Balancing Your Weight Gain Diet

The best and simplest weight-gain diet follows a pumped-up version of the fundamental guidelines for healthy eating as described in chapter 1. I suggest that you keep food records for a few days to assess your typical intake, then figure out where you could plug in more calories. Steve, a volleyball player, described to me what he typically ate, and together we listed ways he could consume more, without much effort, at certain times of the day. The following chart shows what Steve typically ate as well as some suggestions for how he could work more calories into his daily intake:

Typical intake Calorie booster Added calories

Breakfast

1 bagel

2 tbsp peanut butter 8 oz (240 ml) orange juice

Lunch 1 sandwich 8 oz (240 ml) milk 1 cookie

Snack

Nothing

Dinner

Lasagna Salad Bread Milk

By adding more to his meals and snack, he could potentially pump his intake by 1,500 calories. Granted, that is a lot of additional food. He

Another bagel +300

Another 2 tbsp peanut butter +200

Another 8 oz (240 ml) orange juice +100

Another 1/2 sandwich +200

Another 8 oz (240 ml) milk +100

Another cookie +100

Granola bar +200

Cran-apple juice +200

Apple +100

might not eat all of that every day, but at least he knew how to get more calories with little fuss or effort. He just needed to be responsible and set aside enough time to eat the extra calories.

If you are into the mathematical approach to weight gain, follow this more complex plan: Your muscles become saturated with glycogen when fed about 3 to 5 grams of carbohydrate per pound (6 to 10 g per kg) of body weight, and your body uses less than 1 gram of protein per pound (2 g per kg) under growth conditions, so your primary dietary goal is to satisfy these requirements for carbohydrate and protein. Then you can choose the balance of the calories from a variety of (preferably healthful) sources of fat or carbohydrate.

For example, Alex, a high school football player, wanted to gain weight. He was 5 feet, 10 inches (178 cm), weighed 140 pounds (64 kg), and wanted to gain 15 to 20 pounds (7 to 9 kg). I calculated that he was maintaining his weight at about 3,000 calories per day, and I recommended that he eat about 20 percent more to gain weight and try to hit the following targets.

Caloric increase. First, we calculated what a 20 percent increase in calories would mean for his daily eating plan:

20% X 3,000 cal = about 600 more cal = 3,600 total cal = 4 meals at 900 cal each

Carbohydrate. Then, we calculated his carbohydrate requirements by planning for him to consume 4 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. Remember, the carbohydrate consumption target is about 3 to 5 grams per pound, or about 6 to 10 grams per kilogram. This recommendation results in about 55 to 65 percent of calories from grains, fruits, vegetables, and other forms of carbohydrate.

4 g carb X 140 lb = 560 g carb 560 g carb X 4 cal = 2,240 cal carb 2,240 cal carb / 3,600 total cal = 62% cal carb

Thus, Alex needed about 560 carbohydrate calories (140 g carb) in each of his four meals per day).

  1. His protein target was 0.7 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound (1.5 to 2.0 g per kg), resulting in about 12 to 15 percent of calories from lean meats, beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy products.
  2. 8 g protein X 140 lb = 112 g protein 112 g protein X 4 calories = 448 cal protein 448 cal protein / 3,600 total cal = 12% cal protein

Therefore, Alex needed about 40 grams of protein at three meals per day (or he could spread his protein intake over four meals a day plus snacks).

Fat. The balance of Alex's daily calories should come primarily from the healthful fat in peanut butter, nuts, and olive and canola oil, which places Alex's fat consumption in the recommended range of 25 to 30 percent of total calories.

26% X 3,600 total calories = 936 cal fat 936 cal fat / 9 cal = 104 g fat

This means that Alex could include about 26 grams of primarily healthful fat at each of his four meals.

I taught another client, Martin, how to read food labels to learn more about the composition of the foods he was eating. He was surprised to learn that he could get most of his protein requirement from one 6-ounce (175 g) can of tuna (40 grams of protein) at lunch, two chicken breasts at dinner (80 grams of protein), and 1 quart (1 L) of low-fat milk (40 grams of protein) throughout the day. He no longer felt compelled to eat egg-white omelets for breakfast and to buy expensive protein bars for snacks. Instead, he ate balanced carbohydrate-based meals, such as tuna on a hefty whole-grain sub roll and 16 ounces (480 ml) of low-fat chocolate milk at lunch, then chicken, two baked potatoes, a hefty salad, and more milk at dinner.

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