Your belly rumbles to tell you are hungry, even if you are eating more than usual because you are in a caloric surplus.
Knowing how to manage hunger can be tricky, which is why I tell people that it is important to listen to your body’s signals.
So, what are the tips if you’re still hungry in a calorie surplus? Before using any tips, you need to understand whether you have true, physical hunger or not. Depending on this, you can decide how to manage your hunger, whether this is by adding nutrients or fluids in your diet, rearranging meal or exercise routines, or reassessing calories.
Although being in a caloric surplus does not mean that you won’t feel hungry sometimes, it is important to note that there are ways around making your body feel satisfied and fuller for longer.
- Knowing the differences between hunger cues and habitual eating are important if you want to learn how to manage hunger while bulking.
- Some dietary tips to help you feel less hungry are to increase protein and fiber, as well as drinking 1-2 glasses of water straight before a meal.
- Other tips include changing meal times and exercise levels, eating mindfully, and checking that your caloric surplus is correct.
Hunger Cues vs Habitual Eating
You may still feel hungry after eating for different reasons, even if you are in a calorie surplus.
It could be because you are (1) not eating the right foods, (2) your hormone levels are imbalanced, or (3) you are not eating enough calories (yes, this could still be a reason if you are in a caloric surplus).
Whatever the reason, it is important to know your body and the hunger signals it sends you (or doesn’t send you).
To understand this, it is worth mentioning the differences between physical hunger and psychological hunger (habitual eating).
So, what drives these two kinds of hunger?
What is Physical Hunger?
Physical hunger is true hunger and happens when your body demands nutrients to function.
This type of hunger is what most people feel, however it is important to note that it does not feel the same for everyone. This is because, as with most health-related things, we don’t all have the same biology, diet and lifestyle.
Physical hunger is when you have physical sensations such as stomach growling, headaches, tiredness, and problems focusing to name a few. You can think of it as “I need food to function”.
These sensations usually appear when you haven’t eaten for some time.
For example, if you have not had a meal/snack for 5-6 hours, you may find that your stomach grumbles and you can’t focus on work.
When you feel these physical sensations, it means that your stomach produces a hormone called ghrelin, also referred to as the “hunger hormone” which is known to increase appetite.
On the other hand, after having food, your body will stop sending hunger signals. This is because when you have eaten enough, your body produces a hormone called leptin, also referred to as the “satiety hormone”.
As such, even if you are in a caloric surplus, it is still possible to feel hungry. If you still feel hungry after a meal though, you may need to listen to your body to understand whether this is true hunger or not.
What is Psychological Hunger?
This kind of eating refers to habitual or recreational eating, which tends to happen when you eat for reasons other than true hunger.
This eating pattern typically happens because of boredom, stress, anxiety, and food pleasure to mention a few.
For example, let’s say you have just had lunch, and you realize you have 3 types of desserts in the fridge. You decide to have them all, because they look and smell good.
In this case, it is not true hunger, as you continue to eat even when you are full from the meal. You can think of it as “I want all the desserts as they look good”.
So, to avoid habitual eating it is important to listen to your body and be aware of true hunger signals.
Tips For Being In A Calorie Surplus But Still Hungry
As mentioned above, there are many plausible reasons as to why you still feel hungry whilst on a caloric surplus. So, I have put together some tips to help you with this.
My advice would be to trial one or two tips at a time, then monitor your hunger after a few meals to see if anything changed. If you still feel hungry after doing this, add on the other tips.
This is my recommendation, as if you try changing too many things at once, you may feel overwhelmed.
1. Increase Fiber
Fiber helps you feel full as it slows down the digestion of food, so the more fiber you eat, the less hungry you will feel.
The American Dietetic Association recommends consuming 14 g dietary fiber per 1,000 kcal, or 25 g for adult women and 38 g for adult men.
Fiber rich foods include wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. So when you go food shopping, check the label for the grams of fiber per serving (high fiber is equivalent to 6g per 100g).
For example, you can increase fiber easily by switching to brown cereal, bread or pasta, or by incorporating beans/lentils/chickpeas to your main meals, whether this is a dahl, soup or salad.
If you are a snack person, brown crackers/bread with your preferred spread or a bowl of unpeeled fruit with nuts/seeds are also a good option.
- Check out other examples in complete guide to bodybuilding & fiber
2. Increase Protein
Protein is another nutrient that can make you feel fuller for longer.
If you eat around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, this meets the dietary recommendations.
So make sure you include this at every meal by having between 20-40g portions of protein at a time and spacing it out to approximately every 3-4 hours.
Spreading your protein more evenly across meals rather than eating most of your day’s protein across 1 or 2 meals is actually better for muscle growth and hunger.
For example, if one of your meals consists of a two egg omelet, bread and some vegetables, add another egg and opt for brown bread.
Wholegrains are surprisingly high in protein which counts towards your protein target.
3. Meal Timing
Meal timing and how frequently you eat often appears to influence appetite and hunger.
There is no perfect meal time that suits everyone the same, as meal times will depend on your lifestyle and preferences.
You may prefer having fewer meals in the day than more. You may like to snack, or you may not.
If you are currently feeling more hungry at certain times in the day, try redistributing your calories across your meals. You can do this by increasing/decreasing the number of meals you have in a day.
For example, let’s say that you are currently having 4 meals in a day in your caloric surplus (8am, 12pm, 4pm, and 8pm), and you find that you feel more hungry towards evening time.
