How to increase appetite when bodybuilding? You can increase appetite when bodybuilding in several ways, these include consuming liquid calories, eating smaller meals more frequently and consuming carbohydrates high in the glycemic index.
Eating in a calorie surplus is an essential requirement when looking to build muscle and put on size. The size of the surplus will depend on your training level and body composition but usually the surplus will be 300 – 500 calories above maintenance.
** To work out your maintenance calorie requirements check out this guide
Building muscle is not a linear process however and what you did to build the first 5lbs of muscle will not necessarily work for the next 5lbs, it’s the law of diminishing returns.
There are a few options you can employ when progress plateaus, one of the most successful is consuming more calories. An abundance of the calories (utilising an efficient macronutrient split) will speed up recovery, fuel sessions and facilitate new muscle growth.
The issue you run into however when consuming more calories is a loss of appetite. The more calories you consume the more difficult it becomes to fight the feeling of fullness and hit your daily targets. It’s difficult to actually increase appetite when consuming surplus calories however you can employ strategies to make hitting your target calories easier.
Consume Liquid Calories
By far the easiest way to maintain your appetite when bodybuilding is to consume a percentage of your daily calories in liquid form. Eating whole food sources should still be the staple of your diet however having additional meals in the form of liquid (blended) food is a digestive savior.
Liquid calories are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, spend significantly less time in the digestion process and more importantly do not take up valuable room in the stomach. A large whole food meal will need to go through the digestive process which ultimately ends in the stomach, a high calorie meal can take anywhere from 1 – 4 hours to fully digest.
The issue with this is that not only will your stomach not send hunger signals to the brain but it will also actively suppress your appetite with signalling. A constantly full stomach is not the optimal route to take when looking to maximise calorie intake.
Liquid calories as mentioned will be quickly absorbed and leave precious room for whole foods, this however is not the main benefit of liquid calories. The main benefit is the fact that you can create high calorie shakes that will really up your daily intake.
A typical recipe that I always recommend for a high calorie shake with a good macronutrient split is the following:
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
Eat Smaller Meals More Frequently
The next most effective strategy when looking to increase appetite (or at least prevent a decrease of appetite) is to consume smaller meals but eat more frequently.
The reasoning behind this is similar to that of utilising liquid calories and that is to reduce the length of time that you have any feeling of fullness. Smaller meals are digested quicker and take less energy than larger meals (digesting a large meal takes energy which is why people feel sleepy after a big meal like Christmas or Thanksgiving).
The key to building muscle is to hit a daily and even weekly calorie target, there are numerous arguments for consuming a set amount of protein per meal for example as you can only absorb a certain amount of nutrients at any one time.
This has been proven to be more bro science than a legitimate approach, as long as you are getting your macronutrient requirements in throughout the day then you will reap the benefits. It’s worth mentioning that nutrient timing is beneficial, consuming carbohydrates around your workout will mean they are well utilised however if you consume them an hour later or before this doesn’t mean it’s wasted.
With this in mind, as long as you are hitting your daily calorie target then there is some flexibility with how you split these out over the day.
Smaller meals therefore, are the route to go in order to keep appetite high. A smaller meal (roughly 500 calories as an example) can be duplicated and be consumed every 2 – 3 hours, this will quickly put you in the 3000kcal – 4000kcal daily consumption with no noticeable effects on digestion.
Consuming in excess of 1000kcal per meal however will certainly start to take a toll on digestion and lead to appetite fatigue throughout the day. Even if you don’t feel like you’re consuming enough calories when consuming smaller meals you should always be focusing on the daily target, you don’t need to feel full constantly to ensure you are consuming enough calories!
Consume Higher GI Carbs
Another issue with maintaining appetite when bodybuilding is foods taking a long time to be absorbed into the bloodstream and being shuttled to your muscle groups to aid in growth. A key contributor to this is in the form of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates come from many different sources from complex carbs like wholegrain, vegetables and lentils to simple carbs like bread, cereal and sugary snacks (soda, biscuits, sweets etc..). What makes a carb complex or simple is how long it takes to be broken down and absorbed by the body.
Complex carbs as the name suggests, take longer to be broken down into glucose (blood sugar) whereas simple carbs can be rapidly absorbed. The way we have categorized carbs based on their complexity is through a chart known as the glycemic index (GI).
The GI is a listing of all carbs ranking from high to low based on the speed of absorption (high GI foods being the quickest absorbed and therefore considered simple carbs). There are a range of things that can actually change the GI of a food including cooking methods and mixing of food groups so the chart is to be taken as a basic guide.
Potatoes for example are a very versatile food when it comes to the cooking process and therefore you can actually manipulate the GI of it based on cooking method. Very useful for all dieting aspects of someone building a physique either on a cut or a bulk.
The usefulness of this information in relation to this article is that in order to increase your appetite you want to be favoring foods that are higher in the glycemic index for speed of absorption. It’s worth taking caution that high GI foods will cause rapid insulin (blood sugar level) spikes and drops whereas a low GI food will maintain a more consistent blood sugar level.
