Bulking on a Budget

Meal Plans and Food Options for Muscle Gain

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

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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.

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 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

Chicken with Brown Rice and Broccoli
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

Black Bean and Sausage Stew

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


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

canned food
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

Heinz Debuts a New Condiment Called 'Mayochup' & Causes an Internet Freakout_still

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

Stack of Containers of Leftover Food and Bread
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 oil
  • Meal 2: Salmon, ½ cup quinoa, 1 cup or 8 spears asparagus
  • Meal 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.

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.
  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. Ros E. Health benefits of nut consumption. Nutrients. 2010;2(7):652-82. doi:10.3390/nu2070652

  4. Kreider RB, Campbell B. Protein for exercise and recovery. Phys Sportsmed. 2009;37(2):13-21. doi:10.3810/psm.2009.06.1705

  5. 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

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.