You might want to try having more calories at 4pm. To do this, you could either:
- Try reducing your calories slightly at breakfast or lunch (or both), and add them to your 4pm meal.
- Or you could try adding a meal/snack at 6pm, whilst reducing your calories slightly at breakfast or lunch.
So, the concept here is to try switching things up a bit to suit your diet and lifestyle.
4. Eat Mindfully
If you have difficulty distinguishing true hunger from habitual eating in your caloric surplus, try practicing mindful eating.
The principle of mindful eating is to be more conscious about the eating process by engaging your senses (smell, taste, texture) during a meal.
“If you eat too fast, the fullness signal may not arrive until you have already eaten too much”Adda Bjarnadottir, Rachael Ajmera, and Adrienne Seitz, registered dietitian-nutritionists at Healthine
So when you next eat, you might want to try eating more slowly, chewing your food well, eliminating distractions such as tv and phone, and appreciating your food.
By doing this, you should be able to listen to physical hunger cues and eat only until you are full.
- Related Article: 9 Hunger Hacks While Fasting
5. Reassess Your Calories if You Gained Weight
If your weight increases over time and you are still eating the same maintenance and surplus calories as before, then you are probably feeling hungry because you are not eating enough.
In this case, you need to adjust your calories based on your new weight.
For example, let’s assume your pre-surplus weight was 154.3 lbs and your current weight is 163.1 lbs.
You gained 8.8 lbs. Here’s how you can calculate it as a percentage: [ (8.8 lbs : 154.3 lbs ) * 100 ] = 5.7
This is ~ 5.7% weight gain which means it’s time to reassess your maintenance and surplus calories.
If you want to know more about assessing your maintenance and surplus, you can read my article on How To Know If You’re In A Caloric Surplus.
6. Drink Water With Meals
While it’s important to stay hydrated during the day to meet your fluid intake (at least 2,900 mL fluid per day for men, and at least 2,200 mL fluid per day for women), it may help if you drink more to feel less hungry.
Some research suggests that if you drink 500ml of water straight before a meal, it will help with feeling full from a meal.
As such, you could try drinking 1 large glass of water or 2 smaller glasses as close to the meal as possible.
Or you could even consider having a broth like soup as a starter, which will likely have a similar filling effect in the stomach as a couple of glasses of water.
7. Exercise Regularly
For lots of people, exercise appears to help reduce hunger by influencing hormone levels and meal size.
So, if you are worried about feeling too hungry whilst being in a surplus, think about your training sessions.
Is there anything that you can change?
Let’s imagine you lift weights three times per week and each workout equates to a volume of 1000 (the volume accounts for the total amount of sets, reps and weight lifted during your workout).
Your total volume for the week would be 3000. This is: [(1000 volume x 3 workouts) = 3000 total volume]
If you keep the same training volume over the course of the week, you can still change the frequency of your training sessions.
For example, you may want to try to split up your training volume across 4 workouts (instead of 3). In this case, each workout would equate to a volume of 750 instead of 1000. This is: [(3000 total volume : 4 workouts) = 750 volume]
The important concept here is that changing your exercise frequency (without changing intensity) will encourage you to move more, which in turn may have an impact on your hunger levels.
Davis J. Hunger, ghrelin and the gut. Brain Res. 2018 Aug 15;1693(Pt B):154-158. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2018.01.024. Epub 2018 Jan 31. PMID: 29366626.
Crockett AC, Myhre SK, Rokke PD. Boredom proneness and emotion regulation predict emotional eating. J Health Psychol. 2015 May;20(5):670-80. doi: 10.1177/1359105315573439. PMID: 25903253.
Salleh SN, Fairus AAH, Zahary MN, Bhaskar Raj N, Mhd Jalil AM. Unravelling the Effects of Soluble Dietary Fibre Supplementation on Energy Intake and Perceived Satiety in Healthy Adults: Evidence from Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised-Controlled Trials. Foods. 2019 Jan 6;8(1):15. doi: 10.3390/foods8010015. PMID: 30621363; PMCID: PMC6352252.
Helms, E.R., Aragon, A.A. & Fitschen, P.J. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 11, 20 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
Reid KJ, Baron KG, Zee PC. Meal timing influences daily caloric intake in healthy adults. Nutr Res. 2014 Nov;34(11):930-5. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2014.09.010. Epub 2014 Oct 2. PMID: 25439026; PMCID: PMC4794259.
Kleiner, S. M. (1999). Water: An Essential But Overlooked Nutrient. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 99(2), 200-206. doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(99)00048-6
Corney RA, Sunderland C, James LJ. Immediate pre-meal water ingestion decreases voluntary food intake in lean young males. Eur J Nutr. 2016 Mar;55(2):815-819. doi: 10.1007/s00394-015-0903-4. Epub 2015 Apr 18. PMID: 25893719.
Schubert MM, Sabapathy S, Leveritt M, Desbrow B. Acute exercise and hormones related to appetite regulation: a meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2014 Mar;44(3):387-403. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0120-3. PMID: 24174308.
About The Author
Giulia Rossetto is a qualified Dietitian and Nutritionist.
She holds a Masters in Human Nutrition (University of Sheffield, UK) and more recently graduated as a Dietitian (University of Malta).
Giulia aims to translate evidence-based science to the public through teaching and writing content. She has worked 4+ years in clinical settings and has also published articles in academic journals.
She is into running, swimming and weight lifting, and enjoys spending time in the mountains (she has a soft spot for hiking and skiing in the Italian Dolomites).