Bodybuilding on a $7 Per Day (Or Less) Budget

Dead broke? Have no fear. I’m going to show you how to build muscle using a puny wallet. I’ve been there, done that.

My college years were lean. I learned a lot during this time. You might think it’s impossible to pack in calories and protein while being a poor son of a gun, but I’m going to show you otherwise.

First, we’ll put together a shopping list. You’ll need about $200 to $210 per month (USD).

If you can’t scrounge up this much cash, don’t fear. I’m going to list the cost per 100 calories for each carb and fat source. For protein, I will list cost for 30 gram serving. By using the cheapest foods you might lose out on variety, but you will still be able to hit your macros and make gains.

So let’s roll (that grocery cart) and get to eatin’.

Table of Contents

Building Cheap Bodybuilding Meals

Bodybuilding diet on a budgetAlright…so there are 3 macronutrients. They are:
  • Protein – 4 calories per gram of protein
  • Carbohydrates – 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate
  • Fats – 9 calories per gram of fat
The average male will need 180 to 220 grams of protein per day. The average female will need 100 to 120 grams. The rest of your calories will come from fats and carbohydrates.

Now remember our focus…building muscle on a budget. I don’t care what percentage of carbohydrates or fats you are eating as long as at least 20% of your daily calories come from fats. Understand that this is a minimum. 30% average fat intake is a better goal for most of you.

Don’t fear quality fats. Your body needs this macronutrient for organ health, brain health, skin health…well, for everything. The only fats you’ll really want to avoid are trans fat. Abstain from using these health-destroyers at all costs, even if they are cheap and tasty.

When it comes to carbohydrates, you might be tempted to rely on foods that contain a lot of sugar and flour. While this is great for the wallet, it’s not the best option for health and muscle building. I’m going to provide you with better options.

Budget Protein Food Choices

Listed cost is per 30 gram serving. Men will need 6 to 7 servings per day, and women about 3.5 to 4 servings. When and how you eat your protein doesn’t matter much. Just get it in. Protein is the fuel that helps your muscle tissue to repair and recover.
  • Chicken Legs, Bone In – $0.524 per 30 grams of protein. [5]
  • Peanut Butter (Generic brand) – $0.535 per 30 grams of protein. [3] **
  • Eggs – $0.593 per 30 grams of protein. [1]
  • Black Beans (Generic brand) – $0.765 per 30 grams of protein. [4] ***
  • Whole Milk – $0.789 per 30 grams of protein. [6]
  • Cottage Cheese – $0.833 per 30 grams or protein.
  • Tuna (Generic brand) – $0.927 per 30 grams of protein. [2]
  • MTS Whey Protein – $0.985 per 30 grams of protein.
  • Muscle and Brawn Huge Gainer – $1.00 per 30 grams or protein. **
* Peanut butter also contains a quality number of carbohydrates and fats per serving, making it a must-have pantry item.

** Huge Gainer provides 90 grams of carbohydrates per 30 gram serving of protein, making it a wallet-friendly grand slam.

*** Black beans are packed with carbohydrates.

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Budget Carbohydrate Choices

Listed cost is per 100 calories. Men on a 3,000 calorie diet that is comprised of approximately 30% fat intake will require about 1,380 calories from carbohydrates. Women on a 2,000 calorie diet that is comprised of approximately 30% fat intake will require about 960 calories from carbohydrates.
  • Rice (Generic, 20lb bag) – $0.031 per 100 calories of carbs. [7]
  • Oats (Generic) – $0.077 per 100 calories of carbs. [8]
  • Ramen Noodles (Maruchan) – $0.08 per 100 calories of carbs. [9] *
  • Spaghetti Noodles (Generic) – $0.087 per 100 calories of carbs. [12]
  • Instant Mashed Potatoes (Generic) – $0.31 per 100 calories of carbs. [11]
  • Cream of Wheat – $0.382 per 100 calories of carbs. [10]
* Each pack of Ramen noodles also contains 8 grams of protein and 14 grams of fat.

Budget Fat Choices

Listed cost is per 100 calories. Men on a 3,000 calorie diet that is comprised of approximately 30% fat intake will require about 900 calories from fats. Women on a 2,000 calorie diet that is comprised of approximately 30% fat intake will require about 600 calories from fat.
  • Olive Oil (Generic) – $0.07 per 100 calories of fats. [13]
  • Butter (Generic) – $0.098 per 100 calories of fats. [14]
  • Heavy Cream – $0.183 per 100 calories of fats.
  • Almonds – $0.451 per 100 calories of fats. [15]
You can also look for deals and coupons on sour cream and cheese. Cheap cheese is a budget shopper’s dream, as it is rich in protein, fat and good nutrition.

Fruits and Veggies

Bodybuilding diet on a budget Machine Greens allows you to drink your fruits, veggies and vitamins all in one convenient shake. Try it NOW.

There is more to nutrition and an eating plan than just macronutrients and calories. A well-balanced diet must also include a wide variety of micronutrients. While fat, carb and protein sources provide some micronutrient diversity, it’s good to add fruits and veggies into your meal plan to cover all your bases.

Here are some quality choices. Cost is not listed, but per-serving cost is relatively low.

I strongly recommend purchasing frozen bags of these items. They will last longer, reducing waste.
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Mixed Veggies
  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Mixed Berries

Budget Bodybuilding Meal Plan

What follows is a sample meal plan. It serves one purpose: To show you what can be done on $7 a day, or less.

It is obvious that if a man can eat 3,000 plus calories per day for only $7, a women can eat 1,800 to 2,000 per day on less.

