Bulking foods on a budget are very easy to come across if you know what to look for. The best foods for bulking are surprisingly also the cheapest staple foods.
The idea of a bulk is to consume more calories than your maintenance amount (or what you would normally consume on a daily basis) in order to build muscle. Whilst the logic of this is very straightforward the practicality is not quite the same, the more you eat the more it is going to cost.
My weekly cost of a food shop in the UK is between £25 – £50, my diet varies a bit week to week with some staple foods (chicken, rice, tuna, eggs) being and ever present. The main variance is when I’ll make an evening meal with my girlfriend who surprisingly doesn’t follow my macro breakdown or enjoyment of plain chicken breast with rice…
That can be seen as a fairly cheap weekly shop for my weekly staple foods if I have a week where I’m on the lower end however most I’m sure are at and above the higher end when it comes to weekly grocery shops. It might seem like bulking can be expensive as you are eating more food however I’ve found it to be quite the opposite. Foods that are good for a bulk can be purchased in bulk and on a budget, it’s when you are dieting and need to be more selective around food choices that the cost can go up significantly.
Below are 10 of the best foods that you can buy not only on a bulk but also on a budget, this is by no means an exhaustive list however purchasing the majority of these foods will be easy on the bank balance and look good for tracking macros on Myfitnesspal.
Bulking can be a tedious process and therefore I like to include some options that are very time efficient and involve minimal prep or cleanup afterwards, some items will however just be the absolute cheapest option available if that’s what you need to save every penny on your bulk.
All prices are based on UK pricing in GBP sterling and based on the average supermarket cost (which includes some supermarket own brand products). Also note that the list is ordered in no specific way and is designed to give a good split of protein, fat and carbohydrate sources for a well balanced bulking diet.
Oats can be purchased in many forms and rank as my number one food source for bulking on a budget. Whilst being slightly limited in terms of versatility they act as an ideal breakfast, pre/post workout meal and even an easily digestible last meal of the day. A good choice would be rolled or steel cut oats however for lifestyle ease you can also get instant oats that you simply put in the microwave with some water or milk for 2 – 4 minutes and you’re good to go.
My personal preference is oats in powdered form available from most supplement suppliers, these can be mixed with a whey protein to have a very quick pre, intra or post workout shake and can even be an easy calorie source when on the go. These are also a good addition to high calorie blended shakes.
1kg bag of rolled oats – £1.10 (Tesco)
10 x sachets instant oats – £1 (Tesco)
1kg instant bag of instant powdered oats – £1.79 (Bulk Powders)
100g rolled oats (Aldi)
Calories – 414
Protein – 11g
Carbohydrates – 71g
Fat – 8.1g
Rice is the most versatile food source on this list for a bulk and if you opt for white rice then it is quite possibly the cheapest as well. Rice is an excellent carb source and can go with most protein sources and the most popular, well known bodybuilding staple is chicken breast, broccoli and white rice. Rice Is a classic staple in bodybuilding diets and for good reason.
Prep time it 10 – 12 minutes if cooking in a pan and you can make a large pan in one sitting that can then be refrigerated/frozen and used over the next few days to cover numerous meals. This is beneficial if you do your weekly prep in 1 – 2 periods per week and want to maximise your time. Another good option is boil in the bag rice and microwavable pouches, these cost slightly more than a standard 1kg bag or white rice however involve much less prep and cook time so again it depends on your lifestyle and budget.
1kg bag of white rice – £0.45 (Sainsbury’s)
100g white rice (Aldi)
Calories – 353
Protein – 7.7g
Carbohydrates – 78g
Fat – 1g
The final carb source that I’d recommend on a budget is potatoes. As with most carb sources you can buy a bulk 2.5kg bag or white potatoes for rock bottom prices and these will go will numerous meal options. You can cook them as the primary source of your meal as a jacket potato and then fill with whatever protein/fat sources you desire or as a complementary option. Potatoes are also a good source of fiber which is essential for digestion, especially when on a bulk.
There are now a range of purchasing options that you can go with at varying prices, ready made jacket potatoes, frozen potatoes that only need microwaving and my new found favourite though a controversial option is instant mash. All are handy on the go and involve minimal effort, my preference for instant mash however is that it’s incredibly easy to digest which is essential on a bulk, cheap and only takes a few minutes to prepare by adding water (and milk if you want the extra calories).
4 x baking potatoes – £0.50 (Home Bargains)
2.5kg white potatoes – £1.15 (Sainsbury’s)
3 x sachet instant mash – £0.79 (Home Bargains)
100g white potato (Sainsbury’s)
Calories – 317
Protein – 1.8g
Carbohydrates – 15.9g
Fat – <0.5g
Tinned tuna is the ultimate bodybuilder budget protein source, read any bulking food recommendation and 10/10 articles will have tinned tuna. Whilst it’s a favourite of bodybuilders the general public could also benefit from consuming tinned tuna. You can add tuna to a number of meal options such as a sandwich, jacket potato or mixed in with rice and all are quick and easy to prepare whilst being incredibly cheap.
Tuna is a very lean protein source however you can now get tinned versions now that are preserved in sunflower oil giving a very convenient way to also up your daily fat intake.
4 x 124g tins – £2.79 (Aldi)
100g tinned tuna (Aldi)
Calories – 109
Protein – 25g
Carbohydrates – <0.5g
Fat – 1g
This is an essential in terms of hitting your daily fat macro targets whilst on a budget. Nuts in general are an excellent source of both protein and fats however can be on the pricey side, peanut butter however is a very affordable and versatile bulking food.
