We’ve all seen movies where the actor or actress has to gain weight or muscle mass based on the character that they play. For example, Demi Moore was in such good shape that she was able to do one-handed push-ups in the movie G.I. Jane and actor Gerard Butler had a body transformation in his role as King Leonidas in the movie 300.
Since I work with a lot of elite-level athletes, I’m often asked questions about diet and nutrition, especially about weight gain. It seems a little counterintuitive to want to gain weight because so many Americans are trying to lose weight. However, for athletic performance and general vitality, there are times when putting on a few extra pounds can be a good thing.
One of the common myths that I explain to people is that gaining weight doesn’t necessarily mean eating whatever. True, when you want to gain weight, you can increase your caloric intake, but there are more nutritious ways to go about adding calories to your diet. Feasting on chips and junk food is not your best option – sorry to disappoint.
The first step in gaining weight is to eat more meals during your day. You can still stick to your breakfast, lunch and dinner, but add in a mid-morning, mid-afternoon and evening meal. Granted it can be a small meal, but it will give you the extra calories you are looking for.
Next is to select foods that are high-calorie and high-nutrition. Foods high in protein, carbohydrates and healthy fat should be your target. You can get your fat from animal products like chicken and beef, but a healthier source of fat is plant fat, like nuts, peanut butter, avocado and hummus.
Meats are also a good source of protein, which is critical for muscle development and weight gain. Other foods high in protein are fish, pork, seeds and dairy products. Another great source of protein is actually eating protein bars or shakes. In fact, if building muscle is a part of your weight-gaining agenda, a protein shake is recommended as a post-workout snack.
It seems that healthy carbohydrates are the trickiest part of the weight gaining process. When selecting carbohydrates, stick to whole grains instead of enriched or processed carbohydrates. You should also reach for the beans, dark greens, vegetables, whole fruits and dried fruits. You can really get the most “bang for your buck” by drinking a protein smoothie with fruits and greens mixed in.
It’s also OK to add pasta dishes to your diet, especially if the pasta is whole grain. There are lots of different pasta dishes to choose from, but a family favorite in the Dixon household is Italian Sausage with whole grain pasta. It’s simple, quick and healthy.
Take the time to put a plan together that makes sense for you and your health goals. You may go through some trial and error, but in the end eating foods with high nutritional value will be the best option for your goals.