Nutrition

Budget Bodybuilding: Meal and Supplement Plan for Less $ Than a Burger and Fries

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Are you looking to build muscle and/or lose fat?

Are you also on a budget (see also: high school/college student; recent graduate; young family man)?

Trying to get fit and stay on budget may seem like conflicting goals.

Especially in a time when folks are pushing hoards of expensive supplements, high-priced luxury gym memberships, and “clean diets” chock full of organic super foods and wild caught meats.

But it can absolutely be done.

Below I've laid out an entire grocery shopping list and sample meal plan complete with cost per serving.

I've even thrown in some bare bones supplement recommendations.

While this won't support the most up-to-minute Paleo/Organic/Gluten-free diet, it's still a huge improvement over the way most people eat.

With this plan, you'll get a balanced, whole foods diet with a focus on increased protein content.

Budget Bodybuilding Diet Objectives

1. Work with a limited budget

2. Support muscle-building and/or fat loss

3. Taste good

4. Fit a busy lifestyle

This grocery list/meal plan should be viewed as a down-and-dirty plan to feed yourself when first starting out or whenever money gets tight.

The prices noted below are reflective of shopping at Aldi in Chicago, December 2014. While food costs in Chicago are fairly high, Aldi is a very affordable grocery chain so these prices should be similar to the rest of the U.S.

Categories and Price Per Serving

Protein

Naturally, this is the most important category as any bodybuilding meal plan has to be high in protein, but it can be misleading in terms of actual cost.

While egg whites are dirt cheap “per serving”, protein content per serving is fairly low, meaning cost per gram is rather high.

Therefore, I've calculated the cost per 30g of protein from each source, as that's a much more practical way of looking at things.

SourceServing SizePrice Per ServingProtein Per ServingPrice Per 30 Grams
Milk 8 fl.oz.$0.158g$0.57
Cottage Cheese 1%1/2 cup$0.2813g$0.65
Tuna1 Can$0.6526g$0.75
Chicken Breast4 oz.$0.6323g$0.82
Whey Protein1 scoop$0.5620g$0.84
Ground Turkey 93% Lean4 oz.$0.6522g$0.88
Eggs1 egg$0.186g$0.90
Egg Whites3 tbsp$0.205g$1.20
Stew Meat4 oz.$1.2525$1.50
Ground Beef 93% Lean4 oz.$1.2423g$1.62

Carbs

As you can see, most of the starches are nearly free. Using them as a component to stretch most meals is going to be a huge cost saver and they're going to help you fill up.

  • Rice – $0.04, 1 cup cooked
  • Potatoes – $0.06, 8 oz.
  • Oats – $0.08, 1 cup prepared
  • Dextrose – $0.10, 20g scoop
  • Pasta – $0.11, 3/4 cup uncooked (about 1.25 cups cooked)
  • Whole Wheat Bread – $0.12, 1 slice
  • Bananas – $0.12, 1 banana
  • Apples – $0.33 each
  • Sweet Potatoes – $0.35, 8 oz.
  • Berries, Frozen – $0.46, 1/2 cup

 Fat

  • Butter – $0.07, 1 Tbsp
  • Olive Oil – $0.09 1 Tbsp
  • Peanut Butter – $0.10, 2 Tbsp

Veggies

  • Pasta Sauce – $0.17, 1/2 cup
  • Vegetable medley, frozen – $0.25, 1 cup
  • Broccoli, frozen – $0.30, 1 cup
  • Green Beans, frozen – $0.34, 3/4 cup

Supplements (optional, but helpful)

Budget Bodybuilding Sample Meal Plan

I'll use myself as an example here. This diet is suitable for a 190 lb. active male aiming for about 3,200 calories per day to maintain weight.

Breakfast

4 Eggs

1 tsp Butter

2 Cups Cooked Oats

Banana

Multivitamin

Totals – Calories 750, Fat 31g, Carbs 73g, Protein 35g – $1.13

 

Snack

1 Cup Cottage Cheese

2 Apples

2 Tbsp Peanut Butter

Totals – Calories 560, Fat 18g, Carbs 64g, Protein 36g – $1.32

Lunch

10 oz Ground Turkey, 2 Patties

2 cups rice

2 Cups Vegetable Medley

Totals – Calories 788, Fat 21, Carbs 81g, Protein 66g – $2.20

 

Pre-Workout

1 Scoop BSN Hyper-FX

Totals – Calories 14, Carbs 4g – $0.76

Post-Workout

2 Scoops Whey Protein

60g Dextrose

5g Creatine Monohydrate

Totals – Calories 430, Fat 4, Carbs 60g, Protein 40g – $1.50

Dinner

8 oz. Chicken Breast

16 oz. Baked Potato

1 Tbsp Butter

2 Cups Broccoli

Totals – Calories 704, Fat 19g, Carbs 84g, Protein 63g – $2.37

Grand Totals – Calories 3,247, Fat 93g, Carbs 366g, Protein 240g – $9.38

So in practical terms, this means that if you grocery shop weekly and prepare all your meals at home, you can expect to spend roughly $50-$60.

