How To Gain Weight As An Athlete

Gaining weight is a crucial part of taking the step up to the next level in many sports, but it can be quite difficult for some people to gain weight effectively. I was one of these people, in high school I was 6’3” and 180lbs and was affectionately referred to as “Skeletor” for my slim frame.

This might not have been a problem but I played quarterback and was prepping for university where I would be frequently chased and tackled by 300lb 25-year-olds. So I dedicated myself to taking control of my nutrition.

I cut out all the junk food and upped the protein levels, drinking a couple of shakes a day. The simple problem was… I didn’t eat enough. As a result, I promptly lost 10 lbs and entered university at 170lbs and ready to be broken like a matchstick. Tough lesson to learn.

Photo of a Bryden O'Flaherty Gaining Weight

Deemed “Skeletor” in high school I’ve certainly had my struggles with gaining weight effectively (Although lowkey Skeletor is jacked…)

Following the end of my first season in 2019, I ditched the healthy eating and started pounding back cookies after workouts. It worked. I jumped back up to 190lbs before COVID hit but suffered from some insane inflammation from the level of sugar I was consuming. I had to find a better way.

So after only a month or so of practices due to COVID this last fall where I dropped back down to 180lb I decided to set a goal weight for myself before the upcoming 2021 season. Going with a relatively ambitious goal of 215lbs I set out to finally hit an effective playing weight.

It took some serious mistakes but I learned that there are three necessary components to gaining weight as an athlete.

  1. You must eat enough to have a caloric surplus,
  2. You must eat enough protein to effectively develop muscle instead of fat, and
  3. You must perform the proper training in the form of hypertrophy training.

Eat Enough Calories

Calories In > Calories Out = Weight Gain

You’d think this one would be obvious right? To gain weight you have to actually eat enough food… but personally, this was probably the most difficult step for me to learn. From eating the wrong foods to eating at a glacial pace there were many lessons I needed to learn to overcome my inability to eat enough calories.

What Should I Eat To Gain Weight?

Caloric Intake = Caloric Density of Your Food X How Much Food You Eat

There are two variables in the number of calories you eat in a day, the amount of food you eat and the caloric density of the food you do eat. So to gain weight quickly all you have to do is maximize those two variables. We’ll focus on the caloric density first.

Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, protein also has 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram and is by far the most calorically dense macronutrient. This makes it easily the best tool for maximizing the caloric density of the food you’re eating. (Alcohol also has 7 calories per gram but that’s a method only for the most dedicated)

Caloric Density of the Macronutrients
Carbohydrates 4 Calories per gram
Protein 4 Calories per gram
Fat 9 Calories per gram

National Agriculture Library (1)

Healthy fats include avocado, nuts, and seeds. My personal favourite that was 90% of the reason I was (spoiler alert) able to hit my goal of 215 in just 4 months was peanut butter. Cheap, tasty, and it doesn’t expire in 3 days like an avocado.

With 90 calories per tablespoon (15g) it is the perfect weight gain ingredient. Besides just straight up eating a spoonful of chunky peanut butter ( 60g, 360 calories) my go-to recipe was a simple protein shake of

  • 1 Scoop of Kaizen NSF-Certified Protein Powder (Use our code SLEDDOG to get 20% off)
  • 1 Large Spoonful of Peanut Butter ( 60g or a 1/4 cup If you want a specific guideline to shoot for)
  • 1 1/2 cups of Milk
  • (Optional - 5g Creatine)
  • Calories: 715, Fat: 40g, Protein: 51g, Carbs: 36g
Photo of a Bryden O'Flaherty Gaining Weight

The go-to weight gain shake for me using Kaizen NSF-Certified Protein Powder and peanut butter

Liquid calories like shakes and smoothies provide an easy way to maximize the number of calories going into your stomach while minimizing the amount of volume those calories take up.

Is Sugar Good For Gaining Weight?

I mentioned that sugar can be a relatively useful option for increasing the caloric density of your food. The quick absorption of simple sugars and high caloric density enables your body to quickly gain weight, but it comes at a cost.

Junk food has almost no nutritional value which can lead to deficiencies in certain micronutrients. These deficiencies can lead to serious health problems and shouldn’t be underestimated for their potential negative effects.

In addition, sugar has an inflammatory effect leading to an increased tendency for injuries and decreased recovery from workouts. (2)

But junk food can help you gain weight, usually in the form of body fat. If you are aiming for a perfectly clean weight gain where you strictly gain muscle throughout the entire process, stay away from the junk food, but personally speaking, eating like garbage was a crucial part of attaining my goal in a realistic time frame.

