There’s something jarring about seeing a professional athlete gain weight during the course of an offseason, especially since pro athletes are so commonly associated with incredible feats of strength and athleticism. Such was the case following the end of the NBA lockout in 1999, when some of the game’s best players returned to the court looking noticeably more rotund. Shawn Kemp, whose physical dynamism earned him a starring role in countless highlight reels throughout the early 90s, was the most shocking example, as his weight gain dramatically -- and permanently -- altered his game.
Despite the lack of labor strife that would lock players out of training facilities for an extended period of time, there are many other factors that contribute to an athlete experiencing a sudden weight gain. After signing a lucrative or long-term contract, for example, a player might show up noticeably overweight due to feeling a lack of financial motivation to be in peak physical condition for the start of the season. On the other hand, a player entering a contract year might be actively trying to put on a lot of added muscle to increase their chances of having a big year and earning a big contract as a result.
The athletes earning a place among the top 15 to gain a little too much weight in 2015 all packed on the pounds for one reason or another, with some radically changing their body by packing on a significant amount of muscle, and others simply adding some heft to their midsection due to reduced physical activity stemming from offseason surgery or just out of simple laziness. Whatever the case may be, the following 15 athletes all gained noticeable weight during the course of 2015.
15 Yasiel Puig
One of the most polarizing players in all of Major League Baseball, Puig’s 6-2, 255-pound frame is more reminiscent of an NFL linebacker than an MLB outfielder. The Cuban émigré didn’t always tip the scales at 255, as his playing weight during previous seasons has been much closer to 230 than 250. Despite his impressive physique, Puig has frequently stated his aversion to the weight room and has shown up to each Spring Training heavier than the last. This offseason, the Dodgers have made it known that they want Puig to drop that weight to reduce the likelihood of injury and to help restore the 2013 production that made him an immediate sensation.
14 Jameis Winston
After an unflattering picture featuring a shirtless and flabby-looking Jameis Winston made the rounds before the 2015 NFL Draft, even more questions were raised regarding the eventual top pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even though the weight gain was downplayed by Winston’s camp, the rookie quarterback admitted he needed to drop a few pounds before making his professional debut, saying at the time he was actively “trying to lose some weight, try to get back skinny. Right now I'm 238 (pounds), I'm trying to be my redshirt freshman year (weight), about 230.”
13 Diego Costa
Though he didn’t offer a specific number in terms of weight gained, Costa admitted that his undisciplined summer training program caused him to return to the pitch overweight. With Chelsea struggling, Costa took the blame for the team’s sluggish play, saying, “Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game.”
12 Kelvin Benjamin
The Carolina wideout has dealt with various injuries throughout the 2015 season, as he was dogged by repeated hamstring issues throughout the summer and is now out for the season with a torn ACL. Before the ACL tear, Ron Rivera suggested that Benjamin’s weight gain (reportedly between eight and nine pounds) could have been an underlying cause of the injuries, saying, "It could be as simple as weight. He did come in a little heavy and he had to work himself into shape. Or diet or something. We're going to take a look at it and make sure it's not a chronic issue with him. He's too good a football player to have on the sideline."
11 Garret Sparks
After enduring an injury and subsequent weight gain that dropped him to as low as fifth (out of five) on the Maple Leafs’ depth chart, Sparks has finally worked his way back into shape and has since made his NHL debut in goal, shutting out Edmonton while racking up 24 saves in his first game.
While dealing with injuries and struggling with weight issues would frustrate most pro athletes, Sparks took it in stride, saying, “I had a bunch of setbacks. I would rather have them last year as opposed to this year. To have those setbacks in your second year is beneficial, because you can learn from them, grow from them. You're going into your third year and you know exactly what you need to do.”
10 Justin Verlander
As is the case during every sport’s preseason, several athletes declare how they put on “15-20 pounds of muscle” due to an intense offseason training plan. Verlander, a former Cy Young and MVP Award winner, showed up to Spring Training in 2015 looking as though he bulked up in the offseason and appeared to have gained every bit of the 20 pounds he said he added. With the hope that his offseason training would spur a return to his once-dominant form, Verlander instead saw his 2015 debut delayed until June and failed to reach 200 innings for the first time since 2006, his second season in the majors.
9 Willie Cauley-Stein
In preparation for the 2015 NBA Draft, Cauley-Stein gained 20 pounds during the two months between the time the NCAA season ended and the NBA Draft Combine began. The added muscle mass -- along with a reported increase of five inches to his vertical leap -- lifted Cauley-Stein’s draft stock considerably and he was ultimately taken by the Kings with the sixth overall pick. During the preseason, however, it was reported that Cauley-Stein could barely make it up and down the court without having to pull himself from the court to catch his breath.