Depending on how many days per week you workout and what supplements you take on your off days, your monthly supplement order should be under $50.

While there are cheaper ways of going about what I've laid out above, like consuming only milk and peanut butter, who wants to do that?

This plan allows you to have variety at every meal – no more chicken and rice six times per day – and includes a lot of quality fruits and vegetables.

Call it the sane man's guide to bodybuilding meals and supplementing.

Happy shopping!

Nate

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    David
    January 27, 2015 at 3:27 am

    Great post, this is something I really struggle with. I can train all day but I need to get my diet in check to see the results I want. This is simple and to the point, great work.

    I love the blog, very stylish. Keep it coming.

    • Reply
      nlewis
      January 27, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      I know how you feel. For me, if something’s going to slip it’ll likely be my diet. Just keep correcting course along the way. And let me know if there’re training or nutrition topics you’d like me to cover.

  • Reply
    David
    January 28, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    It would be great if you did a cheat sheet article on the different macro breakdowns for cutting, maintaining and bulking. There’s a lot of confusing and complicated advice out there that’s really only geared for top level bodybuilders. It be great to get a simple rundown on what’s actually important. I’m at 14% body fat now and I’m want to get to 8% to 10%. I work full time and study part time. I don’t have time for complicated routines or diets.

    • Reply
      nlewis
      January 29, 2015 at 3:04 pm

      I know exactly what you mean. One source tells you that 5g of carbs will make you fat, another says you need 400g to fuel your workouts, and the next guy’s going on about carb cycling. I’ll put that idea on my list, for sure.

  • Reply
    prolin
    February 16, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Is that right? Protein is cheaper in milk?

    • Reply
      Nate
      February 16, 2015 at 10:01 pm

      Yep. There are 128 grams of protein in a gallon of milk which costs me $2.39. Whereas, a pound of 93% lean ground beef is $4.89 with only 92 grams of protein. Making beef twice the price for about 25% less protein.

  • Reply
    Anthony
    June 11, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Great – simple article. Where were you 2 years ago. I had to figure this out on my own :-)
    Awesome plan – looks a lot like my daily routine. The vegetable medley has been a staple!

    • Reply
      Nate
      June 11, 2015 at 9:51 pm

      Glad you liked the article, Anthony!

      Same here, I had to piece together information from all over and then make adjustments based on what I liked. Vegetable medley is awesome. It’s dirt cheap, simple to prepare, and tastes pretty good. Not bad considering it’s actually good for you.

  • Reply
    weight loss
    October 4, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Hi, after reading this awesome article i am also cheerful to share
    my knowledge here with friends.

  • Reply
    zayden
    December 31, 2015 at 9:04 am

    do i follow the portion size stated above? cause im small

    • Reply
      Nate
      January 1, 2016 at 9:51 am

      No. This is example is for myself at 6’2” with a decent amount of muscle mass. You can multiple your weight by 16 and that’ll be approximately how many calories you need. Then you can adjust to go up or down in weight depending on your goal.

  • Reply
    Evan
    August 16, 2016 at 5:15 am

    Hey Nate,

    Great practical breakdown you’ve got here. Most of this food is in my diet except for some of the simple sugars. I’ve recently picked up some whey, and upped protein to about 200-250g from various sources every day because I’m looking to gain some weight. As of now, I’m 165 – 6”0. When I was 180 my diet looked more like this, because of the carb intake, with almonds, bananas, and lots of meats and rice every day.

    What would be an optimal carb range for me to get up to 180ish healthily? MFP app says 470g to gain weight, but that is VERY hard haha. Thanks in advance!

    – Evan

    • Reply
      Nate
      August 17, 2016 at 5:23 am

      Taking your carb intake up to 470g shouldn’t be too bad. You can save some room in your belly by scaling your protein back to 200 or even 180 since you won’t need as much with all the access calories. Then aim for “healthy” refined carbs like white rice, bread, and pasta. Then add in a few pieces of fruit and just a little bit of junky carbs tp take you the rest of the way. You don’t have to eat like garbage, but to gain 15 lbs you will have to temporarily alter your diet.

  • Reply
    Adam
    November 8, 2016 at 10:34 am

    Nate- what is the actual grocery list look like with exact amounts? I was gonna use and try it out! thanks

    • Reply
      Nate
      November 15, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      I don’t actually have a concise grocery list because many of these items last longer than a week so they aren’t all purchased at the same time. Just pick up one of everything for each meal and you’ll be set.

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