For most athletes, getting physically stronger and bigger is a means to improve their sports performance and create a competitive edge.
Maybe you’re a high school freshman or sophomore athlete looking to take the next step to the varsity level. Or you may be a junior or senior trying to stand out and play your sport at the collegiate level.
Adding strength, muscle, and overall body weight can be tough considering all the athlete’s daily movement. Think about how much energy you are burning with all the scheduled long practices, weight room sessions, and extra skill work.
To gain muscle and overall body weight, you have to create an environment where your energy tank is never empty or depleted. To do this, you have to eat nutrient-dense foods that provide ample energy (aka calories) while repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue.
Carbohydrates and fats are the nutrients that provide all the energy needed to play your sport and workout. With ample amounts, the right types of carbs and fats will help you gain good weight that will transfer over to better performance.
Protein is the nutrient that repairs and builds muscles post-workout, throughout the day, and after practices or games. With ample amounts, quality protein sources will help build strength and muscle tissue to assist your carbs and fat in gaining more overall weight.
Determining Portions of Foods
Think about your meals throughout the day and what foods make up those meals.
For most athletes, their plates should have:
1-2 palm-sized portions of protein—the thickness and size of your palm
- Meat, fish, whole eggs, Greek yogurt, tempeh, tofu
- 1-2 scoops of protein powder (plant-based, whey, or collagen powder)
- Store-bought, a single-serving protein drink
At least 1 fist-sized portion of veggies—the thickness and size of your fist
- Any veggies that you enjoy eating raw or cooked
- Mushrooms, peppers, onions, pickles, leafy greens, carrot sticks
- Powdered greens supplement for smoothies and shakes
2 cupped handful of carbs—the amount that would fit into a cupped hand
- A large piece of whole fruit like apple, pear, orange, banana
- Large handful of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, grapes, etc.
- 2-3 pieces of smaller fruit like tangerines, kiwis, peaches, nectarines, etc.
- Grains like rice, quinoa, oats, and granola
- Starchy veggies like baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, or plantain chips
- Legumes and beans like chickpeas, black beans, and pinto beans
- 100% whole wheat or sprouted grain bread, wraps, and bagels
1-2 thumb-sized portions of fat – the thickness and size of your thumb
- Avocado, coconut flakes, dark chocolate
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, cashews, walnuts, chia seeds, or hemp seeds
- Spreads and condiments like hummus, cream cheese, butter, and salad dressings
- Nut milk and nut butters
- Organic dairy products
Your hand size is proportionate to your body size. Its size never changes. This makes it the perfect tool for measuring food and nutrients.
At Least 3 Meals Per Day
An athlete looking to gain muscle and overall bodyweight will eat at least 3 big meals a day. If you are eating 3 balanced meals with the template shown above and are still not seeing progress try adding an additional snack or meal to meet your required protein, fat, and carb needs. A healthy rate of weight gain is 1-2 lbs every 2 weeks.
Consider adding 1 palm-sized portion of protein AND either:
A. 1 cupped handful of carbs. or B. 1 thumb-sized portion of fat. To 1 or 2 meals or as snacks throughout the day.
Smoothies are an easy way to add more muscle-building nutrients without cooking or sitting down for a meal. Try out this template to create your own smoothie that you can drink in between meals or after workouts.
It’s always a good idea to keep snacks like whole fruit, trail mix, dried fruit and nut bars, nut butter and rice cakes, and protein bars in your sports bag for quick snacks on the go.
Don’t Make This Nuturion Mistake
Often, athletes will make the mistake of eating calorie-dense (and not so nutritionally rich) foods like fast food, pizza, baked goods, and weight gainer supplements in an attempt to gain weight by any means necessary.
Yes, this will help you gain overall body weight, but, more times than not, it will lead to weight gain resulting from adding more fat tissue to your body.
By eating carb and fat-rich foods, your weight gain will result from more muscle tissue and smaller amounts of fat tissue on your body.
Examples of nutritional-dense carbohydrates are baked potatoes, quinoa, brown and white rice, beans and lentils, sprouted-grain or 100% whole wheat bread, and real fruit (fresh or frozen).
Examples of nutritionally-dense fat foods are hummus, avocado, coconut flakes, nuts and seeds, nut butter and nut milk, high-quality dairy products like goat cheese, dark chocolate, and protein-rich sources like whole eggs and salmon.
The goal here is to gain weight you can use to be transferable in your sport and in the weight room.