I had tried a clean weight gain before and failed so I decided that I just wanted to get the weight on me and if need be I had enough leeway to my season that I could ‘cut’ it off if need be.

I entered the mindset of eating anything I wanted without restriction. Cake, muffins, chips, cookies, chocolate, anything… and it definitely helped with gaining weight (fat not muscle).

So be deliberate with the junk food and recognize your goals. Are you trying to strictly gain muscle? Or are you trying to gain a significant amount of weight and have enough time to cut off any unwanted body fat later on?

Photo of a Cookies, Good for gaining weight

Sugar/junk food can be a useful tool for increasing your weight but be cautious of its lack of nutritional value and inflammatory effects

How Can I Eat More?

Eat quicker to eat more.

I am probably one of the slowest eaters you’ll ever meet. I have countless memories of only being halfway through my plate of food at the dinner table while the rest of my family was finishing up.

So I began intentionally speeding up my eating habits dramatically. I would force myself to shovel food into my mouth until I almost felt like puking.

But a sudden change occurred after only a couple of days of having to force myself to eat quicker.

It suddenly became incredibly easy to eat all the food on my plate quickly and I actually found myself craving more food every 2-3 hours instead of the usual 4-5. This allowed me to expand my number of daily meals from 3 to 4 and 4 to 5.

Your body can adapt remarkably quickly and by forcing this adaptation by pushing outside of your comfortable eating habits you can set yourself up for success.

Get Enough Protein

Secondly, in addition to eating enough calories make sure you are consuming enough protein to allow your weight gain to be effectively translated into muscle growth.

Protein allows your body to repair your muscle tissue after training and increases your muscles’ size and strength.

A good guideline to follow is 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (2 grams per kg) every day. This will provide your body with enough protein to effectively transfer all potential muscle growth from your training into actual muscle.

The most efficient way to get protein is by consuming a variety of meat sources (chicken, beef, fish, etc.) as they can pack large amounts of protein in relatively small volumes (e.g. chicken breast has 31g of protein per 100g (2)).

Photo of a Meat Protein Grams Chart

Meat is the most efficient source of protein but both dairy and plant-based protein sources are also effective at providing your daily protein requirement.

Protein sourced from dairy has become increasingly popular with whey and casein products dominating the shelves of supplement stores. Natural dairy sources shouldn’t be forgotten though and yogurt was easily one of the most crucial sources of casein protein for me as my nighttime snack of choice.

Photo of a Dairy Protein Grams Chart

To make up for potentially eating a lot of junk food without many nutrients, I am a fan of attempting to source at least some of your protein from nutrient-packed plant-based protein sources like edamame beans or soy.

Photo of a Plant Protein Grams Chart

Do The Right Training

Do the right training in the form of hypertrophy training to convert that caloric surplus and protein into muscle.

What is Hypertrophy Training?

Hypertrophy is the final component necessary for building muscle and gaining weight as an athlete. Hypertrophy training utilizes higher rep counts than strength training to increase the size of your muscle fibres.

Effective hypertrophy training typically consists of 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps at around 70% of your 1 rep max taking sets to failure every once in a while (3). Rest periods of 60-90 seconds are the most optimal duration to maximize muscle growth during hypertrophy training. (3)

To maximize your training sessions perform compound lifts (e.g. squat, deadlift, bench, row). Focus on time under tension (slow eccentric movements, 2-4 seconds) throughout your lifts to maximize your muscle growth.


In conclusion to gain weight as an athlete:

  1. Remember the formulas: ‘Calories In > Calories Out = Weight Gain’ and ‘Caloric Intake = Caloric Density of Your Food X How Much Food You Eat’. To gain weight, you must achieve a caloric surplus. Maximize the caloric density of your food by eating foods high in fats (peanut butter) and eating quickly to maximize the amount of calories you consume.
  2. Protein is necessary to convert that weight gain into actual athletic performance in the form of muscle growth. Consume 1g of protein per pound of body weight (170lbs = 170g of protein per day) from meat, dairy, or plant sources.
  3. Perform the right training in the form of hypertrophy training to increase the size of your muscle fibres. Shoot for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps per movement with 2-4 second eccentric movements and 60-90 second rests.


  2. Freeman CR, Zehra A, Ramirez V, Wiers CE, Volkow ND, Wang GJ. Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior. Front Biosci (Landmark Ed). 2018 Jun 1;23:2255-2266. PMID: 29772560.

Please note – We use affiliate links on this page. This means we earn a commission if you click on a link and buy something.
Important - We only chose products that we ourselves use and stand by.