Article written by Sam Ingleton
There are two reasons that people fail to gain weight on their bulks:
- Undereating due to other commitments
- Undereating due to lack of appetite
UNDEREATING DUE TO HAVING OTHER COMMITMENTS (LIVING A LIFE)
Before we dive in to the practical advice, let me offer a brief but critical foreword – you do not have to surrender a happy life to gain weight. You don’t need to miss out on social occasions because you’re ‘going to miss meal five’. You don’t need to get so bloated and miserable that your family forget you exist. If your girlfriend starts looking the other way, you’re working much harder on your bulk than you need to, and should to take some time to understand your relationship with yourself. Also, if you start to smell weird and visit the bathroom more than four times a day, you’re probably overdoing it.
These YouTube bodybuilders who exist solely to eat and train are not real people. They do not live a life as rich and fulfilling as yours. Do not idolise them – have you ever seen footage of them washing up? Do they ever struggle to find what they need in the supermarket? Do they have classes to attend, meetings to endure, bosses to appease? Do they ever have to call their mothers? No – and these are all terrible, unfortunate inconveniences* which make up the life you live. As a person with goals beyond the bar, you’re going to have to make your worlds meet and compromise sometimes.
That being said, consistency is key. Stay on track 90% of the time. Missing one meal in ten won’t hurt your progress too badly, and anyway, if you’ve lost all of your friends by being 100% consistent, who will be there to celebrate your new deadlift PB? Sacks of pasta do not make good friends.
If you’re missing meals because you’re finding it hard to keep on top of life, you’re probably making mistakes somewhere. Seven pointers:
1) Meal prep. Obvious advice first. If you eat something like 3-4 meals a day (which is enough for you, despite what your ‘bro’ says), having two of them prepped will save you a bunch of time, and what’s more, make them portable. You should be able to eat 1000kcal in a sitting – doing that three or four times a day is certainly enough for most people. Hang around for a recipe below.
2) Keep your washing manageable. The importance of this is understated. Eat out of the pan. Keeping this one brief – do you really need to do the extra washing up? Also, if your pasta portions fit normal plates, you need to reassess.
3) Invest in some litre-sized Tupperware. This will extend your success in following point two. Make sure you seek out the litre capacity tubs. For some reason, these are exactly the right size for most large portions, and you can find them super cheap. These will keep your bulk mobile. (If you’re buying cheap ones, probably best to wrap them in a plastic bag for transit, just in case).
4) Wake up earlier. My dad always used to use the phrase: “You’ll have to get up a lot earlier to beat me”. It’s only in the last few years I’ve realised he was right. If you don’t have enough time in your day, make more.
Before you throw your laptop through the window, screaming about how essential your sleep is, have a good look at your evenings/mornings. What do you actually use the time for? Could you be eating/sleeping instead? Maybe you could be up an hour earlier if you traded that hour on social media for an earlier bedtime.
5) Schedule your pooping – seriously. This isn’t usually spoken about, but if you’ve ever had a proper run at gaining weight, this suddenly becomes a big deal. Once after breakfast (sometimes once before) and once after dinner and you’re sweet as a nut. Spending all day worrying about where the nearest lavatory is gets tiresome, and your body is better at holding it in by habit than you think. GOMAD taught me this lesson.
Also, I could swear my body absorbs food better when it knows that it’s going to have to slow itself down before evacuation time. Maybe that’s just me.
6) Take a nap. If a lot of your calories fall over lunch and you’ve got a bit of time spare afterwards, take a ‘muscle nap’. The amount of athletes/civilisations who subscribe to the post-lunch nap should be evidence enough for the effectiveness of this approach. I find 10/20 minutes work best for a biological ‘turn it off and switch it back on again’, whereas an hour and a half ought to be saved for days when you really need it. This brief rest should see you through the worst of the fullness, and will also be advantageous in stimulating an anabolic response.
7) Set your mealtimes. Not only will this help with your appetite, as mentioned above, but it will make your schedule clear to you, opening up time between meals. Instead of worrying about when you’re going to eat, do it at the same time every day, as far as your schedule allows. This will also stop you from procrastinating to the point of actually missing the meal – easy to do when you’re not hungry. Also, it’ll allow you to get on with life – remember, that should be top priority!
Extra tip – make friends with someone near your place of work/study who is willing to offer you the services of their microwave.
