How To Bulk If You Have A Low Appetite (13 Tips)

how to bulk if you have a low appetite

Many lifters struggle to eat enough food when bulking; this is especially a challenge for hard-gainers.

My 13 tips for people who struggle to eat when bulking are:

  1. Eating more frequently
  1. Do less cardio
  1. Increase liquid calories
  1. Consume high-calorie shakes
  1. Progressively increase calories every week
  1. Don’t eat too much fiber or fat
  1. Eat simpler carb sources
  1. Incorporate “dirtier” foods
  1. Wake up earlier and start eating
  1. Eat two breakfasts
  1. Force yourself to eat
  1. Stay consistent (every meal)
  1. Lift weights more frequently

Need a workout program? Try Fitbod for Free.


 

13 tips to bulk and build muscle if you have a low appetite

1. EAT MORE FREQUENTLY

Eating more meals throughout the day can help increase your appetite, increase metabolism, and increase digestion.

When eating more meals throughout the day, it is important to reduce the amount of calories you consume per meal. By decreasing the calories in each meal and increasing the total number of meals, there is a net increase in total calories consumed throughout the day.

Benefits of More Frequent Meals

  • Eating more frequent meals increases your metabolism. Frequent smaller meals will make you hungrier more often. This is especially helpful if you are struggling to meet your target calories throughout the day.
  • Frequent meals reduce overall meal size throughout the day. Smaller meals are easier to consume, rather than larger less frequent meals.

Pro Tip

If you’re struggling to add additional meals throughout the day. Break up the calories of one of your meals into two separate sessions.

An additional 600 calories could be added to your diet, split into two separate 300 calorie meals. Good options for this would be shakes, liquid calories, or “dirtier” foods (keep reading below for more information)

Related Article: Bulking After A Long Cut: 8 Tips For A Successful Bulk

2. DO LESS CARDIO

Body weight changes result from net changes in energy balance. While cardio isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do during a bulking phase, cardio can be counterproductive during a bulk.

Cardio can be especially a bad idea for those who cannot seem to create a caloric surplus in their diet due to (1) lack of the ability to eat more food, and (2) expending too many calories during the day.

Here are a list of cardio alternatives that can be found on the Fitbod App:

  • Core training: Planks, Sit-ups, Russian twists
  • Upper body resistance training: Bench press, Bicep curls, Tricep dips
  • Lower body resistance training: Squats, Lunges, Deadlifts
  • Full body resistance training workout: Burpees, Clean and press, Kettlebell swings
  • Balance and stability training: Yoga poses, Stability ball exercises, Single-leg deadlifts
  • Flexibility training: Full body stretching routines

Related Article: Female Bulking Workout Plan (Complete Guide)

3. DRINK LIQUID CALORIES

drink liquid calories

 

Liquid calories are an effective tool in the diets of individuals who struggle to gain weight. Incorporating shakes and fruit juices can be a valuable strategy for a trainer working with a weight gain client.

Benefits of Drinking Liquid Calories:

  • Drinking liquid calories is a highly flexible option. Liquid calories like protein shakes or fruit juices are extremely portable and can be easy to consume before work or on the go.
  • Drinking liquid calories are easy to consume. One of the challenges of consuming a high-calorie diet is eating when you’re not hungry. Liquid calories are a viable solution as they can be densely packed with calories and are easier to consume, even without an appetite.

Here are some good options for liquid calories:

  • Chocolate Milk
  • Smoothies (with high-calorie ingredients like bananas, peanut butter, or avocados)
  • Protein Shakes
  • Full-Fat Greek Yogurt Blends
  • Meal Replacement Drinks
  • Fruit Juices, especially those with pulp
  • Coffee with cream and sugar

If you are struggling to determine your macro and calorie needs, be sure to check out our article on 16 Healthy Bulking Foods For Hard Gainers, which includes a meal plan!

4. HIGH-CALORIE SHAKES FOR MEALS AND SNACKS

High-calorie shakes are a great way to increase overall calorie intake, add in an array of macro and micronutrients, and place less strain on the GI tract.

