Muscle Building Grocery Shopping on a Budget ($50, $75, and $100)

Achieving your goals can be hard if you're on a budget. Get a better idea on how to shop to build muscle with these grocery shopping lists & sample meal plans.

Diets that provide a caloric surplus and prioritize protein and micronutrients are essential for gaining lean mass1 and maintaining overall health, but protein- and nutrient-rich food sources are often more expensive than energy-dense options.

For many individuals, the quicker, cheaper options, which are often high in carbohydrates and/or fat and low in protein and many micronutrients, are too easy to pass up.

When trying to gain muscle on a budget, it can be easy to justify grabbing cheap, affordable foods that are high in energy yet low in key nutrients just to get your calories in.

Grocery shopping for muscle gains brings up many of the same issues as fat loss grocery shopping on a budget, but larger quantities of food are needed to reach a muscle-gaining goal.

More food must mean that it costs more money – right? Not necessarily.

As long as we know which foods meet our financial and nutritional needs and personal preferences, all it takes is some planning to be able to spend the same amount of money on a diet with even more food.

Let’s review some general tips before diving into sample meal plans.

Quick Tips for Budget-Friendly Grocery Shopping for Gains

1. Swap out items for nutritionally-similar, cheaper substitutes: For example, white potato is often cheaper than sweet potato, and peanut butter is often cheaper than almond butter or whole nuts. Simple swaps can add up to drastically change how much money you spend, so always keep an eye out for nutritionally-similar products at a cheaper price.

2. Don’t waste your money on protein: Many people trying to put on lean mass have their protein intake higher than necessary to support muscle growth. This can be problematic not only because protein is so filling but because protein sources are expensive.

If you are on a strict financial budget, you may need to stick to cheap sources of protein, like eggs and protein powder, if you want to keep your protein intake high. Alternately, you can choose: 1.) to hunt or fish or find someone who can hunt or fish for you, or 2.) to take advantage of discounts at food and supplement stores when possible.

Supplementing can be a cheaper way to get protein

3. Shop for the right foods in the right places: You might live near a farmer’s market or have access to community-supported agriculture (CSA) with good prices on seasonal produce, or maybe a wholesale club where you can buy products in bulk. Keep a list of affordable products and their locations so that you can more efficiently shop for your food needs.

4. Make it personal: While some people struggle to ingest sufficient calories to gain weight, others have consistently high appetite and hunger levels, even when their weight is going up. If you are in the first category, you might need to swap out some fibrous fruit and vegetables for more energy-dense foods, e.g. swapping out broccoli for potato or swapping potato for bread.

On the other hand, if you’re in the second category, you might need to stick with fibrous fruit and vegetables, in which case frozen options and locally sourced, in-season fresh produce should be among your go-to products.

5. Keep a cheat sheet: Make yourself a list of go-to foods that you can grab in a hurry at any grocery store. Bananas and potatoes for carbohydrates, eggs for protein and fat, protein powder for extra protein, and peanut butter for extra fat are some options that tend to be cheap. The grocery lists in the next section provide more ideas.

Sample Muscle Building Meal Plans

For this analysis, we will use 2750 calories to break down our sample daily macronutrient goals, but remember that each person is different. You can also calculate your own calorie and macronutrient requirements using an online bmr calculator.

The macronutrient compositions used below are examples that meet acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges (AMDRs) set forth by the Institute of Medicine (IOM): 45-65% carbohydrates, 20-35% fat, and 10-35% protein.

Here are the three daily macronutrient splits that we will be using:

  • 210g protein, 70g fat, 320g carb
  • 155g protein, 72g fat, 370g carb
  • 125g protein, 66g fat, 415g carb

Again, what works for you will depend on many factors, including age, gender, activity level, and current dietary intake. For example, the lowest of the three protein options (125g protein) is more than enough for someone who weighs 153lbs2 up to 195lbs3 depending on which reference you use.

The grocery lists that are provided below have options for all three macronutrient splits to illustrate all items that were used to fit a given budget. The individual daily meal plans each have slightly different grocery lists.

