrients. I have had success with eating a handful of shell-less sunflower seed kernels and almonds throughout the day. Don’t forget a good ole fashion pb&j as well.
When it comes to fruit we are no longer talking about fats typically. However, we are talking about high nutrient-dense foods that athletes must be consuming on a daily basis to achieve their best athletic performances. For hard gainers, stick with higher calorie fruits primarily like dried fruits, avocado, and bananas. Low calorie fruits like strawberries, cantaloupe, and peaches should still be consumed but maybe less frequently when compared to the higher calorie options.
There you have it. From one former “hard gainer” to a current one: stop saying you can’t eat anymore. That’s like saying you’re not willing to try. Take these tips and make some adjustments to your lifestyle and nutrition. If you’re consistent, you will most likely get the ball rolling in the right direction.