RPE’s for Eating: The Secret to Gaining

By: Will Kuenzel

Almost every person that gets the weight lifting bug decides they want to get big.  Tons of guys want to be the next Arnold or Ronnie Coleman.  These guys trained big and their training was no secret.  So why don’t we see more massive guys walking around?  It’s simply from the standpoint that you have to eat as hard as you train.  Hardgainers love to toss out “I eat all the time, but I still can’t gain weight.”  I’m guilty of saying that.  Truth be told though, I just wasn’t eating hard enough.  I just wasn’t consuming enough calories.  It’s hard work to eat through the calories you burn working hard and on top of a fast metabolism.


I’m not going to tell you what to eat but rather how to eat.  Too many times, guys are crushing it in the gym only to eat as half-heartedly as they train.  There are 168 hours in the week.  Let’s say training takes up 10 hours a week.  That’s only about 6% of your week.  What you do with the remaining 94% of the week makes a huge difference.  Getting in that food is just as important as the training, and some might argue that it’s more important.

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I’m going to introduce the Rate of Perceived Exertion of Eating.  For those not familiar with scale for your Rate of Perceived Exertion I would suggest reading some of Brian Carroll’s 10/20/Life e book.   But more specifically how RPE relates to lifting.  To kind of sum it up briefly:

RPE’s below 4 are not important.

  • 4- Recovery.  Usually 20+ rep sets.  Not hard, but intended to flush the muscle.
  • 5- Most warm-up weights
  • 6- Light speed work.  Moves quickly with moderate force.
  • 7- Weight moves quickly when maximal force is applied to the weight. “Speed weight”
  • 8- Weight is too heavy to maintain fast bar speed, but is not a struggle.  2-4 reps left.
  • 9- Last rep is tough, but still 1 rep left in the tank.
  • 10- Maximal.  No reps left in the tank.

This is how I’d like to view my food consumption.  I especially like the part about RPE’s below 4 are not important.   For weight gain, if you’re eating below an RPE of 5 you’ll never make it happen.


Take a look at the RPE of Eating.

RPE of Eating:

  • 1-Starving, weak, dizzy
  • 2-Very hungry, cranky, low energy, lots of stomach growling
  • 3-Pretty hungry, stomach is growling a little
  • 4-Starting to feel a little hungry
  • 5-Satisfied, neither hungry nor full
  • 6-A little full, pleasantly full
  • 7-A little uncomfortable
  • 8-Feeling stuffed
  • 9-Very uncomfortable, stomach hurts
  • 10-So full you get sick

If I’m looking to get stronger, I’m training in the 7-9 (pushing 10 sometimes) on the RPE training scale.  When I’m looking to gain weight, I’m eating in the same range.  If I’m only satisfied (RPE at 5), I’ve still got a long way to go.  All this just isn’t for a meal or two through the day.  This is at every feeding.  I’ll try to get as many as five to six meals here.  You’re not going to only do one set at an RPE of 7 but several.  What would make you think that one meal at 9 through the day would be enough?

For some, myself included, gaining weight is harder than losing it.  I started lifting weights at a whopping 115lbs.  Over the course of 12 years I’d managed to double it at one point and had achieved a top weight of 240lbs.  That averages out to only 9lbs gained per year.  Over the past couple of years that’s slowed down to only about 2lbs gained per year.

I’ll say it again, gaining weight (at least quality weight) isn’t easy.  Eating yourself into a nauseous state isn’t fun, but if getting big is your goal, you have to push those calories in and constantly work on getting that RPE up.

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Low Country Strength

Will Kuenzel is the owner of Lowcountry Strength (www.LowcountryStrength.com) in Charleston, SC. Will started his athletic endeavors as a pole vault; finishing up his collegiate career with a best vault of 16’9” at a whopping 160lbs. He the track and field world to pursue bodybuilding, his first show in 2005, he won 1st place in Men’s Novice as a middle weight. One year later he took 2nd as a Men’s Junior heavy weight. Since 2007 he has been a competitive powerlifter and totaling elite as a 220lber. His best lifts in multiply equipment are a 710lbs squat, a 605lbs bench press, a 615lbs deadlift and a 1930 total. In 2008 Will started Lowcountry Strength out of his garage. Since then it has moved into a 16,000 sq/ft facility and shares space with a mixed martial arts studio. With all disciplines of powerlifting, strongman, MMA, jiu jitsu and other sports in the Charleston area getting trained under one roof, Will heads up the strength and conditioning for a wide variety of athletes and clients.
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