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.
How to bulk with a low appetite? To bulk with a low appetite you need to apply the following strategies:
- Eat smaller meals more frequently
- Consume high calorie liquid meals in the form of shakes
- Reduce caffeine, fruit & veg
- Eat a larger breakfast and post workout meal
- Make sure you are tracking your macros and weight daily
The following are strategies for bulking with a low appetite that I’ve placed from what I feel is a combination of the most important but also the easiest to implement. If you follow these in the order that I go through you might not need to implement them all to have a successful bulk, the first three strategies for example might be enough to see you hitting daily calorie targets without having to consider appetite at all.
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 on 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 because most people don’t realize how many calories they need to consume a day just to maintain weight, if you don’t know this figure then how are you going to eat in a calorie surplus which is what a bulk is.
Once you have this maintenance level and start off with a 200 calorie surplus you simply need to track your weight daily and see if you’ve gained weight, if after a week your weight has stayed consistent then you need to add more calories. Keep adding calories until you gain weight, even if you have a low appetite your original surplus shouldn’t be too difficult because it’s based on an amount that your body needs to maintain weight so should be physiologically achievable with little effort.
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 each which isn’t necessarily easy if you have a low appetite to begin with.
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 and as long as you do this and adjust macros over time then it will be a successful bulk with significant muscle gain to match.
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 then 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 and included it on a similar article I wrote for Bulk Powders. This shake recipe alone provides over 1,000kcal and can be consumed in 30 seconds!
25g whey protein (flavour 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.
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 of 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 – 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. 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 quantity of calories is with your post workout meal. If you’ve just hit a serious weights 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 there 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 seriously carb and protein heavy meal, for most 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 kick start 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.
Reduce Caffeine, Fruit & Veg
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 lowering your appetite.
This is a killer tactic to employ if you are on a cut and want to reduce hunger pangs however for a bulk you really don’t want to be using anything that will lower appetite further so if you are drinking coffee daily just cut this and see the difference to appetite throughout the day.
Fruit and veg, especially green leafy veg, are high in dietary fiber, this 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, again the same scenario as coffee is that this is the exact opposite of what you want during a bulk.
The reason this would be a short term strategy is because 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. 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.
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Also check out:
Bulking on a budget – https://bodiesbybyrne.com/how-to-bulk-on-a-student-budget/
Bulking without counting calories – https://bodiesbybyrne.com/how-to-lean-bulk-without-counting-calories/