I’m an 18 year old bodybuilder who weighs 160 pounds. I want to get to 180 but don’t have a lot of cash flow. How can I add more muscle on my budget?


The good news is that you can get in enough protein, and it’s very affordable. First, though, FLEX needs to address a misconception you may have: You don’t grow exclusively from consuming protein—you need only about one gram per pound of body weight each day. Let’s go a little on the high side, though, and use your target weight: You should aim to get in about 180 grams of protein every day. What you really need to support muscle growth is the proper amount of quality calories. Follow these budget-friendly tips.


You can pick up many “lesser quality” foods that are higher in protein on the cheap. Keep in mind that you’re not a competitive bodybuilder getting ready for the stage. Not only can you afford to consume high-calorie foods that provide a modicum of protein, but you can also make good use of these additional calories. Good choices include fattier cuts of meat, whole-fat milk, cottage cheese, other types of cheeses, deli meat, whole eggs, and packaged fish such as tuna and sardines packed in oil.


You probably need as many as 25 calories per pound each day to allow your body to add as much muscle mass as it can—that’s up to about 4,000 calories in your case. When you under-consume calories, your body will take longer to build muscle because it’s preferentially fueling daily activity and your high metabolic rate rather than building muscle tissue. Inexpensive, good sources of carb calories that you can consume for your goals include pasta, oatmeal, whole-grain breads, yams, and potatoes.


Many weight gainers make good pre- and post-workout shakes because they’re high in carbs and protein. Another benefit of these products is that they’re easy for hardgainers to take in because they’re consumed as liquids. To make your own weight gainer, add equal parts inexpensive whey protein and table sugar and consume this before, during, and after workouts. Consider tossing in some creatine—it’s relatively inexpensive—to help maximize your muscle growth for the buck.


Avoid butter on a bodybuilding diet. Bodybuilders are almost always ahead of the science curve on the benefits of many foods. One place where they have lagged, though, is in the benefits of including moderate amounts of butter in their diets.

That’s because butter provides few nutrients in addition to the saturated fats it contains (these include calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D). Saturated fats were so demonized by both the medical community and bodybuilders that many bodybuilders cut these fats from their diets.

But now we know that saturated fats don’t cause the long-claimed health harms, and that they’re important for providing the raw materials necessary to build hormones such as testosterone. Whether you’re cutting carbs to reduce body fat or adding calories to increase muscle, butter can help support testosterone production.