Men – 3,170 Calories for $6.28 a Day

  • Meal 1 – Oats (15 ounces), 4 eggs cooked in one pat of butter. Nutrition: 646 calories, 36g protein, 53g carbs, 31.7g fats. Cost = $0.764.
  • Meal 2 – 1 scoop of MTS Peanut Butter Fluff whey in 12 ounces of water blended with 1 ounce of peanut butter. Nutrition: 315 calories, 32.1g protein, 10.5g carbs, 18.3g fats. Cost = $0.948.
  • Meal 3 – 5 ounces of canned tuna mixed in with one pack of Ramen noodles. Nutrition: 540 calories, 46.1g protein, 51.4g carbs, 15.0g fats. Cost = $1.419.
  • Meal 4 – (Immediately Post-Workout) 1 scoop of Huge Gainer. Nutrition: 470 calories, 25g protein, 75g carbs, 9g fats. Cost = $0.833.
  • Meal 5 – 6 ounces of chicken legs with 10 ounces of cooked rice and one cup of black beans. Nutrition: 800 calories, 56.1g protein, 121.9g carbs, 8g fats. Cost = $1.099.
  • Meal 6 – 1 scoop of MTS whey in 8 ounces of whole milk and one ounce of heavy cream. Nutrition: 399 calories, 33.4g protein, 18.6g carbs, 22.9g fats. Cost = $1.214.
The total cost investment for this meal plan is $6.28. This leaves you extra pocket change to spend on fruits and veggies, which can be added to any meal as needed.

The nutritional breakdown of this eating plan without the addition of fruits and veggies is as follows:
  • Calories = 3,170
  • Protein = 228.7g (28.9%)
  • Carbohydrates = 330.3g (41.7%)
  • Fats = 104.9g (29.4%)
Women can simply scale back portions and ounces by 40%. This would cost about $3.77 per day (sans fruits and veggies), and provide the following calorie and macronutrient breakdown:
  • Calories = 1,902
  • Protein = 137.2g
  • Carbohydrates = 198.1g
  • Fats = 62.9g
1) “U.S. Egg Prices to Hit Record High Due to Bird Flu: USDA.” Reuters. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
2) “Great Value Light Tuna Chunk In Water, 5 Oz.” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
3) “Great Value Peanut Butter Creamy, 40 Oz.” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
4) “Great Value Black Beans, 15.25 Oz, (Pack of 4).” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
5) “U.S. Department of Agriculture.” U.S. Department of Agriculture. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
6) “Monthly Data – Fresh Whole Milk Retail Price (Gal).” Understanding Dairy Markets. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
7) “Great Value: Long Grain Enriched Rice, 20 Lb.” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
8) “Great Value: Oven-Toasted Old Fashioned Oats, 42 Oz.” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
9) “Maruchan Instant Lunch: Flavor 12 Ct Chicken Soup, 36 Oz.” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
10) “Cream Of Wheat: Original Instant 12 Ct, 12 Oz.” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
11) “Great Value Mashed Potatoes, 26.7 Oz.” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
12) “Great Value Spaghetti, 1 Lb, 4ct.” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
13) “Great Value: 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 51 Oz.” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
14) “Great Value Salted Sweet Cream Butter, 16 Oz, (Pack Of, 2).” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
15) “Blue Diamond Whole Natural Almonds, 14 Oz.” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2015.
— Update: 16-02-2023 — found an additional article Eat Like Ox: Get Big On A Budget With Evan Centopani from the website for the keyword bodybuilding diet on a budget.

Athlete Profile: Evan Centopani | Leg Day Training | Big Back Routine | Build an Animal Chest | 15-Minute Arm Blast | Get Bigger on a Budget

People get a kick out of my story about how I used to eat three breakfasts every morning as a kid. I grew up in a rural area, where my grandparents lived across the street and my cousins lived next door.

My mother was forever on my ass trying to control what went in my mouth, because I was like a human vacuum cleaner. So I’d eat my “healthy” breakfast at home, and then I’d walk across the street to “see Grandpa.” That meant sitting down with him for fried eggs and toast, because he loved to feed me, and I loved that he loved to feed me.

After wrapping it up with Grandpa, I’d head over to my aunt’s house. My aunt and uncle had a 130-pound Doberman named Gunther, so they never bothered locking their doors. Their lazy Susan was unlocked too, and it housed every sugar-laden breakfast cereal that my mother specifically forbade: Apple Jacks, Sugar Smacks, Cocoa Puffs, Frosted Flakes, and my all-time favorite, Lucky Charms.

In short, I ate for pleasure, and I had a lot of pleasure in my life. That lasted the first 15 years of my life. Then I got serious about training, and everything changed.

Sample Periodization for Muscle Growth

  1. Get the newspaper and shop the weekly sales circulars.
  2. Know your prices. Chicken breasts for $1.99/lb are out there if you keep looking.
  3. Clip coupons and use them without shame.
  4. Eat eggs! Buy them in bunches and eat them the same way.
  5. Be flexible. When chicken breasts aren’t cheap, go with thighs.
  6. Learn to cook. Don’t rely on someone else to make your food decisions.
  7. Shop around. An incredible deal could be just down the road.
  8. Find the protein you like, then compare prices and buy big.
  9. Supplement your supps with things like peanut butter, olive oil, and oats.

Maximum muscle for minimal money

Around the age of 15, I began riding my bicycle to a grocery store to shop for things that my parents generally didn’t buy, like chicken breasts and multigrain bread. Becoming a professional bodybuilder and making a living from the sport hadn’t entered my head. I had never been to a pro bodybuilding contest, met a pro, or had a magazine subscription, and I couldn’t tell you what NPC stood for. I just wanted to train hard, look my best, and get onstage just to do it.

Riding home from the grocery store, I felt like the key to success lay in those bags dangling from my handlebars. Honestly, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I had read enough to understand that proper nutrition was crucial to achieving my goals. However, I didn’t see the need to plunk down money I didn’t have to for food. Truth be told, even if I had seen it as necessary, it wasn’t an option at that time in my life.

In the name of getting the most for my money, I never shopped for food in my own town. I lived in the suburbs, and my father pointed out to me at a young age that people in the suburbs pay too much for everything. Going to the chain supermarket in town, he said, was like flushing money down the toilet.

The solution: pedal to the next town over, where I found a grocery store with lower prices, greater ethnic variety, and fresher produce than anything in my town. Plus, the people just seemed friendlier over there. Why? I had no clue, but they were.

