I Can’t Gain Weight – Help!
Oh boy. I can only imagine how some people who, upon reading the headline to this post (and are feverishly trying to lose weight), already dislike the person who submitted this question.
Waaaaaaa, poor you! You have to eat more food. I haven’t eaten a carb since Christmas……cry me a river!
As a strength coach, however, and someone who works with high-school and college athletes on a daily basis, I can tell you that struggling to gain weight (in an effort to improve performance on the field) is an all too common dilemma, and something that can just be as hard to resolve.
Which is why I felt I’d spend a little time addressing the topic here after receiving the following email in the Cressey Performance account recently.
Q: I’m 5’11 and weigh 150lbs. Last season I weighed 175 and then lost all of it because we ran so much, and ended the season weighing 135 lbs. That was a crisis for me. I have done the same exact thing as I did before but can’t seem to gain the weight back! Help me dude it’s killing me!
But I also have another question, and that is, would it hurt me to take half doses of creatine just to get a little bit bigger?
A: Wow, that’s a pretty drastic drop in weight! First off, every time I hear a story of a baseball coach running his players into the ground I want to set my face on fire.
What’s the rationale? What’s the longest distance that a baseball player will need to run? It’s 90 feet from home plate to first base. If someone rounded the bases that’s 360 feet. Where does a 3-5 mile jog fit into the picture? How does that prepare a player for the more explosive nature of the sport?
HINT: it doesn’t!
1. Two points for Gryffindor for including not one, but two idioms in one sentence!
2. Please stop running (for distance, anyways), if you haven’t already.
3. Maybe show the above articles to your coach, and he’ll have a change of heart….;o)
Looking at the positives, you’re already 15 lbs up, so you’re obviously doing something right. But if there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it’s this:
You Need To Eat More
I know, I know – you eat, like, all the time. And you couldn’t possibly eat any more. I’ve heard that same excuse a few thousand times, and I’m sure I’ll hear it a thousand more.
Take my word for it: you’re not eating enough.
But before we get into that, lets address the more pertinent question: Creatine isn’t dangerous. It’s the most researched supplement in human history, it works, there’s a ton of efficacy towards its use, and I’d highly encourage you to check out THIS review by the guys over at Examine.com for all the information you’ll ever need on the topic.
But, it’s not what you need nor should it be at the top of your list of priorties. Not even close.
I’ve trumpeted this sentiment before, and I might as well say it again:
Supplements are progress enhancers, not progress starters.
If your current training and nutrition plan(s) aren’t yielding the results you want, than a supplement isn’t really the right approach. More to the point, the word supplement shouldn’t even reach the tip of your tongue until you have your nutrition in order.
You need CALORIES to grow. If you’re not providing the body the ample nutrients it needs to not only grow, but recover, you’re just going to be spinning your wheels and wondering why you look like that skinny dude from Road Trip – and you’re certainly not going to be hitting any 400 ft bombs over the centerfield fence.
[Giving credit where credit is due, at least he’s pwning some pancakes in that picture].
Here’s a quick quiz, and one of the first questions I’ll always ask an athlete who’s trying to put on weight:
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
9 times out of 10 I get a stammering answer that consists of a lot of “um’s” and uh’s” and every excuse in the book as to why they never have time to eat in the morning.
If you’re not eating breakfast, then again, you have no business asking about creatine, and you sure as heck-fire better start setting your alarm ten minutes earlier in the morning to MAKE TIME to eat breakfast.
As an example, here’s my typical breakfast that I eat every morning.
5 whole egg omelet with goat cheese and tons of cut up veggies (onion, broccoli, and sun-dried tomato) sprinkled with garlic powder, pepper, turmeric, and oregano.
1 cup oatmeal plue a scoop of Biotest Grow with a banana and cinnamon.
Save for maybe your post-training meal, breakfast should be your largest meal of the day. But you can’t stop there! One of the biggest mistakes I see guys make is that if they do eat breakfast (high five!), they’ll maybe nibble at lunch, and won’t eat another decent meal again until mom plops something on the dinner table.
If you can, try to stash some extra calories in your locker like beef jerky, nuts, fruit, or even better – and an idea I stole from John Berardi – several bagels with some peanut butter slapped between each side which you can easily crush while walking to your next class.
Some other food for thought (pun completely intended):
1. Try your best to focus on whole, natural, un-processed foods like rice, potatoes (sweet and white), oatmeal, veggies, fruit, beef, chicken, fish, cheese, milk, various nuts, unicorn tears, you name it.
Of course if you have good allergies you have to take that into consideration, but don’t use the excuse of “dude, I’m bulking” as a free-pass to eat shitty food like pizza, chips, and Pop-Tarts on a regular basis.
Be a teenager, I’m not saying to avoid those types of foods at all costs, but at the same time need to take it upon yourself to provide you body with QUALITY nutrients. In short: eat like a grown-up.
2. Stay hydrated!!!!! Drink water, and lots of it. A good rule of thumb I like to follow is to take half our bodyweight and drink that amount in ounces. So, if you weight 150 lbs, you should strive for roughly 75 ounces of water per day. And that’s just the minimum! More active people should drink more.
Oh, and Red Bull isn’t water.
3. While it sounds hypocritical given my speech above, it might not be a bad idea to look into getting a protein powder to include in the mix. Hard gainers often have a hard time EATING their calories, and it’s sometimes easier to drink them. Don’t worry about getting Ultra Mass Gainer 3000 or anything like that. Just look for your typical whey protein blend, and you’re fine.
4. In the weight room, you need to make sure you’re focusing on those movements which will force you to grow! Drop the leg extensions and bicep curls and opt for deadlifts, squats, chin-ups, rows, etc. Focus on getting stronger and not training like a bodybuilder.
5. Additionally, it’s important that you don’t go too crazy with the volume. You need to save your calories. While I can respect those who want to get after it on a daily basis, heading to the gym to perform those two hour marathon sessions isn’t doing you any favors. For guys who are looking to add weight I generally opt for LESS volume and strive for three, full-body weight training sessions per week.
6. In terms of an actual caloric number to shoot for, it’s anyone’s guess as to where the magic number is for you. For simplicity’s sake I like to tell guys to start with 20% ABOVE maintenance levels.
To find maintenance, take your current bodyweight and multiply by 15. So, for a 150 lb person, they’d want to strive for 20% ABOVE 2,250 kcals per day – which would be +450 kcals above maintenance.
Just so we’re clear: this is a GENERAL number to hit and only serves as a starting point.
7. Likewise, keep calories up even on “off” days. Another mistake a lot of guys when trying to gain weight is lowering caloric intake on non-training days. DON’T DO THIS!!!!! Keep calories on par with your training days, and if by some chance you notice you’re putting on a little too much fat for your liking, just lower intake slightly – by like 10%.
8. Did I mention you need to eat a lot?
9. You need to eat a lot.
I know you (and many others) are trying to look for the magic pill and that my advice isn’t remotely sexy or mind-blowing. It doesn’t have to be.
Oftentimes keeping things simple is the better way to go.
Now go eat!