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Healthy Weight Gain Tips for Basketball Players

  • Author:
    By Ryan Wood
  • Date:
    Nov 12, 2010

It's a weight-loss world. People of all ages are constantly trying to shed pounds, to tighten their frames and to make the scale spit out a smaller number. It's a billion-dollar industry.

So it's a bit awkward that so many young basketball players actually need to gain weight.

If you're a teenage basketball player who's too skinny, you're hardly alone. Teenagers--both boys and girls--often feel like they're too underweight to play basketball to their highest ability. That's especially true for those who are tall and are forced to play physically in the paint.

"With adolescents, there's so much energy expended in growing taller, there's not a lot left over to grow out," said Becci Twombley. "That's a big issue."

Twombley is the nutritionist for the UCLA athletic department, and it's her job to make sure the Bruins' athletes are doing everything they can to add good weight to their often lanky frames.

From the time they enter high school until they're around 21 years old, some basketball players can eat whatever they want, as much as they want, and not gain a pound. While it's an uphill battle for a body that's still finishing its final growth spurt, there are things you can do to try to pack good weight onto your frame.

Eating Habits

First thing's first: eat a good breakfast. Before diving into a diet reconstruction, Twombley insists that without starting the day with breakfast, you don't stand a chance of putting on good weight.

"A lot of people get up and leave the house without breakfast," Twombley said. "Make sure you eat a big breakfast, not just a banana on the way out. Have oatmeal with sliced bananas, maybe some walnuts, a yogurt, a piece of fruit."

From there, set up your eating schedule so that you're consuming calories every three hours, instead of just three meals a day. Breaking up your eating into six meals gives you the opportunity to eat more calories. And calories are the key to any good weight gain.

"Don't eat so much at one sitting that you're not going to be hungry in three hours, because if you're overeating at one meal, you're going to be able to go six hours without eating," Twombley said. "The reality is, you can fit more calories in if you're eating every 3-4 hours during the day."

Twombley also insists that eating good food is as important as eating often. She stresses the need for young players to add in high-calorie food that's healthy. This includes:

  • Trail mix, which is a great grab-and-go snack with a lot of varieties available.
  • Granola
  • Cereals like Raisin Bran
  • Dried fruit
  • Avocados are a great food for those looking to gain good weight, due to its "good fat" content as well as Omega 3s. Avocadoes can be added to sandwiches, burritos, salads and other normal meals.

"A lot of my guys like to eat junk food," Twombley said. "They like to eat Doritos or chicken wings or chicken fingers with ranch dressing. Even though those are calories, they aren't functional calories so they don't actually do anything for them. If they eat them, they'll burn off really quickly because they have these great metabolisms and they're working so hard. But they're not getting the results they want to get."

So how many calories does an underweight player need? It depends on several factors, including age, maturity level and existing muscle mass. At UCLA, Twombley notices that most of the men's basketball players in need of weight gain can eat between 4,000 and 5,000 calories a day.

Female basketball players looking to add weight don't need as many calories as the guys because of less muscle mass. But at UCLA, they can still average between 3,000 and 4,000 calories a day.

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Strength Training

While proper nutrition is key, it's also important to build muscle mass through strength training.

Alan Stein, the strength coach at basketball power DeMatha, says that the main component to weight gain is nutrition. He also said that from a strength training standpoint, he doesn't do anything special for players who specifically need to gain weight because "95 percent of all high school basketball players need to gain muscle mass and get stronger."

He does offer these three tips for players wanting to build muscle mass:

  • Lift like a bird, look like a bird. You need to progressively add resistance in order to get stronger and gain muscle weight. Don't be afraid to push weight! You should aim for a weight that is challenging to get 10-12 reps. Those last few reps should be really difficult. If you are still lifting the same weight 60 days later, you haven't gotten any stronger.
  • Get more bang for your buck. Don't bother with lateral raises and curls. Perform multi-joint exercises that work several muscle groups at once. Chest presses, shoulder presses, pull-ups, and rows for your upper body; and squats, deadlifts, lunges and step-ups for your lower body.
  • You are not an Olympic lifter or bodybuilder, so don't train like one. Strength training for basketball is a means to an end, not an end itself. You need to train for the demands of the game, not for show and not for skill. Doing three sets of concentration curls will do nothing to help you on the court. Your body functions as a unit on the court, so it should do the same in the weight room.

What You Can Expect

So you've got a plan in place, either through research or hiring a dietician or following some new guidelines.

When will you start seeing results?

Twombley breaks it down in three different groups, though it varies often by body types, and maturity levels:

  • For males under the age of 18, a gain of ½ pound a week is ambitious and may be a challenge.
  • For males over the age of 18 who have reached their peak height, you can gain a pound a week or more until you're around 20 years old.
  • For females, it's hard to gain much more than ½ pound or a pound a week.

It's important to realize, though, that there's no magic formula. Sometimes, your body won't respond like you want it to. At least not yet.

"Sometimes we'll get guys that come in at 18 or 19 that are still thin, but by 20 are filled out," Twombley said. "They're training just as hard, they're eating just as well. It's just that their bodies are now catching up."

Through the right nutritional habits coupled with strength training, you can maximize your potential to gain good weight. Beyond that, though, it's up to your body to respond favorably to your changes.

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