Bulking is a lot easier for some than it is for others, with ‘others’ tending to be the skinny hardgainer who has been the same size since they first touched a weight two years earlier.
It sounds easy when you hear quotes like “you need to eat big to get big” and people will emphasize the fact that you are not eating enough and need to eat more.
This is very true but it’s also difficult to just blindly apply, a strategy is needed for bulking that is just as well thought out as one needed for cutting.
If you’re someone that isn’t often hungry and has a relatively low appetite or slow metabolism then bulking can be a very hard dieting phase.
Therefore, read on as we cover how to bulk with a low appetite for any hardgainers who need help upping their daily calories.
How To Bulk With A Low Appetite
Below I’m going to cover some strategies you can use to bulk with a low appetite but if you want a quick summary it would be:
How to bulk with a low appetite:
#1 Track macros and weight daily
#2 Time meal frequency and adjust the size of meals
#3 Drink high-calorie shakes
#4 Have a large breakfast and post-workout meal
#5 Reduce caffeine, fruit, and veg intake
#6 Eat “dirty bulking” foods
#7 Consume more fast-absorbing carbohydrates
#8 Drink more liquid shakes
#9 Eat meals quicker
#10 Force feed meals
1) Track Your Macros & Weight
The first thing you need to do when starting a bulk is to work out how many calories you actually need to consume on a daily basis to gain weight, this is a key step that often gets ignored.
A lot of eating during a bulk can come down to mindset.
Knowing you have to eat a huge amount of food (even though it might not be the case) can be psychologically daunting so people are put off before even working out what their calorie requirements are.
Your starting point for this will be to work out your maintenance calories, there are plenty of websites that have free calculators to work this out for you, just google ‘maintenance calorie calculator’.
These do not have to be 100% accurate as this is going to be your starting point and you will be adjusting this within the first week or two anyway depending on how your weight responds to it.
Once you have your maintenance calorie level you are now going to eat 200 – 500 calories more than this each day, it’s probably best to start at a 200-calorie surplus because if you see results from this then it’s easier to build from.
The reason this is effective is that most people don’t realize how many calories they need to consume a day just to maintain weight. If you don’t know this number, then how are you going to eat in a calorie surplus?
Once you have this maintenance requirement and start with a 200-calorie surplus you simply need to track your weight daily and see if you’ve gained weight. If your weight has stayed consistent after a week, you need to add more calories.
Keep adding up to 100 calories per day until you gain weight. Even if you have a low appetite, your original surplus shouldn’t be too difficult because it’s based on the number of calories that your body needs to maintain weight so this should be physically achievable with little effort initially.
2) Choosing Meal Size & Frequency
Once you have your daily calorie intake decided and have factored in the surplus you then want to split out these calories into more manageable meals.
If your daily calorie requirement is 3,000kcal and you only eat once a day you are likely going to struggle to achieve this target.
That’s at the extreme end of the scale however it’s fair to say most people will only eat a few times a day at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So, following the example above each meal will still need to be 1,000 calories which isn’t necessarily easy if you have a low appetite to begin with.
Related – High-calorie bulking snacks
To make this more manageable you will want to break this down further still into smaller but more frequent meals.
If you have 5 x 600kcal meals over the course of a day and spread these out by eating every three hours then you should have no trouble digesting each meal fully before it’s time to have the next one.
Eating with a low appetite doesn’t need to be about force-feeding (though it may eventually get to this point depending on how far into a bulk you go), you want to strategically space meals out so that you are never full but still managing to consume all of your calories over the space of a day.
It’s not going to be about trying to force calories in but rather structuring your diet with the aim of hitting the calorie target.
As long as you do this and adjust macros over time then it will be a successful bulk with significant muscle gain to match.
3) Consume High-Calorie Shakes
Now that you are hopefully choosing smaller meal sizes and eating more frequently throughout the day you can now start to incorporate body hacks that allow you to consume more calories even with a low appetite.
The king of these hacks is to use high-calorie shakes in your diet.
