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How To: Build Muscle on a Budget

Strapped for cash but chasing gains? Here's the answer.

Building muscle can be expensive.

First off, you have to pay out for your gym membership: 

Okay, you CAN build muscle with bodyweight moves, or just a couple of pieces of equipment in your own home, but that's never going to be optimal, and once you're past the newbie stages, you need the heavy bars, the racks and the machines of a real gym.

Then you've got your supplements.

They're not essential, but protein powders and bars make everything easier, and creatine, BCAAs, fish oils and vitamin D are all worth a little cash.

That's some serious money you've spent already, and we've not even moved on to the food yet.

You might be aiming for 3,000, 4,000 – maybe even 5,000 plus – calories per day. And that gets expensive when you're stocking your shopping bags with grass-fed meats, organic fruits and vegetables, clean carbs and non-processed, healthy fats.

It looks like if you want to build muscle, you've gotta be pretty damn rich!

Or does it?

 

Stop Majoring in the Minor

First up, you don't need to be spending a tonne of cash on the most expensive food products.

It might be nice to brag about always buying grass-fed meats, and organic produce, but when it comes to building mass and improving your physique, this won't make any noticeable difference.

In fact, according to a report from the Harvard Medical School, from the hundreds of studies performed that examine organic versus non-organic foods, the general consensus is that organics are no more nutritious. (1)

You might feel better and have a clearer conscience doing so, but if you're trying to save some pennies, then skipping the pricier options is your first port of call.

Secondly – supplements?

I like supplements, don't get me wrong, and I do take some myself, but if ever I'm trying to cut back a little on my outgoings, supplements are the first thing I sacrifice.

The only things I keep in are whey protein (as it actually works out cheaper than a lot of high-protein foods) and fish oils.

Apart from those though, everything goes so that I can save money.

 

Bulking Foods on a Budget

You might be surprised at this, but you can construct your own muscle building diet incredibly cheaply, if you know the right foods to choose.

You obviously need to know your macros, and if you're unsure of these, check out my articles on calculating calories and macros before you hit the stores –

Got that sorted?

Cool, let's check out some cheap bulking foods for gargantuan gains.

 

Proteins

We all love meat (apart from my vegetarian friends!) but meat can be expensive.

The ideal solution though, is to buy in bulk.

Better still – visit your local butcher to strike up a deal on regular orders, or see what he has an excess of.

I also like tinned or canned fish – tuna, salmon and mackerel being top of the list, as this stores for ages, and gram for gram, is one of the cheapest protein sources out there.

I mentioned whey too. People often think this is expensive, and there IS a large initial outlay for a big bag, but in the long-run, it works out incredibly cost-efficient.

Don't turn your nose up at organ meat either.

Liver, kidneys, and even foods like heart are often very lean, extremely high in protein and pack a load of vitamins and minerals too. They're not for those with a weak stomach, but cast your pre-conceptions to one side, and just give them a go.

I'll also give a shout out to eggs – perhaps nature's perfect bulking food. Buy these in batches, or visit a local farm.

 

Carbohydrates

You shouldn't have any struggle finding cheap carbs, as they tend to be the least pricey of the three macronutrients to add into your diet.

That's the one bonus of bulking diets too – you can pack in plenty of carb-based calories, meaning that often, while you'll be eating more calories on a bulk than a cut, bulking diets can be cheaper.

I'll just run through a list here. (Remember – you don't need to go organic for any of these) –

  • Rice

Get white, brown, red, wholegrain, basmati, wild – whatever suits your preferences.

  • Potatoes

White potatoes are so cheap and so nutrient-dense you'd be a fool not to include them in your bulk.

  • Frozen fruits and veggies

Though not quite as calorie-dense as starchy carbs, you do need your micronutrients, and frozen produce holds its nutritional value better than fresh, as well as being far cheaper. 

  • Oats

The king of cereals perhaps? They're certainly cheap and full of fibre, but likewise, there's nothing wrong with bumping up your calories with more sugary kids cereals, or higher-fat ones like muesli and granola.

  • Ice cream

Hey, we're bulking, right? And what better way to get in 1,000+ calories for just a few $ than with ice cream.

  • Sweets and candy

Provided it doesn't make up the bulk of your diet, you've got to get some junk food in your plan if saving money is a priority. 

 

Fats

  • Peanut butter

Want 600 calories in just 100 grams of food? Then peanut butter is your friend. You can pick up a jar for a couple of dollars and get 2,500 calories with of healthy fats. That's a win in my book.

  • Butter

Butter is an often-forgotten bulking superhero. Forget your extra virgin, cold-pressed, organic olive oil – slather some butter on your bread and on your veggies for easy, cheap calories.

  • Ice Cream

Yup, I give it a second mention here! The more premium ice creams or those with nuts in and made with cream will have a higher fat content, and still won't break the bank.

  • Sausages

Fattier meats like sausage, along with every IIFYM-er's favourite – bacon – are a bulking god-send. Add in burgers, salami and ham, and you have yourself a money-saving fat and protein-packed feast.

  • Cheese

If anyone says cheese is unhealthy – un-friend them immediately. Throw some cheddar on your burger, some parmesan on your pasta, some brie on your baguette and emmental in your omelette.

 

The Rules of Bulking on a Budget

  • Always look for special offers and deals
  • Buy in larger quantities where possible
  • Visit local manufacturers and traders
  • Don't worry too much about being "healthy"
  • Aim to get the most calories for your dollar
  • Hit your minimum optimal protein intake, then fill the rest of your calories with carbs and fats (as these tend to be cheaper.)
  • ENJOY what you eat. Bulking is the time to have some fun, and your groceries don't need to break the bank.