Insulin and bodybuilding are very much intertwined so It’s worth checking out T-Nation for a full rundown on the importance of insulin.
For this article however you only need to be aware that high GI carbs will be your friend when looking to increase appetite. Carb sources high in GI include:
- White bread
- White rice
- Sugary Snacks
- Dextrose & Maltodextrin (supplement options)
- Instant oats
*Data pulled from Harvard Medical School
Reduce Caffeine Intake and Other Appetite Suppressants
Whatever techniques people use on a diet to suppress hunger and get by on low calories should be the complete opposite of what you are looking to do when trying to increase your appetite.
One of the key tactics used to suppress appetite is caffeine, mostly in the form of coffee.
Caffeine is an excellent appetite suppressant and when on a cutting diet it can really help you get through your days (and workouts) when on low calories. An appetite suppressant basically dampens hunger pangs and reduces cravings.
The issue is however that many people become reliant on caffeine and usually a morning coffee is the first thing they will consume, even when bulking when energy levels should be at an all time high reducing the need for that initial kick.
Therefore if you are someone that has become reliant on caffeine year round, your appetite will take a hit as a result and you won’t have the hunger to consume the amount of calories that you need when in a bodybuilding phase.
You therefore need to try and drastically reduce the caffeine intake (decaf coffee still has the same suppressant effects) and rely on the high calories to keep energy levels up.
The worst kind of appetite suppressant however is bland food. This is very much psychological and not something you would actually consider but to eat a volume of food each day then some form of a set meal plan is required.
You can rotate foods or try to take an ‘if it fits your macros approach’ and freestyle your food choices but unless you’re a professional bodybuilder and have the time to commit to meticulous macro tracking of every meal then you’ll need at least a few set meals that you consume daily.
** This is also essential for meal prepping so that you can batch cook.
With set meals though comes a boredom for your taste buds and cravings for other foods set in (or cravings for any food stop all together). It’s therefore important to have a range of sauces and spices that you can cycle through to keep your taste buds satisfied.
Another strategy is to mix up textures and flavours of the same foods, this includes different shaped pasta, different flavours of rice, different flavoured oats etc… The key is to mix up flavours as much as possible whilst keeping the food choice the same for ease of tracking macros.
Consume High Fibre Foods at the End of a Meal
High fibre foods also happen to be foods that are highly satiating meaning that they fill you up. When looking to increase your appetite these may not be the best option however it’s important to still consume high fibre foods for your appetite.
This sounds counter intuitive but high fibre foods assist with digestion which is an essential proponent when consuming a high quantity of calories each day. This therefore seems like a catch 22 situation, if you eat high fibre foods then they’ll fill you up and if you don’t consume enough fibre then you’ll struggle with digestion.
One solution to cater to both needs is to consume some high fibre foods at the end of a meal.
As these foods are so satiating they’ll fill you up quite quickly, keeping them at the end of your meals however means that you can get the bulk of your calories from a meal quite easily and then consume as much of the high fibre food as you can at the end.
Breaking up your foods by meal will make it easier to handle satiety, for a further boost you could also use fibre supplementation like psyllium husk to aid daily digestion.
Foods high in fibre that you want to include in our diet are:
- Wholegrain like pasta, cereal and rice
- Nuts and seeds
- Vegetables, particularly leafy greens
- Fruits, particularly berries
- Potatoes with skin
Look To Add More Calories To Usual Meals
Sometimes the smallest of changes/additions are all that is required when you are struggling to get your calories in and appetite is low. What you need to do is find a way to add more calories to meals you already consume on a regular basis.
One bad example of this (as I previously advised against it) is to add heavy cream to you coffee. I know I said reduce coffee intake when trying to increase your appetite so just take this as a poorly chosen example but adding some heavy cream (30ml tablespoon) to 3 coffees per day (UK average) can add an 400kcals to your intake per day.
The additional 400 calories will mostly go unnoticed, especially if you use it in place of milk instead of alongside it and it’s the small meal hacks like this that can go a long way in boosting your overall calorie intake whilst having minimal impact on appetite.
Other hacks to look into are nut butters (excellent in cereal/oat meals), honey (same as nut butter), coconut and olive oil (fry food it and add it straight over foods like fish and salads), cheese (add to pasta dishes).
Look through all your set meals and see where you can look to add additional calories that won’t necessarily make a noticeable difference when consuming it.
This point has been saved for last because it’s less of a strategy (or even a tip) but it’s still something that needs to be considered when looking to increase appetite and that is learning to force feed.
Force feeding is unpleasant and something that really stops people hitting high calorie targets however if you only eat when you feel hungry then you will never consume enough to put on meaningful size.
Force feeding will train your stomach in a similar way to shocking your muscles with progressive overload, you basically need to get comfortable being uncomfortable!
All the tips discussed in this article will help you increase appetite when bodybuilding however there will be a point when you struggle with consuming your meals. The human body does not work in predictable ways, some training sessions will beat all previous bests whereas others you will struggle to get through the warm up.
The same will be true with your diet, some days appetite will be high whereas others it will be low, you can use a host of tactics but there will be times when you just need to force feed it down in order to hit your calorie targets.
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