To increase the caloric content of your shakes, consider the following additions:

  • Supplemental carbohydrate powders: These can significantly increase the calorie content of your shakes while providing an easy-to-consume source of energy.
  • Peanut butter: This is a rich source of healthy fats and protein, making it a great addition to any high-calorie shake.
  • Ice cream: While not the healthiest option, ice cream can significantly boost the calorie content of your shakes and add a delicious flavor.
  • Milk: Choosing whole milk can add a decent amount of calories to your shakes, along with protein, fats, and various essential nutrients.

I enjoy making these high-calorie shakes because when I need to diet, I can modify the recipe. I replace the high-calorie ingredients with healthier options like frozen fruits, Greek yogurt, powdered peanut butter, and water.

5. PROGRESSIVELY EAT MORE FOOD

Start by increasing your calorie intake by 200-300 calories per day for a week. Then, add another 200-300 calories to your daily intake each week until you notice a desirable weight gain.

While this may seem like a very slow process (it is), it will allow your body to adapt to the increased calories over time while also minimizing excessive body fat accumulation.

Example of a simple progression:


Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.


6. BE CAREFUL OF EATING HIGH-FIBER AND HIGH-FAT FOODS

High-fat and high-fiber diets can be detrimental to weight gain as these foods can reduce hunger, increase satiety, and hinder your ability to consume more calories.

Follow a diet that’s higher in carbs, moderate in fat, and low to moderate in fiber. Be sure to consume fiber, but avoid consuming too much, as it can lead to bloating, gas, gastrointestinal issues, and general discomfort.

Here are alternatives to high-fiber foods:

Related Article:  Can You Eat Anything When Bulking?

7. EAT SIMPLE CARBS

Use refined carbohydrates to consume more carbs and calories than with only complex carbohydrates.

While I’m not advocating completely avoiding complex carbs, I would caution that filling your diet solely with oatmeal, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and whole grains during your bulk might lead to extreme fullness or too much time spent in the bathroom.

Here are some simple carbs you can eat at different times of the day:

8. INCORPORATE “DIRTIER” FOODS

Clean bulking might not be sustainable due to its high-calorie density. You may consider consuming “dirtier foods” with higher sugar and fat content for additional calories. These foods can effectively boost your appetite and calorie intake.

Personally, I started having ice cream once a day, sometimes mixed in a protein shake, and other times eating after dinner. Enjoying food is possible as long as you understand how it fits into your macros. Use calorically dense and “dirtier foods” as a tool in your bulking diet, not as an excuse to eat without consideration.

Here are some ways to add dirty foods into your diet:

9. WAKE UP EARLIER AND START EATING

Waking up early and eating breakfast creates a larger window to eat food, allowing your appetite to be active for longer windows throughout the day. Also, the longer you are away, the more time you have to eat.

Benefits of Waking Up Earlier and Eating:

  • Greater time to eat during the day time. If you wake up at 5-6 AM and eat earlier, then you will potentially be hungry again by 9-10 AM, rather than by lunch time, making it so that you can incorporate additional snacks throughout the day.
  • Waking up earlier gives you a head start on hitting your calories for the day. This can be especially beneficial if you’re trying to bulk up and need to consume a high amount of calories. It also helps kick-start your metabolism, which can aid in digestion and nutrient absorption throughout the day.

Pro Tip:

Eat first thing when you wake up in the early morning as a pre-workout or pre-work snack, after about 2-3 hours you should be hungry again. Here’s where you can implement liquid calories as a second meal in the morning, if you aren’t hungry, or a small meal (protein bar, bagel, cereal) if you are hungry.

10. EAT BREAKFAST (TWICE)

When having issues eating more food, it’s beneficial to eat more frequently. In addition to eating MORE frequently, I find it smart to also start eating earlier in the day to give you the longest window of feeding possible.

By eating two meals before your normal lunch period, you frontload your caloric intake for the day, which can help fuel evening training sessions better and allow you to eat as your day goes on, especially for individuals who forget to eat as the daily schedule gets more hectic.

