Top Nutrition Tips for Gaining Weight

Top Nutrition Tips for Gaining Weight

By Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, CSSD  | Friday, February 24, 2017

A mother of a 12-year old swimmer asked about weight-gaining tips for her son. She said he isn’t gaining muscle and weight at the rate she thinks he should, despite her strict attention to his diet of healthy foods. Her son has been holding steady with his times, but not improving. She said his diet consists mostly of fresh fruit, vegetables, lean meat, and milk substitutes, like almond, cashew, or coconut milk. She limits grains, starchy vegetables, dairy foods, and sweets because she believes they are unhealthy.

A couple of things to consider: young swimmers who haven’t yet reached puberty will not gain lean mass as readily as after puberty. And, while the diet she outlined may be her idea of healthy, it doesn’t contain enough calories and nutrients for growth, weight gain, and for good health of a pre-teen swimmer.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Stop limiting grains and starchy vegetables. Whole grains and vegetables such as potatoes, corn, beans, and peas contain more energy (calories) than their light-weight cousins, like green beans, asparagus, and broccoli. Don’t get me wrong, I love to see swimmers eat those vegetables, but including starchy vegetables is healthy, too.
  • Plan 3 meals and 3 snacks every day. Include nutrient-and calorie-rich foods as peanut butter, trail mix, dried fruit, fruit juice, fruited yogurt, hummus, avocado, and nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds) in meals and as snacks.
  • Add calories by using mayonnaise (made with canola or olive oil) to make egg, chicken, or tuna salad sandwiches on whole grain bread.
  • Fresh fruits are healthful, but low in calories, so add dried fruits to whole grain cereals, use frozen fruits to make smoothies, and drink high calorie fruit juices (grape and cranapple) with meals.
  • Re-think the ban on dairy. Plant-based milks don’t contain the same array of nutrients as cow’s milk. Even better news for increasing calories, high-fat dairy including, whole milk and cheese, is not associated with heart disease. New research is untangling the entire food matrix and its effect on health. Cheese, for example, contains casein (the “slow” protein) and milk contains both casein and whey (the “fast” protein), both casein and whey have beneficial effects on muscle growth and recovery.  Milk and cheese are also good sources of calcium for bone health, and researchers think the calcium in high-fat milk and dairy may bind some of the fat so that it isn’t harmful to health. Look for natural cheeses (Swiss, cheddar, etc.) and not the processed kind (single slices, cheese dips or spreads). For those who want to read more on dairy fats, see
  • Lean meats are recommended: chicken, turkey, beef, and pork are good choices. While the fat in dairy is thought to be less harmful, continue to steer clear of processed meats (hot dogs, salami, pepperoni, and sausage).

Recently, I attended a conference with noted international speaker, Dr. Arne Astrup, as a speaker and his session was sponsored by the National Dairy Council. I have no affiliation with the dairy council and I was not asked to write about the dairy research.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian, certified specialist in sports nutrition, and professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University. She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents and coaches. Email her at; follow her on Twitter @chrisrosenbloom.



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