Man Versus Food: the trials and tribulations 4000 kcals

1 month ago Dec’s body fat was 13% (reduced from 16% over the three week holiday) and his weight was 101kg. His aim was to increase weight slowly over the next few months for the start of the rugby season. To achieve this:

  • intensive weight lifting schedule, 1-2 sessions/day
  • reduction in running (aerobic) training – burned too many calories, calories needed to build the muscle
  • increase in food calories, aiming for 3600kcal/day

So what do the most recent figures say?

Weight has remained static at 101kg, while fat mass has decreased to 10%, sorry 9.8% (down 3%). This indicates that approximately 3kg of fat has been lost and 3kg of muscle gained. Brilliant, if he was going to pose on the beach all day, however, the men in the driving seat at London Irish, Robbie and Adi, want the weight up! A month ago, using nutrition calculations, his target calorie intake was set at 3600kcal to achieve this weight increase.

Dec’s case illustrates how the ‘textbook’ theory does not always translate in to practise. There are a number of reasons weight has not been increasing. Here are some important points:

  • Weight is static indicating, his body is using up the same calories that he is eating/drinking.
  • Fat is being catabolised (broken down), while weight training is building the muscle. Any extra calories in the body have been used to increase muscle.
  • It is a VERY common phenomenon for food diaries/diet histories to be inaccurate due to misreporting or people changing what they eat either subconsciously/consciously (not necessarily with malicious intent, it’s just human nature). I can verify that Dec has in fact been having 3600kcal (to the point that he is a bit OCD about it).

So in a nutshell, Dec needs to increase his calories even further to gain weight. Adi suggested that Dec increased ‘macros’. Macros is short for macronutrients, a fancy name for carbohydrates, protein and fat. So he just needs to eat more food, about 400kcal more per day. Simple right?

The reality of consuming such a hugh amount of food can be difficult both physically and mentally, not to mention expensive.

Psychologically, it can be very tough for someone who, in the past, has always had to fight hunger for fear of putting on too much weight.

There needs to be a balance between eating ridiculously healthily, and including the less nutritious or ‘treat’ foods in the diet. Unfortunately, as with many other professional sports people, Dec has an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. In the past, if he wanted a chocolate bar, he would go to the shop and return with a Yorkie, a packet of Rolos, a Turkish Delight and a Magnum ice cream. And eat them ALL within an hour. Since improving the quality of his diet, there has been a significant change, for the better, in body composition. In the last 2 months, the apparent healthiness of his diet could also be his downfall, in that it may be preventing him from achieving the desired increase in weight. Dec’s fear is that if he relaxes his diet, he’ll fall back in to the negative behaviour of devouring a whole packet of peanuts or tub of Haagen Dazs. All or nothing.

Despite being a sports dietitian, and obviously ready to give my opinion, and advice, I am wary of being too ‘food police’.  What a nightmare that would be for him (and me), if I was constantly eyeballing what he was eating, and remarking on every morsel. Of course if he wants to we discuss best options, timings, quantities etc. and I help a lot with calculating his intake, but generally I try to back off with my input.

Physically, the shear volume of food/high calorie drinks needs to be fitted in around very intensive training. This morning Dec had fitness testing at 11am, which involved extremely high intensity bursts of running. He cannot have a substantial amount of food sitting in his stomach for this. So he had large breakfast 3-4 hours before to allow time for it to digest, a snack 1-2 hours before, and an easily digestible carbohydrate drink 30 minutes before. Followed by a meal afterwards. The constant need for nutrition is tedious, though something that comes with the job.

So here are some practical solutions for increasing calories in an already food overloaded regimen. Dec came up with most of these himself, most are tweaks to what he already does.

Practical solutions for increasing nutritious calories:

  • thick layer of peanut butter instead of egg with bagel
  • more high calorie snacks, more frequently, so the stomach isn’t too full
  • 2 handfuls of almonds instead of 1 handful
  • banana instead of an apple
  • fruit juice instead of water
  • full fat yoghurt instead of low fat
  • grated cheese on meals
  • tablespoon olive oil in food
  • more regular use a weight gain supplement eg. Kinetica Oat Gain – 2 scoops = 315kcal. Oat Gain Cookies

Here we go again, it’s 3 hours since his last meal. As I sit at the kitchen table typing, he’s here to prepare another 600kcal meal: burger, wrap  and coleslaw. Then it’s off to Sainsbury’s restock the fridge.


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