On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Weight Gain for Athletes Involves Many Factors

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have concerns about my son's coach asking his athletes to eat a great deal of protein, as much as 18 eggs a day (yolks and all), to gain more muscle weight. I have been unable to find any information concerning any research or studies showing that that much additional protein will have the desired effect on muscle weight. -- B.B., via email

DEAR B.B.: Protein is key to our health, but this recommendation is ill-conceived and illogical. If you want to gain weight, there are better ways, including eating more often (at least six meals a day) or having additional servings of nutrient-rich/calorie-dense foods. Those that come to mind include nuts, seeds, avocados, etc. The other essential adjunct is a structured training program designed to make the body increase its muscle mass.

Eggs are not a calorie-dense food -- they provide high-quality protein, but they are not an ideal food to overload to the extent the coach recommends. Eighteen large eggs will provide 1,350 calories, 112 grams of protein, 90 grams of fat and 3,825 milligrams of cholesterol! That is way too much cholesterol -- even for a high school student. And what else are you supposed to eat during the day? I enjoy eggs, they are great food, but they do not comprise a well-balanced diet in and of themselves.

And while I encourage people to eat food as opposed to supplements, there are a number of concentrated-calorie milkshakes on the market that are targeted for those trying to gain weight. Athletes such as weight lifters, wrestlers and football players often use these products to help them bulk up for their sports. They're ideal for those who are underweight, who have to work at maintaining their weight where it is. Most of these products contain hundreds of calories, and when taken in addition to a regular diet, you will begin to gain weight.

There is also the common-sense directive to stay away from weight gain using junk foods, such as French fries, chips and donuts. This is bad stuff. Going down that road may cause you to gain, but it is likely to impact your quality and length of life well after you take off the uniform.

Understand that there is a limit to what you can do. Then there is the overriding influence of your genetic predisposition. If most family members are smallish and thin, it lessens the odds that you can become a 250-plus-pound player. This is not to say you are without any remedies, but they might not achieve the desired result.

A well-balanced diet in addition to weightlifting and conditioning programs are important adjuncts to any weight-gain program. Consider, though, that if you were to gain 1 pound a week, this would involve taking in an estimated 500 calories a day above a normal caloric intake. Snacking on healthful calorie-dense foods or using those weight-gain milkshake products can help accomplish this. Be advised, though, that studies have found that the body does not always gain as expected. This is why training programs, which involve conditioning and the gaining of weight and muscle mass, are best accomplished as a slow-and-steady process during the offseason, not rushed once the season has begun.

Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.