Episode 98 Transcript – What to Do if You Struggle to Eat Enough Calories?

Aidan:

Hello and welcome to the Ideal Nutrition Podcast. My name is Aidan Muir and I’m with my co-host, Leah Higl. And this is episode 98 where we’re going to talk about what to do if you struggle to eat enough calories. I always find this a funny topic when I post it on Instagram because I always get the DM, the classic one being like, “I can’t believe this is a problem. How could anybody struggle to?”

Leah:

Yeah. How could anyone have that?

Aidan:

But there’s obviously heaps of situations like what if you’ve got a limited appetite? What if you have really high energy expansion, you’re trying to keep up with that? What if the logistics are difficult because you don’t have much time to eat? There’s so many situations.

One of the good things about a podcast though is we don’t get much feedback on a podcast, but on an Instagram-

Leah:

No DMs.

Aidan:

Yeah, there’s no DMs, there’s no comments. You can send me this stuff if you like. I love all feedback. But podcasts, it’s usually just, I feel like we’re talking to an empty crowd kind of thing.

Leah:

Yeah, it kind of feels like that.

Aidan:

Yeah, there’s people who listen, but it’s rare to get direct feedback or anything like that, so we’re just going to say our piece and then you can identify which things are or not relevant for you individually.

Leah:

Awesome. So let’s start with suggestion number one and that would be liquid calories. So I always find this is kind of my go-to option is adding liquid calories when people feel like they’re really struggling to get enough calories in in a day and early satiety is an issue. So pros is, obviously, it’s usually quicker to drink than to eat, so that’s great. It’s also less filling. So let’s take a smoothie, that’s going to be less satiating than if you had everything in that smoothie in a bowl and you were eating it all unblended. So drinking it is going to be, overall, less satiating. And maybe then you could take that smoothie and pair it with actual food and then get more calories in with the same level of satiation as you would’ve if you took that unblended smoothie and ate that on its own. So yeah, overall, less filling.

Another thing I would say is you can often add a drink to a meal in that maybe you add orange juice, chocolate milk and up and go, some kind of mass gainer even, you can always add that alongside meals and snacks to up the calories without necessarily adding a lot to the satiety or filling factor. So that is always an easy win, especially if you are replacing some of your fluids throughout the day. So let’s take water, which is no calorie, and then maybe we’ll replace some of that water intake with orange juice, Powerade, all of a sudden, we’re adding calories with no extra added volume and those kinds of things in terms of juice or Powerade is not necessarily going to be more satiating than water. So it’s always an easy win.

Aidan:

Have you seen those nutrition where it has 1,200 calories, mass gainer shakes?

Leah:

No. How much powder do you have to take?

Aidan:

I think it’s like three scoops, right? Don’t quote me on that, but it’s more in the singles.

Leah:

Okay. Yeah. Yeah. That’s a lot.

Aidan:

Yeah. One of my clients has it, he eats over 5,000 calories a day. He also works a labor-intensive job, which therefore, a challenge I wouldn’t have really thought about too heavily is that if he eats heaps of solid food and then tries to work.

It’s very uncomfortable. So we use that shake to get it in that case. Very brief note on mass gainer shakes outside of that one, because I haven’t looked at the ingredients too much on that or anything like that, but I prefer homemade sole mass gainer shakes over the supplement ones. And there’s a major reason for that and one of them is that most mass gainer shakes are just protein powder, say, whey protein or anything like that supplemented with maybe some form of triglycerides, some form of fat content, and supplemented often with carbohydrates, particularly maltodextrin is the most common one I see, but there’s like dextrose, there’s a bunch of different options.

Why would I prefer a homemade one? The major reason for that is because multodextrose in particular is very similar to sugar, it has a similar glycemic index and it comes alongside no added micronutrients, which is the major downside of added sugar is that it doesn’t come alongside micronutrients or anything like that.

And if we are looking at it through that lens, it’s like, hang on, you could literally use any carbohydrate source and get the same results. Could it be cheaper to make it at home? It probably could be cheaper to make it home. Could you use the taste that you prefer? You literally could get chocolate syrup and put it in if you wanted to and get similar results if you made the-

Leah:

Like HERSHEY’S Chocolate Syrup.

Aidan:

Yeah. Yeah. And you’ve got so many options, you could choose based on taste, you could choose based on nutrient density, you can choose based on whatever, use the most important thing to you. But that’s why I like the homemade ones because it’s probably cheaper and it’s probably going to give you more of what you specifically-

Leah:

Got more control over it.

Aidan:

Yeah. Yeah. But the other ones are more convenient and everything like that. I think that client of mine is sponsored by a supplement company, which is part of how he gets it, so it is cheaper for him. But anyway.

