Most of the time athletes are looking to cut weight for sport. In combat sports like ours, where weight classes are used to level the playing field, it’s believed that there’s an advantage to cutting weight. If strength and other qualities can be maintained while dropping to a lower weight class, a physical advantage is thought to be had over opponents. A lot of times, though, just the opposite can happen when cutting weight: a loss of strength, increased mental and physical fatigue, and an increased risk of injury occurs. Athletes complain of the struggles of cutting weight, accompanied with hunger pangs, loss of energy, and not feeling like themselves on competition day. Jiu-jitsu weigh-ins also usually occur right before competition, which gives athletes little chance to rehydrate and eat before go time.
After a few hard weight-cuts, you may find yourself looking to compete at your natural weight or even one class above. Some fighters may want the extra weight for stability and control, or the additional strength and power that comes with more muscle mass. Size definitely has its benefits, especially in combat sports. A heavier opponent is harder to move, harder to take down, and harder to escape from when in a dominant position. A stronger opponent has more control, can often muscle technique if needed, and can force the submission when the time is right. Many athletes also note that their joints feel stronger and more resilient with additional muscle mass, and the added “armor” aids in injury prevention.
Whatever the case may be, there may be a time when you’re looking to add weight. However, not all weight is created equal. Athletes should look to add lean muscle with minimal fat. Anyone can pack on the pounds by eating low-quality, high-caloric foods with little nutritional value. This will just slow you down and hurt your performance. The following strategies are meant to add lean muscle mass while preserving overall health. With consistent effort, it’s reasonable to add one to two pounds of lean muscle per week; however, drastic weight manipulation methods should be avoided.
Determine Your Caloric Needs
Some basic biology will help you understand how to gain (or lose) weight. Simplified, each day you must take in more calories than you burn. Just the opposite is used to lose weight – take in fewer calories than you burn throughout the day. Many people don’t know exactly how many calories they consume, so a good idea
when aiming to gain weight is to start tracking. If you’re simply guessing your caloric intake each day, you surely won’t see the results you’re looking for. Starttracking rough estimates every day, or use a nutrition tracker app.
To determine how many calories you need per day to gain weight, you need to learn your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is how many calories your body burns just to run its daily functions like breathing, digestion, blood circulation, etc. A quick and simple way to determine BMR is to add a zero to your bodyweight in pounds. So a 180-pound athlete would have an estimated BMR of 1,800 calories. More complex calculations for determining BMR can be found online, but this simple method should do the trick.
Next, add 1,000 calories to cover your daily activity. This will include moving around throughout the day and your daily training, including jiu-jitsu. So our active 180lb athlete with a BMR of roughly 1,800 will add another 1,000 calories for a total of 2,800 total calories to cover his daily movement needs. That amount is solely what he needs to maintain his current weight and muscle.
In order to gain weight, you’ll need to add another 500 calories. This is where the caloric surplus comes in to lay down new muscle tissue. In our example, the 180-pound athlete would add 500 plus 2,800 calories thus equaling 3,200 calories each day to gain weight. If you’re around this weight, 3,500 calories is a good goal to shoot for in order to add mass. When you actually start tracking your daily caloric intake you’ll probably be surprised by how much food you’ll need to put on weight. Usually, it’s far more than you think; however, that’s what needs to be done to build serious muscle.
Not All Calories Are Created Equal
Now that you know how many calories you’ll need per day, you have to understand the difference between sources of calories. The three main macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. A rough breakdown of how much you’ll need each day is 35% protein, 45% carbohydrates, and 20% fat. A good estimate of how
many grams of protein you’ll need is to multiply your bodyweight by 1.5. For your daily carbohydrate needs, multiply your bodyweight by 2.5 grams, and by .4 to determine your daily fat intake. So, our 180-pounder will roughly need 270 grams of protein, 450 grams of carbs, and 72 grams of fat each day.
The most important component in adding new muscle is protein. It should be a priority to meet your daily protein goals while you’re bulking. Carbohydrates are crucially important for the combat athlete as well as this will provide the fuel for training in addition to helping you reach your weight goals. Again, the numbers above are rough estimates; however, they can be used as a guide for your daily caloric needs. When gaining weight it’s most important to focus on daily total calories through high-quality food sources.
Eat More and
Gaining lean mass is hard. Many believe it’s much harder than losing weight, and that notion typically develops simply from the amount of food consumption that needs to occur. The best way to achieve your caloric needs is to have three large meals per day along with two snacks and a post workout shake. You want to eat roughly every two to four hours throughout the day. If you use the numbers above, you can break down how many grams of each macronutrient you’ll need per meal and snack.
One way to quickly get protein and calories into your system each day is to have a protein shake right when you wake up. This will break your overnight fast and start adding to your mass gain without adding fat. It’s also vitally important to consume protein and carbs directly after your training session. This is when the body is depleted and searching for macronutrients to help replenish and recover. Don’t miss this opportunity to give your body exactly what it needs to build muscle.
What to Eat
As mentioned before, high-quality food sources are the best way to go when building muscle and overall health without adding body fat. You can surely gain weight by loading up on sugary drinks, snacks, and desserts; however, your body will be adding fat, not muscle, which will detract from performance. Your best sources of protein are lean cuts of meat like steak, ground beef, turkey, chicken, and fish. Try to make these the main part of each of your three large meals. Your carbohydrates should include a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and grains, if your body can tolerate them. Rice, potatoes, and healthy pastas are a good way to get high-quality carbohydrates into your diet. Your fats should also be high-quality, including certain oils like coconut, olive, and avocado, plus healthy nut butters.
When you’re eating close to six times a day, sometimes you just can’t chew anymore. Whole food is the best source of calories, but when you’re trying to add weight, supplements have their place. Specifically, protein and carbohydrate drinks will help to meet daily caloric needs without being too filling. A whey isolate protein shake upon waking, a carb and protein shake after training, and a casein protein shake before bed are great choices when trying to add lean muscle.
Training for Size
It’s important to note that consistent weight training must be a part of your weight gain process. If you consume excess calories without training, your gains will be limited and mostly result in added fat. Limit your cardio training strictly to jiu-jitsu, with no additional endurance work, which will limit muscle growth. Lift heavy weights with low reps, 5 to 8, for 4 to 5 sets, and focus on compound exercises that hit large muscle groups to aid in muscle growth. Three days per week of weightlifting with a few days of jiu-jitsu will ensure that your nutrition program will be the backmost effective.
Gaining size should be an infrequent training phase that is performed only a few times a year, not year round. Once you reach your desired weight you can cut back on your calories and eat and train to maintain what you’ve built. The body is resistant to change at first, and you most likely won’t see the results you’re expecting right off the bat. A mass gain phase should be performed for six to eight weeks, so keep this in mind when preparing for competition and to set expectations. It’s also common to gain small amounts of body fat when bulking, however, if you’re increasing muscle mass more than fat, your program is working. Daily consistent effort with nutrition and training is what it takes to gain the size you want to be a bigger force on the mats.