How to Build Muscle on a Budget

Budget Friendly Foods for Lean Mass Gain

Do you want to build muscle but think quality food to reach this goal is unaffordable? Many of us feel this way and unfortunately, have based this conclusion on inaccurate nutrition information. The problem is many of us believe expensive protein powders and supplements are necessary for lean mass gains.

The truth is we can build muscle through proper physical training and eating nutrient dense foods. This can all be done while sticking to a budget. Nutritious foods are not only affordable but will enable you to achieve lean mass gains. Nothing fancy or expensive is required, just eating right for your fitness goals. 

The following budget-friendly tips will guide you on how to eat for the muscle you’re building while staying on track financially: 

Eat at Home

Eating banana during training in gym
Drazen Lovric/Getty Images

Dining out will not be an option when on a budget. You’re on a mission to save money, lose fat and gain muscle. What will be a priority is learning how to purchase nutrient dense foods and how to cook the stuff. Cooking skills will become your fitness success. You will appreciate the control of knowing what you're eating to achieve a lean and healthy body. 

Maintain a frugal personality when it comes to food purchases in order to find the best deals on healthy foods. Remember to stick to your budget and resist the temptation to stray even when friends call for that dinner out. 

How to Buy Affordable Muscle Food

Organic foods are the best way to go but not always possible on a budget. Doing the best you can while watching your spending is what matters and a necessary strategy. You can still eat right and reach fitness goals using alternatives. Some options to consider include purchasing:

  • Large bags of dried beans and brown or white rice – these foods have a long shelf life and can be measured out and cooked as needed. Beans and rice together contain all the amino acids to make up a complete protein necessary for muscle growth.
  • Large bags of sweet potatoes and white potatoes – excellent source of fiber, antioxidants, and healthy carbohydrates for lean mass gains. 
  • Whole chickens and ground lean beef – less expensive protein source than already cut up poultry or a whole steak. Consuming an adequate amount of protein is important to repair and build lean muscle. 
  • Frozen vegetables and fruits – are cheaper than fresh varieties but still an excellent source of essential nutrients and easy to prepare. 

Create a Budget Friendly Menu

The body requires nutrients from lean proteins, good carbohydrates, and healthy fats for optimal fitness. Knowing what the body needs is the first step to creating a budget-friendly menu. Strategize food shopping by locating discount food stores, bulk purchase outlets, and even clip coupons for extra savings. 

Organics and canned food items will be cheaper in discount food outlets. Compare prices and reduce stress by locating one or two favorite stores to food shop and save on transportation cost.

Prepare a food budget ahead of time and don't be tempted by impulse items. These are typically processed and unhealthy. Remember money is critical, healthy food is a priority, and goals to gain lean mass important.

Cheaper but Healthy

The following foods are typically cheaper but healthy nutrient sources to reach your fitness goals: beans, rice, lean meats on sale, low to no sodium canned food items, eggs, peanut butter, oats, low-fat dairy, and seasonal vegetables and fruits.

Chicken is often less expensive purchased whole and cut up at home. Buying chicken breast on the bone with skin intact can also be a cost saving. De-boning and skinning the chicken can happen in the kitchen and part of your meal prep.

The same applies to lean red meats and buying a larger cut on sale trimming the fat off at home. Become a deal seeker and purchase lean meats with a low price per pound. This will be the time to buy in bulk and freeze the portions. 

Dairy items like low-fat milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt can be purchased in a large container which is usually cheaper. Anytime individual size packing is included think more money. It's less expensive to buy a larger container and separate the serving sizes at home.

Buy in Bulk

Buying healthy food in bulk is a great way to save money.

Dried beans can be purchased in a large bag and cooked at home at a cost saving. However, and for convenience, canned varieties can also be bought fairly cheap at discount food stores and bulk food outlets. Look for organic when possible and at the very least low to no sodium.

Bulk brown rice is inexpensive and when combined with a serving of beans creates a complete protein and good carbohydrate meal.

Oatmeal is another healthy carbohydrate food and a favorite among lean mass gainers. Oats are inexpensive, easy to cook and can be topped with fruits and even mixed with peanut butter for a power meal. 

Canned tuna will be a life saver when shopping on a dime. Chunk light tuna in water will be the best deal and an excellent source of protein. It can be mixed with brown rice, topped with spices, or eaten straight from the can.

Peanut butter is the cheapest of the nut-butters. Look for all natural staying away from hydrogenated sugar-filled products. Natural peanut butter typically has oil at the surface, requires stirring to blend the product and an excellent healthy fat. Research indicates peanut butter as a superior superfood linked to lean mass gain and fat loss.

Eggs are inexpensive especially when bought in bulk and are among the top listed easy assimilated proteins for the body. Egg whites and oatmeal is one of the most popular lean mass building meals in the fitness industry.

Should I Buy Canned Foods?

Vegetables and fruits are better purchased fresh, cheaper in-season, and the best time to stock up. However, buying fresh or in-season may not always be possible or affordable. Canned or frozen foods would be the next healthy option.

Canned food is very budget friendly but there are a few things to consider. Look for canned goods that are minimally processed, low in sodium and preservatives. Fruits should be packed in their own natural juices without added sugar.

Stock up during a sale and keep the pantry full of healthy canned food selections. Adding a side of canned vegetables as an accompaniment to cooked lean meat is a great way to consume essential nutrients and quality protein. 
 

Condiments are Necessary

Condiments are inexpensive and an excellent way to spice up healthy meals. Mustard, hot sauce, salsa, ground pepper, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and natural coconut sugar are a few great examples.

Extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for salads and vegetables will be a mainstay in the pantry and budget friendly. 

Avoid processed and saturated fats like creamy salad dressings, margarine and anything high salt and fake.

Have Your Food Ready to Go

Active adults, athletes, and bodybuilders enjoy the convenience of food storage containers to separate and store healthy meals. This has been a well-known food tip among bodybuilders serious about staying fueled for lean mass gains.

Purchasing food storage containers of varying sizes will help you stay on track with your budget and nutrition requirements. When you start buying and cooking in bulk, you will appreciate having meals ready to go. 

A complete meal prepped and stocked refrigerator means virtually every meal of the day is ready to eat. Money is saved and excellent nutrition is gained. The following are sample meals bodybuilders typically put in those food containers:

  • meal 1 - chicken breast, ½ cup brown or white rice, 1 cup green vegetable, flax oil
  • meal 2 - salmon, ½ cup quinoa, 1 cup or 8 spears asparagus
  • meal 3 - ground turkey, ½ sweet potato, 1 cup broccoli

A Word From Verywell
Eating for muscle growth is affordable and simply requires consuming a wide variety of nutrient dense foods. Evidence shows nutrient requirements can be met through our daily food intake. This includes food necessary for lean mass gains. Additional supplements and protein powders are really not necessary to reach your goals. What is proven are healthy eating habits combined with consistent exercise supporting muscle growth.
  
Sources:
American College of Sports Medicine, Protein Intake for Optimum Muscle Maintenance, 2015

USDA, choosemyplate.gov, healthy eating on a budget

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