The bulk of my diet consisted of eggs, chicken, protein powder, potatoes, rice, oats, and veggies. Fast forward a few years, when I was fresh out of college, way more knowledgeable, and totally dedicated to the competition lifestyle, and guess what? My diet was made up of those same fundamentals. I was able to obtain my IFBB pro status eating like a cheap bastard for just four meals per day, and if I could do it, so can you.


Gains for a Grant

When Animal asked me how far I could make $50 go for the “Big on a Budget” challenge, I didn’t need long to figure it out. All I needed to do was look back at what I ate when I was an up-and-coming bodybuilder. Hell, if it weren’t for the fact that my old digs had gone under, I’d have gone right back to the same store.

To get big like Evan, you don’t have to spend a fortune, but you do have to be smart about your purchases. Sometimes a short drive can save big bucks.

It’s true that I now eat twice the amount of whole food that I used to eat, and I have the luxury of incorporating things into my diet that I couldn’t afford in the past, like fresh fish. But some things haven’t changed. I still go to the next town over when I want to stock up on produce and other random items on the cheap. Sponsored or not, nobody wants to spend money when they don’t have to.

For the challenge, I loosely based my grocery list on the off-season diet I was using prior to turning pro. And with $50, I was easily able to buy the whole food that I would typically consume for a week.

Here’s what I purchased:

  • Approx. 10.5 pounds of Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs
  • 10.5 pounds of Potatoes
  • 14 crowns of Broccoli
  • 1 tub of quick Oats
  • 7 dozen large Eggs
  • 7 Bananas

Cooked and prepared, this quantity of food was used to construct the following daily diet:

Here is the approximate macronutrient breakdown for those 4 meals. (Note: protein from incomplete sources not included.)

  • Meal 1: Carb-53g / Protein-36g / Fat-30g / Calories-420
  • Meal 2: Carb-46g / Protein-56g / Fat-24g / Calories-730
  • Meal 3: Carb-46g / Protein-56g / Fat-24g / Calories-730
  • Meal 4: Carb-53g / Protein-36g / Fat-30g / Calories-420
  • Total: Carb-198g / Protein-184g / Fat-108 / Calories -2300

Shake Up Your Diet

The whole foods listed above are close to what I was eating in my amateur days, and with a little leg work, you should be able to get it all for $50. I calculated out the cost per meal at $1.79 on average, give or take. The macros line up almost perfectly along a 40/40/20 carbohydrate/protein/fat split.

However, it was standard for me to have two protein shakes each day, to which I added some type of fat, typically peanut butter. Here’s what the shakes looked like:

Nutrition Facts

  • Calories 614
  • Total Fat 16g
  • Total Carbs 30g
  • Protein 63g

If you are looking to keep the cost down, buy your high-quality whey in economy-sized 5-pound jugs. For roughly $50, you’ll get 77 scoops of protein. If peanut butter gets a little rich for your blood, another good cheap fat source to try is extra virgin olive oil.

Right now, I’m looking at a 750-ml bottle of excellent quality olive oil that I purchased for $9. It contains 50 1-tbsp servings, which works out to 18 cents per tbsp.

Nutrition Facts 

  • Calories: 630
  • Total Fat: 22g
  • Total Carbs: 33g
  • Protein: 66g

Depending on protein cost and shipping, my cost per shake with olive oil comes in at around $2.25, which is $4.50 per day or $31.50 for the week. That’s $6.50 more than going all whole food with six meals. But for this extra amount, I would get an additional 40 g of protein per day, while sparing 10 g of fat and 32 g of carbs. And of course, it’s always nice to taste something different. I can be tight, but I wouldn’t personally have any trouble parting with the extra $6.50 for the week to get a little extra variety—and protein—in my life.

If you or anyone you know can put together a solid diet that complete for $81.50 per week, I’ll be damn impressed. Tailor it to your needs, your caloric requirements, and how much you want to grow. For one guy, this could be enough. For another, this could just be the starting point.

No matter what your end goal, it’s still worth your time to be smart, shop wisely, and get big on a budget. Good luck!

— Update: 16-02-2023 — found an additional article Get Massive On A Tight Budget! from the website for the keyword bodybuilding diet on a budget.

Probably the most common question I’m asked by bodybuilders is “How much do you eat in a day?” Not what—although of course I get that, too—but how much. To me, this shows just how much people are worried about whether they’re eating enough.

I’m a full-time student at Texas A&M University, and I live in College Station, which is a large college town, so most of the time the person asking the question is a fellow student. When I reply, “6-7 meals per day and between 4,500-5,200 calories,” the person is astounded. (I’m talking about guys only for now; women deserve another conversation). Then they’ll give me excuses like “I don’t have enough time” or “it’s too expensive to eat like that.”

My reply: false, and false. As an economics major and a bodybuilder, I can tell you that I’ve both run the numbers and put them to the test in the real world. No matter who you are or where you live, you can do this!

This is my plan to help you to eat as much as you can handle, with minimal prep time and less money than you’re probably wasting already. Equipment, recipes, and shopping—I’ve got it all right here. So let’s get started.

The Four Kitchen Essentials

Before you get rolling in the kitchen, you’re going to need to outfit yourself with a few essential appliances: a microwave, a slow cooker, a rice cooker, and a George Foreman style grill. You probably already have access to the first of those things, but trust me, the other three are just as important.

They allow you to prepare—in large quantities, I might add—all that is necessary to eat like a bodybuilder in a college setting. An oven is nice to have, as are a stove and a blender, but they aren’t necessary, and most college dorm rooms don’t have them.

Below are the basic dishes I prepare in each of the essential kitchen appliances. I encourage you to go online and do some research to find recipes to fit your taste.

The possibilities are endless, and trust me, there’s no substitute for a good collection of recipes.

1. Microwave

I use my microwave to reheat all of my prepped meals. I use it to cook red potatoes and sweet potatoes, both of which I eat almost every day. To cook any kind of potato in the microwave, make sure you do the following:

  1. Rinse and lightly scrub the potato with your hands in cold water. Potatoes are grown in the ground, so they usually have a little dirt on them, and because they typically come in mesh bags, they’ll also pick up other contaminants along the way. Obviously cooking them will kill all bacteria, but who wants to eat dirt?