UNDEREATING DUE TO LACK OF APPETITE
To master your appetite, you must take command of it. Whilst it’s not strictly true that the stomach has ‘its own brain’ as clickbait-scientists are fond of saying, you should treat it as such. A combination of habit, incentive, and deception will manipulate your digestive system into being able to handle as much food as possible. Here are seven ways of doing it:
1) Distract yourself. Have you ever sat down in front of the TV with a bowl of chips somewhere within your reach? Somehow, at the end of a thirty-minute episode, they’ve miraculously vanished.
When you eat for bulk, an excellent way of masking your appetite is to distract the eye. Use your mealtimes to catch up on TED talks, the news, or something from the LBEB channel. I would emphasise the importance of watching something. Reading a book or scrolling through articles works less well – they inhibit your ability to eat without pausing – speed of delivery being another vital technique for vexing the appetite. Plus, it incentivises meal times – tell yourself you can’t watch that next episode without a meal. Don’t kid yourself – you definitely have a minor addiction to some Netflix series – put that time towards your goals!
2) Walk. This seems obvious but its effectiveness is underrated: walk more! You’ll find that a few twenty-minute wanders a day will drastically increase your appetite when mealtime rolls around – plus, it’ll save your bus money for the butcher’s.
Of course, the same is true of any conditioning work in a bulk. One may be tempted to point out that if you’re burning calories to make yourself hungrier, you’re not actually going to hit your surplus, due to the deficit you’re creating. This isn’t necessarily true – a bit of light conditioning will stimulate the appetite enough to ‘take the edge off’ the sense of fullness.
If I walk 2 miles, calculations estimate I’ll expend just over a hundred calories. Not a large amount by any means, but if it makes me hungrier, I’m going to want to eat that 1000kcal lunch much more than if I’d just been comatose between meals. You’ll find you eat through the initial hunger, and the rest of the meal is much easier to finish than if you’d started eating from a point of zero appetite. Moreover, walking eases digestion, and will reduce bloating.
If my word isn’t enough, download a pedometer app and keep track of your steps. You’ll notice a correlation between days where you’re hungry and days where you’ve been more active. This is especially true for those commuters who have a half-hour walk to their place of work, and go for a little stroll after lunch.
Also, you should get outside more. You’re starting to smell like uncooked beef.
3) Don’t forget your health. It can also be extremely advantageous to have some fruit now and again. I know, I know, fruit isn’t on the list of calorie-dense options you read religiously. However, the acidity and sweetness of the fruit will cut through all the dense foods, and refresh you after eating. Furthermore, the importance of a healthy digestive tract whilst you’re bulking cannot be understated – prioritise fibrous fruits, such as apples and bananas. This will help keep movements regular and ‘normal’ – if you can manage that whilst you’re bulking, you’re golden.
What’s more, it’s quite hard to hit heavy triples with the flu – vitamin C is key. There’s no use in being big and strong if you’re constantly riddled with disease.
Also, try a strong herbal tea after meals, for no reason other than to refresh you. Nothing beats that post-meal-coma better than a well-brewed cup of hot tea.
4) Take breakfast very seriously. You should be eating massive breakfasts, consistently! One of the best ways of derailing your appetite is to skip your breakfast (no sleeping in on a bulk) and try and pack in the calories after lunch and into the night. Not only will this make you feel terrible, as you consume your way into an uncomfortable night’s sleep, but it will mean you’re still full the next morning, making yourself more inclined to skip that important breakfast again. At some point, you’re going to have to suck it up and break the cycle. This is either going to mean you skimp on dinner, or just fight through a very nauseating bowl of oatmeal.
The size of your breakfast has a strong positive correlation to the size of your appetite during the day – you’ll notice a difference in your energy levels and appetite with a big fry-up, compared to a small serving of oats, for instance. Plus, you should make hay whilst the sun shines and eat when you’re hungry – and for most, this’ll be when you break your fast.
5) Get rhythm. Train your gut to expect food at the same times of day, in roughly the same quantities. You’ll find that around once a week, one of your days will be really hard to get through – often it falls the day after your non-training day. You might find you’ve no appetite, breakfast is a grind, and the rest of the day follows suit. Fight through this by being consistent – this will separate the men from the boys, but it’ll also make the days following it feel easier. A rhythm of eating will help you through this process: rather than staring at a mountain of food/calories that you need to finish, you simply follow the same habits from the days before.
I find a good calorie distribution between meals looks something like: 1500/1000/1000/1000-500. I would take those meals at 8am, 2pm, 6pm, and 10pm. Of course, this varies from person to person, but this is a fairly average distribution.
