Nutrition Tips For Becoming Swole Without Emptying Your Wallet

It’s not the smell of Pumpkin Spice that gives you a massive boner in Autumn.


Though, that is one of the best smells come September. And it’s also not the badass scent your nostrils absorb the minute you put on your leather jacket either. No, this smell is a sign that the greatest season known to man is approaching: bulking season.


As much as you love staring at your abs in the mirror, Autumn means it’s time to toss out that swimsuit. It’s getting colder, you’re getting hungrier, and something inside of you signals that it’s time to build turn up the volume in the gym and bulk up.

There’s a problem with that plan, though. Bulking means more food (okay, that’s not actually a problem, it’s a perk, but I digress). And more food translates to higher grocery bills. But this Winter you promised yourself that you’d start saving money and becoming more financially conscious after your Summer of recklessness.

Cost-conscious bulkers know that you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars a month to add more lean muscle. In fact, I’d argue that bulking is cheaper than cutting; if you do it right.

The Bulk of Your Nutrition Stays the Same

When it comes to gaining muscle, you have to make your training a priority and use your nutrition to support it. Overall, there isn’t much that you need to change when you bulk.

You still need protein (though maybe a little less than what you had while cutting if you were upwards of 1.2-1.5g per pound), plenty of healthy fats (those may be lower depending on your body type), and since bulking (usually) means more volume and more days in the gym, you’re going to need more carbs to support your training.

And someone needs to eat all that gluten-laden bread or it’s gonna go to waste. And it might as well be you, right?

Bulk Your Muscles, Bulk Your Groceries

If you were to ask any older or even current bodybuilder what their staple foods are, they’ll likely tell you: oats, rice, potatoes, chicken, beef, protein powder, legumes, and healthy fat sources like olive/coconut oil, fatter cuts of meat, and nuts.

They don’t get too crazy with their meal plans. But what’s great about these limited types of food is that they’re also super cheap when you buy them in bulk.

In the United States, we have wholesale stores like CostCo, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club. And it’s at these stores where you can get massive quantities of foods like rice, oats, chicken, beef, pork, beans, and oils for much less than what you’d pay at your typical grocery store.

Most of these stores require some membership fee to join. Sam’s Club is $45 a year. But the savings add up quickly—making that $45 investment more than worth it. (Plus, you can buy like 200 garbage bags for like $12. And that box of 200 bags has lasted me nearly 3 years. One box of 40 bags will cost you nearly as much.)

For instance, at my local Sam’s Club, I can buy 8 pounds of oats for $10, 50 pounds of Jasmine rice for less than $15, and 16 cans of beans (each with 3.5 servings) costs less than $9.

You could also buy bulk bags of dry beans and soak them to save a few dollars, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

Oats, rice, and beans are my go to carb sources when I bulk. But wholesale stores like CostCo and Sam’s also sell massive boxes of cereal; huge containers of peanut butter; hefty bags of potatoes; and they typically carry larger quantities of the same bread/bagels/tortillas/pasta that you’ll find in your local grocer, but for far less money per serving.

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It’s bloody murder.

Quality vs Quantity

I knew once I mentioned wholesale stores that the question about quality would pop up in your head. Here’s the thing: if you care about quality, you’re gonna pay more money for food, period. If you’re looking to save as money as possible, and grass-fed or organic foods aren’t necessary for you, then you can lower your quality standards a bit and buy more.

Now, if quality is super important for you, here are a few things you can do to make sure you continue consuming quality food.

1. Shop Around

The town I live in has four major grocery stores. And stores release has a new circular every week that lists all the food(s) they have on sale for the next seven days. It’s rare that the same items will be on sale at two different locations—suppliers do their best to not let that happen as it irks the grocery chains—but you’ll usually find better quality products at big chains grocery stores v.s. wholesale stores.

Now, that means you’re gonna have to (possibly) visit more than one grocery store to get all your food for the week. This can become a bit of a time suck, but if you’ve got the time, and if saving dough is super important to you, then spend the time shopping the items you need that are on sale.

READ THIS: so here’s a grocery store secret: buy one get one free items, and coupons in general, usually rotate on a 6-week basis. That means that when you see items you can save money on or that are buy-one-get-one-free, you should stock up for the next 6 weeks.

2. Go to Your Local Butcher

If you’re lucky enough to know a local butcher, you can get high quality meat from them; sometimes for less than the grocery store. Search for a local butcher on Google and then establish rapport with him/her. Go by their shop, ask questions, and see if they have meat they need to get rid and would sell to you at a discount.

Discounted meat doesn’t mean that it’s tainted. It’s usually is about to expire, and per the law they cannot sell said meat. This is a win-win for you and for the butcher, especially, if you can get the meat at cost.

You can also find discounted or soon to be tossed meat at your local grocery store as well. And if you have a more upscale grocery store that does carry plenty of grass fed and organic meats, talk to the butcher there and see if they’ll let you know the best day or time to come by and check out what they’re about to toss.

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3. Eat Fattier Cuts of Meat

If quality isn’t something that’s going to keep you up at night, then as you shop around at your local grocers, make sure you opt for the more lardaceous cuts of meats. Meats like:

  • Chicken Thighs
  • 80/20 Ground Beef
  • Pork Shoulder/Loin (the whole shoulder can be pricey, but per serving it’s cheap)
  • Ground Turkey
  • Chuck Roast
  • Whole Chickens (this is enough meat for 1-2 days; where I live a whole chicken is less than $12)

These cuts of meat can usually be found on sale more often. And if you have more than a couple grocery stores in a 10-mile radius of where you live, it will be super easy to shop sales and stock up on meat.