  2. Using a fork, poke a few holes in each potato you’re going to cook—unless you like cleaning exploded potato off the sides of your microwave.

  3. Cook potatoes two at a time, wrapping each one individually with a wet paper towel. This will help keep them moist and your microwave clean.

    For small potatoes, such as red and golden potatoes, lay a damp paper towel over an approximately 10-ounce serving. The cook time will vary from microwave to microwave, but typically potatoes need 6-8 min to cook.

    Check for readiness with a knife; if you can put it through the potato with relative ease, you’re good to go. If your knife stops or becomes hard to push, pop the potato back in the microwave for another couple of minutes.

2. Slow cooker

We all know how busy a college workload can get, which is why the slow cooker is a must-have. You simply throw the ingredients in, cover it, plug it in, and forget about it for a few hours.

Beyond being convenient time-wise, cooking with a crock pot makes your meats leaner; the fat will melt away into the juice/sauce you’re cooking in. It also keeps things interesting, because the combinations of meats and sauces are infinite.

My favorite meat by far to cook in a slow cooker is chicken, because it gets so tender and easy to eat. But there are thousands of recipes out there, so I encourage you to try your favorite meats and find one you like. This is the basic process, though:

  1. Let your slow cooker heat up for about an hour. Place the thawed meat in the bottom of the slow cooker. Most varieties of slow cookers can hold four boneless chicken breast halves at a time.

  2. Add around a half cup of liquid to help it cook evenly and add flavor. You could simply use water and a bouillon cube, but my personal favorites are salsa, low-fat barbecue sauce, and fat-free salad dressings such as ranch, Italian, and balsamic.

  3. Let it cook! Because the cooker operates at a low heat, meats typically take 3-4 hours on the high setting and 6-8 hours on low. A general rule of thumb is that one hour on high is equal to two on the low setting.

  4. After your meat finishes cooking, retrieve the meat with a fork and dump the remaining contents down the drain.

3. Rice cooker

Like a slow cooker, it’s basically an electric pot that you just plug in. Follow the directions that come on the rice of your choice. A couple of tips:

  1. Put a bouillon cube in with your rice and water. It will give your rice a better flavor without adding calories.

  2. Dress your rice up with different vegetables and sauces. My favorites are black beans or pesto.

4. George Foreman-type electric grill

Get the biggest one you can, so you can cook a lot of food at one time. Some of my favorites to make on the grill are turkey, lean beef burgers, and chicken breasts. Because of the design, excess fat runs off, making it acceptable to use fattier cuts of meat.

Find the Hidden Costs of Your Habits

One of my biggest pet peeves is the people who say they can’t afford to eat the way I encourage them to eat ? as they hold a $2 beverage they just purchased from a vending machine.

Coincidentally, that’s how much a carton of eggs costs. Or they clutch an $8 fast food meal or sandwich, which happens to be how much 10 pounds of instant oats costs at Sam’s Club.

See what I’m getting at? If you were to forgo just one fast food meal every two weeks and a $2 purchase every other day, you’d have enough money for the most nutritious breakfast a bodybuilder could ask for, seven days per week. What could be healthier than a bowl of oatmeal and a half dozen eggs?

When it comes down to it, it’s usually not the investment of money that turns people off from eating like a bodybuilder, but rather the investment of their time that grocery shopping and prepping meals requires. But the truth is that just a little advanced planning makes shopping a breeze, while saving money. Here’s how:

Club stores

First off, get access to some kind of bulk-buy grocery store such as Sam’s Club or Costco. The key word: access! That doesn’t mean buying a membership. I’m almost positive that between parents, family, and friends, there isn’t one of us who couldn’t figure out how to get a member card—or just a member—to use for one afternoon each month. This step is critical, because these stores offer everything in larger value sizes and are priced much more reasonably than conventional grocery stores.

You can buy large amounts of whole foods at club stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. Save money, buy in bulk!

Case in point: a 10-pound container of name-brand oats goes for $8 in a club store. A couple of aisles away, a 43-pound bucket of long grain brown rice costs $40. Imagine how long it would take you to go through that! Lastly, grab a 10-pound sack of red potatoes for $6 and a 4-pound sack of sweet potatoes for $3.50. Carbs solved.

When protein is your highest priority, shopping at a normal grocery store is a big no-no. For example, most grocery store frozen fish comes packaged in 8-oz. bags. What am I supposed to do with that? Not only is it barely one serving, but it also costs nearly as much as the 48-oz. bags I get from Sam’s! And both fish are farm raised, frozen, and unseasoned, with identical nutritional data.

After you grab the fish, walk to the other freezer and grab a 10-pound bag of boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $24. Add in some lean ground beef and turkey breast, and you now have 4 different protein sources, not counting any protein powder you might use throughout the day.

Putting it All Together

Hunter Labrada is a student in College Station, Texas, and he knows how to build muscle on a budget.

Now that we’ve gone over both carbs and proteins, let’s do some quick math. Just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend we all have an appetite like Shrek and can actually eat 10 pounds of oatmeal and 43 pounds of brown rice in two weeks. (Trust me, you can’t.)

I’ve cut this meal plan down to the proteins and carbohydrates only, but I would encourage you to add fruit like bananas and apples, and also frozen vegetables to your diet.

You could also sub out one of the meat sources, such as the turkey, for an equivalent amount of eggs.

Two Weeks of Macros

  • 10 lbs instant oats: $8.00
  • 43 lbs long grain brown rice: $53.00
  • 10 lbs red potatoes: $6.00
  • 4 lbs sweet potatoes: $3.50
  • 48 oz frozen tilapia filets: $13.00
  • 10 lbs frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast: $24.00
  • 2.5 lbs lean ground turkey or 7 dozen eggs: $14.00
  • 10 lbs 90% lean ground beef: $30.00

Subtotal: $151.50

That’s a generous amount of clean food at $75.75 per week. While I realize this is a still looks like a financial commitment, it is definitely less than a majority of students actually spend on food and drinks each week.

