How to Bulk up on a Budget

by | Oct 16, 2019

It’s easy to equate adding significant weight to your physique with a shrinking bank balance. Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case.  It is very possible to eat more calories without spending more money. Read on to learn more about bulking on a budget.


Have a food budget

You actually need to have a food budget in order to stay on budget. Sounds like common sense, right? Take a moment to review your income and other expenses to determine how much you can easily afford to spend on groceries. That number will guide you on which foods to buy, the quantities to purchase, and where to shop.


Shop smart

Regardless of your budget, you should always try to get a good deal. Where you shop for your groceries absolutely matters. When you’re bulking up, it only makes sense to buy what you need in bulk. Shopping at your local warehouse club can help you save big on ingredients you’ll use every day like olive oil, nuts, legumes, chia seeds, and even large packs of meat. 

When you’re at your regular grocer, stock up when your favorite items go on sale (just be sure you can use everything before it spoils). And, don’t forget to check out the store brand goods. You’ll likely get the same taste and bulking power for a much lower price.


Remember your goal

To successfully bulk up, your goal is two-fold.  First, you need to consume more calories than you burn. Then, you need to gain more muscle than fat.  That’s it. You don’t need to buy fancy, expensive food or eat everything in sight to achieve these results. You just need to identify and purchase a core list of affordable ingredients that coincide with those goals.


Pace yourself

You’re not going to hit your goal weight overnight. Trying to do so would be counterproductive and unsustainable. For best results, break your objective into smaller milestones and stop trying to eat all of the things at once. The bulking process will be much easier if you eat in alignment with your natural appetite.

Ask your doctor or trainer about your ideal number of calories per day to hit your goals effectively and safely. The good news? By taking a more metered approach to bulking up, the food that you buy will last longer, saving you money.


Eat at home

It’s almost always cheaper to eat at home than it is to go out. So, think of eating at a restaurant as a special treat and stretch that food budget further. On top of saving a ton of money, you’ll know exactly what you’re eating because you’ve prepared it. Being able to closely monitor your food intake will help you refine your habits and hit your goals.

To make eating at home easier, learn how to plan and prepare your meals on a budget. When you know what you’re going to eat ahead of time, you can shop for just the ingredients that you need and avoid buying extras. Having the food prepared in advance and conveniently stashed away in food storage containers will prevent you from ordering takeout after a long day at work.


Pro Tip: You may find yourself gravitating towards the same meals over and over again. To break up the monotony, jazz up your food with a variety of spices, including salt and pepper. While spices can be expensive upfront, you won’t need to use much at a time and they have a long shelf life, so you won’t need to buy them often.


Find higher-calorie alternatives

To get in extra bulk without any extra effort, try buying higher-calorie versions of the foods you already eat. For example, instead of 2% milk, opt for whole milk. This simple switch (and others like it) won’t increase your food budget and will help you hit your calorie goals without food cramming.


Be strategic with protein

Eating protein is an important component of bulking up, but there’s no need to go nuts in the butcher department. Stocking up on meat and seafood can bust a food budget, so it’s important to incorporate cost-effective sources of protein into your diet as well. Consider eating more peanut butter, legumes, and eggs to save big. 

When you do buy meat, try to get it on sale or opt for less expensive cuts like ground beef and chicken thighs. You can also get a cheap creatine boost from tinned tuna — just don’t go overboard as tuna can be high in mercury.


Focus on fats

Fats are the mightiest of the macronutrients when it comes to bulking up. That’s because fat provides 9 calories per gram, while carbohydrates and proteins only provide 4. Incorporating a healthy dose of healthy fats can help you see gains without increasing your actual food intake. Simply cook all of your meals in avocado or extra virgin olive oil or add a small splash of it to your smoothies for a quick calorie boost. 


Embrace carbs

While your diet shouldn’t be too carb-heavy, you shouldn’t go out of your way to avoid carbs, either. Pasta, rice, and potatoes are inexpensive and can be paired with any fat or protein to make a complete meal. Be sure to feature this tasty, versatile, and affordable macronutrient prominently in your quest to bulk up on a budget.


Use vegetables as an accent

At the grocery store, resist the urge to load up your cart with produce. Vegetables are high in vitamins, but low in calories. Since they don’t do much to help you bulk up, they should be used as an accent in your meals. 

Try adding some leafy greens into your smoothie, protein shake, or omelet. Or, put a generous handful of frozen mixed vegetables or green beans tossed in olive oil alongside your steak and eggs. The good news? Since veggies can be expensive (especially if organic), buying less of them will leave you with more money to buy proteins and healthy fats.


Don’t forget to workout

Eating all of these bulking foods won’t do you any good if you’re not regularly working out. To build lean muscle, partner with a trainer to create an exercise routine that works for you. Your calorie intake plus your efforts at the gym will help you achieve your goals.


Final thoughts

Getting big doesn’t have to come with a big price tag. There are lots of clever hacks out there to consume more calories affordably and without having to constantly stuff yourself. With some research, planning, and creativity, bulking on a budget can be way easier than you thought.

Looking for cheap dorm-room eats? Check out our post about healthy college meals on a budget.

Tell Charlie: What are your best tips for bulking on a budget?

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