How to Gain Weight for High School Football

Sometimes high school football players need to gain extra weight to more effectively play a position on the field. Does this mean eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at McDonalds with ice cream and fatty snacks throughout the day?  While eating a lot of fast food and desserts may lead to weight gain, this way of eating can also negatively impact performance. So, how can a high school football player gain weight in a way that also builds a strong, healthy body?

High school football players looking to gain weight should add an additional 300-500 calories per day through nutrient dense foods along with continuing with regular physical activity. This means 3 meals a day with 3 or more snacks, as well as techniques like ‘power packing.’ Avoid empty calories without nutritional benefits.

The following article with go into greater detail about ways a high school football player can gain weight in a healthy manner.

Tips for Healthy Weight Gain

Choose nutrient dense foods

A high school football player looking to gain weight should look to do so through nutrient dense foods. A food full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other beneficial components is considered a nutrient dense food. These foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, eggs, whole grains and nuts. 

The nutrients along with the calories support healthy growth. Vitamins and minerals play a key role in creating and using energy, and building a healthy body. Fiber helps keep blood sugars stable, allowing for longer lasting energy. Fiber also helps with digestion, feeling full and prevention of chronic disease.

What about ‘junk’ foods?

On the other hand, nutrient empty foods may contain a lot of sugar, saturated fat and sodium. Nutrient empty foods include sugar sweetened beverages, desserts, highly processed foods (chips, hot dogs, etc.) and refined grains.

The lack of healthy nutrients along with the higher sugar, fat and sodium content of these components can make an athlete feel sluggish and increase their risk for chronic disease. An occasional treat  within an eating pattern full of nutrient dense foods, will not harm an athlete; however, excessive intake of these nutrient empty foods do not support healthy weight gain in teenagers- especially when eaten in place of nutrient dense foods.

Make smart beverage choices

Beverages provide an easy way to add additional calories into the day; however, a teen athlete must be careful to avoid filling up on beverages that contain high amounts of sugar. High sugar drinks such as soda, energy drinks and fruit drinks contain little to no nutrients and do not support a healthy, active teen. 

Beverages such as milk, protein shakes, smoothies made with whole fruit and 100% fruit juice contain nutrients in addition to calories for healthy weight gain. Water remains the gold standard for hydration and should be drunk frequently throughout the day. Sports drinks can also provide necessary electrolytes during training that lasts longer than 90 minutes. The benefits of these beverages instead of sugar sweetened beverages make them ideal for healthy weight gain.

Eat More Frequently

A teenager trying to gain weight for football may find eating at least three meals and two or more snacks helpful. This frequency of eating prevents stomach distress from over eating and helps provide energy throughout the day for training. Teenagers may find it difficult to eat all the necessary calories for weight gain with only a few meals.

Carrying snacks throughout the day provides the opportunity to eat more frequently, even for a busy student athlete. Snacks should be a combination of nutrient dense protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats. Some easy snacks include:

  • Fruit with peanut butter
  • Carrots with hummus
  • Trail mix
  • Oatmeal with almond butter
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Fruit leather and nuts
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich 
  • Power energy balls (recipe at end)


When training, the muscles of an athlete break down. During recovery after a workout, the muscles are built up by protein. The body can only use around 30g of protein every 3-4 hours to build muscle. Eating 15-30g protein every 3-4 hours will help with muscle building during weight gain.

Drinking a 70g protein shake at one time will be less effective than two smaller protein snacks of 30g, each spaced three hours apart. Eating three meals with two or more snacks, as mentioned previously, makes it easier for a teenager to consume the necessary protein through the day.

An athlete can usually consume enough protein through whole foods rather than expensive protein shakes and bars. Some examples of foods containing 15-30g protein are 3 oz meat, 1 cup cottage cheese, 1 cup beans, 3 eggs, 1/4 c peanut butter, etc.


Carbohydrate foods provide energy for effective training. During recovery, they also play an important role in the body’s ability to use protein for muscle building. In fact, while many know of the suggestion to consume protein after a work out, carbohydrates are also a key component of these recovery meals or snacks.

Previously thought to only have a 20 minute window for the most effective use of a recovery snack,  research shows this window is not as short as once thought. A teen athlete will just want to make sure to eat protein and carbohydrate sometime after a training session in order to maximize on recovery. An athlete would be wise to eat a balanced snack or meal containing protein and carbohydrates 1-2 hours following a workout.


Fats play a key role in a healthy weight gain and body. Some types of fats, called unsaturated fats, help build a healthy body while other types, called saturated fats, should be limited. 

Healthy fats to increase include olive oil, nuts, nut butters, seeds and avocados. Foods with high content of saturated fats can still be enjoyed, but in moderation. These fats are found in butter, fried foods, chips, red and processed meats and most desserts.

Healthy fats provide nutrient full options to easily increase calorie intake. They also assist with vitamin/mineral absorption, protect the heart, provide energy and support various other important functions of the body.

How Do I Eat Enough For Weight Gain if I am Already Underweight and Struggle to Eat Enough?

Power packing food is a strategy used where you add calories to food in a way that does not significantly increase the bulk of food eaten. For someone who struggles to eat enough and wants to gain weight, power packing is an effective tool.

Following is a list of several ways to power pack foods:

  • Add sauces, dressings or gravies to meals. 
    • Instead of snacking on plain vegetables, eat them with ranch. 
  • Cook foods in oil or butter. 
    • Add some olive oil to the water when you boil noodles. Roast your vegetables in oil instead of steaming them
  • Add nuts or nut butters to foods
    • Spread some almond butter on toast or peanut butter on an apple 
  • Use cheese to flavor dishes
    • Add cheese to your sandwich or mix in cottage cheese with your scrambled eggs
  • Swap out water with milk/dried milk
    • Swap out the water for milk when you make a bowl of oatmeal

Find more ideas about power packing at:

Importance of Training During Weight Gain

A high school football player often works to gain weight for a position during the off season. This time period means less structure and motivation for working out. However, training while working to gain weight remains an essential component of healthy weight gain. 

A workout often involves the tearing down of muscle. These tears allow  the body to use the extra calories and protein to help rebuild those muscles to be stronger and bigger than before. Excess calories and protein in the absence of consistent training and recovery may lead to unhealthy weight gain. This weight gain will be less muscle and more fat. This weight gain may help against an opposing player initially, but lead to fatigue and poor performance as the game goes on.

Training also improves athletic performance, keeps the heart strong, builds healthy bones and supports brain and emotional health. Simply increasing calories consumed will lead to weight gains in undesirable areas that don’t contribute to an athlete’s performance.

Serious About Gaining Weight For Football?

Football is somewhat unique in that most positions (especially in High School) would benefit form gaining some muscle weight. If you are hoping to throw some more weight around this year or next, then the time to get started is now.

I wrote a concise football e-book that details what foods to eat and what to avoid, special tips and tricks for weight gain, and recommendations for nutrition needs on everything from game days to three-a-days. For more info, check it out here- Nutrition Game Plan for High School Football e-Book

Bonus Power Recipe:

Power Energy Balls Recipe

3/4 c nut butter of choice

2 Tbsp Honey

1 1/2 c oatmeal

1/2-3/4 c mix ins (dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, coconut, etc.)

Microwave honey and nut butter in microwave safe bowl, mixing every 15 seconds until smooth. Mix in oatmeal. Once cooled add mix ins and form into balls. 

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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