Blog Post

5 Tips for if You Struggle to Eat Enough Calories

What to do if you struggle to eat enough calories

There can be a lot of reasons why somebody could struggle to eat enough calories for their goals.

Maybe you have high calorie requirements due to a variety of factors including high activity levels or having a lot of muscle mass while trying to gain more size.

Alternatively, maybe you just have a busy schedule or limited appetite and struggle to eat enough food.

Either way, this post will cover a variety of ways to get more calories in.

1) Add Liquid Calories

It is easier to drink than it is to eat.

Getting a similar amount of calories from liquids often is quicker and fills you up less than eating whole foods.

Some examples of this could be:

  • Switching fruit for fruit juice.
  • Adding a protein shake.
  • Making a homemade “mass gainer” style shake using options such as milk, peanut butter, oats and frozen fruit.
  • Ready to drink options like Up & Go.
Liquid Calories

2) Add Healthy Fats

Fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient.

Protein = 4kcal/g

Carbs = 4kcal/g

Fat = 9kcal/g

Even though fat can be considered quite satiating, from another perspective it is an easy way to add calories. If you consistently fall short of your calorie target, adding more fat can help.

Some options could include:

  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Peanut butter
  • Nuts
  • Nut bars
Healthy Fats

3) Add Dried Fruit

Dried fruit contains significantly more calories than fresh fruit.

30g of dried fruit is typically the equivalent of close to 150g of fresh fruit in terms of calories.

Due to the lower water content, it is much more calorie-dense per gram. It is far easier to consume more calories from than whole fruit.

Not only that, but the micronutrients are also in proportion with the calories still, so it can be a great way to get more vitamins and minerals in too.

Dried Fruit

4) Include Foods you Enjoy Eating

If you enjoy your food more, it is easy to eat more.

This is simple, but it is often overlooked.

I spend a lot of time around people in the fitness community. One trend I see amongst some people is that they struggle to eat enough calories for their goals AND their food is also quite bland.

Imagine having a professional chef cook all your meals for you. It would be so much easier to eat more calories under those circumstances.

There is also that saying about how “there is always room for dessert” as well. Basically, when food tastes nice, it is easier to eat more.

4) Manage Your Fibre and Protein Intake

Fibre and protein are well known for being satiating.

This is great when trying to lose weight. But if you are trying to eat more calories, it can be counterproductive.

If your fibre intake is quite high, it can be worth trialling a slightly lower fibre intake to see if it helps. This can take some trial and error to find a sweet spot that works well for you.

With protein, obviously if muscle gain is a goal, it makes sense to consume a reasonably high amount of protein.

For muscle growth, 1.6-2.2g/kg of body weight protein per day for most people seems to be the optimal zone.

Obviously, this will need to be adjusted for outliers though. Individuals with higher levels of body fat likely do not require as much and those who are extremely lean likely require more.

That being said, the difference in outcomes between 1.2g/kg and 1.6g/kg are not actually that noticeable.

So if you happened to be aiming for a high protein intake, it might make sense to scale it back a little bit if it allows you to reach your calorie goals. This is even more relevant if your protein intake is currently >2.2g/kg/day.

Summary

If you struggle to get enough calories in, there are a heap of options. ‘

Typically, the simplest methods are:

  1. Choose more calorie dense, lower volume foods.
  2. Choose foods that are more convenient to consume.
  3. Choose foods that taste more appealing to you.

p.s. One caveat I want to add to this is that I often see a lot of lifters who are “struggling to eat enough calories” while bulking but also have no issue eating enough calories to maintain their weight while at maintenance. The caveat I want to add is that if you are trying to gain muscle, typically you will also want to keep your calorie surplus relatively small to optimise the amount of muscle gained in comparison to fat. Being in a surplus is not that different from maintenance, so potentially you might be in a larger surplus than desired for your goals if it feels like a struggle to eat enough.

By Aidan Muir

Aidan is a Brisbane based dietitian who prides himself on staying up-to-date with evidence-based approaches to dietetic intervention. He has long been fascinated by all things nutrition, particularly the effects of different dietary approaches on body composition and sports performance. Due to this passion, he has built up an extensive knowledge base and experience in multiple areas of nutrition and is able to help clients with a variety of conditions. One of Aidan’s main strengths is his ability to adapt plans based on the client's desires. By having such a thorough understanding of optimal nutrition for different situations he is able to develop detailed meal plans and guidance for clients that can contribute to improving the clients overall quality of life and performance. He offers services both in-person and online.