Gain Muscle On A Budget: Grow Big On A Shoestring Budget

Getting big while watching your wallet can seem like a challenge. If you're in college and trying to make gains while the sun shines this might feel particularly challenging.

But this could also happen at any age. Not everyone has the financial security to invest in tub upon tub of the latest supplement (although there are definite ones worth the money).

But you don't need to give up your dream of being swole-mander in chief. In fact, it is a very workable target, given that you look for the right things, and are comfortable with repeating a few food now and again.

Ready? Let's dive right in.

5 Cardinal Rules For Getting Big On A Budget by Choosing Smart Muscle Foods

You will still need to buy things, let's make that clear. We don't expect you to go around hunting for your next meal, though you are free to try if you dare.

That aside, these are considered "cardinal" budget rules when shopping:

1. Buy In Large Quantities (Bulk)

The bigger you buy, the cheaper the unit cost is. It's been that way for years, and serves as a sort of incentive to get us to buy in bulk. Yes, it may initially work out more expensive, but it saves you in the longer run.

bulk item delivery with forklift

Buying absolute essentials in bulk might be the most practical approach when starting out; things like rice and salt are great ones to start with.

2. Avoid Popular Brands

Big brands command the lion's share of the market thanks to heavy marketing budgets. This makes you instinctively look for those brands in the supermarket aisles as you've just been inundated numb after hearing it for the ten thousandth time since last week.

This, however, is a trap. There are many store brand products that are available at just a fraction of the cost, and are sometimes just as good- or even better than the brand name products.

Combining this strategy of unbranded goods with bulk sizes and you will save even more.

3. Stock Up During Sales

Everyone loves a sale right? Well you should too! Sales are a convenient opportunity to stock up on non-perishable items or ones that you consume in a timely manner.

This doesn't have to just apply to foods, as you need much more to live comfortably.

4. Freeze Perishables

Veggies and fruits are fair game when it comes to freezing as a means of storage. Since these are highly perishable, they won't last any amount of time at the bottom of your refrigerator, necessitating freezing.

You will want to be picky here- not all of them lend themselves to being frozen, but it is still very doable.

We recommend you cut or slice up prior to storage in freezer bags.

5. Spice It Up

Spices can make all the difference in the quality of prepared meals, turning the boring into extraordinary. You can perform a very clean bulk by making chicken breasts tasty and not feel like bland mattress sponges.

Cheap Foods to Build Muscle

Now that you've learned ways what the basic rules of making delicious budget friendly muscle, it's time to move on to the actual foods you should be focusing on.

Let's check them out:

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese might not be the cheapest of all the cheeses, but it is lean and contains the rare protein that is casein. Casein is different from whey protein in the sense that it is very slow digesting, whereas whey is all about speed.

cottage cheese

Adding cottage cheese to certain meals is a great way to mix things up, and consuming before bedtime can help supply a slow stream of amino acids while asleep.


Back in the day, before the widespread availability of whey protein and the like, good old milk ruled the roost. Full cream, unapologetic milk, supplies a decent 8g of protein per serving, with as much as on gallon being consumed daily to support caloric requirements and fast-track gettin' swole.

Today, people are definitely more reserved; most opt for lower-fat or skim varieties of milk, and some ditch dairy altogether, opting for almond or soy milk.

But looking at sheer affordability and bang for the buck, purchasing milk by the gallon is difficult to match.

Natural Peanut Butter

Peanut butter makes a delicious snack or topping for bread when looking for a more filling meal. Natural peanut butter contains no preservatives but retains all the protein content that makes it so delicious.

Keep in mind that peanut butter is fairly high in calories, so use in moderation.


One of the most budget friendly and nutrient rich food sources, eggs should be a staple in your diet regardless of goal or budget.

They are rich in protein, B vitamins and several co-factors that aid in muscle protein synthesis and testosterone production.

You should eat some of the yolk, too; we recommend limiting the total amount of yolk only if you consume several daily.

Canned Fish

When's the last time you went to the fresh fish market? Most people don't, and end up missing out on the myriad of benefits offered by fish, particularly of the cold water variety.

tuna in can

Fish offer a lean source of protein but retain healthy polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are anti-inflammatory by nature and support a healthy ticker (AKA heart and cardiovascular system).

Tuna and sardine are great examples of canned fish that are not only affordable, but healthy and convenient to make on the go.

Beef Liver

Liver is an acquired taste for many. Not everyone can handle it's strong taste and flavor. However, liver is one of the most dense sources of nutrition on the planet compared on a weight basis to many other foods. It is a dense source of vitamin B12, other B vitamins, vitamin A, iron and copper.

Cow liver is also high in cholesterol and protein, making it good news for bulking up. And the most exciting part? It's cheap. Most people don't appreciate the value liver brings, and that's good news for you.


Chicken is the most popular meat in the world, offering a cheap and rich source of protein to people who would otherwise not have access to affordable meat.

It is also naturally very low in fat, making it the perfect accompaniment to a variety of meals.

