Sports Nutrition Bulking on a Budget Meal Plans and Food Options for Muscle Gain By Darla Leal Darla Leal Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a "fit-over-55" lifestyle. Learn about our editorial process Updated on June 13, 2022 Reviewed Verywell Fit articles are reviewed by nutrition and exercise professionals. Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Tara Laferrara, CPT Reviewed by Tara Laferrara, CPT Tara Laferrara is a certified NASM personal trainer, yoga teacher, and fitness coach. She also created her own online training program, the TL Method. Learn about our Review Board Print Muscle gain is a goal for many people, but bulking on a budget can seem challenging. However, you don't have to invest in expensive protein powders and supplements for lean mass gains. Instead, emphasize whole foods that are cheap, but still promote fat loss and muscle gain. The truth is, you can build muscle through physical training and eating nutrient-dense foods—all while sticking to a budget. These tips will guide you on how to eat for the muscle you want to build while staying on track financially. The keys: Plan ahead, and know which inexpensive foods will help you reach your goals. Create a Budget Friendly Menu Pixabay/kaboompics For optimal fitness, your body needs 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. Next, locate discount food stores and bulk purchase outlets, and 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 save on transportation costs. Prepare a food budget ahead of time and don't be tempted by impulse items. Remember: Your budget is critical, healthy food is a priority, and your goals to gain lean mass are important. 7-Day Muscle Gain Meal Plan & Recipe Prep Eat at Home 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 them. 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. Buy Affordable, Nutrient-Dense Food Katie Webster Buying organic foods is not always possible on a tight budget. Doing the best you can while watching your spending is what matters. Build your grocery list around inexpensive, but nutritious options. Frozen or canned vegetables and fruits: Cheaper than fresh but still an excellent source of essential nutrients; may go on sale; less risk of spoiling (look for low- or no-sodium options) Fresh produce in season: Whatever is currently in season in your area will be less expensive than fruits and vegetables imported from afar Eggs and low-fat dairy: Good sources of fat and easily assimilated protein and fat; less expensive than meat All-natural peanut butter: Another non-animal source of protein and fat; available in store brands and on sale; cheapest type of nut butter Canned tuna (chunk light tuna in water): Excellent source of protein at a lower price than fresh fish Consuming an adequate amount of protein is important to repair and build lean muscle. Prep Foods at Home Chicken is often less expensive when you purchase it whole and cut it up at home. Buying chicken breasts on the bone with skin intact can also be a cost-saving. De-boning and skinning the chicken can happen as part of your meal prep. The same applies to lean red meats: Buy a larger cut on sale and trim the fat off at home. Purchase lean meats with a low price per pound. Buy in bulk, cut into portions, and freeze. Dairy items like low-fat milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt can be purchased in a large container, which is usually cheaper than individual portions. Anytime individual size packaging is included, think more money. It's less expensive to buy a larger container and separate the serving sizes at home. Buy in Bulk Istockphoto Buying nutrient-dense food in bulk is a great way to save. You'll get more for your money when you give up some convenience. Look for: Dried beans, brown or white rice, which have a long shelf life Oats, which are inexpensive, easy to cook, and can be topped with fruits or mixed with peanut butter or egg whites for a power meal Sweet potatoes and white potatoes, excellent cheap sources of fiber, antioxidants, and healthy carbohydrates Stock Up on Inexpensive Canned Goods Markus Mainka/Shutterstock Canned fruits, vegetables, beans, and fish can be a good resource. 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 your pantry full of nutritious selections. A side of canned vegetables as an accompaniment to cooked lean meat provides essential nutrients and quality protein. Spice Up With Condiments Condiments are inexpensive and an excellent way to spice up nutritious meals. Try mustard, hot sauce, salsa, ground pepper, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and natural coconut sugar for flavor without a lot of added calories. Topping salads and vegetables with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar is flavorful and budget-friendly. Skip creamy salad dressings, margarine, and anything that is high in sodium, added sugar, or saturated fats. Prep Meals in Advance Amy Newton-McConnel/Shutterstock Purchasing food storage containers of varying sizes will help you stay on track with your budget and nutrition requirements. Buying and cooking in bulk means having meals ready to go, which can be very convenient. A complete meal-prepped and stocked refrigerator means virtually every meal of the day is ready to eat. You save money and still get the nutrition you need for muscle gain. Sample meals might include: Meal 1: Chicken breast, ½ cup brown or white rice, 1 cup green vegetable, flax oilMeal 2: Salmon, ½ cup quinoa, 1 cup or 8 spears asparagusMeal 3: Ground turkey, ½ sweet potato, 1 cup broccoli We've tried, tested, and reviewed the best meal prep containers. If you're in the market for storage containers, explore which option may be best for you. A Word From Verywell Eating for muscle growth requires consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods. It's possible to buy these on a tight budget, especially if you give up some conveniences (like pre-prepped boneless, skinless chicken breasts in favor of whole chickens). You don't need additional are really not necessary to reach your goals. Focus on healthy eating habits combined with consistent exercise to support muscle growth. 6 Tips for Building and Maintaining Muscle 5 Sources Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(3):501-528. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.006 Mie A, Andersen HR, Gunnarsson S, et al. Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: A comprehensive review. Environ Health. 2017;16(1):111. doi:10.1186/s12940-017-0315-4 Ros E. Health benefits of nut consumption. Nutrients. 2010;2(7):652-82. doi:10.3390/nu2070652 Kreider RB, Campbell B. Protein for exercise and recovery. Phys Sportsmed. 2009;37(2):13-21. doi:10.3810/psm.2009.06.1705 Consumer Price Index, Average Price Data. Chicken, fresh, whole, per lb. (453.6 gm) in U.S. city average, average price, not seasonally adjusted. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additional Reading American College of Sports Medicine, Protein intake for optimum muscle maintenance, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Healthy eating on a budget. By Darla Leal Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a "fit-over-55" lifestyle. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from companies that partner with and compensate Verywell Fit for displaying their offer. These partnerships do not impact our editorial choices or otherwise influence our editorial content.