bodybuilding on a budget

Meeting your daily muscle building nutrition needs to pack on size and strength might seem like a daunting task if you’re on a tighter budget.

Fortunately, putting together a healthy and well-rounded “cheap” bodybuilding diet is perfectly possible as long as you plan things out properly.

Whether you’re a broke college student with minimal cash to spare or are just looking to reduce your grocery bill and save a few bucks, this post will cover a list of 20 cheap bodybuilding foods you can base your nutrition plan around.

We’ll break it down into 3 categories by going over various cheap sources of protein, carbohydrates and fats to consider, along with a brief description for each.

(Exact prices won’t be included since it can vary so widely depending on where you shop and which country you’re from)

Pair these food sources up with some low calorie condiments of your choice and you’ll be all set.

Let’s get started…

20 Cheap Bodybuilding Diet Foods

Cheap Protein Sources


chicken breast

It’s no surprise that chicken would make the list of best muscle building protein sources on a budget, since in most countries it’s cheapest and most widely consumed source of meat.

It’s one of the most staple bodybuilding foods around, with a typical 100 gram serving of chicken breast providing 31 grams of protein and only a couple grams of fat.

Along with being a very cheap source of protein, chicken is also very versatile and can be used in a wide variety of meals, such as salads, wraps, pastas, chicken quesadillas, sandwiches or on its own paired up with any basic carb source like rice, pasta or potatoes.

You can save on chicken breasts by purchasing them in larger bulk packages, or by going with frozen bags/boxes if you really want to cut down on costs.

Chicken thighs are also another option as they tend to be even lower priced than chicken breasts, though keep in mind that the fat content will be higher as well.

Eggs / Egg Whites


Eggs are a great source of highly bio-availabe protein, providing 6 grams of protein per egg along with 5 grams of fat, only 1.6 of which is saturated.

Eggs are also rich in important micronutrients such as vitamin A, D, E, lutein, zeaxanthin and choline.

If you want to increase the protein total of an egg-based meal without the fat content climbing too high (if you’re really focused on clean bulking and staying lean, for example), add in some egg whites (these can be purchased in cartons for fairly cheap) as they’re essentially pure protein with no carbs or fat.

Canned Tuna

canned tuna

Tuna is a lean, cheap source of protein delivering about 30 grams of protein per 100 grams with virtually zero carbs or fat.

It’s also a good source of selenium, b vitamins and phosphorus among other micronutrients.

Although tuna does provide a high amount of protein for your dollar, it’s probably best to limit your tuna consumption to no more than a few times per week due to the risk of excessive mercury intake.

Purchasing light tuna rather than white tuna can also help out with this since this type contains significantly lower mercury concentrations.

Ground Turkey

ground turkey

Whether it’s for turkey burgers, chili, tacos, burritos or simply on its own, ground turkey is another great-tasting, cheap bulking food for your muscle building diet.

Go with the lean or extra lean forms if you’re wanting to keep the fat content to a minimum, as regular ground turkey does contain quite a bit more.

Cottage Cheese

cottage cheese

At 12 grams of protein per 100 grams, cottage cheese is another protein staple that can be included in your bodybuilding diet for a relatively low cost.

Cottage cheese comes in full fat, low fat and fat free varieties, so just choose the version that fits best with your macronutrient goals and taste preference.

It can be used to make both sweet or savory meals, whether it’s topped with some fruit/nuts/honey, included in a baked dish, wrap, dip, or simply eaten plain with a bit of salt and pepper.

Whey Protein

whey protein

While protein powder might seem expensive at first glance, it’s actually a very cost-efficient protein source if you choose wisely. In fact, it can actually work out to be even cheaper per serving than most whole food options.

To keep the cost at a minimum, avoid pure whey isolates (these are much more expensive and are only necessary for those who are lactose intolerant) and go with an isolate/concentrate blend or even a pure whey concentrate if you’re fine with the taste and it doesn’t bother your stomach.

Whey protein is a great addition to a cheap bodybuilding diet plan since it allows you to hit your daily protein needs in a more convenient way without much time needed for preparation, cooking or cleanup.

It works well as a pre-workout meal (since it’s light on the stomach) or post-workout protein source (due to the convenience factor), though you can ultimately consume whey at any point in the day you prefer.



Another simple and convenient option, milk provides about 8 grams of protein per cup and can be used as an easy source of additional cheap protein to bump up your daily totals.

Go with skim or low fat milk to keep the total fat content under control, or if you’re bulking and have a difficult time getting in all of your calories, whole milk is a fine option as well.

Use milk as the base for your whey protein shakes, or just have a glass or two with regular meals for a quick shot of extra protein.

Cheap Carbohydrate Sources



Since rice is cheap and easily accessible, it’s a staple food for more than half of the world’s population and makes for one of the best bodybuilding carbs sources.

100 grams of rice provides you with roughly 130 calories, primarily coming from carbs but with a modest dose of protein as well.

On the issue of brown rice vs. white rice, this is mainly a matter of personal preference. Brown rice is a bit higher in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. White rice, on the other hand, is cheaper.



High in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and even a decent source of protein as well, oats provide a solid bang for the buck as part of your cheap bulking diet.

Half a cup of dry oats provides about 52 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat.

Oats work well as part of a balanced bodybuilding breakfast meal or at any other time of day. Personally I enjoy eating them as a dessert in the evening. (No, eating carbs before bed won’t make you fat)

Top your bowl of oats with some fruit and nuts, go the savory route with eggs and cheese, or mix your oats right into a protein shake or protein bar recipe.