So another option is increasing meal frequency. An example I like to use, I like to use extreme examples a lot because it makes us think, an example I like to use is if I was trying to eat as many calories as I could over the next 24 hours, how would I go about it? And I would start eating right now, and then, the second I was able to eat more, I would eat more. It would be like grazing constantly across the day. It’s easier to eat more when you are eating more frequently. There are certain exceptions to that rule. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anything on sumo wrestlers eating twice a day. Have you ever heard anything about that?

Leah:

No.

Aidan:

So I’ve heard stories that sumo wrestlers, traditional sumo wrestlers often eat twice a day because they get so hungry that when they go to eat they can just have heaps of food. And that’s an anecdotal thing and I wouldn’t rule that out as an option. But if you were somebody who was struggling to get enough calories in and you hadn’t tried eating super frequently, that would be my first move because most people are going to eat more food when they eat more frequently.

Leah:

Yeah, a hundred percent. And the third suggestion is going to be going for calorie dense options. So there’s a couple of ways you can do this. So the first thing that comes to mind for me is increasing your intake of higher fat foods. That is because fat is more energy dense than the other macronutrients, carbs and protein and it has more than double the energy density. So carbs and protein have four calories per gram, fat has nine calories per gram. So a little bit of fat can go a long way when it comes to calorie amount. So increasing your intake of things like nut and nut butters, I love a good bit of peanut butter as a bit of a mass gainer, seeds, avocado, plant-based oils like your olive oil, salmon, hummus, all those kinds of higher fat foods.

Just a general note is it’s probably best to have a focus on increasing more of your healthy fats as kind of a first port of call rather than a lot of animal fats, saturated fats. But we’ll talk a little bit about including foods you would enjoy and maybe some more highly palatable foods later. So that could come into play. But if you’re going to take this to, not an extreme, but you’re going to use this method, I would focus more on your healthy sources of fats, which is mainly your plant-based sources and seafood.

Another way you could go about introducing more calorie dense options is looking for fruit and veg with reduced volume or water content. So an easy win would be dried fruit as opposed to fresh fruit, it’s a lot less volume for the same amount of calories. So if that’s something you enjoy, you could always add that into your day.

And then, also looking at cooking methods that reduce the water content of vegetables. So I actually use this a lot with my plant-based clients who struggle with the sheer volume of food that they sometimes have to consume as plant-based athletes. And instead of doing things like steaming and boiling where the water content of your veggies is the same or increased, we would actually use things like pan frying and baking and make that overall volume a lot less in doing so.

And then, I guess also, when it comes to veg intake, you don’t want to forego your vegetables, but maybe focusing a little bit more on your starchy options. So things like potato, sweet potato, corn, peas, legumes, et cetera, maybe a little less than your other kind of low calorie, low starch, veggie options.

Aidan:

On that topic, in a way, managing fiber intake as well as managing protein intake is a good idea. And what I mean by that is don’t significantly overshoot these any more than you need to do so. I’ll start by using an extreme example on protein intake and then we’ll work backwards from there. So there’s one study by Jose Antonio where they gave people 4.4 grams per kilogram of body weight protein per day. Just taking a second to let that sink in, if somebody was a hundred kilos, that would be 440 grams of protein, a hundred grams of chicken breast is 30 grams of protein, so a little bit under that, like 25 grams of protein if it’s uncooked chicken breasts. So if we look at it from that perspective, we’re like, okay, that’s a lot of protein.

The goal of that study was to have people in a calorie surplus, but everybody ended up in a calorie deficit. As you can imagine, because if all you’re doing is eating protein all day, you’re just going to get full before you get to an appropriate amount of calories.

So when I say manage your intake, what I’m saying is whatever number you personally deem to be the optimal amount, you just eat that amount and you don’t eat more. If I was going to put numbers out there, I think for the average person trying to build muscle, 1.6 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight protein per day is an optimal range for a lot of people. Obviously, there’s nuance around that, some people requiring higher, some will be requiring lower. But using that 1.6 to 2.2 number, the research showed on average that 1.6 is enough to optimize in most cases, and 2.2 is there to cover outliers. If you believed you were in that kind of average situation, you would aim for 1.6 and not any higher than that, if you think you would benefit from 1.8, 2.0, whatever, then go for it, but just go to that amount and not significantly higher.

There are a lot of people I have seen who struggle to eat enough food and are consuming well over the two grams per kilogram body weight protein per day. And theoretically, we could just reduce protein intake, have no difference in muscle gain or anything like that, but be able to get more calories in to fuel muscle gain.

