Mar 29, 2018
Football Gains
Pratik Patel

A few years ago at the University of Oregon, I had a football player needing to gain weight. “Shaun” was a 6-foot-3-inch, 217-pound outside linebacker and coaches wanted him to gain 20 to 30 pounds of mass and increase his strength.

Shaun typically required anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 calories per day to maintain his old weight, so we figured he needed 4,500 to 6,000 calories per day to reach his new weight goal in the time allotted. We started him at the bottom of the range. The goal was for him to gain one to two pounds per week, and when he reached a plateau, we would bump up his daily calorie intake by 500 with snacks and increased meal portions.

Of course, just because Shaun was trying to gain weight didn’t mean he could eat everything in sight. We wanted him to put on as much muscle mass as possible while minimizing his fat mass gains. To help Shaun stay on the right path, we gave him some basic dietary guidelines to follow:

• Bookend all workouts with carbs and protein

• No skipping meals

• Eat every three to four hours

• Build adequate meal performance plates

• Eat calorie-dense snacks

• Hydrate throughout the entire day based on fluid loss and needs

• Supplement with a standard multivitamin and vitamin D3

• Eat a consistent amount of calories throughout the day — don’t make dinner the largest single meal of the day.

We also revamped Shaun’s meal plan to give him a more specific idea of what to eat on a daily basis. Much of it remained similar to his diet as a linebacker, except we included more calories earlier in the day — especially before a lift or practice — and bulked up his dinners and evening snacks.

To make things easier for Shaun logistically and financially, we structured a lot of his fueling around what our department could provide. For example, we offer a breakfast/brunch, grab-and-go midday snack, pre- and post-workout snacks, and an evening training table meal.

Below is an example of Shaun’s weight-gain eating plan for a day when he had a morning lift or practice:

Pre-lift/pre-practice: Whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and jelly or one cup of oatmeal with fruit and two tablespoons of peanut butter, Greek yogurt, strawberry nutrition shake, 12 ounces of sports drink, and a multivitamin and vitamin D3

Post-lift/post-practice: 24 ounces of a blended weight-gain shake

Breakfast: Omelet or egg scramble (two whole eggs, four egg whites, spinach, tomato, mushrooms, onions, cheese, and ham), one cup of hash browns, a waffle with peanut butter and syrup, one cup of sliced fruit, and 16 ounces of chocolate milk

During class: Hydrate with water based on average sweat losses from training

Midday snack/small lunch: One packet of trail mix or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, 1.5 ounces of beef jerky, and 16 ounces of fruit smoothie

Dinner: Eight ounces of lean protein (chicken, steak, or fish), one to two cups of starch/whole grains, two or three servings of vegetables, and 16 ounces of chocolate milk or 100 percent fruit juice

Pre-bed snack: One cup of flavored Greek yogurt with one to two tablespoons of peanut butter, one cup of oatmeal or two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and eight to 16 ounces of milk.

As Shaun started following his new meal plan, we monitored his progress to make sure he was gaining the right kind of weight. The Sports Nutrition staff conducted weekly weigh-ins prior to lifting, and the strength coaches and sport coaches put Shaun through a variety of physical tests in the weightroom and on the field. His results were then compared to his previous scores and benchmarks from other defensive linemen to ensure he was progressing and performing adequately at his higher weight.

Before spring ball began, we conducted a body composition assessment to see how far Shaun had come in nine weeks. Overall, he gained 23 pounds, which included 15 pounds of muscle and eight pounds of fat.

Although Shaun was successful in gaining the weight needed to play defensive lineman, it was by no means easy. Early on, he had trouble getting comfortable with being uncomfortable — and by uncomfortable, I mean stuffing his face all day. To help him push through this, I’d watch him eat and tell him to get more food/fluids if what he consumed was insufficient.

Shaun didn’t like to eat much early in the day, either, so getting him to fuel before morning lifts and practices was difficult at first. I’d always remind him to grab his pre- and post-workout recovery items, and I’d bring them to him if he forgot. After a few weeks, however, he got used to eating early and began to slowly incorporate more food in the morning.

In addition, weigh-ins were occasionally problematic because Shaun experienced some discouraging results over the nine-week span. To keep his spirits up, we reminded him that results wouldn’t come overnight. Plateaus would happen, and he had to power through them.

When Shaun struggled with any of these challenges, I found the most helpful thing to do was just be there for him and keep him motivated. Depending on what he needed, I’d answer questions, provide necessary education, take him to the grocery store, send him recipes, and respond to picture messages of his meals and snacks when he was away from our facilities. I also offered daily meal coaching at breakfast and dinner to make sure Shaun’s weight gain performance plates were adequate.

I wasn’t alone in supporting Shaun, though. There were a lot of people involved in his transition, and constant communication was key to quickly resolving problems. For instance, Shaun got sick a few times, which made it difficult for him to maintain his caloric intake. When this happened, the Sports Nutrition staff collaborated with the sports medicine staff to switch Shaun to liquid calories, while also encouraging him to get plenty of sleep, fluids, protein, vitamin C, iron, zinc, and probiotics.

Gaining weight to switch positions seems like a simple concept on paper. But when put into practice, it can be a difficult goal to achieve. Athletes can be successful if they are provided a plan that works within their schedule, adequate resources are available, and all involved staff members can effectively collaborate, communicate, and provide support.

Image by Amy Anderson Photography

Pratik Patel, MS, RD, CSSD, is the Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Oregon.

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