Tips for Athlete Weight Gain Goals

By Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN

Tips for Athlete Weight Gain

The off-season is right around the corner, which means for many young athletes, summer workouts begin in order to prepare for the next season. For some, the goal is losing weight, but for others, the goal is gaining weight and packing on lean muscle.

While there are many components to the performance puzzle, the piece that often gets overlooked is nutrition. This article discusses four reasons it may be difficult for athletes to gain weight and strategies on how to overcome them.

Excessive Activity

Athletes are being asked to do more work and activity today than ever before, thinking that it will help them become a better athlete. From additional workouts and 7-on-7 practices, to hiring additional trainers and coaches to have athletes lift more is causing muscle breakdown. It’s not uncommon to see young athletes burning 4000-6000 calories a day during the summer.

Ideas for Athletes to Consider:

  • Limit activity to no more than three hours of physical movement per day.
  • Avoid additional lifting/conditioning workouts on top of what you are doing at school.
  • Avoid excess running, if you’re already conditioning.
  • Keep other activities to low intensity and to less than an hour in duration (i.e., pick-up basketball, swimming) to avoid needing an additional 1000 calories per day.

Skipping Breakfast/Infrequent Eating Patterns

            Nearly 30-40% of high school athletes skip breakfast, because they don’t feel they have time. In reality, they want to sleep later. Skipping breakfast puts a body in a further calorie deficit and makes it difficult to catch up on calorie needs. If an athlete is short on time, try a few quick grab-and-go options:

  • Two handfuls of trail mix and fruit (i.e., mixed nuts, granola, dark chocolate chips.)
  • Peanut or sunflower butter and jelly sandwich and a pre-made protein shake.
  • Breakfast protein smoothie (protein powder, milk, peanut butter, banana, oats.)
  • Nutrition bar, fruit, and pre-made protein shake.

Sleeping Too Late on Weekends

            It’s very common for young athletes to want to sleep until 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The biggest problem with sleeping late is that it off-sets body weight goals by missing out on critical calories needed to make up for what was not consumed during the week. For example, if an athlete eats six to seven meals or snacks during the week to meet goals, sleeping past 11 a.m. could mean missing a meal or snack that would have normally been consumed during the weekday.

A few ideas to consider:

  • Eat the first meal no later than 9 a.m. and eat a meal or snack every three hours after.
  • Have a protein smoothie in the morning and then go back to sleep.
  • Go to bed an hour earlier on weekends.

Not Bringing Food to School or Not Having a Plan

            To ensure meeting calorie goals, the most important habit to maintain is bringing food to school. Since athletes are on campus for 10-12 hours a day, additional calories are needed to meet the physical demands of the sport.

Take a few minutes each day or 20 minutes during the weekend to prepare snacks. Make 10-15 sandwiches, 10-15 bags of trail mix, and pack nutrition bars and fruit so that grabbing fuel needed for the day is easy to do on the way to school. Planning and preparation, as in any game or match, will not only improve strength and lean muscle, but improve performance.

To learn more please tune in to the ALL ME® Podcast and hear Tavis discuss more about “Strategies for Weight Gain”:

About the Author

Tavis Piattoly is also the co-founder and Director of Sports Nutrition for My Sports Dietitian ( and the Eat 2 Win Nutrition App, a nutrition education platform for athletes, coaches, parents, and sports medicine professionals through the use of technology and guidance of a Sports Dietitian. 

He is also the Education Program Manager and Sports Dietitian for the Taylor Hooton Foundation. He was the Sports Dietitian for the New Orleans Saints from 2006-2013 and New Orleans Pelicans from 2008-2013. He also served as the Sports Dietitian for the Tulane Athletics from 2002-2014 and the Tulane Institute of Sports Medicine’s NFL Players Association Brain and Body program from 2013-2016. He currently designs nutrition plans for various professional, college, and high school athletes in addition to serving as a consultant to high school athletic programs. As a 22-year veteran sports dietitian, he has worked with dietary supplement companies on product formulation and education.

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