If you’re like me, you don’t have money lying around to buy steaks and lobster for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With that in mind, you’ll want to consider bulking up cheaply. Don’t worry; bulking up cheaply isn’t as hard as you might think.
Whether you’re a broke college student or adult, I’ve got a list of cheap and nutrient dense foods for bulking. I also have some bonus bulking tips I learned from years of experience.
Plus, I’ll wrap things up with a list of a few cheap supplements that can help you bulk up even faster.
You’re about to learn how to bulk on a budget from someone who has done this for almost a decade, here and there. I’d be happy to help you out, let’s get started.
The best foods for your new bulking diet
The first part of any bulking plan starts with exactly what you’re eating. Hopefully, you’re working out if you want to truly bulk up (I’ve got some exercise for you to try below). Getting back on track, here’s a look at some important foods to get if you want to bulk up.
If you want to get big without spending a fortune on food, I highly recommend getting some canned tuna. The first great thing about canned tuna is that it’s an very cheap source of protein.
The exact number will vary, but most cans of tuna fish contain about 20 grams of protein. If you’re trying to bulk up clean, you might prefer light tuna. Many types of light tuna use water instead of oil, significantly lowering this food’s calorie count.
When we’re talking about foods with a lot of grams of protein per serving, it’s tough to beat peanut butter. Each tablespoon serving of peanut butter packs four grams of protein.
That’s not the only reason why peanut butter needs to be on your grocery list. Peanut butter is also full of healthy fats!
If you’re worried about preservatives or other unwanted food additives, your best bet could be to choose natural peanut butter. Just be warned that natural peanut butter requires a lot of stirring before it’s ready to spread.
Another popular staple in a bulking diet should be ground beef. This type of meat can go in many dishes, which makes it great for meal prepping. Plus, it’s high in calories and protein! Ground beef contains about 65 grams of protein per pound.
If you’re not a huge fan of beef, you can remake any beef-related dish with ground turkey. A major benefit of ground turkey compared to ground beef is that the former is typically much lower in calories than the latter.
Those who are also wanting to lose fat on a bulking diet, might want to find beef with a lower fat percentage.
When discussing the best foods for a bulking diet, I can’t recommend chicken enough. Namely, chicken breast. This part of the chicken typically carries the most meat. Plus, it doesn’t require removing or messing with any bones!
Chicken breast is a low-calorie food that’s packed with muscle building protein. While you’re buying chicken breast, keep a close eye on weights and prices. In some cases, you’ll get a better deal if you buy larger quantities of meat.
But that’s not always the case. Trust me, you’ll get good at adding up grocery prices quickly the more you continue bulking up.
You also don’t only have to eat chicken breasts, especially if they’re not on sale. Be on the lookout for chicken thighs, which you can almost always find at low prices.
Some of the best sides for bulking up are beans. If you want the most nutrition and fewer amounts of sodium, you’ll want to get the dry, hard beans and cook them at home. I understand that this isn’t always possible.
If you’re pressed for time, just get the microwavable or canned beans.
So, why should you eat this amazing legume? For one, beans contain a lot of protein per serving. They’re also rich in fiber, which you’re going to be thankful for when it’s bathroom time.
Another popular bulking side is rice. If there’s a little wiggle room in your budget, go ahead and buy the instant rice to save time. If not, you can get uncooked rice for an incredibly low cost.
This food is actually one of the least expensive regarding cost vs nutritional value and calories.
With that in mind, you might be wondering if brown rice or white rice is better for bulking up. Fortunately, both types of rice can help you gain weight. But if you’re interested in the healthier option, brown rice will be your best bet.
Spending so much time talking about bulking foods might be making you a little thirsty. If you’re looking for the closest thing to a perfect bulking beverage, get some whole milk. This type of milk contains the most fat, calories, and protein.
If you don’t want bulking to bulk up your waistline, consider getting low fat milk. This type of milk cuts a good portion of the calories and fat while still giving you lots of protein per serving.
Eventually all of that chicken, tuna, and rice will have your sweet tooth practically crying out for something, well, sweet!
Fortunately, you can get that sugar fix you’re after by enjoying sweet potatoes. Plus, unlike candy, the sweet potato is rich in vitamins, fiber, and healthy carbohydrates!
Trust me, you’ll be thankful for the fiber in a sweet potato while you’re on a bulking diet.
Whether you love it or hate it, it’s difficult to deny that oatmeal is a great bulking food. Why? For one, it’s packed with healthy calories that come from oats instead of a lot of sugar.
Don’t worry – you don’t have to suffer through bowl after bowl after plain oatmeal! Feel free to add fruit, maple syrup, or honey for extra protein and calories!
If you’re like me, healthy foods can get quite boring without oils, spices, and sauces. Building muscle doesn’t have to mean missing out on delicious toppings, especially olive oil!
When discussing this amazing oil, you might hear people compare olive oil with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). In my opinion, either one should be a part of your bulking meal plan.
With EVOO, it retains more of its natural nutrients and vitamins. Non-extra virgin olive oil won’t retain as many of these nutrients.
Tips to save money while bulking up
Along the way, I’ve gained some tips for forming a cheap bulking diet that I wanted to share. Follow these tips to avoid going over budget while you’re buying food.
1. Buy the generic brand
If you’ve spent a lifetime buying name brands or eating the name brand foods that your parents bought, making the switch to generic or store brand foods might seem like uncharted territory. As someone who’s eaten plenty of generic food (i.e me) can tell you, it’s hard to tell the difference.
The main benefit of buying generic food is that you’ll save money. Who cares if you’re buying generic brands? There’s nothing wrong with saving money. Plus, no one cares if you’re buying generic or name brand food. If they do, tell them where to go.
