Should You Really Be Trying to Gain Weight?

The ultimate goal for many athletes engaged in heavy strength training is to increase muscle mass. For some athletes—such as wrestlers and baseball players—an increase in muscle with minimal increase in fat mass is desirable. For others—such as powerlifters or football linemen—the absolute mass is important.Vegetarian athletes are no different in this respect. Often included in the “trying to gain weight group” are athletes who “leaned up” after the transition to a vegetarian diet, most likely because they did not eat enough calories initially, and now want to put this weight back on. See box 13.2 to dispel the myth that vegetarian diets lower testosterone levels and are not compatible with gaining muscle mass.Similar to athletes with weight-loss goals, many athletes have unrealistic expectations about weight gain

They or their coach have the idea that they can put on 20 to 30 pounds (9-13 kg) of muscle in the preseason. They also feel that bigger is almost always better, which follows the movement in certain sports like football and baseball for athletes to become increasingly bigger and more muscular.This movement has led to an increase in the number of athletes wanting to gain weight, sometimes at the expense of good health. An unfortunate example of this is a college football player I worked with for weight loss during my first year as a college team nutritionist. This athlete had deep red stretch marks over many areas of his body, including his chest and shoulders. Upon inquiry, he told me that last year he had been on “the weight-gain list.” 

He had overdone it by eating a lot of pizza, burgers, fries, and sausage and now was on “the weight-loss list.” Unfortunately, this athlete more than likely will now struggle with overweight issues for the rest of his life.Although vegetarian athletes are not likely to overdo the sausage and burgers, athletes trying to gain weight should seriously consider whether their weight-gain goals are realistic based on their genetics, current training regimen, prior training  regimen, age, sex, and sport. 

However, hoping to gain 20 pounds (9 kg) as a freshman—the first  year you engage in heavy resistance training—certainly may be. One study of  18- to 25-year-old bodybuilders and football players showed that an increase of  20 percent in body mass was possible during one year of heavy resistance training. And although most of the weight gain was in lean mass, individual responses were variable. Such initial gains, however, quickly taper off and may be as little as 1 to 3 percent after several years of training. This is most likely because  people tend to reach their genetic potential early in a training program.