If you’re on a meal plan with a cafeteria, that’s a different story. But tell me this: Are you using that meal plan to eat lean proteins, veggies, and healthy fats, or junk foods like pizza? Be honest.

Read more  Best Bulking Foods: Here’s What To Eat To Build Muscle

Supplements on a Budget

With all the money you save by being smart with your food shopping and preparing your meals, you might actually have enough money left over to invest in useful bodybuilding supplements. But just as with your food, make sure you make only the purchases which give you the most bang for your buck.

First in my book is a high-quality whey protein isolate, due to the enormous benefit of its rapid digestion after training. It also gives me some flexibility throughout the day with my meals if the circumstances don’t permit a whole food meal.

When I want a sustained flow of amino acids and to stay feeling full, I’m a big fan of proteins which blend fast-, medium-, and slow-release proteins, like Labrada Lean Pro 8. Another advantage of whey protein is that you can make your own “weight gainer” in a pinch. Simply blend your whey protein isolate with oats and a little water and ice in a blender, and enjoy.

Next on my list of supplements to buy on a budget would be a jar of creatine monohydrate. Creatine is a safe, proven muscle builder that is relatively inexpensive. Just make sure you get a quality product that uses pharmaceutical grade creatine. If you want to add beyond that, the next steps would be a fish oil supplement and multivitamin.

It’s Up to You

Bodybuilding isn’t just the hour or two you’re in the gym and the shake you drink afterward. It is a 24-7, 365-day-a-year lifestyle. The rewards, however, are obvious. No matter how much money or prestige you have, you can’t just wake up with a lean, muscular body. It is, and will always be, a reward for hard work and dedication.

In college you run into many temptations that tear you out of the gym. Make sure to force your way back in. Do the work, and your physique will change.

If you’re committed to packing on muscle and you’re training hard, don’t leave your nutrition to chance. You’ve got everything you need here, and in a way that will work with even a bare-bones budget.

But there’s no room in any budget—big or small—for cheap calories like soda, candy, and booze. So cut them out, and wear your results with pride!

— Update: 16-02-2023 — found an additional article Eat Like A Pro Bodybuilder On A Tight Budget from the website for the keyword bodybuilding diet on a budget.

No matter how hard you train in the gym, you will not see results until you fuel your muscles with the correct nutrients. Ask a pro bodybuilder about the most common question he gets asked about his fitness routine, and he will probably point you towards his diet. 

Many people never begin their fitness journey because they are too worried about the dent it will make in their budgets. For these folks, bodybuilding is an expensive sport meant for rich people who can afford fancy supplements, gym memberships, and 6-7 protein-rich meals every day. 

While these fitness-enthusiasts-from-a-distance are right about supplements, gym memberships, and frequent meals, they have got the budgeting wrong. The fitness lifestyle does not cost nearly as much as rookies think it does, and you will see it for yourself by the end of this article. 

Whether you are in college, getting started at your new job, or want to save a few bucks by reducing your grocery bill, adding the food items given in this article to your shopping list will put you on the right path.

Two Most Common Excuses For Not Dieting

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

1. “I don’t have enough time.”

The lack of time excuse is a classic. Most people never start a physique transformation program because they think it will take up most of their day. While we don’t claim that designing and following a transformation plan takes up no time, most people overestimate the time commitment. 

Talk to a non-lifter, and he will try to convince you that the gym lifestyle is only for fitness professionals. A person with a 9-5 can never build a ripped physique. Nothing could be farther away from the truth. If Jeff Bezos can find the time to train and eat right, we are sure you can figure it out too. 

Also, you don’t have to prepare your food every day. You could prepare your meals for a week on a Sunday. Doing so will save you time and reduce your chances of feasting on junk food when you are starving.

2. “It’s too expensive to eat like a bodybuilder.”

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

One of the most common misconceptions about a bodybuilding diet is that you need a financial sponsor to maintain your daily nutrient goals. If done right, a bodybuilding diet will cost you nothing more than your everyday diet. 

If you were to ask a rational individual if he would want to get in better shape without spending an extra penny on food, he would already be pressing you for a diet plan. We wonder what is keeping you from joining this elite group. 

The Kitchen Essentials

After addressing the excuses, let us focus on putting the transformation wheels into motion. If you are looking to keep costs down, you will want to do most of the cooking in your kitchen.

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

The must-have kitchen equipment includes:

1. Microwave

If you are prepping your meals once a week, you would want to reheat them before eating. A microwave also comes in handy in cooking red/sweet potatoes that are a staple in a bodybuilding diet. 

2. Rice Cooker

It is an electric pot that takes the guesswork out of cooking rice. If you have been around the fitness scene for some time, you would know a bodybuilder loves his rice – brown or white. A rice cooker will make your life easier, especially if rice is a part of most of your meals. 

3. Slow Cooker

For people who love cooking food to perfection, a slow cooker is irreplaceable. A slow cooker will make you fall in love with good old chicken all over again. 

4. George Foreman-Type Electric Grill

If you want to stick to a transformation diet, you better make your food finger-licking good. A George Foreman-type electric grill is great for cooking grilled chicken, tuna, turkey, or fish. The grill design allows for using fattier cuts of meat as the excess fat runs off while cooking. 

Do The Homework

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how much eating like a bodybuilder costs, we want you to figure out how much you spend on food and beverages every week. We don’t want a rough estimate. We want you to fire up the notes app on your phone and put down in detail exactly how much you shelled out for your food this past week. 

Go on, do the dirty work, and we will wait for you right here.

Now that you have the numbers, let us move ahead. 

Buy In Bulk

Since we are talking about eating like a pro bodybuilder on a budget, we will try keeping costs as low as possible. Forget your next-door grocery stores. You need to be making most of your food purchases from bulk-buy grocery stores like Costco or Sam’s Club. These stores offer products in larger value sizes and at reasonable prices.