Pro Tip:

If you train in the morning, I suggest you eat something prior to lifting (1-2 hours before), which may mean waking up earlier to eat and let your food settle. Afterwards, or even during, you can drink carbohydrates or juice to continue to consume calories. 

Here is a list of other options to have post workout:

  • Smoothies with fruits like pineapples or bananas
  • Chocolate milk
  • Protein shake with a banana
  • Low-fat yogurt with fruit
  • A bagel with peanut butter
  • Oatmeal with protein powder and fruit
  • A medium-sized apple
  • A cup of blueberries

Related Article:  Should You Cut or Bulk First If You’re Skinny Fat

11. FORCE YOURSELF TO EAT MORE

when to eat after fasted cardio

I wish there was an easier method, but the reality is that you often need to push yourself to consume more. This usually involves a struggle to finish the final 20% of your meals.

And that may mean overriding the body’s signals to stop eating. It is the exact same issue dieters have when they need to not eat even though they have hunger pains. Understanding that your body will adjust (or maybe not) to those cues and get on board is part of the journey.

Since it is often difficult for someone who doesn’t have an appetite to eat more, it is important to use as many tools as you can to increase your calories consumed.

Pro Tip:

Use a combination of the tools in this article: eating liquid calories, eating more frequent meals, and waking up earlier to make it easier to consume food even if you don’t have an appetite.

Related Article: 7 Bulking Breakfast Ideas (With Calorie Breakdown)

12. STAY CONSISTENT

Set and track achievable weekly goals for yourself. Tracking progress and results makes it easier to see small amounts of pay off over time. One way to track this progress is to chart your daily weight gain in excel. 

Find ways to reward yourself for following through with your goals, this can be a cheat meal, such as pizza or dessert. Bulking is a gradual process, particularly for hardgainers. 

While being known for a high metabolism and the ability to stay lean and lose weight easily (traits many people aspire to), you also need to realize it takes time.

Here is an example of a calendar to track your diet:

Create a line chart with columns 1 and 5, and columns 1 and 3. This way you can see the progress along the way.

13. LIFTING WEIGHT MORE FREQUENTLY

To gain muscle during bulking, lifting weights is essential. Often, people fail to gain muscle because they’re not eating enough and not training frequently.

Therefore, if you’re not weight training at least 3 days a week and struggling to gain muscle, it’s essential to increase your training frequency. An added benefit of more frequent weightlifting, aside from accelerating muscle growth, is that it will also boost your appetite!

Here is a way to increase your lifting frequency:

The Fitbod app can split up your routine by muscle group. You can select one of these muscle groups to focus on each day of the week as you gradually increase your weekly training.

Related Article: Bulking With A Fast Metabolism: How-To For Hard Gainers

How Fast Should A Hardgainer Gain Weight

I recommend hardgainers aim for a weekly bodyweight gain of 0.5 – 1 lb or slightly less. This rate ensures sustainable gains and minimal fat accumulation during bulking.

Hardgainers have a tough time gaining weight, let alone lean muscle mass. With that said, I typically suggest a slower and more realistic rate of weight gain for hardgainers, as eating a ton of food and gaining weight is not something that comes easy.

If a hardgainer weighs 140 lbs and wants to gain 10 lbs (realistically, 2-4 lbs of this will be muscle, and the remainder will be body fat), they could plan for a bulking phase of 10-15 weeks.

Related Article: 16 Healthy Bulking Foods For Hard Gainers (With Meal Plan)

Will You Gain Body Fat During A Bulk?

Yes, you will gain some body fat during a bulk, and it is 100% normal and necessary for a successful bulk and long term muscle growth.

I often encounter this concern. While it’s natural to worry about gaining fat during the 3-4 month bulking phase, it’s important to realize that this fat can be lost much quicker than it was gained, particularly for hardgainers. Without a caloric surplus, it’s impossible for the body to build new muscle, recover, and sustain more intense training week after week – all of which are crucial for muscle growth. A little extra weight around the midsection is a normal part of the process, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s only temporary. Think of it as a necessary trade-off.


About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.