Let’s clarify one thing. No one wants strict weight gain – if you did, I could give you a very easy strategy to gain loads of fat tissue in no time. What you really want is a gain in fat-free mass (FFM). And FFM is NOT synonymous with muscle! The category also includes things like your connective tissue, organs, and bones, all of which are essential for Esports athletes (just take a look at all of the pros who are retiring due to repetitive stress injuries on their wrists, shoulders, and back). Here are some of the benefits from appropriately gaining FFM:
- Resiliency to injury
- Resiliency to illness
- Improved ability to utilize fueling strategies
- Improved ability to utilize supplements
- Enhanced cognitive faculties
While the general population struggles to lose fat, gaining quality weight is an issue that plagues many Esports athletes, especially if they are still growing.
The most common cause? Simply not eating enough.
The Inviolable Laws of Thermodynamics
You should know that there are fundamental laws of the universe that we can’t violate. Specifically, no one has gained tissue in an energy deficit, and no one has lost tissue in an energy surplus.
If you give your body more energy than it needs, it stores it (if you eat more than you need, you build tissue). If you give your body less energy than it needs, it has to make up the deficit by pulling from your stored energy (if you eat less than you need, you break down tissue).
There are several modifiers that make the model a bit more complex:
- Deficits and surpluses are relative to the individual (i.e., everyone is different).
- Your ‘maintenance’ value CHANGES ALL THE TIME (i.e., how many calories you need in a day varies, which is super frustrating).
It gets even more tricky when you start trying to build muscle. For now, just know that the body likes to be at the weight and body composition it’s currently at. Any efforts to change it are resisted (more on this later).
This is how to calculate how many calories you need in a day:
- Calculate RMR (energy needed to survive doing nothing)
- Use this formula if you DO have body composition data
- 370 + 21.6 x LBM (kg) [LBM = lean body mass]
- Use this formula if you do NOT have body composition data
- Males: 66.5 + (13.8 × weight in kg) + (5.0 × height in cm) – (6.8 × age in years)
- Females: 655.1 + (9.6 × weight in kg) + (1.8 × height in cm) – (4.7 × age in years)
- Use this formula if you DO have body composition data
- Multiple the value from (1) by your activity factor
|Physical Activity Level||Physical Activity Multiplier|
|Sedentary (little or no exercise)||1.25|
|Mostly sedentary + 3-6 days of weight training or light cardio||1.35|
|Lightly active + 3-6 days of weight training or light cardio||1.50|
|Highly Active + 3-6 days of weight training or light cardio||1.75|
- The final value is an estimate of your calorie needs for your given activity level. It can be a good starting point, but won’t apply to everyone. Use some common sense here. Let’s say you want to maintain weight and the formula tells you to eat 2,000 kcal/day. You do so, but notice you are losing weight. Who cares what the formula said, it was clearly off for your situation. Increase your intake!
Great, so how many calories for weight gain?
You need to be in a calorie surplus to gain weight. The above formula finds daily maintenance needs.
Shoot to gain 0.5-1.0% body weight per month during your bulk phases. If you are a total beginner you can raise this to 2%. For example, a well-trained 200 lb. individual should seek to gain 1-2 lbs. per month. On the other hand, a 200 lb. beginner could shoot for as much as 4 lbs. per month.
Next, for every 1 lb. you are trying to gain in a month, increase daily caloric intake by 150 kcal. In the example above, the well-trained individual would need to increase intake by 150-300 kcal/day, and the beginner would need to increase by 600 kcal/day. This is added on to your previously calculated maintenance needs.
Note: This may seem like a small increase. However, gaining quality weight is incredibly difficult. And the more elite you get, the harder it becomes. Professional bodybuilders have been known to work for an entire year to put on a single pound of muscle.
If you gain weight too fast, I guarantee you that most of it is fat weight. Take it slow. Trust me.
Why Gaining Quality Weight is SO Hard for Esports Athletes
The most common issue I hear from Esports athletes is that they feel like they are eating a bunch, but still aren’t able to put on weight. When we investigate, we see that they are not consuming as many calories as they thought, but ARE truly feeling full.