2. Clip coupons
While I can’t guarantee that you’ll find coupons for meat, it’s easy to find lots of coupons for bulking staple foods like rice, beans, fruits, vegetables, and other foods. Yes, companies still send coupons in the mail.
However, many companies also have digital coupons for people to enjoy, which means no getting out the scissors and acting like your mom or dad. I use coupons all of the time, it’s easy.
My best tip is to keep an eye on the circulars or digital ads for a few supermarkets in your area. If you’re going to bulk up, you’ll be cooking and eating more food than normal. Because of this, it’s a good idea to look for any special sales that might be happening.
3. Freeze what you can’t eat
Something you’ll run into as a new bulker is cooking way more food than you can eat. Unfortunately, most people don’t know what to do here besides throw their spoiled food in the trash after a few days. But you don’t have to do that.
Instead, use this tip that I learned from my father-in-law a few years ago, which is to freeze the cooked food you’re not going to eat. It keeps longer and you’ll save even more money while bulking up.
4. Buy in Bulk
It doesn’t matter whether you prefer to do your grocery shopping online or in a store, bulking up means doing some shopping.
Before you decide how to spend your money, it could be wise to start buying in bulk. Stores like Sam’s Club and CostCo sell groceries in bulk, meaning you pay a little more but you also get more food than you normally would.
A Few Quick and Easy Bulking Meals
By this point, you know what food to look for at the grocery store. Now, you just need a few quick and easy recipes to really start gaining more lean muscle mass.
1. Spicy Chicken Pasta
One of my favorite dishes when I need to build muscle is spicy chicken pasta. This dish is flavorful and super calorie dense, meaning it has a lot of calories in it.
What You’ll Need:
- 1 can Rotel, mild or medium
- 1 block of Velveeta cheese
- 1 bag of pasta noodles of your choice (choose whole grain pasta if you’re counting your calories)
- 2-3 lbs of chicken
How to Cook It:
- Chop your chicken breasts into bite-size pieces
- Cook the chicken with olive oil until it reaches a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit or you no longer see any pink inside the chicken pieces.
- In a separate pan, fill a pan with water that only barely covers your noodles.
- Cook your noodles until they’re soft; drain the water with a strainer.
- In a separate bowl, cut Velveeta into cubes; place into a microwave safe bowl.
- Microwave the Velveeta cubes for 60-90 seconds at a time, stirring the cubes until fully melted. It should take two to three microwave sessions before the Velveeta’s fully melted.
- Combine your noodles, Rotel, chicken, and melted cheese into a large serving dish and enjoy!
- If you want more spice, feel free to add a few drops of hot sauce to this dish.
2. Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos
If you’re like me, you don’t always have time to cook fresh meals. With that in mind, one of my favorite nutrition tips is to cook your food ahead of time. By doing this, you can heat up a quick meal in the microwave without having to stand over the stove for 30 minutes.
Plus, making burritos is typically cheaper than buying ones someone else makes from a fast food restaurant.
What You’ll Need:
- 1 package of tortillas
- 1 carton of eggs
- 1 pound of breakfast sausage
- 1 bag of shredded cheese
- frozen veggies or fresh vegetables, if desired
How to Cook It:
- Place your sausage in a pan and cook over medium heat until the meat is fully browned.
- Crack about five to six eggs, mix them together in a bowl until fully mixed.
- Place the beaten egg mixture into a separate pan on low-medium heat; mix together regularly to avoid anything sticking to the bottom of your pan.
- With the eggs or sausage, add your vegetables of choice if necessary.
- After your eggs and sausage are both fully cooked, place a small amount in the middle of each of your tortillas.
- Wrap up your tortillas, place them in a freezer safe plastic bag, and put the bag in the freezer.
- When you’re ready to eat, just microwave one of your frozen burritos for about 90 to 120 seconds.
3. Peanut Butter Chocolate Protein Shake
As mentioned before, protein is one of the best things to include in your bulking meal plan. If you’re tired of eating pasta and burritos, try this recipe for an amazing and calorie-dense protein shake.
What You’ll Need:
- 1 serving of protein powder
- 2-3 cups of milk
- Fresh or frozen fruits if desired (bananas work GREAT in this shake)
- A blender
How to Make It:
- Pour all ingredients into your blender cup.
- Mix until thoroughly blended and enjoy!
Cheap Supplements for the Best Results
In your quest to bulk up and gain more lean mass, it could be beneficial to get some supplements. Here are a few supplements that can help you potentially bulk up faster.
One of the staples of your diet when bulking up should be protein. However, you might struggle to get enough protein from food alone. I had this problem when I first started weightlifting. Sometimes, your appetite needs time to catch up to your workouts.
If you need more quality protein in your diet, I’d definitely recommend buying an inexpensive whey protein powder supplement. Plus, besides helping you build muscle, protein powder can help you make some excellent protein shakes.
Unless you’re a fitness coach or professional bodybuilder, it’s going to be hard to find motivation to hit the weight room regularly. Fortunately, a pre-workout supplement can give you the drive and motivation you need for every training session.
These supplements are typically packed with essential nutrients to help you achieve maximum muscle growth. Some of these supplements can even help with fat loss, one of the most common side effects of bulking up.
Sometimes, it’s not always possible to eat healthy. If you’re having trouble reaching your diet and fitness goals, a multivitamin might be the solution you’re looking for.
Even though you might be on a caloric surplus, the foods you’re eating might not be giving you the vitamins you need.
Fortunately, a multivitamin can help take care of any nutrition-related deficiencies holding back your ability to build muscle.
There you have it, a few helpful tips and tricks for gaining muscle on a budget. I never knew that my many times trying to get as much food for as little money as possible would help anyone. But I’m super pumped if this helps you bulk up without spending a fortune.