8 Hanley Ramirez
One of the bigger storylines of Red Sox Spring Training was just how big Hanley Ramirez had gotten during the offseason, with David Ortiz saying his own arms looked like toothpicks compared to those of Ramirez. The shortstop-turned-leftfielder-turned-first-basemen checked in at a reported 240 pounds, a gain of 15 pounds over his playing weight in previous seasons. Most observers were encouraged by the added muscle mass, but the season did not exactly go as planned for Ramirez or the Red Sox.
While the weight gain helped him slug 10 home runs during the opening month of the season, he looked slow-footed in the outfield and dealt with chronic injuries throughout the 2015 season. The Red Sox have requested that Ramirez focus on dropping between 15 and 20 pounds this offseason with the hope that he might stay healthier and be more likely to live up to the $88-million deal he signed in the winter of 2014.
7 Mario Balotelli
Mario Balotelli’s weight gain did not prove to be a massive hindrance to his ability to put the ball in the back of the net, but AC Milan’s manager made it clear in August that the striker needed to make some changes before he could truly return to peak form, saying, "He's training well and his physical tests are satisfactory, but he's three kilograms overweight: he's on a diet and when he's ready he will play." Since then, Balotelli has been limited by groin issues that were possibly exacerbated by his initial lack of fitness and weight gain.
6 CC Sabathia
CC Sabathia was always one of the largest pitchers in the game, but in 2014 he showed up noticeably slimmer to Spring Training. While Sabathia lost the weight with the intention of reducing the wear and tear on his joints, his season was still cut short due to a knee injury. In 2015, he gained all the weight back and then some, checking in at 305 pounds -- 30 pounds heavier than the previous season. Despite the return to his normal playing weight, the 2007 AL Cy Young was unable to regain the dominant form that made him one of the game’s great pitchers.
5 Andray Blatche
Former NBA center Andray Blatche has continued his professional career overseas, playing for the Xinjian Flying Tigers and Gilas Pilipinas after a nine-year NBA career spent with the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets. The 29-year-old Blatche showed up in the Philippines in September looking noticeably overweight and was described in one report as having a “beer belly.” For his part, Blatche said he would only need a month or so to get back into shape and drop the added weight.
4 Joel Embiid
The third pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, Embiid has yet to play in a game for the Philadelphia 76ers due to foot injuries that include the bane of all big men: the navicular bone fracture. Since he hasn’t been able to play and his workouts have been limited by stress fractures, it has been reported that Embiid has packed on more than 50 pounds and is tipping the scales at over 300 pounds. As a 7-footer with a history of foot injuries, the additional weight Embiid has gained -- not to mention the fact that the Sixers are reportedly unhappy with the young center’s overall work ethic -- is certainly not going to help accelerate his return to the court.
3 Eddie Lacy
Eddie Lacy’s weight has been something of an issue since his rookie season, but the Pro Bowler’s production has always been enough to overshadow any weight-related concerns. Listed at 230 pounds during the 2014 season, Lacy showed up at training camp 12 pounds heavier and has since struggled with injuries and a decline in production. When asked about his weight, Lacy noted that both Brandon Jacobs and Jerome Bettis have enjoyed success in the NFL as big running backs, adding that, “not everybody's meant to look like Adrian Peterson or somebody like that."
2 Adel Taarabt
For the second consecutive year, Adel Taarapt has been criticized by team personnel for being overweight and unfit to play. Just one year after his former manager at QPR said Taarapt was 40 pounds too heavy, the Morrocan footballer was told by the Benfica coaching staff in August that he won’t play until he drops some weight from his 5-10 frame. Since being given the directive, Taarapt has yet to compete on the pitch for Benfica.
1 Pablo Sandoval
The former postseason hero of the San Francisco Giants was lovingly referred to as “The Panda,” a playful reference to his portly yet surprisingly athletic frame. One of the reasons Sandoval was allowed to depart the Bay Area was the third baseman’s inability to control his weight, so while the Red Sox were marveling at Ramirez’s biceps during Spring Training of 2015, they were simultaneously sweating over Sandoval’s added girth. One particularly unflattering picture showed just how much Sandoval’s midsection had grown and the Red Sox have since asked that their third baseman return to Spring Training in 2016 at a significantly reduced weight.