Get Big On a Budget

Unless you have a cow you can milk or a pig you can butcher in your backyard, then you are, like us, at the mercy of the rising costs of bodybuilding staples. The harsh reality is that a trip to the supermarket can be a pricey outing, especially when loading your grocery cart with pounds of animal in pursuit of gaining mass like a pro. Before you decide to make tofu your go-to protein on the grill and ramen noodles a lunch staple, there’s a way you can still embrace your inner carnivore while keeping your grocery bill under control. How?  By moving away from expensive proteins and turning instead to more budget-friendly ones. Here’s how to stretch your grocery dollar so you can get all the protein you can stomach without breaking the bank.



In any given supermarket you can probably cast your line for a tin of sardines for less than two bucks. The upshot is that the tiny swimmers offer fantastic nutritional value for the cost. Not only are sustainable sardines jam-packed with protein and muscle-friendly omega-3 fats, they’re also a good source of vitamin D. A recent study in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport found that higher intakes of vitamin D are associated with improved muscular strength. What’s more, Harvard researchers determined that vitamin D can help bolster testosterone levels. You know, that anabolic hormone that helps you get jacked.


If you’re drinking gallons of milk with your protein shakes in the pursuit of hyper-growth, then you’re all too aware that the price of moo juice keeps inching upward. So another great money-saving tip is to buy powdered milk. Gallon for gallon, milk made from milk powder will cost you up to 35% less than what you pay for the fresh drink sold in jugs. It also stores very well, so you can buy in bulk and never have to settle for a watered-down shake again when you’ve run out of milk. You can also use it when making pancakes or for cereal.


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Pork chops


These will set you back only about $5 a pound, and they’re more delicious than chicken breast. Preparing meats like pork with the bone still intact only serves to infuse the cooked meat with more flavor. For the leanest choice, select pork rib chops instead of pork blade chops, which harbor about twice as much fat. On top of the protein—15 grams in each 3-ounce serving—pork chops are a stellar source of vitamin B12, to keep your nervous system in tip-top shape. For a meal that doesn’t taste like shoe leather, start by searing your chops in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat for three minutes. Flip and immediately transfer from the pan to a 400°F heated oven. Roast until the pork chops register 140–145° in the thickest part of the meat with an instant-read thermometer, about five to 10 minutes depending on thickness. Let rest five minutes before serving. 


If you want to seriously trim your grocery bill, it’s time to eat your heart out. Because it’s technically a muscle meat, Paleo- worthy heart meat is similar in taste and texture to more common cuts of steak and can be substituted for them in most recipes. And because of a lack of demand, a butcher may toss a three- to four-pound heart your way for around five bucks, which can provide plenty of protein (5 grams in each single-ounce serving) for numerous meals. Preparing beef heart for cooking is as simple as slicing off the gristly fat around its top as well as any connective tissue. Since beef heart is so lean, it’s best sliced thin and cooked fast such as in a stir-fry or on the grill and not past medium-rare. Also try sliding cubes of heart on skewers for a fresh approach to kebabs. Cold slices of cooked heart are also an offal-y good addition to sandwiches and salads to pump up the protein.


Any mass hound should also include some plant-based protein in his diets. And there’s no better place to look than ridiculously cheap dry lentils. With a benevolent price tag of only about $1.79 a pound, lentils are nutritional overachievers that deliver a wide range of vital nutrients including protein (13 grams in a 1/4-cup dry serving), complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, and dietary fiber. By helping control blood sugar levels, a high-fiber diet can make it easier for you to shed the fat. Unlike dried beans, lentils blissfully do not require an annoying pre-soak before cooking. Simply simmer dried green or brown lentils in a pot of water until tender, about 20 minutes.




If you want to build more muscles than a New England clambake at a low cost, then make sure to reel in mussels from the fishmonger. At roughly $3 a pound, they offer a fantastically cheap source of protein. They’re also a surprising source of the same omega-3 fatty acids present in more costly salmon. A number of studies suggest that consuming higher amounts of these mega-healthy fats can reduce muscle soreness in response to a Herculean workout. Even better is how easy mussels are to prepare. Simply place mussels in a large pot and steam them in a small amount of simmering liquid such as broth, beer, or coconut milk until they pop open, which takes only about five minutes.