6) Drink more water. This isn’t going to directly stimulate your appetite, but it will help with the lethargy, making you more inclined to actually get up and start moving again after meals. It might also ease the digestive process. Sometimes it’s easy to mistake a lack of appetite for a lack of energy, and the energy being hydrated will give you may also lead to you being more inclined to walk (as mentioned earlier) and move about, instead of indulging in the trademark bulk lethargy.
Mild dehydration – a 1.5% loss in the normal water volume of the body – is enough to induce lethargy, decreased cognitive function, and reduced memory capacity. If you work at a desk, find a two litre bottle or even a gallon jug of water, and finish it during your working hours.
7) Don’t waste your shakes. Avoid this very common mistake. Fair enough, if you’re on the road for a few hours and literally cannot get food in any other way, a shake makes sense. But a stray weight gainer shake during the day can massively thwart your appetite during a bulk.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you bury your miserable sack of weight-gainer. Dip into it after you’ve finished a meal. The infamous Jim Wendler put his size on for football by having a weight-gainer after every meal, in one summer.
The problem with a shake prior to the meal is that you end up being full before you’ve even started eating. The same is true with fluids in general – try to avoid too much of anything immediately prior to eating.
The bottom line is: drink shakes exclusively after meals to avoid unnecessary inter-meal fullness.
Extra tip – aggressively mixing washing up liquid and hot water in a closed shaker as a method of cleaning it is an excellent way of making a fool of yourself/getting minor burns.
What would a bulking article be without a recipe? This one is extremely easy, super cheap, pretty damn tasty, and will feed you lunch for a week. If this is your first time prepping, this one is as good an induction into meal prep as you’ll get. At well upwards of a dense 1000kcal serving, and near 100g of protein, this is an excellent choice for the impoverished, time-strapped athlete.
You will need:
A big wok
One decent knife
4, litre-sized Tupperware boxes (if you’re going to double the portions, go for it, but you’re going to need some monster utensils).
250g pasta (dry)
800g ground beef
8- 12 sausages (depending on how big they are)
8 rashers of bacon
A bell pepper or two
A jar of bolognese pasta sauce
Salt & pepper
Some kind of oil
A chunk ~100g of cheese (optional, but highly recommended)
Beef stock cube (optional)
(I can usually pick all of these ingredients up for less than £15 at my local supermarket)
- Put all of the dry pasta into your massive saucepan with a couple of teaspoons of salt and put a full kettle on.
- Whilst the kettle is boiling, chop your sausages and bacon into bite-sized pieces, and throw them into the wok with some oil, along with your onion and bell pepper. Cook on a medium-high heat. Also, see if you can find some beef sausages where you live – they’re delicious.
- Once the kettle is nearly boiled, start heating the pasta. This way, when the kettle is boiled, the saucepan will already be hot and the pasta will cook quicker.
- Put the water on the pasta, and resist the temptation to stir it for 5-10 minutes – again, it’ll cook faster this way.
- Once the onion has become slightly translucent, and the sausage and bacon are starting to crisp, add the ground beef, with some pepper. Mix.
- Once there’s no pink left in the beef, add the bolognese sauce. You should probably be stirring the pasta at this point too, as it softens.
- At this point, you can stir in your spices and stock, if you want.
- Allow the bolognese to simmer whilst you drain the pasta.
- Once the bolognese has thickened a bit, add the cheese. This, in my opinion, is the best bit.
- Chop in some basil/parsley, if you have any.
- Now, as the Italians do it – add the pasta to the sauce. You’ll find it mixes more evenly this way, and it just makes more logistical sense.
- Portion out into Tupperware. If you used the portion sizes listed, you’ll find it fits into about 3 or 4 boxes.
The road to serious weight gain is long and psychologically torturous. Unlike simply training, eating becomes a full time job, if you’ve got the dedication and the discipline. Maintaining a caloric surplus (or deficit) consistently, day in, day out, can be extremely taxing and not at all as simple a process as most people without the required experience would have you believe.
What’s more, as I’ve emphasized heavily, you should be able to eat and train without it detracting too much from your life. The word ‘balance’ is thrown around a lot, but it’s only when you become unbalanced that you’ll learn this lesson.
The simplest way of putting it is this: if something is taking more from your life than it is eventually going to return, you are stealing from yourself. Drop these deadweight habits and dogmas, and try to step back and examine the bigger picture. The pointers I’ve provided will allow you to achieve your ambitions, without letting them consume you.
Bulk cleverly, consistently, and stay hungry.
*Sorry mum, I promise I’ll call you once I’ve finished breakfast.