To gain muscle you need to be eating in a calorie surplus, as a rough guideline this means eating 300 calories over your maintenance limit (use an online macro calculator to find your maintenance level). A lot of people massively overestimate the amount of calories they consume when looking to bulk, just as a lot of people struggling to lose weight are massively underestimating just how many calories they are consuming on a daily basis.
Once you factor in an intense weight lifting regime, physically demanding job and needing to eat over your maintenance caloric requirements, then you could be looking at upwards of 4,500 – 5,000+ calories a day (based on my own statistics as a male weighing 87kg).
Not only will it be time consuming cooking and eating these meals, and pretty heavy on your bank account, but a lot of people simply don’t have the appetite to consume so many meals over the course of a day. In this article I’m going to talk you through strategies you can employ to ensure you are hitting a high calorie count each day even if you struggle with a low appetite.
This is the number one strategy you can use to boost your calorie intake each day. Shakes are both easily digestible due to being in liquid form and they also take a fraction of the time to prepare than cooking your regular meals.
You want to get the majority of your daily calories from solid food sources and not rely on supplements such as mass gainers (though these can be beneficial). Shakes are an excellent way to get in a few extra 1,000 calories when needed. Below is a sample recipe that can be used for breakfast for those who struggle to make time for a big breakfast before work or as a pre/post workout shake.
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
Post Workout Meal
If you’ve been working out for some time you’ve probably come across the term ‘the anabolic window’ – this is often referred to as the hour immediately after your workout in which your body is most sensitive to utilising macronutrients, particularly carbohydrates. During weight training your body uses glucose/glycogen (formed from carbohydrates) as a source of energy for muscular contractions, it also needs protein to repair the damage that lifting weights causes the muscles.
Therefore in the hour immediately after training your body is craving nutrients to replenish your glycogen and protein stores. This is why it’s become a common theme to have a protein shake after a workout! Your body has expended a lot of energy, you need to replenish your energy storage systems and you tend to be hungry after a workout, therefore this is the perfect time to consume a high calorie meal.
Even if you suffer from low appetite, after a workout you will need a good meal and this is the perfect time to have your highest calorie meal of the day.
Having just finished a 7 – 9 hours fast your body needs food upon waking. At all times your body is either in a state of anabolism (utilising proteins to build muscle) or a state a catabolism (breaking down proteins as an energy source), the key to building muscle is to be in an anabolic state more often that you are in a catabolic state.
After sleeping and essentially fasting, your body is in a catabolic state as it has had no energy source for 7 – 9 hours, therefore a typical breakfast of cereal or toast is not sufficient enough to place your body back into the muscle building anabolic state which is the key aim when bulking. Therefore similar to post workout, your first meal of the day is the first of two periods when your body needs nutrients the most.
Cereal and toast are still fine but only really provides carbohydrates so look at ways to boost your protein and fat intake with this meal. For porridge, add some peanut butter, whey powder and fruit in the form of berries or a banana. For toast, add eggs and bacon (often seen as an unhealthy option, but bacon actually provides essential fats that the body needs).
Smaller Meals, Higher Frequency
Have you ever finished Christmas dinner and then been a bloated, stuffed, lethargic and generally defeated human afterwards?
Consuming so many calories in one sitting affects your appetite for the rest of the day, for the time and energy it takes to digest a large meal your body might not send hunger signals for several hours afterwards, not really beneficial if you’re bulking! Your body is a complex organism and has numerous mechanisms to function, one of which is sending hunger signals that you need to eat, in other words your appetite. If you have a stomach full of food still to digest, your body is going to send signals to resist eating more, the opposite of what you want when bulking.
To combat this a strategy you can use is to consume smaller, easily digestible meals but at a higher frequency throughout the day. Instead of having 3 large meals (standard breakfast, lunch and dinner) you will have 5, 6 maybe even 7 meals a day but in smaller portions. Doing this is easily manageable as you will never be ‘full’ after each meal meaning your appetite will still be there for the next one.
Once you’ve worked out your daily macro requirements the number of meals won’t matter, you just aim to eat that daily amount. Therefore breaking this down into smaller more manageable meals will also allow the advantage of adding further meals if you need to increase your macro requirements further in the future.
Take Home Message
At times, eating more to gain muscle can be just as difficult as eating less to lose fat, by using some of the strategies listed above you’ll be able to eat more whilst feeling like you’re actually eating less! Win – Win.
About the Author
Simon Byrne is a health and fitness writer covering a range of subjects including training, nutrition and supplementation. Whilst currently a certified nutritionist, he is also studying towards a degree in sports nutrition. Outside of the fitness industry Simon’s career is in venue and events management.