A basketball player’s guide to bulking up

I’ve been around the sport of basketball my whole life—playing it, watching it, showing little kids how to play. And as a sophomore in college, my unconditional love of the game has only blossomed and solidified in form.Basketball comes naturally to me, and it’s translated into a love for other sports as well. I can easily comprehend the trials and tribulations of the typical athlete, who seeks out opportunities to push the limits and improve, improve, improve – and such improvement arrives in various forms. It’s not just skill-oriented.

The game reeled me in around the turn of the century, back when I was still learning how to read, write, and tie my shoes; I was instantly drawn to the Los Angeles Lakers of the early 2000’s, which featured Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and the likes of Derek Fisher, Samaki Walker, and Mark Madsen. The stars were exceedingly bright and the final product, supervised by the legendary Phil Jackson, simply jumped out at you.

As a child growing up in Boston, Massachusetts, I couldn’t comprehend how a man as massive as Shaq could combine so many attributes all at once—grace, athleticism, power, touch around the basket, and lightness of foot—and dominate some of the world’s best athletes with such remarkable ease. I was exposed to the highest level of athletic performance at an age ripe for idolizing, copying, and imitating those on television. (With regard to my allegiances, I was obviously rather conflicted and represented an outlier of sorts in the confines of sports-crazed Boston).

I understand when a basketball player—or any athlete, for that matter—decides to gain a bit of weight in order to improve and prevail over the competition. Sometimes, that extra ten pounds of muscle can prove to be the difference between converting a contested layup and failing to score altogether.

Assuming that the add-on is “good weight,” of course, and not just the byproduct of extra hours spent in the kitchen, bulking up your frame can make you tougher to defend and increase your on-court production at the same time. There have been countless examples of correlation between bulking up and improving as a basketball player; heck, even Michael Jordan–one of the most physically gifted athletes ever born–added muscle to his already chiseled frame so that he could absorb more contact and sustain his statistical output with age. Spending time in the weight room can pay great dividends. Basketball may be one of those sports predicated upon finesse, ball skills, and ease of movement, but gaining five, ten, fifteen pounds of muscle has the potential to go a long way if the right steps are taken.

During my time associated with basketball, I have come across numerous athletes who don’t necessarily adhere to the proper protocol with regard to weight gain. They just want to lift, lift, lift. Bent rows. Incline bench press. A superset of bicep curls and tricep extensions to conclude the workout. Lift, lift, lift. Simply going to the local gym will solve everything. After a while, that extra fifteen pounds will just come out of nowhere, and the job will be done. But, contrary to the belief of some, weight gain doesn’t just happen when you lift a lot of metal plates and spend a lot of your precious time toning in front of a dumbbell rack. It must be supplemented by caloric intake—specifically, there must be a steady flow of protein into your system after that tiring workout, so that your body can recover.

With regard to weight gain, the “I’ll just lift and lift and lift” mantra only works if it’s supported by a commitment to judicious post-workout eating and time well spent in the kitchen. Again, don’t use this as an excuse to cut back on workouts and eat that extra piece of cake instead. The combination of lifting weights and loading up on protein ultimately leads to added bulk—these are the two major steps in the process, so skipping one of them won’t get you anywhere. If you participate in an intense morning workout only to hold off on eating until the afternoon, then don’t expect to reach your desired weight and accomplish your goals. Choosing to lift must be followed by the choice to replenish your system with some much-needed protein.

If you’re opposed to protein shakes—which is the case for some athletes, who still fear the ingredients in some of those mysterious protein tubs on the market–then go with peanut butter instead, or some grilled chicken and a CLIF Bar. There are many adequate sources of protein out there, so the supply of post-workout calories really shouldn’t be a major problem if you’re actually committed to bulking up.

Gaining “good weight” obviously implies lifting weights, doing pushups, and the like. Refusing to step foot in a gym and getting stronger just don’t go hand in hand, and adding muscle will require hard work, dedication, and sacrifice—all of the overused clichés that you could possibly imagine. But, exercising must work in sync with eating. The pounds indicated on those metal plates in the gym are to be complemented by calories on a plate, particularly sufficient doses of protein needed to replenish, refuel, and strengthen the human body. Weight gain is tied to the protein consumed after a workout, and that’s been proven over and over again.

Don’t make the mistake of skipping a step—either out of laziness or lack of knowledge—and turning exercising into an exclusive venture, unaccompanied by a post-workout meal. I’ve seen too many athletes fall into the trap of turning down meals when they are most needed and crucially important. If you want to put on some weight, make sure that you do your homework. Work out and eat to reach your target weight!

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