Liquid calories are not only easier to digest due to the stomach not needing to break down large food items, but they also sit lighter on the stomach and are a lot less filling than the calorie equivalent in whole foods.
Before I go on, it’s important to note that whole foods should be the staple of a diet. This method of introducing high-calorie shakes should be to have them as 1 or 2 meals of the day to ease digestion.
The rest of your meals should be made up of nutrient-dense, wholefood meals.
Just to be clear on this, I class a nutrient-dense meal as something that has a good protein source (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts), some dietary fat (nuts, avocado, olive oil, butter, oily fish), carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta) and some leafy green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, green beans, kale).
Once you have that covered then these shakes can really add some calories to your daily total, the following is a recipe I’ve used frequently for years to up my daily calories.
This shake recipe alone provides over 1,000kcal and can be consumed in 30 seconds!
25g whey protein (flavor of your choice)
100g Scottish rolled oats
50g peanut butter
50g frozen berries
1 tsp cinnamon powder
300ml – 500ml milk (water can also be used but will lower the calorie count)
Blend all ingredients together
Total calorie breakdown – 1,050kcal. Protein 60g. Carbohydrates 103g. Fat 42g
This is just an example of a shake that I made to suit my own taste, the ingredients can be switched around to suit individual tastes and macro targets.
4) Breakfast & Post Workout Meal
If you are using the strategies above then you should be finding bulking a lot easier to stomach now regardless of your appetite, appetite shouldn’t even be a factor at this stage when you can knock back a 1,000kcal shake!
If however you are following the above and are still struggling to get in your calorie targets each day then it’s time to manipulate your calories based on periods when you are most hungry.
The point of a daily calorie target is that it doesn’t matter when you consume these calories throughout the day (to an extent) as long as you are consistently hitting them.
Therefore it makes sense to consume some higher-calorie meals when you are most hungry, which is going to be your breakfast and post-workout meal.
Breakfast is a literal translation for breaking a fast.
You should be sleeping 7 – 9 hours daily and that means you aren’t consuming any calories at all during this period so should be pretty hungry first thing in the morning.
Even if you aren’t hungry first thing (I’ve never been able to get up and eat a big meal) you should be within a half hour to an hour of waking and this is when you should look to load up on a big calorie breakfast.
If you can get in a 1,000kcal breakfast which shouldn’t be too difficult then this is a serious chunk of your daily calories taken care of first thing in the morning.
You can even combine it with a high-calorie shake and just really take advantage of this period first thing when your body is craving nourishment.
The second period that your body will be more than happy to consume a large number of calories is with your post-workout meal.
If you’ve just hit a serious weight session (which you should be doing if you want to put on some muscle) then your body is going to be in a prime state for absorbing nutrients and your appetite should be high even if it’s low for the rest of the day.
Your muscles will be depleted in glycogen stores and will also require protein to begin the muscle-building process so it’s the prime period to get in a serious carb and protein-heavy meal.
For most people, this should be your biggest meal of the day and can even be split into two parts.
Immediately after a workout, get in a fast-acting carb/protein shake to kickstart the re-fueling process, then within 1 – 2 hours post-workout consume your largest meal of the day.
It sounds egotistical but if you are not hungry within an hour or so post-workout then you likely haven’t gone hard enough in your actual workout. An intense workout should be depleting your muscle glycogen stores and stimulating your appetite.
If you are not hungry during the post-workout period then it’s best to revisit your training program, mindset, and intensity level during these workouts and get this right before attempting a successful bulk.
5) Reduce Caffeine, Fruit & Veg Consumption
If after employing the strategies above you are still struggling to hit your daily calorie intake then it’s time to use some short-term, low-impact methods.
Caffeine is an appetite suppressant which means drinking coffee is literally reducing your appetite.
This is an excellent tactic to employ if you are in a cutting phase and want to reduce hunger pangs, however, for bulking, you really don’t want to be using anything that will lower appetite further.
So, if you are drinking coffee daily just cut this from your diet and see the difference in your appetite throughout the day.
