What the freaking eff? Is this an article about bulking? Like, a legit article about building muscle?
Bulking means you get to consume more food. And more food means you’re going to see your grocery bill go up a few bucks. But what if you’re actively trying to be more financially conscious after your Summer of recklessness?
Cost-conscious bros know you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars a month to increase 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
Fat Loss: nutrition drives it, training supports it.
Muscle building: training drives it, nutrition supports it.
That’s really the easiest way to look at the difference between the fat loss and muscle gain.
When compared to fat loss, there isn’t much that you need to change to build muscle. In fact, training wise, you’re not gonna change much; outside of maybe adding an extra arm day.
Nutrition wise, you still need protein (around .82-1g per pound is sufficient, maybe a little less), plenty of healthy fats (though keeping dietary fat lower may slow the pace of fat gain in a bulk), but since bulking means more volume and 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. So it might as well be you, right?
All About dat Bulk
Here’s a fun exercise: ask an older or current bodybuilder what their staple foods are, and they’ll likely tell you they eat mostly oats, rice, potatoes, chicken, beef, protein powder, legumes, and healthy fats like olive/coconut oil, fatter cuts of meat, and nuts.
Why is that important? Because they don’t get crazy with their meal plans. They keep it simple. And there’s another reason why limiting the foods you eat every day is a good idea: most of the foods above can be bought in bulk.
Wholesale stores like CostCo, BJ’s, and Sam’s Club sale 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.
Yes, there is an upfront cost to wholesale stores with their membership fees. But you can save enough money in your first trip that the $45 membership fee pays for itself. I bought 200 garbage bags for like $12 at Sam’s; that box of 200 bags lasted me nearly 3 years. Go look at what one box of 40 bags will cost you.
But let’s break down the cost of some of these bulk foods using my local Sam’s Club as an example
- 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 gigantic boxes of cereal; colossal 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, ya know, for far less money per serving.
Quality vs Quantity
“But Robbie, isn’t quality also important? Like, none of that stuff is organic. Is it healthy for me?”
I knew once I mentioned wholesale stores the question about quality would pop up into 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 much 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 in bulk.
Now, if quality is super important for you, here are a few things you can do to make sure you continue consuming quality food.
The town I live in has four major grocery stores. These stores each release 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, often for less than the grocery store. Search for a local butcher on Google and 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 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.
3. Fattier Cuts of Meat
If quality isn’t an issue that will wreck your soul, then as you shop around at your local grocers, make sure you opt for the more lard-laden cuts of meats.
- 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)
Fattier 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 those juicy cuts of meat you’re downing, then you shouldn’t have a problem hitting your fat macros.
But if you’re still munching down on the lean cuts of meat, then use butter or oil for cooking to add some needed fat macros to your meal(s).
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 separate 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.
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.
- Eat the Same Meals All the Time
- Stock up on Protein Powder
- 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
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