4. Butter and Oil

If you’re getting plenty of animal fat from the juicery cuts of meat you’re downing, then you shouldn’t have a problem hitting your fat macros.

But if you are still munching down on the lean cuts of meat, then using butter and oil for cooking, as a salad dressing, or put a little on top of your pasta or potatoes. Plus, both of these options are pretty cheap when bought in bulk.

Some Helpful Tools to Make Bulking Easier:

Crock Pot: if time is precious for you, or if you hate spending an hour cooking meals, the crockpot will be the greatest thing you’ve ever purchased. You can cook an entire week’s worth of food without ever lifting much of a hand. Throw in your meat, throw in some rice, throw in some veggies, some spices, add water or some kind of marinade, and turn the crock pot on low while you spend the day reading, watching football, or playing video games.

Rice Cooker: if you want to keep your rice seperate instead of tossing it into a crockpot, a rice cooker can make 3-4 days worth of rice in a matter of minutes. And if you love sticky rice, this is the way to go.

Food Scale/Measuring Cups: Yep, you’re gonna need these. Just because you’re in a surplus doesn’t mean you “should” guess what amount of food you’re eating. Your body won’t store excess protein as fat, but it will store excess fat calories in your adipose tissue. So if you’re eating peanut butter, make sure you weigh it out.

Plastic containers: if you’re making a bunch of meals for the week, you need somewhere to store it. Plastic containers are the most crucial tool for any gym bro.

*Optional* Greens Powder: I haven’t mentioned veggies at all in this article. If you’re trying to save money and bulk, skipping veggies is something you’ll need to consider. But what about your micronutrients? And all that healthy gut bacteria that comes from veggies and fruit consumption? Well, you can counteract that by picking up a greens powder or even some probiotic supplements. Use a website like LabDoor to help you find a greens powder/probiotic that is high quality and within your price range. Many of these powders can be super pricey. But, they can help keep your gut and immune system happy.

The Best and Cheapest Bulk Sources of Food to Crush Your Macros

For simplicity sake, you’re going to do better buying common foods that aren’t that pricey. Now, that means your diet isn’t going to be too diverse, but it will save you more money in the long term (more on that below, though).

Most of these foods you’ll be able to get at wholesale stores or you’ll be able to find on sale nearly every week at a different grocer.

Carb sources like rice, pasta, potatoes (getting them in bags and not by the pound), beans, oatmeal, and frozen/dried fruit will give you the best bang for your buck week in and week out. Not only will you win in terms of consuming carbohydrates to fuel your training, but you’ll also find that there’s usually 1-2 different brands with good sales on these products every week.

When it comes to protein, again, you’ll need to shop around for the best prices at local stores. For the most part, though, you’ll always find chicken thighs cheaper than chicken breast. Eggs are always super cheap, especially when buy amounts larger than a dozen. And though you don’t want to eat it once a day, or even more than (maybe) twice a week, canned tuna is cheap and protein-packed.

For healthy fats, you’re gonna have to limit yourself here to a few select choices. Outside of the animal fat from chicken thighs or less lean ground beef, you’ll want to opt for buying butter, olive oil, and nut butters here. All of these contain large amounts of fat and they’re fairly inexpensive or go on sale week to week.

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Strategies for the Super Cost-Conscious Consumer

Now that I’ve gone over the basics, here are some super simple solutions for shaving your costs even further. This is not a strategy to implement if you have a sweet tooth or if you are picky about what you eat. If you want to get down to the nitty gritty, and save the most change, this is how you do it.

  1. Eat the Same Meals All the Time
  2. Stock up on Protein Powder
  3. Kill Your Own Game

Two of the three I can tell you I’ve done successfully. Eating the same meals all the time cuts down on your food costs significantly. If you eat oatmeal every morning, gnaw on rice and chicken at lunch, and then consume more rice, beans, and chicken at dinner topping that with a heaping helping of butter, then when you hit your grocery store or wholesales club, you’ll only need to buy five things.

And since you’ll spend less than $20 on 50 pounds of rice, the only items you’ll need to consistently buy are meat, oats, butter, and beans. But you’ll only need to do that every 2-3 weeks.

Buying protein powder and using it to supplement consuming meat will save you tons in the long run. There are companies like Optimum Nutrition who sell a 10-pound bag of protein, which nets you over 140 servings; if you take 2 scoops per day, that’ll last you more than 2 months at a cost of less than 64 cents per serving. Mix it with water, and that’s 40g of protein for less than $1.30.

So the third option is one I’ve never attempted, but I know it can work. If you’re a hunter, killing your own game can help you save a ton. And an average-sized buck (male deer) can yield nearly 25-50 pounds of meat depending on its size.

Your only cost here would be to have it processed if you don’t know how to do it yourself. But even that cost would be worth it for 40 pounds of lean, succulent, protein-rich meat.

For most people, however, options 1 and 2 will yield you the most money saved over the long haul.

All About Dem Gainz

If money is short this year, but you still want to bulk, you’re gonna have to be a bit more resourceful. You’ll need to shop around for better deals; join a wholesale club and stock up; get used to eating the same meals again and again; consume more protein shakes for a cheaper protein source; and (possibly) lower your quality standards a bit.

But as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And if you do this right, you can save hundreds of dollars while you pound the weights and add more muscle mass to your frame.

About the Author

Robbie, King of the Gingers and Protector of the North, is an uber nerd who loves all things Star Wars, video games, Marvel, and 90s music. (Oh and tacos and whiskey.) Robbie helps guys in their 30s take back control of their lives so they can live a more kick ass life; you could say he helps guys Make Their 30s Better than Their 20s. Oh my God, that's exactly what he'll show you how to do when you grab this free guide to dominating your 30s.