What Young Athletes Get All Wrong About Trying to Gain Weight

The ultimate goal should always be to gain quality weight and promote long-term health in the process.

The start of a new school year is fast approaching, and my office is officially flooded with young athletes trying to put on weight for their sport.

"My coach wants me to gain 20 pounds!"

"My dad said I'll probably start if I'm 15 pounds heavier."


The start of a new school year is fast approaching, and my office is officially flooded with young athletes trying to put on weight for their sport.

"My coach wants me to gain 20 pounds!"

"My dad said I'll probably start if I'm 15 pounds heavier."

The list goes on and on. Although healthy weight gain can certainly be advantageous for your position or sport, the goal should never be to slam a large pizza before bed and snack on pints of ice cream between meals in order to make it happen.

But you do need calories, and lots of them. According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, male high school athletes need between 3,000 and 6,000 calories a day, and female high school athletes need between 2,200 and 4,000 calories a day. For an athlete trying to gain weight, those figures are significantly higher.

Will you be able to reach your goal weight by slamming non-stop junk food? Probably. BUT, is it worth it if that leaves you bloated, sluggish and constantly holding back flatulence in class? Because that's where you're headed if you go that route!

The ultimate goal should always be to gain quality weight and promote long-term health in the process. Not only is it entirely possible, but your results will be much more impressive and sustainable. With that in mind, here are my top three tips to gain good weight like a champion.

1. Eat Real Food!

It's incredible how many highly educated athletes still think that eating processed food, fast food or desserts is the best way to put weight on for performance.

Football star today, chronically ill patient tomorrow? No, thank you. The reality is that if you're constantly relying on the drive thru and highly processed foods to gain weight, you may be successful in getting into a consistent caloric surplus, but you're going to feel like dirt. You're going to get tired faster, you're going to see a decrease in motivation, and it's going to take you longer to recover.

My first tip is simply to eat real food. What qualifies as real food? Food that's existed for hundreds of years. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, tubers, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meats, fish, dairy, etc. Choose versions that are made of as few ingredients as possible and contain as little added sugar as possible.

But the hard truth is that you won't gain weight if you only eat carrots and spinach all day. You need calorie-dense, nutrient-rich foods at every single meal.

For example, adding frozen avocado to your breakfast smoothie can create an awesome milkshake-like texture while adding an additional 130 calories! Mixing in two TBSP of peanut butter to your afternoon or nighttime oats will add an extra 200 calories. Drizzling a tablespoon of olive oil on your baked potato at dinner will add 120 calories without changing volume! Over time, if you are consistent, these small changes really add up.

2. Do Not Skip Meals

You laugh because this sounds so simple, but I can't begin to tell you how many times each day that I review a food journal only to see that the athlete has skipped breakfast and or lunch, and then binged at dinner.

"I slept in so I skipped breakfast."

"I was rushed between class and practice so I forgot to eat lunch."

"I didn't like anything in the cafeteria so I just ate a protein bar."

Not only is saving your calories until the end of the day terrible for digestion, but it can actually hinder you from achieving deep, restful sleep. Plus, our bodies were designed to digest and absorb nutrients from several thousand calories over the span of an entire day, not at one sitting!

Lastly, it is virtually impossible for a young athlete to consume adequate calories to fuel training demands AND promote weight gain if they're skipping even just one meal a day.

Breakfast is the most overlooked, and it takes all of five extra minutes to whip up something that can help you get in some quality calories and start your day off right. Oatmeal or whole-grain toast with nut butter is just one of many super simple solutions.

If you struggle to eat regularly, setting a timer on your phone every 2-3 hours as a reminder to enjoy a meal or snack will help with consistency until your new eating regimen becomes second nature.

3. Don't Fall for the Hype

I know it seems so convenient to chug the latest mass gainer that touts 50-60 grams of protein and 1,000 calories per serving but that's not the smartest approach.


For starters, the ingredients are usually crummy and the macronutrient profile is way too massive for a human to digest at one time. This ultimately leads to gastrointestinal (GI) disturbance, which leads to the inability to consume ample calories in the meals to follow. So while it may seem as though you're making a smart move, it may only hinder your progress in the long run.

Additionally, our gut microbiome (the collection of bacteria, fungi and microbes residing within our digestive tract) should be diverse and well-balanced. When our bacteria is happy and balanced, we experience more energy, better digestion, better bowel habits, and a more powerful immune system. One of the best ways to ensure this balance is to eat real food and avoid the myriad chemicals, food dyes, artificial sweeteners, etc. commonly found in "rapid weight gain" powders and products.

Instead, choose a quality whey or plant-based protein powder with minimal ingredients and blend it with whole, nutrient-dense food.

The reality is that most athletes (and teen athletes, in particular) will struggle to get enough calories to gain good weight from food alone. This is where drinking your calories can be a massive help.

For optimal digestion, consume roughly 30g of protein at one time (the body has trouble handling amounts beyond that in one sitting). I developed the recovery shake recipes below for my professional athletes trying to gain weight.

1. Blueberry Cinnamon Toast Crunch

  • Vanilla protein powder (25-30g protein)
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 2 TBSP cashew butter
  • 10-12 oz vanilla almond milk, cow's milk or cashew milk
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

2. PB and J Deluxe

  • Vanilla protein powder (25-30g protein)
  • 2 TBSP peanut butter
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries or strawberries
  • 10-12 oz vanilla sweetened almond milk

3. Almond Joy

  • Chocolate Protein Powder (25-30g protein)
  • 2 TBSP shredded coconut flakes
  • 1 large frozen banana
  • 10-12 oz coconut milk or chocolate milk of choice

Interested in learning a little more? In this article, you can see how I edit my athlete's food journals to support healthy weight gain. For more free nutrition tips that can help you raise your game, follow me on Instagram @FWDFuel!

Photo Credit: Fertnig/iStock