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Pittsburgh Steelers Alejandro Villanueva's massive weight gain

Alejandro Villanueva has been trying to make it in the NFL since 2010. Has he found the secret to success? Why would he want to gain that much and how might he have done it?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Duffy just posted a before-after of offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva. Last year, sporting an Eagles jersey, he weighed around 250. A year later, donning the Steelers black and gold, he weighs in at 340 pounds.

Why gain 100 lbs?

Could the near-100 lb weight gain be the secret to success in the NFL? Villanueva is hoping the added size and strength will help him make the Steelers roster after being cut from the practice rosters for the Bengals, Bears, and Eagles.

Villanueva has played a variety of positions in his career. In college, though originally recruited as a tight end, Villanueva played left tackle, defensive lineman, and wide receiver. With the Bengals and Bears he practiced as a tight end. The Eagles, however, brought him on as a defensive end.

Now with the Steelers as an offensive lineman, Villanueva is betting the extra weight will increase his effectiveness at his new position. At 6'9", Villanueva dwarfed the Minnesota Vikings defenders and played well enough to be a serious contender for Mike Adams' job. Size definitely matters for linemen.

With over 532 NFL players tipping the scales at over 300 lbs in 2010, being big and strong is not enough these days. This is the Super-Sized Era. Pre-Super-Sized Era, things were different. There were only three 300-pound men in the NFL in 1980 and 301 in 2000. With the increase in size requirements has also come the availability of free cardiovascular screenings for retired NFL players. So, if you were worried about the health risks associated with such a dramatic increase in weight, apparently the NFL has these players' backs.

How does one gain 100 lbs?

Back to the original question. How is it possible to gain 100 pounds in a year? First off, 100 pounds for someone who is 6'9" is a less significant weight gain than for someone who is, say, 5'7".  Still, it is a pretty big number.

I Googled "How to gain 100 pounds," and Google did not give me very good answers. Most of the links were about people complaining their spouses had gained that much, or people wondering if their partners would leave them if they were the ones packing on weight. Not helpful.

Unable to find a Reddit thread about needing to gain 100 pounds to become an effective offensive lineman, I turned to a article about gaining 50 pounds of muscle in three months. Apparently, keys to gaining that much weight are lifting heavy weights, eating a lot of protein, and being careful not to lose testosterone. So, weights, food, and male hormones. Fairly obvious.

It takes about 5,000 calories a day to maintain weight as an offensive linemen. To gain 100 pounds, that daily amount would need to be even more. At 3,500 calories/pound, he would need 7,000 extra calories per week to gain 100 pounds in a year. Per day, that is "only" 1,000 calories above his baseline. Still, to put on that much weight-- and then maintain-- eating becomes a part-time job. Former San Diego Chargers center Nick Hardwick reported setting an alarm at 3 am to consume a weight-gainer shake just to maintain his size.

Are there other ways? In October 2014, the NFL began testing for human growth hormone (HGH). It took three years of negotiations between the NFL and the NFLPA, but HGH is no longer an option for players who want to get huge fast. Other PEDs have been banned for a while, and athletes are tested regularly. Just ask Josh Harris about drug testing in the NFL. Hardwick's experience with testing was similar. "I got tested quite frequently," he told Sports Illustrated, "I don't even know how it is possible for guys to use steroids in the NFL today."

Clearly Villanueva relied on more than Google when he decided to super-size himself. PEDs seem out of the question as well. Strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, and other professionals are likely working with him as he changes his physique. Now, it is up to him to show the Steelers that his added mass translates into more effective performances on the playing field. Based on his performance Sunday, his increase in mass has not come at the expense of quickness and overall fitness.