If you have been trying to gain muscle for any length of time, you have probably figured out that training is only half of the equation. To gain quality muscular weight, you must take in more calories than you burn, with a significant portion of them coming from protein. This large food intake can be a huge drain on your wallet, especially when you already have monthly gym dues on your list of bodybuilding expenses. Here are 10, nutrient-dense, muscle-building foods that will help you get the protein and calories you need without breaking the bank.
With 5-6 grams of both protein and fat in each little egg, and with prices as low as a dollar per dozen in some grocery stores, this is a bodybuilding food that cannot be beat. If you're in serious need of calories to grow, you would do well to eat the whole egg. The yolk contains healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, half of the egg's protein, and several essential amino acids and vitamins that you will not find in the white.
2. Ground Beef (and a tip to make it leaner)
It's not as pretty as a nice steak, but ground beef certainly gets the job done when it comes to building muscle on the cheap. It has 6-7 grams of protein per raw ounce, fat content that varies depending on the leanness, and a price that is sometimes lower than two dollars per pound.
For those worried about the saturated fat content, here is a trick to make fatty beef much leaner. Brown the meat and dump it into a colander in the sink. You can eliminate some of the grease in this first step by pouring it out elsewhere. After you have done this, turn on the faucet and run water over the beef for a few minutes. Toss and turn the beef within the colander while the water runs over it to cause the fat to strain out. Finally, if you want to eliminate a little bit more fat, lay out paper towels on your counter and pour the beef onto them. The towels will soak up what little grease is left from the straining process, giving you much leaner beef than what you started with.
3. Whole Milk
Dairy products often get a bad rap in muscle-building discussions, but whole milk has long been a standby weight-gaining food for bodybuilders. It has 8-9 grams each of protein and fat per cup, and the price is usually around three dollars per gallon (16 cups). This is an especially good food for skinny guys that have trouble bulking up.
4. Peanut Butter
With 6 grams of protein and 16 grams of monounsaturated fats per 2-tablespoon serving, peanut butter is one of the cheapest, easiest, and tastiest ways to up your caloric intake. You can eat it by itself, add it to a protein shake, or even put it in your oatmeal.
When trying to build muscle on a budget, you will do well to ignore the low-carb dieting fad and at least consume a significant amount of carbs at breakfast and around training time. One of the best, cheapest foods for this purpose is potatoes. One medium-sized red potato has 25-30 grams of carbs.
Oats are another excellent source of quality carbohydrates. One cup contains nearly 50 grams of carbs and 6 grams of fiber. In addition to their low cost, they are extremely versatile and convenient. Unlike potatoes, rice, or other good bodybuilding carbs, you can easily take dry, ready-to-eat oats with you anywhere you go.
7. Whey Protein
While you should not focus your budget on supplements, whey protein is one of the best investments you can make in your physique. Most whey powders have about 25 grams of protein per serving, and with prices as low as five dollars per pound (15 servings), they provide the cheapest cost per gram of protein around.
Potatoes and Oats can more than cover your carbohydrate needs, but bananas provide a cheap, tasty variation. A single banana provides around 30 grams of carbs, and prices are almost always well under a dollar per pound. You can also combine a banana with a whey protein shake after a workout for a quickly digesting blend of carbs and protein.
9. Olive Oil
Though it is more expensive than other oils, olive oil is still a very cheap source of extremely nutritious mono- and polyunsaturated fats. You can cook your eggs, meat, and potatoes in olive oil, and skinny guys can even add it to a shake to easily up their caloric intake.
Last but certainly not least on this list of muscle-building foods is canned tuna. Even with rising food costs, a can of tuna still costs well under a dollar and provides 25 grams of very lean protein. You can also buy tuna packed in oil to get twice as many calories for no extra cost!
A Word on Supplements
If you are on a tight budget, you should make food, not supplements, your priority. No amount of quality supplementation will help you build muscle if your diet isn't even in order. The one exception to this rule is whey protein, which is essentially just a powdered food product.
If you concentrate on these cheap, effective, muscle-building foods, you should be on the right track to gaining heaps of muscle. Don't let your financial situation get in the way of your bodybuilding success!
About the Author: David LaMartina is a competitive powerlifter who currently sits at a solid 250 pounds and has achieved a 590 squat, 315 bench, and 635 deadlift. If you found his muscle-building tips helpful, visit this site. If you would like to learn more about how to gain muscle through smart, intense training and quality nutrition, click here.