You can get more macro friendly options such as almond butter but when it comes to getting the most bang for your actual buck then peanut butter is the way to go. As with most of my recommendations you can combine this with another budget food source to get a cheap and bulk friendly meal.
Mix peanut butter in with you oats, high calorie shake or simply have it on toast/bagel to get a quick high calorie snack in when you are short for time or a low on appetite. Getting a standard 340g tub per week will do nothing to dent the bank balance and if it’s your primary fat source then you can easily stretch to two tubs per week and cover a few meals or snack easily each day.
340g crunchy/smooth peanut butter – £1.14 (Aldi)
100g crunchy peanut butter
Calories – 617
Protein – 26g
Carbohydrates – 13g
Fat – 50g
Whole milk is the most old school and hardcore approach to bulking on a budget. Old school bodybuilders and strongmen even stretching to modern day powerlifters will swear by the simple bulking process of chugging a gallon of milk a day to get big and strong.
Not everyone can tolerate dairy so well however it’s difficult to see past the simple logic when you look at the macro content of whole milk. Milk is what most human and animal newborns are fed in order to grow and it’s because milk contains a good mix of all the essential macronutrients. If you look at tuna as mentioned earlier then you are looking at a very lean protein source that is pretty much nil in terms of carb and fat content. Therefore it’s a good idea to look at foods high in all macro categories when your on a budget.
Whilst I wouldn’t personally recommend having a gallon of whole milk per day for aesthetic purposes (it will be an easy way to put on body fat very quickly) you can utilise it as a cheap and easy way to up your daily macros. Having it will oats or a shake is the easiest way to include it in your diet boost your daily calorie count.
6 pints whole milk – £1.50 (Tesco)
100ml whole milk (Tesco)
Calories – 66
Protein – 3.5g
Carbohydrates – 4.7g
Fat – 3.7g
Frozen Chicken Breast
You can get cheap cuts of fresh chicken in terms of thigh and legs however the easiest way to consume chicken is with chicken breast and I’d therefore favour this even on a budget. If you want the cheapest chicken possible then you can of course go for the cheaper cuts which include skin and bones, I just prefer much easier to work with breast.
I also prefer frozen chicken breast as it tends to be cheaper when compared with fresh chicken breast fillets. Chicken breast is basically a king protein source when it comes to any form of diet, be it a bulk or a cut and is incredibly versatile whilst being high in protein. A lot of people will have this as their staple protein source for most meals and I prefer the frozen option because you can oven cook it in bulk and it takes minimal effort when compared with cutting off fat and frying fresh chicken breast.
650g frozen chicken breast – £3.70 (Aldi)
100g frozen chicken breast (Aldi)
Calories – 110
Protein – 25g
Carbohydrates – <0.5g
Fat – 0.8g
Cottage cheese, similar to milk is another dairy product that ticks off multiple macro categories whilst being available to all on a budget. You can have this as an accompaniment to a meal however I personally like to have it on it’s own as a bedtime snack. The reason for this is that cottage cheese is considered a casein protein and therefore it’s absorbed slower, consumer this before bed means you’ll get a more steady digestion whilst you sleep.
600g cottage cheese – £1.90 (Tesco)
100g cottage cheese (Aldi)
Calories – 107
Protein – 11g
Carbohydrates – 6.3g
Fat – 4.2g
Eggs are considered to be one of the ultimate food for anyone that trains and this is because they are a complete protein. This means that they contain all the essential amino acids that form protein and therefore you could consume eggs as your sole protein source and know that you are covering the body’s essential requirements.
The other good thing about eggs is that the yolk contains essential fats, people dieting tend to stick to egg whites however when in a bulk you should take advantage of the fat content and consume the whole egg. With eggs there are a variety of cooking options and therefore ample opportunity for you to include variety and have them in your diet on a regular basis without getting bored.
You can get eggs incredibly cheap if you opt for eggs for mass farmed and caged chickens, however even keeping moral opinion aside you should opt for free range or organic eggs to see the most benefit in terms of getting healthy yolks. The price difference is really quite minimal so this is the one thing you should opt for a higher quality whilst still having the benefit of getting a very cheap protein/fat source.
12 large eggs – £1.89 (Iceland)
1 large egg (Iceland)
Calories – 78
Protein – 7.5g
Carbohydrates – <0.5g
Fat – 5.3g
Lastly I had to include a supplement in the form of whey protein for a budget bulking option because it really is a cost efficient and convenient way to make sure you are hitting your daily protein targets. As a general rule of thumb for muscle gain you should be aiming for roughly 1g protein per 1lb body weight, therefore a 200lb male should be consuming roughly 200g of protein per day to maintain, repair and build muscle.
This for some people can be quite a high requirement and the benefit of whey protein is that a typical 25g scoop will give you 20g protein that is easily digestible and also very, very cheap (besides creatine it’s probably the cheapest supplement mass produced). Get a flavour you like and have it as a shake or with your oats to easily up your daily protein intake with very minimal effort, the only issue is of course the upfront cost is higher despite the serving cost being so low.
It’s worth noting that besides the initial cost it will actually last 1 – 2 months depending on what size bag/tub you purchase so you need to look at the cost of this long term rather than as an initial cost.
1kg flavoured whey protein – £21.99 (Myprotein)
25g scoop (Myprotein)
Calories – 103
Protein – 21g
Carbohydrates – 1g
Fat – 1.9g
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