Fruit and veg – especially green leafy veg – are high in dietary fiber, which means they take longer to digest and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
As with coffee, adding in heaps of green leafy veg on a cut is an ideal strategy for keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Though, again this is the same scenario as coffee in that this is the exact opposite of what you want during a bulk.
The reason this would be a short-term strategy is that veg is ridiculously high in nutrient density and provides essential vitamins and minerals so you wouldn’t be doing yourself or your physique many favors by cutting this out altogether.
You can however reduce the quantity you consume in the short term or even leave the majority until the last meal of the day to lessen the appetite-suppressing effects.
6) Consume “Dirty” Foods
While nutrient-dense foods are going to be ideal to make up the majority of a bulking diet, leafy green veg, complex carbs, and healthy fats are not easy to digest and sit heavy on the stomach.
If you have a small appetite, this is not an ideal scenario!
In addition to this (not instead of), you should look to add the occasional “dirty” food. Dirty foods are those that are not nutrient-dense and are instead calorie-dense meaning they have a high-calorie content with fewer nutrients.
Examples of these include burgers, pizza, ice cream, and foods people would typically consider to be unhealthy.
See also – Best dirty bulking foods
7) Consume Fast Digesting Carbs
Fast-digesting carbohydrates are quickly broken down, digested, and absorbed into the bloodstream to be used for muscle glycogen replenishment or immediate energy sources.
Usually, these foods would be considered less “healthy” because if you’re not active and burning the calories consumed, they will end up being utilized and stored as body fat. These foods include white bread, candy, white rice, chocolate, etc…
If you have a low appetite though, they can be great sources of surplus calories when appetite is low. Therefore, utilize some of the foods listed above but also look at more optimal sources like a carbohydrate supplement.
Dextrose and Maltodextrin and fast absorbing carb powders that can be mixed into a shake pre or post-workout. When consumed, they won’t impact appetite much and can be a quick source of additional calories.
8) Have More Liquid Calories
I’ve just discussed having more wholefood sources, however, the more wholefood you consume the fuller you’ll feel throughout the day. This is because it takes time to digest food – especially nutrient-dense food sources.
Therefore, a quick tip to utilize is more liquid calories. We added a high-calorie shake option earlier but you can also add smaller liquid-calorie meals to supplement your main meals.
Try consuming a whey protein shake with whole milk or a high-calorie milk alternative (almond milk or oat milk) with your main meals each day.
This will be a quick way to add additional calories without it feeling like a chore to chew or digest.
9) Eat Faster
A common weight loss tip is to eat meals slower in order to feel fuller for longer. The stomach indicated when you are full however, signals also need to be sent to the brain for this to happen. Therefore, a bulking hack for people with low appetites is to eat faster.
By eating meals faster, the time it takes for the stomach and brain to communicate and signal fullness is lengthened. This basically means the fast you consume a meal, the less likely your stomach/brain can indicate fullness and start to suppress appetite.
Note – You still need to fully chew your food in order to aid digestion and nutrient absorption.
Resource – (1)
10) Force Feed
Finally, if none of these tips help to bulk with a low appetite, the only thing you can do is force feed some meals.
You’ll need to accept that there are going to be times when you’re just not hungry. This doesn’t mean you should ignore your calorie targets though. If you’re struggling, try liquid calories, space out your meals, or get some fast-digesting foods to see if that helps.
If not, you’ll just need to accept that some days you will not be hungry but for the purpose of progress, you should still consume your daily calorie target so just be aware that sometimes you’re going to have to force feed food down.
If you need some inspiration when doing this, check out this bulking compilation below:
A lot of the tips listed above will have some cross-over, if you’re going to have more liquid calories, include some high-calorie shakes. If you’re having high-calorie shakes, add a fast-digesting carb source to them…
Bulking with a low appetite is not an ideal scenario, however, there are countless tips you can utilize in order to up your calorie intake each day without really feeling the impact when it comes to feeling full or struggling to digest meals.
You might also want to check out our article on bulking with a high metabolism as there are definitely some crossover points between a fast metabolism and a low appetite, especially when bulking!!
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