I n our twenty-first-century dieting culture, we assume that everyone on a diet is trying to lose weight, but there are some "hard gainers" whose greatest struggle is to keep weight on. Historically, such need for weight gain has been an intrinsic part of dieting culture. Athletes may be particularly interested in putting on weight to improve their strength and performance. Sports-medicine training books generally provide at least a few pages of technical information about gaining weight, which is often fairly scientific and can be intimidating (Lamb and Murray 1998: 229-30). Popular nutrition and training books, therefore, generally provide a bit of advice on how to gain weight; however, this information is subordinate to recommendations for losing weight.
There are many athletes who also try to gain weight in order to become better competitors in their sport. One sport in particular in which competitors are trying to gain weight is bodybuilding. Bodybuilders usually want to gain weight in muscle only. Therefore, there have been many diet plans instructing bodybuilders on muscle weight gain. However, bodybuilders are not the only athletes who try to gain weight; high-school athletes also gain weight for their football, basketball, or soccer seasons. Some foods recommended for these young athletes are foods high in calories like smoothies, fruit juice, milkshakes, nuts, dried fruits, and vegetables with higher calories like potatoes, beans, peas, and corn. Research also suggests that athletes should eat a snack high in carbohydrates and protein before exercising because this can help muscle growth.
Food guides for runners and triathletes, in particular, may include a chapter on gaining weight. Nancy Clark, for example, includes a section for "the minority of marathoners who struggle with being too thin" (Clark 2002: 117). In this chapter, she provides "six rules for gaining weight," which include:
1. Eat consistently.
2. Eat larger portions.
3. Select higher calorie foods.
4. Drink lots of juice and low-fat milk.
5. Do strength training.
6. Be patient.
(Clark 2002: 118-20)
The added calories from food, coupled with weight lifting and persistence, Clark explains, will help these "hard gainers" put on weight. However, she also cautions that our "genetic blueprint" determines much of our body shape and urges all runners to set realistic goals for themselves (Clark 2002: 117).
It is not just the athletes with their supposedly healthy bodies who are dieting for weight gain. Some people actually need to go on diets in order to gain weight. It can be as unhealthy to be underweight as it can be to be overweight. Some of the health problems associated with being underweight are: Decreased muscle strength, problems regulating body temperature, increased risk of infection, and even death. In addition to the health risks, many underweight people are as insecure about their bodies as overweight individuals. Some underweight people even hire personal trainers and nutritionists, who help them gain weight in a healthy way. There are many internet sites which also provide advice on gaining weight. One internet site called SkinnyGuy.net has about 18,000 members, and all of them paid 97 dollars to join the site, which teaches them how to gain weight. However, medical professionals are concerned about some of the advice that these sites give out. They say that most of the advice on these weight-gaining sites is based on personal experiences and not medically tested approaches.
In order to gain weight, one must take in more calories than are burned. This means eating more food with increased calories. Most doctors agree that in order to gain weight at a healthy rate, one should try consuming an extra 500 calories a day. Some suggest that if 500 calories does not work, then one should try 700 calories a day. It is important to not try to gain weight by eating fattening, unhealthy foods. In order to gain weight in a healthy way, doctors recommend that people eat foods which are nutritious and full of calories. It is important to eat a variety of foods, but it is especially vital to eat foods high in carbohydrates, healthy fats, and lean protein. Some doctors recommend that exercise combined with many small meals rather than a few large meals helps to build muscle mass and, therefore, helps with weight gain. As with weight loss, there are the constant claims of the efficacy of "weight gain" vitamins and powders.
SLG/Mary Standen/C. Melissa Anderson
See also Bodybuilding; Calorie; China in the Twentieth Century; Internet; Peters; Sports online at <http://www.primusweb.com/fitnesspartner/ library/weight/gaining.htm> (accessed May 5, 2006).
Anon. (2005) "What Is the Best Weight Gain Diet Plan?" Bodybuilding.com, available online at <http:// www.bodybuilding.com/fun/topicoftheweek25.htm> (accessed May 3, 2006).
Anon. (2006) "Weight Gain Diet," the Diet Channel.com, available online at <http:// www.thedietchannel.com/Weight-gain-diet.htm> (accessed May 5, 2006).
Clark, Nancy (2002) Nancy Clark's Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions, West Newton, Mass.: Sports Nutrition Publishers.
Lamb, David R. and Murray, Robert (eds) (1998) Exercise, Nutrition, and Weight Control, Carvaliis, Oreg.: Cooper Publishing Group.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (2005) "Being Underweight Poses Health Risks." Available online at <http://www.mayoclinic.org/ news200 5-mchi/2796.html> (accessed May 2, 2006).
Rosenbloom, Chris (2005) "Athletes: Eat Up to Bulk Up, but Choose the Right Foods," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 6, available online at <http:// www.ajc.com/living/content/living/food/fit/ 060205.html> (accessed March 2, 2007).
References and Further Reading
Anon. (2005) "Gaining Weight: A Healthy Plan for Adding Pounds," The Fitness Jumpsite, available
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