For many bodybuilders, beef is sacrosanct as an edible means to sculpting granite-dense muscle. But choose cuts like rib eye, T-bone, or tenderloin, and you may lose your appetite when you see the sticker price. So why not seek out less pricey additions to the grill that may not find a place on the menus of fancy-pants steakhouses but still deliver great flavor and a protein windfall? Costing a reasonable $8 a pound, often-overlooked top sirloin has nice beefy flavor and tender texture. As one of the leaner steak options, top sirloin also delivers a stellar 6-to-1 protein-to-fat ratio. Other frugal cuts include skirt steak, flat iron, and chuck eye.


Don’t get us wrong: We love the payload of protein that thick Greek yogurt delivers. But it’s still about 30% more expensive than the traditional variety. But don’t fret if you need to opt for the version that will cause less pain at the checkout counter. Your muscles will still reap the benefits of about 12 grams of top-notch protein in each one-cup serving, not to mention the population of probiotics to keep your digestive system humming smoothly. You probably have some protein powder on hand, so if you want your yogurt bowl to pack a bigger protein wallop simply stir in some powder.




At about 25 cents a pop, the white orbs offer an unbeatable source of cheap protein. In fact, the quality of protein in eggs is so high that it’s often used as the standard for evaluating the protein quality of other foods. So it should come as no big surprise that a recent study published in the journal Nutrition Today reported that the high-quality protein in eggs can make a valuable contribution to building muscle mass, strength, and power.

But to take full advantage of eggs’ low-cost protein, you should think beyond breakfast. They can substitute for meats at lunch and dinner, as well. Think egg tacos, frittatas, or poached eggs over a stack of steamed asparagus. Or stash hard-boiled eggs in the office fridge for a protein-packed snack.



Adding a whole chicken to your grocery cart is a sure-fire way to load up on big-time amounts of cost-effective protein. Pound for pound, a whole chicken costs less than any other cut of poultry in the meat aisle. Case in point: Chicken breasts ring in at about $5 a pound, whereas you can score a whole bird for $2 a pound. Best of all, the juicy meat (read: no more bland chicken breasts) can serve as the backbone for several different quick meals, such as sandwiches, tacos, pasta dishes, chili, and salads, during a busy work week. Consider roasting up one or two on a lazy Sunday afternoon and reap the rewards all week long. To save even more money, use the carcass to make your own chicken stock.


Try these money-saving tips and tricks to slash your grocery bill even more.

NO LOGO Why pay more for well-marketed national brands when lowbrow store brands of everything from pasta sauce to frozen vegetables and canned fish offer a cost advantage?

BULK UP Without the added cost of packaging and advertising, be sure to raid the bulk bins for less expensive versions of staples like oats, nuts, and seeds. Plus, you can purchase only what you need.

TALK IT UP Get to know your produce manager, butcher, and fishmonger. They can tell you when the prices of perfectly edible foods are most likely to be slashed for a quick sale as they approach their “sell-by” date.

THINK BIG Look for meats like chicken thighs that are sold in family-size packs. Often costing less per pound, they can be kept in the freezer for up to six months. But it’s best to divide the meat into individual servings before freezing.

SUBZERO HEROES Buying some of your out-of-season vegetables and fruits from the frozen-food section can offer a considerable cost savings compared with purchasing fresh versions.

HELPING HANDS If you’re home alone, consider pairing up with some other muscle men and split items that can be purchased in large quantities such as bags of potatoes. You’ll waste less and revel in the cost savings of buying in bulk.

WATCH OUT FOR GREEN WASHING Food labels such as “hormone- free,” “free range,” and “all natural” often raise the price tag. Sadly, however, these nebulous terms too often lack any real muscle and are not worth the extra cost. Do your label reading research!