Two Weeks of Macros

For people who want to see the numbers, here is a list of carb and protein foods you can get at your friendly neighborhood bulk-buy grocery store:

Budget-Friendly Carbohydrate Sources:

  • 10 lbs instant oats: $8.00
  • 43 lbs long-grain brown rice: $53.00
  • 10 lbs red potatoes: $6.00
  • 4 lbs sweet potatoes: $3.50

Budget-Friendly Protein Sources:

  • 48 oz frozen tilapia filets: $13.00
  • 20 lbs frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast: $48.00
  • 2.5 lbs lean ground turkey or 7 dozen eggs: $14.00

Subtotal: $145.50

But how long does this food last?

We are glad you asked. The $145.50 grocery will last you two whole weeks even if you eat like a bodybuilder training to put on muscle mass. That is a $72.75 weekly grocery bill. If you still think this is too high, we hate to break it to you, but you need to find a better-paying job. 

While we have restricted the food items on this list to carbs and protein, you should add green vegetables and fruits like apples and bananas to your diet. 

Budget-Friendly Bodybuilding Diet Foods

We will be categorizing the budget bodybuilding foods into three sections: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The list contains nutrient-dense food that will give you the most bang for your buck. 

Bodybuilding diet on a budget
Morten Skovgaard from Copenhagen, Denmark, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Budget-Friendly Protein Sources 

1. Chicken

Chicken is the most budget-friendly and widely consumed source of meat in most countries. It also happens to be a staple bodybuilding food around the world. 100 grams of chicken contains 27 grams of protein. 

2. Eggs / Eggs Whites

While chicken is the most budget-friendly source of meat, eggs are the most pocket-friendly source of protein. One large egg delivers six grams of protein. Eggs deliver convenience and a bang for the buck in a small package. 

Eggs are also rich in micronutrients such as vitamin A, D, E, lutein, zeaxanthin, and choline. Learn more about Eggs here.

3. Ground Turkey

If MasterChef is your favorite TV show, ground turkey is the protein-rich food that should be on your grocery list. You could choose from lean or extra lean versions to keep fat content to a minimum. Ground turkey delivers the same amount of protein per gram as chicken.

4. Cottage Cheese

100-grams of cottage cheese contains 12 grams of protein. It is a quality source of protein that doesn’t break the bank. Cottage cheese comes in full, low, fat-free varieties. 

5. Canned Tuna

Canned tuna contains zero carbs or fats and packs a solid punch of protein. A 100-gram tuna can contains 30 grams of protein. Although tuna provides a high amount of protein, you should limit its consumption to no more than twice per week due to the risk of excessive mercury intake.

6. Milk

Milk provides eight grams of protein per cup. You could choose from skim, low fat, or fat-free varieties depending on your goal. A glass of milk can be a convenient way of bumping up your daily protein intake.

Budget-Friendly Carbohydrate Sources

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

1. Potatoes

You can buy potatoes in large bags for low prices at bulk-buy grocery stores. A large potato provides 64 grams of carbs, 7 grams of protein, and zero fat. 

2. Whole Wheat Bread

Whole wheat bread should replace any other loaves of bread in your cupboards. A couple of slices of whole wheat bread deliver around 40 grams of carbs, 10 grams of protein, and 6 grams of fiber. 

3. Vegetables

A well-rounded muscle-building diet needs to have at least a couple of servings of vegetables and fruits each day as they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. 

4. Fruits

Frozen fruits are a great option for people on a budget. They are usually cheaper than fresh ones and can be used in protein shakes or topping for yogurt, cereal, and oatmeal. 

5. Rice

Because of its pocket-friendly price and easy accessibility, rice is a staple food for more than half of the world’s population – including pro bodybuilders. 

6. Beans

100 grams of beans provide 40 grams of carbs, 15 grams of protein, and 15 grams of fiber. Pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, and navy beans are great options for a budget-constrained bodybuilding diet. They are rich in nutrients like folate, iron, magnesium, calcium, copper, phosphorous, potassium, and zinc.

7. Lentils

A cup of lentils contains 40 grams of carbs and 18 grams of protein. It makes them a great budget-friendly and quality source of both protein and carbs.

8. Pasta

For people who want a calorie-dense food source to spike their daily carbs intake, pasta is a great option. 100 grams of uncooked whole wheat pasta gives you 75 grams of carbs, 15 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fiber.

9. Oats

Oats are a must on every tight-budget diet plan. They are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and are a decent source of protein. A cup of dry oats contains 104 grams of carbs, 26 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fat.

Budget-Friendly Fat Sources

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

1. Peanut Butter

Due to the convenience, high polyunsaturated fat content, and a decent dose of protein, peanut butter has become a staple in bodybuilding diets. One tablespoon of peanut butter contains 8 grams of healthy fat and 5 grams of protein.

2. Almonds

Almonds are healthy, fat abundant, and calorie-dense. Since you will be eating small qualities, purchasing almonds in bulk will lower the cost per serving. 

3. Olive Oil

You cannot go wrong with olive oil if you want to optimize your fat intake. Olive oil is rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that reduces inflammation, improves cholesterol levels, and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Every serious bodybuilder has at least one sports nutrition supplement in his diet. Bodybuilding supplements can make your life easier by helping you achieve your daily macro requirements.

While supplements can make things convenient, you shouldn’t be overly reliant on them as they can’t replace nutrient-dense whole foods in your diet. 

1. Whey Protein

You don’t have to buy the most expensive whey protein to get the best results. We have put together a detailed guide to help you choose the right whey protein supplement for yourself.

Check Out: Awesome Whey Protein Powders Reviewed for 2023

2. Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine monohydrate is one of the most researched bodybuilding supplements. It is a safe, proven muscle builder that is relatively inexpensive. A beginner does not need anything more than a whey protein and creatine monohydrate supplement. 

