When it comes to bulking, one of the most difficult things that people struggle with is appetite and eating more than you are used to.
A particular struggle is consuming enough carbs to fuel what will be heavy training sessions and then to replenish your glycogen stores (energy source stored in the muscles) after a training session.
How to eat more carbs on a bulk? There are a few ways to eat more carbs on a bulk and these include utilising liquid carbs for quicker digestion, consuming food with less fibre throughout the day and having smaller meals but consumed more frequently.
The number one strategy you can employ to consume more carbs on a bulk is the use of liquid carbs. These can come in a variety of ways with the most common options being either a powder carb source that you add to water/milk or a whole food source that is easy to blend.
The reason liquid carbs are such a diet hack when it comes to bulking is because they are quickly absorbed and take significantly less time to digest when compared with whole food options.
Digestion is a big one because you can have a stomach full of food that will not only take a long time to digest but also because having food in your stomach will blunt hunger signalling and therefore appetite. On a bulk you want your appetite to be as high as possible so this is a crucial hack.
When it comes to powdered carbs you have two options available, a slow releasing carb source like powdered oats or a fast releasing carb source like maltodextrin or dextrose.
Powdered oats with a scoop of whey protein are a good breakfast option, snack or pre workout shake and will have less of an insulin and blood sugar spike.
The fast release carb sources like Maltodextrin or dextrose are more suited to intra and post workout shakes so that you can benefit from the quick absorption for energy and also to quickly replenish your glycogen stores post workout.
When it comes to carb sources that you can blend you’ll be looking at rolled or Scottish oats, honey and berries (frozen is a good option). Most of the liquid carb sources tend to come in the version of a shake and what I’ve not yet mentioned is the high calorie options that you can create.
I’m not a huge fan of mass gainer shakes, whilst they are high in calories and carbs which is beneficial for a bulk the overall nutritional value is very low. A homemade shake can be high in calories but also covers all the macronutrient categories well which is much better from a body composition viewpoint.
Mass gainers in general will result in more body fat being gained than muscle mass!
The following is a homemade shake that is high in calories to suit a bulk, high in carbs but more importantly high in all the macronutrient categories in general. Oh, and it’s over 1,000kcals.
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 it will lower the calorie count)
Blend all ingredients together
Total calorie breakdown – 1,050kcal. Protein 60g. Carbohydrates 103g. Fat 42g
As you can see these are simple ingredients but are all from whole food sources and you can top the carb content up even further with the addition of honey for example.
Carb Sources Low in Fibre
Digestion is one of the most difficult and hindering obstacles when it comes to bulking. The longer your food takes to digest (ie sits in your stomach), the less frequently hunger signals will be sent to the brain and the lower your appetite will be.
It’s a very straightforward chain of events that ultimately leads to the struggle of consuming the carbs that you require on a bulk. As mentioned, carbs in liquid form are a good way to aid digestion although another good strategy that you can use to consume carb sources that are lower in fibre.
High fibre foods take longer to breakdown and digest meaning that they stay in your digestive system longer.
Wholegrains, beans/pulses, potato with skin on and most important is vegetables. Veg is very high in fibre and also very filling so whilst you need veg to get sufficient micronutrients and vitamins you need to monitor the quantity when on a bulk.
Veg is ideal for a cut because it’s a filling option that is very low in calories, the amount of energy required to digest it almost cancels out the calories that you get from it.
As wholegrains and potatoes are high in carbs you don’t necessarily want to cut these out due to fibre content, therefore I’d recommend reducing veg intake and supplementing with a greens powder. This is to ensure you are still getting sufficient micronutrients and vitamins into your diet.
It would never be beneficial to remove a food group from your diet, however when you’re on a bulk or a cut you need to prioritise certain foods to give a desired outcome in terms of body composition.
Reduce Meal Quantity
By reducing meal quantity i don’t mean as a proportion of the entire day but rather consuming the same amount of calories each day at smaller sittings.
All of these strategies to consume more carbs on a bulk come back to the key point of managing digestion and in turn appetite!
Consuming smaller portions is one method that you can easily use to control appetite and consume more carbs throughout the day. If you’ve ever had a meal heavy in carbs and felt sleepy and tired afterwards then you should pay attention in particular to this section.
Firstly whenever you eat a meal large enough (not specifically just carbs) that it will take a lot of energy to digest then this will create a knock on effect in terms of appetite. A large meal will take longer to digest and could be anywhere from 1-4 hours depending on what/how big the meal was.
With that in mind you don’t instantly trigger appetite signaling the moment your stomach is empty. You go 8 hours on average every day without food when you sleep and don’t wake up mid sleep hungry and craving food. Therefore after a big meal hunger signaling can take much longer to kick in.
After a big meal you also draw more blood into the stomach area as more energy is needed for digestion, this comes from other areas of the body and as a result makes you feel tired and sleepy (I’m sure you’ve all had this feeling after a Christmas dinner?).
This is another side effect that will delay appetite signaling and reduce hunger. When I say reduce appetite a better word for these scenarios is that you repress appetite after a big meal and your body actively signals to not eat any more.
The easiest solution is to therefore consume smaller meals and ensure that you are not eating to the point that you are full. A good way to ensure this is to consume the majority of your carbs around a workout.
This is the time period when your body will best utilise carbs and is also known as the ‘peri workout window’ or ‘anabolic window’. This is based on the concept that you’ll need carb stores in your system pre workout to fuel the workout, intra workout to maintain energy levels and then post workout to replenish glycogen stores.
Increase Meal Frequency
This goes hand in hand with reducing the size of your meals and both approaches should be done simultaneously for the best results.
If you are going to consume smaller meals throughout the day then chances are the longer you go between meals the hungrier you will be. As you are focusing on bulking the aim should be to stay in an anabolic, muscle building state as frequently as possible which means ensuring nutrients are readily available at all times.
The best way to adopt this method is to consume smaller meals at more frequent intervals and limit the carb intake per meal to 50g – 100g at a maximum. The steady influx of carbs will help to keep blood sugar and insulin stable whilst avoiding rapid spikes and drops which will be difficult to manage and the aim should be to make this as sustainable as possible for 3 – 6 months (though most bulks might need to go on for longer depending on the goal).
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