8 Tips for Building Muscle on a Budget

When it comes to bulking up and gaining quality lean muscle mass, the biggest challenge for most people isn’t the training, it’s the eating

While some might not require a massive calorie surplus to pack on the pounds, others will need to eat quite a substantial amount of food -- considerably more than they’re used to.

And, while most people would leap at the chance to eat more food in a day, most people aren’t terribly excited about the significantly increased amount of money they spend on food to support their massing goals.

But, rest assured, help is on the way.

We’ve compiled eight simple tips to help you bulk on budget, showing that you can get big without going broke. 

8 Tips for Bulking on a Budget

Bulking without the bank account of a millionaire isn’t impossible. 

In fact, it’s pretty easy to do. 

All you need is some planning, savvy shopping, and a bit of culinary wizardry, and you have everything you need to get big without having to take out a loan.

Before we even get to shopping though, you must start with...

Knowing your macros

No amount of coupon clipping, bulk cooking, or super savings are going to help you bulk properly (and save money) if you don’t know your macros. 

Without an idea of how many calories you need each day, you have no idea how much food you actually need to consume each day / week in order to build muscle.

So, before making your grocery list, take some time to calculate your macros and figure out what your maintenance calories are. If you need help calculating your calorie needs, click here.

Then, add 250-300 calories to that number and you’ll have a rough idea of how much food you need to eat in order to gain weight. 

From here, then you can start formulating a meal plan for the week so that you know how much and what foods you need to buy when going shopping.

This brings us to the next most important thing for not going broke while bulking…

Make a Grocery List

Regardless of whether you are on a strict budget or not, going grocery shopping without a list all but guarantees that you’ll spend WAY more money than you need to on food. 

Every time you hit the store, think of it as a mission. 

Your objective is to get in and get out with as little time (and money) wasted as possible. 

The grocery list serves as your roadmap through the store, and it helps ensure that you don’t get sidetracked into wasting your money on food that would probably ruin your macros (chips, candy, crackers, etc.). 

Following your list will also prevent you from buying too much food, which could end up spoiling before you ever get to use it, resulting in wasted money -- something you can’t afford when bulking on a budget.

Buy Generic

When you’re at the store, opt for the generic (store) brand. 

Ignore the fancy labeling of the big name brands, and select the generic or store brand of the foods you’re purchasing. 

You might have to look a bit higher or lower on the shelf to find them, but it’s worth it. 

The generic products are almost always identical to the name brand ones, but for a fraction of the price tag.

Clip Coupons

Yes, you might feel like an old person, but if you’re serious about saving money and getting the most food “bang” for your buck, then you need to set aside some time every week to scope out the local grocery ads and clip some coupons. 

Over time, all of the “save $0.75” and “buy 1, get 1” coupons add up, giving you more food all while saving you money!

For the tech-savvy bulkers reading this, there are several smartphone apps that make couponing even easier, and better yet, they can often be used in conjunction with the paper coupons you clip, yielding MORE SAVINGS!

Shop the Sales

Aside from coupons, there’s another reason to check out the local grocery ads each week -- there’s always a sale on some kind or another going on! 

This is another reason it makes sense to do some homework and plan out your meals for the week.

Scope out the sales and see what foods are cheap this week. 

You might want chicken, but if ground beef is on sale, then guess what -- you’re making something with ground beef! 

Purchasing foods and pantry staples that are on sale will save you money and ultimately broaden your culinary horizons by helping you to create things you might not otherwise cook.


Bulk Buying

Club stores such as Sam’s, Costco, and BJ’s are ideal spots to load up on pantry staples, canned goods, proteins (chicken, fish, beef, etc.), and just about anything else you could want (or need). 

Buying products in bulk from these retailers means you’ll pay a cheaper price per unit than at your normal grocery store.

However, just because you get a lot of food for less money per unit doesn’t mean you should only shop at the club stores. 

Oftentimes the volume of food that you’re getting is far too much for one person to eat in a week (even if you are on a “dreamer” bulk). 

So, you may need to freeze some uncooked proteins, which will save you money at the grocery the following week, and do some extra math on the packaged goods to make sure they don’t spoil before you get around to using them.

Be aware that club stores do come with an upfront membership fee, but the truckload of savings you’ll get from shopping at these stores will pay for that membership fee several times over.

Cheap Eats

To build muscle, you need protein. 

The problem is that more often than not protein is the most costly item on your grocery bill. 

So, what’s a cash-strapped bulker left to do when they need protein, but don’t have the money to afford steak, salmon, and lobster?

Simple...buy the cheaper cuts of meat. 

These “economy” cuts, including ground beef, chicken thighs, and pork shoulder, aren’t as lean as their more expensive relatives (chicken breast, pork tenderloin, etc.), but they are far cheaper, and often much tastier (due to their increased fat content). 

An added bonus is that the “economy” cuts are more calorically dense, which means it’s a lot easier to get in those ever-so-important muscle-building calories without spending a fortune!

Calorie Dense Foods

You’re bulking right now, so take advantage of the larger calorie “allowance” you have each day. 

While you do need to stick to your macros, you also don’t have to eat solely broccoli, brown rice, and chicken breast. 

Foods like peanut butter, whole milk, and eggs are packed with calories and essential nutrients you need to build muscle. 

They’re also cheap too! 

In other words, when you’re focused on building muscle, stock up on more calorically dense foods, and save the “bird food” for when you’re on poverty macros during a cut.

In line with that, since you’re bulking feel free to “dirty it up” from time to time, i.e. have a candy bar or slice of pizza. 

These items are often very cheap and chock full of calories, which you’re going to need if you’re truly determined to build muscle fast!