Also Read: Best Creatine Supplements (Updated 2021) 

What Not To Do While Eating On A Budget

1. Booze

Empty calories are your arch-enemy if you are following a transformation program. Alcohol consumption puts your body in a fat-saving mode and starts burning your muscle tissues as a source of fuel. Also, cheap sugar-laden calorie sources like sodas and candies are a big no. 

2. Eating Out

Not only does eating out derail your budget, but it can also put you under peer pressure to eat junk food when you go out with friends or family. Cheat meals? They are off-limits too.

Read more  Eat Like Ox: Get Big On A Budget With Evan Centopani

3. Trying Out Too Many Things

Every year, newly launched “revolutionary” bodybuilding products promise extraordinary results. Stay clear of these fads, stick to the basics and work hard. Results will follow. 


Usually, it is not the money that turns people off from eating like a bodybuilder, but rather the investment of time that grocery shopping and prepping meals require.

We have made your life easier by pointing out a) what you need to buy, b) how much you need to buy, and c) from where you need to buy it. All we ask from you in return is that you commit to eating like a pro bodybuilder. 

— Update: 16-02-2023 — found an additional article 20 CHEAP BODYBUILDING FOODS TO BUILD MUSCLE ON A BUDGET from the website for the keyword bodybuilding diet on a budget.

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Meeting your daily muscle building nutrition needs to pack on size and strength might seem like a daunting task if you’re on a tighter budget.

Fortunately, putting together a healthy and well-rounded “cheap” bodybuilding diet is perfectly possible as long as you plan things out properly.

Whether you’re a broke college student with minimal cash to spare or are just looking to reduce your grocery bill and save a few bucks, this post will cover a list of 20 cheap bodybuilding foods you can base your nutrition plan around.

We’ll break it down into 3 categories by going over various cheap sources of protein, carbohydrates and fats to consider, along with a brief description for each.

(Exact prices won’t be included since it can vary so widely depending on where you shop and which country you’re from)

Pair these food sources up with some low calorie condiments of your choice and you’ll be all set.

Let’s get started…

20 Cheap Bodybuilding Diet Foods

Cheap Protein Sources


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

It’s no surprise that chicken would make the list of best muscle building protein sources on a budget, since in most countries it’s cheapest and most widely consumed source of meat.

It’s one of the most staple bodybuilding foods around, with a typical 100 gram serving of chicken breast providing 31 grams of protein and only a couple grams of fat.

Along with being a very cheap source of protein, chicken is also very versatile and can be used in a wide variety of meals, such as salads, wraps, pastas, chicken quesadillas, sandwiches or on its own paired up with any basic carb source like rice, pasta or potatoes.

You can save on chicken breasts by purchasing them in larger bulk packages, or by going with frozen bags/boxes if you really want to cut down on costs.

Chicken thighs are also another option as they tend to be even lower priced than chicken breasts, though keep in mind that the fat content will be higher as well.

Eggs / Egg Whites

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Eggs are a great source of highly bio-availabe protein, providing 6 grams of protein per egg along with 5 grams of fat, only 1.6 of which is saturated.

Eggs are also rich in important micronutrients such as vitamin A, D, E, lutein, zeaxanthin and choline.

If you want to increase the protein total of an egg-based meal without the fat content climbing too high (if you’re really focused on clean bulking and staying lean, for example), add in some egg whites (these can be purchased in cartons for fairly cheap) as they’re essentially pure protein with no carbs or fat.

Canned Tuna

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Tuna is a lean, cheap source of protein delivering about 30 grams of protein per 100 grams with virtually zero carbs or fat.

It’s also a good source of selenium, b vitamins and phosphorus among other micronutrients.

Although tuna does provide a high amount of protein for your dollar, it’s probably best to limit your tuna consumption to no more than a few times per week due to the risk of excessive mercury intake.

Purchasing light tuna rather than white tuna can also help out with this since this type contains significantly lower mercury concentrations.

Ground Turkey

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Whether it’s for turkey burgers, chili, tacos, burritos or simply on its own, ground turkey is another great-tasting, cheap bulking food for your muscle building diet.

Go with the lean or extra lean forms if you’re wanting to keep the fat content to a minimum, as regular ground turkey does contain quite a bit more.

Cottage Cheese

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

At 12 grams of protein per 100 grams, cottage cheese is another protein staple that can be included in your bodybuilding diet for a relatively low cost.

Cottage cheese comes in full fat, low fat and fat free varieties, so just choose the version that fits best with your macronutrient goals and taste preference.

It can be used to make both sweet or savory meals, whether it’s topped with some fruit/nuts/honey, included in a baked dish, wrap, dip, or simply eaten plain with a bit of salt and pepper.

Whey Protein

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

While protein powder might seem expensive at first glance, it’s actually a very cost-efficient protein source if you choose wisely. In fact, it can actually work out to be even cheaper per serving than most whole food options.

To keep the cost at a minimum, avoid pure whey isolates (these are much more expensive and are only necessary for those who are lactose intolerant) and go with an isolate/concentrate blend or even a pure whey concentrate if you’re fine with the taste and it doesn’t bother your stomach.

Whey protein is a great addition to a cheap bodybuilding diet plan since it allows you to hit your daily protein needs in a more convenient way without much time needed for preparation, cooking or cleanup.

It works well as a pre-workout meal (since it’s light on the stomach) or post-workout protein source (due to the convenience factor), though you can ultimately consume whey at any point in the day you prefer.


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Another simple and convenient option, milk provides about 8 grams of protein per cup and can be used as an easy source of additional cheap protein to bump up your daily totals.

Go with skim or low fat milk to keep the total fat content under control, or if you’re bulking and have a difficult time getting in all of your calories, whole milk is a fine option as well.

Use milk as the base for your whey protein shakes, or just have a glass or two with regular meals for a quick shot of extra protein.

Cheap Carbohydrate Sources


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Since rice is cheap and easily accessible, it’s a staple food for more than half of the world’s population and makes for one of the best bodybuilding carbs sources.

100 grams of rice provides you with roughly 130 calories, primarily coming from carbs but with a modest dose of protein as well.

On the issue of brown rice vs. white rice, this is mainly a matter of personal preference. Brown rice is a bit higher in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. White rice, on the other hand, is cheaper.


