Being a competitive bodybuilder, I carry a lot more muscle than most people in the gyms in which I train. I am often approached by young men who ask, “What do I need to do to get bigger?”
The answer I always give is: “Eat more, train harder, sleep more,” with a large emphasis on the “eat more” component. At the end of the day, gaining muscle is simple: If you are eating a caloric surplus every day; training hard using a structured weight training program; and enough sleep, you will grow.
How fast you grow, how lean you will be as you grow, and what muscles you will grow will all be determined by the quality of your nutrition, the quality of your training program, your level of experience, and your genetics. However, as I said before, it’s a simple fact of human biochemistry that if you are in a caloric surplus you will grow!
There will come a time in your quest for more muscle that the amount of food you need to consume each day becomes increasingly difficult to eat. At that point, you must pay attention to maximizing your appetite and your ability to digest the food you eat. I reached this point in my personal journey years ago, and I’d like to share some of the things that made the biggest difference for me!
1. Drink more water in between meals, and less with them.
Your body being hydrated is critical to being able to properly digest and absorb the nutrients from your food. It’s estimated that around 75% of people are chronically dehydrated. Dehydration impairs your body’s ability to produce stomach acid and can cause a multitude of other issues including constipation. I recommend drinking at least 1oz of water per pound of bodyweight each day. While it’s important for your body to be properly hydrated, you should drink as little as possible with your actual meals. The reason for this is that you can dilute your stomach acid and impede digestion, as well as taking up precious real estate in your stomach that could otherwise be filled with food. There’s a reason many fad diets recommend you chug water right before you eat: drinking water with meals increases satiety by filling your stomach up!
2. Choose easily digested foods
Just because you like a food doesn’t mean that you will digest it well. And just because you’re not allergic to a food, doesn’t mean that you will digest it well either. When trying to “pack in the calories,” it’s of paramount importance that you select foods that agree with your body and are easily digested. How do you know what these foods are you ask? Well, they’re the ones that don’t make you gassy, bloated, give you irregular bowel movements, or leave you feeling full for hours! All of these are strong indicators that something you are putting in your stomach isn’t agreeing with you, and is subsequently putting your digestive tract in a state of distress that is far from optimal. What are the biggest culprits, in my experience? A diet heavy in dairy products, processed starchy carbs, and animal fats! So, if you feel your stomach isn’t emptying as quickly as it should after a meal, or you are experiencing bloating and gas, try removing some or all of the offending foods from your diet
3. Don’t stack meals on top of each other
When trying to put on weight, it’s not unheard of to be eating 6 or 7 meals in a single day. A huge mistake beginners make, and one that I made for years, is eating another meal when the previous one still hasn’t digested completely. As a rule of thumb, never eat a meal sooner than 3 hours after the prior one. This allows enough time for most, if not all, of the previous meal to clear your stomach and enter the small intestine. Allowing a sufficient amount of time to pass will greatly increase your digestive capability, and in turn, your appetite.
4. Use digestive enzymes
Digestive enzymes help optimize digestion by supplying exogenous enzymes that are responsible for helping breakdown proteins, carbs, and fats. There are three main kinds of enzymes that help break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats, respectively. As soon as we start chewing, salivary amylase begins turning carbs into sugars. In the stomach, pepsin initiates protein digestion, turning it into amino acids, and then gets more help from other protein enzymes such as trypsin, pancreatic amylase and peptidase. To facilitate fat absorption, lipases secreted in the mouth and stomach tackle fats and oils. So, if supplementing with digestive enzymes is something you’d like to try, be sure to use one that contains a spectrum of the enzymes needed to tackle all the macronutrients, and start by taking them with your heaviest meal first; and adding them into other meals as needed.
5. Do your cardio
I know doing cardio might sound counterproductive if you’re having issues getting in enough calories to grow, but adding in low intensity, steady state cardio to your training program is not only great for cardiovascular health and recovery, but can also stimulate your appetite, due to the increase in metabolism which cardio causes. I’m not talking about killing yourself on the Stairmaster for 30 minutes a day. I think most would be pleasantly surprised by the positive benefits that even 15 minutes of cardio, four times a week, would bring to not only your general sense of well-being, but for your appetite as well!
6. Avoid stimulants
This is one that a lot of people don’t really take into account: stimulants massively curb your appetite. That means all the coffee, energy drinks, pre-workouts, and fat burners you consume during the day are doing you absolutely no favors when it comes to having an appetite and getting your food down. What can you do about this you ask? Well, the most obvious answer is to eliminate them from your diet. That being said, I know that many others, including myself, are able to perform dramatically better at work and in the gym with a little boost, so what is the solution? Prioritize! Suck up having to drive to work tired, and save your first cup of coffee or energy drink for when you’re at your job and need to be productive. Avoid having a mid-afternoon caffeine fix, and save your next energy boost for when it’s time to train.
At the end of the day, you’ll have to make the decision as to how much you scale back your stimulant consumption. Just know that the more you’re able to eliminate, the better your appetite will be!
I hope that you’ll find these tips for increasing your appetite helpful. Give them a try and see if they don’t help you put on those elusive muscle gains you’ve been wishing for!
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.