Let’s take a look at samples for $50, $75, and $100 weekly budgets.

$50 per week ($7.14 per day)

Carbohydrates:

  • Oats
  • Whole grain bread
  • Bananas
  • Cream of rice (or wheat)
  • Potato
  • Black beans
  • Frozen mixed vegetables
  • Frozen broccoli
  • Navel orange

Protein:

Fat:

  • Peanut butter
Daily meal plan: 125g protein, 66g fat, 415g carb

Daily meal plan: 125g protein, 66g fat, 415g carb

Daily meal plan: 155g protein, 72g fat, 370g carb

Daily meal plan: 155g protein, 72g fat, 370g carb

Daily meal plan: 210g protein, 70g fat, 320g carb

Daily meal plan: 210g protein, 70g fat, 320g carb

$75 per week ($10.71 per day)

Carbohydrates:

  • Oats
  • Whole grain bread
  • Bananas
  • Cream of rice (or wheat)
  • Potato
  • Black beans
  • Frozen mixed vegetables
  • Frozen broccoli
  • Navel orange

Protein:

  • Liquid egg whites
  • Eggs
  • Cottage cheese (1% fat)
  • Wild Atlantic salmon
  • Protein powder
  • Plain nonfat Greek yogurt

Fat:

  • Peanut butter
  • Avocado
Daily meal plan: 125g protein, 66g fat, 415g carb

Daily meal plan: 125g protein, 66g fat, 415g carb

Daily meal plan: 155g protein, 72g fat, 370g carb

Daily meal plan: 155g protein, 72g fat, 370g carb

Daily meal plan: 210g protein, 70g fat, 320g carb

Daily meal plan: 210g protein, 70g fat, 320g carb

$100 per week ($14.28 per day)

Carbohydrates:

  • Oats
  • Whole grain bread
  • Quinoa
  • Bananas
  • Cream of rice (or wheat)
  • Potato
  • Sweet potato
  • Black beans
  • Broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Bell pepper
  • Apple
  • Navel orange
  • Blueberries
  • Honey

Protein:

  • Liquid egg whites
  • Cottage cheese (1% fat)
  • Wild cod
  • Wild Atlantic salmon
  • Protein powder
  • Grass-fed ground beef

Fat:

  • Avocado
  • Chia seeds
  • Almond butter
Daily meal plan: 125g protein, 66g fat, 415g carb

Daily meal plan: 125g protein, 66g fat, 415g carb

Daily meal plan: 155g protein, 72g fat, 370g carb

Daily meal plan: 155g protein, 72g fat, 370g carb

Daily meal plan: 210g protein, 70g fat, 320g carb

Daily meal plan: 210g protein, 70g fat, 320g carb

Summary

While research suggests that diets with lower nutritional value and lower quality are generally less expensive4, it doesn’t mean that high-quality, nutritious diets cannot be maintained on a budget.

On the contrary, nutrient-dense diets full of whole foods are sustainable on a budget. Preparing food at home is often actually cheaper than dining out.

The prices used in this article were taken from a chain grocery store and are likely not representative of the cheapest options near you. If you take some time now to figure out some of the most nutrient-rich, inexpensive foods that are available to you, you can easily get into a grocery shopping routine to fit your budget, and you can likely find prices cheaper than what are supplied here.

References
  1. Tipton KD, Wolfe RR. Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2001;11(1):109-132.
  2. Phillips SM, Van Loon LJC. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. J Sports Sci. 2011;29 Suppl 1:S29-38. doi:10.1080/02640414.2011.619204
  3. Lemon PW, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDougall JD, Atkinson SA. Protein requirements and muscle mass/strength changes during intensive training in novice bodybuilders. J Appl Physiol. 1992;73(2):767-775. doi:10.1152/jappl.1992.73.2.767
  4. Darmon N, Drewnowski A. Contribution of food prices and diet cost to socioeconomic disparities in diet quality and health: a systematic review and analysis. Nutr Rev. 2015;73(10):643-660. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuv027