Old School, Low Cost Weight Gain For Your Teenage Athlete

Do you have a high school athlete who “just can’t gain weight” and has “tried everything”?  I would encourage you to try some of the best, hype free ways for your hard gainer.  Let me take you on a trip down memory lane because what worked in the 1960’s and 70’s still works today.

Eat Your Way Through Sticking Points

I’ve said it before and will continue to say it.  Most high school football players (any high school explosive sport athlete) are undersized and under-powered.  Football is a series of fights up and down the field – tackling and blocking using your body.  If you’re undersized and under-powered, you’re going to get hit hard over and over again from all different angles. Hard hits, bumps, bruises and, unfortunately, injuries are part of the game.  So if we know that, doesn’t it make sense that perhaps we should spend some time building “armor” (muscle)?  Of course it does.  If we want to get bigger, then we have to take eating seriously.  Plants won’t grow without food and water.  If you’re stuck at a body weight of 145 lbs, you have to eat your way through  that sticking point. 


If not, nothing will change.


Food is the secret.  Unfortunately, most of my athletes aren’t eating enough when they start my program.  This is where we can take some cues from some of the greatest lifters (and eaters) from the past.  I was telling one of my athletes about Paul Anderson the other day.  Paul Anderson won the World Weightlifting title in 1955 and an Olympic gold medal in 1956.  As a member of the first U.S. sports team to visit the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the 5’9″, 360 lb Anderson lifted in front of 15, 000 Russians on a 1955 State Department sponsored trip.  Anderson overhead pressed 402 lbs in the rain and shattered the World Record.  Anderson was athletic. It’s been reported by witnesses that he was able to do handstand push-ups, had a 36″ vertical jump and could broad jump over 10 feet all while weighing 360 lbs.  He beat a member of the U.S. Olympic 400 meter relay team in a 20 yard dash.  He then placed the man on his shoulder and ran a lap around the track.  He drank a lot of milk.  He ate a lot of meat.  He drank milk during his workout sessions.  He drank a gallon of milk a day. He didn’t get big and strong by eating crackers, goldfish, pretzels, fruit pops, candy bars and doughnuts.  He lived out in the country in Tennessee and he ate very basic meals, focusing on milk and meat.

Paul Anderson

Next, Dr. Ken Leistner “weighs” in on his weight gain experience…

I became significantly, muscularly larger and stronger and in turn, I became significantly faster, reducing my time in the 100 yard sprint from 10.1 at 150 pounds to consistent 9.8’s and occasional 9.7’s at a body weight of 232 lbs. My 40 yard times were always in the 4.6 range, absent the development of electronic timing. I was rather pleased of course to have become significantly larger in muscular size and would often return to my former high school coach for running advice. He was a U.S. Olympian in 1948 and the holder of a number of NCAA records who was an early proponent of weight training which he credited with his own athletic success. He had moved on to become a highly respected and well known collegiate head coach but always made time for our conversations.

Most of my high school friends and many at college assumed that as I continued to grow to what they saw as outlandish proportions, I would “get slower.” Even one of our college coaches stated that I would be moved from fullback to offensive guard if I reported at a pound over 205 pounds. Yet, I grew and I became faster. I became stronger in my usual lifts and became faster.

My old coach patiently explained that as my squat and deadlift poundage had increased, so had my ability to exert more force with every footfall when sprinting, “thus, you’re faster because you’re stronger.”

That was a very simple explanation that was logical and made sense to me and I have stayed with that one to this day. We also discussed weight and strength ratios and body fat percentages. “Visualize fat as a negative factor. It doesn’t contribute to active movement work and if you picture muscle cells inter-laden with fat cells, those fat cells for lack of a better explanation can act like a friction brake.” He noted the larger engine in the smaller car, using the example of me having the same strength but at fifty pounds less body weight. I would not have had that same strength of course but he made the point that at whatever body weight an athlete was at, it was imperative to be as strong as possible, to be as muscular and fat free as possible, to be able to exert as much of that strength as possible, and to thus utilize as much power as possible.”

– Dr. Ken Leistner

Dr. Ken Leistner

Dr. Ken Leistner is simply known to many as “Dr. Ken.” Not only is he a chiropractor, but he is also a renowned expert in strength training, athleticism, and a former gym owner.  Long before strength training was widely accepted or practiced in the athletic community, Dr Ken utilized the available knowledge and equipment, enhancing both with experimentation and iron working skills, to compete as a collegiate athlete and powerlifter. Since the inception of powerlifting as an organized sport in the mid-1960’s and serious weight training
in the early 1970’s, Dr. Ken has served as a widely recognized advocate in the powerlifting community as a competitor, judge, trainer, administrator, author, and editor.
In the late 1960’s he installed one of the first comprehensive strength training programs on Long Island while coaching high school football and track and field. He and his wife Kathy, a weight trained Big Ten Conference multi-sport athlete, champion powerlifter and bodybuilder, and Taekwando Black Belt holder, founded the Iron Island Gym and operated it from 1992 through 1998.

So, there you go.  Do not be afraid to gain “good” weight with the idea that you might become slower. You’ll become slower if you gain “unusable weight” or to put it bluntly, fat.

Use the following foods prodigiously when trying to gain “good” weight:

  • Milk
  • Butter (Real butter)
  • Meat (Steak, hamburger, chicken, turkey, fish, etc)
  • Potatoes (Sweet potatoes, white potatoes, red potatoes)
  • Rice (Brown, White)
  • Pasta
  • Whole grain bread (Try to stay away from white bread)
  • Whole grain cereal
  • Granola (low sugar)
  • Oatmeal
  • Cream of wheat
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Protein powder
  • Protein bars

Stay away from fried, greasy foods, too much sugar, and overly processed foods.  If you are a serious athlete, this should not be a problem. 

Here’s an average meal plan for a growing teen athlete who is looking to add “good” weight and take in around 3800 calories a day:



3 Eggs .33

1 ounce Cheese .28 ounce

2 Waffles .50

2 ounces Syrup .26

8 ounces Milk .16

Banana .05

Cost $1.58 / calories = 991, protein = 41g, carbs = 102g, fat = 48g

Fat 47.5g 42.7%
Saturated Fat 19.5g
Cholesterol 718mg
Sodium 1,294.6mg
Carbohydrates 102.1g 40.8%
Fiber 4.7g
Sugars 44.9g
Protein 41.4g 16.5%



Protein Bar .64

Cost $.64 / calories = 200, protein = 20g, carbs = 16g, fat = 6g

Fat 6g 27.3%
Saturated Fat 3g
Cholesterol 10mg
Sodium 200mg
Carbohydrates 16g 32.3%
Fiber 1g
Sugars 2g
Protein 20g 40.4%



6 ounces lower sodium turkey 2.61

1 slice cheese .19

Bread .08

Mayo .03

Mustard .03

Yogurt .78

8 ounces Strawberry milk .88

Medium apple .38

Cost $4.98 / calories = 960, protein = 59g, carbs = 110g, fat = 29g

Fat 29.3g 28%
Saturated Fat 9.3g
Cholesterol 106.5mg
Sodium 2,466.1mg
Carbohydrates 110g 46.8%
Fiber 18.8g
Sugars 55.2g
Protein 59g 25.1%


Pro Gainer 1 scoop 2.20 (165 gram or 5.8 ounce serving at .38 ounce)

Cost $2.20 / calories = 650 protein = 60g carbs = 85g fat = 8g



1/3 lb Ground Beef 90 % $1.35

Onion .03

Salsa .05

Lettuce .01 

1 ounce Cheese .28

Sour Cream .13

8 oz low sodium black beans .50

8 oz white rice .50

2 Tortillas .18

Cost $3.03 / calories = 1219, protein = 73, carbs = 138, fat = 39

Fat 39.2g 29.6%
Saturated Fat 20.8g
Cholesterol 178.2mg
Sodium 1,435.5mg
Carbohydrates 137.5g 46.1%
Fiber 20.6g
Sugars 7.5g
Protein 72.7g 24.4%


3781 calories

Fat 117.1g 28.1%
Saturated Fat 51.4g
Cholesterol 979.1mg
Sodium 5,661.4mg
Carbohydrates 450.5g 48%
Fiber 50g
Sugars 115.5g
Protein 224.3g 23.9%

TOTAL COST = $12.43/day

Things to remember:

– If the athlete in the above example burns 500 calories from exercise, that will bring the total calories down to 3281 calories for the day.  That’s too low to consistently gain weight.
– This is just an example. To get daily costs lower, you can make crock pot meals, family size meals and have leftovers.  In our household, we have leftovers at least twice a week.
The total daily cost ($12.43) is inexpensive compared to fast food restaurant meals that teens tend to gravitate towards. Teens can come close to spending that on one meal! A Subway 12″ Roasted Chicken sandwich, baked chips and a diet Coke currently comes out to $10.49. And that’s about 1,000 calories.
– The sodium in my sample above is too high. I instruct my athletes to shoot for 3500 mg or less a day. With a little tweaking the sodium level can be reduced in the sample above.
– The daily sample above needs more vegetables. I know but we’re talking about teenagers here 🙂

– The Pro Gainer has 22 vitamins and minerals in one serving.

Results.  It’s always about results and the weight gain success stories coming out of my garage gym have been off the charts!

  • My 13 yr old has gained 29 lbs in one year. Gaining 1-2 lbs a month is a pretty healthy and solid approach.  His strength and speed have improved and he’s now faster than some area high school sophomore football players.
  • A 16 yr old high school football client told me in the beginning that no matter what he did, he couldn’t gain weight. He said he had tried everything. He weighed 164.4 lbs at the time (October 2017). When he drove up from Buda to workout with us in late Spring of 2018, he was now 183 lbs (I weighed him that day). In 6 months, he had gained 19 lbs. He was lean, muscular, agile and was in the top 4 (out of 20) of our 10 yard dash test. He got bigger, faster and stronger.
  • A 15 yr old started training with me when was a freshman in high school. He weighed 163lbs.  When he graduated from high school he weighed 210lbs.  He gained 47lbs and earned District 19-5A Defensive MVP his Senior year.
  • An 8th grader started with me in March of 2018 and weighed 127lbs.  On 12/3/18, he weighed 144lbs.  He’s gained 17lbs in less than 9 months.  He’s a football player.  Keep in mind that most football players LOSE weight and strength during the season.  He continued to get bigger and stronger.  Fast forward to January of 2019 and this same athlete now weighs 150lbs.  He’s added 23lbs in less than a year and he’s bigger, faster and stronger.
  • A 9th grader weighed 182lbs on October 20th 2018. Less than 4 months later he weighs 206lbs and benches 230lbs.  

I have many, many weight gain success stories.  The point is, in order to grow you have to take a “leave no stone unturned” approach.   It takes focus, discipline and desire.  I’m always telling my athletes that high school will be gone in a flash.  It may not seem like it right now but looking back, it will. Take full advantage so that when you look back someday, you have NO regrets.  So that you don’t say, “If only I had…”


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