Leah:

Totally. It makes sense.

Aidan:

Exactly. The same thing with fiber, there’s a few targets, the recommended daily intake of fiber is like 25 grams for women and 30 grams for men. And adding nuance to that, I think a better guide is 12 to 15 grams per 1000 calories. So if you’re eating 2000 calories, if you wanted the top end of that range, that would be 30, if you wanted the bottom end, that’d be 24. So it kind of fits with the recommend daily intake. If you ate 3000, obviously it gets up towards that 45 kind of mark at the top end and so on and so forth. But if you just ate in the same ratio you normally would, but you ended up eating 6,000 calories as an extreme example, but you kept increasing your vegetable intake alongside that, you kept increasing your intake of legumes, nuts, seeds, et cetera, et cetera, you suddenly end up with this overwhelming amount of fiber, which we know is quite satiating. So once again, find whatever you would consider to be the optimal amount for you and just don’t go beyond that.

Leah:

Yeah. And again, going back to my plant-based athletes, this is such an issue I see in them in that they’re consuming 60 to 80 grams of fiber, well beyond what we need for health and they’re like, “I’m just so full all of the time and I cannot physically eat more.” And I’m like, “Well, let’s start looking at that fiber content because that’s probably going to give you a lot of bang for your buck in terms of eating more.”

Another tip would be include foods you enjoy eating. I think this is a pretty obvious one, but one that some people, I guess, steer away from in terms of, ideally, you have food that you think tastes good and maybe it’s a little bit more highly palatable in that maybe it has a bit more of fat and sugar content because we know that combo is typically highly palatable for most people. So if you are getting too caught up in eating really, quote, unquote, “clean or super whole food based,” you might struggle with this. So moving from a whole food focus only to including some fun foods, especially if you have a high calorie budget and you can meet your nutritional requirements in a portion of that, you have these extra calories to have these fun foods that are easy to eat and consume calories from.

Aidan:

Yeah, it makes it easier for sure. And going against any pushback against that, I guess, it’s like, okay, it works equally well for body composition, you’ve touched on the health aspect, another area people will look at, which kind of ties in with the health aspect is micronutrients. A lot of people are like, “Well, I want to optimize my micronutrient intake as well.” And we have a few things alongside that, one is that consuming more calories often increases micronutrient intake as well. A story I often put alongside that is, in a previous job, I used to do food works analysis of all my client’s diets. So that would be, I just put into some computerized analysis software to figure out their micronutrient intake based on what they said they were eating.

And I remember, one client went to KFC and they got a burger, a Krusher, I don’t know if you-

Leah:

Yeah.

Aidan:

Yeah. So they got a Krusher, which is like a milkshake type beverage, and they got some chips. Right. And they significantly over-consumed calories for the day. It wasn’t just that, they added a few other things, but I’m using that example just to narrow it down on that meal. And their micronutrients were off the charts. And you might be like, “How did that happen?” Well, the burger still had chicken on it, it still had some iron from the chicken, it still had some zinc, it still had some magnesium, everything like that. I don’t know if the bread and the burgers is fortified, but a lot of bread in Australia is fortified with micronutrients as well. The Krusher was like 600 mil of milk.

Leah:

There’s calcium.

Aidan:

Comes with heaps of calcium. It comes with potassium as well, so does the chicken as well, so does a potato as well. Once you go into it, the potato has heaps of micronutrients as well. There’s that guy who lives solely off of potatoes for a year and lost heaps of weight. And when people asked him, they’re like, “Why did you choose potato?” He’s like, “Have you seen the micronutrient profile of potato?” People forget that it’s a vegetable, they just think of it as carbs. It still does have micronutrients.

And I use that example just being like, yeah, she over-consumed calories, but she also had more micronutrients. Bad example because that’s not what I wanted her to be doing, obviously, but I’m using the example of being, sometimes foods we consider to be poorer quality still contain micronutrients. We can’t just ignore that.

Leah:

Yes, they’re often not completely void of nutrition.

Aidan:

Yeah, exactly. The main thing that is void of nutrition is added sugar, that is the main thing, right? Sometimes prioritization is important as well. It makes sense to focus on the thing that moves you towards your goals. If you were faced with the option of incredible micronutrient intake and insufficient calories for your goals and very good micronutrient intake and optimal calories for your goals, sometimes it makes sense to go with the latter, the one that’s still very good and moves you really towards your goals as well.

Leah:

Yeah, I think that’s a great summary. So this has been episode 98 of the Ideal Nutrition Podcast. If you haven’t left a rating or review, it would be super appreciated for you to do so. But otherwise, thanks for tuning in.