A staple “cheap bodybuilding food”, potatoes can be purchased in large bags for fairly low prices.

A typical large potato provides around 64 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of protein and no fat, along with 8 grams of fiber.

Potatoes are also a great source of potassium, an important mineral to consume since most Western diets contain an unbalanced ratio of sodium to potassium which can contribute to a variety of negative health effects.



For those who are trying to gain muscle on higher calorie intakes and want a cheap, calorie-dense food source to increase their daily totals more easily, pasta is a great option.

100 grams of uncooked whole wheat pasta not only gives you 75 grams of carbs, but you also get 15 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber to go along with it.

Top it with some pasta sauce (also quite inexpensive) and one of the cheap protein sources listed above and you’re all set.

Whole Wheat Bread


Although the nutritional content will vary depending on the brand, 2 slices of typical whole wheat bread will usually deliver around 40 grams of carbs, 10 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber.

Add in the relatively low cost at about 12 cents a slice and you’ve got a solid source of cheap carbohydrates that can be used for a wide variety of different snacks and meals.



This is one food that many people don’t think of as part of a bodybuilding diet, but bagels are a great tasting and fairly cheap carb source to consider.

They’re also quite calorie dense, making them a good choice for those who want to get in a higher number of calories in a smaller volume of food.

An average 100 gram bagel provides nearly 50 grams of carbs and 10 grams of protein.

Use them for bagel sandwiches, tuna melts, top them with some natural peanut butter or reduced sugar jelly, or simply eat them alongside any standard meal for some easy additional carbs.



Pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans and navy beans are all very cost effective options for a cheap bodybuilding diet and are loaded with many valuable nutrients such as folate, iron, magnesium, calcium, copper, phosphorous, potassium and zinc.

Beans are a good source of healthy carbohydrates at around 40 grams per 100 grams of cooked beans, along with 15 grams of protein and a whopping 15 grams of fiber.

They can be purchased in canned form, or for an even cheaper option, purchase them dry in bulk and cook them yourself.



Lentils are a cheap source of both carbs and protein, clocking in at about 40 grams of carbs and 18 grams of protein per cup.

They’re loaded with antioxidants, are high in fiber (roughly 40% of the carbohydrate calories come from fiber) and go well with curries, soups, salads and many other dishes.



Any well rounded muscle building diet should ideally include a couple servings of vegetables and fruits each day, as they’re loaded with valuable vitamins, minerals and fiber that will ensure all of your micronutrient needs are being met.

Fresh vegetables may seem like the obvious ideal choice, but frozen veggies are actually just as nutrient-dense (if not more) than their fresh counterparts while also being more cost effective as well.

Larger bags of frozen veggies can be quite budget-friendly per serving, making them a great choice for a cheap bulking diet.

For fresh options, you can go with lower priced vegetables like cauliflower, carrots, lettuce, onions, celery, kale, beets and broccoli.



Frozen fruits are also typically cheaper than fresh ones (though it does depend on the specific fruit and where you’re shopping) and these can be used for protein shakes or as toppings for things like oatmeal, yogurt and cereal.

When it comes to fresh fruits, some of the more cost effective options include bananas, apples, watermelon, grapes, oranges, cantaloupe, kiwi and grapes.

Cheap Fat Sources
Olive Oil

olive oil

When it comes to optimizing your bodybuilding fat intake, It’s hard to go wrong with olive oil if you’re looking for a cheap, healthy and convenient source.

Olive oil is rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that reduces inflammation, improves cholesterol levels, and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Keep in mind that olive oil is extremely calorie dense (14 grams of fat per tablespoon), so make sure to properly measure it out so you don’t accidentally go overboard.

Natural Peanut Butter

peanut butter

Due to its high polyunsaturated fat content along with a decent dose of protein, peanut butter is a staple cheap bodybuilding food that can be used to meet your daily calorie and fat needs.

Peanut butter also provides you with a hefty dose of various micronutrients, such as biotin, vitamin E, niacin, magnesium, and phosphorus.

1 tablespoon contains 8 grams of healthy fat and 5 grams of protein and can be used in protein shakes, bars, mixed into oatmeal or yogurt, spread on top of bread or a bagel or even used in savory recipes.

Regular peanuts are an option as well.

Nuts and nut butters are quite calorie dense, but this can actually be a bonus if you find that you often can’t eat enough calories to gain muscle throughout the day.



Another cheap source of healthy fat, almonds go great as a topping for a huge variety of meals or as a snack on their own.

They’re rich in monounsaturated fat and fiber and are also very calorie dense, making them a good choice to help you get in additional calories quite easily.

Purchase almonds in bulk to lower the cost per serving, and although they may not seem overly cheap at first glance, keep in mind that you generally won’t be eating huge amounts of them due to the high calorie content.

Cheap Bodybuilding Foods List: Quick Wrapup

cheap bulking foods

Nutrition is just as important as what you do in the gym, and if you truly want to build a standout physique, you’d better eat like it.

Even if funds are a bit tight, it’s virtually always possible to put together a healthy, effective and cheap bodybuilding diet that hits your calorie, macronutrient and overall nutritional needs.

Stock up your cupboards and fridge with the cheap bodybuilding foods outlined above and you’ll be able to build muscle, burn fat and gain strength effectively while keeping your grocery bill to a minimum.

If you found these cheap bulking diet tips helpful, make sure to get your personalized training, nutrition and supplement plans using my free interactive video presentation below…