Interesting things can happen when you try to change your physique through food. Logically, someone trying to gain weight has to eat above their body’s required maintenance to do so. By comparison, someone trying to lose weight would eat below that maintenance number.
In this week’s article, I wanted to highlight some strategies I use to help clients gain weight and how a weight loss client could benefit from working those same strategies in reverse.
When I’ve been contacted to help clients gain weight, it’s most often by younger men (high school/college age) who may or may not be involved in sports. What I tend to find is that most of these gentlemen eat fairly healthy food, have been blessed to whatever degree with visible “abs” for most of their life, and they’re trying to gain weight with the least amount of body fat gain as the scale shifts up.
Generally speaking, while a surplus is required to help them reach their goals, the more you overshoot the maintenance number, the greater potential for unwanted fat gain. The number I try to stay around is 200-300 calories above maintenance.
What I’ve found, anecdotally, is that younger clients can get away with a greater surplus with little worry over excess body fat. Older clients, say men in their late 20s-early 30s (and beyond) may have to stay closer to the 200-300 as referenced above. Part of this is due to the fact, that the older client is likely more sedentary when compared to the younger athlete.
As this client starts to see the shift upwards in weight, their required maintenance shifts up as well. In other words, if I start with a 150-lb athlete and they increase to 160-lbs, their maintenance has shifted up slightly as well.
For some approximate numbers, let’s consider the trajectory of one of my youth athletes: Ryan.
When Ryan started with me, he was just shy of 150 lbs.
His approximate calories for maintenance were 2300-2500.
For a moderate caloric increase, we’d shoot for 2500-2800.
As Ryan’s weight increases, a “larger” body requires more calories to maintain the mass. (This works in reverse as you’re dieting and getting leaner)
At 160 lbs of weight, maintenance calories could be approximately 2500-2700.
Ryan would increase to 2700-3000 to continue weight gain.
This cycle continues until Ryan has reached his ideal weight at which point he holds steady at maintenance with a general eye on the scale to make sure that weight stays mostly stable.
It bears mention that when Ryan stops participating in sports, then he will likely have to pull his calories back a bit to maintain his weight since his level of activity has decreased significantly.
The goal, in my opinion, is to increase calories in a way that doesn’t affect the size of the already established meals. I will tend to favor liquid calories (a protein shake with milk/milk alternative and peanut butter, for instance). This is a relatively easy way to hit that 200-300 goal without a lot of worry.
We start with the shake, we make sure that the shake becomes a staple in the diet and that breakfast, lunch, and dinner have remained basically the same.
If Ryan were to come in and say that he’s been having trouble increasing calories because he doesn’t have an appetite, the goal is to find some relatively “innocent” places to spike calories without suppressing hunger.
HINT: This is where my weight loss readers might want to take note.
- I would suggest cooking applicable food with a tablespoon of olive oil, a pat of butter, a dollop of sour cream, or topping food with some avocado or shredded cheese.
- I might also suggest that he snack on some quickly digestible carbs around his practice or event time like: gummy bears, licorice, or something similar.
- And, if Ryan is having a snack, maybe a handful or two of pretzels or he can opt for another protein shake.
In other words, I want Ryan to increase intake with the foods/liquids that are least likely to make him “feel” full.
As a result, Ryan can eat significantly more calories than what he used to just by adding in a few options that may not seem as obvious as: a pint of ice cream, a second serving of chicken breast or extra mashed potatoes.
If you’re trying to lose weight, take a look at these things too.
Many of my weight loss clients didn’t gain weight because they went completely overboard with their meals (although this absolutely can and does happen).
What led to weight gain were the little things: the handfuls, the nibbles, the extra wine, the unmeasured oils/butters when preparing foods and sweet treats.
It’s important to note too, that if I have a client who steadily gained 20 pounds over, say, a year’s time, it’s not necessarily because they went from eating 1800 calories a day to 3000. They could simply have gone from 1800 to 2000-2100 steadily over time with the occasional splurges that would go well over.
So, now you would take my weight gain strategies and work them in reverse:
- Start using zero calorie sprays instead of olive oil and butter when preparing food. While you don’t have to remove food toppings like shredded cheese, sour cream and avocado/guacamole, you may have to be more mindful of which of those you want the most and measure a smaller serving than normal.
- Bite size candies, trail mix, holiday treats, etc. may not seem like much when you’re holding them, but most of those “mini” candies are at least 50 calories each (especially what you find around the holidays) and it’s not uncommon to eat more than one and foods like trail mix and granola average nearly 200 calories per 1/4 cup. Most people’s “handfuls” are at least double that.
- Watch out for the snack foods that you might gravitate to in-between meals. Pretzels, chips, crackers, etc. can add up quickly (as easily evidenced any time you go to a Mexican restaurant and get served the basket of tortilla chips before you’ve even looked at the menu.)
- One final tip: If I had to take a snapshot of most of my weight loss clients, they do a pretty damn good job of moderating food intake throughout the week, it’s the weekends that, in all likelihood, derail a whole week’s worth of progress. Watch alcohol intake on the weekends and be mindful of the portion sizes that restaurants dish out (which are frequently double what the average person needs).
Of course, if you’re a young athlete like Ryan who can stockpile calories like it’s their job, these little tips may not be worth considering. It’s once you’re like me, and you’re old enough to have a child Ryan’s age that the calorie game has changed (as has the rest of your lifestyle) and you have to watch those slippery areas that may have gone under the radar.
And, shout out to Ryan as well, as he is currently weighing in the high 170s and will likely be at 180 soon. He’s been working with me for a little over two years. Progress has been steady, methodical, and, credit to Ryan for being patient and trusting with the process.