I am going to show you how I cut my muscle-building food expenses by 33% – without reverting back to Ramen Noodles and tuna or peanut butter sandwiches.
Here’s the deal.
When I was in the process of buying my first home, I was anticipating some big expenses.
I was expecting to put down a hefty chunk of money, cover closing costs, fees, and make sure there was a good cushion in the reserves.
With that said, it’s pretty safe to assume that if I wanted to make the experience go by as smoothly as possible, I’d have to save a good deal of cash.
As I looked through my bank statements, I realized 2 things.
1. I am frugal and do a pretty good job at not spending money on meaningless shit.
2. I spent far too much money on food.
So I had a few choices…
1) Forget about building (or maintaining) muscle mass and let myself shrivel away – 2) go back to the “college diet”, which would have been a much better option than the previous – or 3) become a bit more strategic with my shopping.
I chose the latter.
So today I want to share 7 Nutrition Tips for Building Big Muscle on a Small Budget.
These are very simple, actionable techniques that you can start implementing right away if you want to eat big and spend small.
Let’s dive in!
1. Dirt Cheap Nutrient-Dense Foods
High quality, nutrient-dense food doesn’t have to be expensive, and expensive food doesn’t mean it’s any healthier
Although studies have shown that organic foods contain 10-30% more nutrients than conventional foods, assuming you’re already on a well-balanced diet, this is, for the most part, insignificant. Not because higher nutritional value is not beneficial, but because if you’re already an active, healthy individual who’s consuming enough fruits and vegetables, you’re not likely to notice any physiological difference in switching to strictly organic.
In fact, this widely cited Stratford study concluded that there is no evidence that organic foods are significantly healthier than typical foods.
With that in mind, the foods on this list are still relatively inexpensive if you decide that you must buy organic.
Whole Eggs: Eggs are a rich source of natural protein filled with BCAAs – including the most important for muscle growth – leucine. Not only are they great for building muscle, high in nutrients, and cheap, but they are also extremely versatile. You can use them for omelets, sandwiches, scramble them, fry them, and the list goes on.
Beans: One cup of black beans contains about 230 calories with less than 1 gram coming from dietary fats, and a whopping 15 grams of protein. With over 40 grams of carbohydrates, black beans are ideal for anyone who needs a hefty amount of calories in order to reach their muscle-building goals. If that wasn’t enough of a reason to bring this mass building food into your diet, 1 can of beans can be purchased for less than $1.
Multigrain Pasta: Who doesn’t like pasta? Not only does pasta allow for an array of recipes, but it’s a great source of energy. It’s low in dietary fat and contains upwards of 60g of carbs, 7g of fiber, and get this, packed with over 15 grams of protein…and it costs $2.00 for an entire box that can last 3-5 days!
Chocolate Milk: Muscle is built outside of the gym and ample recovery is critical. Most brands of chocolate milk supply around 20 to 25 grams of carbohydrates and between 8 and 11 grams of protein (per 8 oz.), which makes for an effective post-workout replenishment choice. If that wasn’t enough, like eggs, milk is a great source of leucine – the amino acid with the greatest muscle building benefits.
Ground Turkey or Beef: Ground meat has the same amount of protein in it as steak or chicken, but less expensive per ounce. Like eggs, ground meat is versatile and can be made into patties for burgers, chili to feed you for a week, or even calorie packed burritos.
The list goes on here: 10 Dirt Cheap Bodybuilding Foods for Bulking on a Budget
2. Buy In Bulk
Buying in bulk may have a higher upfront cost, but the total amount you spend is almost always less when compared to buying in smaller increments.
If you have a Costco, Sam’s Club, BJs, or any other wholesale membership club near you, I would recommend checking it out and seeing what food items you may be able to save on.
Some foods that are typically better bought in bulk are:
Potatoes (If you eat them frequently enough)
By buying in bulk you can expect to save money directly, but also indirectly by having food more readily available.
Have you ever been low on groceries and opted to order take-out or visit a restaurant instead of shopping?
Me too…and that’s why I make it a point to make sure we are all stocked up, always.
Another option – one I have yet to explore – is called “cow-sharing”.
