Bodybuilding on a Budget
“I can’t afford to eat clean.” “Bodybuilding is too expensive.” “I’ll get fit once I have a little more money.” Do any of these sounds familiar? I can’t count the number of times people have told me that money is the thing holding them back from reaching their bodybuilding or fitness goals. From wannabe competitors to people who just want to get in better shape, a lack of funding apparently holds a lot of people back.
Well, I’m here to tell you that’s a load of crap! Can bodybuilding get expensive at a high enough level? Sure. Is building a lot of muscle going to cost you more money than sitting on the couch? Of course. But if you think you need tons of expendable income to reach your goals, you’re either mistaken or lying to yourself.
The truth is, you can get very big – and lean – on a very small budget if you pare things down to the bare essentials. And of course, nutrition is going to be your main cost and concern. Your gym membership is a constant, and there are all sorts of extras you can avoid, but you’ve got to shop smart to keep your food costs under control. That being the case, here are my top tips for bodybuilding on a budget, with a major emphasis on food.
Fruits and Veggies – Do You Need Them?
If you ask most people to define “healthy” eating, they’ll probably emphasize fruits and vegetables. While a diverse intake of produce is great for your health, it’s not easy on your wallet – especially when you’re trying to get big. You’re going to need to consume a lot more calories, protein and carbs than most people, and if you’re on a tight budget, you can’t afford to spend much on food that offers so few calories per dollar.
Now I’m not saying to avoid produce altogether. In fact, some fruits, namely bananas, are very cheap sources of quality carbohydrates. There are also a few vegetables, such as avocados, that can be affordable sources of healthy fat. Overall, though, leafy greens, cruciferous veggies and other low-calorie items should be the first thing to go when money is tight.
Without a doubt, protein will be your biggest expense whether you’re bulking or cutting. How can you make it more affordable? First things first, don’t overconsume it. There may be some advantages to eating 300 – 400 grams per day, but for the vast majority of lifters, one gram per pound of bodyweight per day is plenty. If you weigh 180 pounds, that means you need to get about 180 grams per day.
Second, stick to a relatively narrow selection of proteins that are cheap even when they’re not on sale. For most bodybuilders, this selection includes chicken breasts and thighs, top round steak, ground beef, eggs, egg whites and whey protein. Canned tuna is also an option, but it actually tends to be about the same price per gram of protein as chicken breast. It tastes like sawdust without tons of mayo, so why torture yourself when fresh chicken is so cheap?
If you shop smart, carbs should be your cheapest nutrient by far. Oats and rice will be your staples, with potatoes and sweet potatoes thrown in as your budget allows. Sugar-rich fruits like bananas and dates are also great for pre- and post-workout, and bread is fine when you’re bulking up. Stick to basic wheat breads, though. Those sprouted grain breads that are so popular among bodybuilders can also cost as much as a package of chicken or steak.
You can get fancy with your fats, but it will cost you. The best-tasting sources like avocados and almonds are also the most expensive, and they can really add up if you’re trying to pack in tons of calories. Cheaper sources include olive oil and peanut butter, both of which are easy to eat in large quantities – great for skinny guys!
When money’s really tight, though, you can avoid spending extra money on fats altogether by buying fattier protein sources. Ground beef, chicken thighs and whole eggs will give you the extra calories you need to grow, and they’re even cheaper than their leaner counterparts! If you’re really struggling to pack on mass and can’t afford more food, this is the way to go.
Shopping in Bulk
Shopping several times per week at a regular grocery store will drain your wallet. If you haven’t already, get a membership at a wholesale club like Costco or Sam’s. You’ll more than make up the initial cost with savings and cash-back deals. 10-pound packages of chicken, 15-pound bags of potatoes and 50-pound bags of rice should become commonplace if your home!
Your Gym Membership
This a non-negotiable, of course, and if you’re serious about your training, you should be going to the best gym available in your area. That doesn’t mean the fanciest or most expensive gym, though. A lot of great bodybuilding and powerlifting gyms are dank, dingy and barebones and only charge members 30-40 bucks per month. However, if the only place with quality equipment in your area is a high-priced Crossfit gym or athletic training center, go ahead and fork out the cash.
Bells and Whistles
Fancy gym clothes, 10-dollar water jugs and all of the other crap that looks good in Instagram selfies – forget about it! None of this stuff is going to help you get bigger or stick to a diet. The same is true for most training gadgets. Don’t skimp on your belt, straps, wrist wraps or knee sleeves, as those items are going to need to last you for years. Everything else can wait.
Food is expensive enough. Other than protein powder – which is basically food in powder form – you don’t need to worry about buying fancy supplements. Creatine can help, and the basic monohydrate is dirt cheap. Some branched-chain amino acids can also be useful for recovery during and after training, but they’re not essential. And if you really feel like you need a pre-workout boost, just stick to coffee, and make it yourself.
Ultimately, your ability to afford bodybuilding is going to come down to your priorities. If you only have so much money to spend, what else are you willing to give up? Are you spending money on alcohol, restaurant meals and other non-essentials? Do you have other expensive hobbies? Are you only working part-time (or not at all) so you have more time for fun? No judgements on any of these, but the fact is, we all have the same 24 hours in a day, and we all choose how we spend our money. It’s all up to you!