If you are a naturally slim person trying to pack on muscle you could be fighting a serious uphill battle.
More often than not naturally skinny people have really high maintenance calorie numbers. Eating excessive amounts of calories in a day can be tough, especially if this is a new endeavor you are embarking on.
If you’re anything like me, you have a very busy lifestyle.
You simply don’t have time to sit down and eat a full breakfast every morning, you likely have a very limited lunch hour, and in the afternoon you are trying to squeeze in a gym session in the little bit of spare time you DO have, not take the time to sit down and crush a mid-afternoon meal.
With all these stressors placed on your dieting habits, it can be a struggle to make sure you’re eating the necessary amount of calories throughout the day.
In order to make this easier on you, I’ve outlined a few of my favorite strategies for eating more than your maintenance calories.
First though, let’s talk a bit more about what I mean when I say maintenance calories.
What Does Eating More Than Your Maintenance Calories Mean?
The concept of maintenance calories is relatively simple.
Your maintenance calories are the number of calories required to maintain your current weight without gaining or losing any fat or muscle.
This number can usually be calculated through different metrics including BMI.
We could dive into detail here, but you only need to know that these numbers are based on your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) the amount of calories that your body puts out during the day to keep you alive and perform basic daily functions as well as those required for exercise periods.
Online calculators based on your height and weight can get you pretty close to your maintenance calorie numbers. Make sure that you take into account the frequency and intensity of your workouts in whatever calculator you use to establish a more accurate TDEE.
As long as your calories in minus your calories out balance, you would be eating your maintenance calorie numbers.
Exceeding this value is usually recommended for weight and muscle gain.
As I mentioned above, there are a few ways to make sure you stay on track and consume enough to overcome your calories expended.
Meal Prep On The Weekends
This probably seems like a no brainer and you’ve heard it a million times. However, it’s much simpler to prepare high quality, healthy lunches for the week ahead if you set aside some time on Saturday or Sunday to meal prep.
Eating lunch on the fly can easily result in less informed decisions during the week. If you know you need to eat, it’s likely you’ll need to grab something quick.
More often than not a quick lunch results in one of two options: a lower calorie quick grab salad or very fattening fast food. This means you are either falling short of your allotted calories for the day or exceeding them in a very unhealthy manner.
Meal prepping allows you to make sure you put together a carefully calculated meal. You can guarantee that you are eating a certain amount of calories without being unhealthy.
On Sundays it’s usually a good idea to dedicate some time to cooking a few chicken breasts to last Monday through Friday for lunch.
Since the focus is on the quantity of calories you’re eating, make sure to throw in something like rice, quinoa, or another higher calorie, carb based item. Lastly, top your lunch off with vegetables like asparagus or broccoli.
Depending on how many calories are need, throw in some almonds, or a half peanut butter and honey sandwich to give you a boost.
Meal prepping ensures that you hit your target protein, carb, and fat (macronutrient) levels without skimping on the calories.
Prepare Shakes For Breakfast
I’ve written about the effects of too many protein shakes on your body in the past. It’s a good idea to avoid strictly protein shakes to supplement your calorie intake.
The best types of shakes are fruit based, usually it’s easy to add some chia seeds, peanut butter, and almond milk to boost calories.
Whipping up a shake every morning makes sure you eat breakfast which gives you one more meal a day that you have an opportunity to consume calories.
If you find yourself not eating breakfast, you’ll usually compensate for that with larger meals for lunch or dinner that can bog you down or not contribute to muscle growth in the same way that maintaining steady calorie intake over the course of the day would.
Sometimes, if you know that you won’t have time to make a shake in the morning, it can be a good idea to make it the night before and store it in the refrigerator.
A quick way to make a shake in the morning is utilizing a quick blender like a NutriBullet.
The average target for a breakfast shake should be anywhere from 250 calories to maybe 500 or 750. This gets your day started off right.
If you are trying to exceed maintenance calorie levels you must have some sort of breakfast to kick off your day.
Many have employed the intermittent fasting (IF) mechanism, however, if you are simply trying to gain muscle you may not be able to do so with just a couple meals between the hours of maybe 1:00-10:00pm. It’s best to eat breakfast in some fashion.
Fill Gaps Between Meals With Smart Snacking
This may be the most important point made in this article.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes made when trying to pack on the pounds is the lack of snacking between major meals.
A lot of the time individuals will focus on their calories at breakfast, lunch, and dinner but still struggle to eat their target. An easy way to overcome this barrier is through smart snacking.
Smart snacking means that you aren’t necessarily gobbling down a bag of Cheetos one every hour on the hour. Calorie consumption should be something that is targeted and deliberate.
Some of my favorite snacks to supplement with include almonds, trail mix, jerky, fruit, or the classic PB and honey sandwich that I mentioned before.
Without a doubt, the best snack bar for supplementing calories I have found to date is the Rx Bar.
Rx Bars are packed with a few egg whites (3-4 usually) some fruit like dates, and maybe nuts like almonds or peanuts. The real benefit is that these bars are packed with about 200 calories a piece.
Click the banner below to purchase Rx Bars on Amazon.
One or two a day as a snack between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner (pre-gym) is a great addition to your calorie count.
The protein in each bar is about equivalent to a scoop of whey and if you are trying to bulk up this is a good alternative to the typical protein powder and milk shaken up in a blender bottle.
The idea behind this was simply to provide you with a few quick tips to eating enough throughout the day.
Many of these are pretty easy options, however, a conscious decision must be made and a focus on calories is essential to gaining muscle.
By incorporating these few line items into your overall thought process about maintaining current weight or increasing overall mass, you’ll be well on your way to achieving the type of body you are looking for.
Being a naturally skinny dude myself, I am constantly struggling to gain muscle.
I quickly see different results based on what I’m eating. I have worked my maintenance calories out to about 2,300 calories per day. I consistently try to eat about 25% more than my maintenance calories when I am on a muscle gaining grind.
The key point here is that you simply need to track what you are putting in your body to achieve desired results. If you lose track, you could have a very skewed perception of how many calories you are eating.
This can hold true for both those trying to exceed maintenance calories… and for those who are trying to lose weight.
If you have any additional questions about or need more detail on maintenance calories or the strategies used to make sure you’re exceeding this number feel free to leave a comment below! If you have experience with bulking yourself, feel free to share that experience in the comments section as well.
Thanks for reading!