According to Calvin Buhler of Scrawny to Brawny, “you purchase part of a live cow — usually a whole, half, or side — and pick up the meat once it’s processed. This allows you to get delicious grass-fed meat at a $3-6 a pound instead of the usual $7 or more per pound.”
If this is something you’d be interested in, check out Eat Wild and select your state to find wild game processing shops in your area.
3. Learn to Cook
Before I began this “bulking on a budget”, I spent $17.99 (plus tip) on a mouthwatering Cajun Chicken Pasta platter at a very well-known restaurant. I was so impressed by the meal that I found myself craving it every other day; however, spending close to $20 on 1 meal (not including my wife and kids), a few times per week, just wasn’t going to happen.
I’ll be the first to admit, I am no Chef Gordon Ramsay – but with a little trial and error, I was able to get it pretty damn close.
Not to mention, you’ll know exactly how much of each ingredient is on your plate. This will allow you to track more accurately and avoid overeating in error.
Not only is cooking at home healthier and more cost effective, but knowing your way around a kitchen, married or not, is a skill every man should aim to acquire.
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4. Keep The Menu Short
If you can limit the number of items on your daily menu, it makes more of a case for buying in bulk.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy variety, but having too much to choose from makes for more decisions that have to be made, more time cooking (because otherwise you could cook in bulk), and more money spent by going out of your way to pick up new ingredients.
Rather than eating the same exact meals, daily, think about rotating through a small menu, weekly.
This will give you the best of both worlds – food consistency for buying in bulk, and a bit of variety in your day to day diet.
Want a done-for-you meal plans? Check out my Lean Mass Meal Plans
5. Use Coupons
Saving money on food via coupons is not something that has to become a second job (although it could if you want to get extreme).
Every day (or close to it) you receive a brochure of coupons to any given grocery store in your area. In a matter of minutes, you can skim through and cut out any coupon(s) for any food item(s) you’ve already planned on purchasing.
If you wanted to take a step further, simply check out couponing websites like Coupons.com for any daily deals, before heading to the grocery store.
Whether you save $1 or $100, a penny saved is a penny earned.
6. Cook In Advance
Going back to tip #2 (Buy In Bulk), having food more readily available will make it far less likely that you go out and spend money on food.
If you work a job or go to school, you’re likely going to eat lunch (or dinner) there. Cooking your meals in advance will allow you to bring food with you and avoid spending extra money. Doing this may not seem like a big game-changer, but consider how much money you’d save if you didn’t buy lunch for an entire week. The average lunch costs about $8 – if you’re working full-time, that’s an extra $40 per week – a whopping $160 per month.
Money aside, achieving physical fitness through diet and exercise should be a positive experience and make life more enjoyable. With that said, stressing ourselves out by attempting to create time out of thin air in order to cook a meal every few hours is simply not ideal.
This is especially helpful if you’re on a well structured muscle-building meal plan.
How to Cook in Advance
Take a look at your schedule for the week and find 1 or 2 days where you have a bit of downtime. Maybe sometime before bed or on the weekend when you’re not tied up with work or school.
It may not be realistic to find time every single day to cook 5 separate meals, but finding 1-2 hours in a week shouldn’t be a problem.
If you have to sacrifice TV time, do it!
Once you have your 1 or 2 days picked out, schedule a 1-2 hour block dedicated to preparing your foods.
Allowing 48-72 hours between “meal prep days” would be ideal. This will allow you to prep accordingly. For example: Prep meals on Monday for Tuesday, Wednesday, and the better part of Thursday. Then Thursday night can be dedicated to prepping for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. If you have more than two days where you can find time for meal prep, then more power to you.
7. Shop for Food, Not for Brands
Don’t be married to brands, but nutritional value instead.
Fact is, like most over-the-counter medications, similar foods contain the same exact nutrition value as their competitor.
Don’t shop for brands, shop for food items.
You’re going to find that not only some brands are less expensive, but when you’re not married to the name on the box, you’ll be able to see what’s on sale and perhaps save yourself a few bucks without changing your diet.
Following a solid muscle-building diet doesn’t have to be costly, but it may require some effort.
If you’re a college student, low on funds, or just looking to save some extra money, use any variation of the 7 budget-friendly tips listed above.
Are there any money-saving strategies you use to limit food expenses?
I am always looking for more ways to save, so make sure to leave those in the comment section below!