Canned Beans

Beans are a nutritional powerhouse. Available fresh or canned, they can make plain meals delicious and deliver much needed protein, especially if you are a vegetarian.

Navy, kidney, and black eyed varieties are all healthy and nutrient rich, but most of all, they are affordable.


Most people are not familiar with quark, although this German staple is a rich source of protein and (possibly) fat.


Its consistency is said to be a lovechild of yogurt and cottage cheese, though it is technically a type of soft cheese. It possesses a very mild taste that lends itself to being added to a variety of meals which require a creamier texture, or can be consumed as it for a protein boost.

Just be careful with the fat content- it can range from low to almost 40%.

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are some of the cheapest seeds you can purchase to munch on as a healthy snack, adding to your protein, carb and fat bottom line.

They can also be ground and added to muffins or homemade bread to power it up even more.


Potatoes are one of the most budget friendly sources of carbohydrates you can buy to bulk up, although they are not the most nutritionally dense.

This is because regular potatoes possess compounds referred to as anti-nutrients, which can impair uptake of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.

But nevertheless, it remains one of the most cost-effective carbohydrates you can buy, but feel free to mix things up with the healthier (but more expensive) sweet potato from time to time.

Whole Wheat Pasta

Whole wheat pasta is relatively cheap, and rich in protein, carbs and dietary fiber. Consuming rice daily might get boring real quick, which is why pasta exists to break the mold.

Whole Wheat Bread

Bread is available for cheap, regardless of which part of the world you live in. When choosing, it is a smart idea to go for whole wheat varieties, as they contain greater amounts of fiber.

This equates to slower digestion and glucose delivery. Fast carbohydrates are not advised during the regular course of the day as they trigger insulin spikes that promote fat storage.

Keep fast carbs for the post workout period, and go for slower varieties the rest of the day.

Frozen Vegetables

Fresh veggies are best. But sometimes, owing to season or otherwise, they might not be available. This is where frozen veggies can come in handy.

These can be picked up at your local supermarket, and while the variety might not be there, availability is generally reliable.

Better yet, ensure that you are getting enough of a variety by consuming a real greens and superfood powder- not one made of extracts. Try Field Of Greens in the delicious Wildberry flavor!

Bags of Rice

Rice, is a classic staple throughout many parts of the world. Why? rice is cheap. Dependent on which type of rice you opt for, you can get a whole lot for a little money.

Of course, more specialty types of rice are more expensive, but you should be able to get bulk white or brown rice on the cheap. Brown rice is the healthier of the two, but may carry a strong and pungent taste profile which may take some getting accustomed to.

Rolled Oats

Rolled oats possess the best mix of value and nutritional density, saving you a lot of cash when compared to buying brand name instant oats.

Rolled oats take a bit longer to cook than what you may be accustomed to, but the end result is a slower digesting carb source that is better for sustained energy.

Cruciferous Veggies

Cruciferous vegetables are one of the most popular categories of veggies consumed, with cabbage, broccoli, spinach, kale and cauliflower amongst the ranks.

These veggies contain abundant amounts of satiating fiber, vitamins C, E and K, and are low in calories to add bulk to the diet.


Surprisingly, more people don't consume beets. Beets are cheap, and loaded with nutrients such as iron, vitamin C, folate and potassium.

But there's more. Looking for a nitric oxide booster on the cheap? Beets are high in dietary nitrate content, which lends itself to vasodilation of blood vessels.

This could also mean improved workout capacity, and even (drum roll) a NATURAL VIAGRA alternative.


Bananas are cheap, offer lots of potassium, but are also high in carbs. Limit to no more than 2 bananas daily to prevent blowing over your macros.


Watermelon is a tasty treat for hot days, rich in vitamins A, C and potassium. It also contains L-citrulline, a precursor involved in the synthesis of nitric oxide.

watermelon slices

Combined with beets, you have a powerful duo for enhancing blood flow and circulation.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is a health food that can be used for cooking, even though it's not the cheapest option out there. Depending on the type of processing (cold pressed or not).

Virgin olive oil is the cheaper option (compared to extra virgin olive oil) and still offers most of what you have come to expect from it, so it might not be a terrible idea to go for the slightly cheaper option.

Whey Protein

While not the cheapest thing out there, whey protein is considered a solid investment when upping your game. This is because the timing of nutrients is also critical, and something whey excels at.

If you're looking to economize, take your whey protein immediately after training.

Dirty Bulking?

Dirty bulking is a technique some use during off-season or "bulking", whereas less emphasis is placed on what is consumed as long as muscle is gained.

The negative about this is the fact that a lot of fat is gained as well and subsequent time is wasted to leaning down.

Final Words

So can you pull off bulking on a budget? Absolutely. It does take a little more effort and diligence, and food options might be restricted, but it's very possible with a plan.

When it boils down to it, a lot depends on being smart. Stock your fridge and cupboards with as much as you can without breaking the bank, to cover your needs on a rainy day.

Just keep in mind that what you eat is responsible for more than 70% of the progress you see, so be sure to dedicate sufficient energy to getting your diet right.