Building muscle doesn’t have to be expensive.
In this article, I will explain how I spend under $10 a day on groceries when bulking up.
In order to know how much food I would need to buy, I first needed to determine how much weight I wanted to gain and how many calories I would need to get there.
I used the IIFYM Calculator, and entered my stats into the calculator:
Current weight: 170 lbs
Goal weight: 180 lbs
Daily level of activity: Sedentary
Exercise output: 6 days/week @ 70 minutes per workout (including cardio)
Exercise intensity: Moderate
Goal: Gain weight at 15%+ caloric surplus
Using the info above, the calculator determined that my daily caloric intake would be 2754.
The next step now was to calculate the macronutrient breakdown of these calories. I decided my macros would be:
Protein: 200 grams
Fat: 85 grams
Carbs: 300 grams
The macro breakdown is something you’ll have to experiment with yourself. If you love carbs, you can increase the carbs and decrease the protein and fat accordingly, as long as you keep protein high enough to support muscle growth (usually a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight).
I used the Goal feature in MyFitnessPal to make sure my macros matched the number of calories I was planning on eating.
The macronutrient breakdown above doesn’t exactly match my pre-determined caloric/macronutrient goal, but it’s close enough.
Now that I have an idea of what my daily calories and macros are, I can now start budgeting my food and supplement intake accordingly.
This is how I reach my daily macros and calories for under $10 a day:
1. Stock Up On Rice
Rice is the cheapest form of carbohydrate, and as an Asian, it has always been a staple in my diet; and as a lifter, it still is.
At my grocery store, I can get a 4.35 kg/10 lbs bag of rice for $20.99
A serving of rice is 45 grams (1/4 cup raw), which gives me 36 grams of carbs, 4 grams of protein and 160 calories.
To reach my carb goal of 300 grams a day, I did the following calculations:
300 ÷ 36 = 8.3 servings of rice required per day
8.3 × 45 grams = 373.5 grams
So I would need to eat 373.5 grams of uncooked rice (I always measure out my food in its raw state before cooking).
A full bag contains 4350 grams of rice at $20.99
So 4350 ÷ 373.5 = 11.6 days worth of rice.
$20.99 ÷ 11.6 = $1.80
So I would be spending $1.80 a day on rice to reach my carb intake of 300 grams.
300 grams of carbs from rice gives me 1344 calories and 34 grams of protein.
Now that I’ve got my carb intake covered, it’s time to determine the quantity of my main protein source.
2. Seek Out Specials On Expiring Meat
When meat products are close to expiring, grocery stores will put them on sale in hopes of getting rid of old meat quickly. These are the deals I always go for. As long as I cook the meats on the day of purchase, or as long as I freeze them, they’re good to go.
Being one of the cheapest forms of meat on the market, I go for lean ground beef as my main source of protein.
In my area, a pound of lean ground beef usually goes for $3.99 when on sale.
450 grams (1 lb) of lean ground beef gives me 90 grams of protein, 68 grams of fat, and 945 calories.
My second source of meat will usually come from sirloin steak, of which I can get $6.99 per pound.
For steak, I usually aim for around 7 oz a day, which = 200 grams (I like measuring everything in grams, if you haven’t already noticed).
So $6.99 ÷ 453 (1 lb) = $0.015 per gram
$0.015 × 200 = $3.00
So for $3.00, I get 200 grams (7 oz) of steak, which gives me 42 grams of protein, 28 grams of fat, and 371 calories.
With the lean ground beef and steak, my meat intake for the day gives me a total of 132 grams of protein, 96 grams of fat, and 1,316 calories, which costs me $7.00 altogether.
With the addition of 34 grams of protein from rice, my total protein intake so far is 166 grams, and with my daily goal of 200g per day, that leaves me with 34 grams left of protein to consume.
I’ll fulfill the rest of my protein needs with supplements.
3. Drink Some Protein Shakes
An economical way get your protein is from powders. I usually fill in the rest of my daily protein requirements with whey.
I can get a 5-pound tub of New Zealand Whey Protein Isolate (the only whey that hasn’t given me the shits) for $79.95
5 lbs = 2268 grams
Each serving = 30 grams, which gives me 27 grams of protein at 108 calories.
So 2268 ÷ 30 = 75 servings per 5 lbs tub
$79.95 ÷ 75 = $1.00 per serving
I usually aim for 1 scoop per day, which = a total of $1.00 a day spent on protein powder.
Putting It All Together
When adding up the calories and macros from the rice, meat and whey powder, I get a total of 302g carbs, 96g fat, 193g protein, and 2768 calories, all of which has cost me $9.80 for the entire day.
These numbers don’t exactly match my goals, but they come close enough. From here, I’ll make adjustments as the weeks go by depending on my progress.
For meal prep, I split up the rice into 3 portions and the ground beef into 2 portions. I will have two meals consisting of a portion of rice with a portion of ground beef, and a third meal consisting of the third portion of rice with the 2 oz steak. The whey protein will be consumed between meals.
In other words, my food will be split up like this:
Rice ÷ 3 portions (2 equal-sized portions, and 1 larger sized-portion for post-workout)
Lean Ground Beef ÷ 2 portions (1 small-sized portion, and 1 larger sized-portion for post-workout)
Whey ÷ 1 portion
Steak ÷ 1 portion
So using the divided portions above, an example day would look like this:
You’ll notice that I did not include vegetables in my diet. If your goal is to gain weight, you’d need to eat at a caloric surplus, which is hard enough already with all the meat and rice, which are nutritionally dense. The fiber from all the vegetables will fill you up throughout the day, which is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but for the purposes of gaining muscle, it will make it hard for you to eat enough food.
If you insist on having vegetables for health reasons, you can buy a head of broccoli for $2, which should last you two days, so you would be spending a dollar a day on broccoli.
It is debated whether one should account for the calories and macros of green vegetables into a diet. For the sake of this example, let’s say you wanted to account for broccoli into your daily macros and calories, you would subtract the equivalent calories and macros from rice and replace them with broccoli in order to stay within your caloric budget.
In order to do so, you would make the following calculations:
A head of broccoli = $1.99 ÷ 2 days = $0.99 per day on broccoli.
1 head of broccoli = 207 calories, 40g carbs, 2g fat, and 17g protein
1/2 head of broccoli = 103.5 calories, 20g carbs, 1g fat, and 8.5g protein
You will also notice that I don’t include any junk food into my diet. If you insist on having chips or cookies, you can simply reduce your rice intake, and replace it with junk food.
For example, if you wanted to have 6 oreo cookies a day, you would make the following calculations:
A box of oreos costs $3.87, and contains 500 grams worth of cookies.
Calculating the macros:
A serving of oreos = 3 cookies @ 34 grams per serving.
3 cookies = 25 grams of carbs, 7 grams of fat and 1 gram of protein at 160 calories.
2 servings (6 cookies) = 50 rams of carbs, 14 grams of fat, 2 grams of protein and 320 calories.
Calculating the cost:
500 ÷ 34 = 15 servings per box
$3.87 ÷ 15 servings = $0.26 per serving
2 servings = $0.52
When adding oreos to the diet, and subtracting the equivalent macros from rice, everything evens out and you end up with pretty much the same totals.
As you can see, you can enjoy your junk food as long as it fits your budget and your macros.
And there you have it! That’s how I spend less than ten dollars a day on food. Losing weight will cost even less money. Your mileage may vary depending on your current weight and nutritional needs, as well as what the food prices are in your area. Regardless, the above guidelines should give you an idea of how to optimize your budget to meet your calorie/macronutrient requirements for the day.