So what’s going on?
First, most Esports athletes underestimate how many calories they need to build FFM. You already need to eat above maintenance to build new tissue. Then you need to eat extra to account for the necessary physical activity. And if you need to add in calories for growth and development (which continues until you are ~30 years old!), it starts getting extremely challenging to physically ingest the required amount of food.
The second issue stems from Esports athletes’ bad habit of skipping meals. Their usual pattern is to have only one big meal in a day (dinner typically), with smaller meals or snacks filling out the remainder. You might feel full with this setup, but it’s easy to see that the caloric value is far less than eating three square meals with a couple of snacks.
The last issue has to do with what I previously mentioned – the body likes to maintain its current weight and body composition. Efforts to radically change weight are resisted. Here are some things that happen when you try to gain weight:
- Increased thermic effect of food (indirect)
- 10% of your daily energy expenditure comes from the processing of your food intake (digestion, absorption, transport, and uptake to wherever the stuff needs to go). When you increase your food intake, you increase the energy spent processing. For example, let’s say you add 500 kcals each day. 10% of 500 is 50. This means the surplus you created is actually only 450 kcal, not 500 (50 calories was used to process the 500).
- Decreased energy efficiency
- Your body starts looking to spend calories wherever it can. People eating a surplus tend to start doing more unconscious movements, like fidgeting.
- Exercise capacity increases
- With the increase in fuel, you will be able to push yourself a little bit harder when exercising. The extra effort uses more calories, reducing your surplus.
- Decreased hunger and increased satiety
- Pretty obvious side effect, but is the single biggest problem for many Esports athletes.
You may be thinking right about now, “Wow Casey. Thanks for all the bad news. Isn’t there anything I can do?”
So how do we fight it?
Increase caloric density. Caloric density refers to how many calories a given weight of food has. You can eat an entire truckload of broccoli, feel like your stomach is about to explode, and not gain any weight. You could get the same calories by consuming a handful of nuts, and still be ravenous. Remember the above issue of feeling too full to eat more? Here is a solution – increase consumption of calorically dense foods. The following are some healthy examples:
- Whole eggs
- Fattier cuts of meat
- Natural nut butters
- Dried fruit
- White rice
- Olive oil
Remember: Trying to gain weight doesn’t give you a free pass to binge on junk foods. The quality of the input determines the quality of the output. If you input pizza, soda, and burgers, do you really expect your body to convert all that into elite-performing tissue?
By the same token, you should decrease consumption of foods that have a low calorie density. These foods tend to be high in water content. For example:
Altered hydration times. Hydration is critical for health and performance (go read the hydration guide if you haven’t already). However, if you find yourself feeling too full you can space your fluid intake away from your meals. Fluids consumed before and during meals will contribute to the ‘fullness’ feeling. Drink your fluids after your meals instead.
Spaced meals. I mentioned above that Esports athletes have a bad habit of skipping meals. With the amount of calories you need in a day, it’s almost impossible to get what you need with this structure.
For example, let’s say you need 2,500 kcal/day to gain weight. If you evenly space your meals you could have three meals at 750 kcal each, with a 250 kcal snack.
Or you could have two 250 kcal snacks, and then try to cram in all 2,000 kcal at dinner, which clearly doesn’t work. There’s no way you’ll be able to eat that much with quality foods.
Give your body time throughout the day to digest your meals, you’ll be able to fit in more food.
Eat foods you like. I don’t need to explain this one. You can get more food in if you enjoy it (there’s truth to the idea that ‘there’s always room for dessert’).
- Find your maintenance calories.
- Shoot to gain 0.5-1.0% per month
- For every 1 lb. you are trying to gain, increase daily caloric intake by 150 kcal
- Fill your plates with calorie dense foods.
- Drink fluids away from meals.
- Space your meals evenly thoughout the day.
- Eat foods you like!
You now know the “secret” strategy to gaining quality weight. It’s not fancy, but it works.
Ready to take your game to a whole new level?
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