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

High in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and even a decent source of protein as well, oats provide a solid bang for the buck as part of your cheap bulking diet.

Half a cup of dry oats provides about 52 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat.

Oats work well as part of a balanced bodybuilding breakfast meal or at any other time of day. Personally I enjoy eating them as a dessert in the evening. (No, eating carbs before bed won’t make you fat)

Top your bowl of oats with some fruit and nuts, go the savory route with eggs and cheese, or mix your oats right into a protein shake or protein bar recipe.


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

A staple “cheap bodybuilding food”, potatoes can be purchased in large bags for fairly low prices.

A typical large potato provides around 64 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of protein and no fat, along with 8 grams of fiber.

Potatoes are also a great source of potassium, an important mineral to consume since most Western diets contain an unbalanced ratio of sodium to potassium which can contribute to a variety of negative health effects.


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

For those who are trying to gain muscle on higher calorie intakes and want a cheap, calorie-dense food source to increase their daily totals more easily, pasta is a great option.

100 grams of uncooked whole wheat pasta not only gives you 75 grams of carbs, but you also get 15 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber to go along with it.

Top it with some pasta sauce (also quite inexpensive) and one of the cheap protein sources listed above and you’re all set.

Whole Wheat Bread

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Although the nutritional content will vary depending on the brand, 2 slices of typical whole wheat bread will usually deliver around 40 grams of carbs, 10 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber.

Add in the relatively low cost at about 12 cents a slice and you’ve got a solid source of cheap carbohydrates that can be used for a wide variety of different snacks and meals.


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

This is one food that many people don’t think of as part of a bodybuilding diet, but bagels are a great tasting and fairly cheap carb source to consider.

They’re also quite calorie dense, making them a good choice for those who want to get in a higher number of calories in a smaller volume of food.

An average 100 gram bagel provides nearly 50 grams of carbs and 10 grams of protein.

Use them for bagel sandwiches, tuna melts, top them with some natural peanut butter or reduced sugar jelly, or simply eat them alongside any standard meal for some easy additional carbs.


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans and navy beans are all very cost effective options for a cheap bodybuilding diet and are loaded with many valuable nutrients such as folate, iron, magnesium, calcium, copper, phosphorous, potassium and zinc.

Beans are a good source of healthy carbohydrates at around 40 grams per 100 grams of cooked beans, along with 15 grams of protein and a whopping 15 grams of fiber.

They can be purchased in canned form, or for an even cheaper option, purchase them dry in bulk and cook them yourself.


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Lentils are a cheap source of both carbs and protein, clocking in at about 40 grams of carbs and 18 grams of protein per cup.

They’re loaded with antioxidants, are high in fiber (roughly 40% of the carbohydrate calories come from fiber) and go well with curries, soups, salads and many other dishes.


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Any well rounded muscle building diet should ideally include a couple servings of vegetables and fruits each day, as they’re loaded with valuable vitamins, minerals and fiber that will ensure all of your micronutrient needs are being met.

Fresh vegetables may seem like the obvious ideal choice, but frozen veggies are actually just as nutrient-dense (if not more) than their fresh counterparts while also being more cost effective as well.

Larger bags of frozen veggies can be quite budget-friendly per serving, making them a great choice for a cheap bulking diet.

For fresh options, you can go with lower priced vegetables like cauliflower, carrots, lettuce, onions, celery, kale, beets and broccoli.


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Frozen fruits are also typically cheaper than fresh ones (though it does depend on the specific fruit and where you’re shopping) and these can be used for protein shakes or as toppings for things like oatmeal, yogurt and cereal.

When it comes to fresh fruits, some of the more cost effective options include bananas, apples, watermelon, grapes, oranges, cantaloupe, kiwi and grapes.

Cheap Fat Sources
Olive Oil

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

When it comes to optimizing your bodybuilding fat intake, It’s hard to go wrong with olive oil if you’re looking for a cheap, healthy and convenient source.

Olive oil is rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that reduces inflammation, improves cholesterol levels, and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Keep in mind that olive oil is extremely calorie dense (14 grams of fat per tablespoon), so make sure to properly measure it out so you don’t accidentally go overboard.

Natural Peanut Butter

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Due to its high polyunsaturated fat content along with a decent dose of protein, peanut butter is a staple cheap bodybuilding food that can be used to meet your daily calorie and fat needs.

Peanut butter also provides you with a hefty dose of various micronutrients, such as biotin, vitamin E, niacin, magnesium, and phosphorus.

1 tablespoon contains 8 grams of healthy fat and 5 grams of protein and can be used in protein shakes, bars, mixed into oatmeal or yogurt, spread on top of bread or a bagel or even used in savory recipes.

Regular peanuts are an option as well.

Nuts and nut butters are quite calorie dense, but this can actually be a bonus if you find that you often can’t eat enough calories to gain muscle throughout the day.


Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Another cheap source of healthy fat, almonds go great as a topping for a huge variety of meals or as a snack on their own.

They’re rich in monounsaturated fat and fiber and are also very calorie dense, making them a good choice to help you get in additional calories quite easily.

Purchase almonds in bulk to lower the cost per serving, and although they may not seem overly cheap at first glance, keep in mind that you generally won’t be eating huge amounts of them due to the high calorie content.

Cheap Bodybuilding Foods List: Quick Wrapup

Bodybuilding diet on a budget

Nutrition is just as important as what you do in the gym, and if you truly want to build a standout physique, you’d better eat like it.

Even if funds are a bit tight, it’s virtually always possible to put together a healthy, effective and cheap bodybuilding diet that hits your calorie, macronutrient and overall nutritional needs.

Stock up your cupboards and fridge with the cheap bodybuilding foods outlined above and you’ll be able to build muscle, burn fat and gain strength effectively while keeping your grocery bill to a minimum.

If you found these cheap bulking diet tips helpful, make sure to get your personalized training, nutrition and supplement plans using my free interactive video presentation below…


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About the Author: Tung Chi