How to Effectively Eat for the Gains

Do you struggle to gain weight? Has your strength training stalled because you just can’t seem to put on that extra 5 pounds? This is one of the most common goals we see among the athletes we encounter.

 The role nutrition plays in a weight training regimen is arguably more important than the training itself, ESPECIALLY in younger athletes who need a general stimulus to elicit muscle growth. Most good strength and conditioning coaches would agree that even the best-written program in the world loses effectiveness without proper nutrient intake. As a strength coach, one of the most rewarding parts of the job is seeing people buy into lifestyle changes, and truly become better! These are the athletes who monitor what they take in, listen to their body, and most importantly, listen to their coaches.

 Far too often I see young guys fail to put on the weight just assuming they will be able to eat more. You have to know HOW MUCH to eat! YOU MUST INTAKE MORE ENERGY THAN YOU EXPEND. PERIOD. This is the golden rule of dieting, whether it be weight loss or weight gain. It’s very simple balance between energy intake and output. If you take in more than you expend, you WILL gain weight. Most people have no clue how much they really eat. If you only eat 1800 calories in a normal day, the extra 400 from an extra PBJ or two isn’t going to be enough if you’re bouncing between games, practice, and training.

 The other problem I see is that people think they can just “bulk.” You can’t just wake up one day and start eating like a body builder if you’re not accustomed to a high calorie diet. That would be no different than deadlifting 600 lbs your first day in the gym. These things take time and strategic effort!

 With this in mind we thought it might help to share a few tips on how to eat for the gains!


1.     Eat Lean Protein and vegetables with every meal. Most athletes, especially those involved in weight training, need about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. There are countless recommendations and ratios out there, but this is typically a good place to start. Protein’s primary role in the body is to build and repair tissue, including muscles. So we must have it! Vegetables are non negotiable. Find a way to prepare them to your liking and include them with your meals. They contain micronutrients like calcium, potassium, and magnesium that are critical for normal function in the human body. Preparing them in unsaturated oils (i.e., olive, avocado, coconut, etc.) is another great way to add calories for those who need higher caloric intake.


2.     Eat more frequently. I like to recommend eating every 2-3 hours. Keeping the blood sugar stable helps with energy and reduced feelings of fatigue. Additionally, this puts you in a better position to intake more energy than you expend. (Remember the golden rule!) Bring cliff bars or PBJ, or a protein shake, or all of the above with you to school, practice, weights, etc. Some other good on the go options:

 a.     Nuts

b.     PB Crackers

c.     Fruit Smoothies (throw some protein powder in)

d.     Protein/Energy Bars (Beware of crazy ingredients lists/excess sugar)

e.     Fruit

 3.     KEEP A FOOD LOG! Writing down what you eat is the only way to accurately keep count. Unless you’re an experienced athlete/eater, you can’t just ball park everything. Keep a journal in which you can document what you ate, when you ate it, and how much energy you took in. There are several great smart phone apps out there that not only help you log, but can also tell you calorie and macronutrient volumes. We give out a 3 day food log to our new clients, and almost without fail some thing like this happens:

Me: “Thanks for turning in your food log! I took a look at it and made some notes for you. Did you know you only ate 55 grams of protein in this 72  hours? And it looks like you’re only averaging 2000 calories a day.”

Athlete: “Really? I thought I was eating way more!”

Me: Face Palm.

 Food logs help keep us honest, and guide us more accurately.

 4.     Supplement Protein Powder. I get asked often for protein supplement recommendations. I don’t have any loyalty to any particular brand or blend, and truth be told it can be a financial burden! My recommendations are to find a brand and product that you trust and to look for quality ingredient lists. Whey and Casein are typically the most popular and effective. Avoid ingredient lists with lots of words that are hard to read—the fewer the ingredients, typically the cleaner and purer the product. Feel free to add yogurt or peanut butter or throw it into a smoothie. There are endless recipe options for protein powder supplements that are delicious. Protein smoothies are a great way to take care of daily fruit recommendations and include vital micronutrients! No more than 1-3 per day though, and include this intake with the body weight recommendation from above. Protein powder supplements shouldn’t replace real, quality food for individuals trying to gain weight.

 5.     Eat a hearty breakfast. This is my number one pet peeve with young kids who want to train hard in the summer. Set the foundation for your higher calorie day early. Consider this: dinner at 8 PM- Xbox until 12:30 AM- sleep until 9 or 10 AM. The game is at 12PM and a bowl of Fruity Pebbles isn’t enough to break that 14-15 hour fast. Even Ferraris need gas to drive fast. Understand that the food you eat is the energy you need to train or hit homeruns. Get up 30 minutes earlier and crush some eggs and oatmeal. If you don’t want to make eggs, here’s a simple and delicious way to get a lot of bang for your buck with a quick breakfast. You can make this in less than 5 minutes!  

Coach Jonny’s Oatmeal Deluxe:

      1 Cup of Oatmeal

      1 Serving Frozen Blueberries

      Approximately 1 serving of Almond Milk (you can make it thin or thick depending on your taste)

      1 Serving Peanut Butter

      1 Serving Protein Powder

      And A Dash of Cinnamon Sugar

45 Grams Protein, 70 grams Carbohydrates, 18g fat. (Approximately 622 Calories)

45 Grams Protein, 70 grams Carbohydrates, 18g fat. (Approximately 622 Calories)

6.     Crush Water. Muscle tissue is highly constituted by water. Being well hydrated allows you to perform, metabolize all the protein you’re downing, and keeps you healthy. The old 64oz/day recommendation is enough for Grandma during bingo. You’re an athlete, and you’re going to sweat a ton in the July heat. Get a 30-40oz canteen and drink 3-4 per day.

We hope this is helpful! Have a question or comment? Let us know what you think, and be sure to follow us on social media!